With the big Washington Post story out in the morning, much of the day is consumed, again, with whether Haldeman and Ehrlichman will stay or go.
The president meets again with Petersen, with the main topic Nixon trying to push hard on "national security" for the Fielding break-in and any other Plumbers material Petersen shouldn't get in to. Nixon's line to Petersen is that "Nothing in terms of break-ins or anything was approved" but that the Fielding break-in nevertheless is completely justified on national security grounds -- Nixon says he would have approved it.
In their general conversation about it, Nixon finally gets to mention the alleged LBJ bugging of Nixon's 1968 campaign plane. This does not shut down the investigation into Watergate.
But for now, Petersen goes along with Nixon's instructions, and passes it along to Silbert, the prosecutor.
And word comes late in the day that there's another Washington Post blockbuster coming in the morning that will say Haldeman engineered the entire cover-up. There's a parallel process going on: there's the part of it involving the prosecutors and the grand jury, which takes place more or less in secret; and then there's also everyone's attempt to fight it out in the newspapers. Magruder, Dean, the White House -- everyone is trying to get material public in a way that makes themselves look good. And given how much guilt there is and how widely it's spread around, it's fairly easy for any of the key players to leak out wrongdoing by others and be completely -- or at least mostly -- accurate.
Here's one taste of how things seem within the White House at this point -- a piece of a conversation late that morning between Ehrlichman and Nixon. In particular, Nixon's first speech here is...well, pretty amazing.
PRESIDENT: Now let me put, put one other question to you right. Very painful, I know it's very painful for you to think of this, and it is for me too, but anyway, but, uhh, I think it would be helpful if you had this
consideration when you talk the rest of the day, this and that, bother you the rest of the day I hope. I think the separation problem has to be considered. I want you to look at it very coldly, not in terms of Bob, in terms of the President, the needs that we have and have had, and an atmosphere, Mr. So and So, look at this thing, in terms of your, about how you're involved in terms of whether it's going to be bad, and what, how you are involved, what Dean may say. Don't know what the son-of-a-bitch is going to say. I don't know what you do with the Dean (unintelligible) he's obviously very upset. He's just lashing out. Goddammit, I don't know what we've been told. I just don't know, John. Frankly, I'm at a loss. We were all talking frankly, that's why the counsel was sworn.
EHRLICHMAN: Well, as I said...
PRESIDENT: That goddamn Dean.
EHRLICHMAN: As I said this morning, I think you can very truthfully and logically and properly say that ...
PRESIDENT: I was trying to bury, I was trying, I was really trying to probe his thought processes. I went down every road we possibly could...
EHRLICHMAN: Exactly right.
PRESIDENT: ...and see where we were.
EHRLICHMAN: And it paid off. You see, you're the one who then came back and said, "I've go to have that all written down. Send that man to Camp David if necessary and have him take as much time as necessary and let's get it all down." That's when he was uncovered.
PRESIDENT: I suppose that really isn't true.
PRESIDENT: Not that he was uncovered, it was simply the fact that he said, "By God, this thing is such a cancer and so forth, that I can't write it and there's no way we make a statement," and I said to you, John, "You better get into it." Take...
EHRLICHMAN: Yes, but I happen to be...
EHRLICHMAN: This may be some measure of hindsight, but I really don't think it is because my very
conscious contemporary reaction when Dean came back and didn't have anything for us, was, whoops, there's something more here, because Dean could have constructed some kind of an artful ah, ah, evasion if he hadn't been so pervasively involved.
EHRLICHMAN: For the, for the campaign committee or the White House, or whoever he wanted to protect, but, uhh, the thing that occurred to me when, when Bob told me what Dean said that he couldn't, he couldn't write it. I just had a mental image of the guy sitting there with big piles of paper saying, "I've just written a confession, and I would be nuts to deliver this to anybody."
PRESIDENT: Well, that's what we have to say.
EHRLICHMAN: Well, I think, I think that's very very probable.