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Stop the G.O.P.! The Rise of the Counter-Constitution

I’VE BEEN WATCHING THE HOUSE Foreign Affairs hearings on television and am struck with the much­ remarked Yogi Berra sense of “déja vu all over again.” For it’s not just that current happenings bring to mind the televised Watergate spec­taculars. Dimly I recall from earlier eons, as an infant sprawled at my mother’s feet, watching yet other congressional hearings illumined on the screen. Senators were put­ting questions to their colleague, Joseph R. McCarthy. And the thought occurs that in each of the Age of Television’s three great contests over the Con­stitution, the rogues’ gallery has never really changed. Those are proud and pa­triotic Republicans sitting over there.

Gerald Holton tells the following story. Sir Peter Medawar, the British scientist, applied for a visa to America, went to the consul, and was asked if he intended to overthrow the Constitution. Sir Peter re­plied: “I would certainly not overthrow it on purpose, and I can only hope I wouldn’t do so by mistake.” The best that can be said of modern Republicanism is that three times in a generation it has nearly done so by mistake.

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Each of the three modern scandals has derived from a mania for anticommun­ism. Exactly what loosed that mania in the McCarthy era hasn’t ever, in my view, been adequately explained, and can’t be, since it has to do with the irrational. But there’s no mystery regarding the causes of the more recent scandals. In Watergate and Irangate alike, the mania got out of hand because of the big dys­function in American political affairs, which is the crisis, by now endemic, in foreign policy.

Everyone describes that crisis differ­ently, but the people to listen to are the ones who evoke it with the despairing phrase “the country has become ungov­ernable.” They mean, of course, that poli­cies acceptable to themselves no longer command automatic consensus, hence can’t be put into effect without going to a lot of bother. In the old days, from the late 1940s to the Vietnam War, things were different. There was a national poli­cy, the Truman Doctrine. The Truman Doctrine quite properly declared commu­nism a tyranny and worried about its spread. It identified Soviet tanks and machinations as principally responsible for the expansion. It pledged a stalwart American resistance. And since the doc­trine was drawn with an eye toward East­ern Europe, where its analysis was accu­rate enough, most Americans approved and in regard to Europe generally still approve, and aren’t entirely wrong to, as the trade unionists of Poland will leap to instruct us.

Unfortunately, the Truman Doctrine, having been devised for Europe, was de­ployed planet-wide. A fatal mistake: to err is Truman, as they used to say. Like all superinstitutions, the Catholic church, for instance, communism has different meanings in different places. On the banks of the Vistula it was a spearhead of Russian imperialism, but in regions far from there, in countries of the Third World, it was a spearhead of anti­colonialism. It wasn’t necessarily any more decent or democratic in these re­moter regions. Most places where com­munism led the anticolonial revolt it proved a disaster, just as Islam, Hindu­ism, and Negritude proved disasters. But like these others, the disaster that was communism didn’t lack, in one region or another, for popular support and national legitimacy. This fact turned the Truman Doctrine upside down. The same policy that led us, in countries like Poland, to champion the rights of the ordinary Poles, led us, in countries like Vietnam, to outdo the communists themselves at exterminating the peasantry. It became a monstrosity, that policy.

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The old Truman consensus split into three. Some people wanted to guide American policy along lines of realpolitik and have done with costly crusades­ — these people were the pragmatic center. Others wanted to follow a compass of humanitarianism and sympathy for whatever was sympathizable in the global anti-colonial revolt — they were the liber­als and the left. And these defections from global Trumanism placed the third group, the hard-line ultras, in a difficult spot. The ultras wanted no retreat at all from the “containment” crusade, or wanted something even tougher — active aggressions against communist move­ments and states. They wanted the sort of policy that, since it touches on mortal­ity and fate, requires, in democratic soci­eties, a consensus. But they didn’t have a consensus.

What happens when such a movement gets into power? Richard Nixon is what happens. Nixon is recalled as a man ani­mated solely by mean motives, namely the desire to be reelected. That’s unfair. Nixon’s motives ran high as well as low. His hairline was their graph. In wreaking his havoc over Indochina, be was making the usual fight for Western ideals and values. He was resisting the ruthless worldwide enemy. But he was discover­ing, too, that America was “ungovern­able.” No country can prosecute a war when TV nightly alarms the public and students riot in the streets and the oppo­sition party runs a virtual pacifist for president.

So the Republican president faced a choice. Either bend with the political winds, which some might call democracy, and lose the war that was defending Western civilization … or, what? Tell himself that necessity creates legitimacy, that the people were with him willy-nilly, that constitutions can take care of them­selves. Then summon the FBI and CIA to their miserable duties. Set up some frisky little agencies of his own. Call in a bit of California ruthlessness. Enlist those high-spirited right-wing Cubans.

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It’s said on Nixon’s behalf, hence on behalf of modern Republicanism as a whole, that Nixon did nothing that wasn’t pioneered by Franklin Roosevelt or by Truman and other presidents who stepped beyond the law, cut legal corners, swelled the powers of their office, operat­ed unconstitutionally. Well, true. When Dean Acheson was acting secretary of the treasury, Roosevelt ordered him to take the country off the gold standard. Ach­eson refused. There were laws; the laws forbade it — to which Roosevelt thun­dered, “That will do!”, promptly accepted the acting secretary’s resignation, and the gold standard was gone with the wind. So the imperial presidency is not a GOP invention.

But this argument evades a rather large point about the great Republican scandals. All government outrages aren’t alike. Every breaking of a law causes two injuries: to law itself, and to the victims at hand. The victims at Roosevelt’s hand tended to be marginal groups, tiny minor­ities, splinter factions. To oppress these people, to persecute small ethnic commu­nities, to harass the Socialist Workers Party, to torment and destroy the politi­cal groupings that champion or are sus­pected of championing one or another foreign power — that is terrible, horren­dous. Government abuses of that sort subvert democracy.

But Joe McCarthy, it will be recalled, ultimately started in on the U.S. Army. Nixon, not content with persecuting the Socialist Workers, went after the Demo­crats. The obstacle that Reagan has found ways to get around isn’t just the pesky peace movement; it is the House and Senate. There is subversion, and there is subversion. Democracies, let’s say, are governments that trample minor­ities. Despotisms are governments that trample majorities. And if, in America, the trampling of minorities has in prac­tice turned out uglier than the trampling of majorities, that’s only because Ameri­can majorities eventually notice what’s going on, and reflect on their historic rights, and then the Constitution does take care of itself, and the gates of Allen­wood prison fly open.

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CALAMITIES LIKE THAT WEREN’T supposed to happen to Ronald Reagan. The Reagan Revolution was supposed to be the modern colossus in American politics, something almost geological, a new mountain range, “the realignment.” It was the right-wing New Deal and Reagan was the new FDR, impervious to the ups and downs of political life. And if the administration was truly in tune with the moment, if it represented that great a shift in American life, what damage could a few moronic escapades inflict? New Deals don’t slip on banana peels.

Yet here are the peels, there is the slipping, and suspicion dawns that Rea­gan’s relation to the public is not like FDR’s. It is, on the crucial issues, like Nixon’s, the famous personality notwith­standing: Nixon with a human face. We haven’t really needed obscure Lebanese newspapers and down-at-heels Wisconsin mercenaries to see this. It’s been plain in the entirely open and public debate over Nicaragua. For what happens when a Reagan Revolutionary stands up to ex­hort the public on this topic? He begins with honest sentiments. Call them Rhetoric A. Global struggle between incompatible systems, says the exhorter. Ruthlessness. Western values. Strategic catastrophe. The Truman Doctrine and its militant codicil, the Reagan Doc­trine — all of this offered in justification of the administration role in Central America. Until suddenly, aghast, the Rea­gan Revolutionary espies his audience. There are canny pragmatists out there, sneers upon their lips. There are de­ranged nuns, people who have never heard of Nicaragua, readers of The Vil­lage Voice, Vietnam War widows. It is the American population. It is ungovernable.

So the Reagan Revolutionary makes a mid-breath shift, the shift we’ve been watching for six years with fascinated horror. From the speaker’s platform pours an unexpected new language, strangely left-wing in origin, of Human Rights, Resistance Movements, Demo­cratic Revolutions, Founding Fathers. It is Rhetoric B, offered in the same cause. Rhetoric A was coherent and plausible, though it makes most people duck. But Rhetoric B is preposterous. You can’t lis­ten to three words without reaching for a mental blue pencil. Nicaragua, no democ­racy, you remind yourself, still is not the human rights hellhole that El Salvador and Guatemala surely are. Somocista thugs are not the legions of the Lord. No one honestly believes in Rhetoric B, no one has ever been convinced by it. Yet it drones in our ears, and for an obvious reason. Any clever government that wished to stuff a minority policy down a majority throat would drone on like that. Who can’t convince, confuses. Who can’t lead, manipulates.

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I pick up the summer issue of Irving Kristol’s foreign affairs quarterly, The National Interest — a sectarian journal named with the right-wing hubris that has brought the country to its present fix — and flip through various disagreeable but honest celebrations of the Tru­man Doctrine, until I come to pages by Elliot Abrams, assistant secretary of state, El Maniotico of the Managua press, who is instructed with applying that Doc­trine. The assistant secretary assures his fellow ultras that from 1984 to 1986 the contras received no armaments aid, as per the congressional ban: “Thanks to the Democratic leadership in Congress, our humanitarian aid program to the resistance forces in Nicaragua has expired, and for two years we have given them no military aid whatsoever.” This from con­tra aid’s “general strategist,” in an article published at the very moment the strate­gist is now reported to have been conspir­ing with the Sultan of Brunei for the $10 million that subsequently disappeared! And if the urge to confuse and manipu­late is at work so cynically in even the soberest journals of the right, what skul­lduggery and disinformation campaigns must have been launched in less friendly terrains?

The Irangate details, what we know of them so far — the role of stupidity, in par­ticular — testify further to the uncolossal quality of the Reagan Revolution. Wash­ington is full of brand-new right-wing in­stitutions reeking with intelligence, de­scribed by Sidney Blumenthal in his brilliant and witty book, The Rise of the Counter-Establishment. They are think tanks and foundations and they account for Reaganism’s heft and deft, the eco­nomic ideas (such as they’ve been), the strategic initiatives, the administration’s ability to find ideologically suitable staff­ers. If we mention Reaganism at all in the same breath as the New Deal, it’s because of these new institutions, which were never available to Nixon and Republicans of long ago. But the right-wing counter-establishment is strangely limited. On its own it could never have captured Wash­ington. Right-wing thought hardly domi­nates the 1980s the way left-wing thought dominated the 1930s. An ordinary right­-wing politician could never have led the new organizations to spectacular double landslide triumphs. The right-wing move­ment was able to conquer only one way: by attaching itself to a miracle candidate, a once-in-history vote-getter.

Something peculiar results. The new right-wing institutions offer Reaganism an extraordinary base of power; but these same institutions depend helplessly on the one irreplaceable man. Nothing in the literature of American politics describes what such an arrangement can be like. I turn therefore to Leon Trotsky, the ex­pert. In his History of the Russian Revo­lution, Trotsky analyzed strengths of the Czarist Regime. There were powerful in­stitutions of every sort, the army, the bureaucracy, the aristocracy, the big capi­talists, who counted among them many capable and decisive people. But by the nature of their system, these people wielded power only by gathering around the throne. The regime was therefore cru­cially compromised. It was no stronger than the czar who held it together, and nothing at all could guarantee that a giv­en czar would be anything more than a royal jerk.

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As it happened, Trotsky tells us, the czar in 1917 was the sort of man who, with revolution breaking out around him, wrote in his diary: ”Walked long and killed two crows. Drank tea by daylight.” He was “a jolly, sprightly fellow in a raspberry-colored shirt.” His own aides were perplexed. “‘What is this?’ asked one of his attendant generals, ‘a gigantic, almost unbelievable self-restraint, the product of breeding, of a belief in the divine predetermination of events? Or is it inadequate consciousness?’ ”

Really, Trotsky has the last word on the Age of Reagan. “The sole paper which Nicholas read for years, and from which he derived his ideas, was a weekly published on state revenue by Meshchersky, a vile, bribed journalist of the reactionary clique, despised even in his own circle … He felt at ease only among completely mediocre and brainless people, saintly fakers, holy men, to whom he did not have to look up … He selected his ministers on a principle of continual deterioration. Men of brain and character he summoned only in extreme situations when there was no other way out, just as we call in a surgeon to save our lives. The czar was might­ily under the influence of the czarina, an influence which increased with the years and the difficulties.” She in turn was un­der the influence of “our Friend,” Raspu­tin, and complained that the country didn’t appreciate the mad monk. And this czar was actually governing.

Thus the life of the vast Republican coalition. We always knew about Rea­gan’s brain; but bamboozled by the mythology of realignment and a right-wing New Deal, we never really thought the brain was making decisions. We thought the miracle candidate was a sort of dum­my put up by the real government, the way bubbleheaded newscasters read scripts written by the real journalists. We thought George Shultz and Caspar Wein­berger were the government and Reagan their newscaster, which was, of course, reassuring, since Shultz and Weinberger appear to be moderate mullahs among the medieval fanatics, to indulge a crazed distinction. But no: Shultz and Weinber­ger were the dummies, there to project the proper image. Reagan was ruling all along. The right-wing institutions pollulating along the Potomac, the national conservative alliance, the cabals of new capital and Sun Belt entrepreneurs that we took to be the powers-that-be — none of these counted in the end. They were strong, but without the miracle man they were nothing. The miracle man therefore held the power. This we learned at Reykjavik, when the jolly, sprightly fellow went into the room all alone with Gorbachev, and not even the American press doubts Gorbachev’s version of what next occurred.

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Events have followed, then, an intelligible course. The ultras are committed to policies like overthrowing the Sandinistas that can only be accomplished with broad consensus support. They get in office and learn there is no consensus. Their own philosophy obliges them to forge on nonetheless, meaning, to connive and manipulate. And since they hold power only because they made the cynical deci­sion to back a miracle candidate, the con­nivances and manipulations necessarily take no shrewder form than the miracle man is capable of providing. Power seeps into the hands of Oliver North, the mad monk. And the path proceeds thusly: In­competence (the blowing up of the Beirut Marines and CIA station), Panic (the ef­fort to ransom Agent William Buckley after he’s instantly captured trying to re­build the CIA), Sentimentality (the effort to ransom everyone). Next comes Cupid­ity (the discovery that the Ayatollah pays cash, good for undercutting congressional bans on contra support). And finally the decision was taken, probably the weirdest move ever made by an American presi­dent: the decision to sell off half the na­tion’s foreign policy under the table in order to subsidize the other half. The popular part of the nation’s policy, ad­mired worldwide, the policy, that is, of antiterrorism: sold! The unpopular part, terrorism of our own: bought! It was a moronic thing to do. It was an action that probably thousands of Republican office­holders could have accomplished with more finesse. But in its main lines, in its ruthlessness to battle what is imagined to be the Soviet foe, in its willingness to have done with the inconveniences of de­mocracy, in its sense that now is the moment of danger and all is permitted, no matter what Congress or the people may desire — in these ways it answered perfectly to what the right has wanted of its president.

Of the members of the Nixon adminis­tration and underground, 20 were con­victed in the aftermath of Watergate. In the present affair, the pile of broken stat­utes has already grown knee-high, even without knowing what happened to the Sultan’s $10 million and the profits from the Ayatollah. There’s no way to figure, of course, who exactly will be convicted. North, the half-late William Casey, John Poindexter, Felix Rodriguez (who wears Che Guevara’s plundered watch), Luis Posada (the mass murderer), Elliot Abrams (the essayist), Richard Secord, George Bush, Robert MacFarlane, Robert Owen, Colonels Mott and Broman — these have to appear on everyone’s list of possibilities. The trials, when they come, will center on specific offenses, such as violat­ing the Arms Export Control Act (pun­ishable by two years in jail or $100,000 or both). But as always in cases like these, the real offenses will have been the “high crimes and misdemeanors” of traditional English law, meaning crimes against the essence of the state.

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THE HEARINGS SHORTLY TO radi­ate anew from every television will spread gladness and delight, of course, and for weeks and months to come, oh joy; but they will spread nonsense, too. For there is a reigning ideology in affairs like this, shared by prosecutors and legislators of both parties and the lawyer class general­ly, according to which politics is nothing and procedure is all. If only Defense and State had been consulted, as correct pro­cedural rules mandate. If only the Na­tional Security Agency was kept to size and not allowed improperly to swell. If only Oliver North’s long-ago hospitalization for “an emotional illness” had not been covered up, thus keeping the ex­-patient’s hands off the national steering wheel. If only Senator Pat Moynihan and select colleagues had been brought into the secret, as by law ought to have oc­curred. If only, then surely …

Lists of new procedures will therefore be proposed for the purpose of “saving the presidency,” as variously interpreted by conservatives and liberals, to wit: the conservatives wish the presidency saved from the liberals, and the liberals wish it saved from itself. The conservatives will seek less restraints for White House may­hem, reasoning that what really caused the Nica-Persian fiasco was a meddling press and hypocritical liberals. The liber­als will seek congressional control, rea­soning that sanity and common sense vary inversely with the geographical spread of a politician’s electorate. The liberal proposals will be vastly preferable. But what will even the most liberal of procedural reforms accomplish in the end? It can be predicted.

The year is 1995. For six years there’s been a new president. It is Jack Kemp. Why shouldn’t he be? Looks like Bob Forehead. Never been accused of selling a nuclear weapon to the Ayatollah. Ex-star. Chairman of the House Republican Con­ference. And President Kemp, a sincere man, sets about enacting his program. This program is not a secret. He outlined it on the New York Times op-ed, Decem­ber 23, 1986, under the ominous title “Trust the President’s Foreign Policy.” Key points are: support for the South African-backed mercenaries in Angola (“freedom fighters”). Support for the So­mocista cocaine traders in Nicaragua (more “freedom fighters”). Opposition to the Contadora negotiations, in spite of State Department preference for diplo­macy. No SALT II. Opposition to any congressional attempts to restrain these extremist policies (the president “must draw the line, and, if necessary, veto any reduction in his authority to conduct for­eign policy”). Also, “immediate deploy­ment” — never mind r&d, those are for sissies — of star wars. The reason: only thus can “Western ideals and values” be defended against the “ruthless, dangerous enemy.” The source of legitimacy: the Truman Doctrine, or rather, “the Roose­velt-Truman-Kennedy tradition.”

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So Kemp acts, and since his program is war-ish and produces actual corpses at the hands of U.S. proxies, he stands in need of across-the-board political back­ing, the kind of backing that the Truman Doctrine enjoyed in its early years. A large Cold War consensus is what he needs.

But there is no consensus. The scien­tists balk at star wars, hardly anyone likes the Somocista drug runners, support for South African mercenaries is confined to three counties formerly under federal occupation in Alabama. Since Kemp’s forehead is, after all, hirsute, Congress votes halfway support. But halfway mili­tarism is no use. President Kemp there­fore faces a choice. He can bend with the wind, which some might call democracy, and abandon his ultra position … or, what? Tell himself that necessity creates legitimacy, that the people are with him willy-nilly, that constitutions can take care of themselves. Then set up some frisky little agencies of his own. Hold a meeting with some aging but ever-spry Cuban-Americans. Be decisive, by God.

So it’s 1995, and the TV is on. Con­gress is holding hearings. Prosecutors prepare preliminaries. Much has gone wrong, the simplest laws have been vio­lated, and everyone is astonished. Shocked! Everybody agrees what caused this new fiasco. It was the violation of procedures; they need to be strengthened. No one will propose the other explana­tion: that political parties can go bad, traditions can turn rancid. Yet this has plainly happened to the GOP, once the party of the upright business aristocracy, now the party of plots and conspiracies, the gangster party in modem politics. ❖

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From The Archives POLITICS ARCHIVE THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Richard Nixon’s Real Motive Was Tyranny

Despite all the Watergate disclo­sures, despite the now-public re­cord of perfidy, crime, and repres­sion, we have not yet taken the measure or Richard Nixon’s vil­lainy. In an odd way, the Water­gate scandal, in the very process of exposing that villainy, diminished and domesticated it. What, after all, was Nixon’s intention when he covered up the Watergate burgla­ry — to safeguard his reelection, a political motive so commonplace that the very people who hated Nixon the longest were the least moved by his Watergate doings. They saw no essential difference between the young Nixon who red-­baited an election rival and the president who committed a number of crimes to avoid losing a number of votes. We have been in danger of remembering the first American president who ever harbored despotic ambition as just another crooked office-seeker in the long gray line. If so, the danger is past, thanks to a 32-year-0ld New Yorker staff writer (and native New Yorker), Jonathan Schell.

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In THE TIME OF ILLUSION (which Knopf will publish early in January — it first appeared as a six-part article in the New Yorker, last summer) Schell, the author of two books on the Vietnam war, has done what no Watergate expositor has done or could do. He has shown for the first time that the story of the Nixon administration, told fully from start to finish, from Judge Carswell to Judge Sirica, is nothing less than the tale of a tyrant’s rise and fall. “I am not a crook,” said Richard Nixon. It is not the least merit of this powerful and perceptive book that we learn why Nixon thought he was telling the truth.

In January, 1969, when the 37th, president of the United States took his solemn oath of office, the American Republic presented a spectacle which filled him with personal loathing and high stra­tegic fears. Nixon believed, or eagerly chose to believe, that the United States was in dire peril, its security radically impaired, its defense against Communist aggression perilously weak. Nixon’s fears were not based on anything either Russia or China were doing or threatening; both had been not­ably docile for years. Nixon’s fears, according to Schell, were entirely theoretical. They were based on an elaborate strategic doctrine first espoused by Presi­dent Kennedy and distinguished both by its rigorous internal logic and its complete want of common sense. It is known, says Schell, as the “credibility doctrine” and Nixon’s adherence to it was immediately attested by his appointing its chief intellectual sire, Dr. Henry Kissinger, as his chief foreign policy adviser.

According to the credibility doc­trine, the only way the United States can forestall world-wide Communist domination without resort to nuclear warfare is to present to the totalitarian enemy an “image” of national “toughness” so ruthless and frightening that the masters of the Kremlin will think twice about reaching for global hegemony, thus sparing the human race from nuclear destruction. The price for this would be trifling — the occasional “limited war” in remote places to demon­strate America’s “determina­tion,” its “will and character” as President Nixon was to put it.

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By the time Nixon was elected, however, the credibility doctrine had developed a serious hitch. Be­sides omitting all human experi­ence except the 1938 Munich Pact, the doctrine had overlooked two salient domestic truths: (1) that the American people were not as “logical” as Dr. Kissinger, and were unwilling to offer up their sons’ lives indefinitely so that America might look “determined,” and (2) that the American people still had a voice in their own affairs. Specifically, as Schell rightly emphasizes, the American people wanted out from Vietnam, and by 1968 had proven themselves powerful enough to prevent a war president from seeking reelection and to exact from the new incumbent a hedged-about pledge to get us out.

In voicing their opinions and exercising their liberties however, the American people had committed the gravest of offenses in Nixon’s eyes: They had undermined America’s “credibility.” How would America project an image of toughness and determination when the body politic was corrupted by antiwar sentiment, by “neoisolationism” and war-weariness in general? How could America prove its credibility as the foe of totalitarian designs when the electorate was not only weak­-kneed and corrupted, but free to express its views? “It was Ameri­cans, not Russians or Vietnamese, who aroused the bitterest hatred in the administration. There might be foes abroad, but the ‘vultures’ and ‘eunuchs’ were all at home.”

Given the new president’s ad­herence to the credibility doctrine, given his absolute faith in its logic, Nixon felt compelled, in Schell’s words, to “make war against the American people” and against their ancient liberties in order to save America from Americans. This is Schell’s brilliant and fruitful thesis. At one stroke, all the deeds and misdeeds of the Nixon administration, its public policies and private machinations, its siege mentality, its secrecy, isolation, and obsessiveness, and, above all, its despotic ambitions, fall into place as intelligible elements of a consistent, compulsive strategy: to force a war-weary people to appear as ruthlessly tough and bloody-minded as the credibility doctrine required them to seem.

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How an American president and his henchmen waged war against their fellow citizens is the story Schell unfolds, and no brief sum­mary can do justice to Schell’s skill and intelligence in telling it. Consider, for example, what the White House conspirators re­ferred to as the “Presidential Offensive.” This was the bitter assault on the peace movement which the administration launched in late 1969 and conducted with increasing frenzy through the 1970 elections. At the time, the cam­paign alarmed and puzzled the commentators and since they could imagine no motive for dubi­ous presidential deeds save cheap electioneering, it was taken for granted that Nixon was simply trying to pull together an alleged “Republican majority” (in the 1970 elections Republicans lost 11 governorships). In fact, as Schell shows, the “Offensive” was dictat­ed, not by election tactics, but by Nixon’s overall credibility strategy, that of recreating the national image of toughness.

Knowing he could never hope to revive prowar sentiment, Nixon was attempting, with all the massed power of his office, to arouse what might be called anti-antiwar sentiment. Exploiting and provoking every rancor and re­sentment infecting American hearts, the administration un­leashed them like firebombs against the organized peace movement, which was variously held to be the advance guard of foreign Communist governments, of “rad­ical-liberals,” of the Democratic party, of a sinister “Establish­ment” and by the time of the 1970 elections, of nothing less than our entire corrupt “permissive soci­ety.” By silencing vocal antiwar critics Nixon hoped to repair somewhat the prevailing image of national weakness; by creating an atmosphere of rancor, hostility, and “hard-hat” nastiness, he hoped to arouse a kind of left-­handed support for terror-bombing, “incursions,” and nastiness in general. As Schell very shrewdly points out, even Nixon’s appoint­ment of Judge Carswell to the Supreme Court was part of his campaign of rancor. By deliberately provoking the Senate to re­ject a southern appointee, Nixon intended to fire the wrath of the South and so pump sectional bitterness, too, into the general emotional tumult.

The Presidential Offensive proved a limited success. Only a totalitarian dictator, wielding the weapons of terror, is powerful enough to make white appeal black by fiat. The more Nixon tried to turn America into the appanage of the credibility doctrine, the more impotent he felt himself to be, the more obsessed he became with his “enemies” the more se­cretive and lawless grew his tactics. “The most powerful men in the country — men armed not only with the great, unimpaired constitutional powers of their offices, but with an awesome array of new powers — had, in their own minds maneuvered themselves into the position of victims, whose rights were menaced by usurpers in television studios, rambunctious citi­zens in the streets, upstart congressmen, and saboteurs in the federal bureaucracy.” The more Nixon felt his “rights” being infringed, the more he was determined to concentrate all national power in the bunkers of the White House.

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What Nixon ultimately sought, says Schell, was power so great that he and he alone would repre­sent America. His power would be such that his own ruthless will would be the nation’s one will, his “toughness” the sole image of the national character. Congress, the press, the people, all the institu­tioos of a free republic were to be cowed or corrupted into silence and impotence, capable no longer of marring the image on which national survival ostensibly depended. At the end of Schell’s long and complex narrative we know beyond all doubt that this was Nixon’s mad final ambition, and that he had almost achieved it when the Watergate scandal broke and turned his ambition to dust.

One difficult and nagging ques­tion only does Schell leave unresolved in his narrative. The question, to put it starkly, is this: Did Nixon aspire to a presidential dictatorship because of his fanati­cal devotion to an abstruse stra­tegic doctrine or did he cling to that doctrine, with all its despotic implications, because he harbored despotic ambition? At first Schell gives an equivocal answer: “When President Nixon arrived in power, it seemed, he entered a realm of complex and demanding global military strategy … It was as though there were an isolated world of cold, abstract strategic theory which endured unimpaired from administration to administration.”

Well, is there or isn’t there? The Founding Fathers, who took poli­tics more seriously than theories, would not have equivocated this way. Here was an American ruler willing to destroy liberty in Ameri­ca in order to avert a danger which was entirely theoretical and, at best, remote. Indeed, the enemy was so far from our gates that Nixon visited their capitals to swap toasts, compliments, and trade agreements. Here, moreover, was a ruler who amply revealed a despot’s passion to control every­thing in reach (including the dura­tion of applause at the 1972 Repub­lican Convention) quite apart from any “global military strategy.” The Founding Fathers, I believe, would have concluded in a trice that Nixon’s tyrannical ambition was primary and that the credibil­ity doctrine, consciously or semi- consciously, provided the fuel upon which it fed. Of course Nixon would see himself as the national savior. Does anyone suppose that any man would lay siege to a 200-year-old republic armed with anything less than a savior’s pre­tensions?

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While reading The Time of Illu­sion I wondered why Schell had hedged. I thought perhaps he was reluctant to unsettle his narrative with that harsh, half-forgotten po­litical truth which the founders never forgot for a moment: that the love of lawless power is a genuine passion of the soul and though it appears in many guises — nation-saving is the gar­den-variety — it requires no politi­cal explanation, least of all by dubious talk of an “isolated world theory.” Then in a final chapter devoted to the credibility doctrine Schell cleared up the puzzle in a manner I can only describe as astonishing.

In this chapter, a sort of appendage to the book, Schell comes to the defense of the credibility doctrine. It is, he says, the first and only “sustained, intellectually co­herent attempt to incorporate the implications of nuclear weaponry into national policy.” He believes that the rulers who adopted it­ — Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon­ — were honestly, responsibly, and courageously groping for a means to stop communism without re­course to nuclear war. He believes further that if these three ruled in isolation from the people it was because the people, wallowing in consumer pleasures, lacked their leaders’ courage to stare mega-death in the face.

What is astonishing in this is its sheer credulity. Schell is ready to admit that the credibility doctrine is flawed even “on its own terms.” He grants that much of it is “pure guesswork.” But his criticism is mild and his heart is plainly not in it. Understandably so, for if the doctrine is flawed on its own terms, if its arguments consist largely of guesses, why on earth does he think Nixon was compelled to believe it. There is nothing compelling about a syllogism with a hole in it or an argument propped up with conjecture.

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The truth is, the credibility doc­trine is scarcely more than a concoction of begged questions, official effrontery at its worst. Its essential ingredient is not, as Schell supposes, the fact of nuclear weapons, but the old tattered Cold War assumptions about America’s need to stop a Communist drive for world domination, a mouthful of begged questions if ever there was one. Masked behind its fancy verbiage, the credibility doctrine lays d0wn the ridiculous proposi­tion that the only way America can show its will to fight for its vital interests is to show its eagerness to fight for nothing. The credibility doctrine did not provide Kennedy with a rational means to avert nuclear war. It provided him in 1961 with a handy rationale for reviving armed intervention and for fabricating endless foreign “crises” (“tests of will” as Ken­nedy called them) at a time when the old Cold War ideology was crumbling and Cold War passions waning. What “credibility” pro­vided Richard Nixon the reader of Schell’s book can judge.

Here, in all fairness to Schell, I must cease and desist. The final chapter of The Time of Illusion forms no essential part of the story he tells. He is rather like the author of a first-rate novel who foolishly appends to his narrative an afterword stating his “credo.” Such being the case, we ought to follow D. H. Lawrence’s advice about Tolstoy: “Trust the tale and not the teller,” for no one has told the story of the Nixon years with a tenth part of Schell’s intelligence, penetration, and eloquence. ❖

Walter Karp is author of “Indispensible Enemies,” an analysis of American politics.  

Categories
From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Mailer’s 5th Estate: Who’s Paranoid Now?

“Paranoia is the most useful or the most destructive faculty of the human spirit. One never knows when it’s devoted to you or your destruction.” — Norman Mailer

While most of us are still stumbling about in the euphoric dreck of the Senate Watergate hearings, I think it’s time we admit that Norman Mailer was right. As usual.

Some of you may remember the rather elegant bash at the Four Seasons restaurant last February 5 in celebration of Norman’s 50th birthday (which was January 31, but never mind). Many were drawn to the event by the enticement that Mailer would make “an announcement of national importance (major).” While Norman was up in Massachusetts writing his biography of Marilyn Monroe, Jean Campbell and I made the arrangements. Tickets were $50 per couple, and, outrageously, we made the press pay.

The stage set, the booze swilling, the crowd swelling, midnight approaching … Mailer blew it. In the grand and glorious manner. Or as he put it in the New York Times Book Review, the speech “was a disgrace. It had neither wit nor life — it was perhaps the worst speech on a real occasion that the orator had ever made.”

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Nevertheless, the idea had been planted, however badly. Mailer said he wanted to establish something he called “the Fifth Estate,” essentially an organization to investigate whether the United States was slipping into totalitarianism through a series of carefully manipulated conspiracies. He said it was the best political idea he ever had.

The press, many of them stunned at having paid hard cash to attend the party, went for the jugular. After all, wasn’t Mailer one of the best targets around? And hadn’t he asked for it? Hadn’t he literally set himself up for a wipe-out?

Pete Hamill reported, somewhat sadly, that “the best writer in America was reduced to the role of a nightclub comic trying to squelch drunks.” In Saturday Review, Patricia Bosworth observed: “When he tried to elaborate on the proposition that our nation is veering toward totalitarianism, nobody was listening.” Shirley MacLaine was quoted in Women’s Wear Daily: “Nobody here could make a pimple on Norman’s ass, but nobody listened to him, and the thing is, he’s right.”

John Leonard, editor of the New York Times Book Review, disagreed: “As Mailer’s ideas go, this is not a good one. It is, as proposed, just another vigilante group.”

Tim Ferris of Rolling Stone picked up a bitter remark: “The guy’s a hell of a writer, but he’s just getting so grotesque, so silly. What a clumsy, awkward, cumbersome man he has become.”

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Then, of course, there were those panic-stricken by the announcement, like Jack Lemmon, famous liberal movie star. “I didn’t know anything about it,” he stammered. “I don’t even know him!” And we heard shrill notes from a viper or two. Sally Quinn wrote her standard florid feature for the Washington Post (“The Rise and Fall of the Fifth Estate,” February 7), causing Mailer to dub her “Poison Quinn.” In his forthcoming book on Marilyn Monroe, Mailer characterizes this kind of writing as having “fewer facts than factoids (to join the hungry ranks of those who coin the word), that is, facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper …” And Daphne Davis of Women’s Wear Daily, quoted in Newsweek by Linda Francke, denounced the whole affair as “a bummer — what can you say about a man whose time has gone?” (For Ms. Davis’s edification, it might be pointed out that Mr. Mailer this year, 25 years after “The Naked and the Dead” will publish his 22nd and 23rd books, not to mention the several volumes already published evaluating his life’s work. The first printing of “Marilyn,” by the way, is 300,000 copies. Not bad for a writer whose time has gone.)

Finally, we come to The Village Voice, in the prose of Ron Rosenbaum, Andrew Sarris, and Lucian K. Truscott IV, honorable gentlemen all.

Rosenbaum covered Mailer’s press conference, held the next afternoon (February 6) at the Hotel Algonquin. He played it fair and straight, noting Mailer’s combativeness (“I have the misfortune of being a talented writer who is in the position of being written about by less talented people”), and concluded that “the skeptics among the reporters remained unconvinced.”

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Sarris, who said he wouldn’t have missed the party for the world, claimed that “Aquarius” was upstaged that evening by Bernardo Bertolucci (not true, save in the eyes of a film critic), then launched into a medium silly diversion about “Last Tango in Paris” and “Deep Throat,” in the process dropping a few asides about Mailer’s “ballsy literary swagger” and his “piddling penis joke.”

But it was Truscott who, in my view, went into a purple prose funk over the party. Mailer himself said of the article that “on balance, it was fair.” Fairness is not what threw me, the prose did. Listen to this: “At its center (a foggy low pressure area of some unknowable sort) was sure to be Norman Mailer, in the flesh, feet wide planted, drink in hand, finger jabbing chests or tits or air, sterling silver Brillo pad hair bobbing up and down tot he rhythm of the crowd he had drawn, pink face a-pulsing, vibrating jigsaw puzzle impossible to assemble without first killing him, making him quiet and still.”

Truscott later admitted this stuff was “blithering,” but excused himself thusly: “It is a measure of the man that in writing about him I find myself writing like him.” That’s damn near a perfect example of what we might call the simultaneous reversible pat-on-the-back and kick-in-the-ass. A very neat trick, indeed. But one must note, like any good checker for the New Yorker, that the soap in Brillo pads is red; S.O.S. has the blue, and would have been the more appropriate metaphor, if that’s the sort of thing you’re after.

And, sure enough, the Truscott “West Point trauma” surfaced as he wrote of the “dilemma of the essentially totalitarian psyche” and “the almost sexual excitement, about command and control.” The part I liked best, though, was how his grandmother had likened Mailer to General Patton. That was an interesting thought — a left conservative General Patton. You could go somewhere with that.

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Before I report some afterthoughts of Watergate hindsight, and tell you how Norman sees all of this, it might be well to explain what he was trying to say that night, and in fact did say the next day at his press conference, and subsequently in the New York Times.

The time has come, Mailer wrote, “for some of us to think of founding a high, serious, and privately funded Committee of Inquiry, stocked with the best efforts of literary scholars, investigators, and journalists. It would be an inquiry into a fundamental question of government: is our history developing into a string of connected conspiracies, or is there less ground finally for our national paranoia than any have supposed?” This country, he said, “may be sliding toward a kind of totalitarianism of the most advanced, subtle, and civilized sort … are we in a society which encourages us to be paranoid, or is our paranoia merely our impotent reaction to a set of 20th century processes which are entirely beyond us?”

After the February 6 press conference (the day after the Senate passed a resolution creating the Watergate Committee, and the day John Dean says a strategy meeting was held by the Watergate Cover-up Crew), several of us, forming something of an ad hoc steering committee, retired to a suite in the Algonquin and talked about the Fifth Estate — what it should and should not be, how it might be formed and funded, what project or projects it might investigate. Nothing much was accomplished, but we decided to meet again on February 21.

The next meeting was more formal and businesslike (booze at the first, coffee at the second). After about two hours, we decided that, because we lacked time, staff, and money, the one project we should undertake immediately was, you guessed it, Watergate. We all felt Watergate had the smell of a filthy scandal that well might reach the highest levels of government.

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Without going into what we ac­complished, which was little more than clearing our throats and calling friends in Washington to assist the investigation, we all know what happened next, less than a month later.

Not only was Mailer right, he was prophetic. But, he was not alone. As Jimmy Breslin said the other day, “He was right and ev­erybody laughed, and the asshole dilettantes who laughed didn’t know what they were talking about, as usual. The only two guys who should have been at the party were Woodward and Bernstein, but they couldn’t come because they were too busy.”

During John Dean Week, I called several reporters and some of the partygoers to get their feelings, in retrospect, about Mailer’s announcement. Following is a sampling:

John Leonard (New York Times Book Review Editor): “I’m still against any kind of Democratic Secret Police … but I do wish journalists had more time for extensive investigative journalism … I just wish (Mail­er) would write a novel.”

Linda Francke (Newsweek): “I quite agree, he was ahead of his time, again … even as I wrote about it, I was a little nervous to dismiss it, and as soon as it broke I thought, shit, Mailer was right after all … then I was worried that Mailer might some­how be implicated … it followed so suddenly that I thought he might have been making notes on a new book and got caught with the surgical gloves on.”

Henry Grunwald (Managing Editor, Time): “I think it’s bad to start a conspiracy on the left, just as we had on the right with Mc­Carthy and the others … but I felt we may have been remiss and wanted to go back to review the press conference and see what Mr. Mailer had to say.”

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George Plimpton: “Well, you don’t fight an espionage agency with another espionage agency … I was afraid they’d have the first meeting at my house, with drawings by Larry Rivers and Abbie Hoffman hopping around, that sort of thing … Watergates makes me think that Secretariat is the only uncorrupted thing left.”

Warren Hoge (City Editor, the New York Post): “That night, you felt, yawn, another left embar­rassment, but now I feel like Mel Laird, if there’s any more, I don’t want to know it … what can you be paranoid about anymore?”

Jack Newfield: “They’re a total bunch of paranoids, and incom­petent — they had Joe Namath with the Giants.”

Tim Ferris (Rolling Stone): “I’ve been obsessed by the hearings … Hunter Thompson called from Colorado yesterday, said he’s been watching day and night, he has no other life … the only fault I found (with Mailer’s idea) was that it didn’t have muscle or money, and an idea like that depends entirely on sub­stance … but all the oranges did come up on Mailer’s side, didn’t they?”

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Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: “The whole thing was about 10 years too late … give Norman my condolences for failing to make the ‘political enemies’ list.”

Patricia Bosworth (Saturday Review): “When Watergate broke, I thought, Jesus Christ, it’s prophetic time!”

Pete Hamill: “I still think (the Fifth Estate) would become just another bureaucracy. Re­member, it was two police report­ers, supported by a courageous publisher (Kay Graham) and edi­tor (Ben Bradlee), who broke this case. You always have to go back to the ball-busting, lonely report­er on the beat, digging and probing … I hope they take those bastards (the Watergaters) and lock every one of them up, and they can dust off Alger Hiss’s old cell for Chuck Colson, then we’ll have the Berrigan brothers say a farewell mass for the whole rotten bunch.”

Dotson Rader: “The point I knew Mailer was on to something was when he said a nation can tol­erate any crime except the theft of its history, and that’s what was going on, that was the great crime … suddenly, I felt he saw things differently … but after the party there was a general feeling around New York that Norman Mailer was nuts, and getting nut­tier, poor old Norman, he shouldn’t drink so much … the journalists I talked to put Mailer down, some of them I viciously, and most of them said Watergate was nothing, it would blow away.”

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***

For most of his professional life, Mailer has had an adversary relationship with the press, and I guess that’s as it should be. It doesn’t bother him, it more stimu­lates and amuses him. About a year and a half ago, I did an inter­view with Norman which was bought by Penthouse but, for reasons unknown, never pub­lished. One question and answer we eventually cut out, because it didn’t fit into the final theme of the interview  has always fascinated me, and I think it may apply here.

Interviewer: “Stephen Rojack (‘An American Dream’) says: ‘God’s engaged in a war with the Devil, and God may lose.’ Throughout your work is the theme of the struggle between God and the Devil, and you once said, ‘I have some obsession with how God exists. Is He an essential god or an existential god; is he all-powerful or is He, too, an embattled existential creature who may succeed or fail in His visions?’ This remains a per­vasive theme in our work.”

Mailer: “It may even go all the way back to ‘The Naked and the Dead,’ sometimes I think it does, at that point pretty much unbeknownst to the young author. Crit­ics for years felt I was a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn who could eat a sandwich (rye bread) in a delicatessen with no more pain than any of them, with as much gusto, and I might even give the same look of annoyance to the waiter if he frailed to bring the second helping of pickles. I’ve sat around and had love fests with these critics over pastrami — Rahv, Podhoretz, all of them. It’s a most real part of myself. It’s not everybody that can say they come from Brooklyn. There are areas of the world that are blessed a little, and areas that are cursed a little. The Brooklyn I knew in my childhood was blessed, just a bit, it wasn’t a bad place. Most of the people I grew up with in that middle-class environment have gone on to various kinds of professional and commercial and technological jobs that allow not that much romance and certainly not that much religious feeling in their life. And they know that I’m one of them. They’re comfortable with me, and I’m comfortable with them — not altogether comfortable, because I think they’re people who insisted on being a little emptier, sillier, and smaller than they had to be. They really think it’s some kind of outrageous put-on I’m engaging in when I talk about God and the Devil. You know, ‘What’s old Normie talking about God and the Devil for? Fun’s fun, but pass the pickles!'”

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As with his friends and the cri­tics, so with the press. The adver­sary relationship he continues to nourish. As others will not forgive him his concern “with the romantic and mysterious all” (as Norman puts it), so the press at­tacks him for his conspiratorial view of American history.

But Norman maintains his perspective. I talked with him on June 30 as he was passing through New York after having spent the week in Washington at the Water­gate hearings.

“I wasn’t too upset,” he said about the press coverage last February. “Listen, I was so down on myself that night that they could have said anything. I knew the height of the hurdle, and I missed. I gave them a free ride.”

I reminded him that he had been much more coherent at the press conference, but nobody seemed to be listening.

“I was annoyed, not surprised,” he said. “Whether you’re good or bad, that’s the place to shine. But you can talk at your best for an hour, and they’ll wait for the one line that will damage you. I went on at some length, and thought I was even eloquent at one point, but look at what happened.”

What about the future of the Fifth Estate?

“From the beginning, I knew the Fifth Estate would never succeed if it was going to be a big balloon I had to inflate with a bi­cycle pump. It just wouldn’t work. But I still think there’s a function for it, when Watergate is over, when we’ve digested it. Look at what Woodward and Bernstein accomplished. A continuing inves­tigation can break a powerful gov­ernmental institution, with ex­traordinary results. There’s a function for the Fifth Estate, but we’ll have to wait, now.”

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Mailer hasn’t decided what he may or may not write about Wa­tergate. “Sitting through it was an ordeal. In person, the hearings were dull, boring. I haven’t made up my mind what I want to do about them. I’m still thinking about it. I don’t know how I feel yet.”

When I first thought about writing this piece, I kept searching through Mailer’s writing for something that would most appro­priately apply to Watergate. Then I found it, that nerve-shattering epigraph in “The Deer Park,” taken from Mouffle D’Anger­ville’s “Vie Privee de Louis XV”:

“… the Deer Park, that gorge of innocence and virtue in which were engulfed so many victims who when they returned to society brought with them depravity, de­bauchery, and all the vices they naturally acquired from the in­famous officials of such a place. Apart from the evil which this dreadful place did to the morals of the people, it is horrible to calculate the immense sums of money it cost the state… To this must be added the gratuities presented to those who were not successful in arousing the jaded passions of the sultan but had nonetheless to be paid for their submissions, for their discretion, and still more for their being eventually despised.”

Caesar may be alive and well, biding his time. We have been warned. ❖

1973 Village Voice article by Norman Mailer about the press during the Watergate era

1973 Village Voice article by Norman Mailer about the press during the Watergate era

1973 Village Voice article by Norman Mailer about the press during the Watergate era

1973 Village Voice article by Norman Mailer about the press during the Watergate era

1973 Village Voice article by Norman Mailer about the press during the Watergate era

Categories
From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Who Will Tape the White House Tapers?

A professional tape recorder technician who worked on the White House tape recording system as late as April 1973 has supplied additional information about the plexus of secreted microphones and hidden cables that enabled conversations to be recorded, according to the technician, in virtually every room in the White House complex, including Nixon’s offices, and relayed to an emplacement packed with approximately 14 highly professional Scully tape recorders, located on the first floor of the Executive Office Building (see “Nixon at the Console: A Second Tape System in the White House?”, Voice, February 21). The EOB, as it is fondly known, is situated just across the private street on White House grounds from Nixon’s Oval Office in the West Wing.

The plexus of Scully tape recorders is maintained by United States Army personnel of the White House Communications Agency, which is under the over-all supervision of the Secret Service. The system is serviced and repaired through contracts with outside civilian companies, including the Scully-Metrotech Corporation, which sends in employees from various Scully offices in the East. According to the technician, the recording has been used for everything from an eight-track mix-down of a performance of “Hello Dolly” to the recording of meetings of the Join Chiefs of Staff. The system was created during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations but was kept operative, and apparently even augmented, during the Nixon regime. Visitors to the public part of the White House, for instance, can look at the fluted columns in the room and have the wonderful knowledge that the flared panels at the bottoms of the columns have secreted in them microphone connection which lead by hidden wires clear to the data hive at the EOB.

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Since Army personnel staff the Scully tape system, the possibility comes to mind that perhaps, Nixon installed the secret Sony 800-B system in February 1971 (the year of the leaks, of hassles with the CIA, of the theft of Kissinger’s papers by the military) and had the system maintained, not by the Army, but by Secret Service officers, in order perhaps to avoid his words being bled via scrambler lines into Richard Helms’s offices over in Langley. The tapes from the Sony system, however, were kept stored, according to Alexander Butterfield, in locked closets in the Executive Office Building, where the Scully monitoring system already was in place, so it is likely that knowledge of the tape collection might have spread to service personnel.

In any case, what the Scully technician has to say is very interesting because it sheds light on equipment that may in fact have been called into action during any incidents of tape tamper, since for instance the Scully machines could plugged into the Oval Office to pick up the ambient room noise, which would have been necessary to place upon a tape in order to make it appear to have been actually recorded in the Oval Office.

Here are some things he has revealed:

1. When asked if he knew of any continuous logging of conversations or phone calls by the Scully equipment in the Executive Office Building, he replied that when he went into the tape recording room, of the 14 tape recorders, some were running, and some were not, but that it was impossible to tell what was being continuously recorded.

2. He said that there are mixing consoles over at the EOB such that conversations in any room in the White House (with the probably exception of Nix’s private living quarters, one supposes) could be mixed down onto a cassette. They had cassette duplication equipment at the Executive Office Building and there was a whole library room over at the EOB filled with cassette tape recordings.

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3. He never heard of a professional tape system in Nixon’s private quarters.

4. He said that the Scully tape recorders were of three types. There were Scully Series 280 monophonic tape recorders, Scully Series 280-2 stereo tape recorders, and Scully Series 284-8 eight-track tape recorders. The eight-track Scully recorders now retail for about $11,250. There are two eight-tracks, one of which is portable and which flies all over the world for Nixonian recording assignments. If Nixon had wanted to do so, he could have recorded his John Dean conversations on these eight-track machines, because the technician indicates that  there is what they call a “patch bay” which connects to microphones in all the rooms-said patch bay being a complex of electrical hook-ups, any mike line able to feed immortal babble into the eight-track equipment. Nixon also could have mixed onto a cassette from the Scully recorders.

5. On July 16, 1973, Alexander Butterfield was asked by the Senate Select Committee where the Sony tape recorders used for Nixon’s conversations were kept and Butterfield replied that “most of the recording machines were in the basement of the West Wing of the White House.” The former Scully technician was asked if he knew of any Scully equipment under the West Wing or under Nixon’s Oval Office and he said there was, in fact, a large space down there where there was a caged storing area for tape equipment, i.e. for storing speakers, mixers, mikes, mike stands, and so forth. But he didn’t know of Scully taping being done there. The technician did not know of the secret Sony tape system set up by the Secret Service in February ’71, but notes that it is difficult to understand why they sneaked in the Sonys when every room was already wired to such a professional system as the Scully plexus.

What is the importance of all this? Well, the tape experts are due soon to issue their reports on the Nixon tapes, not just in the 18 1/2-minute buzz, but also as to whether some of the tapes are re-recordings, or have been edited, or as in the case of the March 13 and 21, 1973, conversations with John Dean regarding hush money, executive clemency, and presidential cancer, whether or not there has been a switcheroo, so as to make it appear that Nix heard of the coverup on the 21st instead of the 13th. For indeed, a presidential lie, at this stage of the game, is adios for Nix. And one could us that 18 1/2-minute buzz on the June 20 babble session with Hank Haldeman as a sound track for a Kenneth Anger movie which would be titled “Nixon Sinking.”

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Judge Sirica has received into evidence all the Sony 800-B’s used for Nixon’s babble. The hidden microphones were left in place, possibly in order to be able to recreate if necessary conversations so as to match the ambient room noise against that on the subpoenaed tapes. Ambient room noise, so we are informed by recording engineers, is the peculiar noise characteristics that each room has, and which, in the hands of experts, can apparently serve almost as fingerprints in determining if a tape was actually recorded in a certain room. Accordingly, in my opinion, Judge Sirica should subpoena all the Scully tape equipment and any tape equipment, for that matter, in the Executive Office Building, because that equipment was in place and operating all during the Nixon regnum. They should subpoena the tape equipment in the wire cage in the basement also.

For instance, there is the ominous possibility, mentioned in the New York Times of March 3, 1974, that an Army Security Agency psy-war tape expert unit was sent into the White House the day after John Dean concluded his testimony last June 30, on a possible mission of tape-tamper, using equipment in the EOB. This was investigated by Special Prosecutor Jaworski ‘s office, with no apparent conclusive results. But we are beyond trust at this point, and the country can ill afford to inaugurate Chiquita Banana as its national anthem. The equipment should be taken into custody.

In the meantime, it is not untoward to propose that congress enact legislation requiring a 69-cent Woolworth phone lock to be installed on the red nuclear telephone, just in case Milhous should catch in mind late at night, after drinking martinis with Bebe in silence, a possible answer to the question facing us all. ■

Categories
From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

Inside the White House: The First & Last Days of a Banana Republic

“…a camera can misquote or misinterpret a man. An unconscious unintentional upturning of the lips can appear in a picture as a smile at a given moment. On the other hand too serious an expression could create an impression of fear and concern which also would be most unfortunate.”

—Richard Nixon
“The Heart Attack,”
in Six Crises

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tuesday morning. Inside the Cabinet Room Richard Nixon in smiling consciously and intentionally. This is the morning after he confessed to lying and deceiving not only the public but his most loyal supporters, his closest friends, his own family. Yet he has decided to call a Cabinet meeting to show the country he still is in com­mand, that he intends to stay on and fight rather than resign. Having been Vice-President while his Presi­dent was incapacitated, Nixon knows he has to show the rest of the gov­ernment he is still of sound mind. Newspaper reports have begun re­ferring delicately to the President’s “lack of touch with reality,” his “almost unnatural serenity.” Enough high-level members of his own staff have slipped quotes like these to reporters to raise the ques­tion of whether the President is stable enough to continue to govern.

So the White House has arranged what they call a “photo opportunity” before the Cabinet session gets under way to give the American people a clear picture of the President hard at work at the business of government. Allowing myself to be mistaken for a photographer, in order to get a close-up look at the President’s “sereni­ty,” I follow a group of cameramen and film crews through Gerald War­ren’s press office, up some steps into the gold-carpeted corridors of the White House West Wing, past a pho­tograph of the President silhouetted against the pyramids, and finally into the Cabinet Room itself, where, 10 feet from me, Richard Nixon is smiling.

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He continues to smile throughout the “photo opportunity.” He does not smile at anyone in particular. In fact, slumped down in his chair, he appears to be grinning most enthusiastically at the top of the Cabinet table.

Henry Kissinger, seated at the President’s right, leans over and appears to be speaking to the Presi­dent with great animation. The President grins at the table top. Defense Secretary Schlesinger at the President’s left, brow furrowed as if with some weighty problem of nu­clear strategy, leans over and speaks intently to the President. The President continues to grin at the table top.

The President seldom raises his gaze from the bleak teak. When he does, he shoots his eyes wildly up and then back again. The peculiar slumped posture he has adopted — ­apparently an effort to suggest a casual, easy-going sense of confi­dence and command — has buckled his suit jacket up around his chest. His lapels gape awry.

This is not a particularly reassuring glimpse of the Chief Executive. It comes close to making a prima facie case for resignation. Little did I know that for the past 48 hours, while the President and his family had been once again resisting resigna­tion, his closest aides were conspir­ing behind his back to force him to resign.

Despite all the crowing from col­umnists about how the resignation process re-affirmed the strength and viability of the democratic process, the impression an uncharitable ob­server might get from several reports is that of a small staff cabal led by an ex-General driving an elected President from office against his will through the use of damaging leaks and dirty tricks. Defenders of Haig say he was acting responsibly to restore order to the processes of government and save the country from a dangerously irresponsible President. That’s what banana re­public generals always say.

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Wednesday morning. Looking back over my notes, I realize that what we have here is nothing less than America’s first full day as a banana republic.

Arriving early at the White House briefing room, the first thing I hear is that General Haig has summoned Gerald Ford to an early morning meeting. The President is not present. He may not have been invited. Purpose of the meeting undisclosed.

At the noon briefing Gerald Warren tries to make light of this hour­-long session. Nothing unusual. Warren claims: Haig meets with the Vice-President “often.” Then Warren amends “often” to “regularly.” Then he amends “regularly” to “from time to time.” Finally he concedes, a bit sadly, “It would be fatuous of me to say that any meet­ing would be a routine meeting at this point.”

The other big rumor this morning is that Senator Goldwater tried without success to get through to the White House last night to “deliver a message” to the President that Goldwater, in fact, was turned away from the White House gate. This feeds talk that the President is hold­ing himself incommunicado, that Haig is now running a caretaker government for a President para­lyzed by despair and indecision. Further hints of palace intrigue surface at the noon briefing. A reporter asks Gerald Warren if St. Clair had a meeting with Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski to explore plea bargaining for the President.

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Warren swallows hard. He de­livers a curiously mechanical an­swer: “At Mr. St. Clair’s request I am in a position where I cannot speak about any meetings he is engaged in.”

Warren is a shaken man today. His unfaltering calm is legendary, but this morning instead of puffing placidly on his pipe, he rubs it nervously between his hands. Usually Warren is able to maintain his dignified calm in the midst of the most sordid Watergate deceit because he is genuinely ignorant of what is going on. Today he seems to know that something unpleasant is going on.

St. Clair’s peculiar request that Warren refrain from confirming or denying any meetings may well be another little maneuver in General Haig’s game plan. St. Clair, in fact, may not be doing any plea bargaining at all (if he was, he’d certainly tell Warren to deny it categorically), but by forcing Warren to drop a crude hint that the President might be trying to make a deal for himself, St. Clair pushes his client a little closer to a forced resignation — spec­ulation that the President is clinging to office just to stay out of jail would make his already untenable position intolerable.

And then, not long after the briefing and shortly after Goldwater’s lunch with Haig, the wire services carry reports that Senator Barry Goldwater himself is predicting that the President will resign this very day. Goldwater plays a role in the Haig scenario analogous to that of the leading Catholic bishop in your average banana republic. He doesn’t lead the coup himself, but his tacit approval lends sanctity to the conspirators when they begin shelling the Presidential palace.

So as soon as the Goldwater report appears on the wires, reporters begin thronging into the briefing room from all over town to begin the death watch on the Nixon Presidency. Once Lyndon Johnson frolicked nude in the swimming pool that occupied the site of this briefing room. When Richard Nixon took office he paved over Johnson’s swimming pool with concrete, and built a brand-new press headquarters on top of it.

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Not from any special affection for the press. No, “the President did that,” Alexander Butterfield testified, “to get the press out of the West Lobby so they would not inhibit guests to the White House and bother them.” The President’s plan worked. Not only is it impossible for the press to molest entering guests from the sunken briefing room, it is impossible to see them — the view from the briefing room windows is blocked by a sloping ridge of grass which yields only a glimpse of driveway.

This handicap is particularly galling today, because it makes it impossible to monitor who is arriving to meet with whom. Reporters and cameramen flock out of the briefing room to stake out the West Wing driveway from the White House lawn.

Around 2 p.m., a red Mercedes pulls up to the West Wing entrance and Rabbi Baruch Korff steps out. Not an insignificant development considering Rabbi Korff’s claim yesterday that the President would let him be the first to know if he decided to resign. The rabbi is ushered directly into the Oval Office to see the President. But midway through the vigil in front of the rabbi’s red Mercedes two armed White House guards approach a knot of reporters and order them back into the briefing room. New security restrictions have been imposed on reporters: they must remain inside the briefing room or get out of the White House entirely. There will be no loitering in between.

Back inside the congested briefing room “the lid” is off. The “lid lights” are located over the doorway connecting the briefing room to Gerald Warren’s office. The lid lights are two white plastic stars with light bulbs behind them. When both stars are lit, usually in mid-afternoon, the “lid” is on, which means that the White House press office has no more statements to issue for the day and daily reporters can feel free to head home. When both lights flash on and off alternately a “temporary lid,” or a “lunch lid” is indicated. Today, an hour after the regular p.m. posting has passed, both stars are unlit, which means the lid is off and something is going on.

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What is going on is that General Haig is orchestrating the penultimate step in his scenario for depos­ing the President: the visit of Bishop Goldwater and his delegation to ad­minister the last rites.

The day ends with the Goldwater delegation coming out of the West Wing and declaring to assembled reporters that they did not discuss resignation, they merely gave the President some “gloomy” roll call assessments.

Inside the briefing room the lid is on for the night.

But inside the White House that night a curious incident reveals how shrewdly Haig employs his knowledge of the Nixon psyche to seal the President’s fate. Inside the residence Henry Kissinger has dinner with the President and succeeds in convincing him he must resign. The only obstacle left is the Presidential fam­ily — wife, daughters, and in-laws­ — all of whom are reported absolutely adamant against resignation. The President calls them in to tell them the decision Haig and Kissinger have led him to make. Tears of grief and rage ensue. At this point, Haig steps in to ensure that the flood of tears doesn’t sweep the President back into battle. According to one report, at this very moment “Haig quietly arranged for White House photogra­pher Hollie Atkins to record the sad and historic scene.”

Perhaps Haig calculated that to Richard Nixon, that which is record­ed becomes irrevocable. Once the pictures were taken of the tear­-stained decision, Nixon would find it far more difficult to change his mind in the middle of the night. Recording something gives it a special sanctity beyond the reach of late-night whims. Perhaps that is why Nixon was never able to bring himself to destroy the tapes, however self-destructive they were.

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Thursday morning. Mrs. Ford postpones a scheduled visit to the foot doctor this morning. Mr. Ford postpones a scheduled fund-raising trip to California. Mr. Nixon summons Mr. Ford to an 11 a.m. conference. Gerald Warren postpones the 11 a.m. briefing till 12 noon when, he says, Ron Ziegler will appear with an important announce­ment.

Meanwhile, Warren’s assistants move out through the press handing out releases announcing what turned out to be the latest official act of the Nixon administration — appoint­ments to the Pacific Sockeye Salmon Fishery Commission, to the U. S. delegation to the Dominican Repub­lic Presidential Inauguration, to the D.C. United Fund Campaign. And, apropos of sinking ships and leaving jobs, he signs a catch-all bill which provides for a “vessel repair duty exemption,” and an extension of “liberalized eligibility for state-ex­tended unemployment benefits pro­grams.” He accepts three resigna­tions from his own adminis­tration — one “with deep regret,” an­other “with a special sense of re­gret,” and a third “with deep grati­tude.”

At 11:30 a.m. I find some wire service reporters backing Gerald Warren into a corner of his office and browbeating him mercilessly. Final­ly I see him shrug and concede something. The wire service report­ers dash out of Warren’s office toward their phones in the rear of the briefing room. “We’re going ahead with it,” one of them whispers to the other triumphantly. “We’re going ahead.”

“With what?” I ask.

“The President’s drafting his res­ignation speech for delivery to­night.”

Later, one of the wire service people told me that when she asked Warren who was writing the resignation speech “Gerry told me ‘Ray Price is,’ but then added, ‘But the President is contributing his ideas,’ and all of a sudden Gerry broke down and cried. I put my arm around him. ‘The President’s own ideas.’ How sad it was.”

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The strangest interlude of the nine-hour vigil that followed Ron Ziegler’s announcement that Nixon would go on tv that night was the time when the President placed the entire press corps under house ar­rest.

It happened this way. All day long reporters had been skirmishing with White House guards. A limousine would pull up to the driveway of the West Wing, a throng of reporters would pour out of the briefing room toward the West Wing to see who the arrival was, the White House guards would drive them back inside the briefing room.

But at 6:20 an armed guard takes up a position right outside the brief­ing room doors. Reporters trying to leave are told that no one is to exit or enter “for a few minutes.” No expla­nation. Orders.

About this time reporters seeking an explanation find the doors to Gerald Warren’s complex locked and dead-bolted shut. Pounding on the door produces no response. I pick up a White House extension phone in a corner of the briefing room just on the other side of the wall from Warren’s office and ask for Warren’s extension. One of Warren’s assis­tants answers.

I ask her if she knows the press has been locked in.

“Yes we do,” she says cheerfully.

“Why is it being done?” I ask.

“That’s a question you’d have to address to Mr. Warren, but I’m afraid he’s tied up now.”

“But we’re locked up.”

She hangs up.

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The “few minutes” of lock-up have stretched into 20 minutes. The armed guard at the door refuses to explain. He repulses all pleas to let anyone out (one reporter yells: “I’ve got a terrible case of diabetes and if I don’t get out and get my insulin shot I’ll die.” “There’s a telephone inside,” the guard replies.) A technician with a walkie-talkie reports that the other half of his film crew and a number of other reporters have been detained in the guardhouse.

People line up to stare out the windows. An armed guard sprints by from the West Wing toward the residence. A panel truck tears past in the opposite direction. Something seems to be going on. There is some speculation that the President has decided to hold the press hostage in return for asylum in Costa Rica, that a coup is in progress (led either by General Haig or by the President against General Haig), that the President has done Something Drastic. There are jokes about the President turning the briefing room back into a swimming pool immediately, and about gas hissing through the vents.

At 6:52 the guard is lifted. People burst out to see what’s going on. There is a strange mournful wailing sound in the air, but it turns out to be nothing more than Korean hymns sung by the loyal followers of the Reverent Sun M. Moon.

Back inside, Warren’s door has been unbolted and reporters press inside to demand an explanation. Warren claims he didn’t know about the armed guard outside. He says his own door was shut because the President was walking back from the Executive Office Building to his last supper at the White House and he wanted to make that walk alone and unwatched.

There’s a strange passage in the “Caracas” chapter of Six Crises which might help illuminate this bizarre incident.

Nixon is in Lima confronting an anti-American demonstrator in his hotel lobby.

“I saw before me a weird looking character whose bulging eyes seemed to merge with his mouth and nose in one distorted blob. He let fly a wad of spit which caught me full in the face. One must experience the sensation to realize why spitting in a person’s face is the most infuriating insult ever conceived by man. Sherwood deserves the credit for keeping me from handling the man personally. He grabbed him by the arm and whirled him out of my path, but as I saw his legs go by I at least had the satisfaction of planting a healthy kick on his shins. Nothing I did all day made me feel better.”

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Interesting, is it not, how Nixon’s hysterical description of the “weird looking character” sounds like a metaphor for the media, particularly tv with its “bulging eyes” which “merge into mouth,” a mouth that constantly spits out degrading insults at him.

For a man who thinks he has been driven from the Presidency to the brink of jail by the media, this business of locking up media may be Nixon’s way of giving his adversary with the bulging eyes one last kick in the shins before they don’t have each other to kick around anymore.

And this time Nixon might have some objective justification for wanting to keep the camera eye off him. On the front page of this morn­ing’s Times there’s a picture of Nixon and Ziegler taking that same walk from the EOB over to the West Wing of the White House. The picture makes Nixon look like he’s doing some sort of awkward goose step behind the back of a uniformed guard. The Times printed the odd looking picture on the bottom of the front page, separated from the main Nixon story, but right next to a headline which reads “Many Mental Patients Simply Walk Out.” An amusing accidental juxtaposition perhaps, but in Nixon’s mind, grounds enough to make it impossi­ble for the media to “simply walk out” while he took his last stroll. Undoubtedly nothing he did all day made him feel better.

 

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From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

F. Lee Bailey’s Golden Age Club Goes Public

Don Francisco Vasques de Coronado, would thou wert with us at this hour! Your search for the Seven Cities of Cibola, where according to legend gold was as plentiful as styrofoam hot cups at a working session of the Practicing Law Institute, has finally neared fruition in, of all venues, the Senate Caucus Room. Who could have imagined that the Senate Watergate inquest — Water Pik, I call it — would have ranged as far as the fabled Treasure of the Aztecs?

John W. Dean III has testified that in return for having been helpful as attorney for the recalci­trant Mr. Jim McCord, pyramid-­builder F. Lee Bailey asked John Mitchell to help a client of his who happens to have 292 bars of gold weighing 80 pound each (worth by my count $14,307,998 at the $42 of­ficial price, and $43,264,659 at last week’s $127 free market price, F.O.B. London) and wishes to make “arrangements” with the govern­ment by which the gold could be turned over to the Treasury without his client being prosecu­ted for holding the metal. The bullion was supposedly from “an old Aztec cache” hidden on the White Sands, New Mexico, rocket range. Mitchell asked H.R. Hal­deman whether such “arrangements” could be arranged. H.R. was “non-responsive.” “Fray Motolinia,” says ar­chaist Edward Dahlberg in The Gold of Ophir, “a mild and good man, blamed the Spaniards for the 10 plagues in Mexico. The worst, the monk said, was the gold mines where the Aztecan la­borer had to toil until he perished. He was compelled to furnish all the materials for the mines and even his own food. Often he ran for 30 leagues with the little maize he had and died on the way. For half a league from Oaxaca, the principal mining town, the ground was so bleached with human bones that one could not go in that direction without stepping on skeletons.”

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And yet this administration, which loves lucre more than life, and lately has been doing its dam­nedest to bleach the ground of Cambodia with human bones. was non-responsive. How non-­comprehensible.

But if the truth be known, Bailey’s clients may be sitting not on an old Aztec cache at all, but on an infinitesimal portion of the greatest fortune ever assembled in the history of civiliza­tion as it knows us.

April last, after the Senate voted to permit Americans to own gold for the first time since 1934, Del Schrader, a staff writer of the staid, conservative Herald-Ex­aminer, was invited to attend a “confabulation” of old “Confeder­ates” — sons and grandsons of the elite Knights of the Golden Circle, a secret society of Southrons which was formed immediately after Appomattox to fill a war chest to finance a second civil war that would take place when the South would Rise Again. The “Confederates,” who range in age from 67 to 91, told Schrader that in 1865 the 13 members of the Circle’s Inner Sanctum, including General William C. Quantrill and Colonel Jesse James, vowed that they would tithe, beg, borrow, and steal to add to the $7 billion worth of gold in the Confederacy’s hidden reserves (cf. the scene in Gone With the Wind in which the ladies of Georgia are asked to donate their jewelry to The Cause) in order that Civil War II “could be fought on a cash-and-­carry basis so that international war lords and bankers would not realize usurious profits from blood lost on the battlefield.”

By stealing millions worth of gold from Jay Gould, by infil­trating mines around the world, falsifying production figures and smuggling the metal into the U. S., suborning mine and stamping mill employees to larceny over a period of 51 years — until in 1916 the cabal decided Civil War II wasn’t going to happen in their time and disbanded — the Knights of the Golden Circle were able to collect over one billion ounces of gold, an amount roughly equal to the world’s total known reco­verable reserves in 1973, Russia excluded.

The total cache would be worth $43 billion, or twice the value of what’s left in Fort Knox, if it could be sold to the Treasury at the official price, $131 billion if it could be smuggled to Zurich disguised as gnome suppositories minus a nominal charge for postage and handling. Eat your heart out, Jean Paul Getty, Howard Hughes, and Aristotle Onassis.

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Let’s see here, according to the old-timers, at the former official price of $35 the ounce there’s $4 billion in Montana and Idaho, $2.5 billion in Texas, $500 million in California, $500 million in the Dakotas, $630 million in New Mexico, $330 million each in Nevada and Utah, $175 million in Arizona, $500 million in Colorado, $333 million in Oregon, $175 million in Washington, $500 million in Mexico, $333 million in New England, $63 million in the Canary Islands, lots more in Canada, and — start digging: $1 billion in New York.

“The Golden Circle spared no expense in burying its stolen or accumulated gold,” says Jesse James III of Banning, California, grandson of who do you think. “It employed the best engineers and the most modern equipment. My daddy said a white laborer was seldom employed in building a depository. Indians or Negroes were preferred because they could keep their mouths shut… The depositories were booby-trapped from all directions and more than one snooper has been blown into a million pieces.”

Against the possibility that the House will follow the Senate’s ac­tion and that President Agnew will sign the law rescinding gold prohibition, the old-timers are beginning to plan what to do with their hoard. “We’ll first try to cut a deal with the U.S. government. Say, it would give us 10 per cent tax free and safe from do-gooder bureaucrats. We’d take our 10 per cent and establish scholarships for the much-maligned Indians and descendants of Negroes and Mexicans who worked on our ancestors’ depositories. We’d preserve historical landmarks. And we’d financially aid non-Com­munist pacifist groups because the Knights of the Golden Circle which amassed this fortune be­lieved only war lords and interna­tional bankers profit from war.”

No sooner had Dean spilled the refritos about F. Lee and his Aztec pefl than James informed Schrader that the gold in question was actually part of what the old Confederates called their “Ala­mogordo Cache.” “Everything seems to be turning up these days in the Watergate hearings,” says Jesse James III.

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Indeed, indeed. Let us look at Bailey’s role again. The Boston attorney’s clients include these two:

a) James McCord, for whom, as long as he was represented by the superbly suntanned Gerald Alch, Esq., an employee of Bailey’s, mum was the word on the subject of Watergate derring-didn’t.

b) Mr. or Messrs. X, individu­al(s) with access to the Alamo­gordo Cache of the Knights of the Golden Circle.

In consideration of his work in “dealing” with client (a) Bailey approaches the administration to obtain a dispensation for client (b), but is rebuffed. Shortly there­after, Bailey unaccountably loses his ability to “deal” with client (a). Client (a) fires Bailey’s firm and writes the letter to Judge Sirica that becomes the crucial first squeal that leads to the cur­rent Senate hearings and Dean’s testimony revealing the existence of and non-responsive treatment accorded to client (b).

Meanwhile, we should note, Bailey himself is indicted by the administration for alleged fraudulent activities in concert with Florida Kosmetic King Glenn Turner.

Is it possible that client (a) let the Watergate cat out of the bag because the administration was non-responsive to the boon requested on behalf of client (b)?

Is it significant that McCord has acted, in effect, as hatchet man against the administration on behalf of the guardians of the Alamogordo Cache?

Has Bailey been indicted be­cause he Knows Too Much?

Has the Southern Strategy been checkmated by the Southron Stra­tegem?

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As you ponder these questions, let me leave you with some thoughts about gold.

The two great movements of the modern age are science and exploration. Science grew out of alchemy, whose goal was to magically transmute base metal into gold. Exploration was con­ducted largely to discover extant sources of gold. Gold was valued because of its unique ability to energize the society that pos­sessed it through its power to regulate money. Governments cannot regulate the value of money. All they can do is make more of it or confiscate some of it. But they cannot raise or lower the total value of all money. Only gold can do that. It is often said that gold has no “intrinsic value.” On the contrary, it is the only materi­al manifestation we are aware of that does have intrinsic value; it has only intrinsic value; and all other things and non-things have only extrinsic value, relative to each other.

Why, after all, if Roger Bacon wanted to transmute base ele­ments into something, didn’t he try to turn them into digital wrist­watches, which undoubtedly would have gone like hotcakes in those days; or cream cheese, upon which the perennially starving populace could have eagerly munched; or colored floral print toilet paper, which you probably could have flogged to royalty at a nifty profit; or plastic high explosives, which could have been used to hijack castles; or De Tomaso Panteras, which would have been good for cruising for tricks on the King’s Road. Whyever gold?

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Because he believed that the magician was the conduit through whom the values of the impal­pable world were to be imposed on the values of the all-too-pal­pable one here at hand, and that gold was ordained, by dint of its beautiful uselessness. to be de­ployed against any system of worth that overvalues utility as against beauty. In the United States today, a successful alche­mist would be ipso facto a felon. The chief significance of the gold legislation pending in the House is that it would legalize alchemy.

Does the saga of the Knights of the Golden Circle sound like a lot of hogwash to you? Perhaps so, though it is intriguing to wonder whether there is a connection be­tween it and the bath a whole lot of swine seem to be taking these July days. Maybe it is simply the purposively flimsy explanation the macrocosm is fronting at this point for the fact that suddenly hundreds of thousands, if not hundreds of millions, of fine ounces Troy of the solar metal have been brought out of nowhere into play in the political soap opera by who else but that stone Philosopher, modern alchemy’s Mr. Big, the Master of Confabula­tion.

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From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

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?
Categories
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.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”714572″ /]

***

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.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”714692″ /]

***

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.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”714267″ /]

***

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.