Thursday, March 28, 2013

March 27, 1973

Nixon and Haldeman are back in Washington, dealing with the McCord accusations that have leaked, Jeb Magruder's new threats, Dean's impossible situation, the continuing possibility that Hunt or Liddy will start talking, the continuing effort to find some way to get on top of things, the Gray nomination (which is still out there)'s going to be a busy day.

(Note: At this point, and for the next few weeks, there's far more information than I can include in these posts; I'll do what I can, but the White House is now obsessed with Watergate -- and there's also the prosecutors and the Ervin Committee. Haldeman's published diary has eight pages, virtually all on Watergate, today; Kutler has six taped conversations, and that doesn't include one revealed in time for Watergate trials).

The president meets with Haldeman in the morning and gets the biggest new bombshell: that Jeb Magruder, who was once a Haldeman protegee and had run the day-to-day operations of the campaign, was now threatening to say that Watergate was a Haldeman operation:



The next meeting is Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Nixon. They circle around to the one plan which might get them off the hook -- one that Ehrlichman has pushed for some time. If Mitchell confesses and takes responsibility for Watergate, then it's limited to the campaign, not the White House:


HALDEMAN: All I have is Dean's report. I did not talk to Mitchell, because this thing changed (unintelligible) want to be from Mitchell. Uh, he had a long conversation again today with Paul O'Brien, who's the guy he's been -- talked with yesterday. . .you know, this, that, and all that, and uh, he says O'Brien
is very distressed with Mitchell. The more he thinks about it, the more O'Brien comes down to Mitchell could cut this whole thing off, if he would just step forward and cut it off. That the fact of the matter is as
far as Gray could determine that Mitchell did sign off on it. And if that's what it is...

PRESIDENT: You mean as far as O'Brien is concerned.


EHRLICHMAN: You said, "Gray."

PRESIDENT: What's that?

HALDEMAN: I'm sorry. O'Brien not Gray. As far as O'Brien can determine, Mitchell did sign off on this thing and, uh, that's, and Dean believes that to be the case also. He can't, Dean doesn't think he can prove it,
and apparently O'Brien can't either, but they both think that that...

HALDEMAN: The more O'Brien thinks about it, the more it bothers him with all he knows, to see all the people getting whacked around, that he sees getting whacked around, in order to keep the thing from focusing on John Mitchell, when inevitably it`s going to end up doing that anyway and all these other people are going to be so badly hurt they're not going to be able to get out from under. Uh, and that's one view.

[And now Haldeman reviews what he has already gone over with Nixon in the earlier conversation: Jeb Magruder's new story]

HALDEMAN: How, to go back on the Magruder situation as O`Brien reports it, having spent several hours with Magruder, yesterday afternoon, O`Brien and Parkinson. Jeb believes, or professes to believe, and O`Brien is inclined to think he really does believe, that the whole Liddy plan, the whole super-security operation, super-intelligence operation was put together by the White House, by Haldeman, Dean and others.


HALDEMAN: Really, Dean, that Dean cooked the whole thing up at Haldeman`s instruction. Uh, the
whole idea of the need for a super-intelligence operation. Now there`s some semblance of, of, uh, validity to the point, that I did talk, not with Dean, but with Mitchell, about the need for intelligence activity and--

PRESIDENT: And that Dean recommended Liddy?

HALDEMAN: Yeah, but not for intelligence. Dean recommended Liddy as the General Counsel.

PRESIDENT: Yeah, but you see this is where Magruder might come--Well, go ahead. Okay.

HALDEMAN: Uh, that Mitchell bought the idea that was cooked up in the White House for a super-
intelligence operation, and that this was all set and an accomplished fact in December of `71 before Liddy was hired by the Committee. But then, Liddy was hired by the Committee to carry it out and that's why
Dean sent Liddy over to the Committee. Then there was a hiatus. There were these meetings in Mitchell`s office, uh, where Liddy unveiled his plan. And the first plan he unveiled, uh, nobody bought. They all
laughed at it. Cause it was so bizarre So he went back to the drawing, board and came back with a second plan and the second plan didn`t get, bought either. That was at the second meeting and everything just
kind of lingered around then. It was sort of hanging fire. Liddy was pushing to get moving on his plans. And at that point, he went to Colson and said, “Nobody will approve any of this, uh, uh, and, you know, we could, we should be getting,...


HALDEMAN: ...getting going on it." And Colson then got into the act in pushing to get which, which started with the Colson phone call to Magruder saying, ”Well at least listen to these guys.” Then the final step was--all of this was rattling around in January. The final step was when Gordon Strachan called Magruder and said Haldeman told him to get this going, “The President wants it done and there`s to be no more arguing about it.” This meaning the intelligence activity, the Liddy program. Magruder told Mitchell this, that Strachan had ordered him to get it going on Haldeman`s orders on the President's orders and Mitchell signed off on it. He said, “Okay, if they say to do it, go ahead.”

PRESIDENT: Uh, was that this is the bugging?

HALDEMAN: The whole thing including the bugging.



Dean's been pushing the idea of going, himself, to the grand jury and getting immunity. Now, there's another idea that they've started working on that Dean is pushing: a Warren-type commission to get around both the Senate and the grand jury. Ready?


HALDEMAN: Now, no man is above the law and that is a basic principle we must operate on, but under these circumstances, there's no possibility of a fair hearing and every man is entitled to the protection of the law, and the public is entitled to the facts in this matter. But the people who are in charge and are involved are entitled to, fair treatment. People who are involved, or were then accused to be. So, I'm creating a super panel which will have the cooperation of all investigative agencies. All the people who have been charged in this matter, have volunteered to submit their entire, their facts, to this panel.

PRESIDENT: Be questioned by it.

HALDEMAN: And be questioned by it. They've agreed to waive their right to trial by jury.

PRESIDENT: What (unintelligible) is that.

HALDEMAN: And the panel is empowered to act to remove, anybody that it sees fit because of involvement, to level fines and to impose criminal sanctions. The defendants in the in the Watergate trial, the men who have already been, uh, can also submit any information that they want.

PRESIDENT: (Unintelligible).

HALDEMAN: Anyone who does not submit to the proceedings of this committee under these conditions...


HALDEMAN: ...will be faced with the fact that all information developed by the committee from all other sources will be turned over to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. There will be no judgment until all the facts are received by the commission and then the commission will make public all of, its findings and the reasons for all actions taken. They will proceed in secret and their decisions will be final and not subject to appeal. And the people appearing before them will voluntarily submit to that. Right (unintelligible).

PRESIDENT: What kind of an appeal? How`s that (unintelligible).

HALDEMAN: Uh, I don't know.

EHRLICHMAN: That`s--that sounds like a little bit simpler than that, than what I originally thought he had in mind. He says, uh

PRESIDENT: Wonder if the President has the power to set up such a thing. Can he do that sort of thing? I know that the main point. I don't think so.

EHRLICHMAN: Executive process.

HALDEMAN: By voluntary (unintelligible).

EHRLICHMAN: You get the (unintelligible).

EHRLICHMAN: Yeah, but it isn't, it isn't that guy. It's the fellow who doesn't submit, who in effect is being denied due process.

PRESIDENT: Uh, you--you're right.

HALDEMAN: The information on him will be turned over to the criminal--might be he`d be subpoenaed.

PRESIDENT: No, then, you sort of condemned him by...

EHRLICHMAN: Negative inference.


PRESIDENT: ...negative inference.

HALDEMAN: We're all condemned by negative inference right now.

EHRLICHMAN: I, I appreciate that, but that's--

PRESIDENT: You're not condemned by a court.

EHRLICHMAN: Uh, it's a little different. Well, I, that isn't, that isn't a sine qua non on this thing. No.

HALDEMAN: He feels that there are a lot of advantages on this, uh, and two major internal ones. It will take the panel a long time to get set up, get its processes worked out, get its hearings done and make its findings and then you'll probably be past the '74 elections which`ll be desirable (unintelligible). Secondly, is the, the President maintains the ultimate stroke on it, because he always has the option on January 19 to pardon anybody who needs a pardon. So the potential ultimate penalty anybody that would get hit in this process could be about two years. His view would be to put--you need to get someone on the panel who knows politics. Former Governor, or something like that. But, uh, if you would want Earl Warren, if he'll do it, but he's down in Florida. What could that matter to the people? So what are you gonna do about Ervin? Well, you call Ervin down. You tell him the plans and explain why you're doing it, that justice is not being carried out now, there's a finger pointing and a lot of problems. And you ask him to hold his hearings in abeyance until the panel serves its purpose.


I mean, it's a complete bonkers plan, no? In the sense that there's no way that either the Senate or the courts would go along. Haldeman and Nixon had spoken, earlier in the day, about who might be's just  flailing. But soon enough, they return to the best option they had:


HALDEMAN: [...] The only other idea Dean comes up with is he said, "One thing you might want to consider is the President calling Mitchell in for a one-on-one talk. The President now has all the facts on this (unintelligible) tell us. But I, Dean, don't know the facts on Mitchell.” He said, "I thin think that Mitchell would not pull any punches with the President and if the President--that, that would be a way to find out what Mitchell's true perception of what did and didn't happen was."

HALDEMAN: And that's probably the only--supposing you had (unintelligible).

PRESIDENT: Suppose now, the fact that (unintelligible) too, my time. Suppose you call Mitchell and
say to him, "Will you--what do you, what do you learn, and uh, for what?” And Mitchell says, "Yes, I did it.” Then what do we say?

HALDEMAN: It's knowledge than we possess right now. If he would only confess (unintelligible).


EHRLICHMAN: And that's a terrible thing. I, uh, I think if he were faced with that reality, uh, he would,

PRESIDENT: Well, what is Mitchell's option though? You mean to say, uh let`s, see what he could do. Does Mitchell come in and say, "My fault...My memory was faulty. I lied?” No. He can't say that.

EHRLICHMAN: He says, uh, uh--

PRESIDENT: "That I may have given a-- without intending to, I may have given, been responsible for this, and I, I regret it very much, but I did not intend that, I did not realize what they were up to. They, they were talking, we were talking about apples and oranges.” That’s what I think he would say. Don't you agree?

HALDEMAN: I think.


HALDEMAN: He authorized apples and they bought oranges. Yeah

PRESIDENT: Mitchell, you see, is never, never going to go in and admit perjury. I mean you can, uh, talk about immunity and all the rest, but he's never going to do that.

HALDEMAN: They won't give him immunity anyway, I wouldn't think, unless they figure they could get you. He is as high up as they`ve been.

EHRLICHMAN: He's the big Enchilada.


Here's the thing about the Mitchell-did-it plan, which they've been batting around since June. 1. Every time one of them decides to finally confront Mitchell, they wind up choking; 2. Nixon's analysis is that Mitchell won't go for it anyway; 3. Even if Mitchell was to go for it, they still have the problem that it bypasses the White House staff, but not Nixon -- all of them have noted repeatedly that no one would believe that Mitchell did this and Nixon didn't know about it; 4. At any rate, it's really only a solution to the break-in at the Watergate. It doesn't help with obstruction of justice, which given McCord and Gray is very much on the table; it also doesn't help with the White House horrors, which means that Hunt, at least, would still be a problem for all of them.

Haldeman does call Mitchell, though, and asks him to come down to meet with them the next day (and is surprised to find that Magruder is in Mitchell's office when he calls). Back to Magruder:


PRESIDENT: How do you analyze Magruder, uh, tossing it off to you rather than to Mitchell? I mean
did that surprise you?

HALDEMAN: Well, he hits Mitchell too. I think he's trying to wrap me because he wants to get you in. I think, uh, my view is that what Magruder was doing here was firing a threat rather than an intent to say it--I don't think he intends to use that so much as he intended--he's trying to get. people shook up.

PRESIDENT: He isn't asking to see me is he?

EHRLICHMAN: Oh, no. He's trying, he's trying to get the line around you for his own protection.

HALDEMAN: (Unintel1igible) In other words, if all Magruder is going to do is take the dive himself, then we aren't going to care about it, if he makes, if he makes us worry that he's going to get...


HALDEMAN: ...Mitchell, you and me.

PREESIDENT: you see any way though, any way, that Magruder can stick to his story? No.

EHRLICHMAN: Yes, because he's an, he's an ingenious ...

PRESIDENT: Stick to the story? Yeah.

EHRLICHMAN: ...He is an ingenious witness, uh, uh--I think. I'm told. If he is really as good as he is, uh, as they say he is as a witness, its possible he could get away with it. Uh, it's, it's arguable.

PRESIDENT: So, that its his word against McCord.

EHRLICHMAN: And, and he is flowing with the stream, you see, he's, he's saying the things they want
him to say.

PRESIDENT: No. No. No. NO. No. No. No. No. I don't mean if he says, if I, I mean--

EHRLICHMAN: Oh, if he sticks to his old story—I see, I see.


EHRLICHMAN: I thought you meant the story he's laying out here.

PRESIDENT: Oh, no. No. This story. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. They'd take that in a minute.

EHRLICHMAN: I tell ya I am, I`m to the point now where I don`t think, this thing is going to hold
together, and my hunch is that anybody who tries to stick with a story that is not susceptible to corroboration is in, going to be in serious difficulty.

PRESIDENT: So, what do you feel then?

EHRLICHMAN: Well, that is why I said I thought he ought to move to a, a real and immune confession
of perjury if he can do it. There's too many crosscurrents in this thing now.

PRESIDENT: Yeah. This is my view that (unintelligible), I'm sure he checked it out. If Magruder is going to say that--then what the hell is in it for him?


PRESIDENT: Well, if he gets immunity—Good...


PRESIDENT: ...Good God!


The idea is that former Secretary of State William Rogers might be able to set up the Warren Commission-like panel, but Nixon meets with Rogers that day and Rogers shoots it down. So that's going nowhere. Late that afternoon, Haldeman checks in with Dean about the day's events, including Hunt's new appearance before the grand jury.


Haldeman: So the grand jury didn't meet this afternoon?

Dean: Yes, they did, but it was after that meeting. All counsel were present in the courtroom and then Hunt was to go before the grand jury in that situation...We have a terrible breakdown in communication with both the committees and now the grand jury. I used to be able to stay plugged in with the grand jury, but I'm too hot to do it now.


Then Haldeman talks about the options, including a special prosecutor, and report back in the evening to Nixon:


Haldeman: [Colson said] there is a very clear case for conspiracy to commit perjury, a very clear case for conspiracy to obstruct justice. Both those cases can be made and they can be sustained. As he put it, if a special prosecutor were to go to a Warren Commission, you would ensure indictment and almost probably, almost certainly conviction on those counts for a number of people.

President Nixon: So the Warren Commission's out?

Haldeman: He says the problem is, for any practical purposes if you bring in a special prosecutor, even with this grand jury, you can't limit his authority.
Haldeman: The greatest danger we have, Chuck feels, is a runaway grand jury.[...] And our objective now totally should be to control the grand jury and to control what happens within the grand jury. And he says the problem on the obstruction thing is that everyone in the White House, maybe not everyone, but a hell of a lot of people are participants in one way or another except himself.
President Nixon: Rewriting history a little better.


Colson's advice is basically the most sensible thing anyone has proposed all day: hunker down. No fantasies of getting in front of the story. Oh, and that the president should hire a criminal lawyer to advise him, since none of the staff are in a position to do that. But it's too late for that, too.


  1. This series continues to be incredible. Hats off and thank you, Mr. Bernstein.

  2. From what I can gather, in March 1973, Rogers was still the *current* Secretary of State. Kissinger only succeeded him in September.


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