A fascinating conversation in the Oval Office, with the president, Bob Haldeman, and John Ehrlichman. It begins with clear evidence that Nixon knew all about the hush money; he's asking about the money found in Dorothy Hunt's bag after the plane crash in which she died:
President Nixon: Do they have any reading yet from the traceability of that $10,000 bag?
Haldeman. No. Dean spent most of the weekend on that, he said. [...] The bills are still in the hands of the Chicago police, to be turned over to Hunt apparently today [...] So until then, John doesn't know whether it's traceable money or not and he's not particularly concerned about it. He doesn't think it is.
You really can't get more obvious evidence that both of them are knee-deep...really neck-deep in a criminal conspiracy, can you? Traceability, of course, means that it can be traced back to the campaign fund from which the hush money was being paid, and is still being paid, obviously with the full knowledge of the President of the United States.
In a later segment of the same conversation, they work again on the statement that the president might make, something which Nixon is constantly going back to (a reminder; [bracketed] ellipses means that I omitted something; unbracketed means that Kutler omitted something. Emphasis below, by the way, is Kutler's):
Ehrlichman: [...] That nobody in the government did this thing.
Haldeman: The White House.
President Nixon: ...[W]hat do you mean, Watergate, White House? Nobody currently, nobody in government.
Haldeman: Currently employed in the government. Say "currently employed."
President Nixon: Ever involved in government.
Haldeman: No, sir!
Ehrlichman: Now, you have Liddy and Hunt, who were at one time employed.
President Nixon: But while they were doing it even, while they were doing it.
Ehrlichman: That's right. Then employed, I could say.
President Nixon: No one who is an employee of the White House, who is an employee of the White House.
Ehrlichman: Either at the time of the incident or since.
Ehrlichman: ...Do you want to get into the question of campaign finances or the conduct of the business of the Re-Election Committee? That seems to me to be gratuitous. I don't know why you would reach out for that, because that begins to open the doors, doors, doors, and doors.
President Nixon: We're not going to get into that.
I love "doors, doors, doors, and doors." The continuing problem is that they want to be able to make some statement that makes them look good, but there just is so little room to do so. They continue to talk about the various people involved who were in the White House and what has happened to them (Colson out, Strachan out of the White House to the an executive branch post, etc.). Nixon laments that everyone thinks he runs his own campaigns, but in this case he didn't until after the break-in, after which everything was well run.
The other problem that's been there from the start, and will never go away, is that once blame goes beyond Hunt and Liddy there's no good stopping place -- but there's an obvious choice between blaming the campaign and blaming the White House. And that's where the conversation goes now, after the bit about how Nixon wasn't heavily involved in the campaign early on:
Haldeman: The reason that that shouldn't be said is nobody in the world would believe that there is a crack of daylight between you and Mitchell.
President Nixon: Yes, that's right.
Haldeman: Now, there's a way to do this, and that I think has to wait until you write your book maybe. That is to dump Mitchell on this thing and say he's the [culprit?].
President Nixon: I would dump him; it would kill him financially. John Mitchell has a serious problem with his wife. He was unable to watch the campaign and as a result underlings did things without his knowledge.
Haldeman: That really dumps on Magruder.
Ehrlichman: There are no good choices. There are no good choices once you start down that road.
President Nixon: If you start down that road...Somebody did it.
Haldeman: Once you dump on somebody down the road, that guy is at least potentially capable of defending himself. Each of those guys -- the problem you're dealing with here is that you're dealing, not with the Howard Hunts who are not honorable people, but you're dealing with the Magruders and Chapins, who were doing what they thought was right.
Ehrlichman: The minute you dump on Mitchell indirectly by saying he didn't have a chance to watch the underlings, the underlings are going to produce their diaries and show that Mitchell was in eighteen meetings where this was discussed, ratified, approved, authorized, financed.
President Nixon: Was he?
Ehrlichman: I gather so.
President Nixon: Well, Mitchell then did it....