Thursday, April 18, 2013

April 15, 1973 (part two)

We're now in the evening of Sunday, April 15. Nixon finishes up on the presidential yacht, and heads back: "I dreaded having to go to the White House and face the bleak choices I knew were waiting..."

Also, that afternoon, John Dean was again meeting with the prosecutors, Silbert and Glanzer. Before that meeting, however, Dean showed his own lawyer something new: Dean had a copy of the "Huston plan," the secret plan to have the government spy on, bug, and break-and-enter again domestic opponents. That's the plan that J. Edgar Hoover spiked -- which in turn was why, after the Pentagon Papers, Nixon and his men organized the Plumbers to do from the White House what the proper (as it were) government agencies had refused to do. Dean's lawyer put the documents in safe keeping, eventually turning them over to Sirica, the Watergate judge. Then, to the prosecutors, Dean let drop a huge one: that Liddy and Hunt had broken into Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrists office. And, Dean knew, that there were pictures from that crime in the possession of the Justice Department. They didn't pass that one on to Henry Peterson until the next day.

Meanwhile, Haldeman and Ehrlichman, still not realizing the full extent of what Dean was doing, were waiting for Nixon when he gets back at 7:45. Finally, Nixon starts explaining it them; Haldeman notes that the president "was obviously very awkward in getting into all this and is hedging around, not knowing quite how to get to the point." And so Haldeman's diary is not very clear and there is no tape of tonight's meetings, but at the end of that part of the entry, in the sixth paragraph, he notes the "prima facie case against both Haldeman and Ehrlichman on obstruction of justice."

Ambrose here has a detail here from Haldeman's book, with Nixon saying "I can't fire Dean. I can't risk his going after the President."

At this point, Nixon and Henry Peterson talk on the phone. Peterson has nothing new to report (although he still isn't completely up to date on everything Dean has told the prosecutors at this point; remember that it's still not quite 24 hours since Peterson was brought in), but clarifies to the president that Dean's testimony is still conditional on a deal; "We cannot use it for any purpose unless he pleads.[...] Unless we strike some agreement with him."

Following that (immediately, on the tapes) is a conversation betweeen Haldeman and his assistant, Larry Higby: Dean has called Higby, refusing to speak directly to Haldeman.

--

Higby: He said: Point one: "I hope you understand that my actions are motivated totally out of loyalty to you and the President."

Haldeman: "You."

Higby: "You." "And if not" --

Haldeman: What a minute, wait a minute. "Totally out of loyalty." --

Higby: "To you and the President."

Haldeman: Yes.

Higby: "and, if not clear now, it will become clear." "Two." --

Haldeman: Wait a minute.

Higby: "Ehrlichman requested to meet tonight, but I feel it's inappropriate at this time."

Haldeman: Okay.

Higby: [Three] "I am ready and willing to meet with you" -- meaning the President -- "at any time to discuss these matters." ...[Four] "You" -- meaning the President -- "should take your counsel from Henry Peterson, who I assure you does not want the presidency hurt." That's the end of his message.

--

[That's the Kutler transcript; with the last two numbers interposed from Haldeman's diary]

Nixon decides to take Dean up on his offer, and Dean is fetched to the White House, meeting with the president, alone, at 9:20.

They cover a wide range of topics: that they had previously discussed Hunt's blackmail and the possibility of clemency for him; the "million dollars" that could be arranged, which now (in Dean's version) Nixon referred to as a joke; Dean's current negotiations with the prosecutors; the case for Haldeman and Ehrlichman's obstruction of justice; and the possibility, Dean said, that Gray had destroyed the material in Hunt's safe. Emery notes that Nixon, in discussing the possibility of Dean's resignation -- for remember, Dean is still, insanely, White House Counsel -- apparently said that Haldeman and Ehrlichman were also ready to resign.

According to Dean in his book, some other points. He suspects, from how Nixon acts at one point, that the conversation is being taped. He has Nixon emphasizing that Dean can't tell the prosecutors about their conversations because they are privileged, or about the various Plumbers and other White House materials because of national security. He also says that when he was leaving, he said he "hoped my going to the prosecutors and telling the truth would not result in the impeachment of the President."

There's nothing in Haldeman's notes about Dean's conversations with Nixon.

One problem needed to be cleared up immediately: Hunt's safe. After the arrests in June, Ehrlichman had told Dean to "deep-six" the material, and later agreed to Dean's suggestion to give it to Gray with instructions that it should "not see the light of day." Now, with Haldeman and Nixon in the room, John Ehrlichman calls Acting FBI Director Pat Gray.

--

Ehrlichman: Pat, this is John Ehrlichman.

Gray: Yes, John. Good evening.
[...]
Ehrlichman: I wanted to tell you that John Dean has apparently decided to make a clean breast of things with the U.S. Attorney. One of the questions that apparently they've been asking him is about the envelope that he turned over to you.

Gray: Yeah, well, he better deny that.

Ehrlichman: Well, he's apparently pretty much on the record on that. I thought I'd better alert you to it

Gray: What the hell am I going to do about it?

Ehrlichman: I don't know. Is it still in being?

Gray: No.

Ehrlichman. I see. I don't know.

Gray: I was told it was purely political and I destroyed it.

Ehrlichman: I see, okay. It probably was.

Gray: Is there any way you can turn him off?...
[...]

Ehrlichman: You might want to take a look at your hole card where he's concerned, because I don't know all the ins and outs of your relationship or, you know --

Gray: The only think I can do with this is deny it.

Ehrlichman: Okay.

--

That call begins at 10:45. Ehrlichman then calls back (at 11:05, according to Haldeman) and tells Gray to "level on this if you're asked" and "just state the facts." Gray says: "I'd state it in a different way, that at no time did he [Dean] indicate that this was from Hunt's material." Which really doesn't make much sense.

Nixon says of Ehrlichman: "We watched the blood drain from his face as he listened to the reply" and has him saying "There goes my license to practice law" when he gets off the phone.

It is, in a day of devastating news, another huge blow: they have successfully conspired to destroy evidence, and it's going to be revealed.

With that, Haldeman and Ehrlichman go home. Nixon isn't finished. He calls Peterson again, talking about a potential Dean resignation (which Peterson isn't exactly thrilled about; from his perspective, after all, Dean has become something of a good guy). Nixon emphasizes that the two of them, Nixon and Peterson, are now in charge and will work together to keep Nixon "one step ahead of the curve." As Emery notes, however, the immediate impulse to cover up continues: Nixon, having just heard new evidence of a crime, mentions nothing to Peterson of Gray's destruction of evidence. Of course.

By then Haldeman is home, and Nixon calls him at 12:30 AM to report on the latest conversation with Peterson. Nixon, this time, softens the blow; he passes along Peterson's recommendation that Haldeman and Ehrlichman get lawyers, but also interprets Peterson as saying that obstruction of justice is a difficult case to actually prove. Oh, Haldeman notes, wearily I suppose, in his diary:

--

The P said he had been sitting there making some notes and thinking about the whole thing. He obviously wanted to talk on and on about it, but I didn't encourage that.

1 comment:

  1. Really fascinating. It seems like after so much time spent being shifty and covering it up, it's almost impossible for them to know how to handle things any other way.

    ReplyDelete

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