The Select Committee
The Senate votes 77-0 Feb. 7 to establish the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities — the seven-member body which would become widely known as the Watergate Committee.
Just six weeks later, the story of the cover-up begins to unravel.
Named chairman of the committee Feb. 8 was Democratic Sen. Sam J. Ervin Jr., S.C. Other Democrats appointed were Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii; Joseph M. Montoya, N.M.; and Herman E. Talmadge, Ga. The three Republicans named were Howard H. Baker Jr., Tenn.; Edward J. Gurney, Fla.; and Lowell P. Weicker Jr., Conn.
Break-in defendant James McCord tells Judge John Sirica that perjury had been committed, that other persons besides those convicted had been involved in the break-in and that political pressure had been applied to make the defendants plead guilty. Sirica unexpectedly postpones McCord’s sentencing March 23. Sirica grants McCord immunity from further prosecution, and he starts testifying in secret before the grand jury.
President Richard Nixon tells reporters April 17 there have been “major new developments” in the Watergate case and that he has begun “intensive new inquiries” into the affair “as a result of serious charges which came to my attention.” In a reversal of an earlier stand, he says all White House staff members will appear voluntarily before the Senate select committee.
The next week, Commerce policy director Jeb Magruder becomes the first former White House or campaign official to resign from the administration. In response to press reports linking him to the cover-up, White House counsel John Dean says he won’t be made a scapegoat in the affair.
Nixon spends the weekend at Camp David, meeting with Secretary of Defense Elliot Richardson, White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, chief domestic adviser John Erlichman, and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. He does not meet with Dean.
Week 1, May 13: Cops & Burglars
The Senate Select Committee opens its hearings on the Watergate case on May 17, chaired by North Carolina Democrat Sam J. Ervin Jr. The first witness is Robert Odle, who testifies that shortly after the break-in was foiled, members of Nixon’s re-election committee destroyed documents.
Other witnesses include the Washington, D.C., police officer who made the arrests at the Watergate, Sgt. Paul W. Leeper, and Nixon’s staff secretary, Bruce Kehrli.
On the second day of hearings, convicted Watergate conspirator James McCord begins testifying. McCord describes White House pressure, conveyed by security operative John Caulfield, to get him to keep silent and plead guilty in return for eventual executive clemency.
“Political pressure from the White House was conveyed to me in January 1973 by John Caulfield to remain silent, take executive clemency by going off to prison quietly, and I was told that while there, I would receive financial aid and later rehabilitation and a job.”
Watergate conspirator James McCord
McCord also describes as part of the cover-up a series of cloak-and-dagger conversations with an unidentified person from a highway telephone booth.
Week 2, May 20: Brokering Silence
James McCord returns for a second day of testimony before the Senate investigating committee May 22 and is followed by John Caulfield, a former White House aide, who tells the committee that John Dean ordered him to offer McCord executive clemency. Caulfield says he had “no knowledge of my own” that Nixon approved the offer, as McCord said he was led to believe, but Caulfield thinks Nixon had known of his offer.
Convicted Watergate conspirator Bernard Barker, a Cuban-born former CIA employee, tells the committee he was recruited for the operation by fellow conspirator Howard Hunt, his boss in the 1962 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.
Week 3, June 3: Money Flow
“I felt a deep sense of loyalty to him.”
Herbert L. Porter
Herbert L. Porter, a former Nixon campaign aide, admits to the Senate select committee that he gave false testimony to a grand jury as part of a Watergate cover-up. He says he agreed to a request by Jeb Magruder that he tell a fabricated story about what happened to $100,000 in cash given to convicted Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy.
Hugh Sloan, who resigned as treasurer of the Finance Committee to Re-Elect the President shortly after the June 17, 1972, break-in, testifies about John Dean’s efforts to persuade him to plead the Fifth Amendment at the Miami trial of conspirator Bernard Barker and of attempts by Nixon campaign officials Magruder and
Frederick LaRue to get him to falsify financial transactions between campaign officials and the bugging team.
He says he resigned rather than perjure himself and that he tried to discuss the pressure with John Ehrlichman, but that Ehrlichman told him he did not want to hear details.
Attorney General Elliot Richardson tells reporters that if the White House and special prosecutor Archibald Cox clash over the Watergate case, the Justice Department would side with Cox, leaving Nixon to be represented by his own counsel. Richardson describes the national security rationale used by White House officials to justify creation of the plumbers group to plug information leaks as “not convincing.”
Week 4, June 10: Perjury Admission
“We had become somewhat enured to using some activities that would help us in accomplishing what we thought was ... a legitimate cause.”
Campaign official Jeb Magruder freely admits his own complicity in the well-financed scheme to spy on the Democrats and tells the Senate Watergate Committee that he perjured himself before the grand jury. He directly contradicts the previous day’s denial by Maurice Stans, telling the committee that the former secretary of commerce and chief Nixon fundraiser had been fully briefed on the Watergate burglary a week after the break-in by John Mitchell, then the campaign director. Magruder also testifies that Mitchell had approved plans for the break-in and later had participated in a cover-up of the incident.
On June 11, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, addressing the National Association of Attorneys General in St. Louis, criticizes the Senate Watergate hearings as a “beauty contest” with “Perry Masonish impact.”
Week 5, June 24: Nixon Knew
Republican Sen. Howard Baker questions what the president knew, and when he knew it.
The Senate Select Committee resumes hearings, after a week suspension, with the long awaited testimony of John Dean, fired as presidential counsel on April 30. Unlike other men close to the president who would testify later, Dean decides to tell the truth. He becomes the first person to implicate the president directly in a White House conspiracy to cover up the Watergate scandal. Testifying under a grant of limited immunity, Dean says the president was aware of the cover-up as early as September 1972.
His testimony begins with a 245-page statement that takes him six hours to read. Accompanying the statement are some 50 documents that he turns over as supporting evidence. One set includes lists of “political enemies” — people singled out for retribution because of opposition to Nixon policies. The president had suggested using audits by the IRS and denial of federal grants as weapons.
Memo prepared by John Dean to members of the White House staff
During his testimony, Dean lists a number of specific conversations he had with the president, indicating the president knew of the cover-up. The dates became very important after a subsequent July 16 revelation that all presidential office conversations were taped:
“The truth will out someday.”
According to Dean:
On Sept. 15, 1972, the day seven men were indicted for the break-in, H.R. Haldeman took him to see the president who congratulated him that the case had reached no higher than G. Gordon Liddy. Dean told Nixon “that all I had been able to do was contain the case and assist in keeping it out of the White House. ... I left the meeting with the impression that the president was well aware of what had been going on regarding the success of keeping the White House out of the Watergate scandal, and I also had expressed to him my concern that I was not confident that the cover-up could be maintained indefinitely.”
On Feb. 27, 1973, Nixon directed Dean to report directly to him regarding all Watergate matters. Dean repeated his Sept. 15 statement that he was not sure the cover-up could be maintained. “He told me that we would have to fight back and he was confident that I could do the job,” Dean quotes the president as saying.
On Feb. 28, Dean told the president he had been involved in the cover-up and a possible obstruction of justice and that Nixon “reassured me not to worry, that I had no legal problems.”
On March 13, Dean told Nixon that the seven Watergate defendants were pressing for as much as $1 million in return for silence, and that the president “told me that was no problem.”
On March 21, Dean met with Nixon to give him a full report on what he knew about Watergate “because the president did not seem to understand the full implications of what was going on.” At the end, the president “did not seem particularly concerned.”
On April 15, Dean met privately with Nixon and told him he had been telling his story to federal prosecutors. Nixon then began asking “leading questions which made me think that the conversation was being taped.” They discussed the Watergate affair, and during the conversation Nixon told him he had been joking when he made the comment about how easy it would be to get the $1 million for Watergate hush money.
Later in the conversation, Dean says, “the most interesting thing happened.” Nixon got out of his chair and walked to the corner of his office and, “in a barely audible tone,” admitted he had been foolish to have discussed Howard Hunt’s clemency with Charles W. Colson, a former White House counsel.
Frederick LaRue, who was an aide to former Attorney General John Mitchell, pleads guilty in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice. “I joined in (the Watergate) cover-up, at least by acquiescence,” he admitted, as he pledged his cooperation with the government prosecutions.
During a break in hearings the previous week Federal District Court in Washington found the Finance Committee to Re-elect the president guilty of concealing a $200,000 cash contribution from indicted financier Robert L. Vesco. The committee was fined the maximum penalty of $3,000. The misdemeanor conviction was the second under the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 and the second for the Nixon re-election committee. The committee had pleaded no contest and was fined $8,000 in January 1973 for failing to report cash payments to G. Gordon Liddy, one of the convicted Watergate conspirators.
Week 6, July 8: ‘Keep the Lid on’
Former Attorney General John Mitchell, once Nixon’s closest political adviser, appears before the Senate investigating committee and claims that he never warned the president of the Watergate scandal because he wanted to “keep the lid on through the election,” and later because the knowledge “would affect his presidency.”
Grilled for three days, Mitchell maintains that the president knew nothing about the break-in until March. While perhaps believable at the time, his claims will eventually be belied by the White House recordings, which will also expose his conversations with Nixon about how to keep the committee from finding out the truth of what the president knew.
Mitchell concocts a claim that the president, if informed of the cover-up, would have “lowered the boom” on his aides, and a whole catalog of White House horror stories would have been revealed including G. Gordon Liddy breaking into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist and a scheme to firebomb the Brookings Institution.
Contradicting the sworn testimony of former White House and campaign officials, Mitchell denies he approved in advance the 1972 bugging operations against the Democrats. Richard A. Moore, a White House special adviser on media affairs also spins a tale of Nixon ignorance, telling the committee the president was deeply troubled about not recognizing earlier the cover-up going on at the White House.
Committee Chairman Sam J. Ervin Jr. talks to Nixon by telephone and accepts an invitation to meet with the president to discuss White House papers the president had refused to hand over. Ervin tells the public the meeting is necessary to stave off “the very grave possibility of a fundamental constitutional confrontation between the Congress and the presidency.”
Tom Charles Huston, a former White House aide who helped draft the administration’s 1970 intelligence-gathering plan, tells the House Armed Services Intelligence Subcommittee that the plan was never formally canceled, contradicting a May statement by Nixon.
During a break in hearings over the previous week, Nixon said he would neither appear in person before the committee nor open presidential files to the committee. Nixon based his refusal on his concern for the constitutional doctrine of the separation of powers and cited a similar refusal by President Harry S. Truman in 1953. The committee had requested the documents after they were mentioned during John Dean’s testimony.
Press Secretary Ronald L. Ziegler told reporters in San Clemente, California, that Nixon would address the Watergate issue in an “appropriate” manner, but not until the Senate investigating committee had completed its first series of hearings, including the planned appearances of former top administration figures such as Mitchell,
H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. But Ziegler added that the president would not appear before the committee or submit a written rebuttal to charges made a week earlier by Dean.
Also during the previous week, George A. Spater, chairman of American Airlines admitted that his company illegally contributed $55,000 to Nixon’s 1972 campaign.
Week 7, July 15: Caught on Tape
As a surprise witness before the Senate Watergate Committee, Alexander Butterfield, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration and former aide to H.R. Haldeman, drops a bombshell: Beginning in the spring of 1971, devices were installed in the president’s White House and Executive Office Building offices which automatically taped converations between Nixon and administration officials.
FAA administrator Alexander Butterfield admits that he knew about listening devices in the Oval Office.
Tape recordings of the meetings cited by John Dean exist and can be used to prove his contention that Nixon knew of the cover-up. Butterfield claims the existence of the devices was known only to Nixon, Haldeman, himself and White House assistant Lawrence M. Higby and Secret Service employees. Butterfield says the tapes were made for posterity.
The White House then acknowledges that all of Nixon’s conversations since early 1971 have been recorded. Nixon counsel J. Fred Buzhardt writes to tell the committee the automatically triggered recording of Nixon’s conversations was a practice “similar to that employed by the last administration and which had been discontinued from 1969 until the spring of 1971.”
But Nixon claims executive privilege and orders the Secret Service to withhold any information about the recordings from the committee.
The committee responds with a written request and ranking minority member Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr., R-Tenn., says obtaining the tapes is “a matter of monumental importance” to the committee.
Herbert Kalmbach, one of Nixon’s personal lawyers who was mentioned in connection with the raising of silence money for the seven convicted Watergate conspirators, admits to the committee that raised $150,000 but denies knowing about a cover-up. He says he thought the money was for family support and lawyers’ fees and that he raised the money until August 1972 when he began to worry about his role and when he no longer bought the reasons given to him by John Ehrlichman. He acknowledges in hindsight that his payments to the Watergate defendants constituted “an improper, illegal act,” and speculates that he may have been “used” by Nixon’s advisers.
Anthony T. Ulasewicz, a former New York policeman, tells the Senate committee how he had distributed the money raised by Kalmbach to the Watergate defendants. Ulasewicz entertains the hearing room with accounts of shuttling back and forth between New York and Washington with $75,100 in a paper bundle under his arm. Ulasewicz says he and Kalmbach grew concerned in August about Dorothy Hunt, Howard Hunt’s wife who died in a plane crash later that year, and her growing demands for money for the defendants, which at one point reached $450,000. “Something here is not kosher,” he says he told Kalmbach, who agreed it was time to stop what they were doing. Ulasewicz was earlier identified as the person who made phone calls about executive clemency to James McCord.
Frederick LaRue, a former Nixon re-election committee official who voluntarily pleaded guilty the previous month to a charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice for his part in the Watergate cover-up, tells the committee that he assumed Ulasewicz’s task in September 1972 and distributed $230,000 in hush money to the defendants or their lawyers.
LaRue says John Mitchell had neither approved nor disapproved an electronic surveillance plan at a March 30, 1972, meeting with himself and Jeb Magruder, contradicting Mitchell’s earlier claim that he had disapproved such a plan. LaRue says that after the break-in, Mitchell told Magruder to destroy electronic surveillance files. He acknowledges that he, Mitchell and Dean were aware of a “grand cover-up scheme” to hide the facts of the Watergate bugging.
“What we were elected to do, we are going to do, and let others wallow in Watergate.”
Nixon, July 20, 1973
The committee also hears testimony from Robert C. Mardian, former assistant attorney general and former official of the Nixon re-election committee who had been implicated in the cover-up during testimony by Dean, Mitchell and Magruder. He flatly denies knowing of the cover-up or that Magruder planned to perjure himself.
Gordon Strachan, a former Haldeman aide, tells the committee that the former chief of staff was informed more than two months before the break-in that the Nixon re-election committee had set up “a sophisticated political intelligence-gathering system.”
Nixon remains strident as the storm cloud gathers around his administration “What we were elected to do, we are going to do,” he tells staff members July 12, “and let others wallow in Watergate.”
The Washington Post reports July 21 that the White House halted automatic taping of conversations in the Oval Office and other White House rooms, which started in 1971 ostensibly for historical purposes and continuing through the start of the Senate Watergate hearings. The White House later confirms the Post report.
Week 8, July 22: Pursuing Tapes
Nixon refuses to give the tapes of White House conversations to either the Senate investigating committee or the Watergate special prosecutor, setting up a standoff that seems resolvable only in the Supreme Court. Both the committee and special prosecutor respond with subpoenas for the tapes.
The Senate investigating committee also subpoenas other White House documents relevant to its inquiry. Announcing the decision, Chairman Sam Ervin describes the Watergate affair as “the greatest tragedy this country had ever suffered.” the committee's top Republican, Howard H. Baker, calles the situation “the brink of a constitutional confrontation between the Congress and the White House.”
Nixon refuses to hand the tapes over to the committee or prosecutor, each of which then takes the issue to the U.S. District Court in Washington.
“For the reasons stated to you in my letters of July 6th and July 23rd, I must respectfully refuse to produce those recordings.”
Nixon to Watergate Committee Chairman Sam Ervin
John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s former domestic affairs adviser begins five days of testimony before the committee, which is heated at many points and stretches into the following week. He maintains that he and Nixon acted within the law, countering with incendiary comments implicating people outside the conspiracy. He denies that Nixon had been personally involved in the Watergate cover-up and minimizes his own role, diverting blame for the cover-up to John Dean, who has laid the case open against the president and his men.
The hearing audience, which has become increasingly partisan and demonstrative since the hearings began, is largely unsympathetic to Ehrlichman, and is heard at times laughing or groaning at some of his responses. This leads Ervin for the first time to admonish the audience not to show any emotion toward witnesses, committee members or staff.
“I think that the Watergate tragedy is the greatest tragedy this country has ever suffered.”
Sen. Sam Ervin, July 23, 1973.
H.R. Haldeman’s former aide, Gordon Strachan, tells the committee that three days after the Watergate break-in, Haldeman told him to “make sure our files are clean.”
Week 9, July 29: More Denials
Former White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman adds his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee to those of inside men who flatly defend the president. He claims he has listened to parts of the recorded White House conversations and that they will exonerate Nixon as ignorant of the cover-up, and he denies his own role.
He does admit having a hand in cash disbursements for political tricks by Donald Segretti and for a campaign to stop the re-election of George C. Wallace as governor of Alabama, In contrast to John Ehrlichman, Haldeman spins his answers in a soft-spoken courteous manner throughout three days of testimony.
Richard Helms, former director of the CIA tells the committee that 10 days after the break-in, John Dean asked the CIA to pay bail for the suspects and put them on the CIA payroll during their jail terms. Helms says he told Lt. Gen. Vernon A. Walters, deputy director, to resist White House pressure to involve the CIA in the cover-up. He testifies that six days after the Watergate arrests, he and Walters met with Haldeman, who said he was worried that an FBI probe of the break-in might compromise CIA operations. Helms says Haldeman told Walters to meet with then-acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray and tell him that the bureau’s Watergate probe might run into CIA operations in Mexico and that Gray should “taper off.” Helms says he did not know what CIA operation Haldeman was talking about. But, he says, it was possible something was going on in that country that he did not know about, so he did not question Haldeman’s assertion.
Helms, currently ambassador to Iran, skirts questions of whether he was removed from the chief post because he refused to cooperate with the White House in permitting the CIA to take blame for aspects of the Watergate affair.
Another former Helms aide, Gen. Robert E. Cushman, tells the committee that the CIA had at one time loaned equipment to Howard Hunt, since convicted in the Watergate break-in. Hunt’s requests had begun with a phone call from former White House domestic adviser John Ehrlichman, and the CIA subsequently resisted aiding Hunt because the agency had not been informed of his reasons for borrowing the equipment.
Walters, deputy director of the CIA, gives a similar account as Helms, although he acknowledges that he, rather than Helms, might have been asked by the White House to tell then-acting FBI Director Gray to cool down the FBI Watergate investigation because Walters was a military man and was used to taking orders. The Mexican aspect of the Watergate investigation involved tracing the source of four checks totaling $89,000 and drawn on a Miami bank. The money wound up in the Miami bank account of Bernard Barker, one of the Watergate burglars.
“It was obvious that Gray would never be confirmed.”
WOR New York anchor
Gray tells the Senate committee that Ehrlichman and Dean had given him documents from Howard Hunt’s safe which they characterized as “dynamite” and that “clearly should not see the light of day.” Gray says there was “no doubt in my mind that destruction was intended” and that he had kept them for six months and then burned them. Gray had resigned from the FBI on April 27 when it became known that he had destroyed the documents. He says he had read some of them — fake cables implicating President John F. Kennedy in the 1963 murder of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam. Gray calls the destruction a “grievous misjudgment” that left him with a “sense of shame.”
Meanwhile, the president moves toward an open counterattack on his Watergate critics, deploring people who “spend their time dealing with the murky, small, unimportant, vicious little things.” Nixon says that “we...will spend our time building a better world.” A Harris survey shows that public confidence in Nixon is steadily eroding. His overall rating on the job has slipped to 54 percent to 42 percent negative, and 22 percent of people polled July 18-22 thought the president should resign over the Watergate affair.
Week 10, Aug. 5: Plodding On
Former acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray wraps up his testimony before the Senate investigating committee and says that in July 1972 he hinted to Nixon that White House staff members were using the FBI and CIA to “confuse” the Watergate probe, and Nixon asked him no questions about it.
Before recessing until September, the committee listens to testimony from former Attorney General Richard Kleindienst and Assistant Attorney General Henry Petersen, head of the criminal division. Testifying separately, each contradict Nixon and say they received no instructions from the president on or after March 21 to report new facts directly to him as Nixon said he ordered, though each say they never uncovered anything that led them to believe the president was involved in the Watergate break-in or cover-up.
An analysis of the public mood shows that most people still want to give Nixon the benefit of the doubt in the Watergate scandal, though they believe he had lost much credibility. The Harris survey finds 55 percent feel that Nixon “does not inspire confidence as a president should,” but 69 percent think that both Democrats and Republicans engaged in dirty campaign tactics, and the Nixon people were no worse at it — they just were caught.
Gulf Oil Corp. acknowledges it made an illegal contribution of $100,000 to the president’s re-election finance committee under intense pressure from the committee. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. says it made a voluntary contribution of $40,000 to the committee. The announcements bring to four the number of corporations admitting to having made illegal contributions to the re-election finance committee.
In mid-August a Gallup poll reports that Nixon’s popularity has fallen to the lowest point for any president in 20 years. Of the people interviewed, 31 percent approved of the way the president was handling his job; 57 percent disapproved.
In a televised address Aug. 15, Nixon denies again that he had prior awareness of either the Watergate break-in or the subsequent cover-up, echoing previous statements. In the long awaited statement, his first since May 22, he refuses again to turn over tape recordings of his conversations with advisers to either the Senate investigating committee or to the special prosecutor’s office. Contrary to expectations he does not include a point-by-point refutation of charges made against him during the Senate hearings.
In a press conference later that month, Nixon says Watergate is “water under the bridge” and it is time to move forward with “the business of the people.” He still refuses to hand over the tapes and claims wiretapping and burglaries for national security purposes occurred in previous administrations.
Watergate Committee Chairman Sam J. Ervin blasts Nixon’s deflection about previous administrations..
“Murder and theft have been committed since the earliest history of mankind. But that fact has not made murder meritorious or larceny legal.”
Jeb Magruder, former deputy director of the president’s re-election campaign, pleads guilty Aug. 16 in the U.S. District Court in Washington to one count each of conspiracy to obstruct justice, to unlawfully intercept wire and oral communications and to defraud the United States. In exchange for his guilty plea, Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox agrees to drop any other potential charges against Magruder. U.S. District Judge John Sirica says he will not sentence Magruder until the completion of future Watergate trials.
Sirica orders Nixon to make tape recordings of White House conversations involving the Watergate case available to him for a decision on their use by the Watergate grand jury, saying that inspecting the tapes himself was the only way for him to decide the validity of Nixon’s argument that they contained privileged information. The judge also allows the case to remain separate from the Senate committee’s suit to obtain the tapes.
The White House says it won’t comply and appeals the order, saying it violates the separation of powers established in the Constitution.
Chief Judge David L. Bazelon of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit orders a speeded-up schedule for the appeal. The move is aimed at getting the case to the Supreme Court as soon as possible after it convenes Oct. 1, in the hope that the high court would rule on the tapes dispute in time for the Watergate grand jury to complete its work before its mandate expires Dec. 5.
Cox also appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals to grant the Watergate grand jury direct access to the disputed presidential tapes, which would bypass Sirica’s ruling that he should review the tapes in private first.
John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s former domestic affairs adviser, and three other former White House aides are identified in news reports as the defendants in secret indictments handed down by a Los Angeles grand jury that had been investigating the burglary of the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s former psychiatrist. The others are Egil Krogh Jr., a former aide to Ehrlichman; David R. Young Jr., a former aide to Henry A. Kissinger, and G. Gordon Liddy, a convicted Watergate conspirator. The four plead not guilty.
The House votes 334-11 to cite Liddy for contempt of Congress for refusing to take an oath as a witness at a July 20 hearing of the House Armed Services Special Subcommittee on Intelligence. The panel was investigating possible CIA involvement in the Watergate scandal.
William O. Bittman, a defense lawyer for Howard Hunt, a convicted Watergate conspirator, withdraws as Hunt’s attorney. Bittman was identified during the Watergate hearings as a recipient of secret funds for Hunt and other defendants. His new attorneys file to allow Hunt to withdraw his guilty plea and to dismiss charges against him. The prosecution of Hunt for his participation in the Watergate break-in was “replete with deliberate obstruction of justice, destruction and withholding of evidence, perjury or subornation of perjury,” Hunt’s attorneys argue.
Another four of the original seven Watergate defendants file a petition with U.S. District Court Judge John Sirica asking that they be allowed to change their original pleas of guilty to not guilty and be granted a new trial. The men — Bernard Barker, Frank A. Sturgis, Virgilio R. Gonzalez and Eugenio R. Martinez — say they were pressured by Hunt and “high officials of the executive branch” into pleading guilty to keep from exposing national security operations they had participated in. They say they took part in the break-in with the understanding that it was a legitimate government intelligence operation. Sirica had sentenced the men provisionally to the maximum terms pending review.
Week 11, Sept. 23: The Plumbers
Howard Hunt, the former CIA agent convicted for his role in the Watergate break-in, is the lead-off witness as the Senate Watergate Committee resumes its hearings. Interest focuses on Hunt’s allegation that Charles W. Colson, a former special White House counsel, had been aware in early 1972 of a large-scale intelligence plan that led to the June 17 break-in.
Hunt appears at times tired and ill at ease during his two days of testimony. He describes being hired by the White House as a security consultant in July 1971. He joined the special investigations unit — or “plumbers” as they later became known. He says he was instructed to develop derogatory information on Daniel Ellsberg and fake several diplomatic cables, now well known, in order to implicate President John F. Kennedy in the 1963 assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam. He says he became involved in the Watergate break-in plan in April 1972 when Gordon Liddy told him that he had learned from government sources that Cuba was financing Democratic candidates and that the Watergate break-in was aimed at seeking proof of the allegation. He says Liddy had told him that John Mitchell had approved the break-in, and after having taken orders for the 21 years he was employed by the CIA “it never occurred to me ... to question the legality or propriety of orders from the attorney general of the United States.”
Hunt surprises but does not convince the panel with a suggestion that the Watergate burglars had been betrayed by a double agent, Alfred C. Baldwin — the lookout stationed across the street from the Watergate complex during the break-in.
White House speechwriter and political strategist Patrick J. Buchanan is the first witness in the committee’s second phase of hearings covering alleged political sabotage by Nixon backers in the 1972 presidential election. The self-assured Buchanan will be widely considered to have been the most effective spokesman the White House had produced in the Watergate affair. His aggressive responses keep his questioners on the defensive much of the time.
The committee questions Buchanan on a series of internal memos he had written proposing campaign tactics to undercut Democrats in the election — proposals he defended as legal, ethical and consistent with the past practices of both political parties.
Representatives of the three commercial television networks, which have covered the Senate Watergate hearings live on a rotating basis, meet in New York City and vote to discontinue their coverage when the hearings resume Oct. 2.
The networks’ decision is a measure of the subsiding interest in the hearings.
Week 12, Sept. 30: Dirty Tricks
Prior to testifying before the Senate Watergate Committee, Donald Segretti, the California lawyer allegedly hired by Nixon aides to sabotage Democratic presidential candidates in 1972, pleads guilty to three misdemeanor charges for his actions in the 1972 Florida Democratic primary and is given limited immunity from prosecution for testimony before the Watergate federal grand jury and the Senate committee.
He tells the committee about “dirty tricks” he performed during the primaries in an attempt to confuse Democratic presidential candidates. Segretti says that he had reported regularly throughout the campaign to Nixon’s former appointments secretary, Dwight L. Chapin.
The committee hears testimony from two men employed by Segretti in 1972, Martin D. Kelly of Miami and Robert Benz of Tampa, Florida, both former leaders in the state Young Republicans organization. The two men describe fake campaign literature, scurrilous letters, disrupted rallies and lesser pranks, all designed to create confusion and dissension among Democratic presidential contenders.
Chief Judge John Sirica of the U.S. District Court in Washington calls five of the convicted Watergate conspirators to his chambers to assure them he does not plan to give them maximum sentences. The men — Howard Hunt, Bernard L. Barker, Eugenio R. Martinez, Frank A. Sturgis and Virgilio Gonzalez — were given provisional maximum sentences while the court attempted to gather more information on which to base final sentences. Sirica describes the maximum sentences of up to 60 years as “unwarranted.” All five filed appeals seeking to set aside their guilty pleas and asking for new trials.
Release of the transcript of the Los Angeles grand jury investigation into the 1971 break-in at the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist brought to light a contention by John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s former domestic affairs adviser, that the president played an active role in organizing and supervising the “plumbers” unit responsible for the burglary. Ehrlichman testified that Nixon specifically authorized the use of covert tactics to gather information about Ellsberg. Both Nixon and Ehrlichman had denied specific advance knowledge of the break-in.
G. Gordon Liddy becomes the last of the seven original Watergate defendants convicted for the break-in to ask for a new trial. In a brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., his attorneys contend that Sirica, who presided over the original trial, had violated Liddy’s constitutional rights during the proceedings.
Edward J. Ennis, chairman of the American Civil Liberties Union, announces that the organization’s board of directors had voted 10-1 to call on the House of Representatives to initiate impeachment proceedings against Nixon. At a news conference in New York City, Ennis enumerates six grounds for the move: “specific proved violations of the rights of political dissent; usurpation of congressional war-making powers; establishment of a personal secret police which committed crimes; attempted interference in the trial of Daniel Ellsberg; distortion of the system of justice, and perversion of other federal agencies.”
Week 13, Oct. 7: Campaign Infiltration
The Senate Watergate Committee hears testimony from John R. “Fat Jack” Buckley, a retired FBI agent who worked in the Office of Economic Opportunity until June 1973. Buckley says he was paid $1,000 a month in late 1971 and early 1972 by Kenneth S. Reitz, then youth director of the Nixon re-election committee, to gather inside information on the campaign operations of Maine Democratic Sen. Edmund S. Muskie.
Michael W. McMinoway, a political spy, tells the committee of infiltrating the 1972 presidential campaigns of Muskie and Democrats Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota and George McGovern of South Dakota to gather information that went to Nixon re-election campaign officials.
Two top officials of the McGovern campaign, Rick Stearns and Frank Mankiewicz, appear before the committee and counter the theory, propounded by several other witnesses, that Democrats engaged in “dirty tricks” as often as Republicans did in the 1972 presidential campaign. Mankiewicz said the successful Republican “dirty tricks” campaign had created “within the Democratic Party a strong sense of resentment” which made party unity impossible once a nominee was selected.
The Washington Post and other newspapers report that a staff member of the Senate Watergate Committee interviewed Nixon’s close friend, Charles G. Rebozo, on Oct. 8 about allegations that he had collected a $100,000 cash campaign contribution to Nixon from billionaire Howard R. Hughes, possibly in exchange for government approval of business deals. Rebozo kept the cash in a safe deposit box for nearly three years and returned it sometime in the summer of 1973 because he feared it might prove embarrassing, the Post says.
A federal grand jury in Washington indicts Egil “Bud” Krogh Jr. on two counts of perjury. Krogh was the former chief of the White House special investigative unit, or “plumbers.”
In a 5-2 decision, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds on Oct 12 the ruling by Chief U.S. District Judge John Sirica that Nixon should surrender to the court tape recordings relevant to the Watergate case:
Because Nixon allowed his present and former aides to testify before the Senate committee on the Watergate affair and because their testimony revealed a strong possibility that a high-level conspiracy had existed, important evidence of which was contained in statements made during conversations of those aides with Nixon, there is a clear need for the taped records to clear up questions about exactly what was said during those conversations, the court says.
“Significant inconsistencies in the sworn testimony of these advisers relating to the content of the conversations raised a distinct possibility that perjury had been committed,” the opinion reads. Thus the special prosecutor could make his case that the tapes contained “evidence critical to the grand jury’s decisions as to whether and whom to indict.”
The court approves with modifications Sirica’s ruling that the tapes should be turned over to him for private inspection and determination of what portions should be passed to the grand jury. The court says that if the president claims certain information should not be disclosed because it relates to national defense or foreign relations, he can decline to send that part of the material to Sirica and ask Sirica to reconsider whether inspection of that material is necessary. The special prosecutor can see the claim, the evidence behind it, and can argue to the judge, against that claim.
Sirica can allow special prosecutor Archibald Cox to inspect the tapes to help the judge determine their relevance to the grand jury investigation. But if he decides to do this, he should allow time for the White House to contest the decision.
After his inspection, Sirica can, in regard to particular tapes or segments, (1) allow them to be withheld by the president under the claim of privilege; (2) order disclosure to the grand jury of all or part of the tapes; or, if possible, (3) write a complete statement for the grand jury of those parts of a tape that relate to possible criminality. In any case, the court should allow the White House an opportunity to appeal the decision.
Chief U.S. District Judge John Sirica rules that the U.S. District Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain a congressional civil lawsuit against the president, thus rejecting the Senate Watergate Committee’s suit to obtain certain White House recordings. “The court has here been requested to invoke a jurisdiction which only Congress can grant, but which Congress has heretofore withheld,” Sirica writes in his 18-page decision.
Nixon says he will not seek Supreme Court review of the appeals court ruling ordering him to release the disputed tapes. Instead, he offers to supply Sirica and the Senate investigating committee with a statement of the contents of the Watergate-related tapes, which he would prepare. Mississippi Democratic Sen. John C. Stennis will be given full access to the tapes in order to verify the accuracy of the statement. The special prosecutor is to make “no further attempt ... to subpoena still more tapes or other presidential papers of a similar nature.”
The chairman and vice chairman of the Watergate Committee reportedly approve the plan but special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox does not because, he says, it would “defeat the fair administration of justice.”
Cox holds a press conference Oct. 20 to explain his refusal and says he has no intention of resigning and emphasizes that only Attorney General Elliot Richardson was authorized to fire him. The same day, White House Press Secretary Ronald L. Ziegler announces that Nixon ordered Richardson to dismiss Cox. Instead, Richardson resigned. Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus, also refuseed the order so Nixon accepted his resignation. Solicitor General Robert H. Bork, next in line of authority at the Justice Department, became acting attorney general and fired Cox. The actions later become known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”
“The president at that point thought he had no choice but to direct the attorney general to discharge Mr. Cox. And I, given my role in guaranteeing the independence of the special prosecutor, as well as my belief in the public interests embodied in that role, felt equally clear that I could not discharge him. And so I resigned.”
Elliot L. Richardson to a news conference Oct. 23, 1973
Several hours after Ziegler’s announcement, FBI agents seal off the offices and files of the special prosecution team headed by Cox, as well as those of Richardson and Ruckelshaus. U.S. marshals replace the FBI agents at the special prosecution offices the next day, and the guards are removed from the Justice Department offices. Bork announces that Henry Petersen, assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division, would replace Cox as head of the Watergate investigation.
After calls for Nixon’s resignation or impeachment from the AFL-CIO and the American Bar Association, House Democratic leaders meet in the office of Speaker Carl Albert of Oklahoma and tentatively agree to have the House Judiciary' Committee begin an inquiry into the grounds for impeaching Nixon.
White House attorney Charles Alan Wright announces at a tense, crowded hearing Oct. 23 in the U.S. District Court in Washington that because of “the events of the weekend,” Nixon has decided to abide by an appeals court ruling that he must turn over to the lower court tapes and other documents relating to the Watergate case.
Bork says he is prepared to take any necessary steps, including judicial action, to obtain any evidence he needs from the White House in prosecuting the Watergate case.
Senate Republican leaders press Nixon to restore public confidence in the Watergate investigation by naming a new special prosecutor. The leaders urge Petersen to press for quick indictments to assure the public that the investigation has not stopped.
New Jersey Democratic Rep. Peter W. Rodino Jr., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announces that, in spite of Nixon’s apparent willingness to provide the tapes, the committee will proceed “full steam ahead” with an investigation of the grounds for impeaching the president.
Nixon announces at a nationally televised news conference Oct. 26 that Bork would appoint a special Watergate prosecutor who would have “total cooperation from the executive branch.” But Nixon adds that he will not provide the new prosecutor with documents involving presidential conversations. He lambasts the press for coverage of the firings and says he does not intend to resign despite the public outcry over his firing of Cox or the congressional impeachment investigation.
“I have never heard or seen such outrageous, vicious, distorted reporting in 27 years of political life.”
Indiana Democratic Sen. Birch Bayh introduces a bill with 52 co-sponsors authorizing Sirica to appoint a new special prosecutor who would be independent of the executive branch and who could be fired only by Sirica.
John Dean, the former Nixon counsel whose Senate testimony implicated the president in the Watergate cover-up, pleads guilty to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice for his role in the cover-up. Dean agrees to testify for the prosecution at future trials of other alleged participants in the cover-up. In return, he is pormised we will not be prosecuted for any other Watergate-related crimes.
Sirica denies bail to five of the original Watergate defendants who pleaded guilty in January but later filed motions to change their pleas and be retried. The men — Howard Hunt, Bernard Barker, Frank A. Sturgis, Eugenio R. Martinez and Virgilio R. Gonzalez — asked to be released from jail until they were sentenced.
Egil Krogh Jr., a former presidential aide who headed the White House “plumbers” group, pleads innocent of two counts of giving false testimony before the Watergate grand jury.
Three corporations — American Airlines, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M) — plead guilty to making illegal corporate contributions to Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign. The board chairmen of Goodyear and 3M also plead guilty under a policy that the “'responsible corporate officer” would be charged along with the company in such cases. George A. Spater, the former chairman of American Airlines who was the first to disclose voluntarily an illegal corporate contribution, is not charged. Similar charges against other corporations and officers are expected.
Week 14, Oct. 27: Resignation Demands
Former special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the events surrounding his dismissal on Oct. 20. He says the Watergate prosecution is “nowhere near done” and describes instances of White House refusals to release documents pertaining to the investigation.
The Watergate Committee hears testimony from Berl I. Bernhard, who was presidential campaign manager for Maine Democratic Sen. Edmund S. Muskie. Bernhard said dirty tricks sponsored by Republicans demoralized the Muskie campaign staff and caused dissension among Democratic candidates for the nomination.
Clark MacGregor, who replaced John Mitchell in July 1972 as Nixon’s campaign manager, tells the Watergate Committee that he believes he was duped by White House and re-election committee employees. He disputes earlier statements of Nixon, former presidential aide John Ehrlichman and former acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray.
Connecticut Republican Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. of the Watergate Committee, makes public in a television interview, a memo written by former White House aide Jeb Magruder indicating that during a one-month period in 1969, Nixon made 21 separate requests to his top aides to counter what he saw as unfavorable news coverage. The memo suggests use of the IRS and the antitrust division of the Justice Department to “get the media.”
The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence issues a report on its 12-week investigation of CIA involvement in the Watergate scandal. It concludes that the agency had been used by top White House officials to obstruct an FBI investigation of the Watergate break-in, and it details contradictions in statements by Nixon and his top aides.
The House Judiciary Committee holds its first meeting to discuss procedures for investigating whether Nixon should be impeached.
Nixon appoints a prominent Houston lawyer, Leon Jaworski. to replace Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox and nominates Ohio Republican Sen. William B. Saxbe to succeed Elliot L. Richardson as attorney general. Acting Attorney General Robert H. Bork says Nixon promised he would not fire Jaworski without the agreement of a “substantial majority” of an eight-member congressional leadership group.
Arizona Republican Sen. Barry M. Goldwater says Nixon’s credibility has “reached an all-time low from which he may never be able to recover.” Goldwater urges the president to go before the Senate Watergate Committee to explain missing tapes and other Watergate matters.
Week 15, Nov. 4: Nixon Recalcitrant
The Senate Watergate Committee starts the third and final phase of its inquiry, on campaign financing. Former White House official, William H. Marumoto, testifies that political considerations were important in determining which Spanish-speaking Americans received government contracts. A second witness, Miami homebuilder John J. Priestes, reports that Nixon’s chief fundraiser, Maurice Stans, promised to intercede for him with a government agency in exchange for a $25,000 contribution.
Benjamin Fernandez, who headed the National Hispanic Finance Committee for the Re-Election of the President, denies before the committee that he had solicited a contribution from a Miami builder with the promise of favorable government treatment.
Massachusetts Republican Edward W. Brooke becomes the first Republican senator to publicly advocate Nixon’s resignation, as calls for the president to step down multiply. Time magazine, in its first editorial in 50 years of publication, says Nixon has lost his ability to govern effectively and should resign. A number of newspapers, including The New York Times, The Detroit News and The Denver Post, echo the call.
Nixon vows he will not resign.
Donald Segretti, who had pleaded guilty to violations of federal election law for his activities as a political saboteur for the Republicans in 1972, appears in the U.S. District Court in Washington, and is sentenced to six months in prison and three years of probation.
U.S. District Judge John Sirica sentences six of the seven original Watergate conspirators to prison terms. E. Howard Hunt Jr. receives 2 l/2 to eight years in prison and a $10,000 fine; Bernard Barker, 1 1/2 to six years;
James McCord, one to five years; Eugenio R. Martinez, Frank A. Sturgis and Virgilio R. Gonzalez, one to four years.
Later that month, Nixon makes his now infamous claim in innocence during an hour-long televised question-and-answer session with participants at the Associated Press Managing Editors Association convention in Orlando, Florida. “People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook,” he says Nov. 17. “Well, I’m not a crook.”
“People have got to know whether or not their president's a crook.”
Complying with Sirica’s request, the White House turns over to the court seven subpoenaed tapes and related materials Nov. 26.
The Supreme Court rules July 24, 1974 that the White House must release tapes of 64 conversations, including what will be known as “the smoking gun.”
The House Judiciary Committee passes an article of impeachment against Nixon July 27, 1974.
Nixon announces Aug. 8, 1974 he will resign.
Original CQ and Roll Call material edited by Ryan Kelly, Paul V. Fontelo and Randy Leonard. Design by Sara Wise and Sean McMinn.
Video from WGBH Educational Foundation and CBS News. Audio from WGBH Educational Foundation, National Public Radio and WOR New York.
Exhibits from the U.S. Senate.