Thursday, September 19, 2013

Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full 26

I have three items for my blog post today about Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full.

1.  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!

2.  On 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 pushed."

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).

Fulsom 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.

3.  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."

This seems 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.

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