thumbnail of Summer of Judgment; Part 1 of 2
Hide -
This transcript was received from a third party and/or generated by a computer. Its accuracy has not been verified. If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+.
Summer of Judgments, the Watergate hearings, is made possible in part by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This is a police photograph of James W. McCord. He is one of five persons surprised and arrested yesterday inside the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington. McCord, if I was appalled at this senseless illegal action, and I was shocked. In this report, Judge John Serica, today, said bail at $100,000 each for two former Nixon re-election campaign. I'm Serica, as well as Angela's time, of course, Watergate Department James McCord. I'm saying that being in former presidential aid Jeb Stewart-Megruder, you in advance of the plan against my presidency, I accepted the resignations of two of my closest associates in the White House, Bob Hallemann, John Erickman, two of the finest public servants.
There can be no whitewash at the White House. Committee will come to hold on. I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency. What did the president know and when did he know it? The Senate caucus room, it's a square old room, a little pompous, but practical, just across from the capital on Constitution Avenue. Hello, I'm Charles McDowell. In this room, Senate committees have investigated assorted embarrassments in our political history from Teapot Dome to Joe McCarthy. And here, ten summers ago, the Senate select committee on presidential campaign activities,
hell hearings on the darkest passage in American politics, Watergate. It started in 1972 as a break in at a campaign headquarters, police court stuff. But the burglars turned out to have White House connections. The effort to cover up those connections became a conspiracy in the White House to obstruct justice and to place the president above the law. When the truth came out, President Richard Nixon resigned. To get at the truth of Watergate, the Senate committee brought to this room a remarkable parade of burglars and fixers and men of standing, including the president's principal assistance and a former attorney general. The committee that examined them was a fascinating collection itself, headed by an old senator who seemed somehow to have sprung out a southern folklore to guide us through a constitutional crisis with country wit. Beyond the personalities and the who-done-it aspects of the story, Watergate was about big themes, the constitutional separation of powers.
The protection of individual rights, the function of a free press. The people of the United States were caught up in all this to a degree that might seem unlikely to anyone who didn't experience it. Day after day, week after week, we watched the drama played out in one disclosure after another. It was all on television. And through television, the people became a part of the process of judgment in the summer of 1973. So let's go back to early 1973. Nixon was settling into his second term. He'd won the 72 election by a landslide, in spite of a potentially troublesome incident during the campaign. The arrest of burglars on a political spying mission inside Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Office Building. The Nixon managers denied any part in such goings-on, and most of the news media lost interest after a while. But some gritty investigative reporters and a stubborn judge, John Sirica, kept pursuing evidence of White House involvement in the break-in, Watergate wouldn't go away.
So the Senate, prided by the Democratic Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, set up a special investigating committee. Looking around for a chairman who wouldn't seem too partisan or self-seeking, Mansfield was drawn to a 76-year-old senator from North Carolina. Sam Irvin was the man for the job. He was a Democrat but conservative, a former judge. His fellow Senators knew him as a nonpartisan authority on the Constitution and the Bible, and as wildly an old country boy as ever came out of North Carolina. Chairman is fond of pointing out from time to time that he is just a country lawyer. He omits to say that he graduated from Harvard Law School with honors. I went to Morgan to North Carolina to visit Senator Irvin, now 86 years old and retired,
for some recollections of that historic summer of Watergate. Senator Irvin, how did you come to be chosen as chairman of the Watergate Committee? Mike Mansfield, I think, is one of the finest human beings I've ever known. And he wanted the investigation to be fair, and not only wanted to be fair, but he wanted to appear to be fair. So the first thing he did was rule out a membership among the Democrats, any Democrat that was suspected of being a want to be president or vice president. That included most of the Democrats in the Senate, and so I haven't done that. He told me he wanted to be chairman for three reasons.
The first was that I had had more judicial experience than anybody in the Senate. The second was I was the most nonpartisan Democrat he had in the Senate. And the third was that nobody could just accuse me of ever having a Harvard vice presidential or presidential ambitions. What did you expect to discover at the beginning? Do you think it would reach the president? I didn't imagine how, but the president was involved. You did not. I thought we would find that some of his overzealous age had overstepped the bounds of political ecstasy. Did it dawn on you solely or of a moment that the president was involved? Well, if I became suspicious, that the president wasn't toting foul with it. You could use an off-call on the term with the country in the matter, because as soon as the committee was set up, before they had an organizational meeting, I had a high to single aid president mixed an issue to public statement in which he said under the doctrine
of executive privilege, he would not permit any of his aims or former age to testify before the committee. But I have noticed a long time that a person has been investigated or tried, and they have an information of power that would exonerate them. They can't run fast enough to carry to the fact fund them. The other fact funders on the Watergate Committee intentionally were chosen from among senators who were not especially well-known or outwardly ambitious for our office. For the Democrats, besides Irvin, Herman Talmadge of Georgia, Joseph Montoya of New Mexico, and Daniel Innoway of Hawaii. I tried my best to convince my colleagues that we were not prosecutors. Somehow we gave the impression to the people in the United States that we were out to determine the guilt or innocence of persons involved. That was not our job.
Three Republicans sat on the committee with the four Democrats. Up and coming Howard Baker, who had been a tiger as a trial lawyer in Tennessee, became vice chairman. The other Republicans were Edward Gurney of Florida, who emerged as President Nixon's chief defender on the committee. And Lowell Wiker of Connecticut, a maverick whose sense of moral outrage came out in very tough questions. I think a lot of people feel because of the tough questions that I posed that I started out, you know, being, quote, against Richard Nixon or a Nixon hater, not so at all. That took a lot of learning over a lot of months before I got to the point where I felt that there were some problems as far as the presidency were concerned. Sam Daesh, the Georgetown University law professor, who became the committee's chief counsel, reflects on what the committee knew as it began its investigation in March and April of 1973. There was some newspaper reporting suggesting perhaps White House involvement, but there
was all suggestion. There was no evidence, no indication that could establish any relationship. Our investigation began there. Fred Thompson, a political friend of Howard Bakers from Tennessee, was the minority counsel. This young Republican came to Washington thinking the hearings would last only about a month, and assuming there wouldn't be much evidence of wrongdoing among the higher ups at the White House. Well, when I started, I hoped and believed that the hearings would clear up any questions about who was involved and who was not involved, and I certainly believed that, at that time, there was no reason to believe the president or any of the people who had responsible positions under the president were involved. Daesh and Thompson recruited a staff of investigators. They worked around the clock in crowded offices in the Senate basement, sorting out a tangle of leads and interviewing prospective witnesses. Gradually, they began to piece together a complex and bizarre story of diverted campaign funds, wire taps, and still more burglaries.
Early on, a dispute developed over the order of witnesses to be put on the stand in the caucus drum. And there was some sentiment for calling the big names first and getting in out and really kind of going to the horses' mouth. The Hallermans, the Arlington and the Mitchell's and really find out what was there if anything and getting it over with. I think there was a lot of sentiment that this was something that for the sake of the nation and everyone else should not be dragged on forever. So there was some thought to doing that. Senator Baker, I think, initially favored that approach. Some others on the Democratic side, Sam Daesh, I think, primarily wanted to go kind of bottom from the bottom to the top and bring in the lesser lights, the witnesses, and piece a case together as much as you would in a trial. And after discussion, that was the way in which the committee decided to proceed. May 17, 1973.
After the two frantic months of preparation, the hearings began. The three commercial networks and public television were there with live coverage. These would become the most extensively televised congressional hearings before or since. Not Armstrong, a committee investigator remembers the shock when he walked into the room. At first day, when we walked into the hearing room and suddenly saw all those cameras, it was a circus that we hadn't expected. I think all of us somewhat recoiled from the notion that the kind of public scrutiny that was going to be given us and the committee and the way in which it looked into the White House. It made us very self-conscious and wondering if we were fully prepared. At 10.02 a.m., Senator Irvin brought down the gavel. The aim of the committee is to provide full and open public testimony and although that the nation can proceed towards the heating of the wounds that now flick the body politic. The nation and the history itself are watching us. We cannot fail our mission.
We will inquire into every fight and follow every lead unrestrained by any fear. So where that lead might ultimately take us. The atmosphere that first day was like the first day of school, part ceremony, part uncertainty, nothing really heavy on the schedule. Reflecting dashes billed from the bottom plan, the first witness was not a showstopper, but one Robert Oedall. Councilman, call the first witness. Well Mr. Robert Oedall, please come to the witness's table. He was the former office manager of the committee to re-elect the president, known as Creep. I would like to use this opportunity to make just one brief point. I joined the staff of the committee for the re-election of the president more than two years ago because I believed in President Nixon and in his hopes and dreams for America. The public's fascination with Watergate mounted by the day as the intense coverage by the news media soaked in.
There were complaints from people who missed their soap operas. For the first week, the networks began taking turns covering the session's live. The infant public television service covered live in the daytime, and then rebroadcast the hearings in prime time every night into the wee hours. Aggressive investigative reporting in newspapers and magazines, particularly the work of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein for the Washington Post, had laid the basis for the Senate investigation. As for the relatively new medium of television, it's importance to these hearings, to the process of public judgment, cannot be overestimated. I wanted every American citizen to be able to hear and see the witnesses for themselves and make their own judgments, not have the judgment of somebody else. And the only way to do that, if they couldn't come to the caucus room and see and hear the witness themselves, is to watch it, and the only thing we have today, and God bless it, we have it, is through television.
And it was that, and not because we wanted publicity for the committee, but in order to be able to bring all of America into a democratic process, which is the working of their Congress. And it worked, I think. It did work. The public's curiosity and concern were reflected early every morning in the lines that formed on Constitution Avenue to get into the hearings. Watergate also was the talk of Main Street. From May to August in that summer of 1973, millions of Americans sat in their living rooms and watched this remarkable story played out in the caucus room by real people, some of whom became as familiar as the neighbors. In the course of the hearings, over a million and a half letters poured into the committee. Most, but not all, were favorable. Terry Lensner, one of Sam Daesh's principal assistants. We were flooded with mail, thousands of letters every week. We received over 100 to 200 telegrams a day. I received telephone calls at my home throughout the night, and at the office during the day,
many people in this country perceived this to be a national call and show where they could in fact offer questions that they wanted to ask to these very important figures in government. And have them in fact to ask and get their questions put on every day. And I thought that was an extremely healthy kind of participation by the citizens of this country in what they perceived to be a quiz show, but a one of the very high nature and a very important nature. Democracy had never worked quite this way before. Never had a nation participated so intimately in an investigation of its government. The early witnesses here in the caucus room could have been characters out of a crime story in the tabloids, the cop on the beat, the wire man who tapped telephones, the bagman who delivered hush money. Gradually the witnesses constructed the story. Members of the committee to re-elect the president plan the burglary. The object was information to embarrass the Democrats.
Members of the White House staff were involved in authorizing hush money for the burglars. And it was all coming out because the break-in was botched at Democratic headquarters in the Watergate on the night of June 17, 1972. The committee quizzed a policeman whose beat was the Watergate. So that the time, what you're saying is the time for when you believe Baldwin to have seen you to the time that you apprehended the defendants who was a period of five minutes. At the most, just. The committee heard from one of the burglars, James McCord. He demonstrated how to bug a telephone. Cover would be taken off of the telephone and two of the wires connected with this would be interconnected in series with the wiring within the phone itself. McCord was known as a good wire man. But the good wire man was not proud of his part in Watergate.
My participation in the Watergate operation on my part for whatever reasons I may have had at the time, whatever right now I may have had at the time, was an era, was a mistake and a very great mistake, which I regret. He thought that he was a patriot. He thought he was doing things for his country, perhaps he had to know better. But he did have a higher perception of his goals. And that he did at least think that he was doing something for his president, doing something for the White House, even though it was something he should have known better about doing. And that when he realized that the White House and the president were not going to back him up and they were not going to stand behind him and admit that, yes, we authorized this. And this was a White House operation. And that he was going to go down in history as simply a burglar, a common criminal. McCord, James McCord, couldn't stomach that.
Is it a fact now, Mr. McCord, that you presently stand convicted on a multi-count federal indictment, charging burglary, electronic surveillance and conspiracy, arising out of the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate? It's correct. And are you now awaiting sentence on that conviction? That is correct. A few months before the start of the hearings, McCord had written a letter to Judge John Siricca, who presided over his trial in federal court. McCord revealed political pressure from the White House to remain silent. The judge made the letter public. It was the first crack in the cover-up. When the role of silence cracks, that crack begins to widen, widen, widen in the role crumbles and any good investigator once that first crack, we got it. McCord was it. Political pressure from the White House was conveyed to me in January 1973 by John Call Field to remain silent.
Take executive clemency by going off to prison quietly. And I was told that while there I would receive financial aid and later rehabilitation and a job. He saw that one of the strategies of the White House was to blame it all on the CIA too. And he was a great loyalist to the CIA. And therefore he decided that he was going to revolt against that. Angered speaking of my own feelings and at the time the letter was written, angered because of what appeared to me to be a ruthless attempt by the White House to put the blame for the Watergate operation on CIA, where it did not belong, I sought to hit it off by sending a letter to Call Field. Dear Jack, I am sorry to have to write you this letter. If Helms goes and the Watergate operation is late at CIA's feet where it does not belong, every tree in the forest will fall.
It will be a Scourke's Desert. James McCord's presentation had been somber. Anthony Ulaza-Wetz, a former New York City policeman, brought a touch of Damon Runyon Humor to the caucus room. Carefully he told the committee of his role as the hustling messenger between the burglars and the White House. Besides messages, he delivered hush money to some of the burglars from Herbert Combach, Richard Nixon's personal attorney and unofficial fundraiser. I take it, you were having these conversations, phone booth to phone booth between yourself and Mr. Combach? That is correct. And we loaded down with change, Mr. Elasquez. Oh yes indeed. And how did you carry that change? Well, when I started out, I started with kind of a little box deal. And when I finished up, I had a bus guy, one of these things that you clicked with quarters and dimes and nickels. Did you report that back to Mr. Combach? I reported that back to Mr. Combach and had to await his call back again. All of these were again precluded.
I call him, wait for Combach and I began to call him, Combach Combach calls. I think he was quite a character on television. But the issue was what he was doing. I suppose that I, like many others, can't fall in any way. What is a wonderful sense of humor, Mr. Elasquez? But I must confess that a long time ago, I lost my sense of humor on the activities that you described here today. I tell my friends as a matter of fact, but it seems that today's Watergate joke becomes tomorrow's testimony. And I would only ask you this question to try and appropriately frame the description which you gave to me. You know where Mr. Liddy is right now? Yes sir. Where?
He's in prison. Mr. Hunt, he's in prison. This is Hunt. She's dead. Mr. Barker, in prison I believe. Mr. Gonzalez, in prison, I'm not certain that I, Mr. Sturgis, the same, Mr. Martinez, same. I think what we see here is not a joke of the very great tragedy. I have no further questions. If indeed Elasquez is funny, then I can assure you that politics is going to get dirtier and dirtier in this country. That's the reason why I blew the whistle on him. Senator Waker's reaction to my questioning of Tony Elasquez was very negative. By the same token, I felt personally that the day after day of tension and drama, it would not hurt to have some balancing of humorous incidents. Jeb Stewart-McGruder had been the deputy director of the committee to re-elect the president.
This ambitious young executive coolly explained how the break-in and a whole scheme of political espionage had been masterminded by the re-election committee. And he charged that John Mitchell, the former Attorney General of the United States, had personally authorized the Watergate break-in when he was running the Nixon campaign. G. Garden Litty, the counsel for the re-election committee, was the author of the plan. Did there come a time when you had a third and final meeting with Mr. Mitchell on the Litty plan on about March 30, 1972? Yes. There had been a delay in the decision-making process at the committee because of the ITT hearings. Mr. Mitchell was on vacation at Key Biscayne. I went down to Key Biscayne, Mr. LaRue was there. And we met and went over approximately 30 to some decision papers mainly relating to direct mail and advertising the other parts of the campaign.
The last topic we discussed was the final proposal of Mr. Litty's, which was for approximately $250,000. We discussed it, brought up again, the pros and cons. I think I can honestly say that no one was particularly overwhelmed with the project. But I think we felt that the information could be useful and Mr. Mitchell agreed to approve the project. And I then notified the parties of Mr. Mitchell's approval. What was that project specifically? What was specifically approval for initial entry into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington and that at a further date, if the funds were available, we would consider an entry into the presidential contenders headquarters and also potential at the Fountain Blue Hotel in Miami. It also includes user electronics available.
Electronics available and photography of photography of documents. At one point, Senator Baker asked him to explain why the committee to re-elect the president had authorized a burglary. If you were concerned because the action was known to you to be illegal, because you thought it improper or unethical, that you thought the prospects for success were very meager. When you doubted the reliability of Mr. Litty, what on earth would it have taken to decide against that plan? Not very much, sir. Was the incentive so great or the prospects for success, so tantalizing that you felt it irresistible? Let me, I knew you would get to this line of questions. So why don't I give you what I think is the appropriate response here? I had gone to college as an example and had a course in ethics as an example under William Sloan Coffin, who I respect greatly, have great regard for. He was quoted the other day as saying, well, I guess Mr. McGruder failed my course in ethics. And I think he's probably correct.
Tells me my ethics are bad, and yet he was indicted for criminal charges. He recommended on the Washington monument grounds that students burned their draft cards and that we have mass demonstrations shut down the city of Washington. Now here are ethical legitimate people who I respected. I respect Mr. Coffin tremendously. He was a very close friend of mine. I saw people that I was very close to breaking a law without any regard for any other person's pattern of behavior or belief. And I believed as firmly as they did that the president was correct in this issue. So consequently, and let me just say, when these subjects came up, and although I was aware they were illegal and I'm sure the others did, we had become somewhat ignored to using some activities that would help us in accomplishing what we thought was a cause of legitimate cause. Now that's absolutely incorrect. Two wrongs do not make a right. I fully accept the responsibility of having made an absolute disastrous decision, or at least participated.
I didn't make the decision, but certainly participated in it. A decision, really, that is going to a fact history that was made in almost a casual way. Yes, sir. Jeff McGruder gave the appearance of a man who was sorry for what he'd done, and he helped the committee. Not so McGruder's superior, John Mitchell, the former attorney general didn't remember much. What he did remember was not heavily laden with regret. Mitchell in the phrase of the day was stonewalling. He had tried to protect the president from knowledge of Watergate in the beginning, and now he would loyally try to protect him from the consequences of it. John Mitchell's allegiance to Richard Nixon went back several years to the time Nixon joined Mitchell's New York law firm. The law partners also became close personal friends. In 1969, the new president made Mitchell his attorney general. For three years, Mitchell advanced his president's promises of law and order in America. But Mitchell was in on some unlawful conniving. It was in his office at the Justice Department that G. Gordon Litty proposed a scheme of wire taps and break ins against the Democrats in the 1972 campaign.
Mrs. Mitchell, the outspoken Martha, raised eyebrows in the Washington establishment. Her late-night phone calls to reporters made headlines. Mitchell never got along with the inner circle around the president at the White House, but he remained fiercely loyal to Richard Nixon. He agreed to head the re-election campaign and resigned as the attorney general. Two weeks after the Watergate break in, he left the campaign and went back to New York. After the Senate hearings, he was indicted for trying to block a government investigation of financier Robert Vesco in exchange for a contribution to the Nixon campaign. He was acquitted on that charge. Mitchell later served 19 months in prison for his part in the Watergate cover-up. Now this bar, Nixon's old law partner, works in Washington as a business consultant. My reaction was representative of most of my colleagues, that here was a valiant soldier standing up for his general.
The Urban Committee wanted to know if Mitchell had indeed authorized the Watergate break-in, as Jeb McGruder said he did. Mitchell denied it. The senators tried to get some idea of what the president had known about Watergate. Mitchell didn't make it easy for them. When do you think the president found out about Watergate and the cover-up? I have an any idea, Senator. I have an any idea at all. Why hadn't Mitchell taken it upon himself to tell the president that his re-election committee was behind the break-in? Not only did he keep quiet about that, he hadn't told the president about earlier proposals for illegal activities. Mitchell himself called those plans the White House horrors. He had not told the president about any of it, Mitchell said, in order to protect him. Now you state that you kept silent concerning the things you knew because you considered the re-election of President Nixon of such extreme importance. That is correct, sir.
I wonder if your statement ought not to be changed a little bit. You say that you didn't want President Nixon to find out about the White House horrors. Isn't the fact that you didn't want the American people to find out about it? Well I think that's one and the same because as I testified before that if the president had found out about it, obviously he would have pursued his responsibilities in that area very vigorously. But you were afraid to tell the president, rather you were afraid that you would prefer not to tell the president and didn't tell the president because you didn't want the president to do what you call law in the boom. That's exactly correct. And if he had lowered the boom while the thing would have been exposed. I don't think there's any doubt about it. And the American people would have learned about it. They wouldn't have learned about it. And it might have affected the votes of the American people. It's quite conceivable. I don't expect to the extent that some of us might believe.
I think that's a matter for debate, but certainly you could very well have affected the audience. You know, I have a high opinion of American people in that. I think that the president had lowered the boom. He told the president, the president lowered the boom and it come out performing his constitutional duty to see that the laws be faithful, take care, the laws be faithful, executed. I think he would have made his election more sure than ever. Some of the senators were incredulous that Mitchell could even have listened to Gordon Lydia's astonishing proposal for assorted law breaking in the campaign. After all, he was Attorney General of the United States. There is one man that has got to stand above all else in this nation in a sense of enforcing our laws. It's the Attorney General of the United States. I know that Mr. Mitchell figures why he toughed it out on behalf of his boss, but I don't think there's anything to boast about there. I think he should have toughed it out on behalf of the people of the United States. I must confess, Mr. Mitchell, that as I have sat here and listened to your testimony, the
only difficulty I find with it is that it is sometimes difficult to realize that we have sitting before the committee, not some administrative assistant to some deputy campaign director, but we have the campaign director sitting before this committee. And indeed, we don't have some deputy assistant attorney general sitting before the committee. Do you have the Attorney General of the United States sitting before the committee? Senator Wiker kept pressing Mitchell. Why hadn't he been appalled by the lady schemes? Why hadn't he reacted in a way that would put an end to this kind of thing that eventually led to the plan for a burglary at the Watergate? Now, on the 27th of January, 1972, Gordon Lydia presented a plan in your office, in the office of the Attorney General of the United States. And that plan, complete with visual aids, included elaborate charts of electronics or valence and breaking and entering in prostitution and kidnapping and mugging.
Now you've indicated that in hindsight, you probably should have thrown them out of the office out of the window, I think that's right. Maybe even out of the window. In hindsight, the life of every American, his or to a great degree, his liberty, protection of all of his rights, it's in the hand of the Attorney General of the United States. And do you mean to tell me that you sat there through that meeting? In fact, actually, you had to say, man, come back into your office for a second meeting. Without any way alerted, appropriate authorities, in this particular case, the President of the United States? That is exactly what happens, Senator. And as I say on hindsight, it's a grievous era. Senator Baker tried to understand Mitchell's concept of the presidency.
Is the presidency so shrouded in mystique? Is there such an aura of magnificence about the presidency? Is there such an awesome responsibility for a multitude of problems and undertakings of this nation? That the presidency, in some instances, must be spared the detail, must be spared the difficulty of situations which in more ordinary circumstances might be considered by some at least, to be frank, open declarations of criminal offense. Is the presidency to be protected in that way? Is the splendor of the isolation so great that the president must be protected? And if so, in what cases? It is my opinion and my concern with respect to this particular presidency that he should not have been involved in connection with these matters that bore directly upon his election, and he should have been protected from the knowledge of in the interest of his re-election.
Why isn't that a presidential grade decision? Why have all decisions that might be made by the man the candidate for President of the United States? Why shouldn't he be permitted to make that decision? That is it that arrogance, that authority, to someone else, other than the president to take a material step that will significantly affect not only his election prospects and chances, but his presidency, because of the consequences that would obviously flow from it. Why shouldn't he make that decision? If he were to make the decision, there would be no alternatives. He would have a choice of being involved in what you all refer to as a cover-up, or he would be involved in the disclosures, which would affect his re-election. All of those things were inferior and important to the ultimate re-election of the president. I have no doubt about it at that time, and I have no doubt about it now. It did unfair that he is now undergoing the hostility and the suspicion of a nation
in this respect, with the allegations of cover-up, with the lingering suspicion about what he knew. That is a statement that I am not prepared to accept under. I do not believe the nation feels that way, and I do not believe that anybody has come to the point where they have one shred of evidence that he was knowledgeable of the break. I think you and I are talking about two different things. I am talking about suspicion, obviously, because we generally get along fine. Well we still do get along fine, and I am delighted that I have this opportunity to probe into a great mentality of a great man. Senator Baker found himself in a very unique role. He never made any bones about the fact that he wished that his friends, Richard Nixon and John Mitchell, and some of the others, John Mitchell picked up the phone one day and asked Howard Baker if he would like to be on the Supreme Court of the United States.
You do not proceed as if those things never happened. What you do is acknowledge them and do what you have to do. After two and a half days of testimony, the committee excused John Mitchell. But not before the normally controlled Sam Dash made an indignant observation. Mr. Mitchell, do you draw the string distinction and you have made it some time to time that it was your purpose, not to volunteer anything? The distinction between not volunteering and lying depends entirely on the subject matter. When you ask the direct question and you do not volunteer the direct answer, you might say you are not volunteering, but actually you are lying on this one. I think we have to find out what the specifics are of what particular occasion and what case. We will go back to the February, July 5th question of the FBI as to whether or not you had any information on the DNC breaking and your answer, only what you read in newspapers. I found that John Mitchell tried to evade us and to avoid answering questions. He got the award for Stonewalling.
Surely the most memorable witness of the summer was John Dean, the former counsel to the president. Unlike so many of the presidents, man, Dean came here to tell all he knew. His testimony became the standard against which all future witnesses would be tested. Until Dean, the hearings were about burglars and fixers. After Dean, the hearings were about the president and the obstruction of justice. John Dean was a young man in a hurry. Soon after he came to Washington, he was serving the most powerful men in government. At the age of 30, he landed a job behind the Justice Department working directly with John Mitchell, then the Attorney General. They became good friends. After two years, he went to the White House as counsel to the president. But he wasn't able to get close to Richard Nixon. The White House entered circle, men like Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman blocked his access. Then came the Watergate break-in. Soon Dean was coordinating the cover-up. That made him important to the president and he was in and out of the Oval Office. When the cover-up began to fall apart, Dean suspected his superiors were setting him up as
a scapegoat. He went to the prosecutors with his story. Then afterward, Dean was fired. It happened the same day that Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Richard Klein, Dean's resigned. Two months later, John Dean emerged as the star of the Senate hearings. He also was the key government witness in the trial of the Major Watergate Defendants. His cooperation got him a relatively light prison term of four months for obstruction of justice. He now lives in California with his wife, Marine. This barred, he works as a freelance writer and radio producer. John Dean was the most devastating witness I've ever heard, and I as a lawyer and a judge and a legislator, I spent many years of my life listening to the witnesses. From the beginning, it was obvious that John Dean could be an important witness. As counsel to the president, he knew the internal working of the White House and he was willing to talk. But he wanted immunity and he didn't want to tell what he knew to the staff and committee in advance, as other witnesses were asked to do.
He was worried that our Republican members of the committee, as well as the Republican staff of our committee, would report back to the White House his cooperation. And therefore, if he had to appear before our staff or our committee, there would be no cooperation. I figured out a way to work with John Dean and avoid that danger. I suggested to him that we have what I called non-meetings, that I would go outside the Senate office building, meet with him at any place he suggested, he suggested his home. Sam Daesh began going to John Dean's house late at night to meet with Dean and his lawyer, Charles Schaffer. There, the real story of Watergate began to come out. Clearly, Dean was indispensable. And Daesh had to convince the committee and staff to bring him to the witness table on his own terms. Of course, I reached out all about that and it was a question of whether or not Dean was going to have to abide by the rules that we had or whether or not he had become irresistible.
And I lost. He had become irresistible. Dean's prepared statement, 245 pages long, laid out what he knew about others' involvement in the Watergate affair, and his own role as the coordinator of the cover-up. In a sometimes shaky monotone, he told a tale that could devastate the Nixon administration. It's a very difficult thing for me to testify about other people. It's far more easy for me to explain my own involvement in this matter, the fact that I was involved in an obstruction of justice, the fact that I assisted another in perjured testimony, the fact that I made personal use of funds that were in my custody, it's far easier to talk about these things myself than to talk about what others did. Some of these people I'll be referring to are friends, some are men I greatly admire in respect, and particularly with reference to the President of the United States.
I'd like to say this, it is my honest belief that while the President was involved, that he did not realize or appreciate at any time the implications of his involvement, and I think that when the facts come out, I hope the President is forgiven. When Dean talked about what the President knew about Watergate, he was drawing on direct knowledge. He recalled a conversation in the Oval Office a few months after the break-in when he realized the President was aware of the cover-up. The President told me, I had done a good job, and he appreciated how difficult a task it had been, and the President was pleased that the case had stopped with Liddy. I responded that I could not take credit because others had done much more difficult things than I had done. As the President discussed the President's status of the situation, I told him that all I had been able to do was to contain the case and assist in keeping it out of the White House.
I also told him that there was a long way to go before this matter would end, and that certainly, I certainly could make no assurances that the day would not come when this matter would not start to unravel. Dean told of another meeting with the President a few months later when the cover-up was increasingly difficult to manage. The convicted Watergate burglars were demanding money. I told the President about the fact that there was no money to pay these individuals to meet their demands. He asked me how much it would cost. I told him I could only make an estimate that it might be as high as a million dollars or more. He told me that that was no problem. He also looked over at Harlem and repeated the same statement. Dean said he was exasperated by the President's unwillingness to see how serious the situation was. It was my particular concern with the fact that the President did not seem to understand the implications of what was going on. For example, when I had earlier told him that I thought I was involved in an obstruction of justice situation, he had argued with me to the contrary after I'd explained it to
him. Also, when the matter of money demands had come up, previously he had very nonchalantly told me that that was no problem. I did not know if he realized that he himself could be getting involved in an obstruction of justice. By having promised clemency to hunt, what I had hoped to do in this conversation was to have the President tell me we had to end the matter now. Accordingly, I gave considerable thought to how I would present this situation to the President and try to make as dramatic a presentation as I could to tell him how serious I thought the situation was that the cover-up continued. I began by telling the President that there was a cancer growing on the Presidency. And if the cancer was not removed, the President himself would be killed by it. I also told him that it was important that this cancer be removed immediately because it was growing more deadly every day. Dean felt he had warned the President.
He was worried about his own culpability, too. He was afraid he was being made a scapegoat for Watergate, so John Dean went to the prosecutors. I told the President that I had gone to the prosecutors and that I did not believe that this was an act of disloyalty, but rather in the end would be an act of loyalty. I told him I felt this matter had to end. I informed the President that I had told the prosecutors of my own involvement and the involvement of others. The President almost from the outset began asking me a number of leading questions, which was somewhat unlike his normal conversational relationships I had with him, which made me think that the conversation was being taped and a record was being made to protect himself. Although I became aware of this, because of the nature of the conversation, I decided I did not know it for a fact, and that I had to believe that the President would not take such a conversation. Toward the end of the conversation, the President recalled the fact that at one point we had discussed the difficulty in raising money, and that he said that one million dollars
was nothing to raise to pay the maintain the silence for the defendants. He said that he had, of course, only been joking when he made that comment. As the conversation went on, and as impossible for me to recall anything other than the high points of it, I became more convinced that the President was seeking to elicit testimony from me and put him perspective on the record and get me to agree to it. The most interesting thing that happened during the conversation was very near the end. He got up out of his chair, went behind the chair to the corner of the executive office building, office, and in a nearly audible tone said to me, he was probably foolish to have discussed Hunts' clemency with Colson. I do not recall what I responded. Dean's disclosures had amazed the committee and the country, but many had trouble believing what they'd heard. When John Dean first appeared on the scene, I did not believe the most substantial part of his testimony.
My experience is there's nobody, nobody lies completely. Some people tell the truth completely, but nobody tells all falsehoods, so I gave him credit for that. He's very smart, obviously. But I thought that he was twisting things to his favor. I doubt if any one of us at the outset believed him. It was too fantastic. For four days, the committee questioned John Dean, taking him back through crucial passages into tale. Senator Baker asked the question that would be heard many times during that summer. The central question at this point is simply put, what did the President know? And when did he know it? There was an effort by some of the Republicans to discredit Dean. They seized on information about Dean's own finances. He admitted he'd taken money from a White House safe for personal use, part of it to pay for his honeymoon.
Dean maintained he'd planned to return the money. I recall in your testimony that you said that you had neglected or forgotten to get some money out of an account in New York, and that's why that you took the $4,850. Is that correct? That is correct. I, from time to time, would call my broker when I felt I needed money and just asked him to send me money. Did you ever call him for $4,850 to replace this? Not until early this year. I mean, not early this year was in March or April this year. Why didn't you replace it shortly after this time? Well at one point I did put in back in what I had into the account, and in November when I was trying again to get a honeymoon in, I took it back out again. How much? Senator, I have no idea. The question was, if you didn't use the money for that, what did you use the money for? Did you put it in his pocket?
Some of the things that you would ask any witness on cross examination to question their credibility? I don't believe that it did anything more than show that John Dean was an ambitious opportunist type young man who might have engaged in some peccadillos of that kind. At one point, Dean disclosed that the White House kept lists of its enemies. He admitted he participated in this effort to harass an assortment of people seen as unfriendly to the administration. Mr. Dean, I would like to now refer to a memo dated August 16, 1971, and you have testified that this was prepared for Mr. Holderman, Mr. Erlichman, and others at the White House. It is dated August 16, 1971, it's classified confidential, subject dealing with our political enemies. I'd like to read part of this, sir. This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency
and dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our administration. Stated a bit more bluntly, how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies. In your testimony, you have submitted several exhibits with lists of names, politicals, members of Congress, members of the media, members of the entertainment field, etc., etc. And taking this memo together with that list, I might add also Senator, before we go forward, I don't believe that list is complete in and of itself. It just happens to be a part that I received and had access to before my files were shut down. There may well be additional names and additional information available on that. Dean, I believe one list would have been enough.
It turned out that Senator Wiker himself had been a White House target in an emotional speech he called for a higher standard of morality in the executive branch. There are going to be no more threats, no intimidation, no innuendo, no working through the press to go ahead and destroy the credibility of individuals. If the executive branch of government wants to meet the standards that the American people set for it in their minds, then the time has come to stop reacting and stop playing this type of a game. I say before you, and I say before the American people in this committee, that I'm here as a Republican. And quite frankly, I think that I express the feelings of the 42 other Republican senators that I work with and the Republicans of the state of Connecticut, and in fact, the Republican party.
Are better than these illegal, unconstitutional, and gross acts that you've been committed over the past several months by various individuals. Let me make it clear, because I've got to have bipartisan moment Republicans do not cover up. Republicans do not go ahead and threaten. Republicans do not go ahead and commit illegal acts. And God knows Republicans don't view their fellow Americans as enemies to be harassed, but rather I can assure you that this Republican knows that I serve with. Look upon every American as human beings to be loved and won. Thank you very much, Mr. Trump. Dean's testimony produced a number of shocks. The enemy's list was one of them, but it was Dean's story and its entirety. The implications of the whole pattern of operations in the White House that ultimately was so devastating.
I think John Dean's testimony turned the hearings around completely. I think we were leading up to a raise on that tray, a meeting for what Watergate was all about. As I've indicated, transformed the meaning of Watergate from a political burglary to a message to the public that something dangerous had happened in the United States. John Dean's testimony changed the course of the hearings and of history, but at the time when it was also hard for some people to believe, Dean was David challenging Goliath. Nobody had yet stepped forward to back him up. Dean stood alone and he knew it. I'm quite aware of the fact that in some circumstances it's going to be my word against one man's word. It's going to be my word against two men. It's going to be my word against three men and probably in some cases it's going to be
my word against four men. But I'm prepared to stand on my word and the truth and the knowledge and the facts I have. I know the truth is my ally in this and I think ultimately the truth is going to come out. But how would the truth come out? Who would possibly confirm Dean's story, surely not the president, not as close as AIDS who could be expected to testify that Dean was lying? How would we ever know? After a brief station break I just have a hunch we'll discover the White House tapes. Summer of Judgment, the Watergate hearings is made possible in part by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Summer of Judgment, the Watergate hearings is made possible in part by a grant from the
Summer of Judgment
Part 1 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)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/512-mc8rb6ww1z).
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
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
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: 1860529-1-1 (MAVIS Item ID)
Format: 2 inch videotape
Generation: Copy: Access
Color: Color
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia
Identifier: 83065dct-1-arch (Peabody Object Identifier)
Format: U-matic
Duration: 2:00:00
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 1 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 June 20, 2024,
MLA: “Summer of Judgment; Part 1 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. June 20, 2024. <>.
APA: Summer of Judgment; Part 1 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