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Nixon’s Exile: Death in California

A Visit to San Clemente

Los Angeles — We move down to the Pacific coast highway, through an area of crumbling cliffs and seedy gas stations, and after five miles we pull into the town, past a sign that says “Welcome to San Clemente.” At the Miramar movie house Uptown Saturday Night is playing, but the box office is closed, and the street is deserted. Two police cars are parked on a bluff overlooking the sea, and a blond longhair sits on a bike a few feet away, staring at the pounding surf. The cops are listening to radio signals, with dark visors pulled across their faces. We ask the longhair where Nixon’s house is.

“Go back over to the Freeway, and go two exits,” he says. “The exit says Avenue of the Presidents, or some shit. It’s right down there.”

“What do people think about him around here?”

“Son-of-a-bitch should be in Soledad, that’s what they think.”

Something is dying here. You taste it as you travel south on the San Diego Freeway, through a wilderness of wires and telephone poles and exposed power lines, all of them as transient as people.

Whittier is gone, swallowed up in the sea of air. Yorba Linda has been engulfed. The mountains have vanished. You cannot see streets, only the umber smear, and the poles, and the neon language of Richard Nixon’s America: Arco, Exxon, Barker Bros., Phillips, Steak, Lobster, Mobile, Phillips, Shrimps. There are no verbs. And the nouns speak of things that no longer matter.

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We are going to San Clemente, to see where it has all come to an end. But this is California. It spawned Nixon and all the others. Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Kalmbach and the rest of them traveled these highways. They moved through these streets, deserted now, when there were people here, in the ’30s and ’40s. That might be their most enduring revenge, their memory of this place when it was the American paradise.

My children will never see that California; but Nixon people know that they had this place when it was good.

The people who bought Nixon, who fed his campaigns, who purchased his loyalty, all of them have left what Ehrlichman called his “chopmark” on the land. The dying, polluted, ravaged land of Southern California is the work of their collective dark genius. And now there are no children in the streets, no oiled bodies turning in the California sun, no splashing of back-yard pools, no games or gambols. The Nixon generation drove its stake deep down into California’s heart.

So it is no accident that Nixon was from California. He was a master of desecration. And make no mistake: this place has been desecrated. It is impossible anymore even to make the imagination work on what remains, impossible to conjure the days when flocks of giant condors blackened the summer sky, when whales moved in San Diego harbor, when you could ride for 24 hours on a horse and see no living thing. Instead, you are passed on the Freeway by cops in tan uniforms and gold helmets, their faces masked, revving heavy Harleys; and in the other lane troops of Hell’s Angels, masked with hair and dirt, rolling northward, brothers to the faceless cops. No emotion moves either group, not even exhilaration with speed or the conquest of distance. They are their masks.

At Long Beach, the skeletons of the refineries are plastered against an opaque backdrop, the umber smear more tangible now. Philip Marlowe was a cop in Long Beach, in that California of Raymond Chandler that seems so much more real now than the history books. But Long Beach has already said its long goodbye. Pumps move in the earth, but they seem defeated and old, as if knowing that a day’s strain in this exhausted earth cannot match a minute of Arabia. I look to the left and see a wingless C-47 standing alone against the fence of the Long Beach airport. Frank Hawks and Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes arrived and departed on that old tarmac, in the years between the big wars, when America was young. Now even the wings are gone.

The traffic thins as we pass Costa Mesa, deep in the region of Orange County. The burnt rolling hills of the Irvine Ranch sprawl away to the sea, like a monument to the time when barons carved up the land and drove Mexicans into the slums of the cities. Marine Corps jets circle the base at El Toro, leaving plumes of fuel behind, flags of waste. A few cars pull into the Lion Country Safari, and others set off on the road to Laguna, following the long arc of the road until it enters a gash in the mountains. There are developments everywhere now, with huge signs offering homes that no one can afford to buy: Mission Viejo, Sun Hollow, Laguna Niguel: Baking houses pasted to the sides of hostile hills, with scattered orange groves huddled together as if for protection, and the dirty air pushing on past them all for Mexico.

We pull into San Juan Capistrano. More than 30 years ago, when Nixon and his wife were living over the garage in Fullerton, they would come to San Juan Capistrano, to dine at the El Adobe Inn, on Camino Capistrano and Foster Street. It is a low, flat building, dressed in California Mexican, that style designed by Anglos that resembles cathedrals built by atheists. During the imperial years, Nixon and his retinue would sometimes come here to dine, the poor boy returning in triumph, acting out his mediocre drama.

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Nixon’s presence is still here: a glassed panel on the wall, with black-and-white photographs of Nixon, his wife, the owner, other members of the retinue; a framed menu signed in a sprawling, oddly hesitant hand, the signature of someone who was either drinking or distracted. In the dining room, there is a plaque on the back of a chair, announcing that Nixon had dined there.

“Has Nixon been in lately?” I ask the bartender. He is young, with a bushy mustache and a deep tan.

“Not that I know of,” he says. “But hell, I only started working here last month. I really wouldn’t know.”

The bar is long and dark. Two women in their 20s are a few stools down, drinking pink drinks in the darkness.

“I told him I was tired of the whole thing,” one of them says. “He’d just have to straighten out or get out of my life.”

“That’s the only way,” the other one says. “You just have to tell him, Anne.”

Muzak drifts through the bar. There is an old print of Emiliano Zapata facing us, and someone has written “Viva El Adobe” in a balloon coming from the great revolutionary’s mouth.

Plastic bullfighters perform veronicas beside the cash register. We pick up our change, leave a tip for the bartender, and leave. A man with sunglasses is standing against the wall of the foyer, staring at us.

And so we travel down to the place where Nixon is now hiding, out on the very edge of America. The house had cost anywhere from $340,000 to a million, and there were stories that Teamster money had been pumped into it, that Abplanalp wasn’t the only investor, that the house alone and its federally-financed “security improvements” would have sent an ordinary man to jail for years.

The pictures in the magazines showed a Spanish-style home, green gardens, a view of the Pacific, tiles and other things Spanish. All of it buttressed with the furnishings of power: the green helicopters; the Secret Service men with shaved scalps, buttons in their lapels and pistols under the jackets; the limousines and the motorcycle escorts. All of it backdrop for the tv shows filmed in front of the “Western White House,” with Pat’s strained joyless smiles, Brezhnev hugging Chuck Connors and Haldeman standing in icy attendance.

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We pulled up to the entrance to the luxurious Cypress Shore develop­ment, and a guard came out to stop us. We couldn’t go in without a written invitation. The man’s face was apologetic: but he retained enough of the valet’s habit to make his words tougher than his eyes: “You better just forget it. You better just turn on around.”

Beyond him, stretching out to the cliffs, were other houses in the Spanish style, long green lawns that seemed sprayed into place with an air brush, and long cars shining in driveways. There were no human beings.

And there it was, with great cypresses drooping around it like mournful sentinels, black and impenetrable against the sky. In the foreground, thoroughbred horses grazed in a meadow, and you could hear cicadas, and the distant tumble of the sea. But the Nixon house was silent. A breeze combed the giant trees, and they seemed to lap at the the new air. A helicopter churned overhead, making the puttering sound of an outboard: But nothing moved in the dark area of the house, no human beings, no cars.

Nixon was somewhere in the center of that dark pool, evading subpoenas, with his extorted pardon, his silent wife, Manolo the valet, Ziegler the retainer, knowing that history had already cast its judgment.

As we started to leave, fog began to drift in from the sea, hanging low. You could sense the chill coming from the house, a chill made of conspiracy and felony, a chill that holds tightly to itself, as if there were crimes known in that house that would dim the dark luster of the crimes we already know.

And I could feel death there. It was not simply the death that comes from a moldering court but the death that comes with plague. And I thought of all the characters in Nixon’s novel who were dead: Murray Chotiner, Whittaker Chambers, Dwight Eisenhower, Earl Warren, J. Edgar Hoover, Joe McCarthy, John ­F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, J. Parnell Thomas, John Rankin, Adlai Stevenson, Harry Truman, Nikita Khrushchev, William Knowland, all of them dead and gone, while Nixon lives on. Helen Gahagan Douglas, Jerry Voorhis, and Alger Hiss survive, touched by his plague, but somehow remaining free of his gift for death.

And so we backed out, away from the dark house, and moved down the road, past the Caballero Motel and The First Church of Christ Scientist, where Haldeman, the Christian Scientist, had gone on many a Sunday, and parked in the lot of the Concordia school, to look at the house from another point of view. A group of kids with a soccer ball was in the center of a field, being addressed by a squat middle-aged coach in a sweat suit. The man was a long way away, but as we stepped out, we could hear his voice ripping the stillness. We could not hear the words, only the hard, brutal, guttural voice, commanding those children, whipping them, demeaning them, assaulting their sensibilities, the voice that says that victory is all, that winning is American, that Vince Lombardi had divined all mortal truth. The kids were as young as 10, and I wondered what had happened to Richard Nixon on fields like these in the long ago, wondered what his father Frank’s black Irish rages had been like, wondered what sort of woman his mother had been, she who had worked so hard at being a saint that she bequeathed the world a mon­ster.

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The football coach was still screaming as we moved around the edge of the school for the cliffs. Dry washes cut the cliffs, and there were palm fronds rotting on the edge of the escarpment and gulls circling in the distance. Away off, the Nixon house was silhouetted against the cliff. To our right, on the bench, a group of Hell’s Angels types stood around a wire basket, which was burning orange against the pale sand. And below us, 200 feet straight down, was a railroad.

“I see another child.” Nixon had said, on the night in 1968 when he received the nomination. “He hears the train go by at night and dreams of far away places he would like to go. It seems like an impossible dream.” That was Nixon describing himself as a young boy, lying at night in the house in Yorba Linda, as the Santa Fe railroad ran past in the darkness: the Nixon once described by his aunt Olive as “lying on the lawn, sky-viewing and day­-dreaming”: the Nixon who ground his way to escape from Whittier College, the railroad whistles always in his head, the great vast country spread out before him as he stood with his back to the Pacific. And now, in his disgrace, his back to the vast country, he had returned to a place where six times a day, the railroad moves past his great mansion, from San Diego to Los Angeles and back.

We turned back, as a helicopter hovered over the cliffs, watching us from a great height.

We made a few more stops. At the San Clemente Inn, where the Nixon staff people had stayed on the trips to the Western White House, we watched an inning of the World Series, the robots of the Los Angeles team losing to the moustached bravos of Oakland. The bartender was heavyset and blond, a high school athlete gone to seed; he charged a dollar for a bottle of club soda. We didn’t leave a tip.

In the lobby a portrait of Nixon was displayed prominently, and there was another photograph of Nixon with his arm stiffly around Pat, photographed in pastels. He is not looking at his wife. A third photograph shows Nixon and Brezhnev posing at the San Clemente Inn; off to the right, Spiro Agnew sits alone, looking sad.

The fog rolled in hard as we moved slowly out of San Clemente. It blurred the neon signs of Luigi’s Pizza, The Halfway House, Schultze’s Rexall Pharmacy, The Travel Inn, The Chicken Roundup (We Deliver). The places were ugly and dismal in the foggy darkness, the places that you see all over modern California now, the symbols of blight and greed and desecration. Nixon did not build them, but his generation of Californians permitted them, helped to form them and were formed by them. In that house, Nixon is surrounded by the world he made.

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In Laguna we went to the Towers Restaurant on the top floor of the Surf and the Sand, where the reporters were housed in the old days; Los Angeles was losing 3–2 now, and through the windows, the fog had thickened into a gray impasto, spread across the edge of the world. We moved on to Newport, where John Wayne lives, where Haldeman went to hide after the fall, where Kalmbach was a powerful member of the community, ruling over the leftover funds from ’68, selling am­bassadorships over the phone. We drove up to the Inn, perched on a knoll, and I went into the lobby to make a phone call.

And suddenly all of them were there: the children of Nixon, maybe 30 of them, here for a convention with tight-cut hair, carefully matched sports jackets and trousers, neckties, and the fat-assed walk that marked so many of them when we saw them in court on the way to the can. “I called my wife, Fred, so it’s all clear.” “Goddam, that’s a great steak.” Their skins were shining and pink, shaved as close as razors can go and they smelled of cologne and money.

They moved past me in the lobby with a kind of rehearsed indolence: the eyes gleaming with scores to be made, yachts to buy, land deals to consummate, investments to be un­dertaken, all of them free, still in command, only set back for the moment, on the make, on the hustle.

And the chill reached into the lobby again, all the way from San Clemente, a reminder that Watergate and the removal of Nixon had changed nothing but the names of the players. I wondered which of them had grown up with railroad whistles in the night, which of them had been beaten into brutality by some foot­ball coach on a fall afternoon, which of them would be the carrier of the plague, the bearer of the bacillus. Maybe none. But it was there all right, there in the California darkness. It doesn’t matter much what happens to Nixon now, but his people will almost certainly be back.■

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From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Watergate: The Tunnel at the End of the Light

By last Sunday afternoon, things were following what I have become accustomed to thinking of as normal patterns. The news bulletin an­nouncing the Nixon pardon, the outraged public response, the television specials on what it meant — all eclipsed Evel Knievel’s great con dive into the river (where would you rather land a rocket — in the water or on a rock?), the news of testimony by the director of the CIA that we were involved in those events which led to machine gun bullets that (with utter finality and no mercy) removed President Allende from office, and the fact that it was a beautiful day — the first good one all week.

Mr. Gerald Ford, by one act during which he proclaimed “the fate of Richard Nixon… deeply troubles every decent and compassionate person,” had put things to right in my head again. I am back to seeing my President clear — this time as a horse’s ass.

While Mr. Ford felt he was finally putting Watergate matters to rest, I had, until then, actually been more or less at rest about them. Only three things had continued to bother me:

1. that John Dean who had followed his father’s sensible advice (“John, when you’re cornered, tell the truth”) seemed to have gained no benefit from singing — this de­stroying the time-honored tradition of getting rewarded for being the first canary;

2. that Nixon was being treated like a President Emeritus and was protected, deferred to, and financially supported by my government;

3. that William Safire remained on the op-ed page of the Times as an embarrassing left-over from the Nixon-Agnew years when the press was at bay and the Times hired him to be, as it turned out, spokesman for unimprisoned felons of high rank. Or as a publisher I know said last week, “Every time I see Safire’s name on that page I see blackmail.”

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Now, however, Mr. Ford has created a situation in which we are again in the thick of Watergate. It is probably true that Ford pardoned Nixon out of compassion — but it is the selectivity of his compassion that tells where he stands. Not so much President of all the people as Presi­dent of all the Presidents. The only defensible justification for this par­don would be if Mr. Nixon were insane, and unable to stand trial. And this is a whole other kettle of fish.

There have been hints and allusions to Nixon’s precarious emotional balance over the last year. Ford even ad-libbed such an allusion when he mentioned Nixon’s health as one of the reasons for the pardon. Some of us have thought Nixon was always crazy — in a kind of borderline psy­chotic way of perpetually misperceiving reality. Clearly, however, in the last year, he was sometimes over the edge. One must assume his decisions were often made while not quite of sound mind.

That the system of checks and balances works only by accident is exemplified by the fact that while the Secretary of Defense was so unsure of Nixon’s sanity that he hung around Washington to protect the integrity of the button, no one was able to make a move to have Nixon removed from office precisely be­cause of mental unfitness.

Now, if Nixon was crazy during this past year, his selection of Gerald Ford as Vice-President was the act of an irrational man. The Congress, at that time, would have confirmed almost anyone who was born in America and who was not likely to be indicted before the bicentennial. So my present President was chosen by a man who had not only committed countless criminal acts while in office, but was possibly also insane. Further, if you consider that the Nixon mob’s illegal campaign practices, which left the Democratic Party in such disarray, probably created a technically fraudulent election — then my present President was chosen by a man who was not even, in the purest legal sense, entitled to hold office.

Still further, when this President (who has come to office in the nut­tiest way imaginable) then chooses the man who will be my next Vice-­President, one wonders how much further from direct election of our leaders we could go.

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In any case, we have watched Mr. Ford move, over the past weeks, from a posture of humble awareness that he is not an elected President to a dawning sense of himself as a force and not an object of history. His pardoning of Nixon without any real explanation (given the circumstances of Ford’s ascension to power) appears to be an unseemly and arrogant act which, for the first time, gives every criminal the right to feel put upon.

If Mr. Nixon is insane and was pardoned because of it, Mr. Ford should have told us this, straight out. We could then look at what has gone on from a different perspective, deliberate on exactly what kind of mandate Mr. Ford has, and also take steps to insure that the situation of a man turned lunatic in the White House could be quickly altered should it ever happen again. If Nixon is unbalanced, the long constitutional process of impeachment was in­appropriate. If he is sane, why has he been pardoned?

On that Sunday morning, shortly before the pardon was announced, Nixon finally left San Clemente to play golf with Walter Annenberg­ — more like a fugitive who has been on the lam but who now can see the sun than like a gibbering object of pity. The Godfather goes free. His son-in-­law suggests he is a national resource and should run for the Senate. Swifty Lazar announces that he is Nixon’s literary representative, and that Nixon will write an honest book all by himself. Crazy like a fox they used to say. I don’t know. Is anyone going to get John Dean out of jail?
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From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized Washington, D.C.

Reflections on Watergate: John Mitchell’s Death Mask

Dispossessed of his splendor and power, his authority dissipating in fidgets and sagging in pouches, his violence thwarted, John Mitchell appeared grunting before the Ervin Committee last week like an old wild boar finally brought to bay. Behind him lay four years of public rampage, of official trespass and violation, and despite his new misfortune, there still snarled ­in the pendant fatness of his face the image of that regime.

For Mitchell’s fading ferocity remained stamped upon him although most of what had once been his facial features were by now an extrapolation of pouches. His brow, arching uninterrupted into the top of his head, was distinguished from his pate only by the few lines low over his eyes. His cheeks, colored by a network of ruptured blood vessels, were formed by a coalescence of hanging globules, beneath which the double fold of his chin melted into his neck. And his skull was strung with cords of fat instead of muscle.

The over-all shape of his face, ­curving from the dome of his head to the dropsy of his throat, was that of a somewhat lumpy potato. At the forwardmost point of protuberance there jutted out a nose, which by virtue of its advanced position and uneroded aspect would become Mitchell’s favorite weapon during the first perilous day of testimony. When being asked an annoying question Mit­chell would sharpen his poniard by stroking its edge with a thumb and forefinger on either side. When being asked a damaging question he would strop his nose and simultaneously shake his head in frustration.

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Between his nostrils and the thin line of his upper lip was a flat expanse of skin. This gap had the effect of dividing his mouth from the rest of his face and making it, even if its severity was retracting into puffs of flesh, his most prominent feature. Mitchell’s disappearing mouth had also been an imperious organ, and during his testimony one could almost see, as each dazed quivering of his lip resolved into a gruff sarcasm, the impotent brutality that would at­tend John Mitchell on his deathbed.

Yet despite the arrogance and cruelty he had wielded, an unlike­ly pathos had recently become at­tached to him after rumors of his solitary drinking and declining force had been insinuated into the national mood. Indeed, as he began to answer questions on Tuesday morning there developed a striking disparity between the intransigence of his testimony and the tenuousness of his physi­cal control. The transcripts will show that, not at all awed by the Senate, disdaining to invoke the Fifth Amendment for fear of the embarrassment that entailed, Mitchell reluctantly presented and painstakingly maintained a hopelessly improbable story. But if the record will indicate a tour de force of lawyerly dexterity, the telecast has already belied that image with a picture of an aging con twitching in discomfort.

When under Dash’s prodding Mitchell began his story, he seemed to be hung-over. His hands flopped around on his desk, his fingers vibrated, his lower lip fluttered, he stammered names and titles, and he became breathless at the end of long sentences, forcing the last traces of air from his lungs in order to finish. Soon his hands moved to his face as if trying to draw it out of its numbness. He rubbed his eyes, nose, and lips, he shook his head, and then he sat up from his chair and bounced his swollen body. The exercise seemed to work, and his words came more easily and started to slide into each other, for the sly massage had drawn last night’s whiskey into his arteries.

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Now he was warming up and flexing, scratching himself like a caged gorilla groggy before breakfast. He scratched under his eyes, he scratched his nose, he scratched a blotch in the middle of his forehead, he scratched his teeth. The inquest was getting closer, more detailed, about the cover-up of the break-in and about Nixon’s role. Mitchell placed the forefinger of his left hand against his temple, in imitation of a man about to shoot himself. Next he covered his eyes with his hands, and then he came out of his palms smoothing his eyebrows. No, he repeated, he had protected the President by not telling him.

Mitchell returned from the luncheon break with a more liquid confidence that must have been nourished in martinis. Opening his mouth wider as he spoke and swiveling his head slowly from time to time in a prolonged sneer, he no longer needed to hide behind his fidgets. It became clear that he would add nothing to his original statement, that his embarrassment, except for conclusions that the committee might draw, had been fully aired.

Of the interrogators, Senator Talmadge, who had been best known on the committee for the size of his cigar, did succeed in upsetting Mitchell’s balance, and the former attorney general started to pull on his lips and shake his head. But Senator Gurney ended the day with one of the lowest episodes of the hearings, soothing Mitchell with soft slow questions, chuckling with him over his impossible replies, and then joining the witness in a gavotte for two eyeglasses, for which each dancer alternately took his glasses off, toyed with them, twirled them on a finger, and then replaced them on his nose.

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As the hearings continued into Wednesday, Mitchell seemed to be revived by the boldness and ap­parent success of his challenge to the committee. His implausibi­lities stood uncorrected, and con­tradictions to his earlier deposi­tions remained unmentioned. Someone had probably warned him overnight that he had been fidgeting, because he now main­tained a correct posture similar to that so well assumed by John Dean. But while Mitchell had been steadily gaining assurance since Tuesday the public mood had been turning inexorably against him. The crowd could not sympathize with an enemy, how­ever broken from his power, who became emboldened by his own lies.

He was also displaying a rude ferocity in asides to an unappre­ciating audience. He joked about shooting people, throwing them out of windows, and military confrontations between Congress and the President. (One suddenly understood the administration’s hatred for demonstrators: the protesters had been the slovenly embodiment of its own fear and desire for overthrow. It now seemed inevitable that dread of lawless demonstrations had motivated the Watergate break-in and related illegalities, because the violent right had all along been united in temperament and intention with its half-imagined enemy.)

Only Senator Baker, whose slick manipulations to avoid offending anyone have lent an unexpected elegance to the hearings, managed to make Mitchell quiver on Wednesday morning. It was difficult to determine why the Senator’s innocuously abstract questions about the Presidency made Mitchell almost swallow his dentures, except that Baker had temporarily abandoned his Pretty Boy manner in favor of a serious and grown-up deportment. Baker was followed by soporific Senator Montoya, whose face was stamped in perpetuity with the scowl of a baby needing a diaper change. Although Montoya had had prepared for him a series of excellent questions, his drone al­most emptied the hall, while his misplaced emphases flopped in the air like a dead fish fibrillating in a basket. Mitchell ignored him.

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Late Wednesday, after 10 hours of testimony, the committee at last began to confront its witness properly. It proved to be more dif­ficult than anticipated because Mitchell’s commanding personal­ity was being resurrected by its ordeal, and he was starting to become cocky in his defense. But Senator Weicker, improving on the scattershot methods of his earlier interrogations, pursued a detailed inquiry into Mitchell’s activities last summer. The next morning Sam Dash continued Weicker’s line of questioning, refined it, and made explicit the contradictions between what Mitchell was telling the committee, what other witnesses had asserted, and what he himself had sworn to last summer; much of Mitchell’s present testimony was discredited.

If the committee, having by this point lost much of its Tuesday audience, was hardly to be congratulated for its sense of timing, it had somehow done its job by presenting and exposing Mitchell. The Senators could not have expected to answer the critical question that remained: would Mitchell second his own story when Judge Sirica pronounced sentence? No one, not even the former attorney general, could claim to know. So the unrepentant witness merely retired to his whiskey and his remembrance while across town the President, who perhaps only now comprehended the power Mitchell would exercise over him, labored with every breath.

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From The Archives From The Archives IMPEACHMENT ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Watergate Diary: A Few Quiet Drinks for Liberty

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tuesday afternoon. “I’m tingling,” says John Conyers as he slips out a side door of the Judiciary Committee hearing room.

Conyers has been meeting private­ly with Chairman Peter Rodino and Republican Larry Hogan of Mary­land, long after the impeachment inquiry’s last closed session has come to an end and the other members have deserted the place. Hogan has scheduled a press confer­ence two hours from now to reveal his key impeachment vote decision.

“I’m tingling,” Conyers repeats in his soft-spoken half-mocking tone.

“I’ve got something so good to tell you fellas that I can’t tell you,” he tells the five reporters who have lingered in the hallway outside the hearing room and who pounced on him as he emerged.

“I feel like a prostitute coming out into a busy intersection,” says Conyers as the reporters trail him down the hall toward the elevators. “She’s got so many ways to go, she ends up going nowhere.”

Give us just a hint about Hogan, the reporters plead.

“Well, you can see I’m smiling, can’t you?” says Conyers.

Something more definite, we beg.

“Well,” says Conyers, grinning slyly, stepping into the elevator and holding open the doors sliding shut in front of him. “I can’t tell you which way Mr. Hogan has decided, but I will say that I might just appear with him at the 3 o’clock press confer­ence.”

He lets the doors slide shut.

***

Tribe Number Seven is getting ready to move out. The followers of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, divided like the people of Israel into 12 tribes, are preparing to leave their prayer-and-fast rallying point on the steps of the Capitol to march to the White House to demonstrate their support for the President. (God has spoken twice to the Reverend Sun Moon, one of his supporters told me. First in Korea in the late ’30s when Sun Moon was a lad of 16, God told him he would have an important mission in the world. Then last year God spoke again and told the Reverend Sun Moon that he had a mission to convince America to forgive Richard Nixon and forget impeachment.)

Each member of Sun Moon’s 12 tribes, filing down the Capitol steps one tribe at a time, wears a sandwich board with the name and picture of the Congressman he or she has been assigned to pray for. The coordinator of the 12 tribes consults a list and tells me that Congressman Larry Hogan’s prayer-person can be found in Tribe Seven, which is just about to march off.

Hurrying over to Tribe Seven I ask the Tribe leader where the Hogan prayer-person can be found.

“She left a while ago and we haven’t seen her since,” the Tribe Seven chief tells me. “But I think she put her sign down there.”

He points to a pile of half a dozen sandwich board signs lying at the foot of the Capitol steps. He picks through them and comes up with Hogan’s sign. Hogan’s face has been scuffed a bit on the concrete.

“But why are you so interested in Hogan?” the tribe leader asks suspiciously.

I explain to him that one hour from now Hogan will hold a press conference, and that if, as Conyers has hinted, Hogan declares for impeachment, a big bi-partisan majority for impeachment in the Committee and in the whole House is virtually assured, and the person in charge of praying for Hogan’s soul should be apprised of the gravity of the situation.

“I’ll put his sign on and pray for him,” a teenage follower of Reverend Sun Moon pipes up, in the old put-me-in-Coach tradition.

“Don’t bother,” the leader of Tribe Seven says, “he’s obviously pre-judged the case. It’s too late.”

“TRIBE SEVEN. TIME TO MOVE OUT,” says a megaphone voice. The other tribes are filing down the steps to join the line of march. Tribe Seven starts filing laterally across the Capitol steps.

“TRIBE SEVEN, YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY,” the megaphone man yells. “WHY IS TRIBE SEVEN GOING THE WRONG WAY?”

Tribe Seven finally straightens itself out and gets in line. They march off leaving the Larry Hogan prayer-placard lying behind them on the discard pile.

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***

Who is Fat Jack? Fat Jack turns up at Larry Hogan’s press conference. Not in the flesh of course. Not unless he’s disguised himself as one of the more than 100 reporters and cameramen packed into the Judiciary Committee media room waiting for Hogan’s declaration.

“Not since Spiro Agnew got caught with his hand in the till has any Maryland politician received this much national attention,” one reporter intones with mock solemnity. But in fact Hogan’s announcement this afternoon is the biggest single event of the impeachment circus so far, perhaps the first and last moment of genuine suspense and surprise.

Hogan is an ex-FBI man (Nixon’s bitter feud with J. Edgar Hoover continues to plague him even after the director’s death), and a conservative Republican. Hogan’s pro-impeachment vote makes it possible for conservatives of both parties to vote to defend a pro-impeachment vote as a law-and-order vote. Shortly after Hogan’s surprise announcement House Minority Leader John Rhodes will tell a private caucus of conservative Republicans that his estimate of the pro-impeachment vote among House Republicans has leaped from 40 to 60, a figure that makes a big pro-impeachment vote in the House a near certainty. If there is any one turning point, this is it. As far as Richard Nixon is concerned, after Hogan the deluge.

Fat Jack doesn’t enter the picture until after Hogan has completed reading his pious prepared statement (entitled, schoolboy style, “Why I Will Vote for Impeachment,” by Congressman Lawrence J. Hogan).

The questioning turns to the matter of Hogan’s month-old campaign for governor of Maryland against the corruption-tainted administration of Governor Marvin Mandel. Aren’t your pro-impeachment vote and this gun-jumping, headline-grabbing announcement dictated by political considerations, someone asks Hogan.

Of course not, says Hogan, it’s just a matter of his conscience and the evidence. “And furthermore,” says Hogan, although no one asked him about it, “furthermore I have not hired a gumshoe nor paid any private detective named John Buckley one red cent, despite what some distorted editorials may say. But that’s an extraneous matter,” he adds hastily, realizing he’s made a mistake raising the subject himself.

“From considerable experience in observing witnesses on the stand I had learned that those who are lying or trying to cover up something generally make a common mistake — they tend to over-act to over-state their case.” Richard M. Nixon wrote that in “Six Crises.”

Well, it seems that Hogan has “over-stated” his Fat Jack denial. In an interview just a few hours after he denied retaining Fat Jack “Hogan also conceded…that it was a mistake to have a check made on Mandel’s activities by John. R. Buckley who worked under the Watergate code name ‘Fat Jack.’ ”

“ ‘After all the flack I’ve gotten, I think in retrospect it was bad judgement to use Fat Jack,’ ” the Washington Star quotes Hogan.

Now unless Hogan obtained Fat Jack’s services for a sum less than “one red cent,” he was simply not telling the truth at his impeachment vote press conference.

Nor was he telling the whole truth a couple of minutes after his Fat Jack denial when Hogan told a press conference questioner: “I did not inform Chairman Rodino of my decision. I did not inform any member of the committee until I told you gentlemen” (about how he would vote).

It’s obvious that John Conyers knew exactly how Hogan was going to vote when he left that private conference with Hogan and Rodino two hours before Hogan’s press conference.

Nitpicking, perhaps, but before Hogan’s heroism becomes enshrined in the impeachment hall of fame it is worth noting the 32 hours before he voted to impeach President Nixon for his Watergate cover-up, Hogan himself attempted to cover up his own private plumbers operation.

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***

Wednesday afternoon. Things begin moving fast. “I think we’re getting Republicans,” says John Conyers who is rushing out of his office to meet with the Democratic Drafting Committee, which in turn is negotiating with the Railsback group of moderate Republicans. “I think we can get a landslide going,” Conyers says.

Over in the Longworth Office Building, Congressman Earle “The Curl” Landgrebe of Indiana, one Republican Conyers will never get, raises a lonely voice in support of the President. Landgrebe has called a press conference to read a letter from the Republican Congressional Committee back home in Indiana inviting Richard Nixon to visit his district and see “the overwhelming support the President has in the heart of loyal Americans.”

Landgrebe cites such Nixon achievements as the killing of a sewage project as examples of the kinds of things that have won the heart of the heart of America. Landgrebe says he’ll support the President even if the President defies the Supreme Court. Landgrebe gets a little carried away. He says he’s looking forward to a visit from the President to his district with “almost uncontrollable excitement.”

***

Wednesday night. Controllable excitement. The Judiciary Commit­tee’s first televised session begins with a series of pompous, senten­tious lectures on the meaning of the Constitution.

A recess for a bomb scare provides welcome relief.

“We’re either going to die of bore­dom or an explosion,” Representa­tive Caldwell Butler proclaims as he waits outside the halls for the room to be searched by police dogs and policemen. Police dogs are German shepherds named Baron and Chris. Policeman in charge explains that Baron and Chris are trained to sniff explosives, but have yet to encounter a live bomb. “Probably wouldn’t be here if they had,” the policeman says.

Baron and Chris exit. Committee re-enters. Republican Wiley Mayne complains about absence of bombs. “The only evidence we’ve seen is inferences piled on inferences. We’ve kept getting reports we’d hear a bombshell in the testimony that would blow the President out of the water. But we never did.”

And impeachment staff lawyer explains staff strategy to me: “We’ve been trying to shove the evidence up the ass of the Republicans drop by drop until suddenly they get so constipated they’ve got to realize there’s something there.”

Strategy seems to have worked beyond expectations with Republican Thomas Railsback. Three minutes into his opening speech Railsback begins to spew forth raw, undigested chunks of evidence, blocks of quotations from Presidential transcripts, rapid-fire recitations of complex evidentiary connections. (“And then Petersen told the President what Magruder was saying about Haldeman, and the President told Haldeman that Kalmbach and Dean…”) Railsback, acting possessed, fanatically attempting in 15 minutes to purge himself of the four months of evidence that have been crammed into him by the staff, grows more desperate and incoherent as time runs out. As with Jaworski, Watergate seems to be driving him close to the edge.

A big rivalry seems to be developing between Railsback and ranking Republican McClory, also of Illinois, for leadership of moderate Republicans’ pro-impeachment position and consequent media heroism. Railsback is ahead so far on desperate earnestness, but McClory’s vote is considered more significant. They begin voting against each other’s amendments.

Representative Smith, Republican of New York, pulls an elaborate con game in his opening speech. He has cheerfully built up suspense as the possible pro-impeachment vote, but declares he’s voting against every proposed article with the possible exception of Cambodia bombing. Cambodia? everyone wonders. Turns out Smith’s retiring from House. Wants Nixon appointment to UN post, as liaison to Congress. Statesmanlike “openmindedness” on Cambodia designed to save Smith’s reputation with Democratic majority that might otherwise condemn him forever as lightweight Nixon hack. Smith’s aides distribute curious “1000 Days Peace Plan” sponsored by group called “God’s Workshop” with apparent intentions of proving that Cambodian concern’s not just a ploy.

General consensus is that Smith’s Cambodian concern is just a ploy.

During bomb scare recess, Hungate of Missouri complains that Committee voted down releasing all 23 “political matters memoranda” from Gordon Strachan’s to H. R. Haldeman’s. Filled with juicy tidbits and “utter depravity,” Hungate claims. “There are stunts in there­ that go beyond anything in the most evil recesses of my own imagination,” Hungate says.

Most sobering moment of the debate, John Conyers: “Millions of people are afraid we have in office a man who might entertain the notion of kicking over the government.”

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***

Thursday morning. Two reporters who haven’t seen each other since last November meet inside the hearing room.

“This is like the McGovern campaign again,” one says.

“It is the McGovern campaign,” the other one replies. “He just peaked too late.”

Representative Walter Flowers of Alabama lectures the press. Flowers, a pro-impeachment vote, tells reporters, “I simply ask that each of you look inward and decide for yourself if each of you has treated fairly with the president. I feel the perspective of Middle America has not received equal time from you.”

Flowers may be right. Reporters regularly snicker at Presidential defenders, and act as P.R. agents for “agonizing,” “anguished,” “courageous” Republicans who vote against Nixon. No one bothers to point out how slovenly and vague the original Committee staff’s draft articles for impeachment were, few point out how little real investigation the Committee did, how suppositional and circumstantial much of the Doar case is. Stupid Republicans are ridiculed. Slow-witted Democrats like Joshua Arlberg (who claims that Nixon throwing an ashtray across a room at Key Biscayne after learning of Watergate is proof positive of guilty prior knowledge) escaped well-deserved ridicule.

The only unknown vote on Article 1 by this time is Harold Froehlich, Republican from Green Bay, Wisconsin. Froehlich relishes the suspense and attention he gets from his undecided posture.

***

Thursday night. Republican defenders of the President make these points:

— Committee never called Howard Hunt, “the Big Man,” as Charles Sandman called him. Democrats voted down motions by Dennis of Indiana to call Hunt for testimony.

— Committee staff stopped taking all depositions as soon as St. Clair entered the case and switched to oral interviews because the latter are not subject to cross-examination.

— Committee never sent written interrogatories to the President although staff claims President’s refusal to answer interrogatories from IRS is an inference of guilt.

Most refreshing instance of candor: New York Congressman Charles Rangel, who says, “I would be less than honest to say to you today that it is with heavy heart that I cast my vote for the impeachment of Richard M. Nixon.”

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***

Friday morning. You can tell by the intermittent muscle spasms in his jaw that John Sirica is impatient. He’s trying to keep his mouth clenched shut and his face judicially impassive as he listens to James St. Clair, but it’s an effort of will betrayed every minute or two by a little spasm at the point of his jaw beneath his earlobe.

I’m watching Sirica’s jaw from a seat in the jury box which is regularly taken over by reporters and sketch artists during pre-trial hearings.

At this hearing, St. Clair is trying to explain why he can’t comply with Jaworski’s proposed schedule for delivery of the 64 tapes within 10 days.

There is the “mechanical work” of copying the tapes, and “legal work” to be done. There may be some “trouble with a series of inaudible tapes.”

St. Clair says his staff will get right to work and will “report regularly” on the progress they’re making. Spasms erupt and Sirica shuffles papers impatiently as St Clair concludes by praising the “great contribution of the Supreme Court to jurisprudence” in its tapes brief.

“Have you listened to these tapes, Mr. St. Clair?” Sirica finally demands.

“I’m a very poor listener, Your Honor. If the Court had to rely on me as a listener it would be poorly served.”

“You mean to say you would appear before the Judiciary Committee and argue for your client without knowing all the background of these matters? You mean to tell me you could make all the arguments you made…”

“That’s what he means,” says St. Clair.

“No more of that,” Sirica orders St. Clair. “I would prefer you take personal charge of this matter,” Sirica tells him. In the light of past experiences with White House attorneys and White House tapes, Sirica is putting St. Clair on notice that St. Clair will be personally responsible as an officer of the Court for the integrity of whatever remains of the evidence.

St. Clair begins to discuss further delays he’ll need.

Sirica puts an end to that. He orders St. Clair and Jaworski to lock themselves in the jury room for an hour.

“If by that time you gentlemen can’t come out with some sort of agreement I will set the timetable myself.”

Like naughty children St. Clair and Jaworski toddle back into the jury room.

Meanwhile, back at the Rayburn Office Building, the first day of real debate begins on Article One of the Bill of Impeachment.

In his seat before the session opens, Father Drinan is pointing to a passage in the newly released testimony of Henry Petersen.

“Oh, I really tortured Mr. Petersen. Yes, here’s the page, here I am torturing him.”

Drinan reads his own questions aloud and then wiggles around imitating Petersen’s tortured answers.

Paul Sarbanes of Maryland introduces the resolution that ultimately becomes Article One of the Bill of Impeachment. Sarbanes’s resolution is a substitute for the hastily, sloppily drawn, and vague Donahue Resolution drawn up by the Committee staff.

Once charge against the President in Sarbanes’s Resolution could easily be addressed as well to the Committee staff: “…deceiving the people of the United States into believing that a thorough and complete investigation had been conducted with respect to allegations on the part of personnel in the Executive Branch.”

A close look at the Committee’s much-discussed “38 volumes” confirmed what William Greider of the Washington Post first pointed out — that the Committee staff did little more than compile an anthology of past testimony from the Ervin Committee, grand juries, and tape transcripts.

The interminable argument over “specificity” that consumed the remainder of the Friday session can be in part attributable to the staff’s failure to uncover anything more than inferential proof of many of its charges, and its failure to prepare the Democratic majority with the specifics it did have. The favorite damning Presidential quote of pro-impeachment forces is no longer “for Christ’s sake, get it.” The staff was never able to prove and most witnesses denied, that hush money payments hadn’t already been initiated by John Dean before the President said “for Christ’s sake, get it.”

The new favorite damning Presidential quote comes from the Committee version of that same March 21 conversation with Dean, a quote that was left out of the White House transcript. It goes like this: “There’s no doubt about the right plan. We had the right plan before the election, John, but now we’ve got to come up with a new plan.”

Friday night is Harold Froehlich’s big night. He leads the charge for “specificity” and since his vote is still undecided both sides cater to him, yield debate time to him, ply him with compliments, compliment him with frequent conferences about the nature of “specificity.”

Railsback launches into another frantic attempt to jam two months of evidence into five minutes of time, rendering his whole discourse unintelligible.

Relations between Railsback and McClory, both still vying for moderate Republican hero honors, deteriorate to the point where they refuse parliamentary courtesy of yielding time to each other.

“McClory felt slighted because he wasn’t included in the pre-drafting work,” one congressman tells me.

The Railsback group of four pro-impeachment Republicans takes recalcitrant Harold Froehlich out to dinner to try to convince him to stop making such a fuss about “specificity” and accept some short bill of particulars to be tacked on later.

Froehlich returns from his dinner looking well-fed as ever, but “the dinner was a flop,” he declares. “They didn’t convince me to drop my concern and I’m not going to give the staff a paper and tell them to fill in the blanks.”

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***

Saturday afternoon. “That’s horseshit,” Harold Froehlich says to John Doar as they confer during a mid-afternoon recess.

“What’s horseshit?” I ask Froeh­lich after Doar departs.

“Doar was saying that they, the Democrats, were disappointed he wouldn’t work from 2 a.m. till 10 in the morning on a specific report to back up the Articles. I said ‘that’s horseshit,’ that he shouldn’t have to do that, that it should have been done already, or we should have more time.”

James Mann’s eyes are red and baggy from his ceaseless shuttling back and forth between drafting groups. Despite his cool demeanor, his temper is getting short.

“Did you say you were up there with…” one reporter begins to ask Mann about his shuttle activities.

“I said what I said,” snaps Mann and walks off.

But Jack Brooks is in a good mood, because he can sense the kill coming up. Debate has been limited and a final vote is in sight.

Brooks, an unabashed Nixon-loather, bounds into the hearing room after the mid-afternoon recess beaming and bubbling. “In and out. In and out. Wham-bam thank you ma’am, and go home for dinner. I say we’ll depart here at 6 o’clock, no later,” Brooks predicts, puffing on his cigar.

Dennis of Indiana accuses the Democrats of concocting a “scenario” using phony motions to strike as an excuse for introducing material from the belated Doar “specificity memorandum” to the TV audience. Dennis is correct, of course. And the scenario works because everybody knows the Democrats have the votes to make it work.

At 10 of 7, Jack Brooks grabs his microphone and calls out “Mr. Chairman, I move the previous question.” And 10 minutes later, the Committee votes, 27-11, to impeach the President.

Every member tries to sound extraordinarily grave and solemn when he casts his vote. Some were. “I cried,” Father Drinan confessed to everyone within earshot.

But even some of the President’s defenders weren’t entirely broken up by their defeat. Outside in the hall­way, a reporter walks up to Presi­dential defender Delbert Latta, the thin-lipped master of scorn.

“Could I have your reaction, Mr. Latta?” the reporter asks.

Latta goes into a manic mock epileptic fit for a moment. “Oh, I’m all shook up,” he said, chuckling as he turned back to chat with some friends.

And Jack Brooks. Just before this climactic session, when he walked in with his “wham-bam, thank you ma’am” prediction of a quick pro­-impeachment vote, Brooks confided with a twinkle in his eye and a flourish of his cigar that “when I get home tonight I might just have me one little quiet drink for liberty.”

The implication of the twinkle and the flourish seemed to be that he was going to get rip-roaring drunk.

Jack Brooks cast a very grave and sober-sounding “aye” for the final vote, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had one or maybe more “quiet little drinks for liberty” that night.

Categories
From The Archives From The Archives IMPEACHMENT ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized Washington, D.C.

The Media: Flacks for History

The Media: Flacks for History
August 1, 1974

WASHINGTON, D.C. — I sat for half an hour in the Judiciary Committee room last week and enjoyed a splendid view of the trousered area of a free-lance photographer. He was straining over me to take pictures of Caroline Kennedy. That’s not quite the story I’ll be telling the grandchildren. To them I’ll say that Granddad was there when history was made.

I only hope they don’t question me too closely on what sort of history I thought was being brewed, because after reading the papers, watching television, watching the committee members, watching journalists watching the committee members, I have an uneasy feeling that I was observing a con game all the more ultimately unconvincing because it came dressed as Destiny.

It was — and still is — a con game in which politicians and journalists, under the snouts of the TV cameras, read each other lines in a vast drama of pretense and played to an audience they created, even as they addressed it — “The American People.”

Just after my half hour in the Committee room, still groggy from a day of watching TV, I sat in a local saloon, having a few drinks and mulling over the problems of the Media and Impeachment. As the drinks grew more and more agreeable I suddenly realized I was sitting next to a whole table of Adjectives, also resting up awhile from the day’s business. There was no doubt about it. “Historic” was flushed, and clearly the worse for wear. “Listen,” he said to “Awesome,” who was looking pale and over-worked after the Supreme Court decision, “you think you’ve been through something. I knew things were going to get rough last Wednesday. Did you read Harriet Van Horne?”

“Awesome” and “Anguished” nodded moodily as “Historic” began to quote in a sing-song voice. “The Judiciary Committee sits tonight in the eye of history, the destiny of the President and the future of the nation bound up in their deliberations.” “And that’s not all,” groaned “Historic,” “do you know how she went on? ‘It’s an enormous, shattering event in history we are living through. A man’s fate, a nation’s character, our posterity’s pride in its forebears, all are involved. We, the people, are now on trial along with the President. There ought to be rhetoric appropriate to the occasion.’ ”

There was a thoughtful silence. All the Adjectives knew what had happened to their Noun friend “The American People”: hours of over-work; sudden collapse from sheer exhaustion; mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. “You know something?” said “Dignified,” “They wouldn’t even let him out of the committee room for a drink. Said there might be an emergency.”

“Well, I’m fed up,” said “Historic.” “I can stand it when James Naughton uses me as a casual pickup for leads in the New York Times. You know the sort of thing, ‘The House Judiciary Committee began its historic, final deliberations tonight…,’ which is what he said on Wednesday, or ‘The Judiciary Committee’s final deliberation, only the second in the nation’s history to be directed at the possible impeachment of a President and the first to be televised nationally,’ which he said on Thursday. I can stand that kind of thing. But I’ll tell you who I can’t stand. That fellow Haynes Johnson on the Washington Post.… After all, he’s meant to be one their best reporters.”

The mere mention of Johnson’s name seemed to provoke “Historic” to some sort of seizure. He started grappling at his throat and then slumped forward over the table. “Anguished,” “Inevitable,” “Inexorable,” “Traumatic,” “Agonized,” “Exhausted,” and even bustling little “Specific” all clustered round, fanning him with copies of Roget’s Thesaurus. It was too painful a sight and I slipped quietly away from the awful scene.

Back in the press room the next day, I took a quick look at Johnson’s Thursday article in the Post to see why “Historic” had got so worked up. What I found was a specimen of “This Is the Big Day” journalism so perfect I trust it will be posted in journalism schools for many years to come. “For historians,” began Johnson in a throat-clearing manner, “who will record the day, let it be noted that on July 24, 1974, Washington was not entirely preoccupied with the court and the Congress and the impeachment of a President.… Throughout the city the trivial and the ordinary grist of government went on as usual.”

Now it is more or less an infallible rule of this kind of writing that life goes on as usual. But Haynes is too practiced a hand to dally for long. “As a cab pulled up at the curb, the flag was flying at half staff in memory of Earl Warren. The driver looked at the crowd massed before the marble steps in the long lines twisting around the corner and out of sight, and said: ‘They’re waiting where the history’s going to be made.’ ”

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Thank God for cab drivers. Actually Haynes Johnson had a particularly fortunate day in this regard because toward the end of his article he manages to flag down another true son of Polonius. “On the way back downtown a cab driver volunteered his thoughts on the day. ‘Eight to nothing,’ he said. ‘Man, he should have known better. He can’t ever appeal that. My, My, My.… Man I feel for him. He put his own self in the trap. He’s got to give up now. You know, those Supreme Court Judges, they’re a pretty fair bunch of people. But I’ll be pretty glad when this thing is over. I’m so tired of Watergate I don’t know what to do.’ ”

I was just mentally nominating Johnson’s cab driver for the Vox Populi award of the year, when an insistent voice started hammering into my eardrums at close range. It was no fantasy, but a genuine journalist sitting near me.

“I need a rhetorical flourish for a lead,” he said. “Now, can I say ‘Waldie of California, Cohen of Maine, Flowers of Alabama’? You know, with no Christian names. Do you think I can do that?” Across the table, crowded with typewriters screwed down to the wood surface, some colleague nodded.

“Who’s that?” I asked a lady journalist.

“That’s Johnny Apple,” she said.

Johnny Apple is, I imagine, better known to readers of the New York Times as R. W. Apple. Apple’s function, in the New York Times, seemed during the week to be similar to that of Haynes Johnson on the Washington Post. His role was to distill the proceedings into compact and colorful prose.

Already, on that Thursday mor­ning, the Times bore witness to his response to Johnson’s mighty challenge, cab-driver and all, in the Post. “The 150-odd spectator seats were filled, the 38 exhausted members of the House Judiciary Committee were in their places, and everyone — from the youngest page to the most grizzled and cynical of the politicians and reporters — knew that this was a very special night, one of those rare moments that really deserved to be called historic and momentous.”

Actually the rest of that particular article was not so bad, but Apple’s queries about rhetorical flourishes sent me scuttling for the Times the next morning. He’d gone overboard. “There was Fish of Dutchess County, New York, with the aristocratic intonations of a Franklin Roosevelt or an Averill Harriman; Dennis of Indiana, with the flat talk of the flatlands, talking of the Supreme Court. Wiggins, Waldie, and Danielson, speaking in that neutral accent characteristic of their state… Rodino of New Jersey, his speech tinged with the harshness of Newark and Bayonne and Jersey City; Flowers of Alabama, comfy, down-home.…” What with there being no fewer than 38 members, all of whose voices would presumably need adjectival decoration, I feared for Apple’s resources. But he pressed to his main theme, which was in fact the theme of the day: the New South.

A word on Themes of the Day: everything that happened toward the end of last week was more or less known in advance. In an excellent article in the New York Times on Tuesday, July 23, before the Great Public Debate began, David Rosenbaum computed the votes for and against impeachment. Checked against the final votes for the first article of impeachment, taken on Saturday evening, he was almost exactly right. His only error was to class Froehlich of Wisconsin as “Leaning Against Impeachment” whereas in fact Froehlich came out for impeachment.

There was, therefore, no way in which the debate was anything but a foregone conclusion. The business of the media, therefore, was to concoct the rhetoric rather than the reality of a debate which was in essence a public relations exercise.

The leitmotif was evidently “the inexorable march toward impeachment,” but even halfway through the week we were searching for a Leader, and lamenting that no one man was available to take history’s vast burden on his shoulders, hypnotizing the nation with spouts of compelling verbiage.

James Reston charged at the theme: “On the whole, members have been solemn and dull, and have spoken for themselves, or for or against Richard Nixon, but who will ‘Speak for America’?” He concludes by quoting his old friend, “ ‘Greatness is lying in the streets of Washington these days,’ Henry Kissinger said the other night, ‘and somebody may pick it up.’ In other words: Somebody may ‘Speak for America.’ But it hasn’t happened yet in Congress.”

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But since, plainly, no one was speaking for America along the lines proposed, the answer was to go over to the opposite tack and claim that everyone on the Judiciary Committee was speaking for America, with the exception of vulgar McCarthy-like villains like Sandman of New Jersey, harsh accents of Cape May included. This is the “Twelve Angry Men” approach to life: keep on gabbing long enough and everyone will turn out to have a heart of gold.

There is an intervening patch of ground between these two options, which involves “agonizing dilemmas.” We had two splendid agonizing dilemmas last week. One belonged, of course, to Tom Railsback, who narrowly beat out Cohen of Maine as the most agonized and dilemma-ridden man of the Committee. He did everything: “spoke with emotion,” “choked with emotion,” “let his words spill out in an agonized torrent,” and above all did what agonizedly dilemma-ridden politicians are meant to do, which is to refuse to state whether they have made up their mind.

Then of course we had the Republican from Maryland, Hogan, who hastened the inexorable tide by announcing on Tuesday that he would vote for impeachment. The Boston Globe asked rather cynically whether his decision was helped along by publicity given to the fact that among his assets in his forthcoming race against Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel he had an unreported fund of $4000, and had hired John “Fat Jack” Buckley, who formerly spied on Muskie, to probe into Mandel’s affairs for him, and whether a Washington Post editorial wondering whether he had learned the lessons of Watergate had hastened the agonizing decision along.

All that kind of coarse talk was forgotten by Saturday morning. Haynes Johnson, as usual, put it well. “Hogan, tightly in control, his voice husky and at times close to breaking, recognized he would have to live with his actions for the rest of his lifetime…” It’s an irrefutable law of journalism that anyone whose voice is husky and at times close to breaking cannot be all bad.

After the moment of dilemmas we finally arrive at the Twelve Angry Men solution. Haynes Johnson was equal to the occasion. On Saturday he weighed the committee in the balance: “The representatives speaking with such uncustomary eloquence before an audience of millions fully recognized that they, as well as the President, are on trial.” He was satisfied. “At this point they are rising splendidly to history.”

But he reserved his full thunder for Sunday, in an immense article announcing his conversion to New Conservatism (new conservatism is always all right, since only later does it become ordinary, dreary old conservatism). And at the article’s conclusion he sounded the trumpet: “These men and women (on the committee) are not being seen as Southerners and Northerners, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. They are believed as people of integrity who put principle before party and nation before region. Whatever their differences, they are echoing our oldest tradition: the healthy suspicion of power.”

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Even this effusion paled beside the Sunday ruminations of Joseph Kraft — a man who is the best argument I know of against the freedom of the Press, uniquely combining in his single person all the disadvantages of literacy. “From the crucible of impeachment there now emerges a new national consensus on the Presidency. It combines Southern constitutionalism and the progressive idealism of the West with Eastern liberalism. It puts into discard the imperial and military features of the Presidency which grew so prominent in the course of the American rise to international pre-eminence.” This truly staggering overture culminated in a similarly unctuous finale: “The effort of the White House to divide the Congress and the country has failed. It is fit that impeachment comes on the heels of the unanimous Supreme Court decision to limit executive privilege. And the country now moves toward impeachment united as rarely before.”

It was Kraft’s prose that finally confirmed me in the impression that the media were losing control in the great P.R. exercise (a) to hustle Nixon out of office and (b) to invent the idea of a unified “American People,” unafflicted by serious division, which only needs impeachment to find true happiness. How else to explain the delinquencies of a previously excellent reporter like Johnson? How else to explain that the press systematically ignored the evident fact that some of the famous detailing of “specifics” on Saturday was not that convincing? How else to explain that we were told next to nothing about the actual political pressures operating on people like Wiggins, Nixon’s defender from California, or Sandman, his defender from New Jersey? Even these gentlemen were somehow subsumed in prose harmonies about the dignity — quiet dignity of course — of the democratic process.

This is not to say that Nixon is not a crook and a liar, like other Presidents past and no doubt future, but to point up the noisome rhetoric of the media over the last days. The actual reporting of who said what to whom, and who fixed what with whom, seems to have been excellent. It’s the keynote material that’s been jarring.

Apple at least had a sense of realism last Sunday when he said that the evidence’s “appearance in newspapers and on television also helped to generate a sense of momentum toward impeachment that communicated itself toward the members. As one of them said, it is harder to cast a politically dangerous vote ‘when you don’t feel you’re part of the tide of history.’ ”

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Ah yes, the tide of history! What everyone did last week was to make up their minds which way it was flowing. On Tuesday, July 23, NBC did not give live coverage to James St. Clair’s press conference, outlining his defense of the President. On Wednesday CBS evening news did not give live coverage to St. Clair’s delivery of Nixon’s response to the Supreme Court decision. On Wednesday evening a vice-president of CBS told John J. O’Connor of the New York Times that “we like to maintain control of our own product.” Both networks had chosen not to accept the opportunity of live coverage of Presidential announcements. As O’Connor remarked, “a number of broadcasting figures say the importance of those decisions for TV journalism can hardly be exaggerated.” Nor, one might add, would such decisions have been made if the tide had been clearly flowing the other way.

What the tide has done is to throw everyone into such a state of adjectival catharsis about History and some ethereal vision of America that it’s hard to read the newspapers or watch television without actually levitating. Only occasionally did some reporter bother to bring one down to earth. It took Tom Wicker to remind us last week that one of the things the Supreme Court did was to define executive privilege as empowering the President to hold on to “military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets.” In Saturday’s Washington Post William Greider bothered to go through the issues that the Committee is allowing to fade out of the impeachment articles: the milk deals, ITT, campaign financing, San Clemente, Cambodia, and possibly even the President’s taxes. He quoted Wiggins, after listening to a tape of a conversation about the milk deals, as saying, “It sounded like a Republican or Democratic caucus … the name of the game has not been impeachment on those issues — the name of the game has been the publicity of the investigation.” Greider quoted Robert Drinan as saying it would be futile to bring up Cambodia for a vote. “It would just be tabled. History may look back and decide we did the right thing for the wrong reason. Should we impeach the President for unlawful war-making?” Many members said that if Nixon got impeached for unlawful war-making, then his predecessor should have got the same. No one seemed to get around to the notion that this might not have been such a bad idea either.

So come next election time Nixon may be out of the way, but one thing the Crucible of Impeachment is not about to produce is any change in the way politicians raise money, or how candidates get illegal gifts from corporations, or how ambassadors pay up for their jobs. There was a great deal of invocation of the American People last week, but not too many specifics about the litigation affecting them going on just round the corner from the Rayburn Building, about strip mining, or about occupational safety or about consumer protection.

We are bobbing now on a tide of verbiage. Wednesday a week ago I counted 40,000 words in the New York Times on impeachment or legal briefs appertaining to it. Higher and higher raged the flood, as newsmen and politicians urged each other toward the finishing tape. The baton changed from hand to hand. “There’s no doubt about it, he’s gone,” said Tip O’Neill on Wednesday. “It’s all over bar the shouting,” said the Wall Street Journal the next day. On Friday “support for the President is wilting away,” and by Saturday John Rhodes was “agonizing over how he will cast his vote,” and “studying the tapes.”

On Sunday the Washington Post came up with two detailed articles recounting the rush of rats down the gangplank from the White House. Woodward and Bernstein reported the collapse and despair of Nixon’s staff. Three White House sources, they say, agree that Judge Sirica will find “additional gaps, unexplained noises, and other problems” with the 64 tapes liberated by the Supreme Court. Lou Cannon got down to specifics. At the San Clemente Inn, apparently, White House staff aides and Secret Servicemen were summarily evicted 10 days ago by Paul Presley, the owner and longtime friend of Mr. Nixon. “ ‘To the San Clemente Inn, there is no more White House, and to the White House there is no more San Clemente Inn,’ said Presley, who complained that various concessions to White House needs — including the use of the banquet room as a press center — had cost him $100,000 during Nixon’s Presidency. ‘We treated them like Jesus Christ because they were the White House,’ Presley said.… What the decision reflects, more than any abandonment of Mr. Nixon, is the growing realization of those tied to the economy of the Western White House that there is very little profit left in the present administration.”

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I’d rather listen to Presley than to Joe Kraft. Indeed I’d rather listen to another banker friend of Nixon who told Cannon, “I expect he’ll be impeached and removed from office, but I’m not too worried about it. Ford strikes me as very sound.”

I suppose we ought to end with the authentic voice of the media. On Thursday night, squatting amid the cigarette butts on the pressroom floor I found myself watching the end of NBC nightly news. It will be remembered that Ehrlichman used to ask how will it play in Peoria. Needless to say, NBC had sent Bob Jamieson along to Peoria to find out.

Jamieson: “What do people here think now?”

Man: “In general, I think that people are very critical, very critical of the President, very critical of the Congress, very critical of the press. There’s nothing good about — we hear — the whole thing is a bad scene.”

Jamieson: “…So, how would it play in Peoria? It’s too early to tell, but it does seem that opinion here has begun to shift and if Peoria, as the Nixon administration believes, is the real America, then even in the real America, he may be in trouble. Bob Jamieson, NBC News, Peoria, Illinois.”

If you say so, Bob.

But don’t just leave us there in Peoria. What we need, and what was missing from so much of the coverage, was a sense of political reality beyond “the unfolding drama.” When we hear that someone like John Rhodes is “agonizing” over the tapes, we should not just be told that Rhodes maybe is going to find room in his heart for a vote for impeachment, we should be given the feeling that a whole change-over of political power is already taking place. All those Midwestern Republicans are not merely thinking of the transcendent beauty of the Constitution. They are wondering when to take to the lifeboats, or transfer to the Good Ship Ford. Will Kissinger be having public breakfasts with Ford soon? What are the new power alliances going to be? Will Mel Laird be the new Haldeman/Ehrlichman? Who will get the jobs?

The drama should not be abandoned to History. Just as those motel owners round San Clemente see which way the wind is blowing, so do the politicians on the Hill whose stout Republican virtues we have been hearing so much about. Soon we’ll have another President, claiming executive privilege. Soon we’ll have more lamentation that power has slipped too far in the direction of the White House. Soon, saving the hopes of Joe Kraft, we’ll be detecting “military features” in the disposition of Presidential power as secret diplomacy and secret wars continue. Ford, after all, is a practiced hand at cover-up, since this was one of his functions on the Warren Commission. Ford is not an archangel of democracy and the new life, but a tough old politician, and right now a lot of other tough old and tough young politicians are fixing to jump on his wagon.

Lost in a morality play half its own invention, the media are once again in the old familiar position of not looking quite far enough beyond the end of their noses. What price “awe” and “dignity” and “a unified people” in a year or so?

Categories
From The Archives IMPEACHMENT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Prologue to Impeachment, 1974

Three Cheers for the Red, White & Yellow

WASHINGTON, D.C. — “The most important subpoena in the history of mankind.” That’s what one of the Judiciary Committee Republicans had called it two weeks ago in a heated plea on behalf of the White House request for a five-day extension of the subpoena deadline.

If tonight’s Judiciary Committee meeting is not the Most Important Committee Meeting in the history of mankind, it is, nevertheless, the first time the Rodino Committee will get to vote on Presidential conduct that might ultimately become the basis for impeachment and conviction. It is the first time the Committee’s Chief Counsel, John Doar, will be making a presentation of evidence against the President, the first time we’ll get to see the man who may prosecute the President for the Senate in action.

It’s Wednesday evening, the first of May, less than 48 hours after the President told his TV audience he wasn’t turning over tapes to the Judiciary Committee, subpoena or no subpoena.

No one can remember the last time the Judiciary Committee met in night session, but Rodino had no choice. He’s been postponing this session for two days, reading transcripts and figuring out his plan. He’d like to postpone it even longer because he figures the more time the Republicans on the Committee spend soaking up the transcripts the less trouble they’re likely to cause him. But he’s got procedural hearings scheduled for tomorrow morning, and evidentiary hearings begin next week, tapes or no tapes, so tonight’s the night. (Nevertheless late this afternoon Rodino couldn’t resist ordering one final postponement — from 7 to 7:45 p.m. — presumably to let Committee members catch the 7 o’clock CBS News dissection of the White House edited transcripts before voting upon their adequacy.)

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As the 38 Representatives begin filing into their places behind the two sweeping tiers of dais, they each find a single sheet of paper nestled next to the black button and red bulb at the base of their microphone. The single sheet of paper reads:

“AGENDA”
Consideration of: The Response of the President of the United States to the Judiciary Committee’s subpoena.”

The Rodino strategy for this meeting is to try and get as many of the 14 Republicans who voted to issue the subpoena originally to join Rodino and his Democratic majority in putting the President on notice that he has not complied with the Committee subpoena. Rodino knows a case can be made for asking the House to cite the President for contempt now, but even if he managed to force a contempt citation by a narrow party-line vote he doesn’t want to waste his time arguing contempt citations on the House floor, further delaying evidentiary hearings. So instead he wants to send a letter.

The letter Rodino has drafted simply informs the President, for the record, that “as of 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 30” he has failed to comply with the Committee’s subpoena. The letter is terse (25 words or less) and formal. The tone of the letter just before the one that says “Since we have not received your check we are turning this matter over to our attorneys.”

Rodino raps his gavel five times, and as the members take their seats they discover that while they were huddling someone has slipped another sheet of paper on top of their agenda sheets.

MOTION OF JOHN CONYERS TO CITE THE PRESIDENT FOR CONTEMPT OF CONGRESS”

Conyers smiles silently in his seat in the upper tier, looking like he’s biding his time. And he is. He says not a single word for he next three hours, not participating in the battle of the bar-chart, nor the epic letter-writing contest that followed, not saying a single word until the big roll call vote on the “Donohue” motion when Conyers does say a single word, and the single word is “No,” which throws the entire outcome of the vote into doubt.

The session opens with some preliminary wrangling over procedure, but finally Rodino calls upon Chief Counsel Doar to make a presentation of facts about the subpoena and the President’s response.

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Enter the bar-chart covered with brown wrapping paper.

Two aides struggle through a door in the rear of the Committee room maneuvering an odd-looking contraption around the tiers and down in front to the counsel table where Doar awaits holding a schoolteacherish blackboard pointer.

It’s a rickety old three-legged easel, this contraption, looking like it was only recently — and barely — rescued from beneath a pile of heavy objects in a musty attic. The wood is gray, chipped, cracked, and spotted with shadowy stains. Splinters fray loose from the edges. This easel has not been put together by a strict constructionist. The aides are having some trouble getting it to stand up on its own three feet. The prop-leg behind the easel (the press can only see the rear of the easel since the chart in front faces the committee) is shaky, and the whole thing seems to be hanging from a crooked nail fastening the top of the prop-leg to the top of the easel.

After establishing a shaky stability, the staff aides proceed to imperil it as they tear the brown paper wrapping off the front of the posterboard chart mounted on the easel. That’s right, the chart has been covered up with cheap brown paper stapled to its sides. With some difficulty and much tottering of the easel the Committee aides tear the last few scraps of brown paper from underneath the staples and retire hastily off stage.

All this amateurishness is touching perhaps when compared with the slick stacks of shiny, Presidential-sealed binders the President used for his show-and-tell presentation Monday night. But the Committee, particularly the Republicans, do not seem charmed by the homespun quality of this exhibition.

Nor are they further entranced when Doar, taking a school­teacherish pose with his black­board pointer, and taking on a school­teacherish tone of voice, begins explaining his bar-chart as if he were dealing with fourth graders.

“Now if you’ll look at the bottom of the chart there are the numbers one through 52,” he begins.

“Now on the first item requested in the subpoena, the 42 tapes or dictabelts, we have received none — which is what this blank space on the chart indicates.”

Then he gets into the colors. The small red and dark red areas on the chart represent the eight tapes transmitted to the Committee by the Watergate Grand Jury in its famous sealed briefcase.

Finally Doar gets to “the yellow area” on the chart. The Committee subpoena had called for tapes, dictabelts, notes, or transcripts” and the yellow area Doar taps with his pointer represents the edited transcripts delivered yesterday morning.

The yellow area is unlike the red and the white areas, Doar points out to the Committee, because the bars of yellow are not full-size bars, and the yellow area is topped by a broken line.

“The reason why the line is wavy here, rather than up to the full line,” Doar explains “was our way to indicate these are partial transcripts.”

While Doar continues his Sesame Street style discourse on the meaning of yellow, the Republicans are beginning to see red. But they are also beginning to see an opportunity.

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Most Republicans had gone into this meeting fearing they’d spend the entire evening defending the President’s action. House Minority Leader Rhodes had called them into his office late this afternoon to put last minute pressure on them to back the President’s action or at least to unite against any condemnation of the President. But several Republicans are unhappy about the President’s cavalier treatment of the Committee’s subpoena, and going into the meeting some of them felt they might have no choice but to vote for some sort of resolution slapping the President’s wrist at the very least.

But the appearance of the bar-chart changes all that. There are some very sharp lawyers on the Republican side of the Committee and they began to realize that instead of having a miserable time defending the President they can have a fine time tearing apart the bar-chart.

Moon-faced David Dennis of Muncie, Indiana, peers down at Doar and his chart with visible contempt. “Now Mr. Doar,” Dennis begins in his best steely and abrasive cross-examination voice, “looking at the category of ‘Notes’ on your chart — you have no personal knowledge whether any notes exist at all, do you?”

Doar stumbles around for a bit, and finally admits that neither he nor the Committee knows whether any notes exist for any particular conversations.

“Therefore,” Dennis charges triumphantly, “even though your chart is white or black in this category, as far as your personal knowledge there may have been 100 per cent compliance … if there were none at all and they supplied none.”

Reluctantly Doar concedes this. Dennis doesn’t let up. He forces Doar to concede that he has heard of only one dictabelt, knows its existence only from hearsay, and that as far as the dictabelt category goes, “the President may be in 100 per cent compliance in that category too, is that not true?”

Doar is unable to argue that one either. Dennis continues to tear the chart apart category by category, implying that Doar and his staff are attempting to perpetrate the kind of misleading public relations tricks the White House has been accused of, concluding finally with great moral outrage, “Now Mr. Doar do you think it’s fair to bring in a chart like this…?”

“Can I explain?” Doar asks plaintively. “Of course I think it’s fair, I—”

“You can explain yourself,” says Dennis, now firmly in command of the exchange, “but…” He launches into a recapitulation of the “distortions” on Doar’s chart.

“Now you explain that,” Dennis demands of Doar.

Doar begins a long-winded discourse on the meaning of a subpoena which Dennis proceeds to interrupt. Democrats try to shout Dennis down with cries of “NO, NO” and a visibly irritated Chairman Rodino finally rescues Doar by telling Dennis his time has expired and recognizing a Democrat.

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But the next Republican to speak returns to attack not merely Doar’s bar-chart, but the legal slovenliness he implies the chart is attempting to cover up for. He is Charles Wiggins, distinguished, silver-haired congressman from Nixon’s old congressional district. Wiggins is a conservative loyalist, but he has earned the respect of Democrats as an intelligent and judicious constitutional scholar.

Taking a loftier tone than Dennis, Wiggins doesn’t even deign to question Doar, who still stands alone with his pointer beside his embattled bar-chart.

“l think there is a lesson for this Committee in Mr. Doar’s presentation,” Wiggins begins solemnly. The lesson is that “we should be more careful lawyers than we have in the past,” he says, glancing down at Doar.

Wiggins argues that “careful lawyers” in a matter as serious as impeachment would first have sent the White House written interrogatories to establish for the record just what the President says he has before citing him for failure to supply something he might not have.

“But on the contrary,” says Wiggins, “we embark on a subpoena without even knowing if the material exists.”

“We do know there are tapes,” Doar pipes up plaintively.

“Now do we really know that?” Wiggins asks.

Wiggins’ question brings some derisive laughter from the press and public in the committee room, but he may have a legitimate point. Doar acknowledges that the Committee has not officially established what exists and what doesn’t exist, but protests that “it has not been my experience that in order to issue a subpoena duces tecum” there must be a previous accounting of what is to come.

“It is my experience,” says Wiggins with cold certainty. “I can’t agree with the gentleman’s view of common practice.”

Doar is looking worse and worse, but it remains for Delbert Latta, a Nixon partisan from Ohio, but again, a shrewd lawyer, to poke the final hole in Doar’s presentation.

“Why didn’t you say ‘and’ instead of ‘or’ in your subpoena?” Latta asks Doar.

Doar is puzzled. Latta explains that the wording of the subpoena calls upon the President to supply “tapes, dictabelts, notes, or transcripts.”

“Now isn’t it possible for anybody to interpret that in the alternative?” Latta asks. Syntactically, “or” can be read to imply that the President must supply either tapes or dictabelts or notes or transcripts. The President has supplied transcripts, therefore the President has complied with subpoena.

Doar, beginning to sound a little shaky and even Nixonesque, protests that what he meant to say in the subpoena was the the President must supply tapes and notes and transcripts.

“If that’s what you meant, the subpoena should have said ‘and’ instead of ‘or,’ shouldn’t it have?” Latta demands.

In a voice that is almost inaudible Doar says either “I cede that” or “I see that.” (Although Latta’s “and/or” distinction might seem like frivolous hair-splitting, the very next day a Federal District Judge in Washington threw out a perjury indictment drawn up against one Jake Jacobsen in the dairy fund case because the Watergate Special Prosecutor’s office had based the indictment on an exchange in which Jacobsen was asked, “ls that your testimony?” instead of “Is that true?” It was his testimony, it may or may not have been true but it was his testimony. Case dismissed. One would think that a subpoena issued to the President, the greatest subpoena in the history of mankind and all that, could be drawn without the imprecision Doar ceded. If Doar is no match for Delbert Latta, is he ready to take on James St. Clair?)

Delbert Latta leans back, smiles with satisfaction, and gives Doar a magisterial sneer. “Well, Mr. Doar, since you can’t explain what you meant about so many items on your chart I would hope that when you leave you will pick it up and take it with you.”

And not long after Latta finishes with the chart, the two staff aides who brought it in appear, apparently at the direction of Rodino who knows when to cut his losses. They fold up the rickety easel and bear the much abused chart away to the chambers behind the hearing room.

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But the damage has been done. Moderate Republicans who had voted for the subpoena and who might have been coaxed into giving a bipartisan blessing to the Rodino resolution have been offended by what they consider a shabby public relations ploy on the part of the Committee’s majority staff. Before Rodino has the chart carted off, Thomas Railsback, Republican of Illinois and an influential voice with the half-dozen potential Rodino supporters among Republicans on the upcoming vote, complains out loud, “I can see the press coming up afterwards. I can see pictures of that reproduced on the front pages of every newspaper. I want to make it clear I’m not completely satisfied with the President’s response, but I don’t want to see it misrepresented.”

And what have the Committee’s Democrats been doing all this time? Rodino makes it a practice to recognize Democrats and Republicans alternately for five
minutes apiece. While the Republicans were using their five-minute allotments to bullyrag Doar and his pathetic bar-chart. Rodino had the Democrats quietly engaged in what seemed to be pre-arranged catechisms with Doar, designed to put on the record a foundation for a vote of non-compliance now and either contempt or impeachment later. Each Rodino loyalist seemed to be assigned a question to ask Doar. Doar is very good with questioners who are polite to him.

Having seen to it that the foundation has been established, Rodino himself addresses the minority staff at the counsel table and asks them if they don’t concur with Doar’s sage judgements.

Undoubtedly had Mr. Albert Jenner, Chief Minority Counsel, been there to answer he would have concurred with Doar and Rodino. But something funny is going on within the minority counsel staff and Mr. Jenner is not there to answer.

At the opening of tonight’s session it was announced that Mr. Jenner would be unable to be present because of a “very important speaking commitment” tonight, a commitment he had made “many months ago” and just could not back out of now, despite the fact that “the most important subpoena in the history of mankind ” was up for consideration.

The suspicion is that Jenner has been told to stay out of town by Republican partisans on the committee who didn’t want their own chief counsel undermining the difficult task they faced trying to defend the President. A call to the minority staff the following day produced no one who could recall exactly what Jenner’s momentous speaking engagement was, nor where. Not even Jenner’s secretary knew. “A dinner for some judge in Michigan I think,” said someone. “At some law school maybe? I don’t know.” (As it turned out Jenner was speaking at the Washataw County Annual Law Day dinner.)

“Anybody can break a speaking engagement,” an aide to a Judiciary Committee Democrat tells me. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they told Jenner to make sure and keep this one.”

So when Rodino addresses “the minority counsel” and asks him whether he thinks the President is in a state of non-compliance with the Committee’s subpoena, he’s not addressing genteel non-partisan Albert Jenner. He’s addressing hard-line Republican loyalist Sam Garrison, who is not about to make things easier for Rodino and Doar.

“Compliance depends on whether the Committee thinks he is in compliance,” Garrison says. He concedes that “literally” the subpoena “has not been complied with” but he adds that the Committee is not yet “in a state of litigation on the question of compliance so that the President is not yet in a state of compliance or non-compliance, and whether the Committee holds the President in non-compliance depends on whether the Committee thinks he is in non-compliance and places itself in a state of litigation in which case “there are questions of actual non-compliance as opposed to literal non-compliance which…”

Rodino shrinks in horror from this tangled metaphysical thicket and decides it’s about time to move toward a vote. He recognizes, at last, his right hand man, Harold Donohue.

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Now it has become common in various press profiles of Committee members to make sport of Harold Donohue. A waning attention span, and the tolls of advancing age are some of the kinder phrases applied to this delightful-looking old gentleman. But if Harold Donohue is a fool, he is a fool of the Shakespearian order, possessed of a special wisdom which places him high above the minor courtiers and knaves on and off the committee who make fun of him.

Equipped with a zen-like clarity of vision, Donohue does not shrink from that thicket of “states of mind” and “states of litigation” which minority counsel Garrison has conjured up.

“Tell me,” Donohue says to Garrison, “when the subpoena said tapes it was your understanding it meant tapes, is that not so?”

Stunned for a moment by a certain inevitability about this line of reasoning, Garrison tries to slide away into “states of litigation,” but before he can get far Donohue brings him up short:

“Please, as a professional man!” he exclaims. It is his was of saying “Shame on you.”

When Garrison continues, unashamed, to argue states of literal and actual compliance, Donohue gives up trying to bring him back to his senses, summarily silences him, and begins to read the motion written out for him.

“I ask the unanimous consent that the Chairman be authorized to send a letter to—”

“Objection!” Half-dozen Republicans shout it at once.

“In view of the objection,” says Donohue. “I move that the chairman be authorized to send a letter to the President…”

His name is William Cohen, he’s a Republican from Maine, and he’s got a letter of his own he wants the Committee to send to the President. He stands up at his desk on the bottom tier while debate on the “Donohue” resolution is droning on and starts handing out Xeroxed copies of his letter. Railsback helps pass them along the top tier.

Cohen, who looks and dresses like a recent ex-jock, wears a perpetually earnest and troubled look on his face. He has quoted “Murder in the Cathedral” for Jim Naughton of the Times and he seems too have been re-reading “The Hollow Men” lately.

“When I voted to issue this subpoena,” he tells the Committee when he gains his five minutes, “I did not consider it to be a hollow act. I considered it an act that had all the history of this great body to sustain it,” he says solemnly.

Cohen reads his letter. While Rodino’s letter had a certain poetic reticence in its terse 25 words, Cohen’s is an epic by comparison, literally 10 times longer.

While Rodino’s single sentence puts the President on notice that he has already irrevocably “failed to comply.” Cohen’s letter has the Committee apologetically “regret to advise you, however, that…these transcripts do not represent full compliance.” (My emphasis.)

Then Cohen’s letter gets into a long sympathetic acknowledgement of the President’s concern for “protecting the office of the President against dissemination of information that is of a national security nature or that is irrelevant or beyond the scope of the Committee’s investigation.” He concludes by mentioning some of the Committee’s dissatisfactions with receiving only edited transcripts, and makes a plea for a negotiated settlement between the White House and the Committee.

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As it stands Cohen’s proposed text is far too weak a compro­mise to pose a threat to Rodino’s position. But then one of Rodino’s usually loyal Democrats, Representative Walter Flowers of Alabama, proposes a complicated amendment to Cohen’s letter. Playing Pound to Cohen’s Eliot, Flowers details a cutting and editing job on Cohen’s letter ( “Now on line 14 skip the part where begins…then jump down to the end of the line…etc.”) that leaves everyone entirely bewildered. Finally Flowers reads his revised version out loud from beginning to end. He’s cut out Cohen’s flabby middle with its solemn obeisance to “national security,” he’s tightened up some vague passages toward the end and added a pledge of “confidentiality.”

Cohen announces he accepts Flower’s entire amendment. Now the new Cohen/Flowers letter is not much different from the Rodino letter. It goes a little further, in fact, by detailing the Committee’s objections to the White House response to the subpoena.

And although one crucial difference between Cohen’s original letter and Rodino’s has not been affected (the Flowers/Cohen letter says the President’s edited transcripts “do not represent full compliance” while the Rodino letter flatly tells the President he has already failed to comply), nevertheless the Flowers/Cohen proposal puts Rodino in a delicate position.

If he agrees to back down from his tougher letter and accept this bipartisan compromise Rodino has a chance of getting at least three and perhaps as many as six or seven Republican votes behind him. Of course he might lose four or five Democratic votes from liberals who couldn’t live with the somewhat fawning tone of the Flowers/Cohen letter.

If Rodino gains Republicans and loses Democrats he’ll only win by a narrow majority, but it will be a narrow bipartisan majority. If he pushes ahead with his own letter he’ll probably win with a narrow majority, but it will be a “narrow straight party-line majority,” that’s what they’ll say in the newspapers. And if he cracks the whip to defeat the Flowers/Cohen letter he risks losing the vote of Flowers who is now acting somewhat unpredictably and losing also perhaps the vote of James R. Mann, the other Southern Democrat on the Committee. That would reduce Rodino’s operating majority to an unstable 20 to 18 margin, or wipe it out entirely, ending the evening with a 19 to 19 tie, rendering the Committee inoperative, the Chairman powerless, and the President triumphant.

So Rodino might well be tempted to support the Flowers/Cohen letter, might well be scared not to. On the other hand, giving in to a weakened statement of a basically weak gesture in the first place before putting his own text to a vote would be abandoning leadership of his own Committee without a fight.

Republicans are standing up and conferring on their wing of the dais, but Rodino stares straight ahead. He doesn’t go for caucuses in the middle of his meeting. On matters of tactics like this he makes his judgment, gives his signal, and expects those loyal to him, those who want to make the Committee work, will follow orders.

Rodino’s vote always comes last in the roll call, but Harold Donohue’s always comes first. And Harold Donohue’s vote signals the way Rodino wants his loyalists to go.

Donohue votes a gruff “No” on the Flowers/Cohen motion. Rodino has decided — as they say in the transcripts — to “tough it out” for his original plan.

All but a few Democrats follow Donohue’s lead and vote No. The Republicans split. About half of them vote for the Flowers/Cohen letter, some because they are genuinely dissatisfied with the President’s response, some because they want to pass the weakest response to the response they possibly can. Nixon loyalists vote against the Flowers/Cohen amendment, considering any reprimand to the President tantamount to a vote for impeachment. So an unusual coalition of Rodino loyalists and Nixon loyalists crushes the Flowers/Cohen motion 27 to 11.

By 11:15 p.m. when the Rodino motion itself finally comes up for a vote most everyone is expecting a straight party-line vote: 21 Democrats for, 17 Republicans against. Not the bipartisan blessing Rodino wanted — Doar’s disastrous bar-chart probably cost him that — but nevertheless a re-affirmation of the Chairman’s ability to get what he wants from his committee when he needs it.

The call of the roll begins. Donohue opens with a ringing “AYE,” followed by reassuring AYES from Democrats Brooks, Kastenmeier, and Huntsgate.

Suddenly, however, things seem to slip out of Rodino’s hands. The fifth name is Conyers and Conyers says NO.

Heads turn all over the committee room. Conyers’s defection reduces Rodino’s party-line majority to 20 to 18. If Rodino loses one more Democratic vote, Flowers for instance, he’s down to a 19 to 19 tie, and that’s as good as losing.

And then, the seventh name on the roll call: another surprise. The seventh name is Waldie, and Waldie votes No.

Over on the Republican side they’re almost twisting in their seats with anticipation. They’ve got Rodino tied up and maybe beaten for the first time.

Flowers comes through with a loyal Yes vote for Rodino, as do the remaining 12 Democrats. But as the clerk starts calling the roll of Republicans, Rodino knows he needs one Yes vote to save himself. The first four Republicans, predictably enough, vote No. Then the clerk calls out Railsback. His vote usually signals how the handful of Republican moderates will go. Railsback votes an emphatic No. As No after No follows, it’s beginning to look like Rodino’s letter to the White House will never get mailed.

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But then, in one of those rare moments of genuinely thrilling roll call melodrama Mr. Cohen of Maine, the sixth from last to vote, votes Yes, thereby saving Rodino and his impeachment inquiry from an embarrassing display of helplessness. Cohen’s vote inevitably summons up the name of Senator Ross, the Republican who abandoned his party to cast the deciding vote against the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. With Rodino’s majority obviously much shakier than many had thought, the spotlight may fall increasingly upon the earnest troubled Cohen of Maine in crucial tie-breaking votes.

And Conyers. What was he up to? According to one of his aides, Conyers’s vote was not an abrupt betrayal of his chairman. “All I can tell you is that the vote came as no surprise to Rodino,” the aide says. (If that is so, Rodino is a far better poker player than anyone had suspected. He was conducting the entire meeting, rejecting the Flowers/Cohen compromise, moving ahead with what seemed like total confidence, all the while knowing that he might not have the votes to get anything at all.)

Shortly before midnight, Conyers introduces his contempt citation. He explains he could not be content with sending a meaningless letter when the President has defied the law.

“Because this is ‘Law Day,’ ” Conyers says, “we ought to begin it or at least close it by ordering the President to obey the law.” He cites the law: “U.S. Code Title Two Section 192.”

Waldie seconds the motion, and speaking in support of it, puts Rodino on notice that the Chairman can no longer count on his vote for proposals which sacrifice the inherent powers of the Committee to preserve a face of “bipartisanship.”

Rodino gets angry. “What do you want us to do?” He asks Conyers rhetorically. “Summon the President before the bar of the House to cite him for contempt? Take him into custody…?”

Conyers does not look too upset about that scenario. Rodino urges the Committee to vote against the Conyers proposal. On a roll call vote Conyers’s motion to enforce the law is tabled 33 to four.

The following morning I ask Cohen of Maine what kind of reaction he’d received to his tie-breaking vote.

“I’ve gotten calls from many people in the House supporting me,” Cohen said.

“Republicans?”

“That’s right, Republicans,” he insisted proudly.

“Do you get a premonitory feeling that you’re going to end up being the Senator Ross in this case?” I ask Cohen. “I mean being the only Republican who—”

“Becoming the Senator who?” Cohen asks me with an earnest but troubled blank look.

“Senator Ross — the one JFK wrote about in ‘Profiles in Courage’ — who cast the deciding vote in the Andrew Johnson impeachment and—”

“I certainly hope not,” says Cohen.

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From The Archives IMPEACHMENT ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized Washington, D.C.

The Company Nixon Keeps

Not for Attribution: The Company Nixon Keeps
January 10, 1974

WASHINGTON, D. C. — High of­ficials are increasingly wondering what President Nixon does all day. Sources in the Special Prosecutor’s office who have seen logs of Nixon’s schedule say the circle of those with access to the President — never wide — has diminished to the point where it virtually includes only Haig, Ziegler, Rose Woods, family, and cronies. Even the President’s Watergate lawyers only get to Nixon through Haig.

The sanitized version of the Presidential schedule, which is released to the White House press, is so empty and weighed to the ceremonial that it borders on the ludicrous. On December 20, for example, there is one entry. At 12 noon, the President met for five minutes with Mrs. Anna Clinkscales of Baltimore, Maryland. The release adds: “Mrs. Clinkscales organized a door to door campaign in Baltimore to demonstrate support for the President.” That’s the entire schedule. Another time, the schedule listed two appointments: a cabinet meeting at 3 p.m., and a meeting with Miss Christy Carter of Eldred, Illinois. Miss Carter is American Princess Soya for 1973, named by the American Soybean Association.

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One White House aide told me, “His schedule used to be solidly packed with appointments all day long. Now there are whole days at a time blocked out as ‘personal.'”

Richard Nixon, it will be recalled, was never known as the most gregarious occupant of the Oval Of­fice. Former Interior Secretary Walter Hickel went public with his famous letter in part because he was unable to get an appointment with the President. (Hickel had trouble even getting through to Ehrlichman!) Nixon’s field mar­shal in the war on drugs, Dr. Jerome Jaffe, though he liked to portray himself as Nixon’s close adviser, never saw the President after his first few weeks on the job.

But at least in those days, there were two doorkeepers, Ehrlichman and Haldeman. Other aides — Chapin, Mitchell, Dean, Rogers, Burns, and others — occasionally saw Nixon alone for working sessions. Now, in effect, the doorkeeper power is concen­trated in General Haig, who is said to be over-worked to the point of exhaustion.

It is also said that one reason the Presidential staff was so anxious to keep the tapes and logs confiden­tial is that they reveal how seldom most of them ever saw the President.

Then what does the man do all day during those long blocks of “personal” time? Does he plan his defense? Does he listen to the tapes, like Krapp? Does he just brood? Perhaps he lingers over morning coffee and turns on the soaps.

If Nixon is brooding about Watergate during those long gaps in the royal schedule, he is probably brooding about the indict­ments, which are expected in late January or early February. Leon Jaworski has been taking his time, relying, on a classic prosecutor’s technique: delay, drop hints, let potential defendants fear the worst, and wait for them to begin bargaining.

The prime candidate right now is John Ehrlichman. New York Times reporter Seymour Hersh’s long story on the plumbers two weeks ago was apparently based in part on an interview with Ehrlichman. Aides to Jaworski believe that pos­sibly Ehrlichman is beginning to play the game John Dean did: start leaking to the press in the hope the prosecutor will be so tant­alized at the prospect of finding out what you know that he will offer you a good deal. It’s a very tricky game. Until fairly recently, Ehrlichman, Haldeman, and President Nixon have seen their fates as bound together. But that may be starting to unravel.

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Ehrlichman and Haldeman began with the same lawyer, John Wilson, who is also very loyal to Richard Nixon. There are signs Ehrlichman is doubting that his own self-interest still is identical with Haldeman’s and Nixon’s. Ehrlichman now has a second lawyer representing him, Joseph Busch. The Special Prosecutor’s staff is said to believe that Nixon loyalists under investigation may not turn out to be all that loyal when bargaining to avoid jail sentences.

A second prime candidate to sing and further implicate Nixon is Egil Krogh. Krogh has already made his deal with Jaworski. He pleaded guilty to orchestrating the break-in of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, but said he would only begin implicating others after he is sentenced, so he would not be in the position of trading his own freedom for that of his friends. One close associate of Krogh still in a high government job is so overwrought about Krogh’s situation that he will soon resign.

Krogh, a deeply religious man, is generally considered sincere by Jaworski’s people, and they genuinely don’t know how much he knows. But they are counting on him to deliver his part of the bargain after sentencing. The expectation is that Judge Gerhart Gesell is aware of what is at stake, and will give a light sentence. Only last week, Krogh was given access to the old plumbers’ files by Judge Gesell to help him prepare his plea for leniency. It should also help refresh his memory. Krogh is due to be sentenced later this month, about the time other indictments begin coming out.

A third former high official living under his own sword of Damocles is Richard Kleindienst. The sole accidental leak from Archibald Cox revealed what Kleindienst had told Cox about his conversation with Nixon on the ITT case. Nixon, characteristically, had ordered Kleindienst through an intermediary to drop the anti-trust case. When Kleindienst demurred, Nixon picked up the phone and said something like, “You son of bitch, don’t you understand English?

Kleindienst’s immediate dilemma is that he had told the Senate Watergate Committee quite a different story, and is still vulnerable to perjury charges. Does he know more? Will he tell it? This was the sole leak from the Special Prosecutor’s office. Are there similar bombshells soon be disclosed?

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At this point, the story begins to sound faintly familiar. Underlings start to panic; they implicate higher-ups; the trail leads to the top man. The conventional wisdom in Washington thus far has been that the Agnew parallel breaks down because there is nobody for Richard Nixon to plea-bargain with. Therefore, it is said, he will cling to the Presidency because it is his best defense. So firmly has this belief been held that the number one story on the cocktail circuit last week was a rumored plan by congressional Republicans to write legislation guaranteeing a President who resigns immunity from further prosecution.

But is this assumption — that Nixon can’t plea-bargain — necessarily true? There are those in the Special Prosecutor’s office who believe there is a very good analogy to Agnew. As the impeachment process moves along, senior congressional leaders could easily extract a promise from Leon Jaworski “in the national interest” that if Nixon stepped down there would be no criminal prosecution against him for the ITT deal, the milk deal, etc. They could then present this to Nixon, who by then would be worrying about the far worse fate of both being removed from office and facing a long list of criminal charges. At that point, the “national interest” would coincide with Richard Nixon’s private interest.

For that scenario to happen, it is necessary for the House of Representatives to take impeachment seriously. Unfortunately for the impeachment coalition, reports are beginning to trickle back from Republican congressmen taking the temperature of their districts that impeachment is not on the minds of most constituents. In a week or so, consequently, look for dope stories and public opinion polls suggesting that the voters are against impeachment.

That surmise, I think, misses the point. The problem is that the term “impeachment” is too obscure. Nobody knows what it means. The voters are more immediately angry with the administration (and plan to take it out on Republican congressmen) because of the cold winter energy crisis and looming recession.

Nonetheless, though the average voter may think impeachment means to remove the President from office and the average congressman may be puzzled by the apparent low constituent interest, once the indictments are out and the trail continues to lead to the Oval Office, a weed by any other name smells just as rancid. Call it impeachment or call it resignation, Republican congressmen will still view giving the fellow the heave-ho as the best way to survive.

These prospects must have something to do with President Nixon’s preference for his own company.

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From The Archives From The Archives IMPEACHMENT ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

The Impeachment Committee: Profiles in Contemplation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After the House Judiciary Committee finally voted to recommend Gerald Ford as Vice-President, Republican David Dennis, a balding, bespec­tacled Indiana conservative, shuf­fled his papers together and sighed to another Republican congres­sman, “Now we can get on to the easy stuff — like impeachment.”

The other representative shrug­ged. “Maybe if you’re lucky — if we’re all lucky — Nixon’ll just go away before it comes to that. It sure as hell would make me hap­py.”

For most of the 1973 session, the Judiciary Committee lived a very quiet existence, dealing with im­portant pieces of legislation but hardly the kind to attract television lights and cameras. Since early November, everything has been different. “It was like magic,” comments a moderate Democratic member. “One day you’re laboring in total obscurity. The next day you’re handed the political bombshell of the century and told to either dismantle it or let it go off. I’m still not sure I actually realize just what I am going to have to deal with very soon.”

The early press accounts described the committee as a par­ticularly rambunctious and ideological lot, who would almost certainly degenerate into a quarreling mob when impeachment finally came before it. “That’s a real over-statement,” says Rick Merrill, a key political operative for the liberal Democratic Study Group. “Chairman Rodino can hold that committee together fairly well and I’m not sure that there isn’t already a consensus among com­mittee members on impeachment. Certainly, they’re all going to take it very seriously and it is a thoughtful, intelligent committee.”

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At least nine members of the committee — all Democratic liberals — are thought to be ready to vote for impeachment right now. John Conyers of Michigan, Mas­sachusetts’ Bob Drinan, and Don Edwards and Jerome Waldie of California have all sponsored im­peachment resolutions. Charlie Rangel of Harlem, Liz Holtzman of Brooklyn, John Seiberling of Ohio, Barbara Jordan of Texas, and Bob Kastenmeier of Wisconsin are considered sure “yes” votes off their past records.

Of this group, Jordan and Waldie are probably the most important for vastly different reasons. Jordan is a tough, shrewd former Texas legislator who gauges the political implications of every act very carefully. During her tenure in Austin, Jordan played the legislative game so well that her white, male fellow representatives voted her to several key majority party positions.

“The other members of the com­mittee listen to her when there are political judgments to make,” says one member. He goes on to note that Rodino has come to rely a great deal on Jordan for advice. “When it comes to the moderate members on the Democratic side,” this member continues, “Jordan is a key. She doesn’t even have to lobby for impeachment. All she has to do is suggest it as a politically smart thing to vote for.”

Waldie, a politically ambitious representative, is a close friend of Republican Chuck Wiggins of California. That makes him important since Wiggins will be one of two Republican members other Republicans will look to for advice on impeachment. “Wiggins and Waldie are so far apart it’s hard to believe they’re friends,” says another member. “But Waldie has an impact on Chuck and has swung him into liberal positions before.”

Another seven Democrats are generally considered to be good bets to vote for impeachment if pushed. Harold Donohue of Mas­sachusetts is the second-ranking Democrat on the committee, A product of the Worcester political machine, he is given to taking naps at every opportunity and has been adrift on the issues since his friend Speaker John McCormack retired and stopped telling him how to vote. He is, however, susceptible to union pressure. Josh Eilberg is a congressman courtesy of the Philadelphia machine. His district is among the most liberal in the city; he would certainly be in no political trouble if he voted for impeachment, and he might be if he did not.

A month ago, Paul Sarbanes of Baltimore, a maverick liberal who bucked the local machine to gain election, might have had considerable trouble with a “yes” vote. A political foe, Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel, had ar­ranged for a 1972 redistricting plan which took thousands of black, pro-Sarbanes voters out of his district and put in huge chunks of a blue-collar, conservative area. Sarbanes won, but just barely. A congres­sional aide says that now, “all those blue-collar voters are pissed as hell at Nixon for dumping Ag­new. Now we’re safer on impeach­ment.”

Two freshmen, Wayne Owens of Utah and Ed Mezvinsky of Iowa, have been part of the liberal block on the committee since they entered the Congress. Owens’s problem may be his ambitions. Only 32, he is said to envision himself as the second coming Bobby Kennedy. Owens wants to be the next senator from Utah very badly, a possible influence on his vote. Mezvinsky is a different type of congressman entirely. A conservative Republican member has described him as “a totally honest guy, the kind you respect even if you’re on the other side. He does what he thinks is right, not what may be the best politics.” On a floor vote, Mezvinsky could be effective since he is very well-regarded by other freshmen of every political shading.

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And finally there is cigar-smoking, fast-talking Jack Brooks of Texas. Brooks like to describe himself as a Rayburn-Johnson liberal but most of his detractors see him as another kind of Texan. A former aide to ex-Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough says Brooks is “a shrewd man who is more interested in making money than being a congressman.” What Brooks is said to desire most of all is to succeed Chet Holifield as Chairman of the patronage-laden Government Operations Committee. On those grounds, the leadership should probably have his impeachment vote if desired.

Five Democrats are considered poor bets for “yes” votes. Jim Mann of South Carolina, Walter Flowers of Alabama, and Ray Thornton of Arkansas are of the breed of Southern pol who believe voting against a President is like voting against the flag. California’s George Danielson, the slowest committee member and the least skilled legally, is said to be a captive of district special interests who would find impeachment too great a blow to the status quo. Bill Hungate, Judiciary’s comedian, is already in trouble at home for some of his liberal votes. Fairly independent, he might switch at the last minute.

Observers feel that, among the Republicans, there are only three probable votes for impeachment. New York’s Hamilton Fish — best known nationally for defeating G. Gordan Liddy in a 1968 primary — has received a large amount of mail on the subject and his district has become steadily more liberal. Bill Cohen of Maine is a liberal bright-light of the party who has privately struck out at the White House on Watergate.

And then there is Tom Railsback of Illinois. Railsback is from a swing district and has been feeling the impact of Watergate. A particularly thoughtful man, he is considered to be worth 25 to 40 liberal-moderate Republican votes if he goes for impeachment. “He’s very effective on rounding up votes,” observes Merrill. “If he goes, he’ll take a lot of Republicans with him. It just happens he represents the kind of big-state Republican who could be in big trouble with Watergate.”

Privately, Railsback has been heard to observe that “the only thing the White House has to hold over us Republicans these days is the threat to have Nixon come and campaign for us in ’74.”

If there are to be other Republican votes for impeachment, they will be cast through the influence of Wiggins. Although a conservative from the district once represented by Richard Nixon, Wiggins has been appalled by Nixon’s actions of late. A measure of his influence among members of both parties is that two-thirds of the committee now believes a President does not actually have to commit a crime to be impeached. Wiggins contends that impeachable offenses are “conduct which exposed to light of day, produces moral outrage among the people which causes them to believe he is no longer fit to serve.”

A committee staff member believes Wiggins could pull up to six other Republicans into an impeachment move. Seven Republicans — McClory of Illinois, Smith of New York, Sandman of New Jersey, Hogan of Maryland, Lott of Mississippi, Hutchinson of Michigan, Froelich of Wisconsin — are considered sure no-votes by this staffer.

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“If the committee really wanted to, they could get a majority to report out a bill of impeachment tomorrow,” adds the committee aide. “The vote would be something like 16-12 or 15-13. The votes are there.”

The current strategy of House Democratic leadership precludes such a vote. There are only an estimated 130 solid votes for impeachment among the House members. “We want to give both Democrats and Republicans a chance to go home and assess the situation in their districts,” says an aide to Majority Leader Tip O’Neill. “And — frankly — we want to give Nixon a little more rope to hang himself.”

So the Judiciary Committee will take a great deal of time on impeachment. Committee members agree it will be late March, at the earliest, before a vote is taken.

By then, Republicans and Democrats alike hope, Richard Nixon will be long gone. To a (wo)man, the committee members hope like hell they don’t have to deal with impeachment. “We are a pretty close committee,” observes one liberal member, “and we probably could keep the debate and proceedings pretty low-key. But there would have to be moments of yelling and screaming in a situation like that. It’s something none of us want, and we sure don’t want the political hassles.”

That may sound like wishful thinking, but a scenario in which 50 or 60 House Republicans tell the White House they will have to vote for impeachment and Nixon then decides to bail out is not totally implausible — and it certainly would make the reluctant members of the House Judiciary Committee very happy.

 

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From The Archives IMPEACHMENT ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Impeachment: Three Groups In Search of an Umbrella

Three Groups In Search of an Umbrella
November 1, 1973

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Unless the President unexpectedly resigns, his impeachment will be a long, tedious process: The problem is how to persuade members of the House of Representatives to take seriously the issues in impeachment, including an understanding that they must actively share in the management of government. It’s a consciousness raising lesson as much as anything else.

Citizen pressures for impeachment are now forming along three different fronts. Most important is the American Civil Liberties Union campaign which aims to arouse the electorate to persuade members of Congress to take the issue seriously. Already this campaign, which includes newspaper advertising and direct mailings to between one and two million people, is meeting with considerable success. As of late last week, two ads in the New York Times produced more than $31,000. In Los Angeles, returns on newspaper ads in two days — Tuesday and Wednesday — raised more than $20,000. In San Francisco, the ACLU was beginning to run ads, and planned local town meetings where members of Congress will be invited to come to debate the issues.

A second front revolves around Ralph Nader. Nader himself has come out for impeachment, and last week he chaired a meeting of left-liberal groups that gathered to consider strategy. Nader’s efforts are channeled through his organization Citizen Action, which is asking local groups to pressure their congressmen to debate impeachment.

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More important, Nader’s lawyers have launched a legal maneuver that can result in tightening the binds around Nixon. Their suit, filed last week, argues that Archibald Cox should be reinstated because his dismissal violates Justice Department regulations promulgated May 31 when Elliot Richardson set up the special prosecutor’s office. Among other things, the regulations specified that the special prosecutor would continue to carry out the responsibilities of his office until “such time as in his judgement he has completed them or until a date mutually agreed upon between the attorney general and himself.”

This suit also argues that in abolishing Cox’s office Nixon failed to comply with procedures mandated by the Executive Reorganization Act. That Act expressly provides that whenever one branch of an agency is transferred to another branch, then the President must submit reorganization plans to Congress.

Even if Robert Bork had the power to abolish the office of the special prosecutor, the suit says his attempt to do so in the Cox case was ineffective because he was directed to do so by the President, who himself was subject of investigation.

While this suit awaits a hearing, lawyers are getting ready to hit Nixon on another front. Bork is Acting Attorney General, but within 30 days Nixon must send a nomination for a new attorney general to Congress. If Nixon ignores this law, as he did in the case of OEO, he will be hit by lawsuits demanding removal of Bork on grounds he illegally holds office. The courts removed Howard Phillips, acting director of OEO, on these grounds.

A third important move toward impeachment is being brought by a group of Washington attorneys led by William Dobrovir and financed by Stewart Mott, the liberal philanthropist. Mott provided the money for Dobrovir’s suits that exposed campaign contributions by the dairy industry. Since July, Mott and Dobrovir have been working on a 100-page detailed bill of particulars for impeachment. This “indictment” will be used by an ad hoc group of Congressmen led by John Conyers in their campaign to press impeachment before the House Judiciary Committee. The ad hoc group numbers between 12 and 20 members, and includes Bella Abzug, Barbara Jordan, Donald Riegle, and Pete Stark. They have been meeting off and on for several months, with Dobrovir and his associates, in effect, functioning as staff.

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The left-liberal meeting last Monday included representatives from organizations such as ADA, Peoples Bicentennial Institute for Policy Studies, Movement for Economic Justice, and others. It was inconclusive in terms of devising future strategy. Movement groups argued for national demonstrations. Nader’s people seemed to be opposed to that idea, pushing instead for local pressure on members of Congress. There was a good deal of skepticism from the other groups about Nader’s sudden interest in impeachment.

It seems likely that the different groups will go off in their own directions, with Nader probably being most successful in legal affairs and perhaps in organizing  law school faculties.

As the pressure to impeach builds, the lack of national leadership can become more of a problem and may yet result in an umbrella organization.

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From The Archives IMPEACHMENT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Watergate, the Bahamas & Howard Hughes

Everybody’s in Bed With Everyone Else
January 31, 1974

WASHINGTON, D. C. – Gradually, murkily, there is emerging a classical Nixon strategy to reach the light at the end of the Watertunnel. The recent Nixon vow to “fight like hell” in his battle against impeachment has led some investigators to believe that Nixon has concluded: If you can’t get yourself clean, the next best thing is to dirty everyone else.

The operative element in this strategy is to trash Democrats, and it looks as if Lyndon Baines John­son, the late President and leader of his party, will be the first Democrat to be caught in the Watergate web. Johnson was recently described to The Voice as “an investor” in a massive Howard Hughes land development scheme in the Bahamas. Others involved in the deal include Nixon’s old law firm, Daniel K. Ludwig, the reclusive shipping billionaire, and a nest of shady figures in the Bahamas and Florida. Other Democrats who have put their eggs in the messy Caribbean basket are sure to follow.

This is the way a few in­vestigators are beginning to view the overall Nixon strategy: the Watergate investigation has grown like a cancer. What was once the meandering digging of two repor­ters is now an entire phalanx of in­vestigations. Inevitably, in­vestigators now say, such a huge investigative and prosecutorial ef­fort, helped by the work of the major newspapers and television networks, was destined to go beyond the original bounds of Watergate and related crimes.

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Classically, as an investigation spreads outward from the vacuum (the person investigated) in its center, it tends to head for the intersections of power in this coun­try, for that is where the most in­formation lies. At such intersections, the worlds of politics, business, and crime come together.

In recent weeks, the in­vestigation of Richard Nixon has increasingly begun to encounter the power intersections which sur­round American life.

Chiefly, there have been in­creasing intimations of in­volvement by Nixon and/or his close friends and advisers with organized crime. Some in­vestigators now believe Nixon welcomes the twist the Watergate investigation has taken, because he knows that other politicians and big business interests have long been camped out at the power in­tersections on the periphery of American life. “He’s not the only one out there playing footsie, and he knows it,” one investigator told The Voice last week. “The closer these investigations get to him in the Bahamas, for example, the more Democrats and other Republicans they’re going to stumble over. It’s a rats nest out there. Everybody in bed with everybody else. Nixon’s is just one chess piece in a very big game on a very big board. Inevitably, the closer they get to impeaching Nixon, the more skeletons will be crawling out of the closet on both sides of the aisle.”

“This is the way Nixon looks at it,” a well-informed source said last week. “If the President of the United States is going to be made to stand naked before the Senate, a lot of those voting yea or nay will do so in their underwear.”

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***

All bets were off in the Bahamas in 1969. The recently elected govern­ment of Lynden O. Pindling, the first all-black government in the history of the island, was riding a crest of public approval. Ever since Pindling had defeated the in­famous “Bay Street Boys,” a group of wealthy British business­men and hustlers who had long controlled government and com­merce in the Bahamas, there had been much agitation for the Bahamas to break away from the British and achieve independence.

This put the many foreign in­vestors in the Bahamas in something of a tizzy. They feared an independent black government would be impossible to deal with in the way business had long been conducted in that part of the world: in cash.

This growing concern, in at least two instances, led to a search for a measure of political clout which would offset any political tur­bulence the government in the Bahamas might run into. One in­terest very much in need of such political clout was Howard Hughes, who in 1969 was in the midst of developing a massive parcel of prime waterfront property on Grand Bahama Island. This large Hughes real estate scheme in the Bahamas is now being looked upon as a possible new motivation for the now famous Hughes $100,000 “donation” to Nixon, according to authoritative sources on Capitol Hill. They say the so-called donation, made in two $50,000 installments (one in 1969 and one in 1970), may have been intended to buy political influence in the Bahamas which Nixon, as President of the U.S., could have wielded through diplomatic overtures to Bahamas officials, or by more direct methods.

The story behind this new twist in Watergate-related financial affairs goes like this:

Hughes bought a massive parcel of prime waterfront property in the Bahamas in the early ’50s. This is the first time Hughes has been described as owning property in the Bahamas. There were rumors in 1970 and 1971, when Hughes was living in the Bahamas atop the luxurious Resorts International-­owned Britannia Beach Hotel on Paradise Island, that he was thinking about buying property and taking up residence in the Bahamas permanently. Then, as suddenly as he had appeared in the islands, Hughes disappeared and turned up later in London. Talk about Hughes and the Bahamas subsided, at least for the time being.

Also operating heavily in Bahamas real estate at the same time were Wallace Groves and Louis Chesler, individuals who have been described repeatedly by law enforcement officials and organized crime experts as top lieutenants of Meyer Lansky, the notorious “chairman of the board” of international organized crime. Groves and Chesler were well known to a man who did business with them in the Bahamas. This man has described to The Voice the real estate development business in the Bahamas this way:

“If you dealt in land, you dealt with Uncle Wally and Uncle Lou. You did things their way, you acted when they told you to act, or you didn’t act at all. There was no other way to go. There’s plenty who just got out of there with their skin for thinking they could beat them at their own game. Uh-Uh. Don’t work that way.”

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Hughes apparently bought the waterfront property and then did nothing with it until the late 1960s. The development scheme, which according to knowledgeable per­sons on Capitol Hill was being per­sonally supervised by Hughes him­self, also included other investors. One of them was Lyndon Johnson, who reportedly did not use a lawyer, but rather dealt personally with his investment. Also involved was billionaire shipping magnate Daniel K. Ludwig, who dealt with the Hughes interests through his at­torneys, Nixon, Rose, Guthrie, and Alexander, in 1968. He remained with the same firm in 1969, after Nixon and his friend John Mitchell had left for greener pastures. The law firm represents National Bulk Carriers, Inc. one of the largest oil shipping fleets in the world and Ludwig’s main property.

“A group of four investors from Miami” was also involved accord­ing to those knowledgeable about this deal. But they could not recall who the four were.

Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but precisely the same time there began to be talk among the Hughes investors of the need for political clout in the Bahamas, one Robert Vesco hired the President’s nephew, Donald Nixon as a per­sonal “adviser.” Donald Nixon was at that time 22 years old. He was used by Vesco in negotiations to buy the Paradise Island Casino from Resorts International. It was widely rumored in the Bahamas at that time (1969), according to accounts by Hank Messick and Jim Savage of the Miami Herald, that the presence of the President’s nephew at the Vesco elbow was meant to “telegraph” United States concern about the security of American investments in the Bahamas. A matter of great con­cern to Vesco and Paradise Island owner James Crosby (a good friend of Nixon and Rebozo) was the gambling exemption for the casino, which could be revoked at any time by the Bahamas government with virtually no reason or warning. The casino to this day en­joys its gambling exemption.

It is not known whether Robert Vesco or the Resorts International crowd had an interest in the Hughes development scheme in the Bahamas, although some in­vestigators do not take lightly the fact that Hughes was staying at a Resort International hotel in the Bahamas (he also stayed at a Resorts International hotel in Lon­don). And now he is back in the Bahamas staying at the Xandu Princess, owned by D. K. Ludwig, a partner in the Hughes develop­ment scheme.

As one authoritative source put it, “Anything is possible down there. They’re like one big, happy family: Resorts, Crosby, Vesco, Ludwig, Hughes, Rebozo, Donald Nixon. I would be very surprised if all of them weren’t involved with each other in one way or another.”

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Adding to the speculation about Nixon’s strategy for dealing with impeachment last week was the following:

After the Senate Watergate com­mittee voted four to three along party lines to resume hearings, only three days were allotted for the hearing on Hughes/Rebozo/Nixon $100,000. The committee staff had asked for at least two weeks.

A person close to the committee staff told The Voice that, despite that setback, the staff was gearing up to fit as much in the three days as possible when more bad news came their way. The staff was in­structed, apparently by Ervin and Baker, to “stay away from the fol­lowing areas”: any possible quid-­pro-quo for the so-called donation; the Paradise Island Casino; Rebozo’s bank; F. Donald Nixon’s involvement; and “the whole area of the President’s finances.”

The person close to the staff, who is known by The Voice to have good contacts and be well up on what’s going on, said the staff was flabbergasted. “‘It came down from both sides, Republican and Democrats. It was like tying their hands after they had done four months work on this thing. They were ready to go with everything. They could have drawn a picture you wouldn’t believe. Then the word comes down to back-off prac­tically everything.

“Smathers (former Senator George A. from Florida) and Dan­ner (Richard G. — the man who car­ried the cash to Rebozo from Hughes; a former City Manager of Miami Beach from 1946 to 1948) are both in town. They (the com­mittee staff) think they’re leaning on Talmadge. It looks like Hughes is calling in all his chips. He’s col­lecting all his debts. That accounts for some of the paranoia. But Jesus, how far is this going to go?”