Sunday, May 19, 2013

May 18, 1973

Another big day. The Watergate Committee hearings continue. The most important development of the day, however, is that Elliot Richardson has now chosen a Special Prosecutor: John Kennedy's old Solicitor General, Archibald Cox.

Earlier in the day, in his Executive Office Building hideaway, the president meets with his old chief of staff.

President Nixon: [...] Bob, ... tell me the honest-to-God truth, were we trying to get [CIA's Vernon] Walters and [Acting FBI Director Pat] Gray put together (unintelligible)? If we were, I need to know it...

Haldeman: ... [There] was that one meeting, and that's all.[...]

President Nixon: As far as that meeting is concerned...people get in here and say we don't want this to go further. Let's find out what the hell the score is. Walters go over and see Gray. Gray said there were CIA people involved, was Mexican money involved? (Unintelligible) I'm more concerned about that -- the Plumbers operation --

Haldeman;  -- the whole question of where this can lead outside the Watergate. We were not concerned about the investigatino on Watergate.

President Nixon: Not at all.

Haldeman: We were concerned about the investigation expanding beyond, for reasons that now we have no problem saying, because all that stuff is out.

President Nixon: Is out. We'll say that that's exactly the reason.

Haldeman: And it is exactly the reason, is because we didn't want the Plumbers operation out.


That's basically correct. It's not quite the whole story; of course the higher-ups at the campaign were directly implicated in Watergate, and Dean, Gordon Strachan, Haldeman, and perhaps Nixon were had some knowledge of the entire campaign "security" and information operation.

The conversation continues for some time; they cover, with some fair amount of honesty, the details of the intervention with the CIA -- Haldeman recalls that the FBI already was curious about CIA involvement, for example.

It includes, however, one crucial admission, in the context of what to do with the Walters memos:


Haldeman: Then [if he has to testify about the CIA/FBI plot] I've got to say it, and then it sounds like an Ehrlichman or Haldeman defense rather than an offensive of why the thing was really done, which --

President Nixon: I ordered the meeting. I directed that you get together, didn't I?

Haldeman: Yes, sir, you did.

President Nixon: You remember I said get Walters and Helms, remember?


Haldeman: I said it was the President's wish that Walters call on Gray and suggest to him that since the five burglars had been arrested this should be sufficient and was not (unintelligible) going to be (unintelligible)...
Haldeman: [Talking now about the meeting with Helms and Walters] And we were concerned about the investigation going beyond Watergate. I think we've got to admit to that.

President Nixon: Absolutely.

Haldeman: Because it's true. We were. As a matter of fact, we were concerned and emphasized, and I think Dean probably emphasized to the Justice Department, to Silbert and everybody else, that this should be limited to the Watergate. And Kleindienst probably did too.

President Nixon: I did too.

Haldeman: And I don't think there's anything wrong with that [...]


I think I've mentioned this before, but again: Haldeman apparently never really accepted that what they had done was obstruction of justice, a crime. Perhaps he did really know and just wouldn't say so, but perhaps he just really didn't understand the difference between normal damage control and covering up a crime -- or, really, multiple crimes.

At any rate, they continue on, talking about the hush money without admitting to each other that they quite knew about it. The conversation ends, as many did that money, with Nixon suggesting that perhaps he should resign the presidency, and Haldeman urging him to never even consider it -- just as Haig, and Ziegler, and others were doing constantly.

As for the Senate: the first day of hearings received mixed reviews. Today, however, the first significant witness is called: James McCord. The headlines came from his prepared statement which he used in response to a question about his contacts with Jack Caulfield:


A. I have a statement, sir, in this regard.

The subject is political pressure on the writer to accept executive clemency and remain silent.

Political pressure from the White House was conveyed to me in January, 1973, by John Caulfield to remain silent, take executive clemency by going off to prison quietly, and I was told that while there, I would receive financial aid and later rehabilitation and a job. I was told in a January meeting in 1973 with Caulfield that the President of the United States was aware of our meeting that the results of the meeting would be conveyed to the President, and that at a future meeting there would likely be a personal message from the President himself.


(For more of McCord's testimony, see here).

Much of what McCord had to say -- for example, that John Mitchell had approved Watergate -- was hearsay, as Nixon and his men had counted on for months. Indeed, the Senators pointed that out. But this wasn't a court of law; it was a Senate committee hearing, and the rules were different there. The pattern was set; even if there were no new revelations in the Watergate Hearing testimony, it was good theater, and it was going to be treated as news.

It's worth making one comment on that. First, remember that this is before CSPAN and before CNN and the other cable news networks: the fact of live coverage (PBS took everything, and the networks all took some; for example, the Times reported that on the 18th in New York CBS, NBC, and PBS would have full coverage, and ABC would have some coverage) was a powerful signal that this was important. Second, remember that in these pre-cable, pre-satelite, days, most people had only seen glimpses of these characters up to this point. Even Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Mitchell, key figures in the administration, were far less ubiquitous than they would be today. None of them were regularly seen in extended appearances; outside of the Sundays shows, where would that have happened? Of course, that alone didn't guarantee that the hearings would be a hit, but it did make it more of an event.

1 comment:

  1. That McCord testified that he had been told that the President of the US wanted him to quietly go to prison (and be paid off, in effect, later) seemed to me at the time to be the beginning of the end for Nixon. If that testimony were corroborated, then we clearly had the President conspiring to obstruct justice.


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