Wednesday, January 9, 2013

January 8, 1973

"McCord will testify, but he has no firsthand knowledge."

"McCord has no firsthand knowledge of any involvement of other people; therefore, Dean's not too worried about his taking the stand."

The first quote is Haldeman's diary; the second, Haldeman to the president in the Oval Office. It's the first day of the trial, or at least jury selection, before Judge John Sirica, and John Dean briefs Bob Haldeman, the president's Chief of Staff, about what's happening. After which Nixon briefs the president. From an Oval Office conversation between Nixon, Haldeman, and John Ehrlichman:


Haldeman: Well, the way it appears now is that Hunt is going to take a guilty plea on three counts, and he'll do it after [U.S. Attorney Earl] Silbert's opening statement and the jury is empaneled and sequestered. They will ask him, presumably, whether there were any higher-ups involved after he takes his guilty plea, and he'll say no, and he'll go to jail. The attorney for the Cubans, this guy [Henry] Rothblatt, is a super guy who wants to -- I mean a zealot who wants to play the game with them. Liddy is not going to go guilty. He's going to go for an innocent plea, go to trial on the bases of [looking] for an error. He thinks he can screw something up somewhere, that they'll screw something up somewhere and [he will] get off. The all will sit -- none of them will testify.

President Nixon: But they'll have to testify.

Haldeman: And none of them will take the stand, except McCord, who does intend to take the stand, but McCord has no firsthand knowledge of any involvement of other people; therefore, Dean's not too worried about his taking the stand. All of the Cubans and Liddy, if convicted -- which presumably they will be -- and, if immunized after conviction by the Congress in order to take them up there for stuff, will sit mute and will take contempt of Congress charges --

President Nixon: And spend another year in jail.

Haldeman: Rather than testify before Congress. At least that's their present position.


What then follows is a long conversation about an idea of Dean's -- that maybe they can somehow use the (alleged) bugging of Nixon's campaign plane in 1968 by Lyndon Johnson to get all of the Watergate defendants off. The idea seems to be to at least "turn off" the coming Congressional investigation by threatening to reveal what LBJ did. That bugging is something Nixon comes back to repeatedly, apparently both because it bothers him (it's part of people being out to get him) and because he wants to use it to blackmail Johnson on one thing or another. In fact, Haldeman and Nixon get into it again a few hours later.

But that's not all; Nixon also meets with Colson on the 8th (Emery's transcription, in this case):


President Nixon: Question of clemency -- Hunt's is a simple case. I mean after all, the man's wife is dead, was killed; he's got one child that has --

Colson: -- brain damage from an automobile accident.

President Nixon: That's right.

Colson: [Unintelligible] one of his kids.

President Nixon: We'll build, we'll build that sonafabitch up like nobody's business. We'll have [William] Buckley write a column and say, you know, that he, he should have clemency.


Nixon adds that "I would have difficulty with some of the others." Colson, too, points out that the problem is only Hunt and Liddy -- "the others don't know anything direct...I don't give a damn if they spend five years in jail in the interim....They can't hurt us." Hunt and Liddy, however, Colson says, had "direct [unintelligible] meetings, discussions are very incriminating to us" (combining, here, transcriptions from Emery and Ambrose).

Just to step back: this isn't just the president being aware of the cover-up; this is the President of the United States fully involved in obstruction of justice.

Dean, reporting to Haldeman earlier, had expressed the problem with McCord, who is asking for no jail time at all -- and not only that, but the former CIA man doesn't want the CIA to be blamed for anything. McCord wasn't happy at all, and was passing along accusations to the CIA -- which, in this case, held the information, not turning it over either to the White House or the prosecutors. McCord also was trying to threaten the White House, through his predecessor as the security person at the Committee to Re-elect, Jack Caulfield.

But Dean and the others, focused presumably just on the trial, don't think that McCord's second-hand and probably incomplete information was much of a danger.

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