As Patrick Gray heads up to the Hill for yet another day of testimony, today is a big day at the White House...now, and as it would turn out, a day that would be terribly important in the months to come.
The P had his usual Wednesday clear except for a few ceremonial items at midday. And spend most of the day on Watergate, which he's becoming more and more involved in, and I guess concerned about, as time goes on.
And so, after a morning meeting with Ehrlichman about Watergate, John Dean walks into the Oval Office at 10:12 AM (note that I'm here using the House Judiciary Committee transcript, supplemented in a few spots by Kutler).
PRESIDENT: John, sit down, sit down.
DEAN: Good morning.
PRESIDENT: Well, what is the Dean summary of the day about?
[They talk about the latest from Pat Gray for a while. Then:]
DEAN: Uh, the reason I thought we ought to talk this morning is because in, in our conversations, uh, uh, I have, I have the impression that you don't know everything I know,
PRESIDENT: That's right.
DEAN: and it makes it very difficult for you to make judgments that, uh, that only you can make
PRESIDENT: That's right.
DEAN: on some of these things and I thought that
DRFSIDENT: You've got, in other words, I've got to know why you feel that, uh, that something
DEAN: Well, let me,
PRESIDENT: that, that we shouldn't unravel something.
DEAN: let me give you my overall first.
PRESIDENT: In other words, your, your judgment as to where it stands, and where we go now.
DEAN: I think, I think that, uh, there's no doubt about the seriousness of the problem we're, we've got. We have a cancer -- within -- close to the Presidency, that's growing. It's growing daily. It's compounding, it
grows geometrically now, because it compounds itself. Uh, that'll be clear as I explain, you know, some of the details, uh, of why it is, and it basically is because (1) we're being blackmailed; (2) uh, people are going to start perjuring themself very quickly that have not had to perjure themselves to protect other people and the like. And that is just -- And there is no assurance --
PRESIDENT: That it won't bust.
DEAN: That that won't bust.
DEAN: So let me give you the sort of basic facts, talking first about the Watergate; and then about
Segretti; and then about some of the peripheral items that, uh, have come up.
At this point, Dean launches into a long explanation of exactly how Watergate happened: the original interest in gathering information, the first attempt with Jack Caulfield, the decision to instead use Gordon Liddy, the first Gemstone meeting with the charts and the kidnappings and all. Dean's version of the story is notable mainly because it exonerates himself; his version of the story is one in which most of the blame goes to Jeb Magruder, with Mitchell almost accidentally approving Liddy's operation after a fairly innocent push from Haldeman through Strachan and a less innocent push from Colson. But Dean also mentions Liddy's history with the plumbers, including a rare White House mention of "going out into Ellsberg's doctor's office" which Nixon responds to with a "yeah."
Dean then talks about the cover-up, or in the conspirators vocabulary, the "post-thing," and here he's more blunt:
DEAN: ...[That's] the most troublesome post-thing, uh, because (1) Bob is involved in that; John is involved in that; I am involved in that; Mitchell is involved in that. And that's an obstruction of justice.
PRESIDENT: In other words the fact that, uh,that you’re, you're, you're taking of witnesses.
DEAN: That's right. Uh,
PRESIDENT: How was Bob involved?
DEAN: well, th- they ran out of money over there. Bob had three hundred and fifty thousand dollars in a safe over here that was really set aside for polling purposes. Uh, and there was no other source of money, so they
came over here and said, "You all have got to give us some money."
DEAN: I had to go to Bob and say, "Bob, you know, you've got to have some -- they need some money over there.” He said "What for?" And so I had to tell him what it was for ‘cause he wasn't about to just send money over there willy-nilly. And, uh, John [Erhlichman] was involved in those discussions, and we decided, you know, that, you know, that there was no price too high to pay to let this thing blow up in front of the election.
Remember: Nixon already knows virtually everything that Dean is saying, although some of the original story may not have been spelled out exactly in this way.
DEAN: What sort of brings matters to the—This is the one that's going to be a continual blackmail operation, by Hunt and Liddy and the
DEAN: Cubans. No doubt about it. And McCord,
DEAN: who is, who is another one involved. McCord has asked for nothing. Uh, McCord did ask to meet with somebody, and it was Jack Caulfield, who is his old friend who'd gotten him hired over there. And, when, when, when Caulfield had him hired, he was a perfectly legitimate security man. And he wanted to know, well, you know, [coughs] he wanted to talk about commutation, and things like that. And as you know Colson has talked to, indirectly to Hunt about commutation. [Clears throat] All these things are bad, in, in, in that they are problems, they are promises, they are commitments. They are the very sort of thing that the Senate is going to be looking for. I don’t think they can find them, frankly.
PRESIDENT: Pretty hard.
DEAN: Pretty hard. Damn hard. It's all cash. Uh--
PRESIDENT: Well, I mean, pretty hard as far as the witnesses are concerned.
DEAN: That's right. Now. The blackmail is continuing. Hunt called one of the lawyers from the Re-election Committee last Friday to meet with him on -- over the weekend. The guy came in to me, to see me to get a
message directly from Hunt to me, for the first time. [...] Uh, Hunt now is demanding another seventy-two thousand dollars for his own personal expenses; another fifty thousand dollars to pay his attorneys' fees; a, hundred, and twenty, some thousand dollars. Wants it, wanted it by the close of business yesterday. ‘Cause
he says, “I am going to be sentenced on Friday, and I've got to be able to get my financial affairs in order.”
DEAN: Hunt now has made a direct threat against Ehrlichman, as a result of this. This is his blackmail. He says, "I will bring John Ehrlichman down to his knees and put him in jail. Uh, I have done enough seamy things for he and Krogh, uh, that they'll never survive it."
PRESIDENT: What's that, on Ellsberg?
DEAN: Ellsberg, and apparently, some other things. I don’t know the full extent of it. Uh—
PRESIDENT: I don't know about anything else.
DEAN: I don't know either, and I (laughs] almost hate to learn some of these
DEAN: things. So that's, that's that situation.
Having now detailed the entire story -- or at least his version of it -- Dean now turns to the "soft spots." He talks more about Plumbers, with Nixon very aware of the Fielding break-in. This bit is fun:
DEAN: Mr. President, there have been a couple of things around here that I have gotten wind of. Uh, there was at one time a desire to do a second-story job on the Brookings Institute where they had the Pentagon
Papers. Now I flew to California because I was told that John had instructed it and he said, "I really hadn't. It is a misimpression, that for Christ's sake, turn it off." And I did. I came back and turned it off. Because, you know the, when you, you know, if the risk is minimal and the, and the gain is fantastic, it's something
else. But with a low risk and, uh, no gain, uh, gee, it's just, uh, it's rot worth it.
If there's one bit that shows Dean really doesn't realize how much the president knows, it's this; I don't know whether Dean really was the one who "turned off" the Brookings break-in, but surely he wouldn't have bragged about it to Richard Nixon if he had known the origin of that scheme.
DEAN: Now, where, where are the soft spots on this? Well, first of all, there's the, there's the problem of the continued blackmail.
DEAN: which will not only go on now, it'll go on when these people are in prison, and it will compound the obstruction of justice situation. It’ll cost money. It's dangerous. Nobody, nothing -- people around here are not pros at this sort of thing. This is the sort of thing Mafia people can do: washing money, getting clean money, and things like that, uh—we’re—We just don’t know about those things, because we're not used to, you know—we are not criminals and not used to dealing in that business. It's, uh, it's, uh--
PRESIDENT: That's right.
DEAN: It's a tough thing to know how to do.
PRESIDENT: Maybe we can't even do that.
DEAN: That's right. It's a real problem as to whether we could even do it. Plus there's a real problem in raising money. Uh, Mitchell has been working on raising some money. Uh, feeling he's got, you know, he's got one, he's one of the ones with the most to lose. Uh, but there's no denying the fact that the White.House, and, uh, Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Dean are involved in some of the early money decisions.
PRESIDENT: How much money do you need?
DEAN: I would say these people are going to cost, uh, a million dollars over the next, uh, two years.
[The Kutler transcript here adds: Pause.]
PRESIDENT: We could get that.
DEAN: Uh huh.
PRESIDENT: You, on the money, if you need the,money, I mean, uh, you could get the money. Let’s
DEAN: Well, I think that we're going
PRESIDENT: What I meant is, you could, you could get a million dollars. And you could get it in cash. I, I know where it could be gotten.
DEAN: Uh huh.
PRESIDENT: I mean it's not easy, but it, could be done.
But, uh, the question is who the hell would
DEAN: That's right. Uh--
PRESIDENT: Any ideas on that?
As the conversation continues, with eventually Haldeman joining in, Nixon keeps returning to the hush money, even as Dean tries to turn elsewhere. It's clear: Nixon realizes, for all the attempts to construct a new cover story and to find some line to hold, that their only real hope is to somehow, even at this late date, keep it to just the seven Watergate defendants.
The meeting ends at 11:55. At 1:06, in the Oval Office, Nixon talks to Rose Mary Woods, his secretary:
President Nixon: Let me ask you something I was checking. We at the present time may have a need for substantial cash for a personal purpose for some things that are outside the political (unintelligible), and so on. Approximately how much do you have at this point in the event (unintelligible)? It would be reimbursed at a later time, but this is something that, I don't know if we wanted it or not, but I got to find out.
They talk a bit more about some sum of money Woods has, which she says that "nobody here knows I have it..."
Later in the afternoon, Nixon and Haldeman discuss getting the money, with Nixon this time mentioning "obstruction of justice" and Haldeman replying that he "hadn't thought of that."
President Nixon: I hadn't thought of it either...We are all in it...I think up to this point that we had certain choices, choices before the election, or after...That's gone.
[ They continue]
Haldeman: Well, apparently that's what Dean was saying; he's learned a lot about this stuff now. He's all ready for next time. They run -- as I understand it, the easy way is to pay it to Vegas and run it through the [casinos?] out there and it gets lost pretty easily in there...
Well, Hunt's not the major liability in Watergate, but he's a major liability [elsewhere]. Liddy is the major liability on Watergate, because Liddy is the one that presumably knows where he got his orders.
President Nixon: My concern is the Colson [stuff?].
There's yet another fascinating meeting later with Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Dean. Again, it's worth looking at in full, but in particular:
DEAN: And the other thing I must say I've noticed is there is a, there's an attitude that has grown amongst all the people that have been involved in this thing to protect their own behinds. And they're going to start going and hiring counsel.
HALDEMAN: Yeah. They've started to do that.
DEAN: Oh yeah. Uh, Dwight, for example, now wants a lawyer; uh, uh, Kalmbach has hired himself a lawyer; Colson has retained a lawyer; and now that we've [unintelligible] enough to know that self-protection is setting in.
PRESIDENT: Well, let's not trust them.
Beyond that, it's another 40 minutes of them trying to find some way of getting ahead of the investigation, and never finding a way to do it.
And then after that, Nixon still has a call to make with Chuck Colson, too. Emery points out that Colson in this conversation stresses Dean's legal liabilities, and says that Dean soon learned to regard Colson as an enemy.
Meanwhile, at some point during the day Dean did talk to Fred LaRue, who called Mitchell, who had LaRue take $75,000 from the remainder of the Haldeman $350,000, which LaRue still had after all this time. LaRue then got the money, that same day, to Howard Hunt.
For all that, the John Sirica still has the letter from James McCord, and sentencing is approaching rapidly.