Wednesday, April 17, 2013

April 15, 1973 (part one)

PRESIDENT: Yeah. I had a call from Kleindienst.

EHRLICHMAN: Yeah. I heard you did and I thought you ought to take it.

PRESIDENT: Oh sure, sure, I didn't, I didn't refuse. He said "I should see you, and I'd like to see
you alone this afternoon. Today." I said fine.

That's from a morning conversation this Sunday, April 15. Kleindienst, having finished hearing about Dean's testimony, arranges to report to the president. At this point, however, there's been no deal struct between Justice and Dean -- and if there's no deal, then Dean can still, according to the rules, withdraw his testimony completely. So nothing is quite done yet; indeed, Dean still doesn't know if he's going to get any deal at all. And of course Dean's testimony, while seeming to the prosecutors to have the appearance of truth, is still only mostly his word.

Kleindienst doesn't say what the meeting is about, only that he wants a one-on-one meeting with Nixon right away; Nixon schedules him for after a church service (it's Palm Sunday). First, he talks to Ehrlichman. They go over where the various pieces of it stand, including speculation about whether Hunt, if he is about to talk, will limit himself to Watergate or "go broader" in Ehrlichman's words -- that is, the Plumbers.

Then church, and then, a little after 1PM, Kleindienst in the EOB office. Both Emery and Ambrose tell the story of the meeting from the tape (which I don't have). Apparently it takes a while to actually get to the point, with Nixon sidetracking him. But finally: both Haldeman and Ehrlichman may be in trouble from testimony from Magruder -- and Dean (and, apparently, Strachan, as well, is ready to talk).

Kleindienst tells Nixon that Dean has connected Ehrlichman by saying it was his orders to get rid of the material in Hunt's safe (which were in fact given to Pat Gray, who eventually destroyed the evidence), and that he also had given the order, after the arrests, for Hunt to leave the country.

For Haldeman, it's that he had knowledge of the Liddy-Hunt operations because Strachan had passed along paperwork on it to him, and the $350,000 fund that was used for hush money.

Nixon, as Emery tells it, finds it difficult to stick to what he's supposed to know. He's surprised to find out that Liddy hasn't and still won't talk (the prosecutors had duped Dean on that one, and Dean had relayed it to the White House). He slips and mentions Hunt's wife's role in distributing the hush money to the other defendants, although he catches himself before saying too much.

Ambrose emphasizes Kleindienst's repeated suggestions of a special prosecutor -- who, at that point, Kleindienst could have appointed and made sure it was someone sympathetic to them. But Nixon doesn't buy it. Instead, he wants to meet with Henry Peterson, who Kleindienst intends to give Attorney General power for this case since he has to recuse himself (thanks to his closeness to Mitchell, at the very least), later.

That's the meeting. Nixon brings in Ehrlichman after Kleindienst leaves. This time, we have no tape (either it ran out or something was done to it). The president then calls Haldeman at 3:30. Haldeman's notes are not particularly dire, although there is this: "Then he said also they told him that, on E, there was some connection on the conversation regarding the contents of Hunt's safe, and on Haldeman, there was some connectdion with the $350,000 and that those were the only leads they had on us. Kleindienst recommends that E and Haldeman take a leave of absense. The P said you out to come up with a better recommendation.

Nixon's reaction appears to have a surprising lack of urgency or even alarm, from what we know of it. Granted: he would have been careful not to betray too much to Kleindienst. And then -- was he holding back with Haldeman and Ehrlichman? Already in the process of detaching himself from them?

Nixon now has his first direct meeting with Henry Peterson, the head of the criminal division at Justice. Peterson tells the president that Dean has given them a case against both Haldeman and Ehrlichman on obstruction of justice. From Nixon (via Emery) we get the key exchange, with Peterson saying "The question isn't whether or not there is a criminal case that can be made against them that will stand up in court, Mr. President. What you have to realize is that these two men have not served you well. They already have, and in the future will, cause you embarrassment, and embarrassment to the presidency." And when Nixon protests that he doesn't want to fire them without proof of their guilt, Peterson again: "What you have just said, Mr. President, speaks very well of you as a man. It does not speak well of you as a president."

Nixon tells Peterson, who by now has written authorization to act on Watergate, to deal with him directly -- a move which puts Peterson, who at this point says he was still not even suspicious of Nixon's involvement, in a compromised position despite himself. Basically, the Assistant Attorney General has now traded in keeping the White House informed through John Dean (pre-Gray) to keeping the White House informed through President Nixon. For the second time, Peterson doesn't grasp the scope of what he's up against.

Indeed, we have a tape of Peterson talking to Silbert from the White House; as Kutler notes in his introduction to the transcript, we don't know whether Nixon was in the room, but we do know that Nixon would have had access to the tape. Silbert, the chief Watergate prosecutor, has been hearing more from Dean and Dean's lawyer (who, remember, are still trying to cut their best deal); Silber is reporting back to Peterson. And recall: we're at 4PM on Sunday, and Peterson only found out about Dean a bit less than 24 hours before. All this is still brand new to him.


Peterson: ...How are you coming?

Silbert: [...] [Dean's lawyer Charles Shaffer]'s position is hardening a little, in the sense that if John [Dean] is believable, we have an obstruction case against Haldeman and Ehrlichman, in the sense that they knew everything that was going on.

Peterson: If -- if John Dean is believable, you have an obstruction case against Haldeman and Ehrlichman?

Silbert: Well, let me say this to you. They knew everything that was going on. That is, all the plans, like the Magruder plans and, you know, they were -- like Ehrlichman was present -- again, going through the same stories about the (unintelligible), get rid of -- Hunt ge out of town. He and Haldeman are in on the money. I mean, Ehrlichman and Haldeman are in on the money, clearly. I mean, the $350,000 comes from Haldeman, and he's putting it in that Haldeman told him to get it back over there and they knew that the money was coming -- I mean, the demands were being made and finally they had to give this money up.

It was Haldeman's decision to send it all back to the committee, and he told John [Dean] to do it, and that's when John called Strachan. Strachan, you know -- Strachan's testimony is inconsistent with that. [...]

But John's is much more credible [....]


At this point Nixon decides, of all things, to go for a cruise on the presidential yacht with his friend Bebe Rebozo. They talk about a defense fund for Haldeman and Ehrlichman...whether that's because Nixon feels responsible for helping out his closest assistants after all they've done for him, or whether this is just another round of realizing how much harm they could do him and wanting to keep them "on the reservation" now that they may be heading to prison, is I suppose something to speculate about.

More on this extraordinary Sunday later.

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