Wednesday, June 20, 2012

June 19, 1972

Nixon and Haldeman are still in Florida on the Monday after the break-in, so no tapes, and the published Haldeman diary has them thinking about George Wallace again; nothing at all there about Watergate (although apparently they discussed Watergate in Florida, and then again on the plane back to Washington that night).

Nixon is talking to Chuck Colson, telling him to prepare for a counterattack (the only way Nixon knew how to play politics).

As far as the rest of it...

Think of the entire cover-up problem this way.

There are five people in jail, including McCord.

Can the blame be stopped there? The FBI would have to be convinced that they operated on their own. Or, on their own with one other, since clearly there was a lookout involved when the cops showed up. To stop it there would require all the men to stay silent (since they knew at the very least about Hunt and Liddy), plus no evidence being produced to implicate Hunt and Liddy. As we've seen, that starts to break down on within hours.

If it can't be stopped there, and they must have known that was highly improbable right away, can it be limited to the break-in team plus Hunt and Liddy? Again, that's going to require all of them to stay silent, plus no further evidence that the campaign or the White House authorized them. There's also the matter of the other crimes they (and the White House) have committed.

If it can't be stopped at that level...where does it go next? Is there a way to just implicate CRP, but not the White House? Just the White House, without taking down everyone? And if everyone at the White House, what about the president?

That's the problem that was likely clear to some or all of them right away (who exactly knew exactly what and when is much disputed).

So keeping the arrested men quiet and keeping any other evidence out of the FBI's hands becomes the logical next step. By Monday, that means shredding documents, both at CRP (by Liddy as we've seen, and also Magruder and others), and at the White House by Gordon Scrachan, Haldeman's liaison with the campaign who had been receiving what CRP produced (including information that he mistakenly believed was from the bugging, but was actually from other sources). Magruder burned files in his own fireplace that night, following (he and LaRue said) Mitchell's instructions; so, separately, did McCord's wife.

John Dean, the White House counsel, was assigned (by Haldeman and Ehrlichman's agreement) to coordinate everything. He met with Liddy, taking him to a park bench, where Liddy told him the whole story, including the Plumbers. Liddy took responsibility (even offering, in his dramatic way, to be killed for it if they didn't trust him to be silent), and -- remember he's ex=FBI -- gave Dean some practical advice about what internal FBI documents he'd want in order to track the investigation properly.

According to Liddy, Dean also asked him to tell Hunt to leave the country -- only to call Liddy back and cancel those plans, after meeting with Ehrlichman. Earlier that day, Hunt had actually gone to the White House and left a message for Colson that his office safe was "loaded." He also took a call from WaPo's Bob Woodward, who was following up on a tip from another Post reporter about the address books -- Woodward and Bernstein reported about Hunt, including his link to Colson, in the next day's paper. As for Hunt's safe? Dean was told to take possession of it, which required a GSA team to drill it open.

No one, so far, has done anything to get the five men out of jail. Outside of the aborted effort to use Attorney General Kleindienst to shut off the investigation, it's basically been an ad-hoc effort to destroy evidence and try to get a full story of exactly what they're dealing with, something that probably wasn't helped by everyone realizing that prior knowledge was big trouble.

The president and his chief-of-staff, meanwhile, flew back to Washington that night.

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