Actually, next up will be a brief diversion to help make the next bit more understandable.
Plus, we’ve got a timely new trailer for the HBO limited miniseries The White House Plumbers, and it continues to look excellent:
And this post is gonna be about that. Take it on account that this helps set up Aftermath, part 2.
Way back in late January, early February of 1972, Gordon Liddy strolled into the Department of Justice HQ Main Building (then known as “Main Justice”, later renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Building in 2001). He was carrying some posterboard, and hustled up an easel from somewhere on the floor with the Attorney General’s office.
The United States Attorney General was still, for a little bit long, John Mitchell, serving dual roles as AG and also the chairman of the Committee to Re-elect. That afternoon, Mitchell, Magruder, and John Dean would witness one of the most astonishing presentations any of them had ever seen.
You see, Gordon Liddy had been put in charge of a new sort of operational task force to seek out leakers from within the campaign in the wake of the Pentagon Papers…but with campaign season beginning for 1972, he was given a new job as head of a sort of fast-response group. Or, fast-instigating group.
It was a Dirty Tricks squad.
And since the Nixon Campaign expected to have almost more money than they’d know what to do with, Liddy was told (probably by Magruder, but maybe also Dean) he’d have what in 1972 dollars was an almost ridiculous budget. Maybe even $1 million. Maybe.
But first, Liddy needed to outline what he needed the money for. And so that afternoon in the winter of 1972, Liddy was going to make his pitch. He called it Operation Gemstone, and it was a multifaceted, modular set of operations, each with a mineral name.
Liddy began his presentation by outlining his group. It would have a political operative, sure (E. Howard Hunt). But also Cubans who were Bay of Pigs veterans. “These guys can kill,” Liddy said; “They have killed. By my count, they’ve got 22 kills between them all.” He also had a lockpicker/safecracker, and an ex-CIA guy who was a security expert (McCord). Liddy was gleeful about his band of mercenaries. Mitchell, Magruder, and Dean were already fully in “What the fuuuuu…” mode.
Liddy started turning over various charts on the easel, each with an “operation” that was a part of Gemstone. Operation Diamond, for instance, would involve kidnapping and drugging possible resistance leaders who might demonstrate against the Republican National Convention. They’d drug those leaders and send them to Mexico and leave them there to find their way back.
Mitchell interrupted on that one. Kidnapping he asked, his omnipresent pipe nearly dropping from his mouth.
Sure, Liddy assured him, once again talking about his hit team of political mercenaries.
“Uh, where would one find men like that?” Mitchell asked.
Liddy – answering to the Attorney General of the United States responded: “I understand and believe that most of them are members of organized crime groups.”
Perhaps, the Attorney General said, shaking out and reloading his pipe, it would be best if the effort to re-elect the president wasn’t enriching organized crime syndicates.
Liddy continued with his presentation. Some of his ideas were clever (“Operation Sapphire” would’ve sent fake maintenance workers into the bowels of the Miami Convention Center the night the eventual nominee would give his acceptance speech and disable all the air conditioning). Some were eminently illegal, but very do-able and devious and un-trackable (“Operation Ruby” was going to put Republican operatives into sensitive positions as drivers, couriers, and even office workers to collect intel.) Some were out and out racist (“Operation Coal” – not a mistake in the naming convention – would’ve secretly funneled laundered funds into the campaign of Shirley Chisholm, the historic black woman campaigning for President.)
And there was Operation Opal. Opal was a scheme to break into the offices of various candidates and plant listening devices and surveillance equipment.
After the long meeting, the feeling in the room was, well, awkward to say the least. Finally Mitchell spoke. He told Liddy that the amount of money (Liddy had budgeted well over $1 million for every part of Gemstone) was too rich for the campaign’s blood. It wasn’t, not really, but that let Mitchell make his second point: “Come up with some things that are maybe scaled down. More realistic.”
“And Gordon? Burn those charts before anyone sees them.”
That was the end of Gemstone. Kind of. Except Liddy would indeed execute Operation Ruby and plant a campaign assistant with the Muskie camp, and then switch him to McGovern’s offices in DC.
But it also caused Liddy to revise Opal. Instead of a bunch of candidates, instead they might bug the phones and offices of DNC chairman Larry O’Brien. Which, said offices were at the Watergate Hotel.
And Magruder surely knew about this revised plan. John Dean probably did as well, although whether he thought it was serious is up to debate. John Mitchell probably knew something of that sort was being done, if not knowing it was specifically the Watergate.
The whole problem with all of these is that no one, not ever, really said “No.” It was at worst “Scale it back”, and then no one would say anything, so tacit approval was believed to have been given by Liddy and Hunt. And so…that’s kinda how we got here.
Now then. Aftermath, Part 2…