tv CNN Special Report CNN July 3, 2022 5:00pm-6:00pm PDT
the battle. williams was america's last surviving world war ii medal of honor recipient. thank you so much for joining me this evening. don't forget our fourth of july celebration on cnn tomorrow night. starting at 7:00. watergate blueprint for scandal is next. have yourself a very fun and safe fourth of july. the biggest white house scandal in a century broke wide open today. the president's white house legal counsel, john dean, has been fired, reportedly dean is implicated in efforts to cover up the watergate scandal. >> watergate is the largest political scandal in american history. >> five men apparently caught in the act of burglarizing and bugging democratic headquarters in washington. >> many have tried to dissect the events of watergate. i lived them.
>> this room and the next contain my archives. it's magazines, newspaper articles, depositions, documents. everything relating to watergate. >> i was 31 when i went to the nixon white house to work. >> i have no intention of ever walking away from the job that the people elected me to do. >> the job forever changed the trajectory of my life. >> we're not on the road to fascism. but we're dangerously close to it. >> these are the events that are going to follow me to my grave. >> i told the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency. >> we will never give up, we will never concede. we will stop the steal. >> here we are, 50 years later, and the events of watergate are as relevant as they have ever been. >> there will not be a cover-up, there will not be an abuse of power. >> weapons of mass destruction.
>> open up, you traitor! >> my name is john dean. i was richard nixon's white house counsel. >> the morning of june 17th, 1972, i got a call saying they've got this strange, weird burglary in the democratic headquarters. who would be dumb enough to come in and work on this beautiful day? and my name immediately came to their lips. >> i saw all this commotion on the city desk. and it was about this break-in. and it looked like a better story than what i was writing. and so i said, hey, i'd like to make some checks on this. >> well, i did have an apartment in the watergate, but i was far away from where the break-in took place.
it was the height of the '72 primary campaign season. nixon was running for office again. the bureau was empty. i was brand new at cbs news. the assignment editor looks around, he's like, ah, let the new girl go. i bought into the idea that it was a nothing burger. i went to the court and the room was empty. there was one other reporter, this guy from "the washington post" "metro" page. it was bob woodward. >> in come the five burglars, dressed in business suits. nine months on the police beat, i've never seen a burglar who was well dressed. it just telegraphed mystery. >> there were these little things that cropped up that were suspicious. >> our police reporter had learned that first day that they had sequential 100-dollar bills
in their pockets. says to me that somebody probably paid these guys. >> when the d.c. police caught them, they had something like 35 rolls of undeveloped film. and very advanced cameras with them. so they weren't just looking for one file, they were looking for tons of information. >> what's going on here? this isn't just a local break-in after all. i was getting more and more excited about this story. this was going to go higher. >> started calling around, down to florida where the burglars were from, talked to some of their wives. >> at that point, i think i'd moved to the front of the courthouse. the judge said, "where have you worked?" and the lead burglar, james mccord, said, "cia."
and when he said "cia," i think i blurted out "holy shit." >> bob's reaction was the right one, holy shit. some of them had worked for the cia. and james mccord had been employed as a security consultant to the republican national committee. >> what was this? what was its purpose? and who sponsored it? >> five people have been arrested and charged with breaking into the headquarters of the democratic national committee in the middle of the night. >> the democratic national committee is located in the watergate office building. the burglars forced a stairwell door then taped its latch open. the door was noticed by one of the guards employed by the watergate complex. the police found five men crouching behind some desks. >> the weekend the arrests at the watergate occurred, i had
gone to the philippines to give a speech. it was for the bureau of narcotics and dangerous drugs in manila. but let me -- let me go back. the reason i wanted to become a lawyer is that i was very smitten with washington. as early as prep school, i started traveling to washington with my roommate. >> john was very good with people, he was a people person. i found him somewhat quiet. not overly rambunctious or expressive. he was an excellent student, and i was not. so we got along real well. >> he introduced me to his father. and that would have a huge impact on my life. >> my father was senator barry goldwater, and he was a conservative and a leader in his party. >> i would remind you that
extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. >> the senator would take us with him often to various places around the capital. and he was sort of like the cutting edge of the bow of a ship. people would just sort of separate. and the capitol guards would nod and all but salute. it was fascinating. i just never knew about this world. so i went to georgetown. and briefly went into a law firm, and all the time i'm in the law firm i'm looking for a job on capitol hill. and found an opening at the house judiciary committee and got hired there. >> shortly after the inauguration of nixon, i went to work at the department of justice. i was the associate deputy attorney general.
my bosses, dick kleindienst and john mitchell, discovered i was a fast study so they started sending me to go to the white house for background briefers for the media, where programs were explained. that's how i really met people like ehrlichman. he was the first to have the title of "white house counsel." >> ehrlichman had personality. wonderful personality. he had humor. he knew how to talk to reporters. so i have to admit, i liked him very well. >> as you know very well, number one, it isn't the largest white house staff but let's not quibble on that right now. >> as the white house evolved, he decided to become an assistant to the president for domestic policy. so he decided to give up the job of white house counsel. that's when they sent bud krogh to ask me if i'd be interested in the job. >> mitchell said to me, don't take the job at the white house because you'll grow up in the department of justice.
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i didn't have any idea they were going to interview me that night. i probably wouldn't have sipped a couple of scotch and sodas on the way out. so we flew down to san clemente where the president had his western white house. bob haldeman introduced himself, asked me to come into his office. it was very theatrical, the way it was hit up. >> h.r. bob haldeman, considered by insiders perhaps the most conservative and powerful man on mr. nixon's staff. >> haldeman had that funny crew cut, so he always looked like he was from another era. he had no-no humor. just the facts, ma'am. that's the way he presented himself. dark. >> one of the questions that haldeman asked me was, can i be loyal to richard nixon? it struck me as a strange question, because i thought we were all on the same team.
>> the loyalty is about being a member of the group. that becomes the paramount value. if you're not loyal, then you get kicked out of the group. so to maintain your tribal membership, you have to go along with whatever the leader says. and that's incredibly dangerous. >> a vice president, a member of the cabinet, a member of congress who is a member of the president's party, he should always consider that he is dispensable and should do what the man wants. >> after meeting with haldeman, i was taken in to see nixon. my knees were shaking then. and he came across the desk and we shook hands. it wasn't the kind of grip my father taught me, but you know, i figured he shakes a lot of hands and doesn't want to wear them out. and he, in essence, offers me the job. i was 31. this was clearly a big deal. you don't turn down offers from the president. so i said, "yes, sir, i'd be delighted to serve as counsel."
on july 27th, 1970, i began my career at the nixon white house. the first thing i noticed driving in was, there weren't a lot of porch drivers, which i was. >> john dean was new to all of us and very young. he was obviously bright, smart. >> very handsome and kind of had a baby face for a guy who was counsel to the president. >> he wore moccasins with tassels on his shoes, just like the ones i'm wearing now. but that was new to all of us. we were very straight, conservative guys. >> jack caulfield, who would be assigned to my staff, was there to meet me. i was told by caulfield where my office was. and it's right between a bank of elevators and the urinals of the men's room. not a really prime piece of property in the eob.
my first assignment at the white house came very shortly after i arrived. it was a envelope with a red tag, meaning it's something important. the memo said, it has been noted that a magazine had made a vicious charge against vice president agnew alleging that he planned to cancel the 1972 election and repeal the bill of rights. the assignment also said a tax audit would be appropriate on this magazine. i had no idea what to do with this. my immediate reaction was, how petty. i thought, you know, the president shouldn't be worried about things like this. but he obviously is. and this was one of my first glimpses at richard nixon. this is tricky dick. not sure what i would have done
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one of the mysteries of watergate was, why would he do anything in his campaign that could cause a problem? >> it was all about holding on to power, whatever it takes. and i have to destroy my enemies who are out to get me to keep me from holding on to power. >> he was a man filled with revenge. >> as far as the "times" is concerned, hell, they're our enemies, i think we just ought to do it. >> and he would go after enemies any way he thought he could get away with. haldeman's staff decided they wanted to create an enemies project. and that was the enemies list. a fellow by the name of george bell prepared this list, and they monitored this by looking
at newspapers, magazine articles, all kinds of sources where he'd found people who didn't like richard nixon, and they were talking about it publicly. endless names. >> nixon begins to demand action taken against them. some of it was as simple as making sure they weren't invited to the white house for special events. and another was using the irs to investigate them. >> i found the enemies project offensive. the kind of personalities i was working around, they thought this was great stuff. let's attack the enemies. i thought, this is just awful. but it was only going to get worse. much worse. about a year before the watergate break-in, "the new york times" had a headline that they had volumes of documents
that showed the origins of the war in vietnam. and it was a study of things that had gone wrong. this government study was quickly dubbed the pentagon papers. >> daniel ellsberg participated in the drafting of one of these volumes, and he decided to leak it to the press. >> the published documents have exposed a massive deceit practiced by the u.s. government on its own people. >> nixon detested the press. and the public was beginning to view daniel ellsberg as a hero. >> we have as our special guest tonight the raycon of singers. if the music is square, it's because i like a square. >> president nixon, if jesus christ were here tonight, you would not dare drop another bomb. bless daniel ellsberg. >> and so nixon wants something done about it.
we've got to stop these leaks. and that's what leads to the plumbers. >> nixon comes up with the idea of creating a unit within the white house that he can have direct control over. they're called the plumbers because they're tracking down leaks. >> the key figures in the plumbers were g. gordon liddy, d. howard hunt, bud krogh, chuck olson, and david young. but the two most dangerous were g. gordon lidly, and e. howard hand. g. gordon liddy, special agent with the fbi. han has been with the cia. >> in order to protect the lives we would be justified in a homicide. >> g. gordon liddy used the symbol of the "ss" when he signed memos. so he is no friend of democracy. the plumbers had two objectives. one was to prevent leaks.
the second was to discredit his enemies, one being daniel ellsberg. >> the plumbers unit cooks up the idea of breaking into ellsberg's psychiatrist's office. >> the order from erlichman was to find psychiatric notes and do this discreetly. this was an unchecked white house investigative unit. nixon knew full well that his people were going to engage in a crime against an american citizen. but he's not told details of what's going to happen so nixon had deniability. hunt and liddy's team break in. they look around. and they don't find any psychiatric notes. so they decide to make it look like a drug addict has broken into a psychiatrist's office looking for prescription drugs. then they leave.
the beverly hills police come in and they begin to look for suspects. and they have someone in jail as part of a plea deal says he did it. how this person could have been responsible for a break-in when he was actually in custody, one doesn't know. but the case is solved, even though the plumbers and the white house did it. >> nixon would go to any lengths to get something done. and whether or not it's legal would just have nothing to do with it. a year before the watergate break-in, there is a discussion with nixon, haldeman, and kissinger. and they are talking about firebombing and breaking into the brookings institution to get some papers that are in brookings that would make lyndon johnson look bad in his conduct of the war in vietnam and nixon look good.
>> jack caulfield came into my office wide-eyed. and he said, "colson wants me to firebomb the brookings institute." i said, "come again?" >> the president wanted classified documents, and he told the plumbers, do it. chuck colson says, what you're going to do is start a little fire. fire alarms go off. and the plumbers were going to rent a fire truck and answer the fire. while liddy and others go up, go to the safe, break it, and pull out all the classified material. >> i said, this is insane. this is declaring war on a think tank because they have papers the president thinks he wants. >> called john erlichman. he was in california with the presidential party. so i made arrangements to get on the next flight to california. >> and nixon keeps saying, "i want that place firebombed."
and he comes back to it the next day. "have you broken into brookings yet?" day after day. >> i get hold of eric man and i tell him this horror story of what i've heard. and he sort of sits there and takes it all in. at this point i have no idea richard nixon has ordered this. i suspected that might be the case, but i didn't know for certain. >> i'd heard the president say, "i don't care what it takes, goddammit, firebomb the place, firebomb the brookings institute and get in there and get that safe." >> i told erlichman about the insanity of it all, the danger of it all. finally he leans back in his desk, picks up the white house phone, and says to colson, "chuck, young counsel dean is out here, does not think the brookings plan is very good, cancel it, thank you." boom.
i left. i'd been in the white house for about a year. i was losing my respect for these people quickly. did i really want this kind of life? went back to the white house. told haldeman that i thought i had done the best i could and that i had opportunities that i really want to explore. i thought he'd say, well, that's great, thank you for the job you've done. but that isn't the reaction he had. he just said, "you owe it to us to stay. in fact, if you want to be an enemy of this administration, you'll leave." if you have type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure you're a target for chronic kidney disease.
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in the fall of 1971, attention was starting to focus on the election. >> those who have predicted that the other side is going to win the young voters are simply wrong. we're going to win. >> and the decision was made to create the committee to re-elect the president. the acronym for that is "c.r.e.e.p." >> john mitchell is attorney general of the united states, but he's going to become the head of the campaign in 1972. nixon made it clear he wants a campaign espionage team.
his feeling that even though he was president of the united states, but it could be taken all away from him, drove him to find people who would do dirty work. >> keep in mind that the white house was a nasty place that they were hurting people for political reasons. so it was natural that the committee would share these values. >> the committee for the re-election of the president tried to engineer through a vast campaign of political espionage and sabotage who the candidate of the opposition would be. >> to those of you who are older as i am, the first thing we must do is to end our involvement in the war in southeast asia. >> at the time it was by no means clear that nixon was going to win. >> nixon and muskie were neck and neck. >> nixon feared he was going to
lose, and he did not want to be a loser. >> the democratic nomination was a horse race. and in the beginning, the front-runner was muskie. george mcgovern was the weakest of the candidates. >> one of the dirty tricks that the nixon team used was the canuck letter. >> nixon's re-election committee sent a fake letter. >> the white house wanted to undermine muskie's appeal in new hampshire by associating muskie with some language about people of french canadian heritage. the issue was the word "canuck." the muskie campaign did not write that letter. but at the time, muskie felt that being associated with a letter that described a very important bloc of voters in new hampshire as canucks was a disaster for his campaign.
and he went public to deny any responsibility for the letter. it was snowing that day. and the snow fell on his eyebrows and then melted, and it gave the impression that he was crying as he was explaining that he was not responsible for what became known as the canuck letter. and he lost political game. >> that lost his campaign for president. >> i have made the decision to withdraw. i do so with regret. but i have no choice. >> the nixon white house and the committee for the re-election of the president really did undermine the democratic principle of free elections in this country. >> the mechanics of setting up the re-election committee, actually because they had no lawyer, a lot of it fell to my office. but haldeman said, "you've got to find a general counsel, your office can't take this responsibility on."
>> mitchell and haldeman talk about who's going to do it. and then the name liddy bubbles up. ♪ america america god shed his grace on thee ♪ >> g. gordon liddy was the action officer of the plumbers. but he was also the lawyer. >> so i explain the job to liddy. >> john dean is part of this discussion because he's already aware of investigations associated with the political enemies project. it was always understood that liddy's main job would be spying on nixon's political opponents. and liddy has a very dangerous understanding of power. >> some of the people they had hired at c.r.e.e.p. were of a mindset, whatever he asked them
to do, they were going to do it. they went beyond what he could have thought of himself sometimes. >> six months before the watergate break-in, i got a call to come to john mitchell's office. and liddy is setting up an easel. and i can see he's got big charts. it was a sales pitch. >> liddy is tasked with coming up with a plan. >> one chart has different gemstones. he has diamond, he has ruby, sapphire. and each one would represent a phase of his so-called intelligence-gathering program for the campaign. he said, "we'll have the capacity to intercept an opponent's campaign plan, we'll have a chase plane that will be equipped to intercept their communications." he went on and said, "what we're going to do is kidnap the leaders of the anti-war
movement, we'll drug them and take them below the border during the campaign." liddy told me how he was going to crack the democratic party during their convention in miami. he had made arrangements to lease a houseboat, and they would retain a couple of prostitutes to lure democratic party officials into this houseboat where they'd be running a camera. >> i mean, the idea that these campaign guys would be in the middle of sex, talking about how they plan to win the state of ohio, stretches the imagination. but liddy put it in the plan. >> i said, "gordon, you've got to be kidding. this isn't real." and he stared daggers at me. "how much is this going to cost?" liddy said, "very cheap, $1 million."
mitchell makes it clear, this isn't what we had in mind, why don't you go back to the drawing boards, see what you come up with. >> they come back in february with a new version of this. >> i get another call to come to a second meeting. when i arrive, it's much more toned down. but mitchell is talking with magruder and liddy about break-ins and bugging and things of that nature. illegal activities. >> liddy came with a proposal that was outrageously criminal. and then he came back with a proposal that was less outrageously criminal. they liked the fact that he was a risk-taker. >> i decide, i've got to throw cold water on this. i'm looking at mitchell and i'm saying, "i think you all are talking about things that should be never mentioned in the office of the attorney general." i wanted to end the meeting, which that did.
i did believe i had killed any illegal plans. i thought it was dead. but it wasn't. liddy didn't give up. he had gotten mitchell's approval for a $250,000 operation. and that became watergate. >> this is exactly what richard nixon wanted. richard nixon trusted mitchell to decide on a plan that was the right combination of risk and reward. >> i remember asking myself, is this the way it's played in the big league? and you just don't understand. all in the name of getting nixon re-elected. >> it's not just a desire for political power, it's a lust. i mean, that's what nixon said. "i lust for power."
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i brought in ensure max protein, with thirty grams of protein. those who tried me felt more energy in just two weeks! (sighs wearily) here i'll take that! (excited yell) woo-hoo! ensure max protein. with thirty grams of protein, one gram of sugar, and nutrients to support immune health. after the second meeting in mitchell's office, i never heard another peep out of anybody about intelligence or what liddy was doing. i thought it was dead. but it wasn't. liddy's gemstone plan became the
watergate operation. nixon was the type that was sort of belts and braces. he wanted to do everything to make sure he won and won big. and there were people in the nixon white house, from the top to the bottom, who so believed in nixon that they were willing to do most anything to get him re-elected. >> my loyalty to this -- to this man, richard nixon, goes back longer than any person that you will see sitting at this table throughout any of these hearings. >> they decided to break into the headquarters of the democratic national committee. they went in three times. well, they tried to get in three times. the first time, they failed completely because the door was locked. and they didn't have the right locksmith with them. >> the second time, they didn't appear to know where larry o'brien's office was located. so they bugged an empty conference room. >> but it's that third effort
that is the famous break-in. and that was an attempt to correct errors made previously. they wanted to move a bug. they had three more bugs which they wanted to plant. they were also going to put a listening device in a smoke detector. and the burglars were told that they were engaged in a national security operation. so this would have been a massive espionage operation, had it succeeded. but james mccord, former security officer for the cia, and four cubans, were captured. >> five people have been arrested for breaking into the headquarters of the democratic national committee in the middle of the night. >> james mccord was the wire-tapping expert on the team. and he insisted on taping the doors. and he was asked, did you remember to remove all the tape? and he said yes. and he hadn't.
they left tape on the door, and the watergate security officer saw it. something else happened. the burglars had a lookout man across the street with a walkie-talkie. because you want to know if somebody's entering the building while you're in the building, then you can warn the people in the building, get out. but mccord turned down the volume on the walkie-talkie. so when the lookout man could see d.c. police moving towards dnc headquarters, the burglars didn't get the alert. >> police arrested five men in the watergate with bugging equipment and copying cameras. >> when the watergate break-in took place, i was not paying attention to that because my primary election was on the 20th of june. and my own headquarters had been broken into.
so the break-in in washington was the farthest thing from my mind. >> i didn't give it much thought. sounded to me like just another political activity that was going on. >> the break-in was a minor event. i don't even know where it was reported in "the new york times" or if it was reported in "the new york times." >> you know, i don't remember paying any attention to it or thinking that this probably went higher. >> i heard about the break-in on the radio, coming to work. when i got in, i saw one of the secretaries and i said, "you know, it's clear to me that we did it. i don't have any doubt of that." and she said, "oh, of course." >> and when the judge said, "where have you worked?" and mccord said -- >> "cia." oh my goodness. okay. we're in a whole new territory.
the cia. >> mccord retired from the cia and was hired by the committee to re-elect the president as a security officer. the others had been hired by hunt and liddy, who had done work leading the plumbers operation in '71. the white house understands immediately that this could lead back to them. >> i was in the philippines giving a speech the weekend the arrests occurred at the watergate. i didn't learn about it until i returned on sunday, call my deputy. he told me that john erlichman's looking for you, so you better get back. what were they doing? why were they doing it? who had authorized it? i didn't know. .
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and he said, "john, i need you to meet with liddy. this break-in is all his fault." and i thought, this is bad stuff. the reason i thought it was important i talk to liddy is to find out what in the hell had happened. i thought we had solved the problem, we clearly hadn't. and i had potentially guilty knowledge. i thought i could help myself and help these people, who were in a whole hell of a lot of trouble, because i have a limited privilege as an attorney to assimilate and gather this information, and they'd never needed me as much as they do now, and they know i know just enough to know that we didn't do things right. >> on the morning of june 19, 1972, i spoke with gordon liddy. we came out right at that kiosk and then came down 17th street, and he began telling me of the
terrible disaster he had created. >> first thing i noticed is, he was in a suit. he looked like he'd slept in it for a couple of days. he looked terrible. as we walked down 17th street, we stopped at the bench right across from mccorcoran art gallery. he tells me, "john, this is my mistake. i shouldn't have had so many people, we had to get back in there." "what do you mean, you had to get back in there?" "yeah, we went in to repair a defective bug, that's why i had mccord." he was trying to take, in his own way, responsibility for screwing up. but what really stunned me is he said, "john, when i worked at the white house, i undertook a national security mission for erlichman. and we broke into daniel ellsberg's psychiatrist's office. two of the men i used in that
operation i used at the watergate, and they're now in the d.c. jail. we've got to get them out." at that point i look upon liddy as pretty radioactive. so i start walking back up towards the executive office building. and he stops me. he said, "you know, i know i've screwed up terribly, and i can understand if you want to take me out. just don't do it at my house. don't do it at my house because i've got children. i don't want anybody there to be injured, but whatever street corner you want me on whatever time you want me there, i understand if you have to do that." my reaction -- after grasping what he was telling me, i said something to the effect, "gordon, i don't think we're at that stage yet." when i got back to the white
house, i went immediately to erlichman's office. to tell him of my conversation with liddy. and erlichman, who is a good poker face, didn't even blink. "john," i said, "i have no background in the criminal law. i don't have anybody on my staff, i don't know anybody on the white house staff who has criminal defense background. i need somebody in my office so we don't make mistakes." his reaction? "we're not going there, john. we don't need that kind of assistance." that was my first really serious mistake, by just buying into that. we did need somebody. mitchell and erlichman, they'd gone over the press statement denying burglars were acting on their behalf, when that was an outright lie. >> neither the president, obviously, or anybody in the white house or anybody in authority in any of the
committees working for the re-election of the president have any responsibility for it. >> we never, ever thought of telling the truth. >> everybody else in the white house went along with the cover-up. no one remotely questioned the possibility of not cooperating and keeping it a secret. >> we just kept going along and getting in deeper and deeper. and doing things that were against the law. >> that's what you see in watergate. a president taking the reins of power in his hands and doing whatever he wants to do, whether it involves criminal behavior or not, to win or to keep the presidency. where do you draw the line? >> when we have a corrupt individual, they have to have an entire supporting cast of complicit actors around them who are willing to go along with the
corruption, the crime, and the cover-up. >> when i went to work at the nixon white house, i had no idea where it would go. i certainly didn't see going from the white house to prison . the biggest thing that people get wrong today about watergate is they think it was a bungled burglary that was covered up. it is so much more. it is not any specific one event rather it is the atmosphere. it is the style of richard nixon. >> the key to understanding richard nixon is that nixon was never self con
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