The coup against President Trump is a remake of the coup against Nixon by the exact same players
Now that we've all had a ring-side seat to 3 years of Russia, Russia, Russia and FBI shenanigans to drive President Trump out of office, it's easy to see NOW how Watergate was indeed a setup to do the same to President Nixon. A coup to unseat an elected President.
Who helped? George HW Bush, the CIA, Stephan Halper, the FBI, the Washington Post and White House Counsel John Dean. The CIA and the U.S. military Joint Chiefs of Staff were at war with Nixon because they were opposed to the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam, they were opposed to the SALT arms limitations agreement with the Soviets, and they were opposed to Nixon's strategy to use China as leverage in his foreign policy. Sound familiar?
On June 17, 1972, a group of burglars, carrying electronic surveillance equipment, was arrested inside the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate building complex. The men were quickly identified as having ties to the Nixon reelection campaign and to the White House.
Though at the time the incident got little attention, it would snowball into one of the biggest crises in American political history, define Richard Nixon forever, and drive him out of the White House.
Most historical accounts judge Nixon responsible in some way for the Watergate burglary—or at least for an effort to cover it up. And many people believe Nixon got what he deserved. However, the real story about Watergate turns out to be an entirely different story than the one we thought we knew.
In his memoirs, Nixon described how he first learned about the burglary while vacationing in Florida, from the morning newspaper! He recalled his reaction at the time:
"It sounded preposterous. Cubans in surgical gloves bugging the DNC! I dismissed it as some sort of prank. The whole thing made so little sense. Why, I wondered. Why then? Why in such a blundering way. Anyone who knew anything about politics would know that a national committee headquarters was a useless place to go for inside information on a presidential campaign. The whole thing was so senseless and bungled that it almost looked like some kind of a setup."
Nixon was actually suggesting not just a setup, but one intended to harm him. Perhaps because anything he might say would seem transparently self-serving, this claim received little attention and has been largely forgotten.
On June 23, Nixon’s chief of staff, H. R. “Bob” Haldeman, came into the Oval Office to give the president an update on a variety of topics, including the investigation of the break-in. Haldeman had just been briefed by John Dean, who had gotten his information from FBI investigators.
HALDEMAN: The FBI agents who are working the case, at this point, feel that’s what it is. This is CIA.
NIXON: Of course it is. This is an E. Howard Hunt operation, and exposure of it will uncover a lot of things. You open that scab there’s a hell of a lot of things and that we just feel that it would be very detrimental to have this thing go any further. This involves these Cubans, Hunt, and a lot of hanky-panky that we have nothing to do with ourselves. This will open the whole Bay of Pigs thing.
Of course, it is important to remember that Nixon knew every word he uttered was being recorded. Like his predecessors Kennedy and Johnson, he had decided to install a taping system so that he could maintain a record of his administration. He was, in a way, dictating a file memo for future historians.
But that doesn’t make everything he said untrue. While Nixon undoubtedly spun some things, he still had to communicate with his subordinates, and the tape was rolling while he was trying to run the country. Those were actual meetings and real conversations, tape or no tape. And though the result was 3,700 hours of White House tape recordings, Nixon evinced merely sporadic consciousness of the fact that the tape was rolling. Only after his counsel John Dean defected to the prosecutors did Nixon appear to be tailoring his words.
Nixon’s memoirs, combined with the tape of June 23, make clear that Nixon recognized certain things about the implementation of the burglary. The caper was carried out by pros, yet paradoxically was amateurish, easily detected—an instigation of the crime more easily pinned on someone else. A break-in at Democratic Party headquarters: On whom would that be blamed? Well, who was running against a Democrat for reelection that fall? Why, Richard Nixon of course.
Nixon, who frequently exhibited a grim and self-pitying awareness of how he generally was portrayed, might have grasped how this would play out publicly. Dick Nixon: ruthless, paranoid, vengeful -Tricky Dick. Wouldn’t this burglary be just the kind of thing that
that Dick Nixon—the “liberal media’s” version of him—would do? Nixon’s opponent, George McGovern, made this charge repeatedly during the 1972 campaign.
Though Nixon would sweep the election, it would become increasingly apparent to him that, where Watergate was concerned, the jury was stacked. The path was set. Someone had him in a corner. But who?
Many people, including those within Nixon’s own base of support, were not happy with him—even from early in his administration. As Haldeman noted in his diary, one month after the inauguration in 1969:
"Also got cranking on the political problem. The President's obviously concerned about reports, especially Buchanan’s, that conservatives and the South are unhappy. Also he’s annoyed by constant right-wing bitching, with never a positive alternative. Ordered me to assemble a political group and really hit them to start defending us, including Buchanan and political specialist Harry Dent."
There would be growing anger in the Pentagon about Nixon and Kissinger’s secret attempts to secure agreements with China and the Soviet Union without consulting the military. And there were the oilmen, who found Nixon wasn’t solid enough on their most basic concerns, such as the oil depletion allowance and oil import quotas.
As for the burglary crew, Nixon recognized them instantly, because he knew what they represented. While serving as vice president, Nixon had overseen some covert operations and served as the “action officer” for the planning of the Bay of Pigs, of which these men were hard-boiled veterans. They had been out to overthrow Fidel Castro, and if possible, to kill him. Nixon had another problem. These pros were connected to the CIA, and as we shall see, Nixon was not getting along well with the CIA.
One of the main reasons we fundamentally misunderstand Watergate is that the guardians of the historical record focused only on selected parts of Nixon’s taped conversations, out of context. Consider a widely cited portion of a June 23 meeting tape, which would become known forever as the “smoking gun” conversation:
HALDEMAN: The way to handle this now is for us to have CIA deputy director Vernon Walters call FBI interim director Pat Gray and just say, “Stay the hell out of this. This is ah, business
here we don’t want you to go any further on it.”
NIXON: Um hum.
Short edited excerpts like this seem especially damning. This one sounds right off the bat like a cover-up—Nixon using the CIA to suppress an FBI investigation into the break-in. But these utterances take on a different meaning when considered with the REST of the same conversation. A prime example:
Haldeman went on to tell Nixon that Pat Gray, the acting FBI director, had called CIA director Richard Helms and said, “I think we’ve run right into the middle of a CIA covert operation.
Although the first excerpt above sounds like a discussion of a cover-up, when we consider the information about the CIA involvement, it shows Nixon is NOT colluding. He may well have been refusing to take the rap for something he had not authorized—and certainly not for something that smelled so blatantly like a trap.
Nixon would have understood that if the FBI were to conduct a full investigation and conclude that the break-in was indeed an illegal operation of the CIA, it would all be blamed squarely on the man who supposedly had ultimate authority over both agencies—him. And doubly so, since the burglars and their supervisors were tied not just to the CIA but also directly back to Nixon’s reelection committee and the White House itself.
Yet, however concerned Nixon certainly must have been at this moment, he played it cool. He concurred with the advice that his chief of staff was passing along from the counsel John Dean, which was to press the CIA to clean up its own mess.
If the CIA was involved, then the agency would have to ask the FBI to back off. The CIA itself would have to invoke its perennial escape clause—say that national security was at stake.
This must have sounded to Nixon like the best way to deal with a vexing and shadowy situation. He had no way of knowing that, two years later, his conversation with Haldeman would be publicly revealed and construed as that of a man in control of a plot, rather than the target of one.
That Nixon could actually have been the victim of Watergate, and not the perpetrator, will not sit well with many, especially those with a professional stake in Nixon’s guilt. Yet three of the most thoroughly reported books on Watergate from the past three decades have come to the same conclusion: that Nixon and/or his top aides were indeed set up.
Each of these books takes a completely different approach, focuses on different aspects, and relies on essentially different sets of facts and sources. These are 1984’s Secret Agenda, by former Harper’s magazine Washington editor Jim Hougan; 1991’s Silent Coup, by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin; and 2008’s The Strong Man, by James Rosen.
Rosen’s The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate is a biography of Nixon’s close friend, attorney general, and campaign chief, the highest-ranking official ever to be sentenced to prison. The book, on which Rosen labored for seventeen years, is based on sources not previously interviewed and also on unprecedented access to documents generated by the Senate Watergate Committee and Watergate special prosecutors.
Rosen asserts that the Watergate operation was authorized behind Mitchell’s back by his subordinate Jeb Magruder and by John Dean and was deliberately sabotaged in its execution by burglar and former CIA officer James McCord. As Rosen puts it:
"Mitchell knew he had been set up. In later years, his mind reeled at the singular confluence of amazing characters that produced Watergate—Dean, Magruder, Liddy, Helms, Hunt, McCord, Martinez—and reckoned himself and the president, neither of whom enjoyed foreknowledge of the Watergate break-in, victims in the affair. “The more I got into this,” Mitchell said in June 1987, “the more I see how these sons of bitches have not only done Nixon in but they’ve done me in.”
Rosen also writes:
The Watergate tapes unmasked Nixon not as the take-charge boss of a criminal conspiracy but rather as an aging and confused politician lost in a welter of detail, unable to distinguish his Magruders from his Strachans, uncertain who knew what and when, what each player had told the grand jury, whose testimony was direct, whose hearsay.
My independent research takes the argument one step further, and the facts in a completely new direction. It leads to an even more disturbing conclusion as to what was really going on, and why.
The accepted narrative of Nixon as the villain of Watergate is based largely on of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. They both were young reporters on the Washington Post’s Metro desk when the story fell into their laps.
When it was over, they were household names. Woodward in particular would go on to become the nation’s most visible investigative journalist, and indeed the iconic representation of that genre. The work of “Woodstein” would play a key role in enhancing the franchise of the Washington Post itself. Yet this oeuvre—in particular the role of Woodward—has become somewhat suspect among those who have taken a second and third look—including Columbia Journalism Review contributing editor Steve Weinberg, in a November/December 1991 article.
Woodward did not fit the profile of the typical daily print reporter. Young, midwestern, Republican, he attended Yale on an ROTC scholarship and then spent five years in the Navy. He had begun with a top-secret security clearance on board the USS Wright, specializing in communications, including with the White House.
According to this account, in 1969-70, Woodward frequently walked through the basement offices of the White House West Wing with documents from Admiral Moorer to General Alexander Haig, who served under Henry Kissinger.
In a 2008 interview, Woodward categorically denied having any intelligence connections. He also denied having worked in the White House or providing briefings there. “It’s a matter of record in the Navy what I did, what I didn’t do,” Woodward said. “And this Navy Intelligence, Haig and so forth, you know, I’d be more than happy to acknowledge it if it’s true. It just isn’t. Can you accept that?”
Journalist Len Colodny, however, has produced audiotapes with Woodward’s own father, Al—speaking about Bob’s White House service. In September 1971, after one year of training at the Maryland-based Sentinel, Woodward was hired at the Washington Post. The Post itself is steeped in intelligence connections. The paper’s owner, the Graham family, were aficionados of the apparatus, good friends of top spies, and friends also of Prescott Bush. They even helped fund Poppy Bush’s earliest business venture. Editor Ben Bradlee was himself a Harvard graduate who, like Woodward, had spent time in naval intelligence during World War II.
When the Watergate burglary story broke, Bob Woodward got the assignment, The result was a front-page account revealing that E. Howard Hunt’s name appeared in the address book of one of the burglars and that a check signed by Hunt had been found in the pocket of another burglar, who was Cuban. It went further: Hunt, Woodward reported, worked as a consultant to White House counsel Charles Colson. Thus, Woodward played a key role in tying the burglars to Nixon.
Woodward would later explain in All the President’s Men that to find out more about Hunt, he had “called an old friend and sometimes source who worked for the federal government.” Thus began Woodward’s relationship with Deep Throat, that mysterious anonymous source who, Woodward would later report, served in the executive branch of government and had access to information in the White House.
Based on tips from Deep Throat, Woodward and Bernstein began to “follow the money,” writing stories in September and October 1972 on a political “slush fund.” One story reported that the fund had financed the bugging of the Democratic Party’s Watergate headquarters as well as other intelligence-gathering activities. While Nixon coasted to a landslide victory over the liberal Democrat George McGovern, the story seemed to go on hiatus. But just briefly.
If someone did want to undermine the president from outside the White House, he couldn’t have found a better perch than the chairmanship of the Republican Party.
Right after the election, George H.W. Bush, or Poppy Bush, utilizing his pull with Nixon, had persuaded the president to bring him back from his cushy U.N. post and install him at the Republican National Committee. This put him at the very epicenter of the nationwide Republican elite that would ultimately determine whether Nixon would stay or go. Here was a man closely connected to the CIA, as we have seen, now both running the Republican Party and sitting in on cabinet deliberations. An intelligence officer couldn’t have asked for a better perch. Moreover, this put him in the catbird seat just as Watergate began heating up. Meanwhile, Poppy Bush and his team had already been in contact with John Dean.
By the spring of 1973, six defendants had been sentenced in the DNC burglary, and the Watergate hearings were due to begin. There was now an opportunity for Nixon to put the whole Watergate affair behind him, without mortal damage to his presidency. Poppy Bush apparently agreed. Poppy went to see Nixon at the Oval Office. In his usual oblique way, ascribing his advice to others, he urged Nixon to send John Dean to testify.
BUSH: We’re getting hit a little bit, Mr. President. It’s building, and the mail’s getting heavier.
NIXON: What do you think you can do about it? We’ve got hearings coming up. The hearings will make it worse.
BUSH: I was speaking with the executives at the Bull Elephants. The guy said to me, why doesn’t the President send Dean? The disclosure is what they’re calling for.
NIXON: We are cooperating. They don’t want any cooperation. They aren’t interested in getting the facts. They’re only interested in political gain. I wish there were an answer to Watergate, but I just don’t know any. I don’t know a damn thing to do.
Immediately after Poppy tried to convince Nixon to send Dean to testify, Dean himself telephoned the president. Dean asked to urgently meet the following morning and carefully explained to Nixon that there were important details of which the president was unaware and that he would tell him about these things—but did not yet tell him:
DEAN: I think that one thing that we have to continue to do, and particularly right now, is to examine the broadest, broadest implications of this whole thing, and, you know, maybe about thirty minutes of just my recitations to you of facts so that you operate from the same facts that everybody else has.
DEAN: I don’t think—we have never really done that. It has been sort of bits and pieces. Just paint the whole picture for you, the soft spots, the potential problem areas.
In other words, Dean was admitting, nine months into the scandal, that he knew quite a bit about Watergate that he had never revealed to the president. Now Dean planned to clue him in.
Nixon then went on to pressure Dean to issue a statement to the cabinet explaining, in very general terms, the White House’s willingness to cooperate in any investigations. Without going into detail, Nixon wanted to publicly defend the innocence of White House officials whom he believed were innocent:
NIXON: I just want a general—
DEAN: An all-around statement.
NIXON: That’s right. Try just something general. Like “I have checked into this matter; I can categorically, based on my investigation, the following: Haldeman is not involved in this, that
and the other thing. Mr. Colson did not do this; Mr. So- and- so did not do this. Mr. Blank did not do this.” Right down the line, taking the most glaring things. If there are any further questions, please let me know. See?
DEAN: Uh huh, I think we can do that.
But Dean didn’t intend to “do that.” He was seemingly waiting for the right moment to create the right effect—and that moment would not come until he had jumped the wall to the other side and become the key witness for the prosecution.
On the morning of March 21, Nixon’s White House counsel John Dean stepped into the Oval Office and proceeded to deliver a speech that would make Dean famous for the rest of his life. He would dramatically warn the president of a “cancer on the presidency” soon to become inoperable. This speech, which would shortly become Dean’s principal evidence against
Nixon, may have been carefully calculated based on Dean’s awareness that the conversations were being taped. In fact, for this dramatic moment, Dean had begun performing dress rehearsals some eight days earlier. This is borne out by earlier taped conversations—ones whose very existence has been largely suppressed in published accounts. In these earlier tapes, we hear Dean beginning to tell Nixon about White House knowledge related to Watergate. In one unpublicized taped conversation, from March 13, Dean told Nixon that Haldeman’s aide Gordon Strachan had foreknowledge of the break-in, was already lying about it in interviews, and would continue to do so before a grand jury. The Watergate prosecutors, for whom Dean was a crucial witness, had the March 13 tape, but did not enter it into evidence.
DEAN: Well, Chapin didn’t know anything about the Watergate, and—
NIXON: You don’t think so?
DEAN: No. Absolutely not.
NIXON: Did Strachan?
NIXON: He knew?
NIXON: About the Watergate?
NIXON: Well, then, Bob knew. He probably told Bob, then. He may not have. He may not have.
DEAN: He was, he was judicious in what he, in what he relayed, and, uh, but Strachan is as tough as nails. I—
NIXON: What’ll he say? Just go in and say he didn’t know?
DEAN: He’ll go in and stonewall it and say, “I don’t know anything about what you are talking about.” He has already done it twice, as you know, in interviews.
On March 29, barely nine days after he had met with Nixon and recommended having Dean testify, Poppy called the White House with an even more urgent request. As recounted in Haldeman’s diaries, the purpose of Bush’s call was to get the president to start talking about Watergate publicly:
"George Bush just called. This is the most urgent request he has ever made of the President. This is an outgrowth of conversations he’s had with Gerry Ford and Bryce Harlow. He doesn’t necessarily have solutions but feels that this political advice is of the utmost urgency."
Poppy Bush was almost frantic to get Nixon’s ear—again claiming to be carrying input from inﬂuential Republicans. And his message was always the same: it’s urgent that you confess White House misdeeds. Meanwhile, John Dean took the step that would land him in the history books: he publicly switched sides.
Thanks to post-Watergate reporting by several journalists and authors— reporting that failed to gain wide circulation or was aggressively attacked by Dean and others with a vested interest in controlling the story—we now know the following:
• In November 1971, it was Dean who actually recruited two private eyes to do a walk-through of Watergate. Jack Caulﬁeld, a former New York City cop, relayed the order to Tony Ulasewicz, who had worked for Nixon in the past. “Dean wants you to check out the ofﬁces of the DNC.” Ulasewicz complied and simply walked through the ofﬁces as a visitor, casing out the location of desks, who sat where, and any other useful information.
• In January 1972, it was Dean who encouraged Liddy, counsel to the Committee to Re-Elect the President, to set up a “really ﬁrst class intelligence operation,” which led to Operation Gemstone, an intricate plan consisting of several potential clandestine operations, each one named after a precious stone. These included eavesdropping on—and inﬁltration of—Democratic campaigns. Liddy recalls in his autobiography, Will, that it was Dean who “encouraged him to think bigger” because previous intelligence operations had been “inadequate.” Liddy, at Dean’s prodding, incorporated eavesdropping on—and inﬁltration of—Democratic campaigns.
• In April 1972, it was Dean—not Mitchell or Haldeman—who was reportedly the instigator of the break-in at the DNC. Dean ordered Jeb Magruder to ask Liddy: “Do you think you can get into Watergate?” Magruder belatedly admitted this to reporters Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin: “The ﬁrst plan [ for a break-in] had been initiated by Dean,” he told them.
• In June 1972, according to an account offered by Robert F. Bennett— E. Howard Hunt’s boss at the CIA front Mullen Company and himself later a U.S. senator—it was Dean who offered Hunt hush money during the Watergate cover-up. Nowhere in the literature of Watergate has it been suggested that President Nixon knew anything about such an offer by Dean to Hunt so early in the game.
On June 23, 1972, Dean prompted what became the key evidence of a “cover-up” by Nixon: the so-called smoking gun tape. Dean told Haldeman that money found on one of the burglars had been traced to a Mexican-Texan money trail and “our problem now is to stop the FBI from opening up a whole lot of other things.” In other words, Dean convinced Haldeman to discuss the cessation of an investigation, a piece of lawyerly advice that would become part of Haldeman and Nixon’s infamous smoking gun conversation leading to charges of obstruction of justice and cover-up.
Ironically, if anyone was blocking (and monitoring) the investigation, it was John Dean. When FBI director Pat Gray refused to curtail his investigation into the money trail, Dean insisted on sitting in on every one of the FBI’s witness interviews of White House staff. Gray, in his memoirs, concluded that Dean was central to “hatching the plot that would eventually drive Nixon from ofﬁce.”
Carefully reviewing the accumulated facts, it appears that Poppy Bush and John Dean were not serving Richard Nixon’s interests at all. Far from advising the president and advancing his interests, they appear to have been skillfully engineering a series of crucial events whose only outcome could be devastating for Nixon—and then audaciously urged him to take responsibility for those very events.
Less than two weeks after Richard Nixon left Washington in disgrace, and Gerald R. Ford took the oath of ofﬁce, Bush was “offered” a job by President Ford at the other end of the world. And not a bad job. Poppy was to be the United States’ envoy to the People’s Republic of China, a signiﬁcant posting in the aftermath of Nixon’s diplomatic breakthrough with the Communist country. Once again, Bush seemed an improbable choice. But shipping Poppy seven thousand miles away made a different kind of sense. With this move, Ford had effectively put Bush outside both domestic politics and the reach of congressional investigators. So important did this piece of business seem to be that Ford took care of it even before he got around to his most famous act: pardoning Nixon.
When Bush tried to arrange a visit with Nixon to personally convince him to resign, Nixon refused to see him. “The President simply cannot bring himself to talk to people outside of a tiny, tiny circle and this has brought him to his knees,” said Haig.
In the midst of all this upheaval, Poppy Bush could barely contain his excitement, writing in his diary as if he was in the ﬁnal stages of his own covert operation. “Suspense mounting again. Deep down inside I think maybe it should work this time. I have that inner feeling that it will ﬁnally abort.”
Meanwhile, Deep Throat was finally revealed to have been concocted for purposes of making All the President’s Men a snappier read. “Mark Felt at the FBI was an invaluable source but he was not Deep Throat—there was no Deep Throat.” Indeed, the vast majority of Americans never learned either the key facts about Woodward or of these statements from insiders about the ﬁctitious or composite nature of Deep Throat.
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