Judge John Sirica began the proceedings by saying he had a preliminary matter to attend to first. He had the clerk unseal the letter, pass it to him, and the judge read (original available at the link):
TO: JUDGE SIRICA March 19, 1973
Certain questions have been posed to me from your honor through the probation officer, dealing with details of the case, motivations, intent and mitigating circumstances.
In endeavoring to respond to these questions, I am whipsawed in a variety of legalities. First, I may be called before a Senate Committee investigating this matter. Secondly, I may be involved in a civil suit, and thirdly there may be a new trial at some future date. Fourthly, the probation officer may be called before the Senate Committee to present testimony regarding what may otherwise be a privileged communication between defendant and Judge, as I understand it; if I answered certain questions to the probation officer, it is possible such answers could become a matter of record in the Senate and there-fore available for use in the other proceedings just described. My answers would, it would seem to me, to violate my fifth amendment rights, and possibly my 6th amendment right to counsel and possibly other rights.
On the other hand, to fail to answer your questions may appear to be non-cooperation, and I can therefore expect a much more severe sentence.
There are further considerations which are not to be lightly taken. Several members of my family have expressed fear for my life if I disclose knowledge of the facts in this matter, either publicly or to any government representative. Whereas I do not share their concerns to the same degree, nevertheless, I do believe that retaliatory measures will be taken against me, my family, and my friends should I disclose such facts. Such retaliation could destroy careers, income, and reputations of persons who are innocent of any guilt whatever.
Be that as it may, in the interests of justice, and in the interests of restoring faith in the criminal justice system, which faith has been severely damaged in this case, I will state the following to you at this time which I hope may be of help to you in meting out justice in this case:
1. There was political pressure applied to the defendants to plead guilty and remain silent.
2. Perjury occurred during the trial in matters highly material to the very structure, orientation, and impact of the government’s case, and to the motivation and intent of the defendants.
3. Others involved in the Watergate operation were not identified during the trial, when they could have been by those testifying.
4. The Watergate operation was not a CIA operation. The Cubans may have been misled by others into believing that it was a CIA operation. I know for a fact that it was not.
5. Some statements were unfortunately made by a witness which left the Court with the impression that he was stating untruths, or withholding facts of his knowledge, when in fact only honest errors of memory were involved.
6. My motivations were different than those of the others involved, but were not limited to, or simply those offered in my defense during the trial. This is no fault of my attorneys, but of the circumstances under which we had to prepare my defense.
Following sentence, I would appreciate the opportunity to talk with you privately in chambers. Since I cannot feel confident in talking with an FBI agent, in testifying before a Grand Jury whose U.S. Attorneys work for the Department of Justice, or in talking with other government representatives, such a discussion with you would be of assistance to me.
I have not discussed the above with my attorneys as a matter of protection for them.
I give this statement freely and voluntarily, fully realizing that I may be prosecuted for giving a false statement to a Judicial Official, if the statements herein are knowingly untrue. The statements are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.
James W. McCord, Jr.
Emery has the scene as the old cliche in which reporters race to the phones.
McCord's sentencing was suspended, pending an interview with the judge. Sirica handed down maximums to the rest, but made all but Liddy's provisional based on their cooperation with the Senate Watergate Committee (Liddy, by then, was clearly not going to talk).
Nixon, that Friday, was in Florida, and so was Haldeman. When the news came, the president had his chief of staff call Mitchell to ask what McCord might say now, and Mitchell wasn't too worried -- he continued to believe, as they all had been believing, that McCord only had hearsay. He winds up calling others, and while there is quite a bit of concern expressed in Haldeman's diary for that day (the entry itself is the longest Watergate one to date), it's not clear yet to them how damaging this will be; Ehrlichman, on the phone with the president, thinks the damage may be to Magruder and Mitchell at the campaign rather than to the White House.
Sirica, meanwhile, acts quickly, and immediately, that day, puts McCord together with Sam Dash, the majority counsel for the Ervin Committee, to whom McCord begins detailing Magruder's perjury -- but also that Dean was involved.
The cover-up is collapsing.
(Note: title corrected; I got the date wrong at first. Ugh).