50 Years Ago Today

The Pentagon Papers, Part 2

In either late 1969 or early 1970, Ellsberg makes his own copy of the RAND Vietnam report, and smuggles it out of the RAND offices. This report, it should be noted, is multi-volume and highly classified. When the completed version is delivered on January 15, 1969 (right in the middle of the transition to the incoming Nixon administration) it goes directly to lame duck Defense Secretary Clark Clifford in the last 5 days he’d serve in that position. Incoming Defense Secretary Melvin Laird would also get a copy. So too would Henry Kissinger and Nixon himself. No one else.

Ellsberg at first tries obliquely to get his report into the hands of some senators who are on the armed services committee, but to no avail. Eventually he throws caution to the wind and directly approaches some senators to try to simply hand them the report. Those senators see “Classified” on the documents and want nothing to do with them.

And so after a year of this, Ellsberg gets tired of trying to publicize the report that way, and makes ANOTHER copy of the report and gives it to NYT reporter Neil Sheehan in February of 1971. If you’ve seen the movie, The Post, you know the rest.

Or maybe you don’t. :)

First episode of HBO’s The Whitehouse Plumbers aired today. I assume anyone following this thread with an HBO sub is watching.

I feel like the goofy self-serious idiocy of G. Gordon Liddy was downplayed for the show, at least in this first episode.

With Telefrog’s post, I realized I’d not updated this thread. Sheesh. We’re at the anniversary of the end of Phase 2 of this thing…

Lemme finish with the Pentagon Papers realquick.

The Sunday Papers

June 13, 1971 should’ve been a pretty good day for Richard Nixon. His daughter Tricia was married in a lavish White House wedding the day before, and it got fawning coverage across all major media. And so the president woke up that morning and turned pretty quickly to the New York Times over breakfast. On one half of the front page was coverage of the wedding.

On the other half was the first installment the Times would publish of the Pentagon Papers – the RAND analysis of Vietnam that Ellsberg had been shopping around to find someone to publicize for him.

If you’re thinking Nixon went into a rage upon reading the Pentagon Papers excerpt, you’d be wrong. Nixon had been given that report when he’d assumed office, and had staffers read the multi-volume report from end to end. The name “Richard Nixon” doesn’t appear even once in the papers. In fact, much of the RAND analysis was given over to brutal critiques of how the Kennedy and Johnson administrations – with the help of a sympathetic Democratic majority in both the House and Senate – had led America into this foreign policy disaster and the multiple lies that were told to the American voters to keep the war effort subsidized.

So yeah, Nixon was actually sort of bemused by the Papers. And later that morning in talking to Haldeman and Ehrlichman, both advisors noted that this sure seemed like a mess for someone…but not them. “Let this one go by,” Ehrlichman told Nixon. And Nixon was inclined to do just that, even though the idea of a leak like this chafed at him.

But then came a call from Henry Kissinger. Kissinger was apoplectic. He screamed and yelled on the phone about the betrayal of this leak, and how damaging it was for the US. In an executive office meeting that early afternoon, Kissinger went into another rage, pounding on a desk so hard that it nearly bounced someone’s coffee cup off.

Kissinger’s outrage was probably extremely performative. He knew something about the Pentagon Papers that perhaps no one else did at the time: he knew exactly who had leaked them. He had heard that Daniel Ellsberg had been trying to find someone within the government to whistleblow using the papers with. But moreover, he knew Ellsberg personally – the RAND analyst had been something of a protege of Kissinger’s in the mid-1960s. He was one of “Henry’s Boys”.

And for Kissinger, it cannot be stated strongly enough that this was bad. As a German-Jewish immigrant seeking the approval of an anti-semite boss in the White House, Kissinger constantly fretted over losing access and losing his position. Kissinger knew that once Ellsberg was found out (which was inevitable), someone would make the connection to his work under Kissinger and unless ol’ Heinz got out in front of that and fully disowned Ellsberg before the fact, Nixon was likely to wonder about the loyalty of his National Security Advisor. (Nixon was an absolute piece of shit antisemitic asshole, it should be noted. He was constantly questioning the loyalty of anyone in government service of Jewish heritage. In fact, when he learned the leaker of the Pentagon Papers was a guy named “Daniel Ellsberg”, he flew into a raging, bigoted rant about Jews in government…despite the fact that Ellsberg had been raised in the Christian Science faith.)

At any rate, Kissinger knew which buttons to push on Nixon, and it didn’t take long for Nixon to join Kissinger in a foaming rage. By the time the meeting ended, everyone had their marching orders – stop the Times from continuing to publish the Papers. Get the leaker and arrest him and throw him in jail immediately. And most importantly crack down HARD on any future ideas other leakers might have.

That Sunday marked a turning point in the Nixon presidency. It’s possible that they could’ve played off the Pentagon Papers and leveraged it against Democrats running for re-election to the Senate and House in 1972.

But in choosing to go after the Times (and forcing a decision that went against the White House in the Supreme Court), the story went from a possible terrible one for Democrats, to a terrible one for the Nixon White House. And Nixon blamed that outcome on the leaker as well.

Which led to the formation of the secret task force in the White House known as The Plumbers. Initial job: seek out leakers and stop them cold. But when G. Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt joined the group, things changed.

The OTHER Break-in

The government prosecutors had a pretty good case against Daniel Ellsberg. There was little doubt about what he’d done, and so things were likely to come down to intent…but it sure seemed like the (now former) RAND analyst was going to go to jail for a long time.

Just winning (the case, in this instance) wasn’t good enough for Nixon and the White House – stop me if this sounds familiar. Nixon wanted Ellsberg humiliated and roasted at trial. And eventually the task of trying to dig up dirt and more evidence fell into the laps of Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy.

Those two very stable geniuses had learned that Ellsberg had been seeing a psychoanalyst in California named Dr. Lewis Fielding. And they further learned that Fielding had refused on multiple occasions to talk to the FBI. To Liddy and Hunt, that meant that Dr. Fielding MIGHT be shielding key evidence against Ellsberg from investigators. But since Fielding couldn’t be compelled to testify, they’d need to get that evidence some other way. Like maybe breaking into his office and stealing Ellsberg’s files.

That is very likely a charge-able felony. And it is a felony in which Richard Nixon was fully briefed on BEFORE the break-in occurred, and to which Nixon gave his explicit approval, thus making him part of a felony conspiracy. And then, when Gordon Liddy hilariously submitted a funds request for travel and equipment and the payment of others to assist in the burglary on a standard White House form, Ehrlichman approved on behalf of Nixon on a paper, hard copy form and even noted on the form that the operation was only approved if it could be carried out without being caught. Which hey! Guess who just proved intent for future prosecutors?

The break-in itself was easy, if a bit clumsy – instead of making a clean entrance and exit without Fielding finding out, they instead took a crowbar to his locked filing cabinets, left papers scattered, and generally created a mess with broken door locks when their lockpicking expert wasn’t up to the task. They also got nothing of any use from this escapade. But it’s worth knowing that joining Liddy and Hunt on this little snipe hunt were Bernard Barker and Eugenio Martinez…both of whom would be among the 5 men arrested in the Watergate Hotel.

And so yeah, you can kind of see why the White House might not want Hunt, Liddy, Barker and Martinez to be doing too much talking about some of the tasks they’d undertaken besides Watergate.

The Center Cannot Hold

OK, so to catch up: on Sunday April 16, Dean tells the three federal Watergate prosecutors that Liddy, Hunt, Barker, Martinez and one other Cuban exile had broken into Dr. Fielding’s offices. The prosecutors are flabbergasted by this, but immediately let Judge Matthew Byrne – who has just heard opening arguments in Ellsberg’s just-begun trial – know what Dean has told them.

And then on April 26, the world learns that the acting FBI Director has destroyed evidence in the Watergate break-in, causing a huge public uproar.

And so on the morning of April 27th, Judge Byrne reconvenes the Ellsberg trial, but reads a letter he’s gotten from prosecutors investigating the Watergate break-in. Those prosecutors, the judge informs a now-hushed courtroom, have informed Judge Byrne that four of the Watergate burglars also planned and participated in the burglary of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychoanalyst to illegally try to obtain evidence against the defendent in Byrne’s court. Byrne puts the court into recess while he and both sides of the aisle are allowed to confront this new development. (A week later, Byrne will give a summary judgment dismissing all charges against Ellsberg, citing the outrageous behavior of the government in prosecuting this case. Another big win for Nixon, huh?)

The news from Judge Byrne’s courtroom hit like another thunderclap on top of the news about FBI Director Patrick Gray destroying evidence, on top of all the other stuff that implicated Mitchell and Dean and Magruder.

Things were moving fast. And falling apart at the White House even faster.

April 27th, 1973 was a Friday. NIxon spent the afternoon into the evening in extended meetings with staffers. None of those staffers worked for Ehrlichman or Haldeman – writing on the wall. The president was having discussions about who might take over what roles on an interim basis.

On the 28th, Nixon went to Camp David to further work out plans with low-level staffers who were in and out of meetings all day. It seems that the President had finally taken to heart a meeting he’d had with Haldeman two weeks before, when the Chief of Staff had told Nixon that the president needed to be prepared for a time when he might need to ask for the resignations of himself, Ehrlichman, and others.

And on Sunday April 29th, phone calls were made. Nixon called Ehrlichman, and Ehrlichman called Haldeman. The two men traveled to Camp David, where an obviously stricken President Nixon informed his two most trusted aides that he would need their resignations in the morning. Haldeman was ready, almost relieved to be out; Ehrlichman pushed back a little, but relented in seeing that Nixon’s position was firm.

Both men submitted their resignations on Monday the 30th. On May 1st, 50 years ago today, Nixon announced the resignations of the two men, as well as the firing of John Dean as White House counsel. (For his part, Dean will happily accept his termination and consider himself free to tell the prosecutors anything they want to know, including anything involving Nixon. He’ll agree to accept a cooperation agreement that will get him a 5-year prison sentence – likely with time served to be no longer than 18-20 months at most – in exchange for his testimony. He also agrees to testify for Sam Dash in front of the Senate Waterge Committee which is due to begin hearings in just a week or two.)

Phase two of Watergate comes to an end. This is where the movie All The President’s Men concludes. It’ll continue with phase three at the start of the Ervin Committe hearings.

A New Ballgame

Things can change sloooooowly, so slowly, in Washington DC most of the time. But then some crazy event comes along and things change on a dime. The first two weeks of May, 1973 are the latter.

Out are:

HR Haldeman, former White House chief of staff and the 2nd most powerful man in the country

John Ehrlichman, White House Domestic Policy advisor, and second to only Haldeman in the power he’s wielded.

John Dean, fired as White House Counsel, now getting real cozy with prosecutors.

Richard Kleindienst, former Attorney General. Kleindienst is mostly clear of any Watergate malfeasance…but if you’re at the conn of the DoJ when that ship hits the iceberg, you are out of a job.

L. Patrick Gray, Interim FBI Director. He’s already been replaced on another interim basis by EPA Director William Ruckelshaus.

Mark Felt…yep, ol’ Deep Throat himself is out of a job by the end of the month. With the Nixon inner circle deciding that Felt can’t burn them any more if they cut him lose, they intentionally leak some nonsense thing to Felt, who dutifully gives it to Woodward and Bernstein. He’s confronted by this and fired.

With all those out-goings, there must be some transfers in. And there are!

Alexander Haig is tipped to be the new Chief of Staff, at least (maybe) on an interim basis. Haig, a West Pointer with a pretty awful academic record, has distinguished himself as a can-do guy who carries out orders and doesn’t ask morality questions within the Department of Defense.

Nixon also has two new attorneys: J. Fred Buzhardt and Leonard Garment. Both are incredibly competent litigators with tons of courtroom and practical experience. In that regard, they’re very much the opposite of John Dean, and they signal that the White House – and Nixon in particular – are girding for a fight.

The two new White House co-counsels couldn’t be any more different personally, however. Buzhardt rose to prominence as a Strom Thurmond attorney, vigorously fighting to preserve segregationist laws in the deep south in the wake of the Civil Rights Act. He’s quiet and unassuming (in addition to being a racist piece of shit, obviously), but is respected and feared by past legal opponents.

Garment, on the other hand, is the most non-Nixon-like lawyer you can imagine. He’s a New York liberal of Jewish heritage (which is like three strikes in the Nixon antisemitic mindspace), but he was also a senior partner with the law firm that Nixon and John Mitchell formed when Nixon had retired from politics after 1962. Garment is outgoing and charismatic, and his effectiveness as an investigator and dealmaker has made him a necessary and valuable presence on the new White House legal team.

In the spirit of 50 Years Ago Today, I started watching HBO’s White House Plumbers last night. I think I made it through the first episode before punting. It’s a bit too campy for my liking, which is a shame, because I think a serious take on the events would be great television.

I’ve enjoyed it so far. Yes, some of the stuff is played a bit too broadly, but a lot of it kind of rings true, too. I don’t think Liddy played Nazi Wehrmacht marches albums for the Hunt family at a dinner party. But they definitely did need to show that Liddy was an open admirer of Hitler, Himmler, et al.

And things go from goofy to…well, horrific eventually. When you know what’s coming (and if you’ve read this thread, you do!) with regards to one of the main characters, when it actually happens it’s honestly just terrifying and kind of traumatizing.

Oh! Also the guy who had more to do (maybe indirectly) with bringing down the Nixon Administration than almost anyone else – Henry Kissinger – turns 100 today! In addition to all the other horrors his existence visited on humanity, it’s at least possible that if Kissinger doesn’t throw an absolute rager over the Pentagon Papers in the NYT, that Nixon serves a full second term.

I’m purposefully not watching it because I enjoy Trig’s play by play and don’t want to ruin his masterful retelling.

I mean, I know how it all turns out: Nixon resigns, then aliens come and take his head away in a jar and he becomes Galactic Overlord - but it’s how he got there that matters!

I’ve gotta say, then, that this thread kind of fully spoils the first four episodes. :D

OK, I’ve been remiss. Let’s catch up.

Setting the stage

In hindsight, it’s easy to lose track of what the Senate Watergate Hearings were going to be all about before they started, versus what we actually got. And also, what we’d get in future generations with televised senate or house hearings on a variety of subjects from Iran-Contra to Clinton impeachment to 9-11.

So let’s set this up for what we’re getting into here. First: at this time in our history, a televised senate hearing of a special subcommittee was a pretty big deal. The last time anyone could remember anything approaching this level of import were the McCarthy hearings nearly 20 years prior. And the American public now realized what a total shitshow those hearings were…so to say there was skepticism over the Ervin Committee hearings was an understatement.

And it is worth remembering that the intention was that the Committee Hearings would be a three-pronged affair: they’d spend some time covering Watergate as one area, but then also “dirty tricks” in politics as another area, and campaign finance violations/reform in a third area. Republican chief counsel Fred Thompson fully expected that they’d spend two weeks each on the three different prongs to that fork, and then he’d write his report and be wrapped up by August of 1973.

And then just two weeks before the hearings were set to begin, Democratic chief counsel Sam Dash shared his witness list: 60 names. Thompson was stunned. This would take more than all summer to get to. “This is just Watergate,” Dash informed him. Thompson felt pole-axed and his Republican bosses on the committee were more than a bit displeased.

Within a few days, a sort of compromise was worked out, but Dash and the Democrats won out: Dash could keep calling his witnesses as he desired…but only if the committee felt like it was advancing the investigation – not if it felt like meaningless political dawdling to keep the story in the news.

This was a huge win for the Democrats and, it turns out, history. There was a compromise list of witnesses that was much smaller than the 60 on the original list. And some interesting names were left out of the compromise list, including certain important White House aides to the President. Thankfully, Dash felt like the story he was unraveling WAS important and led places and would make everyone want to see what the hell he’d found…and so he got his full witness list in the end.

One witness who’d be called regardless of lists was John Dean. Dean had worked out a deal on his sentencing for his guilty pleas: while he’d likely do about 20 months of a 5-7 year sentence, Judge Sirica was willing to take into account the former White House counsel’s testimony in the committee for reductions in that amount of time to be served.

With this in mind, John Dean was preparing his testimony. And it should be noted that John Dean – like many lawyers of his time – was an assiduous note-taker. After meetings, phone calls, and even walk-and-talks with others, he memorandized everything. Now Dean was pulling together all his memoranda, and working on what he considered almost a courtroom presentation of evidence and his own testimony of events.

Let the Hearings Begin

If you were in the Nixon inner circle when the Watergate hearings began, you felt pretty good about things overall. The first day – after much media ballyhoo – was dishwater-dull. One by one each senator on the committee took the mic and had the floor and pontificated and bloviated as only US senators can do, with speeches expressing various calls to moral indignation and invocations for both “finding the truth” and calling out the hearing as a witch hunt.

The second day of the hearings on May 18 wasn’t much better, to be honest. There was a lot of procedural stuff from Dash and Thompson representing the two political parties. There were a few preliminary witnesses called, but nothing of consequence beyond more speech-making from senators on the committee, rather than questions being asked by Dash or from the dais.

And then came day three.

It’s worth noting that none of the senators on the committee knew what Dash was preparing to present to them in the hearings. They had some idea, of course – they watched the news, and would get briefings from Dash, but that was about it. And so on day three, Dash jumped right into it with James McCord, one of the convicted Watergate burglars.

Real quick now: what would you expect the focus of Sam Dash’s questions (and James McCord’s responses) to be? Planning the break-in? Where he thought the money had come from? Who had given authorization?

Sure, those are all valid. But Dash had come to realize that all of McCord’s testimony there was second-hand. McCord had been “told” where the money had come from, had been “told” who had planned and authorize the break-ins at the Watergate Hotel. But for all of that stuff, guys like Liddy and Hunt could be claimed to have misled McCord.

So what Sam Dash wanted in his questioning of McCord was stuff that McCord knew first-hand: how he, as an arrested Watergate burglar, had been treated after his arrest.

For the next three hours, McCord told in detail how he and the other members of the Watergate 7 had been paid off, through payouts arranged by White House “fixer” Jack Caulfield, with the mechanics of the money handoffs handled by the White House’s own version of Clarence Beeks, a shady private investigator named Tony Ulasewicz. He told about how these payments helped him hire legal representation, and how he was told in no uncertain terms to keep his mouth shut.

And in every case, it was emphasized, that all this (the money, the clandestine cash envelope handoffs, the instructions to stay quiet) was coming from within the White House.

The members of the Ervin Committee were stunned. TV audiences were stunned. News anchors were stunned. A White House burglar had just implicated someone or someones with high-up authority at the White House in participating in a scheme to obstruct justice and cover up any involvement in a crime.

And in one pivotal day, on May 19, everything about the Ervin Committee senate hearings changed completely. This was no longer a dull, sleepy affair. There were bombshells out there, waiting to be lobbed and landed. The mass resignations and firings at the White House just two weeks prior were suddenly starting to make more and more sense. And the American public was starting to get a queasy feeling about the chief executive.

It was also on May 19 that everyone involved in the committee – Fred Thompson first and foremost – realized that this wasn’t going to be a three-pronged hearing anymore. It was going to be ALL Watergate, and especially Watergate coverup. Also clear: Dash would call at minimum his 60 witnesses on the list. At minimum.

(The next few weeks of the Watergate hearings – along with a break for Memorial Day, 1973 and some other breaks in-between – would be Caulfield, Ulasewicz, and various CREEP office admins and such talking about money and payouts and procedures. The next big deal happens in late June, when John Dean is called.)

The Worst Job in Washington

Elliot Richardson did NOT want to be named Attorney General. Richardson had been Nixon’s secretary of the newly-created cabinet position at Health, Education and Welfare during the first term, and in January of 1973 had been sworn in as the new Defense Secretary. For Richardson, a decorated combat medic and officer in World War II, it was something of a dream job.

Richardson had come out of the war and gotten his law degree at Harvard, and then had clerked for a Supreme Court justice before serving as deputy attorney general in Massachusetts and kicking his political career into high gear as Lieutenant Governor and then Attorney General of the Bay State. He was a smart, politically savvy guy, well-suited for any of a half-dozen cabinet positions in a Nixon White House.

And Nixon now needed a new Attorney General for the United States. Richard Kleindienst had resigned as AG in that May 1st purge that also claimed Ehrlichman, Haldeman, and Dean among others. Although Kleindienst hadn’t been (and wouldn’t be) directly implicated in Watergate wrongdoing, he was the proverbial captain at the tiller when the ship ran aground…and so his resignation had been a foregone conclusion.

When Nixon called Richardson to offer him the AG gig, the sitting DoD secretary wasn’t thrilled about it, at all. Richardson had seen that Nixon’s first AG was now facing indictment, and his second AG had to resign in disgrace. He was wary of being subsumed by the unfurling Watergate coverup scandal, and was happy with his dream job at the Pentagon.

He considered the job of Attorney General in an administration awash in scandal to be the worst job in Washington.

But Richardson had also been told that with his reputation for being a straight-shooter, he had to take the job. A permanent AG had to be named, and had to be confirmed, and Richardson was the one guy who’d sail through a confirmation hearing.

And in meeting with Nixon personally to be offered the job, the President was almost pleading. Richardson would have full cooperation to follow anything related to Watergate, anywhere it led, “Even to the presidency.” Nixon told Richardson that if he wanted to appoint a special prosecutor (something that was getting mentioned more and more), he should do so. Nixon even had some names for Richardson to consider for that role.

Richardson’s Senate Confirmation was an interesting one, too. Richardson rather naively thought the Senate confirmation committee would ask about his past actions as AG of Massachusetts. They did not. Instead, from the outset of his confirmation it was all about a special prosecutor. Richardson said he was absolutely amenable to one, but then got a taste for just how much mistrust there was towards the Justice Department of the Nixon White House.

In the second day of Richardson’s confirmation, it was made clear to the nominee that the confirmation wouldn’t proceed until not only had Richardson agreed to name a special prosecutor, but also to give the committee the name of the person who’d accept the job.

The Democratic majority on the committee even had a couple of recommendations for Richardson for his special prosecutor: either former California Governor Pat Brown, or former Missouri Governor Warren Hearnes. Richardson didn’t like either of those. He thought Brown – who had been a political rival of Nixon’s in California – would be seen as a personal vendetta choice. And Hearnes’ administration in Missouri was STILL under investigation for its own scandals.

No thanks.

And at the front of Richardson’s mind was something that Nixon had said to him when they’d met and he’d been offered the job. Nixon had told Richardson that any Watergate investigation he conducted was free to follow the truth anywhere…but Nixon had, in the next sentence, cautioned Richardson that he was to stay away from anything related to national security.

This had set alarm bells off in Richardson’s mind. He had a vague suspicion that at some point, an investigation of Watergate might hinge on a fight over presidential powers as laid out in the Constitution. What Richardson then wanted was someone who knew criminal law and prosecution…but who also had extensive Constitutional law foundations. Those are almost two separate fields when it comes to law.

And Richardson’s first choices (which included future Clinton Secretary of State Warren Christopher) turned down the job, which was seen as an absolutely thankless one. Richardson needed to be able to tell the senate committee overseeing his nomination had he had his special prosecutor lined up in order to proceed, though.

Richardson had one other name in mind. This person didn’t have criminal trial law experience, but had been solicitor general under Kennedy. And Cox had become something of a legendary constitutional law expert and visiting professor at Harvard. He’d helped to advise on the handling of Ivy League student protests in 1968 and '69, gaining a national reputation for being the voice of reason and fairness in all of that.

Richardson gave Archibald Cox a call and offered him the job.

Cox was smart enough to know how shitty being the special prosecutor was likely to be. Republicans would hate him reflexively. Democrats would think that no matter what, he was going too slowly and not being hard enough on potential Republican lawbreakers. But he also knew that someone had to do the job, and Cox had enough of a streak of prima-donna-ness to him to be intrigued by the idea of handling what he already saw as a gigantic moment in the country’s history.

Cox did have one condition: he needed his independence. Independence to hire his own staff, and run the investigation as he saw fit. The only way that he could be dismissed from the job was on his own volition or resignation, or by Elliot Richardson himself firing him, and Richardson alone. And even in that case, Richardson could only fire him for what Cox called “Extreme improprieties.”

That worked for Richardson, who then had to explain to Cox that the soon-to-be special prosecutor would likely have to appear in Washington in a few days to answer questions for the senate hearing considering Richardson’s nomination. Cox said he would be there.

This is a huge moment in the modern history of the United States. If Nixon is Saruman, then the arrival of Elliot Richardson and Archibald Cox on the scene is when Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli all show up.

Oh, and an interesting, side-story about Elliot Richardson.

In World War II, he’d been a combat medic, and landed on Utah Beach on D-Day. His unit came under heavy fire from guns at Brecourt Manor…and Richardson was the first man in his unit to notice when those guns had been silenced.

And if you’ve watched the series Band Of Brothers, or read the excellent Stephen Ambrose book the series is based upon, you know why those guns when silent: Lt. Richard Winters and Easy Company took out four of those big guns and forced the surviving Germans to pull back.

In the 1990s when Richardson read the book, he wrote Winters a personal letter, thanking him profusely for his bravery and telling him how many men that Easy Company had saved that day.

So 50 years ago today, it’s mid-June of 1973. Senate Watergate hearings continue apace. John Dean is working like crazy to prepare for his own testimony in two weeks time.

And since we’re in Season Three of The Watergate Show, a few roles have been recast. Let’s meet the new guys!

Alone In A Crowd

With the shakeups, indictments, firings and resignations in late April and early May, President Nixon is left without his closest advisors. To replace Haldeman as chief of staff, he turns to a young army officer who had once been on Henry Kissinger’s staff and was currently Vice Chief of Staff of the Army – General Alexander Haig.

To folks in Generation X and later, Haig is sort of remembered as a caricature for his “I’m in control here” stuff after Reagan was shot and for his gaffes about nuclear warning shots later in his career. But as Nixon’s new Chief of Staff, the general was kind of in his element.

Haig, like Haldeman, was an intimidating presence. And he was also efficient --sometimes brutally so – in carrying out Nixon’s wishes. Haig also had a gift for organization and efficiency, something that would be sorely needed for the rest of Nixon’s presidency.

But for all the points in Haig’s favor, he and Nixon never really bonded the way Nixon had with Haldeman. Nixon, of course, had known Haldeman for years. The two considered one another friends, long before Nixon won in 1968. Haldeman was Nixon’s confidant, a friend he felt he could say anything to. Haig simply wasn’t any of those things.

Nixon had also lost all of his White House Counsels. Special Advisor Chuck Colson had stepped down, and Nixon’s friend and official counsel, Herb Kalmbach, was facing indictment for campaign finance fraud and had stepped away as well – though to be fair, Kalmbach had ceased being a legal advisor to Nixon sometime towards the end of Nixon’s first term, when he’d joined the Committee to Re-elect. Nixon’s “real” attorney, advising him on Watergate had been John Dean. And Dean had been officially fired on May 1st.

To replace Dean came one of the oddest of odd couples in all of Washington. Two attorneys were put in charge of advising Nixon on Watergate: Leonard Garment and J. Fred Buzhardt.

Garment was the real oddball here. He was everything Richard Nixon hated: a liberal, New York lawyer…who happened to be Jewish. But Garment had been a partner at the law firm that Nixon went to after his 1962 retirement from politics, and the President had come to admire Garment’s quick mind and genteel manner. Garment had worked as a special advisor to the White House on Indian bureau matters and softer subjects like the arts. Garment would say later that he kind of fell into this new role because he was one of the only lawyers left at the White House who hadn’t resigned and wasn’t under indictment.

Buzhardt was something of a legend around conservative circles when he was pressed into service as chief legal advisor on Watergate. Buzhardt had been part of Strom Thurmond’s team, and if you’ve ever wondered why the South was so slow to end segregation even after the Civil Rights Act…well, Fred Buzhardt’s your man. He’d won a series of injunctions and stays to prevent the CRA from overturning state and local ordinances that segregated areas of the South…at least for a few years.

It’s hard to delicately talk about Buzhardt, because he was unquestionably a racist, and worked to extend racist ends. But he was a highly respected lawyer, one with a genius for quietly winning settlements and taking care of very thorny legal issues with what was considered one of the sharpest (if evil-est) minds legal minds in the country. Together with Garment, the two were a formidable legal team.

For Nixon though, nothing could ever be the same. He’d come to rely on both Haldeman and Ehrlichman as his closest friends as well as advisors. Nixon was inherently paranoid and distrustful, and in losing those two, he felt as if part of him had been cut out. And although the White House was always a bustling, buzzing place, Nixon for his part had never felt more alone and isolated. It’s likely that this led to him falling into a deepening depression that would last the rest of his time in the White House. And Nixon, never one with a high tolerance for alcohol, would begin to concern the Oval Office staff by the number of times he’d drink himself into a quiet stupor in the evenings in his private study.

This seems like the best thread to drop this:

So How Are You Enjoying Your First Month on the Job?

Let’s be clear again: newly appointed (and now confirmed and sworn in) US Attorney General Elliot Richardson did NOT want this job. He loved being Defense Secretary. He found that work interesting, and that it meshed well with his military background. Being AG felt like the most thankless gig in the world to him.

And already, less than a month into his new job, he’s at wit’s end. Archibald Cox has also been sworn in as special prosecutor, and the US Attorneys who had been assigned to prosecute things back in the summer of 1972 have been relieved of their Watergate duties. And though Cox is still naming his staff (strong-arming some of them, who are reluctant and see this prosecution as a no-win situation), he’s already got his boss – Richardson – wanting to find a place to get away from it all.

It’s a minor thing, really, in the long run. Cox gets asked a question from a muckraking reporter about how Nixon paid for his San Clemente estate, and Cox knows nothing about that and subpoenas background information on the property and sale. And Nixon goes ballistic.

And so the White House tells Richardson that he had better tell Cox to back the hell off, or they’ll fire the special prosecutor two weeks after being sworn in. Cox tells Richardson that if the AG is going to meddle, that he (Cox) will resign immediately.

Unbeknownst to Richardson, at the same time that he’s dealing with a dozen calls a day from Al Haig on behalf of Nixon on one line, and a dozen calls from Cox on the other, a slightly confused US Attorney has visited his office at the DOJ in DC.

As noted back in January, the US Attorney for Maryland is George Beall, and he’s a complete nepotism hire. Beall is sharp, though, but he’s also a little confused on some of the day-to-day technicalities and procedural matters for his job.

In early June, Beall drives down to DC, heads to the DOJ, presents his credentials and gets as far as one of Elliot Richardson’s appointment secretaries. That secretary politely informs Beall that you don’t just show up at the DOJ and ask to take a meeting with the AG. He’ll need to make an appointment, which he does for the next week.

Which, 50 years ago this month, Beall and his three young prosecutors who have been investigating corruption and bribery in Maryland set off for that meeting with the AG. They’re all packed into a single car on a hot June morning. No one knows much about Richardson, other than he’s ex-military, and believed to be fiercely loyal to Nixon.

Thanks to interviews on the excellent Bag Man podcast with Rachel Maddow, we know what the mood on that drive from Baltimore to DC was like. The three younger attorneys – Barney Skolnik, Ron Liebman, and Tim Baker – kind of see this as a duty-bound courtesy call. The three kind of expected Beall to tell them to lay off their investigation because of where it was going. Beall didn’t do that, though.

But now, in that hot car in June of '73, they’re fully expecting that Elliot Richardson will do just that.

Sometimes Heroes Don’t Wear Capes

When Beall, Skolnik, Liebman and Baker arrive at the DOJ, they’re shown into Richardson’s office. And for the first ten minutes of their meeting, they barely get through introductions – Richardson is in and out of the office on these “I’ve gotta take this call” kind of deals. (It’s likely more pestering from Haig over Cox. Or vice versa.) The mood of the four attorneys from Maryland gets even darker. They’re fully expecting Richardson to wave them away.

Finally, Richardson sits down and asks what Beall’s got. And Beall goes methodically through everything: the investigation based on reports of bribery and corruption in Baltimore; discovering the corruption extended county-wide and state-wide. And finally finding out who the biggest player in the bribery scheme was.

That’d be Vice President Spiro Agnew.

With Richardson rubbing his temples in weary disbelief, he asks about the evidence and the strength of the case. But Beall isn’t done. He informs the US Attorney General that Agnew’s bribery scheme is STILL going on. Right now. He’s receiving payoffs at the White House. Literally, inside the White House.

As you might imagine, Richardson if flabbergasted by this, but pulls himself together to ask about the evidence. How strong is it? Are they sure?

Beall lays out the evidence: multiple independent witness all corroborating one another. Paper trails. Old bank account records. Canceled checks. White House sign-in logs.

The case is incredibly iron-clad. The question isn’t an “if” question, Beall says. It’s a “How many counts to charge?” question.

Across his desk, Richardson looks through the preliminary report from Beall and his team. There’s silence for a while, until Richardson speaks.

He tells Beall and his team to keep everything as quiet and secret as possible. The Maryland prosecutor braces to hear that Richardson wants this investigation to go away, but then Richardson surprises them all.

He tells Beall and his team that he wants them to step up their investigation, but to do so carefully. He knows that to make a case, they’ll need to subpoena Agnew’s current bank records, and he wants them to spend a ton of time writing that subpoena up, so that it is an ironclad, unassailable document of fact-finding…because once they serve that, they’re going to also need to inform a sitting US Vice President that he is the subject of an investigation by his own Justice Department.

Richardson continues by telling them all that this is going to result in indictments, and he wants them all to be ironclad and as perfect in every way as possible. Richardson isn’t happy about any of this, by any means. But he sees it as his solemn duty to pursue this investigation and indictments and wants to make sure when the reckoning comes for Agnew, that the world will understand that none of this politically motivated.

And so another domino falls.

It’s easy to wave away the courage and integrity it took for Richardson to take that course. After all, we aren’t really used to that sort of thing I suppose. But to me, reading what you are writing many years after the fact, it strikes me as the quintessence of what one would hope a public servant would do.

It’s easy to imagine a contemporary OLC or DOJ opining that, like the president, the vice president cannot be indicted while in office. Remember, the current opinion about the president was basically a delayed effect of the Nixon crisis.