Saturday, April 27, 2013

April 26, 1973

The day starts with yet another long Nixon-Haldeman meeting, assessing where they are and what, if anything, they can do about it. The same issues, most notably still searching for a strategy for Dean. Should he be fired? Given immunity? What can keep him from turning on Nixon? What can discredit him, thus helping Haldeman and Ehrlichman? And always, the undercurrent: what if the interests of the conspirators diverge?

Haldeman, with Ehrlichman, go off on another marathon meeting with their lawyers at midday. The president has his first in a series of calls with Attorney General Kleindienst about the Fielding break-in and other matters. Of course, Nixon isn't exactly honest with his AG:


President Nixon: We've done the right thing [by disclosing the Fielding break-in], and these clowns [Hunt and Liddy] get out and do such stupid Goddamn things as that, we've got to take the blame for it. You know.

Kleindienst: Yes. Well, I think we can obviate a lot of that in this situation, though.

President Nixon: How?

Kleindienst: Well, I think the fact that, you know, when it came to our attention -- i.e., yours, mine -- you know, we made an immediate disclosure.

President Nixon: Oh, yeah, that, of the event. But I mean the fact that it was done, you know.

Kleindienst: Oh..

President Nixon: The fact that it was done. As you know, it was not authorized. This is a case where these guys had the responsibility when they were at the White House to conduct an investigation of the Ellsberg thing due to the fact that Hoover would not. And so they go out [chuckles] and do this sort of thing.


Virtually none of that is true. Nixon hardly disclosed it immediately; it was authorized; and while it's true that Hoover wouldn't extend the investigation of Ellsberg beyond what was needed to arrest and charge him, to say that there was any "responsibility" to find dirt on Ellsberg so the government could smear him in the press is not only wrong, but it's backwards; the government in fact has a responsibility not to publicly smear a defendant awaiting trial.  They talk more, especially about what John Dean's "trump card" might be -- something big that Dean has threatened he'll still reveal. Kleindienst, for whatever it's worth, reassures the president; the Attorney General doesn't think Dean is very believable.

After the meeting with lawyers, Haldeman spent most of the afternoon listening to White House tapes. It's worth pointing out just how hard that must have been -- the transcripts from the 1990s, using the best technology available then, still misses a fair amount. Haldeman was probably working with a cheap tape player. Later in the afternoon, and after also reviewing his own files and notes for March, he reports back to the president, and they talk Watergate for a while. Nixon then checks in with Kleindienst again, who has nothing from the Ellsberg trial in California, and then checks in with John Ehrlichman, who has more bad news: the New York Times has the story about Pat Gray destroying the material from Hunt's safe.

Nixon first calls Kleindienst about it, asking whether Gray (who is still not only Acting Director but still, after all this, the nominee for the permanent FBI job) should resign immediately and claiming that the important thing is to get the story out publicly immediately. That done, he gets Henry Petersen on the phone.


Petersen: ...Dean tells me, and he told me this well before, Ehrlichman had told him to destroy these documents.

President Nixon: Dean says that Ehrlichman told Dean to destroy them?

Petersen: That's right. And Dean said, "You know, Goddamn it, I wasn't going to do it."

President Nixon: That's the so-called "deep-six" thing?

Petersen: That's right. And that he Dean wasn't going to do it, so they both in effect gave it to Gray.

President Nixon: [...] I can't really believe that anybody's going to believe that the Director of the FBI was handed some documents and told to destroy them. You know what I mean?

Petersen: Well, he's going to come out looking awfully stupid, to say the least.

President Nixon: Well, I don't believe that. I don't know whether -- see, the point is when you say that Dean and the deep-six thing and so forth, you haven't said Ehrlichman. I mean, you haven't had that corroborated yet, because basically Ehrlichman was in the room [...]. I'm going to have to talk to him about this and ask him.

President Nixon: All right. On the Gray thing, it seems to me that Gray, that you should have your meeting with Gray immediately, the three [ the prosecutors?] of you. Don't have him make a statement, however, until -- I don't know if he should even make one tonight. You know what I mean.

Petersen: Yes.

President Nixon: I'm not sure I would react that soon. I don't know, but at least that was Dick [Kleindienst]'s feeling, that maybe we shouldn't act tonight.


Nixon, here, is desperately trying to keep the blame squarely on either Dean or Gray, but not on Ehrlichman, even though he knows that all three are guilty on it. He then finishes by, again, pumping Petersen on the progress of the case and whether Dean will be given immunity or not. He does learn that Jeb Magruder, finally, is ready to cut a deal. That means they'll have his evidence on the original break-in, but they're still trying to nail down that case -- without Dean, it would just be Magruder's word against Mitchell's. They know they'll make that, but while Nixon has already written off the CRP group, the prosecutors need to take it one step at a time.

Ehrlichman, at this point, is denying the story of his culpability on Hunt's safe to the newspapers. Gray, meanwhile, goes in to meet with Kleindienst and Petersen. And Nixon calls over again. Kleindienst reports to him that Gray is now saying that Dean told him, in Ehrlichman's presence, that the material "should never see the light of day," but that Gray only inferred from that that he should destroy it.

Nixon then brings the discussion to Dean, and volunteers to Kleindienst:


President Nixon: [...] ... I never saw him [Dean] personally till -- never saw him about this, and then it was about -- because of the Gray confirmation thing -- until February 22.

Kleindienst: Is that right?

President Nixon: Never.

Kleindienst: You never discussed this matter with him at all --

President Nixon: Never.

Kleindienst: -- until February 22?

President Nixon: that's right.

Kleindienst: That is a very --

President Nixon: Or February -- wait a minute. Let me just check my book here. 27th -- 27th.

Kleindienst: Of February?

President Nixon: 27th of February. That's right.

Kleindienst: You mean he was not in your office?

President Nixon: Never, except one time, to sign my wills.

Kleindienst: Is that right?

President Nixon: That's right [...]

Kleindienst: You know, to listen to this little bastard he's in there talking to you four time a day.

President Nixon: Oh, he has been since then. He was --

Kleindienst: But even last summer, you know.

President Nixon: Last summer, I never -- well, let's get one thing straight. [Kulter here adds: "spoken with emphasis, pausing between words" and Kulter adds emphasis here] I, the President, never saw John Dean once except for the signing of the wills....And that was on August 14. August 14. I signed my wills. that's the only time I ever saw him...


This was a lie, since they met on September 15, when the original indictments were handed down and Dean gave an extensive report about the case.

Beyond that, Nixon continues talking to Haldeman, who is in his office during these last calls, about "separation"  -- whether Haldeman and Ehrlichman should resign, take leaves of absence (which Haldeman realizes by now is just a euphemism, since it would be permanent) or stay. Nixon does get as far this time as asking them to prepare letters requesting leave while they fight the case, between that meeting and two calls after Haldeman goes home. Haldeman, by now, seems to realize that Nixon has basically decided to have them both leave, but can't manage to spell it out -- and with their lawyer saying that it's better off if they stay, Haldeman isn't helping the president by offering to quit.

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