The Company Nixon Keeps

“Though the average voter may think impeachment means to remove the President from office and the average congressman may be puzzled by the apparent low constituent interest, once the indictments are out and the trail continues to lead to the Oval Office, a weed by any other name smells just as rancid.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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