Summer of Judgment; Part 2 of 2
<v Charles McDowell>John Dean had placed the president of the United States at the core of the Watergate conspiracy. The committee searched for bits and pieces of evidence to confirm Dean's story or refute it. Within days, the committee would learn of evidence beyond its wildest dreams. But for the present the only thing to do was to press the White House for memoranda, appointment calendars, anything that might help. The committee kept hoping for voluntary cooperation that would spare the country a constitutional confrontation over executive privilege. <v Charles McDowell>On July 12, the Watergate Committee gathered in Senator Urban's office. At Senator Baker's suggestion, Ervin telephoned the president personally to ask for his cooperation. <v Sam Ervin>So I called the president and the president said, you told me that he had just discovered he had battled pneumonia and he'd have to go to the hospital. And um he said, you're all out to get me? And I said, we are not out to get anything except the truth, Mr. President.
<v Charles McDowell>So the phone call to the president got them nothing. Still, senators held out hope that somehow Mr. Nixon would come more accommodating. <v Senator>So maybe our manufacturing optimism. But I think there is ground for it. And I'm going to persist in believing there some way around this dilemma until the contrary is made clearly to appear. <v Charles McDowell>Meanwhile, the committee staff was working feverishly behind the scenes, interviewing White House employees who might be able to testify to the veracity of John Dean's story. <v Scott Armstrong>And as we begin to look at those few people around the president, we discovered there were some that we'd never heard of before. For example, there was an obscure Air Force colonel named Alexander Butterfield, who apparently had been brought in by Alexander Haig uh somewhat earlier, just to be the kind of chief of staff, the man to to control the gates. <v Charles McDowell>It was Friday, the 13th of July in front of the cameras in the caucus room White House aide Richard Moore was testifying. In a stuffy office in the basement three staff lawyers were interviewing Alexander Butterfield as they did all potential witnesses before scheduling them for the hearing. At one point, they asked Butterfield about a particular White House document that contained quotations of presidential conversations,.
<v Scott Armstrong>A fellow named Don Sanders, who is the Republican minority counsel, Don turned to him and said, you know, when Dean was testifying, Dean mentioned that at one point in his meetings with Nixon, the president went over in the corner and he lowered his voice. And Dean had an impression that the conversation might be recorded. Is it possible that Dean knew what he was talking about? Butterfield said, no, no. There's no way. And he picked up the document, he said. But of course, that's where this came from. And he kind of looked at us and we nodded and he said, well as is I guess, you know, the president records, all of his conversations are recorded. There are only four people who know this. Of course, it was one of those unique things where a chill runs up your spine. You know that you've just heard something that could potentially change the course of history. Who knows what was on the tapes and who knows how. <v Fred Thompson>I was across the street to having a drink with Jim Squires, who's now the editor of the Chicago Tribune. And Don Sanders walked in and said that he wanted to see me. Well, I knew Don had been in this interview. And I said, OK. And we stepped away from the table and he said, no, we've better go outside. And I said, OK. So we went outside and it was getting dark and uh he said, well, maybe you better go across the street. And I thought maybe Don had been working too hard. This was getting a little bit silly, I thought, so we went across the street there and we got behind this big tree. And Don looked around and said everything in the Oval Office apparently is on tape. And uh so uh by that time the others in the in the uh interview were, I'm sure, looking for Sam Dash.
<v Sam Dash>And just as I was about to leave as around 5:30, 6 o'clock in the evening, the telephone in my office rang. I was I had my briefcase packed. I was just at the door and I answered it. And there Scott Armstrong's voice and he said, Sam, can can I come up to see you? He says I got something important. Well, Scott always had something important, you know, always something important. I said, Scott can't it wait I promised Sarah, that I come home early for dinner. He says it's got to wait. He says it's very important I've got to come up. <v Scott Armstrong>Well we stormed upstairs and went into Sam Dash's office and. <v Sam Dash>He came up with one of our other assistance and he was sweating. His eyes were wild. <v Scott Armstrong>We said, Sam, the president recorded all of his conversations. <v Sam Dash>And when he was through, you know, I was sitting there agast because, my God, I said, here we finally have the corraboration that we really needed for John Dean. And I called Sarah and said, I'm gonna be late. And I called Sam Ervin. I remember. And I told Ervin what we had just learned. And I remember he was he just felt that it was the most remarkable bit of evidence that we could have found, quoted the King James version of the Bible is something to the effect that the truth will always come out and you can't cover it up. And um we decided then that we had to get Butterfield in as the very next public witness.
<v Fred Thompson>So we contacted Senator Baker and uh we uh decided, of course, that we need to get Butterfield on in right away Monday. So uh we spent the weekend, you know, preparing for that. <v Interviewer>Did you tell the White House before that Monday that that this had been learned? <v Fred Thompson>Yeah, I call Fred Bezart, who was who was counsel for the White House. So I called Fred to to tell him that I thought that it would be a mistake if they didn't, if they weren't forthcoming. That uh it was going be uh it was going to be very significant. And from every direction that we were traveling in, the demand for those tapes are going to be made and that we needed to work together with with each other on it. And Fred kind of hedged a bit. And I don't know to this day whether or not he knew about it when I called. <v Senator>We had brought Butterfield in in the late morning and we'd stashed him in a House next to the Senate, which was used for the offices of one of the committees. A number of the staff were with him and the press noticed that we had gone off with someone who they didn't recognize. And they began to follow us with the usual camera crews and so forth. In fact, I remember Lesley Stahl trying to flip off the tag on his briefcase to see who he was and where he was from.
<v Alexander Butterfield>My name is Alexander Porter Butterfield. I am the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. <v Senator>And it was a great deal of puzzlement about why the administrator of the FAA, would be testifying. <v Fred Thompson>Butterfield I understand you previously were employed by the White House. Is that correct? <v Alexander Butterfield>That's correct. <v Fred Thompson>I think if there ever was a moment in the caucus room where the-you could hear the proverbial pin drop, that was probably it. <v Fred Thompson>Mr. Butterfield are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president? <v Alexander Butterfield>I was aware of listening devices, yes, sir. <v Speaker>The uh reporters uh were running out of the room and to their telephones. It was uh -the impact was immediate. <v Charles McDowell>The committee promptly asked for the relevant tapes, mainly conversations between Dean and Nixon. A week later, the answer came from the White House. The president would not release the tapes.
<v Sam Ervin>This is a rather remarkable letter about the tapes. If you notice, the president says he's heard the tapes, or some of 'em, and to sustain his position. But he says he's not gonna let anybody else hear 'em for fear they might form a different conclusion. <v Charles McDowell>Laughter. Then serious business. The committee announced that it was issuing a subpoena for the tapes. Not since the administration of Thomas Jefferson had Congress served a subpoena on a president. <v Sam Ervin>I deeply regret that this situation has risen because I think that the Watergate crisis is the greatest tragedy that this country has ever suffered. I used to think that the civil war of that country's greatest tragedy, but I do remember that there was some redeeming features in the civil war in that there was some spirit of sacrifice and heroism displayed on both sides. I see no redeeming features in Watergate.
<v Charles McDowell>President Nixon refused to honor the subpoena, citing executive privilege. The gauntlet was down. The constitutional confrontation could not be avoided. So a committee of Congress decided to take a president to court for the first time in history. <v Sam Ervin>The chair recognizes that there is no precedent for litigation of this nature, but uh the rea-reason it was no precedent in litigation. And I think this litigation is essential if we are to determine whether the president is above the law. And whether the president is immune from all of the duties and responsibilities in matters of this kind, which devolved upon all the other mortals who dwell in this land.
<v Speaker>I think most of us reached the conclusion almost about the same time that these tapes were very incriminating, because if they were not, I think the president would have very happily released them. <v Fred Thompson>When the White House was was willing to really go to the wall to prevent their disclosure, it was it didn't take a genius to realize what the situation basically was. So it wasn't a matter anymore of protecting aides. There's only one person really left. <v Charles McDowell>The pressure on Richard Nixon increased, the special prosecutor brought a suit similar to the committees and the fight for the tapes shifted to Judge Sorica's courtroom. Here in the caucus room, the committee moved on to John R. Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman, the president's top assistance, they'd been forced to resign, but they were still loyal, denying wrongdoing by the president or themselves. But as they gave their version of it all, they had to be aware of the ominous hovering tapes.
<v Charles McDowell>Ehrlichman, the number two, a system at the White House was brought into the Nixon camp by his former college roommate, the longtime Nixon aide Bob Haldeman. In the 1968 campaign he was the tour director handling Nixon's public appearances. When they won the election, erlichman, who had been a lawyer in Seattle, found himself named counsel to the president. His efficiency caught Nixon's eye, and soon he was made assistant to the president for domestic affairs. Brusk, a stickler for punctuality, he was second in power only to Haldeman. Together, they built a wall around the president, protecting him from outsiders and monitoring staff contacts. When the investigation of Watergate closed in on them, Ehrlichman and Haldeman resigned on April 30, 1973. Ehrlichman was convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI and the grand jury. He served 18 months in prison. Divorced and remarried, John Ehrlichman now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and has become a writer. He's the author of an autobiography and two novels.
<v Committee Member>John Ehrlichman came with his jaw striding out as saying, who are you to call me to account? I did everything for my president and my country and I was right. And, you know, they put he put the committee on the defense. <v Charles McDowell>The committee tried to pin Erlichman down on the subject of the plumbers, an Investigative Unit set up by the Nixon White House to fix national security leaks. The plumbers existence had been secret, their methods that included wiretapping and burglary. The committee wanted to know, hadn't their supervisor been John Ehrlichman? <v Sam Dash>Did you- were you assigned a role to create in the White House a capability for intelligence gathering at any time? <v John Ehrlichman>I don't know quite what you're getting at. If you're getting at the special unit and the and the problems of leaks. <v Sam Dash>I don't know why you have to find out what I'm getting at if you just answer the question as I ask it. <v John Ehrlichman>It's an obscure question to. <v Sam Dash>No it's a simple question. If the answer is no, say no. If the answer is yes, say yes.
<v John Ehrlichman>Would you-would you restate the question for me, please? <v Sam Dash>I said, did there come a time when you were asked to develop a capability in the White House for intelligence gathering? <v John Ehrlichman>Intelligence gathering? The answer would be no. <v Sam Dash>Did you ever, were you ever asked to set up a special uh unit in the White House for the purpose of determining whether certain leaks that occurred in major national security areas? <v John Ehrlichman>In-in point of fact, I was and-and I'm strictly in terms of your question. I was not asked to set it up. <v Sam Dash>Were you in at the beginning of the setting up with this? <v John Ehrlichman>Yes, I was. <v Sam Dash>So there came a time when you were administering an investigative unit? <v John Ehrlichman>Yes, in a in a literal sense. That's true. <v Sam Dash>A literal sense? <v John Ehrlichman>Yes, sir. <v Sam Dash>Not in an actual sense? <v John Ehrlichman>Well, here I am dueling with a professor. <v Sam Dash>And I'm not dueling with you. I'm just trying to get a. <v John Ehrlichman>Professor, if you say actual, it's actual. <v Charles McDowell>One of the missions of the plumbers was to gather information on Daniel Ellsberg. He was the Defense Department consultant who leaked damaging official documents, the so-called Pentagon Papers to the newspapers. In search of information to discredit him the plumbers broke into the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist.
<v Sam Ervin>You testified that the plumbers attempted to get the records of the psychiatrist in order that they, someone at the CIA or somebody else might develop a psychiatric profile to enable President Nixon to determine for himself whether Ellsberg was some kind of a kook, or was some type of foreign intelligence agent. Isn't that what you told us? <v John Ehrlichman>Well, I don't think it's a question of the president determining for himself. Mr. Chairman, I think this was a a an effort on the part of the special unit to do as they had done in other cases uh subsequently to determine where there were holes in the either in the federal government itself or in the Rand Corporation or these outside units that would permit a person like Ellsberg and his coconspirators, if there were any, to steal massive quantities of top secret documents and turn them over to the Russians. It is incumbent upon the president as the executive of this executive branch to satisfy himself that he has done everything possible to be sure that such a thing does not occur in the future. And in order to do that, he has to be in a position to know what happened here.
<v Sam Ervin>I believe Congress set up the FBI to determine what was going on in this country, didn't it? <v John Ehrlichman>Among other things, Mr. Chairman. <v Sam Ervin>It set up the CIA to determine what was going on in respect to foreign intelligence, didn't it? <v John Ehrlichman>Yes, sir. Among other agencies. <v Sam Ervin>It set up, the National Security Agency didn't it? <v John Ehrlichman>And the Defense Intelligence Agency. <v Sam Ervin>And the Defense Intelligence Agency. <v John Ehrlichman>And a number of others. <v Sam Ervin>But it didn't set up the plumbers, did it? <v John Ehrlichman>Course the Congress doesn't do everything, Mr. Chairman. <v Sam Ervin>No, Congress is only one that's got legislative power. And I don't know anything any law that gave the president the power to set himself up whawt some people have called the secret police, namely the plumbers. <v Charles McDowell>Ervin was closing in on the basic question of Watergate. Was the president above the law? Erlichman contended that the president had inherent power that went beyond the committee's notion of what the law and the constitution allowed. <v Sam Ervin>He said he had the inherent power to commit burglary. And while he said that Nixon denied he authorized that while Ehrlichman said he hadn't authorized it. Um, he did say he had inherent power to do that. And so Talmadge did a fine job. Talmadge had enough sense, Talmadge had an uncanny capacity to go to the heart of a question.
<v Herman Talmadge>If the president could authorize a covert break-in and you don't know exactly where that power would be limited that you don't think it could include murder or other crimes beyond covert break-ins, do you? <v John Ehrlichman>I don't I don't know where the line is, senator <v Herman Talmadge>Well where is the check on the chief executive's inherent power is to where that power begins and ends. <v John Ehrlichman>While I'm certainly not a constitutional lawyer, Senator. <v Herman Talmadge>Well remember when we were in law school, we studied a famous principle of law that came from England and also as well known in this country, that no matter how humble a man's cottage is that even the king of England can't enter without his consent. <v John Ehrlichman>I'm afraid that's been considerably eroded over the years, hasn't it? <v Herman Talmadge>Down in my country we still think it's pretty legitimate principle of the law. <v Charles McDowell>National security was the justification given for the plumber's activities. Chairman Ervin wanted to know what good information from a psychiatrist's office have to do with national security.
<v Sam Ervin>You don't claim that uh. <v John Ehrlichman>Let's get down to the <v Sam Ervin>Burglarising Dr. Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office to get his opinion, his recorded opinion of uh these intellectual, psychological state of his patients is an attack by foreign powers do you? [laughter] The foreign intelligence activities was not, had nothing to do with the uh opinion of Ellsberg's psychiatrist about his intellectual morsel or psychological state. <v John Ehrlichman>How do you know that, Mr. Chairman? <v Sam Ervin>Because I can understand the English language. It's my mother tongue. [laughter] [applause] [gavel banging] <v Charles McDowell>The committee then turned to the White House practice of spying on the private lives of political opponents. <v Committee Member>Do you mean to tell me in this committee that you consider private investigators going into sexual habits, drinking habits, domestic problems and personal social activities as a as a proper subject for investigation during the course of a political campaign?
<v John Ehrlichman>Senator, I know of my own knowledge of incumbents in office who are not discharging their obligation to their constituents because of their drinking habits. And it distresses me very much. And there's a kind of an unwritten law in the media that that is not discussed. Now, I think that is important for the American people to know. And if the only way that it can be brought out is through his opo-his opponent in a political campaign, then I think that opponent has an affirmative obligation to bring that forward. <v Committee Member>Well, now this is getting very interesting. [laughter] Do you really want to bring the political system of the United States, of our campaigns down to the level of what you're talking about right now? <v John Ehrlichman>Well, I I can see that this way, Senator. I know that in your situation, your lifestyle is undoubtedly impeccable and there wouldn't be anything at issue like that. <v Committee Member>Uh, I'm no angel. Uh, I'm no angel.
<v John Ehrlichman>I thought you were. <v Committee Member>Believe me. Believe me, I'm not and I-I worry about you sicking people on the landscape here. <v John Ehrlichman>Maybe my standards are all haywire and that uh uh everybody in the Congress ought to be immune from scrutiny on that subject. But that just seems to me to be an indefensible position on your part. <v Committee Member>You think that we have no scrutiny around here? <v John Ehrlichman>Sir? <v Committee Member>You think we have no scrutiny around here? <v John Ehrlichman>Well, in all candor, uh. <v Committee Member>I mean, I got no. I mean, let's count 'em. I mean, they're all over here at this stage of the game and they're here all the time, not just to hear you and I talk. If there is anything that is-is quite obvious in Washington, D.C., it's that every aspect of our lives legislatively, personally, in every way is subject to the scrutiny of a free press. <v Charles McDowell>Throughout his testimony, Ehrlichman maintained he was innocent, despite John Dean's account of a criminal conspiracy in the White House with Ehrlichman right in the middle of it. <v Committee Member>You have maintained throughout that in all of your service in the White House, especially in those activities evolving around the Watergate. You did no wrong. Is that correct, sir?
<v John Ehrlichman>Yes, sir. <v Committee Member>That every act on your part was legal, proper and ethical. <v John Ehrlichman>That's my belief. And I-I trust that's true. <v Charles McDowell>Ehrlichman's testimony had been marked by testy exchanges with the senators and vocal demonstrations from the audience. At the close of his testimony, Minority Counsel Thompson felt compelled to apologize to the witness for the treatment he'd received. <v Fred Thompson>He's not that you, Mr. Ehrlichman are to be treated any better than any other witness, but you shouldn't be treated any worse. <v Fred Thompson>Nobody had been indicted. Nobody had been convicted. There'd been no court proceedings. It was it was a political process in the broadest sense of the word at that time. And the sentiment of the committee and those in the caucus room got so weighted on one side. <v Fred Thompson>I just wanted to state that I-for the last few days of testimony, I have regretted the situation and find it personally embarrassing. Thank you. <v Charles McDowell>After five days of testimony, John Ehrlichman had some last words on the comments of an earlier witness, a young, disillusioned former White House aide.
<v John Ehrlichman>I could not close without commenting on Gordon Strong's answer of the other day to the question Do you have any advice for the young Americans who are expressing their disenchantment with government and the political process? Gordon said, stay away and your gallery laughed. But I don't think many other Americans laughed at that answer. I certainly didn't. Nor do I agree with Gordon's advice. I hope they come and test their ideas and their convictions in this marketplace. I hope they do come and do better. But young Americans. If you come here, come with your eyes wide open. <v Charles McDowell>The next witness was the only man closer to Nixon than John Ehrlichman, Bob Haldeman, once Nixon's closest aide, came before the committee at a time when the president was confident he could hold on to the White House tapes on the grounds they were critical to national security. But Haldeman told the committee he listened to the tapes after leaving the White House. This only increased the committee's resolve to get them. It provoked the senators that Haldeman had been given special access, and this point became the theme of his testimony.
<v Charles McDowell>Bob Haldeman once described himself this way, Every president has his S.O.B. And I'm Richard Nixon's. As the White House chief of staff he was the gatekeeper who decided which people and papers got to the president. A former advertising executive, he joined Nixon's political staff early on in 1956. By the time of the 1968 campaign, he was very much in charge of the staff and access to Nixon. In the White House, Haldeman controlled the president's schedule and planned his own to monitor the presidents. At work he was rarely more than a few feet from the Oval Office, if not in it. And he was on call at all hours. He was a hard man to know. Apparently he felt little need to be liked, even by those he worked with, and he wasn't liked by many. Haldeman's German name, crewcut, stern demeanor and remoteness caused some observers to snipe at him as a contemporary Prussian or worse. He left the White House staff with Ehrlichman as the Watergate crisis mounted in the spring of 1973. After the hearings Haldeman was convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury for his part in the cover up, and he served 18 months in prison. He now lives with his wife in Southern California, where he develops and sells real estate.
<v Committee Member>His whole reputation was one that was the the uh the Hun. The guy who cracked the whip. He was a good public relations man. He's a good actor. He came in as as a submissive, sir-ed everybody, sweet, I mean, you couldn't you can be angry with him. <v H. R. Haldeman>President Nixon had no knowledge of or involvement in either the Watergate affair itself or the subsequent efforts of a cover up of the Watergate. It will be equally clear, despite all the unfounded allegations to the contrary, that I had no such knowledge or involvement. <v Charles McDowell>When Haldeman faced the committee, the existence of the White House tapes was known, but what they said was not. He told the committee the president had given him some of the tapes to take home and listen to after he became a private citizen. Haldeman was interpreting the tapes for the committee and he said they prove John Dean's charges were false. The tapes Haldeman had taken home were the same ones the president had refused to give to the Senate committee and the special prosecutor. The same tapes that were supposed to be under Secret Service protection. The tapes, Haldeman knew, could bring down the administration.
<v Daniel K. Inouye>I'm certain you'll recall that in response to an inquiry, Mr. Butterfield testified that these tapes were in the exclusive custody of a Secret Service agent at all times. <v H. R. Haldeman>I don't recall that, but I-I'm sure that was his understanding. At the time that I took the tape home and listened to it the existence of the tapes was not known to anyone other than the limited people that Mr. Butterfield identified. And it was not uh contemplated, I don't believe that its existence would ever be known to people. And it was a request to review material for the president, which he knew I was familiar with, and concerning a meeting in which I had been in attendance. <v Sam Ervin>Although Haldeman had been released of his duties of the White House, President Nixon let him take those tapes out and listened to 'em. I said that is a queer thing, that the president would let Haldeman have the tapes but he wouldn't let the committee. He wouldn't let the American people.
<v Daniel K. Inouye>Are you suggesting that this special label of top secret is placed on these tapes after Mr. Butterfield made it known to us? That prior to that it was all right for private citizens to have access to it? <v H. R. Haldeman>No, sir. I think that the access here was not in a capacity as private citizen, but in a capacity as a as a former assistant to the president who was aware of the existence of the tape and was able and had been present at the meeting, was able to review the tape for the president and report to him on its content. <v Daniel K. Inouye>And when did you return this tape? <v H. R. Haldeman>Well as I told you, I had some other tapes. And I think that I left the tape machine and the tape at my residence, that when I left the residence the next day. <v Daniel K. Inouye>And who was in that house during the time? <v H. R. Haldeman>No one. My family had moved to California and there was nobody else using the residentce at all.
<v Daniel K. Inouye>Can you assure this committee that no one else got hold of the tapes during that absence? <v H. R. Haldeman>I can to the best of my knowledge, Senator, assure you that in the sense that the tapes, the machine and the tape itself were put in the suitcase and left in the uh closet of my study in my house. <v Daniel K. Inouye>And this is the question that the people are asking, is it possible that this tape during those 48 hours could have been doctored? <v H. R. Haldeman>I don't consider it to be possible. <v Charles McDowell>Even the minority counsel thought it was a mistake on the part of the president to have given the tapes to Haldeman. <v Fred Thompson>Well, I thought that was a stupid move, a bad move blunder, um you know, to come up before the committee and before the public that way and say we're not going to give you the tapes, but we're going to let one of our guys listen to them and tell you what it says. That's just rubbing the salt in everbody's wounds.
<v Charles McDowell>Haldeman was questioned closely on his version of crucial meetings. In one conversation in the Oval Office, Nixon, Haldeman and Dean had discussed raising a million dollars to pay off the burglars and keep 'em quiet. Dean had testified that the president said we could do that. Haldeman insisted that, the president added, but it would be wrong. <v Committee Member>I want to test the accuracy of your recollection and the quality of your note taking from those tapes and referring to the last to the next to the last, no the third from the last sentence on page two, the president said, "There is no problem in raising a million dollars. We can do that, but it would be wrong." Now, if the period were to follow after we can do that, it would be a most damning statement if, in fact, the tapes clearly show he said, but it would be wrong. It's an entirely different context. Now how sure are you, Mr. Haldeman, that those tapes, in fact, say that?
<v H. R. Haldeman>I'm absolutely positive that the tapes. <v Committee Member>You hear with your own voice. <v H. R. Haldeman>Yeah, with my own ears. Yes. <v Committee Member>I mean, with your own ears. Was there any distortion in the quality of the tape in that respect? <v H. R. Haldeman>No, I don't believe so. <v Charles McDowell>When the tapes finally were made public, the conversation was not as Halderman had testified. He was later convicted of perjury on this point. <v Committee Member>Would you be agreeable to bringing those tapes up here? Those two tapes and playing them? <v H. R. Haldeman>Senator, you're asking me to take a position on a legal issue, contrary to the position that they. <v Committee Member>No no you are perfectly free to confer with your counsel if you wish. I'm not asking, will you ask the president to do it? I'm not asking you if you think we violate the doctrine of separation of powers. I'm simply saying would Bob Haldeman, a witness before this committee, be agreeable as an individual if we can otherwise procure the tapes to them being brought here and being played in public.
<v H. R. Haldeman>[talking among his counsel] Having been advised by counsel that in their opinion, I'm not creating a legal problem by uh uh the answer that I would give and that I would want to give without even talking to counsel is that I would welcome that opportunity because uh they would confirm what I've told you. <v Charles McDowell>For three days of questioning, Haldeman maintained his innocence and protected the president. Contrary to his reputation, he was generally mild and deferential. But there were times when he was provoked beyond his limit, and you could feel a cold anger in the room. <v Committee Member>And in light of the facts that are coming out, both you and I would agree that this went far beyond just a few men breaking into the Watergate. But rather, it's uh it's revealed it's revealed a situation both within the committee to reelect the president and within the White House, where upon everything that was touched was corroded. <v H. R. Haldeman>No, sir, I will not in any way, shape or form ever accept that allegation or contention.
<v Committee Member>After that hearing was the first time I got a call from my father. And he turned to me said, lewis, do you do you have any bodyguards or anybody that goes ahead and offers you protection? I said, no, why? I said I said, I've never seen so much hate in a man's faces as uh after your conclusion, including your questioning, as was on the face of uh of Haldeman. <v Committee Member>The real problem is that uh your definition as to who does a disservice to the country has always been far too broad a definition. <v Charles McDowell>The interest in Halderman and the tapes reflected the mounting theme of the summer to pry the tapes away from the president. The courts would settle that. So in the fall, a committee moved on to another aspect of the investigation, the so-called dirty tricks committed against Democratic contenders in the presidential campaign. The head of this enterprise was a young California lawyer, Donald Segretti, who was recruited through a White House aide, Dwight Chabon. Segretti and his operatives used White House funds for activities like infiltrating Democratic campaign offices, putting out false issue papers in the name of opposition candidates, and forging letters, accusing leading Democrats of sexual indiscretions.
<v Charles McDowell>Donald Segretti and two of his assistants testified. Segretti began by describing his meeting with Dwight Chabon. <v Donald Segretti>I met Mr. Chapman near the San Clemente White House, and we went to a small restaurant in the local area. <v Sam Dash>Was it this meeting that he indicated to you that you were to act in secrecy so that there would be no trace back to the Washington to the White House. <v Donald Segretti>That's correct. <v Sam Dash>Now, did you also talk to you about the candidate you should spend most of your time on in terms of your political activities? <v Donald Segretti>Yes, sir he did. <v Sam Dash>Who was that candidate? <v Donald Segretti>That was Senator Muskie. <v Sam Dash>And did he indicate why? <v Donald Segretti>It's difficult to recall any exact uh conversation at this time. That was some time ago but uh Senator Muskie at that time was certainly the forerunner, shall we say, of uh likely prospects to to run for the Democratic nomination.
<v Terry Lenzner>Collectively, I don't believe anybody has ever organized in the history of this country and spent the kinds of money that they spent attempting to disrupt, to subvert, to infiltrate leading candidates for the president of the United States. <v Sam Dash>I think you've also testified that you were aware, in fact, participated in sending out false letters on Mr. Muskie's campaign stationery. <v Donald Segretti>That's correct. <v Sam Dash>And you referred already to one of them. Now, there's one particular letter you referred to in your statement, which was especially scurrilous and accused Senator Jackson and Senator Humphrey of serious accusations of sexual and drinking misconduct. I think in due respect to Senators Jackson and Senators Humphrey and Senator Muskie against whom this letter was used, that I would not be fair to read the actual language of the letter into the record.
<v Donald Segretti>I-I agree, Mr. Dash, that that letter is untrue. I [clears throat] sincerely regret that any copies of that were sent out. <v Sam Dash>Would you agree with me without my reading it into the records to demonstrate this for the record, that it was a an especially vicious and scurrilous letter? <v Donald Segretti>I will agree. It was a scurrilous letter. <v Daniel K. Inouye>Were you aware that it was unlawful to send salacious and libelous letters? <v Donald Segretti>Certainly aware of it now. <v Sam Ervin>You don't call forgery, or libel, a mere prank do you? <v Donald Segretti>Senator, I don't call any of the things I did at this point in time, pranks. I've stated many times before this committee today that they had no place in the American political system. I don't believe there should be pranks as such or dirty tricks or however you want to term it in the American political system. <v Sam Ervin>Well, it appears from your testimony that you did, in effect forward several letters that you um you uttered uttered libels, and I'm just glad that you say don't classify those things in as pranks or mere dirty tricks.
<v Donald Segretti>Senator its really you know, it's really hard to draw the line between a lot of these sayings. <v Daniel K. Inouye>It is not political prank to break and enter and steal. It is no political prank to steal letterheads of some candidate and type scurrilous statements about a senator's alleged peccadilloes or sexual deficiencies and send those letters out as though it was sent out by the person whose name appeared on the letterhead. Oh, that's not dirty tricks. I can understand dirty pranks or dirty tricks or political prank but these went beyond that, what they were doing was a commission of crime. <v Charles McDowell>One of Segretti is recruit's Martin Kelly. <v Martin Kelly>It began with pranks. It started getting more and more intense. I was aware that some of the things that I was doing were not legal. I'd be lying if I told you otherwise. I knew some of them were illegal. I kind of just I would just like an uh, I was weaving my own spider web. I couldn't get out of it. I was in a hole too deep.
<v Committee Member>I noticed that uh towards the last, you were planning on parading a nude woman past Muskie headquarters and she was supposed to shout, "Muskie, I love you." <v Martin Kelly>Well, that's not exactly the case. What it was, is it was a girl that was hungry for money. She needed some money. So I told her that I would. I didn't know her, she was going to Gainesville, where the University of Florida is. I was told Muskie, Senator Muskie was there. I gave her $20 or $10, I don't even remember how much and asked her if she would if I gave this to her if she'd be willing to take off her clothes and run in front of his hotel screaming, I love you. Which, which she did, unfortunately, but she did. [laughter] And uh. <v Committee Member>You must have known her very well. [laughter]. <v Martin Kelly>Again, unfortunately, no. [laughter] <v Charles McDowell>Robert Benz, another of Segretti recruits, tried tangling with Senator Ervin.
<v Sam Ervin>And I challenge you or anybody else to point out a single instance in the history of this nation where money donated to advance the political fortunes of a president was used with the consent of the president's assistants in the White House to spread the libels against candidates of opposition political party. <v Committee Member>Yes. There was a question mark after that. <v Robert Benz>I think first, Senator, I'd answer that, could you tell me whenever a president has ever been investigated by the news media and by a committee as much as this one, and second, Senator, where were you in 1960 when it was accused that election was stolen? <v Sam Ervin>I was right here in the United States and I never heard about any campaign being stolen on a credible testimonial of any individual. And this is the first time in a history the United States that's a center of the United States by a unanimous vote has been so moved by reports of rascality on the national scale that he set up a committee to conduct an investigation.
<v Charles McDowell>The Watergate hearings began to wind down as the president's part in Watergate became the central issue and talk of impeachment was in the air. What he said on the tapes was what everybody wanted to know. In the bitter struggle for the tapes, the president fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox and accepted the resignation of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, the new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski. Ultimately got the crucial tapes the Watergate Committee never did. The committee staff was eager to proceed with hearings on skullduggery and campaign finance, but the senators concluded that the committee had had its day. After six months of public hearings, there would be a report that simply laid out the evidence and left the judgments to the courts and the impeachment process. The hearings themselves already had provided the most sweeping, compelling view of a political scandal in American history. Ironically, it must be mentioned that three members of the committee, Senators Montoya, Gharani and Talmage later had ethical problems of their own. Congressional responsibility in the Watergate case, moved to the Judiciary Committee of the House, which would decide whether to recommend that President Nixon be impeached. The Judiciary Committee used the evidence from the Senate hearings, held hearings of its own and studied a number of tapes that the White House had not withheld. In late July 1974, Chairman Peter Rodino, a Democrat from New Jersey, opened the final debate before millions of Americans in the television audience.
<v Peter Rodino>We have reached the moment when we are ready to debate resolutions whether or not the Committee on the Judiciary should recommend that the House of Representatives adopt articles calling for the impeachment of Richard M. Nixon. Make no mistake about it, this is a turning point. Whatever we decide. <v Charles McDowell>The president's defenders were making their last arguments. Charles Wiggins, a California Republican, felt that the Democrats were moving too fast, not giving enough attention to the evidence. <v Charles Wiggins>But it would certainly not on my conscience if I had a preconceived notion about his impeachability prior to the receipt of evidence in this case.
<v Charles McDowell>This was an occasion when obscure politicians rose above themselves in the glare of the impeachment debate. Few members of the House committee were as famous as any senator. Few had reputations for statesmanship. Many were junior members of Congress identified with the concerns of provincial politics. But as the time to vote approached and the obscure politician spoke out, there was an eloquence in them and a sense of the constitution. <v Paul Sarbanes>This document is probably the world's best written exposition of free government. It is the document under which this country and its people have prospered from the founding of this republic. We are here to make this constitution a vital document for all of our people and to end end the abuse of power. The obstruction of justice that has gone on to the detriment of constitutional government.
<v Charles McDowell>The crucial Republican votes were shifting against the president. Caldwell Butler of Virginia, a conservative who owed his election to Nixon spoke in sadness and in anger. <v Caldwell Butler>In short, a power appears to have corrupted. It is a sad chapter in American history, but I cannot condone what I have heard. I cannot excuse it and I cannot and will not stand still for it. If we fail to impeach, we have condoned and left unpunished a course of conduct totally inconsistent with the reasonable expectations of the American people. <v Charles McDowell>Walter Flowers, a conservative Democrat from Alabama with an American flag in his lapel, was in emotional pain, but he was going to vote for impeachment. <v Walter Flowers>I wake up nights, at least on those nights I've been able to go to sleep lately, wondering if this cannot be some sort of dream. Impeach the president of the United States. But unfortunately, this is no bad dream. It is the terrible truth that will be upon us here in this committee in the next few days.
<v Charles McDowell>Barbara Jordan, a Texas Democrat, spoke of the Constitution from a special perspective. <v Barbara Jordan>Earlier today, we heard the beginning of the preamble to the Constitution of the United States. We the people. It's a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed on the 17th of September in 1787, I was not included in that, "We the people." I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment interpretation and court decision, I have finally been included in, We the people. My faith in the constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.
<v Charles McDowell>James Mann, a Democrat from South Carolina. <v James Mann>It isn't the presidency that is in jeopardy from us. We would, serve-we would strive to strengthen and protect the presidency. But if there be no accountability. Another president will feel free to do as he chooses. But the next time, there may be no watchman in the night. <v Charles McDowell>On July 27, the Judiciary Committee voted on Article 1 of the resolution of impeachment of Richard Nixon. <v Speaker>All those in favor signify by saying "Aye" all those opposed "No". <v Speaker>Mr. Flowers. <v Walter Flowers>Aye. <v Speaker>Mr. Mann. <v James Mann>Aye. <v Speaker>Miss Jordan. <v Barbara Jordan>Aye. <v Speaker>Mr. Wiggins. <v Charles Wiggins>No. <v Speaker>Mr. Butler. <v Caldwell Butler>Aye. <v Speaker>Mr. Hutchinson. <v Hutchinson>No. <v Speaker>Mr. Lucht. <v Lucht>No.
<v Speaker>Mr. Sarbanes. <v Paul Sarbanes>Aye. <v Speaker>Mr. Rodino. <v Rodino>Aye. <v Speaker>Twenty seven members have voted "Aye." 11 members have voted "No." <v Senator>And pursuant to the resolution, Article 1, that resolution is adopted and will be reported to the House. <v Charles McDowell>Just before the Judiciary Committee voted the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the president must give up the tapes on. August 5 the crucial tape Nixon had withheld the so-called smoking gun was public knowledge. It made clear that a week after the Watergate break in, the president was participating personally in the cover up conspiracy. Richard Nixon was finished and his friends in Congress went to the White House to tell him so. Even his defenders on the Judiciary Committee soon agreed that the president deserved to be removed from office. And on August 8, Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th president of the United States resigned. <v Richard Nixon>Therefore, I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as president at that hour in this office.
<v Charles McDowell>The helicopter soon would take him away. He spoke to a staff one last time. <v Richard Nixon>When you take some knocks, some disappointments when sadness comes, because only if you've been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain. Always remember, others may hate you but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself. <v Warren E. Burger>And, will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend,. <v Gerald Ford>Preserve, protect and defend. <v Warren E. Burger>The Constitution of the United States,. <v Gerald Ford>The Constitution of the United States. <v Warren E. Burger>So help me God. <v Gerald Ford>So help me God. <v Warren E. Burger>Congratulations.
<v Charles McDowell>So it ended quietly without disorder, without disruption. But we still talk about what it meant to us then and what it means now. With me is Stephen Hess, a political scientist, writer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He's a Republican. Before Watergate, Steve Hess wrote a biography of Richard Nixon that was not unsympathetic. I would say. And in 1969, he worked in the Nixon White House. He sat through part of the Watergate hearings as a commentator for public television. Welcome back, Steve. First, Less watch you on television. Ten years ago, when you quit these hearings. <v Stephen Hess>I must admit, I-I haven't liked wallowing in this filth. I feel unclean, even even listening. I don't think that many of these witnesses really understand what this country is all about, the differences and diversities and respect for each other that makes the country operate. I don't even like listening to myself talking about it. I sound like a moral prig. I-I'm mad at these people and I sound mean and I don't think of myself as a mean person. So tonight, as I leave you I'm distressed and I'm burned out and I salute you for performing a very useful, though distressing service. And I wish you fortitude and a strong stomach.
<v Charles McDowell>That was an emotional farewell. What were you reacting to in that clip? <v Stephen Hess>It's sort of eerie seeing yourself 10 years ago and and being so very upset. I try to remember back what it had it had all been and and there I had been, hour after hour, day after day, listening to people like the attorney general of the United States tell about how they had contemplated committing crimes. And remember, I wasn't a professional Nixon hater. I was a card carrying Republican. And after a while, it simply got to me. I started to get nightmares for the first time in my life and about Watergate. And it bothered me. I felt that the institutions were being abused. And then in a very personal sense that I was being abused. <v Charles McDowell>You did feel personally let down? <v Stephen Hess>Yes. Yes. Because you were with Richard Nixon I felt a very warm feeling. I had known him many years. I cared about the success of his administration.
<v Charles McDowell>Ten years later, is the disillusionment still there? <v Stephen Hess>Well, again, that's a very personal thing. I don't think it's there for the people of the United States, but it's very much there for me. I, for example, had had loved government service. I could hardly wait to get back into government when my party was in again. And I found personally that I haven't been able to go back into government except for a few weeks since. <v Charles McDowell>May I ask you about Mr. Nixon? You wrote a biography of Richard Nixon. You worked for Richard Nixon in the White House. How did that man get into all this? <v Stephen Hess>Well, to this day, I can't quite tell you. Richard Nixon was a remarkable man, is a remarkable man. And I certainly think that he had those tapes going because he wanted to be remembered in history. He had a sense of that. And the irony of it is that he is going to be probably the second most remembered American president after Franklin Roosevelt of the 20th century. But he compartmentalized people. And it was a shorthand he had and I'm sure he thought of me. Pat Moynihan, Arthur Burns, Martin Anderson, as others, as his intellectuals. And I note, for example, he never cursed in my presence.
<v Charles McDowell>On the tapes he cursed. <v Stephen Hess>When I heard the tapes, I couldn't believe that this was the same man that I knew. And clearly, that's the way he dealt with a group of apparatchiks that he had around him. And those were not politicians. I think politicians understand politics in a way that the Haldeman's and the Ehrlichman's who had come up through the mechanics of politics, really didn't. <v Charles McDowell>Steve, most of the people involved in Watergate had never run for public office. They were campaign workers. <v Stephen Hess>Yes. And politicians, true politicians, as I understand them, I don't think would have produced a Watergate. They might not have, they might not be geniuses, but as only the speaker of the House, Uncle Joe Cannon, used to say that they had their ears so close to the ground that they were full of grasshoppers. They understood that you don't get elected this way. <v Charles McDowell>Steve, isn't there a positive legacy of Watergate, a more assertive Congress? A lot of new election laws, more scrutiny by the press? <v Stephen Hess>Well, first of all, yes, there there is a whole set of laws on the books that are there because of Watergate. I don't think that they always do exactly what they set out to do. All of these reformist laws have turned out to have side effects. They they should have warned us, but we didn't know. We if we channel public money into politics one way, it's going to push private money out in some other way. We weren't smart enough, perhaps. Or perhaps we just can't legislate morality. So that that was one consequence of Watergate. But I think ultimately the greatest consequence of Watergate was the knowledge of Watergate. The knowledge of politicians know that they that a Watergate existed, that there were a press, that there were courts, there were congressional committees, and they had best be very careful. So it's not that they're more moral, but they are perhaps more honest because of Watergate.
<v Charles McDowell>The most persistent questions still asked about Watergate is also the most cynical. Isn't this the way politics is? Doesn't everybody do it? One answer is that some politicians sometimes do some of it. Yes, too much of it. But there's no record of another instance when so many illegal things were done in such a concerted, coordinated way and by the people who were running the country at the time. Watergate didn't stop at break ins and telephone taps and so-called dirty tricks. It included the decision in the White House to pay $400,000 in hush money to burglars to keep the truth from coming out. Then national security was invoked to keep that arrangement secret. Watergate was about cynicism. A kind of contempt for politics ruined Richard Nixon, a president of considerable accomplishment. A lot of people went to jail for acting on the notion that everybody does it, that politics is a dark business where anything goes. Maybe these things have to go pretty far to stir us up. But there was a clear response to Watergate from Congress and the courts and from the people of the United States sitting in judgment on the hearings held in this room. If our free institutions were vulnerable to cynical politics, they were also able to respond in the spirit of the constitution. We can be proud of that. Thank you for joining us.
- Summer of Judgment
- Part 2 of 2
- Producing Organization
- Contributing Organization
- Library of Congress (Washington, District of Columbia)
- The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
- AAPB ID
- Program Description
- Focuses on the summer, 1973 hearings of the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities. Includes excerpts from key testimony by John Dean, John Mitchell, John Erlichman, H.R. Haldeman and others.
- Broadcast Date
- Asset type
- United States. Congress. Senate. Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities; Watergate Affair, 1972-1974
- Media type
- Moving Image
Associate Producer: Gamble, Joanna
Associate Producer: Ducat, Sue
Director: Sirianne, Mary Frances
Executive Producer: Winslow, Lindo
Host: McDowell, Charles
Producer: Green, Ricki
Producing Organization: WETA
Production Unit: Clevinger, Jill
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Library of Congress
Identifier: 1860529-1-2 (MAVIS Item ID)
Generation: Copy: Access
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the
University of Georgia
Identifier: 96132dct-arch (Peabody Object Identifier)
Format: Betacam: SP
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
- Chicago: “Summer of Judgment; Part 2 of 2,” 1983-00-00, Library of Congress, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 30, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-512-gm81j9840b.
- MLA: “Summer of Judgment; Part 2 of 2.” 1983-00-00. Library of Congress, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 30, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-512-gm81j9840b>.
- APA: Summer of Judgment; Part 2 of 2. Boston, MA: Library of Congress, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-512-gm81j9840b