I have three items for my blog post today about Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full.
On page 822, we read: "[White House counsel John] Dean had set up his
own investigation unit and had caused the investigation of the call-girl
ring associated with the 'Happy Hooker' Xaviera Hollander, but this
achieved nothing useful, since there were as many Republicans as
Democrats in it, an unsurprising revelation."
The reason that this stood out to me is that Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin argue in their controversial book, Silent Coup,
that John Dean's investigation of the call-girl ring was the motive
behind the break-in at the Watergate hotel, as Dean allegedly was
seeking information about the prostitution ring and was trying to cover
things up, since his wife was supposedly connected with someone in the
ring. Dean would sue Colodny and Gettlin for libel. It's interesting
to me that Black essentially acknowledges that Dean was investigating
the prostitution ring. Black doesn't seem to buy into the idea that
this was the motive behind the Watergate break-in, however, for Black
appears to accept the prominent narrative that the Watergate break-in
was aiming to collect information about Democratic National Committee
chairman Lawrence O'Brien. For Black, Dean was investigating the
call-girl ring, but it was with the intent of finding dirt on
Democrats. According to Black, the problem, in terms of Dean's goal,
was that Republicans were using the ring's services, too!
page 825, we read: "The tapes of these June 23 conversations were
released on August 5, 1974, and became known as the 'smoking gun,' but
they were not as damaging as they seemed when presented two years after
the fact as a sort of last straw. [FBI director L. Patrick] Gray had
expressed a concern, denied by [CIA director Richard] Helms, about a CIA
covert operation. Helms told [Nixon aides] Haldeman and Ehrlichman
that he would cooperate if given written instructions and an adequate
explanation, by which he clearly meant that there would have to be an
adequate reason to ask the FBI to desist. No such instructions were
given; no such request [Deputy Director for Central Intelligence Vernon]
Walters spoke again to Gray. The FBI did not desist, and didn't
principally have carriage of the matter anyway. It appeared two years
later, and was represented by the press, as an attempt to obstruct
justice, and it would have been if it had been pushed, but it wasn't
The topic here is the charge that President Richard Nixon
obstructed justice by encouraging the CIA to restrict the FBI's
investigation into Watergate. Nixon's claim was that he was doing this
because some of the people involved in the Watergate break-in were
connected with the CIA, and Nixon didn't want the investigation into
Watergate to blow the lid on any covert operations. Black contends
that, because Nixon didn't press the matter with the CIA, he wasn't
really attempting to obstruct justice.
The low-key manner in which Black describes this topic contrasts with what I was recently reading in Don Fulsom's Nixon's Darkest Secrets.
Fulsom notes that Nixon wanted CIA director Helms to know that
Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt could start blabbing on about the
Bay of Pigs, if Helms did not limit the FBI's investigation into
Watergate. Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman said in The Ends of Power
(written with Joseph DiMona), and Fulsom agrees, that "Bay of Pigs"
meant the Kennedy assassination. Fulsom says that the connection
between the Bay of Pigs and the Kennedy assassination was probably that
"the cast of characters employed in the 1960 plan to invade Cuba at the
Bay of Pigs and kill Fidel Castro and the cast of characters employed in
the plan to assassinate Kennedy in 1963 were the same" (page 130).
refers to the testimony of Haldeman and John Ehrlichman (in their
books) that Helms really erupted when they brought up the Bay of Pigs,
to the surprise of Haldeman and Ehrlichman! Haldeman quotes Helms as
saying: "The Bay of Pigs has nothing to do with this! I have no concern
about the Bay of Pigs." Fulsom later refers to Haldeman's statement in
The Ends of Power that Haldeman told the President that Helms
"got the picture" and said he'd "be very happy to be helpful"
(Haldeman's words). But Fulsom narrates that Helms then "had second
thoughts and was refusing to cooperate with Nixon's gambit" (pages
135-136). Fulsom then dryly relates: "For that insubordination, he was
eventually banished to be the ambassador to Iran." Fulsom depicts Nixon
as more heavy-handed in his treatment of the CIA than Black does.
On pages 826-827, Black states: "For the reelection committee to pay
the legal costs and living expenses of part-time and full-time employees
is quite in order. It has been assumed that this was 'hush money,'
payments made in exchange for silence about CREEP or White House
involvement. In all the voluminous material, it is not clear that was
even the implicit intended nature of the payments, at least at the
outset. As time went by, what amounted to blackmail was attempted by
some of the defendants, and some was paid. But it is not clear that
submitting to blackmail constitutes obstructing justice. It was,
however, both shaming and demeaning to the presidency."
to correspond with Black's overall take on Watergate, at least in what I
have read so far: that Nixon did foolish things, things that were
beneath the Presidency, and yet he arguably did not do anything that
would deserve impeachment.
He chose poorly
2 hours ago