Friday, April 26, 2013

April 25, 1973

Nixon arrived back in Washington on the 24th, still without having resolved anything. Also on the Tuesday the 24th, John Mitchell testified in front of a grand jury -- but not the Watergate one; this was an investigation related to financier (later fugitive financier) Robert Vesco.

At the White House, Haldeman and Ehrlichman meet with their lawyers, who then meet with Nixon. They're at a stalemate; Nixon clearly wants them to resign, but the lawyers don't want them to go, and Nixon isn't willing to force the issue yet. 

The three co-conspirators -- the president, his chief of staff, and his other most important staff member -- meet in the late morning at the EOB office, where Ehrlichman presses Nixon to come clean:

EHRLICHMAN: ...and if I can say go back and forth and on and so on, but (unintelligible) in thinking about this', I keep coming back to Dean because there are things that don't add up otherwise...


EHRLICHMAN: this whole thing.

PRESIDENT: That's right.
EHRLICHMAN: And, I don't know if you feel you can do this, but I think the three of us know one another well enough, that, we've been through enough together, but (unintelligible) (tape noise) necessary that we have your very candid...

PRESIDENT: Assessment?

EHRLICHMAN: ...assessment of the threat to you. Obviously, neither one of us want to do anything to harm you in any way, we want to avoid harming you.

PRESIDENT: The threat (unintelligible) Dean?


PRESIDENT: All right.

EHRLICHMAN: Now, let me, let me just spin something out for you. As a, as a...


EHRLICHMAN: has a probably a far out point, as we work back...


EHRLICHMAN: ...I think it's entirely conceivable that if Dean is totally out of control and if matters are not handled (unintelligible), that you could get a resolution of impeachment...

PRESIDENT: That's right.

EHRLICHMAN: the Senate...

PRESIDENT: That's right.

EHRLICHMAN: ...I don't know if you've thought of this or not, but I got thinking about it last night. Uh, on the ground that you committed a crime.


EHRLICHMAN: Uh, and that there is no other legal process available to, uh, uh, the United States people, other than...


EHRLICHMAN: ...other than impeachment. Otherwise, you have immunity from prosecution.


EHRLICHMAN: Uh, so I think we have to, I think we have  to think about that. We have to (unintelligible)...


EHRLICHMAN: ...and see about, see what the point is, is it a crime, if any, and uh, how serious it is, and would Dean, is a threat, and what we do about it. Uh, my own analysis is that what he has falls far short of any commission of a crime by you. So far as I know.


EHRLICHMAN: I don't know what you may have talked about with him in those ten or twelve hours you
and he spent there in the months, months of February and March.


EHRLICHMAN: Uh, but, uh, you get down to a point where you've got John Dean prancing in there and
saying, "The President said this and the President said that," and having somebody in your behalf come back and say, "No, the President didn't say that, and that's ridiculous." Uh, and, and, so you get a kind of credibility thing unless, like he seems to be doing, he's very busy, uh, dredging up corroborating evidence and looking for documentation or taking statements from people based on leads that may have developed from those conversations. And I think really the only way that I know to make a judgement on this is for you to listen to your tapes and see what actually was said then, or maybe for Bob to do it, or, or, somebody. See what was said there. And then analyze how big a threat that is


EHRLICHMAN: If it didn't come out of those meetings, then I think it's imaginary.


EHRLICHMAN: Because it then does not come out of your mouth, it comes by reason of the actions of,
or something that one of us said or did, and it can be handled. But if you're really confronted with that kind of a dilemna, or that kind of crisis in this thing, uh, I think before any other steps are taken, any precipitous steps (unintelligible) on us for that matter, uh, you better damn sure know... 

PRESIDENT: That's right.

EHRLICHMAN: ...what your hole card is.



Ehrlichman, as far as we know, didn't know about the White House taping system; his suggestion to "listen to your tapes," Emery concludes, is to the habit they've all developed by now of taping each other. 

In response, Nixon comes closer to coming clean to them than he has in the past:


PRESIDENT: Well, let me suggest this, Bob, uh, you've got the conversation (unintelligible).


PRESIDENT: (Unintelligible).


PRESIDENT: Now, let me say...


PRESIDENT: ...(unintelligible) I think I remember, I would remember everything, except, you see, there's always a possibility that Dean may have discussed this case with (unintelligible). I know the Bittman
conversation, you know...


PRESIDENT: ...I know however, that in that conversation, the question was raised of blackmail-- I know, however, that in that conver-, I also raised the question how much is it going to, would it cost...

HALDEMAN: Yeah. (Unintelligible).

PRESIDENT: ...a million dollars. And I said facetiously, "Well, I guess we can get a million dollars." It was then that we started my whole investigation. Now, I don't know, how does that one sound to you?

EHRLICHMAN: Well, that sounds tough and...


EHRLICHMAN: ...uh, yet it's manageable.

PRESIDENT: Yeah. Point out that that was triggered.


Of course, it's still not exactly honest, since Nixon did not say it "facetiously." Nor does Nixon tell them that he brought the March 21 conversation back to the payoffs multiple times, or that he asked his secretary about money immediately after the conversation. Nor did he start "my own investigation" -- that's a cover story that the three of them concocted after the cover-up collapsed ten or so days ago. 

Later during that meeting Haldeman does duck out to prepare to listen to the tapes, both to find out how bad it is and to prepare selective quotes to help them. Haldeman goes to Stephen Bull, Nixon's appointments aide who knew about the taping system:


Haldeman: [...] [H]ave him deliver to you the material for the period from March 10th to march 23rd. You know what I'm talking about?

Bull. Yes, sir. Telephone?

Haldeman: The whole shot. Have them put it in a suitcase or something. I don't know what form it's in. But put it in some kind of bag so it isn't obvious, and have them bring it to you. And also, get a machine that is technically capable of listening to it...The smallest and most simple such machine.
Haldeman: All right, and do it as quickly as possible.


Meanwhile, after sitting on news of the Fielding break-in for several days, Henry Petersen finally feels he has to act on it -- after all, Daniel Ellsberg is on trial. The next thing is the president gets a call from the Attorney General:


Kleindienst: ...I've got to see you right away.

President Nixon: Why?

Kleindienst: It came to my attention this morning the implications of Dean's statement to Silbert with respect to the Ellsberg case....


Ten minutes later, Kleindienst is in Nixon's hideaway in the Executive Office Building. He notifies the president about the Liddy/Hunt operation, and explains that it must be disclosed to the judge at the Ellsberg trial. Nixon doesn't deny the break-in (although he claims that "Dean was the one who implemented the whole thing,"), and tries to suggest as he did with Petersen that it's a national security matter and therefore out of bounds, but Kleindienst isn't buying:


Kleindienst: ...If we tell them, this is going to be out in the street tomorrow or two days from now, a week, and the law clearly dictates that we have to do -- it could be another Goddamn cover-up, you know.

President Nixon: Right.

Kleindienst: We can't have another cover-up, Mr. President.

President Nixon: I don't want any cover-ups of anything. You know that.


Kleindienst: It seems to me, Mr. President, we've got to do this [tell the court] this afternoon. We've got to do this before we run the risk of this getting out in the streets...

President Nixon: What is Dean -- what's he doing, pointing a gun basically at Ehrlichman?


President Nixon: It's gonna kill the [Ellsberg] case.

Kleindienst: Oh, no, I don't think so. I don't think so...

President Nixon: The other point is that Liddy and Hunt, of course, or Dean could say he was ordered to by Ehrlichman.

Kleindienst: Sure. He could say he was to by you.

President Nixon: No, he won't do that [...]


Nixon here is, although Kleindienst doesn't realize it, betraying more guilty knowledge; he knows exactly that Ehrlichman was the one who approved the Fielding operation. Although later in the conversation, Nixon claims "I haven't the slightest idea about the Goddamn thing," which is not true, either. 

The conversation continues for a while on the subject of Dean, with Kleindienst too feeling betrayed by Dean. 

Immediately afterwords, Haldeman comes back from listening to the tapes, and reports in detail about the March 21st conversation. His diary version:

 Haldeman's diary:


Then [after the late morning meeting with the president] I left to review the tapes. Did that and went back over and went over what's on the tapes, which had the P again very concerned because of the implications that are in there. The actual facts work out pretty well because he did a superb job of getting the information out of Dean, which is what he was after. But he's concerned that Dean may have had a tape recorder on him and would use the tape itself, which could be made to appear more damaging than the facts would actually testify.


Haldeman -- and he's the only one of these players who is not a lawyer -- apparently never did understand, to the end of his life, that what Nixon was up to (and what they were all up to) was a clear obstruction of justice, and even worse, perhaps, a massive betrayal of his oath of office. After all, Nixon as president is the chief executive, and he has been (as Haldeman knows) in possession of facts of criminal action for months -- and, even if he wasn't earlier, would clearly have been in possession of facts of criminal action after he spoke to Dean. Whether the Dean tape is sufficient for impeachment is largely a political question, but "the actual facts" hardly "work out pretty well" for Nixon. But Nixon realizes exactly how bad it is:


PRESIDENT: Well, (unintelligible). I said, well, that's-- we gotta keep the cap on it. We can get the money, huh? But I said 

HALDEMAN: Ya see, you're trying it out.


HALDEMAN: You're trying to see how far it goes. You said, "Is that your recommendation?" That's, you do that all the time. You ask people questions on the basis of--, to try and see what direction they're going.
That's...they're leading questions. But it doesn't mean that your statement is (unintelligible).

PRESIDENT: I said a million dollars. With a million dollars (unintelligible) clemency. You couldn't do it till after the '74 elections. That's an incriminating thing. His, his word against the President's.

PRESIDENT: (Unintelligible) tape recorder in his pocket.


After that is over, Henry Petersen comes in, and Nixon and Petersen discuss, at length, the Dean situation. Nixon tells Petersen that all summer he had instructed everyone to tell the story, but that they had not done so; that he began his own investigation on March 21, having stayed out of it up to that point; and that he certainly had not approved paying off Hunt -- and that if Dean accused him of it, it would be a lie. Nixon also asks Petersen to put on paper for him the case against Haldeman (remember, Nixon has now replaced Dean as the point man to keep the conspirators informed of what Justice was up to). 

Next, and we're in the evening by now, are two conversations with Kleindienst, who has called the Ellsberg prosecutors with the big news. Nixon pushes him again: the judge in the case needs to know that "this is a national security investigation of the highest importance." 

He also called Haldeman after the Petersen meeting and went over all of it. Then, later at night, he called Haldeman back one more time, asking if there's any way they can test for whether Dean was carrying a tape recorder on March 21. Again, it's pretty clear that Nixon, if not Haldeman, realized just how devastating that conversation was.

1 comment:

  1. There's an interesting moment in that later conversation with Haldeman that you link to.

    He seems to be justifying taking Dean on and fighting the thing out as 'my word against his' by virtue of his continuing popularity, especially in red America.

    PRESIDENT: Ya, ya, that's right despite all the polls and all the rest, I think there's still a hell of a lot of people out there, and from
    what I've seen, they're--you know, they,
    they want to believe, that's the point,
    isn't it?

    This reminds me of your post from June 8th, and especially the quote from Nelson Polsby:

    Politics for Mr. Nixon was electoral politics, campaign politics. Election conferred a mandate, an entitlement for him to act in office as his predecessors had acted, i small ways as well as in large ways.

    So did Nixon at some level think the very idea of Justice, the Senate etc. bringing him down over this was an elite affront to the popular will? Did he think of the legal sphere, as well as the political, in electoral terms?


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