Monday, July 9, 2012

July 8, 1972

We're still at the Western White House. Bob Haldeman is taking a couple of days down time, but the president goes for a walk on the beach with John Ehrlichman.

Their accounts of this conversation were in dispute, never settled.

They agree that Nixon (again) raised the question of pardons, especially for Hunt.

Ehrlichman says that this was the point at which he fully informed Nixon of everything the Plumbers had done, including the break-in a Fielding's office. Nixon claims he didn't learn of that crime until much later, in March 1973. But we've seen already that Nixon is well aware that Hunt's involvement in Watergate is dangerous because he's been involved in other things. Don't forget, too, that Nixon was perfectly capable of allowing people to tell him something that he already knew and reacting as if it was all new to him -- in other words, it seems to me perfectly plausible that Nixon was up-to-date on the Plumbers long before July 8, 1972. Just as it's plausible that he learned of the Ellsberg psychiatrist break-in that day, or even that Ehrlichman lied and Nixon really didn't know of it yet.

And Nixon and Ehrlichman went around the same problem that never really had a solution: if the investigation gets beyond Hunt and Liddy, then what? They discuss, that is, the possibility of Jeb Magruder eventually taking the blame. But Magruder was simply not up to the job of fall guy; people might believe that Liddy would go off on his own and do something crazy, but that's not what anyone thinks of Magruder. He would inevitably lead people to Mitchell, and then on to the president. And while the cover-up is being built to succeed through the election, the long-term vulnerability remains: there are too many ways that the investigation will eventually move past Hunt and Liddy, and if that happens then there's no way to build the next firewall so that it will really work.

So the cover story -- Liddy acted on his own, and don't look too closely at Hunt and Liddy beyond the Watergate break-in -- simply must be maintained.


  1. I haven't been commenting on these posts (indeed, almost no one has). But they are fascinating. I lived through those events (and used to put off working on my dissertation to watch the Senate hearings in 1974), and to re-read the chronology is really, really capitvating. (I am reminded of a bumper sticker my brother had, which he got upon, as I recall, the publication of Chuck Colson's book, which read
    "Don't by books
    By Watergate crooks."

    1. Thanks. I'm enjoying doing them, but I do appreciate any evidence I get that people like them!

  2. Why is it plausible that Ehrlichman would have lied and that Nixon's story is the correct one? What possible reason do we have to credit Nixon here? And why would Ehrlichman lie about this?

    1. Sure; all you need is that Ehrlichman believed that it was in his interest to shift guilt to Nixon.

      I have to say, though...I'm really, really, open to option three -- that Nixon knew about all of it. The most likely story about this is that we know that Nixon was extremely receptive to stories about dirty tricks and being tough vs. the Dems. Why wouldn't Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and especially Colson want to brag to Nixon about what was going on? It's entirely plausible to me that Colson pumps Hunt for the latest, and then relays it to Nixon, perhaps emphasizing that Hunt was his (Colson's) guy. We do have tapes of Colson acting like that...just not with the specific info that we can't show that Nixon knew.

      Against it is that it would have probably required Nixon to make clear that there were certain things that he was eager to hear, but not in the Oval Office, his EOB office, or over certain phones. And there's certainly no evidence that Colson knew about the tapes, and I doubt he did. Still, it sure seems to me that the incentives are all in favor of bragging to Nixon about this stuff.


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