Nixon Withholds Watergate Recordings

Nixon Withholds Watergate Recordings

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On August 15, 1973, President Richard Nixon addresses the nation concerning Watergate, explaining his refusal to turn over subpoenaed presidential tape recordings.

The secret of Nixon tapes’ 18-minute gap revealed

Forty years ago, on Aug. 8, 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned from office following the Watergate scandal.

Despite four decades of literature from historians, journalists, academics and politicians, questions remain. Who ordered the break-in at the DNC headquarters on June 17, 1972? What was erased from the infamous 18 ½ minute gap? How much did Nixon know about the cover-up?

John W. Dean, a member of Nixon’s White House counsel who would spend four months in jail for his involvement in the cover-up, aims to finally answer these questions in his latest book, “The Nixon Defense.”

Dean transcribed more than 1,000 of Nixon’s White House recordings, 600 of which were previously untouched, and reviewed 150,000 pages of Watergate-related documents to reconstruct the events that led to Nixon’s resignation. From the first reports of the break-in to July 18, 1973, when Nixon shut the recorder off, this day-by-day account comes directly from the conversations of those involved.

President Richard Nixon raises the trademark V sign after he leaves the White House following his resignation August 9, 1974. Getty Images

The gap:

On the afternoon of June 20, 1972, an infamous gap appears in Nixon’s recordings. Dean believes it’s a conversation between Nixon and his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, but he says it’s not as mysterious — or important — as people think.

It’s three days after the DNC break-in, and Nixon spends the day talking with Haldeman and John Mitchell, the director of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) and a close friend of Nixon.

“I gave Mitchell a call,” Nixon tells Haldeman in one evening conversation. “Cheered him up a little bit. I told him not to worry that we might be able to control this Watergate thing.”

“At that point it’s very much cover-up talk,” says Dean in an interview with The Post.

John N. Mitchell, the former Attorney General who served as the Director of the Committee to Re Elect the President. Getty Images

So what was said during the 18½-minute gap?

“It wasn’t Haldeman or Erchlichman sitting there saying, ‘Oh boy, did we mess up that job where we tried to break into Watergate,’” Dean says. “Which is the kind of thing people were fantasizing they might have been talking about.”

Drawing context clues derived from conversations in the following days, Dean concludes the gap “contained some general comment that revealed [Nixon’s] involvement in the cover-up.”

Dean doesn’t believe the 18 ¹/₂ minute gap contains any piece of information that isn’t repeated in another conversation.

“There’s other talk that week that would have been equally as damaging,” Dean explains. “It’s just those tapes weren’t subpoenaed.”

Who ordered the break in:

No one. Not directly anyway.

Jeb Magruder, left, who served as Deputy Director of Nixon’s Committee to Re Elect the President, and G. Gordon Liddy, a lawyer who led the Watergate break-ins. Getty Images

“I think there’s no question that [G. Gordon Liddy] had the impression that he was to go into the DNC,” Dean explains. Nixon had created an atmosphere where a high priority was placed on intelligence-gathering operations, largely in the hopes to “nail O’Brian.” (Larry O’Brian was a political strategist at the DNC and one of Nixon’s biggest political nemeses.)

When Mitchell wasn’t satisfied with the first operation, Liddy returned to the DNC headquarters.

Jeb Stuart Magruder, deputy director for CREEP, held to the same story, “literally from day one, that Liddy went back, on his own initiative, the second time because he had been chewed out by Mitchell,” Dean explains. “It’s really not an order, it’s really a dissatisfaction, by Mitchell.”

The Watergate Hotel where the DNC headquarters were located, pictured here in 1970. Getty Images

What Nixon knew:

He didn’t know about the break-in ahead of time, Dean says, but he was involved in the cover-up early on.

“He’s involved within hours,” says Dean. “By June 23rd [six days after the break-in], he’s plotting with Haldeman how to use the CIA to block the FBI.”

John W. Dean during Watergate hearings in 1973. Getty Images

Dean explains, however, that “no one was considering the criminal implications of our actions, only the political consequences of inaction.”

Dean is sworn in before the Senate committee hearings on Watergate June 25, 1973. Getty Images

The botched burglary took place just five months before the 1972 presidential election. “It couldn’t have been a worse timed event,” Dean says.

Nixon believed that as long as someone could be held accountable, it couldn’t be considered a cover-up. “To Nixon, a cover-up would have involved letting the men arrested in the DNC’s Watergate office walk free.”

This idea stemmed from Nixon’s experience in Congress during the Truman administration, after he tried to prosecute Truman officials whom he had evidence of being involved in kickback schemes and tax evasions. They all walked. “That, to him, was a definition of a cover-up.”

“Offenses such as conspiracy and obstruction of justice are not bright-line crimes that are immediately and easily discernable to those not experienced in criminal law.” Dean says not hiring a criminal lawyer proved to be “a fatal error.”

Regardless, by early July, Nixon knew what was taking place. On July 19, 1972, Haldeman reports to Nixon that the “Magruder plan was proceeding.” Magruder would lie in court.

“Perjury’s different,” says Dean. “People know when they’re lying and when they’re encouraging others to lie.”

Nixon on August 8, 1974 after announcing his resignation. Getty Images

“That’s one of the ones that surprised me, when Nixon really gives approval to this whole plan for Magruder to lie to protect himself and Mitchell, to keep the cover-up in place.”

Watergate was a perfect storm of deeply unfortunate and poorly handled events, further mishandled “because there was a re-election campaign going on.”

“We had become something of a criminal cabal,” Dean writes, “weighing the risks of further criminal action to prevent the worst while hoping something might unexpectedly occur that would resolve the problem.”

Records of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force [WSPF]

Established: In the Department of Justice (DOJ), by Order No. 551-73, Acting Attorney General, November 2, 1973.

Predecessor Agencies:

  • Watergate Special Prosecution Force (WSPF), DOJ (May-October 1973)
  • Criminal Division, DOJ (October-November 1973)

Abolished: Effective June 20, 1977, by Order No. 732-77, Attorney General, July 1, 1977.

Finding Aids: Preliminary Inventory in National Archives microfiche edition of preliminary inventories.

Security-Classified Records: This record group may include material that is security-classified.

Specific Restrictions: Pursuant to Ricchio v. Kline, C.A.D.C. 1985, 773 F.2d 1389, access to the Presidential recordings and corresponding transcripts described throughout this record group is controlled by relevant provisions of the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (88 Stat. 1695), December 19, 1974. As specified by the Archivist of the United States, access is restricted to the following types of records described throughout this record group: documents provided to the WSPF by the White House, unless already made a matter of public record in an official judicial proceeding and documents provided to the WSPF by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Related Records: Records of relevant cases, in RG 21, Records of District Courts of the United States. Records of the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (Ervin Committee), in RG 46, Records of the U.S. Senate (access in accordance with S. Res. 393, 96th Cong., 2d sess., and S. Rpt. 96-647). Records of the House Judiciary Committee relating to the Nixon impeachment inquiry (closed until 2004), in RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives. Records of Independent Counsels, RG 449.
Vice Presidential and Presidential Papers of Gerald R. Ford, in Ford Library. Presidential Papers of Richard M. Nixon, in Nixon Presidential Materials.

Textual Records Washington Area 1,361 cu. ft.
Sound Recordings College Park 246 items
Machine-Readable Records College Park 2 data sets

22 lin. ft.

History: WSPF established in DOJ, effective May 25, 1973, by Order No. 517-73, Attorney General, May 31, 1973. Abolished, effective October 21, 1973, with functions transferred to Criminal Division, DOJ, by Order No. 546-73, Attorney General, October 23, 1973. WSPF reestablished in DOJ, November 2, 1973. SEE 460.1.

Textual Records: General correspondence, 1973-77. Reading files, 1973-77. Official files of SP Leon Jaworski, 1973-74 SP Henry S. Ruth, Jr., 1974-75 and SP Charles F.C. Ruff, 1975-77. Correspondence concerning WSPF efforts to obtain evidential material from the White House, 1974-77. SP daily diaries and telephone logs, 1973-77. Diaries compiled by Peter M. Kreindler, Executive Assistant to the SP (1973-74) and Counsel to the SP (1974-75), 1973-75. Internal memorandums on all aspects of WSPF operations, 1973-77. Records relating to the investigation of President Richard M. Nixon, and to his subsequent resignation and pardon, 1973-75. Records relating to investigations considered to be of the highest sensitivity, 1973-77.

30 lin. ft.

460.3.1 General records

Textual Records: Official files of Deputy SP Henry S. Ruth, Jr., 1973-74. Correspondence and other records concerning the WSPF's efforts to obtain evidential material from the White House, 1973- 75. Correspondence and other records relating to aspects of the Presidential tape recordings, such as the operation of the taping system the 18 1/2 minute gap in the June 20, 1972, recording and differences between transcripts prepared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for WSPF use and those released by President Nixon on April 30, 1974 ("Bluebook Investigation"), 1973-76. Correspondence, testimony, and documentary evidence concerning possible Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) involvement in Watergate, 1973-75. Correspondence relating to principal witnesses and defendants, 1973-76. Records concerning Watergate- related civil suits brought by President Nixon, 1974-75. Subject files on investigations conducted by Deputy SP, 1973-76. Articles and news clippings on the concept of executive privilege, 1973- 75.

Subject Access Terms: Nixon v. Sampson Richard M. Nixon v. Administrator, General Services Administration.

460.3.2 Reference files

Textual Records: Transcripts of Congressional committee hearings, 1973-74. Drafts of proposed legislation on a special prosecutor, 1973-74. Grand jury records, consisting of grand jurors' notes on testimony, 1972-75 and records concerning assignments and procedures, 1972-75. Transcripts of depositions given in civil cases of interest to WSPF, 1972-73. Transcripts of hearings on certain Presidential tape recordings, conducted by Judge John Sirica in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, 1973- 74.

27 lin. ft.

History: Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, assisted by other DOJ units, developed and prosecuted the Watergate break-in case (United States v. Liddy et al.), resulting in the conviction of all seven defendants, January 1973. Watergate-related responsibilities and records transferred to newly established WSPF, May 1973, with Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, and other DOJ units, thereafter assisting WSPF as requested. Some Watergate break-in files augmented by WSPF as successor to the records.

460.4.1 Records of the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the
District of Columbia

Textual Records: Official files of Principal Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Silbert, including correspondence, a personal diary, and copies of documents filed in court, 1972-73. Working notes of Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Campbell, 1972-73. FBI records, including interview memorandums, 1972-73 and a summary (1973) of the FBI investigation, with accompanying background materials, 1972-73. Documentary evidence, 1972-73. Witness files, 1972-74. Records relating to the trial, consisting of transcripts of proceedings and copies of exhibits, 1972-73 and post-trial motions and appeals, 1973-76.

Subject Access Terms: Barker, Bernard L. Gonzalez, Virgilio Hunt, E. Howard Liddy, G. Gordon Martinez, Eugenio R. McCord, James W., Jr. Sturgis, Frank A.

460.4.2 Records of the Criminal Division, DOJ

Textual Records: Chronologies, FBI reports, summaries of evidence, and papers filed in court, 1972-73.

Subject Access Terms: Barker, Bernard L. Gonzalez, Virgilio Hunt, E. Howard Liddy, G. Gordon Martinez, Eugenio R. McCord, James W., Jr. Sturgis, Frank A.

84 lin. ft.

History: Assumed, from Office of U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, June 1973, responsibility for developing and prosecuting cases against White House staff members and Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP) officials suspected of having tried to prevent the Watergate break-in investigation from expanding ("Watergate cover-up cases"). Rendered inactive as a task force due to WSPF staff reductions following appointment, October 17, 1975, of Charles F.C. Ruff as part-time SP, with remaining case work handled by individual attorneys and consultants as assigned by SP.

460.5.1 Records relating to the main Watergate cover-up case
(United States v. Mitchell et al.)

Textual Records: Records relating to investigation planning and coordination, and trial preparation, 1973-75. Files on persons indicted, and actual and potential witnesses, 1972-75 with partial index, 1973-75. Memorandums summarizing investigations of various individuals and recommending for or against prosecution ("Prosecution Memorandums"), 1973-74. Records describing methods followed in reviewing Presidential recordings and preparing transcripts, 1974-75. Notes containing factual and legal analyses, 1973-75. Pretrial records, 1972-74, consisting of FBI and WSPF interview memorandums grand jury and Congressional testimony inventories of pretrial material made available to defendants' counsel and defendants' pretrial motions. Records relating to jury selection, 1974. Copies of papers filed in court, 1974-76. Trial records, consisting of transcripts of proceedings, exhibits, and defendants' post-trial motions, 1973- 77.

Subject Access Terms: Ehrlichman, John D. Haldeman, H.R. (Bob) Mardian, Robert Mitchell, John N.

460.5.2 Records relating to other investigations and cases

Textual Records: Records relating to investigation of E. Howard Hunt's counsel, William O. Bittman (indictment not sought), 1973- 76. Court papers filed in government's cases against Counsel to the President John W. Dean III and CRP officials Fred C. LaRue, Jeb S. Magruder, and Herbert L. Porter, 1973-75. Court papers filed in Watergate-related civil suits brought by President Nixon, 1975-77.

Subject Access Terms: Nixon v. Sampson Richard M. Nixon v. Administrator, General Services Administration.

121 lin. ft.

History: Assumed, from Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, June 1973, responsibility for developing and prosecuting cases against individuals (associated with a White House unit known as "the Plumbers") suspected of having broken into the Los Angeles office of Lewis Fielding, psychiatrist of antiwar activist Daniel Ellsberg, for the purpose of obtaining Ellsberg's medical record. Also investigated allegations involving abuse of Presidential power. Rendered inactive as a task force due to staff reductions following appointment, October 17, 1975, of Charles F.C. Ruff as part-time SP, with remaining case work handled by individual attorneys and consultants as assigned by SP.

Textual Records: Subject correspondence, 1973-76. Records relating to the Fielding break-in trial (United States v. Ehrlichman et al.), 1973-76. Records relating to investigations of the following allegations made against White House officials: misuse of the authority of federal agencies, particularly that of the Internal Revenue Service, 1973-75 mistreatment of antiwar and anti-Nixon demonstrators, 1973-75 establishment of a program to direct agency activities so that they met reelection needs ("Responsiveness Program"), 1974-75 wiretapping of newsmen and government officials, 1973-75 and falsification of President Nixon's tax returns, 1974-77. Correspondence, reports, and other records relating to miscellaneous investigations, 1973-76.

295 lin. ft.

History: Assigned by SP, June 1973, responsibility for developing and prosecuting cases against individuals and corporations suspected of having violated the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (86 Stat. 3), February 7, 1972, effective April 2, 1972. Rendered inactive as a task force due to staff reductions following appointment, October 17, 1975, of Charles F.C. Ruff as part-time SP, with remaining case work handled by individual attorneys and consultants as assigned by SP.

Textual Records: Central chronological file, consisting of correspondence, memorandums, and papers filed in court ("Task Force Circulation File"), 1973-75. Copies of correspondence and memorandums retained by Thomas McBride, task force chief, 1974- 75. Numbered case files of investigations undertaken by the task force, 1973-77, with name and subject index. Copies of grand jury subpoenas issued, 1973-76. Reference materials containing information on campaign contributors and recipients of donations, 1973-75.

Subject Access Terms: Ambassadorial appointments American Shipbuilding Company Associated Milk Producers, Inc. (AMPI) Continental Oil Company (CONOCO) Gulf Oil Hughes, Howard Occidental Petroleum Corporation Rebozo, Charles G. ("Bebe") Stans, Maurice H. "Townhouse" Program.

6 lin. ft.

History: Investigation of acts of political espionage and sabotage ("dirty tricks") against candidates for the 1972 Presidential nomination of the Democratic Party, conducted by Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, resulted in sentencing, November 5, 1973, after guilty plea, of California attorney Donald H. Segretti. Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia also investigated "dirty tricks" allegations. Task Force assumed, from Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, June 1973, responsibility for developing and prosecuting "dirty tricks" cases. Rendered inactive as a task force due to WSPF staff reductions following appointment, October 17, 1975, of Charles F.C. Ruff as part-time SP, with remaining case work handled by individual attorneys and consultants as assigned by SP.

Textual Records: General correspondence, 1973-75. Records relating to investigation planning and conduct, and trial strategy, 1973-75. Copies of FBI investigative reports received by Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and by WSPF, 1972-73. Documentary evidence, 1973-75. Records relating to witnesses, 1973-75. Notes containing factual and legal analyses, 1973-75. Memorandums containing recommendations on the disposition of various cases, 1973-74. Records relating to the government's case against Deputy Assistant to the President Dwight L. Chapin, consisting of papers filed in court, 1973-74 transcripts of proceedings and copies of exhibits, 1973-74 and records relating to defendant's appeal, 1974-75.

45 lin. ft.

History: Assigned responsibility by SP, at Attorney General's request, June 1973, for investigating whether improper influence had been used in the 1971 settlement of three antitrust cases brought against ITT by DOJ whether, at the 1972 Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Richard Kleindienst as Attorney General, perjury had been committed during questioning about the ITT-DOJ antitrust settlement and whether a 1972 Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation of ITT had been obstructed by ITT's failure to produce certain documents. Expanded investigation to include other ITT-related allegations. Rendered inactive as a task force due to WSPF staff reductions following appointment, October 17, 1975, of Charles F.C. Ruff as part-time SP, with remaining case work handled by individual attorneys and consultants as assigned by SP.

Textual Records: General correspondence, 1973-75. Records relating to investigation planning and conduct, 1973-74. Documentary evidence, 1973. Records relating to witnesses, 1973- 75. FBI interview memorandums and other reports, 1973-75. Copies of SEC records relating to its investigation of ITT activities, 1973-75. Notes containing factual and legal analyses, 1973-75. Records relating to the investigation, perjury trial, and appeal of former California Lieutenant Governor Howard E. Reinecke, 1973-76. Task Force final report, 1975.

129 lin. ft.

460.10.1 Records of the Administrative Section

Textual Records: Records relating to WSPF establishment, authorities, and policies, 1973-77. Correspondence concerning WSPF contacts with other government agencies, private sector organizations, the media, and the general public, 1973-77. Records of Office of the Deputy Attorney General relating to Watergate, 1973-75. Records relating to personnel, budget, office management, and other administrative activities, 1973-77. Correspondence concerning access to WSPF materials in accordance with the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts, 1973-77. Records relating to preparation of the WSPF report (October 1975), 1974-75. Letters received from the general public, 1973- 77.

460.10.2 Records of the Public Affairs Section

Textual Records: Subject correspondence, 1973-75. Correspondence concerning WSPF contacts with the media, 1973-77. Transcripts of media interviews of WSPF officials and others connected with Watergate, 1973-75. WSPF press releases, 1973-77. Daily summaries of Watergate-related news articles, 1973-77. Correspondence, drafts, and other records relating to the publication of the WSPF reports (October 1975 and June 1977), 1975-77.

460.10.3 Records of the Information Systems Section

Textual Records: General correspondence, 1973-75. Computer print- outs listing records available on each individual and corporation investigated by WSPF ("Management Report"), with supporting documentation, 1973-77. Computer print-outs of cross-reference reports of WSPF and of Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, 1974-75.

Machine-Readable Records (2 data sets): Abstracts of testimony taken and documentary evidence acquired by Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, as modified by WSPF ("73 File"), 1973-75 (1 data set) with supporting documentation. Abstracts of testimony taken and documentary evidence acquired by WSPF ("76 File"), 1973-75 (1 data set), with supporting documentation.

246 items

Sound Recordings: Conversations recorded on White House taping system and White House dictabelts ("Presidential Recordings"), obtained by WSPF by grand jury subpoena (July 23, 1973) subpoena in connection with Watergate cover-up trial (April 16, 1974) agreement signed by SP Ruth, Counsel to the President Philip Buchen, and Secret Service Director H. Stuart Knight (November 9, 1974) and informal understanding between SP Ruth and Nixon Counsel Herbert L. Miller, Jr. (implemented February-July 1975), with corresponding transcripts for 88 items, 1971-73 (92 items). Watergate grand jury proceedings, with corresponding transcripts, 1973-75 (152 items). Telephone conversations of SP Archibald Cox, with corresponding transcripts, 1973 (1 item). Conversation between Watergate break-in defendant E. Howard Hunt and Gen. Robert E. Cushman, Jr., 1971 (1 item).


Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. Compiled by Robert B. Matchette et al. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1995.
3 volumes, 2428 pages.

This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1995.

Pre-Watergate Nixon letter expresses excitement for recording presidential history

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Cover of the Fall 1972 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Photo by Ollie Atkins

Buried in the archives of The Saturday Evening Post are treasures from the nation’s nearly 300 years of history, whether in vintage advertising, classic illustrations, or insightful reporting that illuminates life in America of decades now passed.

Frequently we find old articles with an interesting point of view, providing us with insight on specific historical events from the people who lived through them.

Subscribe and get unlimited access to our online magazine archive.

And in the case of this gem from our Fall 1972 issue (right), some articles look much different when measured with the hindsight of history.

Then-President of the United States Richard Nixon wrote this letter for the Post in relation to a photo essay by official White House photographer Ollie Atkins, which appeared in the same issue. The full text of Nixon’s letter appears below. Click here to see the photo essay as it originally appeared in the Post.

To Communicate Dimensions of Truth

In the archives and libraries of America are carefully preserved the records of each of our Presidents—letters, minutes, diaries, memoranda—and now even tape—recorded interviews with those who are a part of past administrations. But only in recent times has the strong effort been made to preserve a complete photographic account of Presidential history.

Though I often joke with Ollie Atkins, the official White House photographer, about his persistent efforts always to be in the right place at the right time with his cameras, I must say that I am very happy indeed with the modern practice of keeping a full photographic record of the Presidency. For as I look over Ollie’s pictures, including those which make up the photographic essay on these pages, I realize again their unique ability to communicate dimensions of truth which are often missed in the written record.

Through these pictures, for example, I can feel again the sense we all had in Peking and Moscow of participating in one of history’s watershed moments. And I am reminded, too, as I look through these photos, of nuances of personality in those I have known which are sometimes difficult to put into language. By helping to preserve the mood, the spirit, the character of a person or an event—or an entire administration—the photographer can perform, I believe, a unique public service.

When historians study all the records of the Nixon years, I hope they will conclude that these were good years, years in which we ended a difficult war, achieved significant arms control agreements and made peaceful negotiation the way of life among nations. I hope, too, that this Administration will be remembered as one which reordered an economy which had grown dependent on wartime spending, decentralized and revitalized a Federal bureaucracy which had grown rigid and unresponsive, and helped a divided Nation substitute the rule of reason for confrontation and disorder.

There have been moments of disappointment in these years, of course, but there have been many more moments of great satisfaction. After nearly four years as President, I believe we can be proud of the record we are leaving for those who will write the history of this Administration—even as I am proud of this photographic essay concerning some of its highlights

Richard Nixon

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What would eventually become the Watergate scandal began with the keen eye of a security guard making his rounds on June 17, 1972. Frank Wills, a security officer at the Watergate Complex discovered a piece of adhesive tape placed over a lock on a basement door.

After notifying police of a potential burglary, plainclothes police officers responded and began their search of the Democratic National Committee Headquarters. The officers, with guns drawn, took five men by surprise. The men had bugging equipment, burglary tools, cameras and $6,000 cash in consecutively numbered $100 bills in their possession. The U.S. News & World Report lists the men as James W. McCord Jr., Bernard L. Barker, Frank Sturgis, Eugenio R. Martinez and Virgilio R. Gonzalez. McCord was a former member of the CIA. The men were members of the Committee to Re-Elect the President, (CRP).

After detectives took over, two additional men, referred to as “the plumbers” were also arrested. J. Gordon Liddy, former FBI agent, counsel to the Re-election Committee’s finance branch and E. Howard Hunt Jr., former CIA agent, joined the ranks of the others in the investigation.

As the investigation deepened, involvement in the scandal led to Attorney General, Jeb Stuart Magruder and John W. Dean III, White House legal counsel. The break-in, it seemed, was the brainchild of Liddy, who planned and organized the break-in along with Hunt.

Trump Tweet Raises Questions About Secret White House Recordings

Trump Tweet Raises Questions About Secret White House Recordings

"Almost as soon as we had the technology to allow recorded conversations, FDR signed on in 1940," Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, told NPR's All Things Considered Friday. The Miller Center houses the recordings of six different presidents. The recordings can be heard in the Miller Center's feature, "The Secret White House Tapes."

FDR only used the recording equipment for 11 weeks from August 1940 through his reelection. He intended to use it to record his press conferences as a back up to his stenographer. He wound up recording 14 press conferences, but he also recorded several Oval Office conversations.

"The FDR recordings reveal an intimate inside view of his patrician, gossipy, and supremely confident executive style, as he uses charm, vagueness, gossip, and occasional deviousness as tools for managing his presidency," author William Doyle wrote in his 1999 book, Inside the Oval Office: The White House Tapes from FDR to Clinton.

Roosevelt is also recorded talking about the possibility of spreading a rumor that his Republican opponent Wendell Willkie is having an extra-marital affair, compares Willkie to Hitler (yes, that bad comparison was even happening then) and referred to a Japanese official he disagreed with as a "damn Jap."

Roosevelt pioneered attempts to get around the press using mass broadcast media. His radio "fireside chats" were, in a way, a precursor Trump's tweeting — an effort to communicate directly with the American people past the critical filter of the news media.

Roosevelt, like Trump (and almost every previous president), was also highly critical of the news media.

"I have in front of me, oh, about eight or 10 different newspapers," FDR said in that February 1939 press conference. "There isn't one story or one headline in all of those papers that does not give, to put it politely, an erroneous impression-not one. It is a rather interesting fact. These things have been manufactured by deliberate misrepresentation of facts, existing facts."

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He went on: "The public understands pretty well when it is said that such and such a thing is learned on good authority, or it has been suggested by White House sources, or things like that. They understand that that is not news, it is only a rumor of news.

So perhaps it's not surprising he would have been the first to use the latest technology and equipment to secretly tape in the White House.

But he would not be the last.

From Truman to Nixon

FDR's recordings weren't discovered until 1978, four years after Nixon resigned because of his tapes, by a historian who visited the FDR Library in Hyde Park, N.Y. Roosevelt abandoned the use of the recording after his reelection. The reason is unclear.

There are very few recordings from the Truman era, and only about 75 from Eisenhower. The technology wasn't great, but Eisenhower did have a system installed in which "a button in the president's desk turned on a microphone hidden inside a fake telephone on the desk," according to Alexander B. Magoun, a historian at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE, who dug into the technology used by presidents in secret recordings.

But Truman and Eisenhower were from a different generation as Kennedy. He began recordings in earnest after he felt he received bad advice in the run up to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Kennedy was savvy about what was available to him and "so careful about how his image was portrayed," Perry said.

Kennedy kept his recordings secret, appearing not to want even advisers or those on the phone to know. That has made for some rather notable recordings. Kennedy also wanted to keep the tapes to help with his memoirs once he was out of office.

Johnson ratcheted up the use of secret tapes and made it a staple of his White House. He added more technology the technology got better and he wanted to record as many meetings and phone calls as possible.


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"He wanted to use this material immediately, so he had his secretaries transcribe them every day," Perry said.

It's believed that Johnson and Nixon talked about the system, Perry added. Ironically, Nixon and his aides were skeptical of its use initially because they were concerned Nixon was too technologically inept to use the recording equipment, Perry said. So they came up with a complex and user-friendly way for the president to use the taping system — wearing a transponder that was voice-activated. So whenever he would start speaking, it would turn on.

The recording ability was all over the White House — from the Oval Office and Cabinet room to Nixon's private office and Eisenhower Executive Office Building. That system was dismantled voluntarily after it became public when White House aide Alexander Butterfield revealed the tapes' existence in the Watergate congressional hearings.

"It was an amazing annoucement," Perry said. "People knew the smoking gun could be found."

Allegations and rumors after Nixon

After Nixon's resignation, most thought that was that.

"Prudentially why would anyone do this?" Perry noted.

But that hasn't stopped the imaginations of authors and conspiracy theorists. And there is evidence to support that presidents continued to roll the tape — albeit in a more limited way.

There is no law preventing secret White House recordings, and some kept it up — most notably Reagan.

"Reagan was presented with the option of continuing or not continuing the phone tapings in the Oval Office for national security purposes," Politifact quotes Doyle referencing Michael Deaver, Reagan's chief of staff. "And obviously tapings were a very controversial subject ever since the Nixon days. But Reagan could see the value of it, not so much for history but for accuracy . and readily agreed to continue the tapings."

Reagan recorded Situation Room calls with foreign dignitaries, and Doyle writes that there are also some 800 hours of video tapings from closed meetings with Reagan, an actor who was comfortable on camera.

Reagan biographer Craig Shirley told Politifact that Reagan would never use the material to blackmail anyone. "Nixon, yes, Trump, yes," he said. "Reagan? Morally impossible."

Ford, Carter and George H.W. Bush reportedly had no-recording rules, and there's no evidence that Bill Clinton taped anything secretly in the White House. But Ronald Rotunda, a Watergate investigator and adviser to Clinton special prosecutor Ken Starr, told Politifact that there was some "subpoenaed material that was not turned over" to Starr from Clinton's White House. Therefore, "I don't know whether Bill Clinton or one of his aides ever secretly tape recorded anyone."

There's some evidence that George W. Bush recorded at least some video conferences. Perry noted that when she visited former Centcom Commander Tommy Franks' museum in Oklahoma, it included a recorded video conference with the former president speaking to commanders in the field.

As for Obama, Mark Bowden, the author of Black Hawk Down, told a story to a rapt audience at the Pritzker Military Library in 2012 that raised eyebrows. He talked about interviewing President Obama for The Finish, a book he was writing about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

For the first time ever, in 40 years as a journalist, his recorder died during an interview — and it was with the president of the United States.

"As I was walking out of the Oval Office with Ben Rhodes [a foreign policy adviser to Obama]," Bowden said, "I said, Ben, you're not going to believe this, but my recorder died in the middle of that somewhere.

" 'Ah, don't worry about it,' he says, 'we record everything in here. We'll get you a transcript before you leave.' And he did." (That was about 35 minutes into this video.)

But Rhodes told NPR that while it was true the Obama White House recorded interviews with the media — a common practice among campaigns, too — it was out in the open.

"He was referring to the fact that the White House press office had a stenographer in meetings with journalists," Rhodes told NPR's Arnie Seipel by email Friday of Bowden's remarks. "None of that was hidden — the stenographer sat in interviews with a tape recorder and sometimes even a boom mic. . This was just so we had a transcript of interviews Obama did and, again, would have been known to any journalist who interviewed Obama.

Watergate: The Cover-Up

Nixon's 1972 campaign slogan

“It's going to be forgotten.”

That was President Richard Nixon's first assessment of the Watergate break-in on June 20, 1972, three days after five men were apprehended for unlawfully entering Democratic National Committee headquarters.

He was right—in the short-term. Less than five months later, 23.5 percent more Americans voted for Nixon than for Democrat George McGovern. America's involvement in Vietnam was ending—albeit in failure—relations with China and the Soviet Union were improving, and the nation seemed ready to embrace the 1970s. For Nixon, who saw every campaign as a tough, dirty street fight, this was the last election. And it was a landslide.

“The Smoking Gun” and “Deep Throat”

Richard and Pat Nixon in the 1973 inaugural motorcade

Despite declaring "It's going to be forgotten" to aide Charles Colson, Nixon must have felt some trepidation. Because three days later, he discussed the FBI's investigation with his chief of staff, H. R. “Bob” Haldeman. The Bureau had already connected the burglars to E. Howard Hunt, who reported directly to Colson.

Nixon agreed to let Haldeman and another aide, John Erlichman, instruct the CIA to thwart the FBI investigation. The plan was captured on a voice-activated taping system in a recording that came to be known as “the smoking gun.”

During the conversation, Nixon and Haldeman also discussed associate director of the FBI Mark Felt, who they thought would be helpful in protecting the president. Years later, the public would learn that Felt was keeping Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein informed about the investigation using the code name "Deep Throat."

John Dean's 1971 confidential memo discussed “how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies”

On August 1, Woodward and Bernstein revealed that a $25,000 check made out to the Nixon campaign had been deposited in the bank account of one of the burglars. Before the election, they also reported on widespread intelligence-gathering and sabotage operations directed against political opponents. None of these revelations hurt the president—at least not immediately.

Nixon's second term

In early January, 1973, as Nixon was preparing to begin his second term, seven men faced justice in the courtroom of Judge John Sirica: the five caught in the Watergate Office Building, along with Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, who had been overseeing the burglary from a nearby hotel room. By the end of January, all had either pleaded guilty or, in the case of Liddy and burglar James McCord, been convicted.

This page from Watergate burglar Bernard Baker's address book shows the initials and White House phone number of former CIA agent E. Howard Hunt

But White House counsel John Dean, who had been trying to keep Watergate from spinning out of control, was uneasy. On March 21, 1973, he went to see Nixon. (Listen to an extended excerpt of the discussion below). Realizing that the president didn't fully understand the implications of the burglary and the cover-up, Dean offered a full, clear, and candid explanation, calling the matter "a cancer—within—close to the presidency." Dean acknowledged his own legal jeopardy and that of Haldeman, Erlichman, Colson, and former Attorney General John Mitchell. And he suggested "continued blackmail" by Hunt and the other Watergate burglars could leave Nixon vulnerable.

Dean also pointed to one other disturbing trend: participants were starting to decide that it was more important to protect themselves than to protect the president. Soon enough Dean himself would turn state's evidence. His decision to testify about the Watergate cover-up prompted the White House to attempt to blame the cover-up on him.

Senate Resolution 60 passed on February 7, 1973. The committee began televised hearings on Watergate on May 17.

Less than two miles away, on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the US Senate was also beginning an investigation. During Hearings to confirm Patrick Gray as the replacement for J. Edgar Hoover as FBI director, Gray revealed he had cooperated with Dean to keep the White House informed on the scandal. And following the passage of Senate Resolution 60, a select committee under Senator Sam Ervin (D-NC) was assigned to study “the extent, if any, to which illegal, improper, or unethical activities were engaged in by any persons, acting either individually or in combination with others, in the Presidential election of 1972.”

The dam begins to crumble

As the Watergate Committee prepared to begin its work, Nixon tried once more to contain the situation. In a nationally televised address on April 30, he presented himself as completely innocent, blaming his aides for keeping him in the dark and telling the nation that Dean, Haldeman, Erlichman, and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, a longtime friend, had resigned. And he vowed to take charge of the investigation in a quest to discover the truth. In short, Nixon looked directly at the American people and lied. For all those protecting Nixon, the message could not have been clearer: you may have to be sacrificed.

But the president's men knew too much, and all of them were not willing to sacrifice themselves to protect Nixon. And on May 17, 1973, they began to appear, one by one, before Ervin's committee. A day later, new Attorney General Elliott Richardson fulfilled a promise made to the Senate during his confirmation hearings: He appointed Archibald Cox as a special prosecutor to investigate Watergate.

Highlights from the Watergate Committee hearings as compiled by PBS NewsHour

The tapes: Nixon's last line of defense

With Dean and several other Watergate participants deciding to tell all, Nixon still enjoyed the presumption of innocence from many Americans. But during the hearings, Alexander Butterfield, a Nixon aide, revealed the installation of a voice-activated taping system in the Oval Office. Now Nixon's word could be weighed against not just those of burglars or admittedly corrupt staff members trying to protect themselves, but also against a real-time record of events. Nixon's only hope was to fight to keep the tapes out of the Watergate investigation.

Both the Senate Watergate Committee and Special Prosecutor Cox requested the tapes. Nixon refused, taking his case to the American people: “Many have urged that in order to help prove the truth of what I have said, I should turn over to the special prosecutor and the Senate committee recordings of conversations that I held in my office or on my telephone. However, a much more important principle is involved in this question than what the tapes might prove about Watergate,” he said. “This principle of confidentiality of presidential conversations is at stake in the question of these tapes. I must and I shall oppose any efforts to destroy this principle, which is so vital to the conduct of this great office.”

Then, in late October, he took more aggressive action, firing Cox. When Attorney General Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckleshaus decided to resign rather than execute Nixon's order, the event became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”

A copy of the White House transcripts of Nixon's conversations released in April 1974

But the Senate Committee, the House Judiciary Committee, and the new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, were not satisfied. In early March 1974, a Federal Grand Jury indicted Haldeman, Erlichman, Colson, Mitchell, and three other Nixon aides.

The following month, Jaworski issued a subpoena for 64 recordings. Instead of turning over the recordings, the White House released more than 1,250 pages of edited transcripts of Nixon's conversations, including the March 21, 1973, “cancer on the presidency” discussion with Dean. Far from putting the matter to rest, the transcripts showed some of the president's worst qualities—and they raised more questions about Watergate than they answered. Why was the president, for example, discussing raising a million dollars in connection with the Watergate burglars?

On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in U.S. v. Nixon that executive privilege does not cover the recordings pertinent to the Watergate investigation. “The decisive result of the case of the president's tapes,” said the New York Times, “adds to the feeling that the last act of Richard Nixon's drama is at hand.”

Three days later, the House Judiciary Committee passed the first of three articles of impeachment—for obstruction of justice. It was the beginning of the end of the Nixon presidency.

June 23, 1972: The Smoking Gun

Six days after the Watergate break-in, President Nixon's chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, proposes using the CIA to tell the FBI to impede the investigation of the crime. "We’re set up beautifully to do it," he says. After getting some details on the operation, Nixon agrees to the plan, taking the fateful step in the Watergate cover-up that will ultimately cost him the presidency.

“I will not be transcribed”: Why did Nixon tape?

“Nixon Bugged Own Offices,” the Chicago Tribune marveled on its front page 44 years ago, responding to the astonishing revelation by Alexander P. Butterfield, a little-known White House aide called to testify on July 16, 1973, before the Senate Watergate Committee. The Secret Service, at President Richard M. Nixon’s behest, had installed a voice-activated recording system that recorded his Oval Office conversations, meaning that the Watergate-era question of “What did the President know and when did he know it?” could be answered objectively. For Nixon, it was the beginning of the end. After he lost a long legal struggle to keep his tapes from Watergate investigators, a transcript of one of them, the so-called “smoking gun,” revealed that he had illegally obstructed the FBI’s investigation into the Watergate break in.

Nixon had some sense of the risks he was taking with the tapes, as is shown by the following transcript from the first day of secret recording, February 16, 1971. On the first day, he resolved firmly: “I will not be transcribed.”


Dean was born in Akron, Ohio, and lived in Marion, the hometown of the 29th President of the United States, Warren Harding, whose biographer he later became. [1] His family moved to Flossmoor, Illinois, where he attended grade school. For high school, he attended Staunton Military Academy with Barry Goldwater Jr., the son of Sen. Barry Goldwater, and became a close friend of the family. [2] He attended Colgate University and then transferred to the College of Wooster in Ohio, where he obtained his B.A. in 1961. He received a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1965. [3]

Dean married Karla Ann Hennings on February 4, 1962 they had one child, John Wesley Dean IV, before divorcing in 1970. Dean married Maureen (Mo) Kane on October 13, 1972. [4] [ full citation needed ]

After graduation, Dean joined Welch & Morgan, a law firm in Washington, D.C., where he was soon accused of conflict of interest violations and fired: [2] he was alleged to have started negotiating his own private deal for a TV station broadcast license, after his firm had assigned him to complete the same task for a client. [5]

Dean was employed from 1966 to 1967 as chief minority counsel to the Republicans on the United States House Committee on the Judiciary. Dean then served as associate director of the National Commission on Reform of Federal Criminal Laws for approximately two years. [6]

Dean volunteered to write position papers on crime for Richard Nixon's presidential campaign in 1968. The following year, he became an associate deputy in the office of the Attorney General of the United States, serving under Attorney General John N. Mitchell, with whom he was on friendly terms. In July 1970, he accepted an appointment to serve as counsel to the president, after the previous holder of this post, John Ehrlichman, became the president's chief domestic adviser. [8] [ page needed ]

Start of Watergate Edit

On January 27, 1972, Dean, the White House Counsel, met with Jeb Magruder (Deputy Director of the Committee to Re-Elect the President, or CRP and CREEP) and Mitchell (Attorney General of the United States, and soon-to-be Director of CRP), in Mitchell's office, for a presentation by G. Gordon Liddy (counsel for CRP and a former FBI agent). At that time, Liddy presented a preliminary plan for intelligence-gathering operations during the campaign. Reaction to Liddy's plan was highly unfavorable. Liddy was ordered to scale down his ideas and he presented a revised plan to the same group on February 4, which was, however, left unapproved at that stage. [9]

In late March in Florida, a scaled-down plan was approved by Mitchell. This revised plan led eventually to attempts to eavesdrop on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., and to the Watergate scandal. The burglars' first break-in attempt in late May was successful, but several problems had arisen with poor-quality information from their bugs, and they wanted to photograph more documents. Specifically, the burglars were interested in information they thought was held by Lawrence F. O'Brien, head of the DNC. On their second break-in, on the night of June 16, the burglars were discovered by hotel security. After the arrests of the burglars, Dean took custody of evidence and money from the White House safe of E. Howard Hunt, who had been in charge of the burglaries, and later destroyed some of the evidence before it could be found by investigators. [10] [ page needed ]

Link to cover-up Edit

On February 28, 1973, Acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his nomination to replace J. Edgar Hoover as Director of the FBI. Armed with newspaper articles indicating the White House had possession of FBI Watergate files, the committee chairman, Sam Ervin, questioned Gray as to what he knew about the White House obtaining the files. Gray stated he had given FBI reports to Dean, and had discussed the FBI investigation with Dean on many occasions. It also came out that Gray had destroyed important evidence entrusted to him by Dean. Gray's nomination failed and Dean was directly linked to the Watergate cover-up.

White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman would later claim that Dean was appointed by Nixon to take the lead role in coordinating the Watergate cover-up from an early stage and that this cover-up was working very well for many months. Certain aspects of the scandal had come to light before Election Day, but Nixon was re-elected by a significant margin. [11]

Cooperation with prosecutors Edit

On March 22, 1973, Nixon requested that Dean put together a report with everything he knew about the Watergate matter and even invited him to take a retreat to Camp David to do so. Dean went to Camp David and performed some work on a report, but since he was one of the cover-up's chief participants, the task placed him in the difficult position of relating his own involvement as well as that of others he correctly concluded he was being fitted for the role of scapegoat by higher-ups. Dean did not complete the report. [12]

On March 23, the five Watergate burglars, along with G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, were sentenced with stiff fines and maximum prison time of up to 40 years. [ citation needed ]

On April 6, Dean hired an attorney and began his cooperation with Senate Watergate investigators, while continuing to work as Nixon's Chief White House Counsel and participate in cover-up efforts, not disclosing this obvious conflict to Nixon until some time later. Dean was also receiving advice from the attorney he hired, Charles Shaffer, on matters involving vulnerabilities of other White House staff. [ citation needed ]

Dean continued to provide information to the prosecutors who were able to make enormous progress on the cover-up, which up until then they had virtually ignored, having concentrated on the actual burglary and events preceding it. Dean also appeared before the Watergate grand jury, where he took the Fifth Amendment numerous times to avoid incriminating himself, and in order to save his testimony for the Senate Watergate hearings. [12]

Firing by Nixon Edit

Coupled with his sense of distance from Nixon's inner circle, the "Berlin Wall" of advisors Haldeman and Ehrlichman, Dean sensed he was going to become the Watergate scapegoat and despite going to Camp David, he returned to Washington without having completed his report. Nixon fired Dean on April 30, the same date he also announced the resignations of Haldeman and Ehrlichman.

When Nixon learned that Dean had begun cooperating with federal prosecutors, Nixon pressed Attorney General Richard Kleindienst not to give Dean immunity from prosecution by telling Kleindienst that Dean was lying to the Justice Department regarding his conversations with the president. On April 17, 1973 Nixon informed Assistant Attorney General Henry Petersen (who was overseeing the Watergate investigation) that he did not want any member of the White House being granted immunity from prosecution. Petersen informed Nixon that this could cause problems for the prosecution of the case, but Nixon announced publicly his position that evening. [13] It was alleged [ who? ] that Nixon's motivation in preventing Dean from getting immunity was to prevent him from testifying against key Nixon aides and Nixon himself. [ citation needed ]

Testimony to Senate Watergate Committee Edit

On June 25, 1973, Dean began his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee. The committee had voted to grant him use immunity (doing so in a divided vote in a private session that was then changed to a unanimous vote and announced that way to the public). In his testimony, he implicated administration officials, including Nixon fund-raiser and former Attorney General John Mitchell, Nixon, and himself. His testimony attracted very high television ratings since he was breaking new ground in the investigation, and media attention grew apace, with more detailed newspaper coverage. Dean was the first administration official to accuse Nixon of direct involvement with Watergate and the resulting cover-up in press interviews. Such testimony against Nixon, while damaging to the president's credibility, had little impact legally, as it was merely his word against Nixon's. Nixon vigorously denied all accusations that he had authorized a cover-up, and Dean had no corroboration beyond various notes he had taken in his meetings with the president. It was not until information about secret White House tape recordings having been made by President Nixon (disclosed in testimony by Alexander Butterfield, on July 16) and the tapes having been subpoenaed and analyzed that many of Dean's accusations were largely substantiated. Dean had had suspicions that Nixon was taping conversations, but had not known for sure, and he tipped prosecutors to question witnesses along this line, leading to Butterfield's revelations. Dean’s words on tape can be heard in the British documentary TV series titled Watergate. [14]

Dean pled guilty to obstruction of justice before Watergate trial judge John Sirica on October 19, 1973. He admitted supervising payments of "hush money" to the Watergate burglars, notably E. Howard Hunt, and revealed the existence of Nixon's enemies list. Archibald Cox, Watergate Special Prosecutor, was interested in meeting with Dean and planned to do so a few days later, but Cox was fired by Nixon the very next day it was not until a month later that Cox was replaced by Leon Jaworski. On August 2, 1974, Sirica handed down a sentence to Dean of one-to-four years in a minimum-security prison. However, when Dean surrendered as scheduled on September 3, he was diverted to the custody of U.S. Marshals and kept instead at Fort Holabird (near Baltimore, Maryland) in a special "safe house" primarily used for witnesses against the Mafia. He spent his days at the offices of Jaworski, the Watergate Special Prosecutor, and testifying in the trial of Watergate conspirators Mitchell, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Robert Mardian, and Kenneth Parkinson, which concluded in December. All except Parkinson were convicted, largely based upon Dean's evidence. Dean's lawyer moved to have his sentence reduced and on January 8, Judge Sirica granted the motion, adjusting Dean's sentence to time served, which wound up being four months. With his plea to felony offenses, Dean was disbarred as a lawyer in Virginia and the District of Columbia. [15] [16]

When it was uncovered that Nixon had secretly recorded all meetings in the Oval Office, famous psychologist and memory researcher Ulric Neisser analyzed Dean's recollections of the meetings, as espoused in his testimony, in comparison to the meetings' actual recordings. [17] Neisser, a sharp critic of studying memory in a laboratory setting, saw "a valuable data trove" in Dean's recall. [18]

Neisser found that, despite Dean's confidence, the tapes proved that his memory was anything but a tape recorder. [19] Dean failed to remember any conversations verbatim, and often failed to recall the gist of conversations correctly. [19] Yet, Neisser did not explain the difference as one of deception rather, he thought that the evidence supported the theory that memory is not akin to a tape recorder and, instead, should be thought of as reconstructions of information that are greatly affected by rehearsal, or attempts at replay. [17]

Shortly after Watergate, Dean became an investment banker, author, and lecturer. Dean chronicled his White House experiences, with a focus on Watergate, in the memoirs Blind Ambition (1976) and Lost Honor (1982). Blind Ambition was ghost written by Taylor Branch [20] and later was made into a 1979 TV miniseries.

In 1992, Dean hired attorney Neil Papiano and brought the first in a series of defamation suits against Liddy for claims in Liddy's book Will, and St. Martin's Press for its publication of the book Silent Coup by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin. Silent Coup alleged that Dean was the mastermind of the Watergate burglaries and the Watergate coverup, and the true target of the burglaries was to seize information implicating Dean and the former Maureen "Mo" Biner (his then-fiancée) in a prostitution ring. After hearing of Colodny's work, Liddy issued a revised paperback version of Will supporting Colodny's theory. [21] This theory was subsequently the subject of an A&E Network Investigative Reports series program entitled The Key to Watergate in 1992. [22] [23]

In the preface to his 2006 book, Conservatives Without Conscience, Dean strongly denied Colodny's theory, pointing out that Colodny's chief source (Phillip Mackin Bailley) had been in and out of mental institutions. Dean settled the defamation suit against Colodny and his publisher, St. Martin's Press, on terms which Dean stated in the book's preface he could not divulge under the conditions of the settlement, other than stating that "the Deans were satisfied." The case of Dean vs. Liddy was dismissed without prejudice. [24] Also in 2006, Dean appeared as an interviewee in the documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon, about the Nixon administration's efforts to keep John Lennon out of the United States.

Dean retired from investment banking in 2000 while continuing to work as an author and lecturer, becoming a columnist for FindLaw's Writ online magazine. He currently resides in Beverly Hills, California.

In 2001, Dean published The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment that Redefined the Supreme Court, an exposé of the White House's selection process for a new Supreme Court justice in 1971, which led to the accession of William Rehnquist to the United States' highest court. [25] Three years later, Dean authored a book heavily critical of the administration of George W. Bush, entitled Worse than Watergate, in which he called for the impeachment of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for allegedly lying to Congress. [26]

His subsequent book, released in summer 2006, is titled Conservatives without Conscience, a play on Barry Goldwater's book The Conscience of a Conservative. In it, he asserts that post-Goldwater conservatism has been co-opted by people with authoritarian personalities and policies, citing data from Bob Altemeyer. According to Dean, modern conservatism, specifically on the Christian Right, embraces obedience, inequality, intolerance, and strong intrusive government, in stark contrast to Goldwater's philosophies and policies. Using Altemeyer's scholarly work, he contends that there is a tendency toward ethically questionable political practices when authoritarians are placed in positions of power, and that the current political situation is dangerously unsound because of it. Dean cites the behavior of key members of the Republican leadership, including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Tom DeLay, Newt Gingrich, and Bill Frist, as clear evidence of a relationship between modern right-wing conservatism and this authoritarian approach to governance. He places particular emphasis on the abdication of checks and balances by the Republican Congress, and on the dishonesty of the conservative intellectual class in support of the Republican Party, as a result of the obedience and arrogance innate to the authoritarian mentality. [27]

After it became known that George W. Bush authorized NSA wiretaps without warrants, Dean asserted that Bush is "the first President to admit to an impeachable offense". [28] On March 31, 2006, Dean testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee during hearings on censuring the president over the issue. Senator Russell Feingold, who sponsored the censure resolution, introduced Dean as a "patriot" who put "rule of law above the interests of the president." In his testimony, Dean asserted that Richard Nixon covered up Watergate because he believed it was in the interest of national security. This sparked a sharp debate with Republican South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, who repeatedly asserted that Nixon authorized the break-in at Democratic headquarters. Dean finally replied, "You're showing you don't know that subject very well." Spectators laughed, and soon the senator was "sputtering mad". [29]

Dean's 2007 book Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches is, as he wrote in its introduction, the third volume of an unplanned trilogy. In this latest book, Dean, who has repeatedly described himself as a Goldwater conservative, built on Worse Than Watergate and Conservatives Without Conscience to argue that the Republican Party has gravely damaged all three branches of the federal government in the service of ideological rigidity and with no attention to the public interest or the general good. Dean concludes that conservatism must regenerate itself to remain true to its core ideals of limited government and the rule of law. [30]

In 2008, Dean co-edited Pure Goldwater, a collection of writings by the 1964 Republican presidential nominee and former U.S. Senator from Arizona Barry Goldwater, in part as an act of fealty to the man who defined his political ideals. His co-editor was Goldwater's son Barry Goldwater, Jr. [31]

In the 1979 TV mini-series Blind Ambition, Dean was played by Martin Sheen. In the 1995 film, Nixon, directed by Oliver Stone, Dean was played by David Hyde Pierce. In the 1999 film Dick, Dean was played by Jim Breuer.

Dean frequently served as a guest on the former MSNBC and Current TV news program, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and The Randi Rhodes Show on Premiere Radio Networks.

Historian Stanley Kutler was accused of editing the Nixon tapes to make Dean appear in a more favorable light. [32]

On September 17, 2009, Dean appeared on Countdown with new allegations about Watergate. He stated that he had found information via the Nixon tapes, that showed what the burglars were after: information on a kickback scheme involving the Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida. Dean also asserts that Nixon did not directly order the break-in, but that it was ordered by Ehrlichman on behalf of Nixon. [33]

In speaking engagements during 2014, Dean called Watergate a "lawyers' scandal" that, for all the bad, ushered in needed legal ethics reforms. [34]

Dean later emerged as a strong critic of Donald Trump, saying in 2017 that he was even worse than Nixon. He said, "It's a nightmare. They don't know what their jeopardy is. They don't know what they're looking at. They don't know if they're a part of a conspiracy that might unfold. They don't know whether to hire lawyers or not, how they're going to pay for them if they do. It's an unpleasant place." [35] [36]

In February 2018, Dean warned that Rick Gates's testimony may be "the end" of Trump's presidency. [37] [38]

In September 2018, Dean warned against Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the United States Supreme Court, [39] [40] [41] a main concern being that the appointment would result in "the most presidential-powers-friendly court" in modern times. [42] [43]

On November 7, 2018, the day after the midterm elections, President Trump forced Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign. Dean commented on the removal in colorful terms, saying it "seems to be planned like a murder" and that Special Counsel Robert Mueller likely had contingency plans, possibly including sealed indictments. [44] [45]

Stanley Kutler, Watergate historian who helped obtain Nixon tapes, dies

Stanley Kutler, shown here in 2013, died April 7 at 80. (Michelle Stocker/Capital Times via Associated Press)

Stanley I. Kutler, a noted Watergate scholar who became part of the history he studied by filing a lawsuit that spurred the release, beginning in the 1990s, of hundreds of hours of President Richard M. Nixon’s secretly recorded conversations, died April 7 at a hospice in Fitchburg, Wis. He was 80.

The cause was congestive heart failure, said his son David Kutler.

Dr. Kutler was a longtime professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and began teaching history more than a decade before Richard M. Nixon became, in 1974, the first U.S. president to resign his office.

Dr. Kutler would later dedicate himself to the task, also pursued by journalists and other academics, of fully illuminating the events collectively called the Watergate scandal. His book “The Wars of Watergate” (1990) was described by journalist and author J. Anthony Lukas as “the first major work by a professional historian to focus on the scandal and the investigations that felled the Nixon Presidency.”

In Nixon, presidential historians encountered a subject who had documented his time in office more extensively than any other occupant of the White House. From February 1971 to July 1973, Nixon secretly taped his conversations and phone calls at locations including the Oval Office and the nearby Old Executive Office Building.

Previous presidents had recorded their conversations, but Nixon was the first to employ a voice-activated system instead of one that was manually turned on and off. In all, the recording system captured 3,432 hours of conversation between Nixon, his aides and visitors, according to Ken Hughes, a historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center who has written two books about the contents of the tapes.

Approximately 60 hours of conversation were used during the Watergate inquiries of the 1970s. The remaining tapes were preserved by an act of Congress, but after leaving office, Nixon began an effort to prevent their public release.

He and his defenders argued that the tapes included private information and that, with their release, Nixon would have been subjected to excessive scrutiny.

In 1992, Dr. Kutler and Public Citizen, the public-interest group founded by consumer-rights advocate Ralph Nader, filed a lawsuit seeking the release of the remaining tapes.“I’m a historian,” Dr. Kutler told the Boston Globe. “I thought it was important to liberate these documents.”

In 1996, two years after Nixon’s death, a settlement was reached with his estate and the National Archives. Later that year, the first set of tapes — 201 hours related to the events classified as abuses of power — was released to the public. Dr. Kutler hired court reporters to conduct the arduous task of transcribing the poorly made recordings for his book “Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes” (1997).

“We’re up against an enemy, a conspiracy,” Nixon, as quoted in Dr. Kutler’s book, told aides H.R. Haldeman and Henry Kissinger shortly after the publication of the Pentagon Papers. “They’re using any means. We are going to use any means. Is that clear?”

Reviewing Dr. Kutler’s book in The Washington Post, political scholar Matthew Dallek wrote that the tapes “reveal in more detail than ever ‘what the president knew and when he knew it,’ make clear that this was a White House awash in corruption, and serve as a timely reminder that there is a difference between personal peccadilloes and political corruption. It’s hard to imagine a more explosive set of documents.”

Potent But Unpredictable: How Special Counsels Have Posed A Special Threat

Washington is waiting for special counsel Robert Mueller to complete a report on his investigation into Russian interference in 2016.

Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

All official Washington — and indeed a wide swath of citizens from coast to coast — waits with great anticipation for the report from Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.

Mueller, the former director of the FBI, is the war hero and Republican who was designated 22 months ago to investigate whether any Americans were involved with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.


Trump Backs Public Release Of Mueller Report

Mueller's operation has had a hand in more than 30 indictments and obtained a remarkable number of guilty pleas. It also has spun out a number of other investigations that could wear on long after his report is filed.

But Mueller's probe, while far from the only investigative threat to the Trump presidency, has become the focal point. Mueller's name has become the shorthand for every legal issue that clouds the sky over the White House.

These stakes, and the potential effects for a sitting administration, have been seen before in Washington. A number of independent investigators — including special counsels, independent counsel and special prosecutors — have looked into deeds and events deemed too hot for the normal governmental processes to handle.

The special investigators

The idea behind these offices has always been that certain allegations were simply too hot for routine processing by the Justice Department, because any attorney in that department would be a subordinate of the president and the attorney general that attorney was called on to investigate.

In fact, perhaps the very first president to appoint a special counsel wound up firing him when the investigation got too close to the White House itself. That was in 1875, when President Ulysses S. Grant named a special prosecutor to investigate a ring of corrupt officials in the Midwest.

Top Mueller Prosecutor Stepping Down In Latest Clue Russia Inquiry May Be Ending

Over the next several decades, the special prosecutor tool was used rather sparingly. During James Garfield's presidency, a special prosecutor looked into corruption in the Post Office, a probe that lasted several years — and outlasted Garfield, who was assassinated in 1881.

A pair of special prosecutors was also the order of the day when President Calvin Coolidge wanted to limit the damage from the "Teapot Dome" scandal. Several associates of Coolidge's White House predecessor, Warren Harding, were found to have profited personally from sweetheart deals with oil companies. Coolidge found two men without ties to the administration and their work sent several former officials to jail.

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Almost three decades later, President Harry Truman was pressured to name a special prosecutor to answer questions raised about corruption in the IRS (then called the Bureau of Internal Revenue). Instead, the sitting attorney general named a special assistant to report to him. That got complicated when the "assistant" named Newbold Morris sent an exhaustive questionnaire to administration officials.

For that aggressive move, Morris was fired by the attorney general – who was in turn fired by Truman. None of this helped the Democrats' case in the election year of 1952 that brought Dwight D. Eisenhower to the White House.

The modern history of the special prosecutor really begins with the Watergate burglary in 1972.

The connection between the burglary of the Democratic National Committee and President Richard Nixon's campaign was first revealed in a legendary series of stories in The Washington Post.

Those stories, like the early allegations regarding Russian interference in 2016, had little discernible effect on the presidential election in progress at the time. But soon thereafter, the investigative forces of the government took over, and Nixon found himself unable to stop them.

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It was not for lack of trying. During his 1973 confirmation hearing to be attorney general, Elliot Richardson promised to appoint a special prosecutor to see what Watergate was all about. That special prosecutor, law professor Archibald Cox, was soon learning a great deal about Watergate and issuing a subpoena for the tape recordings Nixon had made of his Oval Office conversations.

The confrontation over those tapes led Nixon to direct Richardson to fire Cox, which Richardson refused to do and instead resigned. Richardson's deputy also resigned. The series of weekend departures came to be known as the "Saturday night massacre."


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Public outcry eventually forced Nixon to name a new special prosecutor to replace Cox, a conservative Texas Democrat who had been a Nixon supporter and a Watergate skeptic.

Nonetheless, Leon Jaworksi wound up charging a slew of high-level White House actors and naming Nixon himself an "unindicted co-conspirator." That phrase, along with the hearings held by the House Judiciary Committee in the spring of 1974, moved impeachment from a long shot to an inevitability.

Nixon resigned in August of that year.

Whatever feelings lingered about Nixon within Washington thereafter, the feeling around the special prosecutor statute was decidedly cool. It seemed too deadly a weapon, too easily wielded against a president, even one who had carried virtually every state in winning re-election, as Nixon had.

The law was still available in 1986, when news stories reported the administration of Ronald Reagan had sold American weapons to its regime to facilitate the release of U.S. hostages. The revelations included the stunning fact that money realized in the transaction had been used to fund a covert guerrilla operation in Central America aimed at overthrowing the government in Nicaragua.

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The so-called Iran-Contra scheme prompted a protracted congressional investigation, which complicated and hindered the work of an independent counsel named Lawrence Walsh.

A former federal judge and deputy attorney general under President Eisenhower, Walsh would eventually indict the former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, former national security adviser John Poindexter and National Security Council staffer Oliver North. Weinberger eventually received a pardon before trial from President George H.W. Bush. Poindexter and North were initially convicted but had their convictions reversed.

The Clintons and Whitewater

The independent counsel law was still on the books a few years later as Democratic President Bill Clinton came under scrutiny. Clinton had defeated Republican George H.W. Bush in 1992 but had garnered only 43 percent of the popular vote in doing so. His first two years in office had left him below 50 percent approval with the voters and led to the GOP takeover in Congress in 1995.

More to the point, Clinton had never cleared up a controversy stemming from investments he and his wife, Hillary, had made in an Arkansas real estate venture known as Whitewater. A deal had gone bad, bankrupting a savings and loan association. The story was an issue in the 1992 campaign, but ultimately did not prevent Clinton's election.

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After Clinton took office, the controversy continued. So he asked his attorney general, Janet Reno, to appoint an independent counsel. She named Robert Fiske, a respected Republican litigator, who built a case against several Arkansans involved in the deal but not the Clintons.

In 1994, under what became a hyper-partisan battle, a panel of three judges on the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia named a new independent counsel. The judges picked Kenneth Starr, a former judge and Bush administration solicitor general, to take over Fiske's investigation.

Independent counsels are allowed to pursue criminal matters they discover in the course of carrying out their original mandate. So while Starr never indicted the Clintons for their role in Whitewater, he became aware of allegations of sexual misconduct by the president from the time when he was governor of Arkansas. This led to information about a young woman who, while an intern in the White House in the mid-1990s, had a sexual affair with Clinton during the time he was president.

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That woman, Monica Lewinsky, became a household name, and the president's efforts to deny the accusations became a case of perjury and obstruction of justice – leading to his impeachment by the House of Representatives in late 1998.

Clinton was tried by the Senate in early 1999. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist presided over the proceedings. But in the end there were not nearly enough votes to meet the two-thirds vote required for removal.

Moreover, during the worst days of the Starr-Clinton confrontation, the president's approval in the Gallup Poll generally went up – signaling a lack of popular support for the proceeding. Democrats did surprisingly well in the midterm elections of 1996, holding their own in the Senate and actually gaining seats in the House in defiance of the usual second-term midterm curse for the party holding the White House.

Once again, the application of the independent counsel law had proven potent — but unpredictable.