Thursday, March 28, 2013

March 28, 1973

In public, or close to in public, a landmark: a hearing of the Ervin Committee. It comes about because James McCord is reluctant to continue with the committee attorney and demands to speak to the full committee. They agree to hold a closed hearing; Ervin himself is unable to attend. It rapidly leaks out, with Connecticut maverick Republican Lowell Weicker the main source. And it's big news: McCord, having already named Magruder and Dean, now says that John Mitchelll and Chuck Colson had prior knowledge of the break-in.

However, it turns out that the real breakthrough was someone else McCord mentions: Jeb Magruder's assistant at CRP, Robert Reisner. Reisner had never been questioned by the FBI or the prosecutors, but he knew about all three Gemstone meetings, and had even been the one deputized by Magruder to tell Liddy, eventually, that the final plan was approved.

Meanwhile, in the White House, another series of meetings, with John Mitchell coming down after yesterday's request. Haldeman's diary, on his first meeting with the president: "We need to decide what to do if events overrun us."

That's in the morning. They meet again early in the afternoon, after Haldeman has learned more of what Magruder is now saying:


Haldeman: John [Ehrlichman] talked to Dean on what Jeb [Magruder] had told him....[J]ust trying to lay out what he thinks, what happened here is that the whole intelligence plan was hatched here at the White House by Hunt, Liddy, and Colson. And Colson called Jeb twice to tell him to get going on this thing, and specifically referred to the Larry O'Brien information. [...] [Magruder] says that there were four people in the White House who had full knowledge of the Watergate operation -- Colson, Dick Howard, who worked for Colson, Gordon Strachan, and Haldeman.
Haldeman: And Haldeman because Gordon Strachan told him that I approved the plan. Now Gordon Strachan says flatly and absolutely that he did not know and that I did not approve the plan...

President Nixon: And you didn't approve the plan.

Haldeman: No, sir. I did not.

President Nixon: But I think it's the important thing here that Strachan says it too.


They continue, talking now about Magruder's charge that Dean coordinated his (Magruder's) perjury, but that the problem now is that Dean is surely going to the grand jury and wants to tell a different story -- one that will undercut Magruder. Remember, Magruder's story -- everyone's story -- was that Liddy and Dean ran off unauthorized, with no one at the committee or the White House knowing anything about it, and siphoning off moneys that were given for something else. Now Dean wants to testify about the two Gemstone meetings so that he can say that he, Dean, opposed Gemstone. Which, so far, isn't supposed to exist (the problem being that Dean, who hasn't yet testified, doesn't want to commit perjury).

Haldeman then has John Dean in to talk to Mitchell and Magruder. Dean is only just now back from Camp David, where he still isn't writing the Dean Report, and now he asks Mitchell about it all. In his conversation with Mitchell, Dean says that Mitchell confessed. The story, as Emery relays it, is that Dean talks to Mitchell about the two Gemstone meetings he attended, and then at Mitchell's urging speculates that "Colson and Haldeman had piled on the pressure" and Mitchell eventually just authorized the thing to get rid of it. To which Mitchell replies: "Your theory is right, except we thought it would be one or two times removed from the committee." So that's Dean's story; Mitchell, however, denies it.

Dean also tells Haldeman, in addition to all that, that he is planning to consult a criminal attorney about the situation, something that Colson has been urging the president to do because none of the staff has expertise in what they're up against now.

Nixon and Haldeman mention this in their evening phone call:


President Nixon:...I think the difficulty in Dean's case is that (unintelligible) he can hire a criminal lawyer and so forth and so on, but where's that going to lead him? I mean, if you look at Dean, why I suppose --

Haldeman: We, he may show him a way around this, you know, that's a technicality basis or something like that.

President Nixon: I really feel that Dean's -- Dean is a damn good thing here. You know what I mean? I think I would stand on that. I mean, I personally would stand back of him on it, what the White House counsel simply can't talk. You know?

Haldeman: Well, but he's got to talk on his own charge. I mean, if he's charged directly, unless he takes the Fifth, and then you've got to fire him.

President Nixon: Well, maybe that has to e done. What good would that do? Then the question is about the others.

Haldeman: Yeah. And Dean's capable of talking just like Magruder is, if you undercut him very far too.

President Nixon: Oh, Christ, I wouldn't think of undercutting him. Never. He's been a hero, really.

Haldeman: Yeah.

President Nixon: Really, he's been a sturdy, like a giant. No, no, no, no, no.[...]
President Nixon: Be sure he knows we -- that he's backed to the hilt, doesn't he?

Haldeman: Oh yeah. He's in good shape.

President Nixon: Just thinks this won't work?

Haldeman: He just sees what at the moment is a knotty problem that he doesn't see the end...

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