Friday, February 8, 2013

February 7, 1973

The Senate votes unanimously to establish the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, with Sam Ervin as chair, a 4-3 Democratic majority and a staff to match, and a mandate to look into Nixon's 1972 campaign and related activities but nothing else.

In the New York Times, Seymour Hersh identified Gordan Strachan, Haldeman's aide, as the White House contact for Liddy and Hunt when they were at the committee to re-elect (and, also, the contact for dirty trickster Donald Segretti).

Both are blows to the White House, which had hoped for a bipartisan committee which would investigate other campaigns, including Lyndon Johnson's in 1964 and Hubert Humphrey's in 1968.

The president and his men discuss the Senate's actions:


Ziegler: It seems to me that we should say that if the intend of the Ervin committee is to examine this whole area, not only in 1972 but back to '60, 1964, and 1968, and, as Senator Ervin says, it is not going to be partisan in nature, then, of course, we would be supportive and cooperate.

President Nixon: Is it limited to 1972?

Ziegler: Yes.

Ehrlichman: The bill of particulars is very specific. It's the presidential election of this last time, and particularly as to the Republicans.

President Nixon: It says that?

Ehrlichman: All the way through it.

Ehrlichman: There's an aspect of this that you may want to allude to, Ron [Ziegler] -- I don't know. The Watergate defendants are going to claim that Sirica should not sentence them because he exhibited such malice and prejudice. [...]

President Nixon: Of course, we should have in mind that obviously...the scope of the investigation must of course be dependent upon the status of any proceedigs that are in the courts and must not under any circumstances be allowed to impede or -- well, interfere with the rights of defendants to get a fair trial and a fair appeal.

Ehrlichman: Due regard for the rights of others.

President Nixon: Due regard for the rights of defendants to get a trial.

Ehrlichman: Now, that's being advance to Ervin privately, and I don't know what effect it might have...But what may happen is that one of the defendants will seek an injunction to prevent the hearings from going forward, and then you've got a nice Constitutional question of whether a court can enjoin the proceedings of the Congress and it'll get all snarled up.


President Nixon: They're going to have Tower and Wilson on the Committee on our side.

Haldeman: What they were talking about yesterday was Tower and Griffin.

President Nixon: ...And Griffin has a good image...

Haldeman: [...] And if it does go on television, he looks like a serious, intense type.

President Nixon: Oh, it'll be on television.


President Nixon: The problem with the -- all this is that it is going to be a television story. But, on the other side of the coin, it may -- may -- wear out the story after a certain length of time.

Haldeman: You hear the same old crap over and over, and I just can't imagine that the people really get very interested.


All of that was before the Senate acted. The Senate debated the question, and Republican amendments were rejected -- Ervin said of a Republican amendment to add in the 1964 and 1968 elections that "to accept this amendment would be about as foolish as the man who went bear hunting and stopped to chase rabbits."

As it turned out, the reports Nixon had about the composition of the committee -- which, during the floor debate, was changed from a five to a seven Senator committee -- were wrong. The Republicans would be Howard Baker, Lowell Weicker, and Edward Gurney; the Democrats, in addition to Chairman Ervin, were Daniel Inouye, Joseph Montoya, and Herman Talmadge.

There's a lot of hand waiving and wishful thinking in the Oval Office that day, but Nixon was exactly right about television. And Haldeman couldn't have been more wrong.


  1. My favorite Nixon post. John Tower, page 3833 of the linked Congressional record:

    "There were alleged incidents in the 1964 and the 1968 campaigns, incidents of electronic surveillance on the part of Democrats against Republicans. There was no public outcry because it was not generally known. What happened this time is that the miscreants got caught..."

    Tower is plausibly using a timeless diversionary tactic here. Importantly, the Senate Republicans are not tossing 1960 in the mix, as the young Ron Ziegler recommended in the body of this post. There were "alleged incidents" in 1960 too, somewhat "generally known"; viz, that while Republicans like the young Hillary Rodham were canvassing for Nixon votes in Chicago, the Daley machine was exhuming exponentially more Kennedy votes from the city's graveyards.

    Say what you want about diversionary tactics, but the fascinating thing is that, for whatever reason, the Senate Republicans (acting presumably at Nixon's behest) did not feel that 1960 was necessary to help their cause.

    I wonder why that is? (Beyond the obvious, superficial explanation that history is written by the winners).

    1. Not sure if anyone cares, but it seems the rhetorical question at the end of the post above may be too clever by half. Clearly, Nixon wanted to mitigate the impact of the misdeeds of the President's Men by framing such misdeeds as "of a typical, election shenanigans" type.

      Ziegler's reco to push the Ervin committee back to 1960 thus seems sensible since a) the alleged misdeeds in Illinois were solidly in the popular imagination (unlike whatever may or may not have happened in '64 and '68, as Tower notes), and b) Nixon was on the business end of said chicanery, leading to the double potential benefit of not only diluting the damage of Watergate but also making Nixon somewhat sympathetic.

      As seen in the Congressional Record, Nixon's proxy Tower does not follow Ziegler's advice, in spite of the apparent logic of Ziegler's suggestion. This leads to two possible conclusions:

      1) Nixon and friends were fairly certain that if the Ervin Commmittee went digging into the Johnson and Humphrey campaigns, there would be enough "there there" to serve their purposes without needing 1960, or

      2) Nixon and friends were basically irrational and possibly insane.

    2. It's possible that Tower (or whoever was calling the shots) basically figured that there was a better chance of getting the Dems to go along with 64/68 than with 60/64/68. Among other things, LBJ had just died and probably had relatively few friends in the Senate (and certainly not among the liberals), while don't forget that Ted Kennedy is sitting right there -- and there are lots of Kennedy allies at that point.

      And then there's the unstrategic possibility: not that they were irrational, but that they knew they had no chance, and so they didn't put any thought into it.

    3. But surely Hubert Humphrey is sitting right there, too, and was still quite popular in the party.

    4. True; for Nixon "1968" meant "LBJ bugged my airplane"; I have no idea what it meant to Senators in 1973.

      Still, I suspect HHH and his friends would assume that Humphrey (although not necessarily state and local parties) was as clean as they get. I wouldn't think that EMK thought the same about JFK's campaign.

  2. Who is "Wilson"? There wasn't a Republicn Senator named Wilson in 1973.

    1. My fault for taking a the (Kutler) transcript, there's a [?] after Wilson. I should have included it. Presumably, Nixon misspoke and substituted the wrong name for whoever he meant to say; it's also possible that the transcriber got it wrong, although presumably the transcriber worked with the list of Senators and couldn't come up with a more plausible answer.


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