The President and his Chief of Staff, Bob Haldeman, are at Camp David. From Haldeman's Diary: "P called me over first thing this morning. He had read The Washington Post, which has the major front page story on [White House appointments secretary] Dwight Chapin being the director of the Segretti espionage activity."
First up in this conversation: abuse of power.
President Nixon: One thing we did do I think rather cleverly was to review [Democratic National Committee Chair Lawrence] O'Brien's income tax returns. I think that's why he's so Goddamn silent.
Haldeman: That's right.
President Nixon: And we followed up.
Haldeman: O'Brien is very interesting. Since he's been in there, there may have been a couple of squeaks out of him and that's all...
But they soon get to the Segretti story:
Haldeman: Segretti, just so you know, is incommunicado, but he calls John Dean from a public phone and calls into a line that's not traceable or whatever here, every day around noon.[...]
Haldeman: [T]here was another problem in there, and this may have some bearing. Liddy was setting up the same kind of operation at 1701 [Re-Election Committee headquarters]. This guy was not working with them. He was working as a total independent operator.
President Nixon: Just for that --
Haldeman: Moving on his own.
President Nixon: I think you better...get the story ready on [Herbert] Kalmbach as to what funds he was using...
President Nixon: You mean Segretti is different, working a different field than Liddy?
Haldeman: Well, he was. So then Dean or somebody checked it out and found out he was working as our guy, and they did tell Liddy that and I think that Segretti started working with Liddy. They screwed up some things in the primaries. The other thing on this is Coslon didn't even know it was being done and he was doing some of his own separate [things].
President Nixon: That's good...
Haldeman. Unfortunately, it kind of all came together, and Liddy -- that's what we've been concerned about, is all these little strings that we have. One leads to another...
A little translation and explanation. Segretti had "screwed up some things in the primaries" -- that's dirty tricks to take down Ed Muskie and to generally create chaos among the Democrats. Remember, when thinking about this, how improbably George McGovern's nomination was; we don't know to what extent the Republicans' involvement affected the outcome, but it wouldn't have taken much.
Now, Kalmbach -- who was Nixon's personal lawyer -- had been, especially earlier, raising and funneling hush money to the Watergate defendants. Now he had been identified by Woodward and Bernstein as helping to fund the Segretti stuff.
Remember, the big Nixon line through all this was that there was no White House involvement: A couple overzealous people at the Committee to Re-Elect had gone off on their own and done the Watergate break-in, that's it. So while most of what Segretti had done might not have even been illegal and at any rate wasn't directly connected to the main worries they had, there's the immediate problem of the Chapin connection that goes to the White House, and then the overlap between Segretti, and Liddy, and Kalmbach, and the further worry that any more poking around by the press, the prosecutors, or Congress could uncover the still-secret White House horrors. Not to mention that by now, there's the clear obstruction of justice all summer; to whatever extent things might have been separable or survivable before June 17, by now everything depends on keeping the cover-up going.
I'm struck by just how involved Nixon is in the details of all of this. At least assuming the conversation is on the level Nixon doesn't know the details of all the dirty tricks operations, but he also gets up to speed quickly and gives no indication of either surprise or disapproval.
(As always, remember that in these conversations between criminals no one should be trusted. If it's Nixon and Haldeman, they know that the tapes are running, although clearly they incriminate themselves many times. And Nixon frequently used a tactic of feigning ignorance of something and having someone explain it to him. Would he do it to Haldeman? I expect so).
It's not on the tape, or at least the Kutler transcripts I use unless I link or cite something else, but in the Diary Haldeman says the president "feels strongly, too, that we can't surface Segretti." It all sounds very much like the dance they did with Hunt and Liddy after the arrests. It's nice to know that the White House had a SOP for disappearing their operatives in these cases.