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March 20, 2011

Watergate through the eyes of John Mitchell

Watergate Exposed: How the President of the United States and the Watergate Burglars Were Set Up As Told to Douglas Caddy, Original Attorney for the Watergate Seven
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James Rosen's eye-opening look at Watergate through the eyes of John Mitchell
Saturday, June 14, 2008
HH: A special couple of hours ahead on the Hugh Hewitt Show. An extraordinary new biography is out, and if you have a gift-buying need either for Father’s Day, or when we replay this in the fall, for Christmas or a birthday or anything else, if the person you’re thinking about buying was born before 1960, they are going to love this book. It’s called The Strong Man: John Mitchell And The Secrets Of Watergate. I’ve linked it at And its author, James Rosen, joins me now from Washington, D.C., where he’s of course a correspondent with the Fox News Channel. James Rosen, welcome, congratulations on an extraordinary book for reasons I’ll discuss. But I hope that impression is widely shared among people who’ve had a chance to read it thus far.
JR: Hugh, thank you for your kindness. I very much appreciate it.
HH: Let’s talk a little bit about The Strong Man: John Mitchell And The Secrets Of Watergate. But first, you. Give people a little bio on your background as a journalist, James.
JR: I’m, was born in Brooklyn, raised in Staten Island, New York. I attended the Johns Hopkins University, earned a B.A. in political science, kicked around in local politics for a little bit, went back to grad school, got a Masters in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Sometime after college, around 1991, I started work on this book, and just kept with it while I was doing other things, getting that Masters degree. I crawled my way through, up through the ranks of small market television. I did a stint in Rockford, Illinois, a stint in the Bronx, joined Fox News in 1999, covered the White House for the last year of Bill Clinton, the first four of George Bush, covered the State Department under Condoleezza Rice for about two years, and mostly, recently, I’ve been doing campaign stuff.
HH: Now James, you’ve also been a print reporter. This is one of the things that distinguishes you in your work on television, is that you have worked the print side. I think it brings a lot of depth to your reporting on television.
JR: Thank you.
HH: But I mean, you’ve been an editor for Playboy, but you’ve been writing for some of the big papers for years.
Athwart History: Half a Century of Polemics, Animadversions, and Illuminations: A William F. Buckley Jr. OmnibusJR: I have been, I was never a daily deadline print reporter, but I have done a lot of publishing in magazines. My first article was in National Review in 1992. I want to acknowledge here a debt to the late, great William F. Buckley, Jr., who gave me my start in journalism, gave me a grant to start the John Mitchell book back in 1991, got me published in National Review for my first article the next year. And I really regret that Mr. Buckley did not live to see the official publication of The Strong Man, but I think he would have liked it.
HH: Let’s talk a little bit about the book itself, the history of the book, not the contents of it, because I find it’s kind of an extraordinary journey. I’m drawn to it, of course, because I went out to San Clemente in 1978, having graduated from Harvard, went to work for David Eisenhower, and six months later, was spending lots of time, almost every day, with Richard Nixon through the period of time in which you put John Mitchell back, by the way, at Casa Pacifica. I believe I was at that party when John Mitchell was out there.
JR: Okay.
HH: So I have a huge interest in Mitchell and in Nixon and Watergate. But I think anyone who lived through these years, young or old, is going to be drawn into this book. But you’re too young. That’s why I’m wondering how could you have said I’m going to devote, in essence, sixteen years of my life to Watergate and John Mitchell, because I could see someone my generation doing it, but you’re too young.
JR: I was born in 1968. I grew up in New York in the 1970s. I had an older brother who kept telling me you missed everything. You missed the Beatles, you missed Woodstock, you missed Muhammad Ali, you missed Watergate, the Moon landing. And I just, as a young person, found the era that immediately preceded me, or that consumed the years when I wasn’t really senescent, to be a fascinating time, and I still do. I never imagined I would spend seventeen years on the book, of course, but it turned out that way.
HH: Now I have written on, in one of the first reviews I did of The Strong Man: John Mitchell And The Secrets Of Watergate, that perhaps the secret to its appeal is that to get the 60s and the 70s, you have to take a firm position, you have to stand somewhere in order to see the kaleidoscope going around. You chose to stand in the space that John Mitchell occupied. Why did you go there back in 1991?
The Black Panther Party: Service to the People ProgramsJR: Once I was in college, I had already devoured the sort of secondary literature of Watergate, all the books, the memoirs. And I decided well, I want to see some primary material. So I spent two summers when I was at Johns Hopkins working as an intern in the National Archives’ Nixon Presidential Materials Project, which at that time controlled all of the ex-President’s papers and tapes. And those two summers just got me hooked on dealing with actual documents, actual tapes. And I decided I must make my own contribution to this literature, which was already sprawling by that point in the late 80s. and it dawned on me that the, of all the major and minor figures of the Nixon presidency and Watergate, the only ones who hadn’t written his own book, or had a book written about him, was John Mitchell, and he was the central guy. Let’s not forget, for benefit of younger listeners, John Mitchell was Richard Nixon’s law partner in the 60s, he ran both of Nixon’s winning presidential campaigns in ’68 and ’72. Mitchell then served as Attorney General of the United States, the country’s chief law enforcement officer, highest ranked law enforcement officer during a uniquely chaotic and scary time that saw the killings at Kent State, the rise of radical groups like the Weather Underground and Black Panthers, the May Day riots, and so on. And then by virtue of his involvement in the Watergate cover-up, not the break-in but the cover-up, Mitchell was convicted on criminal charges and sent to prison, the highest ranking United States government official ever to go to prison. Nixon didn’t do time, Agnew didn’t do time, John Mitchell, the former Attorney General of the United States, did 19 months. There were no books written by or about Mitchell. There were three about his colorful, volatile wife, Martha Mitchell, who had a knack for drinking a lot and calling reporters in the middle of the night, and saying provocative things to them, and thereby became famous. Three books about her, none by or about the guy that reshaped the modern Supreme Court, the guy that helped desegregate the modern public school system in the South, and integrate the public schools there, and who was basically a major actor on the American political scene. That’s why I chose Mitchell.
HH: As we work through these two hours, we’re going to cover many of those segments in depth. But I want to start, however, by noting you have…I’m a Watergate guy. I know this stuff. I helped build the Nixon Library for goodness sake. But there’s sources in this book previously never explored or explained or exposed. Hat’s of to you. You found stuff like the handwritten notes of Haldeman and Ehrlichman. You had lots of interviews here, and you got stuff that was only recently declassified. Give the audience a sense of the new material you put on the table in The Strong Man: John Mitchell And The Secrets Of Watergate.
JR: I conducted 250 interviews for this book, with major and minor figures from Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger and others on down. I also used the Freedom Of Information Act aggressively over many years’ time to pry loose literally hundreds of thousands of new documents and tapes that had never before been seen by any other researcher. I like to say, Hugh, if you want to blow your dad’s mind, get him this book, because this is not your father’s Watergate. I come to some very bold, revisionist conclusions about the central mysteries of that time, such as who ordered the Watergate break-in, what was the purpose, what was the role of CIA. To give your audience two examples…
HH: Well, wait. James…
JR: Yes, sir.
HH: Let’s tease them the right way. They’re going to have to earn it.
JR: (laughing) All right.
HH: (laughing) We’re not going to put it all in the first ten minutes. They’re going to have to earn it. Let me ask you, though, to set up still, did you get to sit down with Mitchell? You often refer to an interviewer sitting with Mitchell in the third person. Is that James Rosen?
JR: No. Mitchell died three years before I started work on this project. What I did want to mention was two sets of archives that no other researcher had every before asked to see, which I was quite shocked. One was the internal files of the Watergate special prosecution force.
HH: Yup.
JR: These were the special prosecutors in Watergate. What did they know about Watergate? And when did they know it? And chiefly about their star witnesses whose testimony helped bring down Nixon and Mitchell, John Dean and Jeb Magruder? The internal memos flying back and forth by the staff lawyers on the Watergate special prosecution staff, including Richard Ben Veniste, who later became famous as a member of the 9/11 Commission, showed that the Watergate special prosecutors knew very early on that their chief witnesses, Dean and Magruder, were peddling deeply flawed testimony, and that that testimony would need to be reshaped, reworked actively by the prosecutors in order to secure a conviction against the person everyone regarded as the big enchilada in the case, John Mitchell.
HH: I will foreshadow something here, James, is I put down certain chapters, I thought to myself some ethics professors in the legal academy are going to have to look here and come to a conclusion about whether prosecutorial misconduct occurred here, because you’ve laid a predicate for assuming that it has. What’s your sense of that?
JR: I think I agree with you that it deserves that kind of examination. At a minimum, exculpatory materials were withheld from John Mitchell and his defense team.
HH: That’s what I mean. That is a, that’s a huge problem for history as they look back. That is what…an innocent man, or a man presumed to be innocent, is supposed to get that from the prosecution, and they sat on it.
JR: And they sat on it. And moreover, there were smoking guns throughout the Watergate prosecutors’ own files, where in memos, they would say, and I’m paraphrasing, things like Dean’s testimony is not supported by the Nixon tapes here. We would do well simply to omit this. We shouldn’t call this fellow to the stand, because he tends to support Mitchell rather than Magruder, we will have to operate on the theory that it went down this way, or we will have to say that it happened on this date and not the date that Dean said so, because John Mitchell’s logs support him on this or that. The other set of documents, Hugh, that I was the first researcher even to ask to see, some 5,000 pages of testimony collected by the Senate Watergate Committee Investigation staff, everyone remembers seeing who lived through Watergate, the Senate Watergate hearings, in the summer of 1973, where Dean testified, Magruder testified, John Mitchell testified, Alexander Butterfield in that forum revealed that Nixon had recorded his own conversations. They riveted the nation. 80 million Americans watched. Almost every one of those witnesses, before they went on television to testify under oath, first testified under oath in what they call executive session.
HH: And you’ve got those notes. We’ll talk about them when we come back.
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HH: I’m a big fan of Richard Nixon, James Rosen, but I’ve got to tell you, it’s a pretty damning portrait of RN that emerges from this book, especially with regard, and I’m going to foreshadow here a little bit as well, when it became necessary to Nixon’s view, he threw his closest ally, and perhaps closest confidant in the government, overboard, John Mitchell.
JR: Yeah, it’s…I with I could have come to a better conclusion, but you know, you mentioned the party that you think you attended back in 1979, that ex-President Nixon held for John Mitchell after Mitchell got out of prison. At that party, with guests assembled poolside in San Clemente, Nixon said very simply in his toast, John Mitchell has friends, and he stands by them. And what he meant by that was, of course, that Mitchell had gone to prison, taken his punishment like a man, unlike most of the other Watergate characters, Mitchell never wrote a book, he never traded evidence, real or fabricated, against people more senior than him, which would have been Nixon in Mitchell’s case, in exchange for a more lenient sentence. He never went on the lecture tour, he never went on the Mike Douglas show, and he never found God. And what Nixon was also alluding to when he said Mitchell has friends and he stands by them, was implicitly an acknowledgement on Nixon’s part that everyone poolside knew from the publication and dissemination of the transcripts of the Nixon tapes, that in the spring of 1973, when things got hairy, as the Watergate cover-up was starting to unravel, Richard Nixon did not stand by John Mitchell, and that tucked away in the National Archives on great magnetic spools, for all of posterity to listen to, are 3,700 hours of tape that preserve Richard Nixon’s betrayal of his best friend.
HH: It’s a fascinating recounting here when he’s meeting with Haldeman and Ehrlichman, Nixon is, in the hideaway office, and he decides basically, Mitchell’s got to go, Mitchell’s got to fall on the sword to save the administration. John Mitchell knew that. He had figured it out by the time he went back to trial, and then of course out to San Clemente for the party in 1979. He sucked it up. It’s really quite an astonishing, lawyer’s lawyer display. I guess that’s why the title, The Strong Man, is so deserved here.
JR: Yes, and you know, in Nixon’s defense, somewhat, he agonized, the President did, for the better part of months, nine months, over the involvement of John Mitchell in Watergate, because as the book also makes clear, Nixon was hearing a lot of disinformation from some of the people around him about John Mitchell. And so he went back and forth, Nixon did, on the great question, did Mitchell do it? Did Mitchell order the Watergate break-in? Of course, I conclude in the book that he did not. Nixon vacillated on that question, and ultimately, it didn’t really matter. What mattered to him was that Mitchell had become a liability, and so Nixon made the decision he made to sort of throw John Mitchell to the wolves.
HH: Now I want to back up and find out what produced this kind of an individual, both his intellect, extraordinary, his accomplishment, significant, before he hooks up with Nixon in the 60s, and that means a little bit of time on early Mitchell. Can you give us the brief sort of walk-up…
JR: Thumbnail sketch?
HH: Yeah.
JR: Sure.
HH: On where he ended up in New York practicing bond law.
Lebenthal On Munis: Straight Talk About Tax-Free Municipal Bonds for the Troubled Investor Deciding "Yes...or No!"JR: Mitchell was born in Detroit in 1913. He was actually a little bit younger, just a few months younger than Richard Nixon, but Nixon always kind of looked up to Mitchell as a sort of older brother figure. His family moved to Long Island, New York, when he was about five. Mitchell grew up there, he attended Fordham, and Fordham Law School. He had a brilliant, legal mind. Very early on in his legal career, he developed an innovation in the field of municipal bonds, which enabled states and municipalities to exceed state constitutional debt limits without going to the voters for approval. It was called the moral obligation bond. It was John Mitchell’s baby. And in the 40s and 50s and 60s, it made him a ton of money, because the concept was used literally in all 50 states. And it was first, and most greatly popularized by Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York. And it was at that point, which Mitchell living a fabulous life out in Rye, New York, living on the 17th fairway of the Apawamis Country Club Golf Course in Rye, that he, his law firm merged with Richard Nixon’s in 1967. And Mitchell’s contacts in all 50 states were so extensive, Democrat or Republican, he knew virtually every politician in America of any note. And Nixon, of course, preparing for his 1968 comeback run for the presidency, took note of that. And it wasn’t long before Mitchell was actually running the ’68 campaign.
HH: Let’s back up a little bit, though, and tell people one of the astonishing things I learned from The Strong Man is that Bobby Kennedy approached John Mitchell prior to Jack Kennedy’s run in 1960, with a request that he run Kennedy’s campaign.
JR: This was a story that Mitchell delighted in telling his children. But I also heard it from a former aide to John Mitchell’s, independently of Mitchell’s family, so it comes from two sources, that in 1960, Bobby Kennedy was kept waiting by Mitchell, who was then in private law practice and had no association with Richard Nixon, and Kennedy didn’t like that. And finally, when he got in to see Mitchell, he said how would you like to run my brother’s campaign, or help my brother’s campaign in 1960 for the presidency. And Mitchell said no. Kennedy then apparently produced a number of documents suggesting that it would be in the interest of Mitchell and his clients if he did, whereupon Mitchell, according to the story, threw Kennedy out of his office.
Many, many years later, after Nixon resigned and John Mitchell got out of prison, and all the dust had settled, a former aide took Mitchell out to lunch and he said Mr. Mitchell, if you had it all to do over again, what would you do differently, and he thought for a moment, and he said I’d have run Jack Kennedy’s campaign. 

HH: Now I do want to pause for a moment here, because you plant very early in the narrative, The Strong Man, a seed which flowers later, which is John Mitchell loved to exaggerate. He would tell stories of his growing up and setting fire to his schoolhouse, and throwing books into the fire. His wartime service took on a lot of barnacles that weren’t true. What was that in him?
JR: That is a very important point you’re raising, and I’m not sure I ever was truly able to get to the bottom of it. As his daughter and his brother told me, he lived very much within himself, and he would be a very hard person to get to know. And in fact, his most famous statement remains, you would be better advised to watch what we say rather than what we do about the Nixon administration. So there was a certain inscrutability about John Mitchell, which made it very hard to be his biographer. I did conclude that he perpetually exaggerated some childhood tall tales, and also that he at least at a minimum allowed to be perpetuated some false stories about his World War II service, although he served honorably, we want to point that out, in the Navy, in the South Pacific, in the latter part of the war, but stories that started to appear when he was Attorney General, to the effect that he had rescued Pappy Boyington, the Medal Of Honor winner, that Boyington thanked him once a year for the rest of his life, or that he was one of John F. Kennedy’s commanding officers in the P.T. boats service in which both men served. All of these were false. I’m not sure why Mitchell either perpetuated, or allowed to be perpetuated, these stories. One thing I was sure of, Hugh, was that Mitchell had a certain contempt for reporters, and he enjoyed seeing them made fools of. I don’t that it is smart or wise or fair, even, to draw a connection between this trait as demonstrated here, and his later convictions for perjury in Watergate.
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HH: The Decade of Shocks, James, who called it that? You mentioned him in the book, I don’t have my note right here.
JR: It’s a historian named Tom Shachtman. 
HH: It’s a beautiful description for the years ’63-’74, culminating in the resignation and the trial of John Mitchell. This segment, I want to go back to the beginning of the Nixon-Mitchell relationship. It’s unlikely because, and by the way, an aside, one of the virtues of The Strong Man is when necessary, you’ll take a moment or two to describe one of the sidebar characters, in this instance, then-New York governor, future vice president, longtime Nixon thorn, Nelson Rockefeller, Rocky. And you point out Rocky was drawn to, and perhaps better than any American politician, employed the talents of talented people. He spotted John Mitchell, and brought him in to work. But why didn’t that disqualify him in the eyes of Nixon?
The Trials of Henry KissingerJR: Well, it’s interesting, John Mitchell at that time was a Wall Street lawyer, and Nelson Rockefeller made use of Mitchell’s legal gifts to embark on an enormous construction program for the state of New York. And as I say, this was aped in almost all 50 states by other governors. The reason that this didn’t disqualify John Mitchell in Nixon’s eyes as a potential aide or supporter in the campaign of 1968, was number one, that John Mitchell was Nixon’s law partner by that time, and we should also point out that Henry Kissinger, who was a Harvard professor, and an expert on the use of nuclear weapons in the 1950s, had also been a supporter of Nelson Rockefeller’s in the ’68 campaign. And once Rockefeller’s campaign sort of died out, without blinking an eye, Kissinger found himself a supporter of Richard Nixon. And Nixon eagerly adopted Kissinger onto the campaign, perhaps because he spotted in Kissinger a fellow practitioner of realpolitik, both on the world stage and in the political arena. And so I don’t think that Nixon regarded those who had some prior relationship with Rockefeller as necessarily anathema for him.
HH: And before the merger of Nixon’s firm and Mitchell’s firm, he’s this very successful bond lawyer. And you referred to him as many people do. Bond lawyers are three steps above the archangels. What is that? Where’s the origin of that?
JR: (laughing)
HH: By the way, I have a couple of partners who are bond lawyers. They love that. But tell me what the origin of that is.
JR: That came from a book called A Question Of Judgment by Robert Shogan, who covered the Justice Department for the L.A. Times in the early ‘70s. And he was referring to the tendency among some bond lawyers to regard themselves with a certain air of superiority. The Bond Bar in the 1940s, which was where Mitchell cut his teeth, was a notoriously staunchy bastion of old-school, old boys club type of fraternal atmosphere. And I think that’s where that phrase comes from.
HH: It certainly does, but what’s interesting about the Fordham Fordham John Mitchell, is that in many respects, there’s a mirror here of Nixon, East Coast to West Coast, Nixon, Whittier and Duke, and crawling his way up, John Mitchell, Fordham, Fordham, doesn’t come from a lot of money but breaks into Wall Street. No wonder they were attracted to each other.
JR: Yes, and the difference, though, the key difference, Hugh, between the two men was that John Mitchell, while ascending the classes and earning the confidence of the Rockefeller family, and becoming a very successful lawyer and member of golf clubs and that sort of thing, retained a kind of bemused contempt for the upper classes and their ways, and never lost sight of his sort of Scotch-Irish roots. He was sort of like a tough cop, as one of his aides put it to me. Richard Nixon craved the approval of the upper classes, burned with some kind of class envy and resentment that he would never truly be accepted by the Kennedys or the Rockefellers.  Mitchell didn’t need that acceptance. He had it, and yet didn’t need it. And that was something that drew Nixon to Mitchell.
HH: Now let’s talk a little bit about the merger. One person approaches John Mitchell in your book and said why did you choose to join Nixon’s law firm, and he responded Nixon joined my law firm. What’s the truth there?
JR: The truth is that Mitchell was wrong there. Nixon’s name was already on the law firm shingle of Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie and Alexander when Caldwell, Trimble and Mitchell was sort of acquired by, and merged with the Nixon law firm. So the merger took place because Mitchell’s law firm, largely on the basis of his genius, had become the number one law firm in the country on the very lucrative work of municipal bonds and the financing of public works projects. Nixon, Mudge, Rose wanted to tap into that, and so that’s why that merger took place.
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HH: James Rosen, here we are at the end of a primary campaign that’s been extraordinary and rule-breaking, and at the cusp of a presidential campaign which could be as difficult and as close of that of 1968. But when you take us in The Strong Man back to the campaign of ’68, it was not about primaries. It became about primaries, but up until that time, no one really had focused that much on them. But it was John Mitchell’s strategy, with Richard Nixon’s concurrence and assistance, that Nixon had to run and win. Explain that to people.
JR: Nixon was a national figure by 1968, of many years’ standing. But he had not won an election on his own since 1950. He in fact had lost his last two elections, the presidential race against John F. Kennedy in 1960, and the gubernatorial race in California, in 1962. And that race had ended with Nixon’s shrill, self-emulating cry of just think what you’re going to be missing, he said to the press. You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore. Not a bad impersonation, right?
HH: Well, I don’t think so. It’s not that good, James. Those of us who worked with him a lot, we can do it pretty well, James, but go ahead.
JR: (laughing) Well, and it’s tempting. And the problem that hovered over Nixon’s ’68 campaign was the notion of Nixon as a loser.
HH: Right.
Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American ConsensusJR: And in order to dispel that notion, Mitchell as the campaign manager, simply decided we have to run our candidate in a set of primaries, and win and show that he’s a proven vote-getter, and thereby established some notion of invincibility. In that era, unlike our own, what the real central of focus was the conventions. And the conventions were often contested affairs. And so was 1968. And as fact, as I’m fond of pointing out to conservatives, Hugh, who don’t like to talk about John Mitchell or Richard Nixon or Spiro Agnew, because they like to pretend that there is a straight line between Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, and maybe they throw a nod in the direction of Bill Buckley. But in fact, in the great age of radical chic, when it was least fashionable to do so, the prime exponents of law and order and conservative values were Nixon, Agnew and Mitchell. In that one occasion where Nixon, where the Republican Part had the straight-up choice between Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, they chose Dick Nixon in 1968, at that convention.
HH: Largely because of the efforts of John Mitchell to organize his 50 state contact list. I also want to pause here to tell people about Operation Eagle Eye, because I think John McCain and his staff would be well advised to read this very closely as we head into the campaign against Obama, because you know, there will be places, I wrote a book in 2004, If It’s Not Close, They Can’t Cheat, but that was really an extraordinary anticipation by John Mitchell of what it would come down to in 1968.
JR: Yeah, one of the problems for Nixon in 1960 had been allegations, which most scholars have accepted as truth at this point, of widespread voter fraud in Texas, Virginia and Illinois, and particularly Cook County, Illinois. And so determined to avoid any recurrences of that, John Mitchell had a program called Operation Eagle Eye, where they really stayed on the people who were tending the ballot boxes in the various precincts in Cook County, Illinois, to make sure that voting returns were kept on the up and up, and also released early. This came to be a problem, I believe recently, with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in one particular primary, I think it was Lake County…
HH: Yup, Indiana.
JR:  There was a delay in the release of the returns.
Anna Chennault: Informal Diplomacy and Asian Relations (Biographies in American Foreign Policy, No. 8)HH: Right, in Indiana. And I think it’s going to happen again. Now I want to forge ahead, but there is an interregnum between Nixon’s win and the installation of his administration, which comes up again and again in the book, and it’s the Anna Chennault affair.
JR: Yeah.
HH: And it really is interesting, because I think you, at the conclusion of this book, say much more than the perceived crimes of Watergate, Mitchell was culpable for this?
JR: What we’re talking about is in the closing weeks of the 1968 campaign, Nixon and Mitchell were very fearful that the Johnson administration, which was of course at least nominally supporting the candidacy of Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic nominee, would unleash on the campaigns some kind of October surprise, some last minute announcement of a bombing halt in Vietnam, in order to sway the campaign, the election, to Hubert Humphrey in the last few minutes, last few days. In order to guard against that prospect, Nixon and Mitchell used an intermediary, a Washington hostess named Anna Chennault, who had excellent contacts throughout Asia, in order to serve as an intermediary to the South Vietnamese government, to ensure that the South Vietnamese would understand, as Nixon and Mitchell wanted them to, that they would get a much better deal in any peace talks with North Vietnam if they had a strong Republican in office like Richard Nixon. And this has been described as an illegal act, persuasively to my mind. It constitutes private citizens interfering in the diplomatic business of the United States government, in wartime, no less. And I brought some new evidence about that effort to the table in this book. I should point out that there is a historian working on the same subject matter who tells me he has obtained Anna Chennault’s private notes from that time, and that I’ve got it all wrong. We’ll see about that.
HH: Now let’s move forward to the administration. John Mitchell didn’t want to be Attorney General. That’s clear.
JR: Correct.
HH: And how did Nixon persuade him? And how long did it take to persuade him?
JR: It took him the better part of a few days, and asking Mitchell, according to Mitchell, 23, 24, 25, 26 times. I’ve seen him use variants of those numbers in various forms. Mitchell was concerned about his wife. Martha Mitchell, his second wife, was an emotionally unstable person, with on top of that, a drinking problem. And he was concerned that if he brought her to the, under the klieg lights of Washington, and the Washington press corps, that it might be bad for her. Nixon spent a lot of time trying to convince Mitchell that it would in fact be good for her. There’s also evidence that Mitchell consulted one of Martha Mitchell’s psychiatric doctors, and who sort of gave the approval for it. So with that in mind, Mitchell reluctantly agreed to serve as Attorney General.
HH: Now he quickly becomes, as you say, “America’s preeminent symbol of counterrevolution.” And I’ve got to alert the audience, there’s so much in this book about Bill Ayers and the Weather Underground. Of course, Bill Ayers now linked very closely with Barack Obama. I want to go to break by reading from Page 82, “Mitchell was a symbol said Bill Ayers, a member with his wife, Bernadine Dohrn, of the infamous Weathermen.  A Marxist offshoot of the SDS, the Weathermen took their name from a line in Bob Dylan’s 1965 alienated youth anthem, Subterranean Homesick Blues. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Initially, they mounted a resistance to Amerikkan,” double K, “imperialism, and are in street clashes with police. Later, they assume clandestine identities, change their collective names to the Weather Underground, and began detonating bombs at courthouses, correctional facilities, police stations, the Capitol, Pentagon. In Mitchell’s rise to power, Ayers saw ‘one more step in a kind of impending American fascism’.” Ayers, Mitchell and the counterrevolution when we come back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
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HH: James Rosen, you can almost whiff the tear gas coming out of the pages of this book. As we went to break, I read Bill Ayers, the radical, unrepentant terrorist who’s so close to Barack Obama. Did you realize when you…obviously, you didn’t, when your book went to press, that Bill Ayers would be back in the headlines?
Underground: My Life with SDS and the WeathermenJR: No, but I did interview him and Mark Rudd, and some of the other members of the Weather Underground for this book in 2004, and he was unrepentant about the Weather Underground then as well.
HH: And he and the rest of the left hated John Mitchell. And tell people why.
JR: They saw him in the words of Mark Rudd, who led the Columbia University uprising in 1968, as “a Wall Street Nazi.” They saw that Nixon and Mitchell rode to office in 1968 on a promise of restoring law and order. This was, in essence, as I say in the book, a counterrevolutionary promise. Nixon and Mitchell would be the ones who would restore law and order, would take on the hippies and the pushers and the stoners, and the anarchists, and restore a kind of Eisenhower civility to American life. And so, of course, he attracted the ire almost uniquely of the far left in American politics, during what was called “the movement.”
HH: You know, next hour, we’re going to focus primarily on Watergate, but I do want to close this hour by saying your reconstruction of the days of rage, the Mobe against the war, November 13-16 of ’69, and Kent State, I grew up, was in Warren, Ohio, about thirty miles from Kent State, and my cousin was there on the day of the shooting, it’s very evocative. You can get lost in these years, can’t you, Rosen?
JR: I did.
HH: Yeah.
JR: I spent seventeen…I’m still there.
HH: It’s an amazing period of time that I don’t know that is much appreciated now. Did you happen to tape your interview with Ayers?
JR: Yes.
HH: Have you released those tapes yet?
JR: I haven’t. I have the transcript. I’m not sure…if he becomes more of an issue in the fall campaign, perhaps there’ll be some reason to do that.
HH: Did you ask him about Barack Obama?
JR: No, this was 2004. Obama wasn’t even in the Senate yet.
HH: I know, but I’m just curious. You know, you go fishing. I still think, he is going to be a huge issue here, because he was so instrumental in launching Barack Obama’s campaign, that I think you’re sitting on a goldmine there, James Rosen. So the fact of the matter is, he also had epic battles with Nixon over the extent of something called the Huston Plan and other things, and John Mitchell, believe it or not, America, often stood for civil liberties in that period. True or not true, James Rosen?
Privacy on the Line: The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption, Updated and Expanded EditionJR: Well, he certainly stood for civil liberties for African-Americans, because John Mitchell presided over the non-violent desegregation of the Southern public school system, did more than many other executive branch officials, almost all, in order to ensure racial harmony in our schools. He also stood, Mitchell did, while he clamored for, as Attorney General, expanded wiretapping powers, even John Dean, who sent Mitchell to prison with his damning testimony, acknowledged that Mitchell was sort of a restraining influence on Nixon and some of the people around him. He was not, as Dean said, a sinister force.
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HH:  It resonates to this very day in so many ways, you will be amazed as you read through The Strong Man, and I’ve linked it, and I hope you go get to it. Part of it has to do with the paranoia that infected the Nixon administration, and we get to Watergate this hour. James Rosen, who, in your opinion, ordered the Watergate break-in? 
JR: John Mitchell was always accused of ordering the Watergate break-in. It was something that he denied until the day he died. No court of law ever, as a matter of fact, determined who ordered the Watergate break-in. John Dean, the president’s youthful White House Counsel, and the admitted leader of the Watergate cover-up, according to all of the evidence that I developed in the research that I conducted, is the most logical answer to that three decades-old mystery.
HH: And why would Dean have done it?
JR: All right, let’s work backwards. In order to understand who ordered the Watergate break-in, let us first determine what was the actual purpose of the break-in, what was the target of the break-in? The break-in was not just a break-in, Hugh, it was also a wiretapping operation. Two wiretaps were installed in Democratic National Committee headquarters in the spring of 1972. One was on the telephone belonging to the secretary of Larry O’Brien, the chairman of the Democratic Party at the time, like Howard Dean is today. That wiretap never worked. In fact, it never could have worked, as the person who installed it, James McCord, the CIA veteran who was on the wiretap team, the break-in team, as he full well knew, this wiretap required a line of sight transmission in order to be heard. And Chairman O’Brien’s office was set so far back from the exterior façade of the Watergate building that there wouldn’t be line of sight between the wiretap and the reception post set up across the street on Virginia Avenue in the Howard Johnson’s Motel where they had set up the listening gear. The other wiretap was placed on a telephone of the secretary of a mid-level, obscure DNC official named R. Spencer Oliver, that John Mitchell testified correctly that he had never heard of. R. Spencer Oliver’s office abutted the terrace that overlooked Virginia Avenue, and so his office and that telephone, and the wiretap inside of it, did indeed enjoy line of sight transmission to the reception post across the street in the Howard Johnson’s. And indeed, this wiretap on the phone of R. Spencer Oliver and his secretary was the one listening device that did work, was transmitting, was monitored by the wiretap monitor for the roughly three week lifespan of this doomed surveillance operation that ended on the morning of June 17 with the famous arrest that we’ve all seen in the movie, All The President’s Men

All the President's Men (Two-Disc Special Edition)So first, if we’re going to ask what was the target of the Watergate break-in, it seems to me counterintuitive coming at it all these years later, and without the passions of the era, that it’s counterintuitive to say that the wiretap was really, the target was really Larry O’Brien, even though his wiretap never worked, couldn’t have worked, and didn’t work, and wasn’t monitored, and that the wiretap that was working, and did work, and was monitored for the whole lifespan of the operation, was somehow extraneous, Spencer Oliver.  

So now that we know the target was Oliver, why would anybody have wanted to bug Spencer Oliver? The contents of those intercepted conversations have been protected by a gag order, Hugh, and still in place, since January, 1973, because after all, the conversations will illegally intercepted. But we do have some contemporaneous evidence from that time, and also new evidence, that tells us what the contents of those conversations were, or some of the contents. 

HH: Let’s go right to it. It’s not salacious as much as it is historically fascinating these days, because we’ve grown so used to having call girls in Washington, D.C.
JR: Yeah.
CasablancaHH: It’s hardly a revelation. Oh, my gosh, there’s gambling going on here.  
JR: (laughing) And the Eliot Spitzer resignation shows us that there are these high level intersections between politics and prostitution. And all of the evidence we have about the nature of those intercepted conversations on Spencer Oliver’s telephone in the DNC in 1972, suggest the conversations overheard, they involved explicit sexually graphic talk. In the 1980s was the first time someone attempted to explain this, and they explained that the phone was being used to set up dates between Democrats and a call girl ring operating out of the Columbia Plaza apartment complex about two blocks away. We do have the arrest and prostitution records that show there was a Columbia Plaza prostitution ring. In the 1990s, Hugh, for the first time, it was alleged that John Dean’s wife, Maureen Dean, had her own ties to the Columbia Plaza.
HH: Now John Dean sued to stop that allegation from being made, correct?
JR: He did, and ironically, that lawsuit produced testimony affirming those allegations. And all of my research and evidence that I developed tended to confirm these allegations. So Hugh, we have worked backwards from who is the target?  R. Spencer Oliver and his phone.  Why would he have been targeted? For some of the racy talk going on over his phone, the connection between DNC and Columbia Plaza.  Who would have been in a position to know about that? The only logical answer is John Dean, and that’s why I came to that conclusion that he ordered the break-in in my book.

Blind Ambition: The End of the StoryHH: Has John Dean reacted to The Strong Man: John Mitchell And The Secrets Of Watergate yet?
JR: We should point out that he has, over time, always denied having ordered the break-in. He and his wife have denied that she had anything to do with prostitution or organized crime figures. They have sent me periodic legal threats of legal action, sort of like cicada season, every so often. And he got a hold of the galleys, and threatened suit at that time.
HH: Has he brought suit yet?
JR: No.
HH: You know, Stewart or Joseph Alsop, I can’t remember which of the columnists said, described John Dean as a bottom-dwelling slug. 
JR: That was Joseph Alsop.
HH: At the conclusion of your work, was Joseph Alsop wrong?
JR: (laughing) I have no grounds on which to dispute that.
HH: (laughing) I love that. I was supposed to appear with Dean at a Palm Springs book show, and he cancelled. And I was so looking forward to discussing The Strong Man with him, because I’ll tell you, the one thing you cannot put this book down and think of is that John Dean is other than a horrible human being, and the classic stool pigeon sneak who rose too fast, too far, and then did everything he could to cover his tracks and get out ahead, and took everyone down with him. I don’t know how anyone could conclude anything else after this material. And you didn’t start with a grief against Dean, did you?
JR: No, I had no dog in the fight. I just wanted to examine these allegations about the Deans and John Mitchell and the call girl angle, and just to substantiate or refute it. And my evidence led me where it did.
The Gemstone File: A MemoirHH: When we come back from the break, we’re going to talk about Gemstone and how it got to the point where John Dean had the authority to do this. But I want to back up, because the roots of paranoia in the Nixon…I know Nixon, right? I worked with him since 1979. I didn’t know about the Moorer-Radford affair. I didn’t. And so I assume that most people don’t know that the Pentagon was spying on Richard Nixon in his first year in office. Explain to people about that, because it explains so much about the Nixon presidency.
JR: In 1971, the plumbers who executed the Ellsberg and Watergate break-ins, and are generally cast as a lawless group, actually did some legitimate national security work. They discovered that a young Navy yeoman, a stenographer who was attached to the National Security Council under Henry Kissinger, had been actually spying, taking documents out of Kissinger’s briefcase while he slept on foreign trips, rifling through burn bags and wastebaskets and so forth, and had taken something on the order of 5,000 documents, and given it back to his superiors, two admirals, who in turn passed it on directly to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Nixon…this went on for thirteen months in wartime. So what you have are the top uniform military commanders spying on the commander-in-chief and his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger. Nixon was informed of this in December, 1971, after the plumbers discovered it.
HH: December, 1970, isn’t it?
JR: 1971 is when he first found out about it.
HH: Okay.
JR: I was the first researcher to go to the National Archives and get the tapes of Nixon being informed of this, the tapes of Nixon calling the chairman of the joint chiefs for the first time, calling various other players in this bit of intrigue for the first time. And what’s interesting is how deeply John Mitchell was involved in the response, which was basically, Nixon wanted to prosecute the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Thomas Moorer, for espionage. And Mitchell basically said let me handle it quietly. In a sense, Nixon and Kissinger were like car thieves who discover one of their cars that they have stolen has been stolen itself. Are you going to go to the cops? Because they were running so many secret initiatives, the bombing of Cambodia and other things, that they really couldn’t afford a public prosecution of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.
HH: Now what’s interesting in the book you write, by allowing men he distrusted, and who distrusted him, to remain in place in the White House and the Pentagon, Nixon ensured that the culture of secrecy and paranoia that infused his first term persisted until the Watergate scandal aborted his presidency. I think that’s profound, James Rosen, and I want you to expand on it a little bit.
By not removing Radford, by not rooting out and denouncing, and perhaps prosecuting this, he had to basically build himself a palace within the palace.  
The Forty Years War: The Rise and Fall of the Neocons, from Nixon to ObamaJR: This is referred to, this whole episode, as the Moorer-Radford affair, Moorer being the chairman of the joint chiefs, Radford being the young Navy yeoman who was doing the actual spying. And what I was kind of describing there, really what I was alluding to was the presence of Alexander Haig in the picture. Haig was Kissinger’s deputy at the National Security Council. It was at Haig’s insistence that this specific yeoman was placed as an aide de camp to Kissinger on these foreign trips. So it was at Haig’s insistence that this young man was able to get the proximity he needed in order to do this spying. And one of the earliest questions that Nixon asked about this,  which he called a federal offense of the highest order, he was outraged about it, was did Haig know? And John Ehrlichman, who was investigating it, said yes. And they decided just keep Haig in place as well as a liaison for the joint chiefs.  
HH: Wow. 
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HH: James Rosen, before we plunge into the actual Watergate cover-up, Mitchell’s, there are three scandals running concurrent with the Watergate scandal. There’s the ITT scandal, there is the Vesco scandal, and there are the White House horrors.
JR: Right.
HH: Can you kind of…one of the things I love about The Strong Man is that you’ve organized it so that people can get their arms around these separate streams of scandal, and keep them separate, because it’s not one big lake. It’s three different, four different rivers of scandal. Can you very quickly walk through them?
JR: Sure, and I appreciate that. The ITT scandal was the allegation by columnist Jack Anderson in 1972, about six months before Watergate broke as a story, that the Justice Department under Attorney General John Mitchell had secretly conspired with, to get rid of some anti-trust suits that were pending against the massive conglomerate ITT, in exchange for ITT funding parts of the 1972 Republican convention. Brit Hume, my boss at Fox News, was at that time a researcher to Jack Anderson, and of very different political coloration than he might admit to being today, and broke that story. And it almost sent Mitchell to prison. Ultimately, there really wasn’t much at the heart of it. The Justice Department did not fix those suits. The suits just churned along against ITT, and ITT was eventually forced into one of the most massive divestitures in American history.  
HH: James, an aside, you’ve got this beery, loopy, alcoholic lobbyist for ITT who really launches this.
JR: Right.
HH: Has the culture of Washington changed significantly? It’s so unprofessional, but those were those days. Do you think this sort of stuff still goes on?
JR: It still goes on, but it has to be done much more on the QT, because there are much tighter disclosure rules, in part as a result of the Watergate era.
HH: All right, on to Vesco.
JR: The other scandal we mentioned was the scandal involving Robert Vesco, who was the original fugitive financier. Vesco was a millionaire, sort of self-made guy, with a large ego and a short fuse from New Jersey, who was under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for some of his dealings. He wanted very badly for that investigation to be made to go away. He was friends with someone who was friends with John Mitchell, and used his connections to see if he couldn’t get Mitchell to give him some help. Mitchell and the Commerce Secretary, Maurice Stans, were ultimately put on trial in New York on federal charges that they interfered with the SEC investigation in exchange for a $200,000 dollar campaign contribution from Vesco. Vesco himself was separately indicted for looting a mutual fund of $224 million dollars in 1972 dollars, Hugh.
HH: Yeah.
JR: And he fled the country rather than face those charges. Mitchell and Stans were fully acquitted on all charges, and that, in a nutshell, is the Vesco scandal.
HH: Maury Stans, by the way, an old acquaintance of mine. He was the chairman of the fundraising effort for the library when I was overseeing its construction, and always talked about how his exoneration was never fully understood by the public.
JR: Correct.
HH: And I’m so glad in The Strong Man you give the time it deserves, because he was such an honorable guy. He was a prolific fundraiser, and within the rules he raised the money.
JR: And a member of the accounting hall of fame.
HH: Right. And so I’m glad…this is just a little aside here. Now I also love the part about the Vesco trial, where you talk about Peter Fleming. 
JR: Yes.
HH: And I have a question for you first. What happened to him? After getting Mitchell and Stans acquitted, and destroying John Dean on the stand in a wonderfully recreated series of pages here, why didn’t Fleming defend Mitchell down the road?
JR: Perhaps Mitchell’s fate would have been very different if he has used Fleming as his counsel. I think that had to do with the fact that the Vesco trial, as it was called, was held in New York, and Mitchell wanted Washington counsel for the cover-up, Watergate cover-up trial, which took place in Washington.
HH: Is Peter Fleming still alive?
JR: He is alive, and since…before, during and after his association with Mitchell, he is one of the most highly sought after criminal defense attorneys in New York. He’s in semi-retirement at this point. He has read this portion of the book, and affirms it to be a very good reconstruction of the events of the Vesco scandal.
HH: I quote here, “Peter Fleming got John Dean on the witness stand and destroyed him, Mitchell exulted to an interviewer in August, 1988, 90 days before his death, absolutely destroyed him.” I had erroneously assumed that you were that interviewer, James Rosen. Who was it?
JR: That was a man named Len Colodny, who wrote a book, co-authored a book called Silent Coup: The Removal Of The President, and it was the book that made the allegations about Maureen Dean. It’s a very important book in Watergate literature.
HH: When did it come out?
JR: It came out in 1991…
HH: Okay.
JR: …and for which, he conducted something on the order of 80 hours of telephone conversations and interviews with John Mitchell. And Colodny was very kind to allow me access to them.
HH: Now you also write in here, “That’s all a jury wants to hear, is a defendant’s testimony.” John Mitchell took the stand in his trial.
JR: Both of them, yes.
HH: …and destroyed Dean as well. My question is after that, basically it doesn’t make a dent on the Washington press corps, does it?
JR: No, and Mitchell stands trial. The Vesco trial was significant for a number of reasons. First, the defendants were acquitted at the height of the Watergate frenzy. Number two, and it remains the only trial of two Cabinet members, it was the first time that the Nixon tapes were played in any public setting, in the courtroom there for the jury. And it was also the first sustained cross-examination in a courtroom of John Dean, who later became the chief witness at U.S. V. Mitchell, in the trial of Mitchell, Haldeman and Ehrlichman. He fared much better down in Washington in the Watergate trial than he did against Peter Fleming in the Vesco trial in New York.
HH: Now the White House Horrors as well, I want to make sure we segregate those off from John Mitchell. They went on, they’re Chuck Colson’s responsibility, but describe what they were and who ran them.
The Pentagon PapersJR: This was a term, the White House Horrors, that Mitchell himself coined, pointedly, to refer to the fact that they took place, and they had their origin, in the White House, not in the Justice Department or the Committee To Re-Elect The President, which were the two institutions that Mitchell had run. The White House Horrors referred to the break-in at the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in order to get, presumably, secrets about the mental state of the man who leaked the Pentagon papers to the New York Times. They included the forging of fake cables, State Department cables, that would implicate the Kennedy administration in the assassination of the South Vietnamese president, Ngô Ðình Diem, in 1963, and other like operations. They weren’t all Colson’s responsibility. Some of them were, but ultimately, in some sense, they were Richard Nixon’s responsibility.
Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon LiddyHH: Oh, sure, and they’re also Dean’s responsibility in some sense. But Colson had the war, as he wrote pretty obviously in his book about his conversion, that he took full responsibility at the conclusion of this for the terrible things that went on in the White House regarding that. I want to go to Page 259 to set up the next segment. “If there was one single moment where John Mitchell could have changed the course of his life, intervened to avert his rendezvous with ignominy, it was shortly after Eleven on the morning of January 27, 1972, in the arrival in his office at the DOJ of three men: John Wesley Dean III, Jeb Stuart Magruder, and George Gordon Liddy,” G. Gordon Liddy we know him as. And he didn’t take advantage of it, did he, James Rosen?
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HH: This is the, these are the three segments that we have left, James. I think we bring Watergate right to the present. John Mitchell gets a visit from John Dean, G. Gordon Liddy, Jeb Stuart Magruder, and they unveil Gemstone. Tell people what Gemstone was, and Mitchell’s, well, inept response.
JR: Gemstone was the codename that G. Gordon Liddy assigned to his proposal for a massive campaign of covert intelligence that the Committee To Re-Elect The President, the 1972 campaign committee for Richard Nixon, could undertake in order to make sure that radicals wouldn’t disrupt the 1972 Republican Convention, for example. And he had the chance to show John Mitchell his plans for this while Mitchell was still Attorney General, and about to head over, to leave the Justice Department, to go run the campaign. So in the Attorney General’s office on January 27, 1972, Dean, Magruder and Gordon Liddy show up so that he can present Gemstone to Mitchell for his approval. And it involves this series of colorful charts on an easel, and really wild plans that Liddy had developed, in part through Dean’s encouragement, under the notion that Dean propagated to Liddy, that Liddy could have at least $500,000 dollars as a budget, which was huge amounts of money in 1972. And Mitchell sits there and puffs on his pipe while Liddy outlines these plans for chase planes to shadow the planes of presidential candidates and pick up their internal communications, using hardened criminals to disrupt anti-war demonstrations and kidnap the leaders of them to Mexico, the use of houseboats and prostitutes in order to pry out secrets from supine and prostrate Democrats. It was just wild stuff, and Mitchell finally, when it was all over, everyone turned to him for his response, and he said, as he relit his pipe, Gordon, I’m not quite sure that’s what I had in mind.
HH: I love that quote.
JR: He said that’s not quite what I had in mind.
HH: It’s on Page 264. But of course, the lesson is, and it came back to him time and time again. Why didn’t you throw them out of your office? Why didn’t you call the authorities? Well, he was the authority, and they didn’t propose anything, well, they did propose illegal things, but they hadn’t committed a crime. But in retrospect, he ought to have fired them all.
JR: Well, the best explanation of that, actually, was by William F. Buckley, who wrote in 1974, that that’s not the way things happen in government and in polite society. And he said if someone had come to me, William F. Buckley, Jr., and proposed that I should be made director of the Gulag Archipelago, I would simply thank them, and say I’ll think about it, and send them on their way, you know. In essence, he recognized that Liddy was a talented lawyer, and someone who could run a legitimate covert program that would guard against a radical disruptions at the convention and so forth. And all he wanted was for the guy to go back to the drawing board and develop a legitimate program. The same cast of characters trudged into Mitchell’s office at the Justice Department a week later with a scaled-down program, and once again, its scope and its cost was considered beyond the pale, as Mitchell put it, and it was rejected again. Gemstone came back to John Mitchell a third time, on March 30, 1972, in Key Biscayne, Florida, by which point, Mitchell had left the Justice Department, was no longer Attorney General, and was now just the head of the Nixon re-election campaign. And about all of these meetings, Hugh, I should point out, that the various characters, their testimonies conflict with each other about what actually happened. But all, at the third meeting, there were three people present. Liddy was no longer there, his latest, most scaled-down version of Gemstone was presented on his behalf by Magruder. There were three people present at the fateful Key Biscayne meeting – Mitchell, Magruder and a guy named Fred LaRue, that worked for John Mitchell. And by all accounts, there was a split in the testimony here. Mitchell said I turned it down a third time, flat out turned it down. Magruder said in various iterations of his testimony, that Mitchell approved the Watergate break-in at that meeting. Fred LaRue said Mitchell told Magruder, and LaRue was consistent on this over thirty years’ time, that Mitchell said this is not something that has to be decided right now. So what you have, by all accounts, and the Senate ignored this, the House Impeachment Committee ignored this, Woodward and Bernstein ignored this, everyone’s been content to ignore this, but it’s plain as day, that you had two or three people at this meeting saying that Magruder walked away without approval. And yet history records that at this meeting, somehow, John Mitchell approved the break-in.
HH: And what’s amazing, and what we talk about after the break, from March 30, 1972, through June 17, 1972, occur the ten weeks of events that really shape American history for the next thirty years, because they lead to the downfall of Richard Nixon, they lead to the collapse of Vietnam, they lead to the election of Jimmy Carter, they lead to the mullahs’ ascension in Iran, and they lead to the presidency of Ronald Reagan as well, in ten weeks, from March of 1972, to mid-June.
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HH: James Rosen, I just said ten weeks that changed the country. They begin on March 30th, they end on June 17th, really, when John Mitchell gets a phone call that the Watergate burglars have been arrested and are in jail. He’s at the Beverly Hills Hilton hotel. What happened in between those ten weeks? Who gave the break-in…we go back to…we think it’s Dean. You’ve persuaded me that it’s Dean. But who told, actually physically told G. Gordon Liddy to go ahead? 
JR: That was Jeb Magruder, who was Mitchell’s deputy at the Nixon re-election campaign.  
HH: And so it may have been on orders of Dean, or it may have been Magruder on his own volition. What do you think? 
JR: Well, the conclusion I reached in the book was that John Dean, according to all of my research and evidence, was the person who gave Magruder the order to give to Liddy. By all accounts, Magruder was a sort of a weak character, and wouldn’t have had the cajones to sanction so dicey an operation on his own.
HH: And so after it gets going, and they’re all arrested, et cetera, the phone call comes into the Attorney General. They dispatched G. Gordon Liddy out to the golf course to try and get the Attorney General to spring them. It’s like Keystones Cops, reliving this.
JR: Well…
HH: And I think what you convey is that no one really had a clue what they were doing for a period of time here.

JR: And this surfaces on the Nixon tapes. You know, the conspirators here never could bring themselves to say okay, we are covering up a crime, let’s do it effectively. They would cross their legs and talk in discreet, gentlemanly terms about, well, managing the case. They spoke in bureaucratic terms, because they couldn’t really bring themselves to even admit that they were engaged in a criminal conspiracy.
And on the tapes, you hear people like John Dean say we don’t know how to do this, in terms of delivering hush money and that sort of thing. And you hear Haldeman volunteer at one point, don’t you go to Vegas to launder it? I don’t…and Dean says we’re not the Mafia. We don’t know how to do things like this. So there is an element of ineptitude here. 
HH: There’s also an element of surrealism. You describe a party that John Mitchell went to on the last calm night of his life. It’s a fundraiser beside a pool with Jimmy Stewart, Jack Benny, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Zsa Zsa Gabor. It’s a different world in 1972.
JR: Clint Eastwood is still around. That’s a good thing.
HH: He’s still around, but did you actually talk to him about this? Does he remember this?
JR: No, I didn’t.
HH: The hunt for money to hush up Jim McCord and Howard Hunt, and the Cubans, and G. Gordon Liddy, is what really enmeshes John Mitchell. And in fact, it’s fairly clear he had a role in this, don’t you agree?
JR: No, in fact, I conclude that he was estranged from the business of approving hush money. Mitchell was convicted of ten overt acts listed in his indictment by the Watergate special prosecutors. And I came to the conclusion that he only committed one of those acts.  
HH: But James, I know you wrote, “I never met with John Mitchell,” when Herb Kalmbach says, “I never met with him. Mitchell never asked me to raise the money.” But I got a sense from your book that he knew money-raising was going on for the purpose of taking care of these guys.
An American Life : One Man's Road to WatergateJR: Yes, but that doesn’t mean that he was culpable in it. I can know that right now, there’s organized crime activity taking place in Kansas City, Missouri. It doesn’t mean that I’m culpable in it. My point is that the one act in the Watergate cover-up of which I conclude Mitchell was indeed guilty, and right to have to serve a prison sentence, was his subornation of the perjury of Jeb Magruder
HH: Right.
JR: The Watergate prosecutors got a hold of Magruder’s desk diary. They saw that these two Gemstone meetings we were just talking about in Mitchell’s office as Attorney General, even though Mitchell turned down Gordon Liddy’s illegal schemes three times, Mitchell recognized the public perception would be that an attorney general who had clamored for expanded wiretapping powers, no one would ever believe that he turned down a bugging of the Democratic National Committee. And so he wanted very much for those meetings never to see the light of day. And he suborned Jeb Magruder’s perjury, that they would tell a false story to the Grand Jury about what those meetings were actually about.
HH: Do you think he had an obligation, though, after this blows up, to tell Dean to stop raising the hush money, to stop and go to the defendants and say guys, we’ve got to fess up? After Nixon’s re-elected, because he always gave his defense, as you detail, getting Nixon re-elected was more important than anything else. That was his basic uber-defense. But did he have an obligation, in your view, to step up and say we’re raising money to hush these people up?
JR: There may have been, to use a term that is apt in any discussion of John Mitchell, a moral obligation. I do not believe, as a matter of the law, that there was a legal obligation for him to do so.
HH: All right, I want to talk, before we run out of time, about Martha. But before I get there, the operational diary in Howard Hunt’s old executive office building safe, on Page 343. This is, to me, the key act that not many people understand. This was really the record of what was going on with the wiretaps. What happened to that diary, James Rosen?
JR: John Dean, as he later admitted, destroyed it, but he fed it into a shredder that groaned on the strength of the job it was assigned. Dean withheld the fact that he had destroyed Howard Hunt’s operational diary of the Watergate break-in until after he concluded his plea deal with the Watergate special prosecutors. And in fact, just about a hundred days after he did that destruction, he was asked about the materials in Hunt’s safe by the Watergate Committee during his testimony on the Hill, and he gave a long, circumlocutory answer. But for the man who was supposed to have such an incredible, astounding power of memory, it was amazing that Dean, a hundred days after destroying that notebook, didn’t remember to tell the Senate Watergate Committee about it.
HH: Now it was always Nixon’s view that John Mitchell was crippled through this process by the deep, deep dysfunction of his wife, an alcoholic, it appears to me bi-polar, by your vivid descriptions. Before we talk about the specifics of that, though, she was sort of an epic figure. As you point out at one point, in one thirty day period, there were 5,000 stories on Martha Mitchell. I don’t think people understand today sort of, she was a prefiguring of our celebrity culture, to a certain extent.
JR: Exactly. Very well put, yes. And Martha Mitchell, to be alive in the year 1970, was to find the sound of her voice, and the sight of her face inescapable. She was on the cover of Time, the cover of Life, the cover of Look. She appeared on 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace. She was on the Today Show with Barbara Walters, all of the sort of appurtenances of modernity.
HH: And to this day, do people have an idea of how sick she was?
JR: I hope my book will convey it.
HH: It does. She was really a broken figure, and died not long thereafter.
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HH: I want to thank James Rosen of the Fox News Channel about his brand new book, The Strong Man: John Mitchell And The Secrets Of Watergate, linked at Thanks also to Adam and Generalissimo for being here. James, Page 390, “Senator Talmadge asked am I to understand from your response that you placed the expediency of the next election above your responsibilities and intimate to advise the President of the peril that surrounded him? John Mitchell: Senator, I think you put it exactly correct. In my mind, the re-election of Richard Nixon, compared to what was available on the other side, was so much more important, that I put it in just that context.” And if I had to send one page of your book to anyone to explain what happened in Watergate, that’s the page, James Rosen.
JR: Well, Hugh, we must remember that Watergate didn’t take place in a vacuum. It took place against the backdrop of the Vietnam war, and the still-larger backdrop of the atomic age. And the stakes, once you have a nuclear age, the stakes for who we make our president, as we’re finding out again today, are very large indeed. They are potentially fatal, and so I think what Mitchell was referring to there was the imperative, in his mind, of having Richard Nixon with his finger on the nuclear button rather than having George McGovern sit as commander-in-chief.
HH: At the conclusion of the book, you quote CBS’ John Hart on Page 439. “John Mitchell understood. It was a big game for him, played by rules he understood, and he lost.” A big game, played by rules he understood, and he lost it. So he wasn’t “bitter” at the end?
JR: He had bitterness toward men that he had treated like sons, like John Dean and Jeb Magruder, and even Fred LaRue, performing in a sense, acts of patricide against him by testifying against him falsely, and sending him to prison. As Mitchell told an intimate in the years when he was still appealing his case and preparing to go to prison, my mistake was not in law, but in men.
HH: And last question, James Rosen, you’ve written this sort of epic book. What do you do next? Are you done with writing? Or do you dive into another book?
JR: There’s a bunch of books I’d like to get off my chest before I die. I hope not to take seventeen years. I will sacrifice quality for speed and cut that time fully in half, maybe. If it were up to me, there is a specific book about Auschwitz that I would like to write, and also a small but vigorous manifesto in defense of Ringo Starr and his contributions to the Beatles. You can imagine, Hugh, which book my wife wants me to write next.
HH: (laughing) I am sure.
JR: (laughing)
HH: And I know which one’s probably more controversial. James Rosen, a pleasure talking with you. Congratulations, a magnificent book, The Strong Man: John Mitchell And The Secrets Of Watergate. Has it been reviewed by the Post yet?
JR: The Washington Post, very snide. My smackdown runs on June 15.
HH: Oh, I look forward to it. James Rosen, thanks, have a great Father’s Day.
End of interview.

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