Wednesday, July 20, 2011

July 20, 1971

Richard Nixon has mostly been off in California, where there is no taping system, so I haven't been running any of these lately. He's also been busy with Henry Kissinger's secret trip to China, which of course is relevant to our story: part of why Nixon is so intensely concerned about leaks is that there really are important secrets that, one could argue, would harm the nation if they were exposed. Just as the fear of domestic terrorism was at least in part rational in the era of the Weathermen.

But of course what's really happening inside the White House has little to do with any of those legitimate concerns.

Okay, here's the update. By the end of the week of July 20, four men -- Egil Krogh, David Young, E. Howard Hunt, and G. Gordon Liddy -- had been put in charge of a new unit in the White House dedicated to finding leaks, finding and publicizing dirt on Democrats current and past, Ellsberg, and other presidential obsessions. They put a sign on their office door saying "Plumbers," since (among other things) they dealt with leaks.

Nixon is being updated; here's John Ehrlichman and Nixon, in the Oval Office that day:

Ehrlichman: Krogh and his guys are going to pull together the evidence, and in two or three weeks time --
President Nixon: They are working on the evidence?
Ehrlichman: Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed. And what he's tried to do yesterday and today is to get around --
President Nixon: How does it presently stand?
Ehrlichman: Welll, there're lots of leaks. There are all kinds of leaks.

Sorry, that's all I have in the way of conversation, but fortunately, I have the first bit of a story that's going to get a whole lot bigger very soon. Because Nixon is pushing for more information on Daniel Ellsberg, so he can, as we've seen, destroy him in the press. And on July 20, the FBI got around to attempting to interview Dr. Lewis Fielding, who was Ellsberg's psychoanalyst. However, Fielding refused to talk to the FBI, and a few days later his lawyer told the FBI that Fielding would not talk about his patient.

Which mattered, because the president's men were soon to become obsessed with it; the next day, July 21, Young wrote in a memo that "The CIA was not conducting and had not conducted an examination or study on Ellsberg's personality." Which, given what they saw as reluctance by the intelligence agencies to act, the president's men would decide to do on their own.

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