E. Howard Hunt, one of more than two dozen men who went to jail for their role in the Watergate scandal, died Tuesday, January 23, 2007, at the age of 88. In this July 1, 1972, oval office conversation, Charles W. "Chuck" Colson∇, a White House political operative, tells the president that Hunt is not motivated by money, but ideology.
When former President Richard Nixon∇ agreed to televised interviews with David Frost in return for $1 million, he didn't know what he was in for. Three years after Nixon resigned the presidency, the British television personality would confront him on camera with previously unpublished transcripts from his first recorded conversation with White House political operative Charles W. "Chuck" Colson∇ following the Watergate break-in. "The real significance" of the excerpts from the June 20, 1972, conversation, wrote Frost's researcher, James Reston, Jr., in The Conviction of Richard Nixon, "lay in the chemistry of the interview. Here was Frost at the very outset of the Watergate narrative with new and highly damaging material. What else did he have? How many new tapes would he spring? How sure could Nixon be that his old lines of defense would hold?" The confrontation is memorialized in a current Broadway play, "Frost/Nixon." In the conversation Frost quoted, Nixon and Colson minimized the importance of Watergate in comparison to another scandal which in the news at the time involving IT&T and expressed the hope that the break-in would soon be forgotten.
Please note that because this recordings suffers from particularly poor sound quality, we have been unable to confirm with confidence the transcript used by Frost. That original transcript is available here.
President Richard M. Nixon wanted to delay the Watergate break-in trial until after the 1972 presidential election, and on August 1, 1972, White House Chief of Staff H.R. "Bob" Haldeman∇ informed him that he would get his wish. The lawyers involved all had heavy court calendars that would not be cleared until the end of the year, so there was little chance for a trial to begin before Election Day.
Historians trying to explain the Watergate break-in usually point to an earlier break-in at the Beverly Hills office of a psychiatrist who had treated Daniel Ellsberg, the man who gave the New York Times the Top Secret Defense Department history of Vietnam that became known as the Pentagon Papers. Both break-ins had the same “masterminds,” former CIA agent E. Howard Hunt and former FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy. Both break-in crews included CIA assets recruited from Florida’s Cuban-American community. Both were carried out on Richard Nixon’s behalf, but it remains uncertain whether the President knew of plans for either crime before it was committed. The break-in at the psychiatrist’s helps explain Watergate, but what explains the break-in at the psychiatrist’s? Below is an attempt to explain the conspiracy theories that Richard Nixon formed—and acted on—in the aftermath of the Pentagon Papers’ publication.
Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara found himself struggling with a mounting sense of frustration over the Vietnam War. McNamara concluded in early 1967 that a comprehensive analysis of the history of U.S. involvement in post-1945 Vietnam was needed, partly out of a need to answer his own questions about how things had gone wrong. McNamara ordered his Second Military Assistant, Army Lieutenant Colonel Robert G. Gard, to initiate a study into the history of America’s role in Vietnam, with an emphasis on the internal policy-planning and decision-making within the U.S. government. Shortly thereafter, on June 17, 1967, the Vietnam Study Task Force was officially created under the direction of Leslie H. Gelb∇, the director of Policy Planning and Arms Control for International Security Affairs at the Department of Defense.
It wasn’t the crime, but it wasn’t the cover-up, either. Something more basic took down a president 33 years ago. Long before prosecutors identified him as an unindicted coconspirator, Richard Nixon∇ was a conspiracy theorist. In the last 10 years, the government has systematically declassified hundreds of hours of White House tapes recorded on a voice-activated system that President Nixon had the Secret Service install in the oval office. They reveal a textbook example of what historian Richard Hofstadter called “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”