Sunday, February 17, 2013

February 16, 1973

Why did Richard Nixon decide to nominate L. Patrick Gray to be the director of the FBI? Apparently, it was all about loyalty, which Nixon decided was more important than brains -- which he didn't think Gray really had -- or the risks that were involved in having someone go up for confirmation hearings who wasn't really fully part of the cover-up but nonetheless had plenty of guilty knowledge.

Or perhaps, as Nixon told Ehrlichman, because he believed that Gray could deflect Watergate away from the White House and towards the FBI.

At any rate, he did it. On February 16, he had the second of two meetings with Gray to discuss the position, the first having been on the 14th. Before they meet, John Ehrlichman has a reminder for the president...I'll quote Emery:


Before Nixon calls Gray to the Oval Office, Ehrlichman reminds the president of Gray's Watergate "guilty knowledge." The contents of Hunt's [White House] safe had been turned over to him the previous June by Ehrlichman and Dean. Ehrlichman later swore that he never even intimated to Gray that these materials should be destroyed. Yet here, on tape, he can be heard telling Nixon that he had told Gray, "I don't care what you do with it so long as it never appears." Nixon, remembering Hunt's operations against Ellsberg's psychiatrist, worries that these are the incriminating materials: "What is this? Stuff that Hunt did on that case in California?" Ehrlichman says it is other, Colson-related stuff. And when Nixon asserts, "I don't want to get into that" with Gray, or, indeed, anyone, Ehrlichman remarks, "I want you to know about it."


(Remember: Ehrlichman, unlike Haldeman, did not know about the taping system. But Nixon, who raises the "California" case, of course did know).

With Gray, Nixon makes his priorities clear. First, leaks from the bureau (they suspect Mark Felt, and are quite right to do so, although the don't know that he's leaking to Bob Woodward).


President Nixon: If it leaks out of the bureau, then the whole damn place ought to be fired...The Germans, if they went through these towns and then one of their soldiers, a sniper hit one of them, they'd line up the whole goddamn town and say, "Until you talk you're all getting shot." I really think that has to be done. I mean, I don't think you can be Mr. Nice Guy over there.


And Nixon's FBI Director must be the president's man, whatever it takes: "I gotta have a relationship here where you go out and do something and deny on a stack of Bibles."

Nixon also got back into the supposed bugging of his campaign plane in 1968, saying that Gray should be working harder to find out who at the Bureau had been involved

Gray may or may not have been smart, but he was smart enough to know who he was dealing with; he ensd the session by saying: "I'm a Nixon loyalist. You're goddamn right I am."

The next day, Nixon announces acting director Gray as the replacement for J. Edgar Hoover. His confirmation hearing would begin at the end of the month.


  1. I am surprised that they didn't realise that Nixon and his crew would be vulnerable in the confirmation hearing of Gray. Considering how well they coached the witnesses for the first Watergate investigation (with Dean) I am surprised they didn't coach Gray about what to say. I am sure Nixon would've known that Democrats would've been gunning for him, looking to land a scalp (like Republicans today with Hagel) after losing the election and despising the methods that Nixon used. Seems like a massive blunder here, or maybe there weren't any other 'clean' Nixon loyalists (someone with no knowledge at all of Watergate and the Plumbers) they could've put at the FBI?

  2. It's a great question. It sure looks like an unforced error. And, yeah, it's hard to imagine why they wouldn't have coached him very carefully for his confirmation hearing.

    On the other hand, they did have to appoint someone, I suppose. And what if they put someone in there with, you know, integrity? He might have pushed the investigation a lot harder than Gray was likely to.

    Another possibility: Gray was just not very bright at all, even worse than Nixon thought. I don't really have the details (maybe I'll research more when we get to it, maybe not), but they might have just assumed he'd lie to protect himself, and he didn't realize that he needed to.


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