Consultant Adam Schiff posed a rhetorical question the opposite week that grated on the sensibility of anyone who remembers nicely the Watergate scandal.
“The place is Howard Baker?” Schiff asked plaintively.
Schiff was evoking the late Republican senator from Tennessee, who died in 2014, in a clear plea to Republicans’ higher selves. Ostensibly, Baker, the rating minority member on the Senate’s Watergate Committee, put apart partisanship to hitch Democrats in a search for the reality. The proof lies in Baker’s very first query to John Dean, President Richard Nixon’s former White House counsel and the desk officer for the Watergate cover-up. On June 28, 1973, Baker famously asked Dean, “What did the president know and when did he realize it?”
Yet what many recall as an incisive, if not noble, query concerning the conduct of a president from Baker’s similar political celebration was something but. Somewhat, it was a shrewd and calculated try and stem the rising tide towards Nixon. Nor was it even Baker’s first assault towards getting on the fact of Watergate, and it might not show to be his most cynical.
It is true that Baker’s conduct in the course of the Senate hearings does not resemble in the slightest Republicans’ comportment so far. At every good alternative, which is to say continuously, Baker, oozing border-state appeal with out being too obsequious, flattered Sam Ervin, the folksy, 76-year-old Dixiecrat from North Carolina who chaired the committee. “It has been an excellent privilege for me to study from you and to go ahead on this unpleasantness,” typified the remarks Baker directed at Ervin. However here’s the factor: Baker was a extremely refined, even Machiavellian, partisan. His genuine position was one in every of collusion with the White Home; followed by an attempt at a firebreak that failed; and lastly, in desperation, an embrace of conspiracy-mongering.
Much of what we find out about Baker’s true position comes from three books: a memoir by Fred Thompson, the Watergate committee’s minority counsel (At That Level in Time, 1975); a memoir by Sam Sprint, the panel’s majority counsel (Chief Counsel, 1976); and a complete history based mostly on main documents by the late dean of Watergate historians, Professor Stanley I. Kutler (The Wars of Watergate, 1990). Along with these books, a fine-grained image of Baker’s behind-the-scenes conduct has emerged as extra of the tapes surreptitiously recorded throughout Nixon’s presidency have been launched and deciphered.
Schiff had just turned 12 years previous when 5 burglars put the
Watergate scandal in motion, so he might be forgiven for not
recalling the nuances of what occurred. However now that the California
Democrat is among the leaders of the impeachment inquiry—and
will in all probability be one of the managers who presents the case to the
Senate—it is incumbent on him, and Democrats generally, to purge
their minds of Watergate fairy tales. And Baker as Watergate
truth-seeker is nearly as good as anywhere to begin. If the Watergate
scandal is any sort of historical guide, the Democrats are going to
succeed provided that they cease hankering for a magical nonpartisan
Republican and as an alternative give attention to constructing a robust, factual case
towards the president—one which convinces the American individuals on
its personal benefit.
Baker’s notion of his position on the committee was inextricable from his larger aims. Ervin had insisted that no senators with presidential aspirations be allowed on the committee. However that was interpreted to imply senators meaning to run within the subsequent cycle. Baker was wanting additional forward, and in that sense Ervin’s edict was fortuitous. “Although senators are by definition politically formidable,” Sprint wrote in his memoir, “Baker was excessively so.” The Tennessean was a political boy marvel. Elected to the Senate in 1966 at the tender age of 41, after having not served in any earlier office, Baker was the first Republican senator from Tennessee since Reconstruction, and an example of the good political realignment happening in the South. He naturally harbored thoughts of operating for president in the foreseeable future. Serving on the committee would burnish his credentials, notably if he turned famend for stopping the Watergate scandal from metastasizing additional and consuming a Republican president.
Baker had led the GOP in opposing a full-fledged Senate investigation of the 1972 presidential campaign, and then maneuvered to grow to be the rating Republican on the Watergate panel. By way of Nixon’s trusted aide Charles Colson, Baker conveyed his reasoning. The senator had solely accepted the committee task, Baker’s administrative assistant informed Colson, to “go all the means … and defend you and the Republican Celebration.” He “wasn’t getting off the reservation.” The president was to ignore any seemingly crucial feedback Baker made in public, in addition to any elaborate displays of deference to Ervin in the future. The one function behind these utterances was to take care of Baker’s credibility with Ervin as a way to negotiate and “management him.” Baker, Colson was informed, had to “act like one of the Senate membership lest he destroy his effectiveness with Ervin.”
Shortly after his appointment to the Watergate committee, Baker additionally sought a secret meeting with Nixon to debate the probe. From Baker’s perspective, the meeting would serve a twofold function. In the beginning, he needed to reassure the president personally about his efforts and goodwill. But he also needed to collect intelligence about what to expect from the upcoming testimony of all of the president’s males, and needed steerage on the place the White Home meant to attract the road. The key question was whether or not the onus for the break-in can be positioned solely on Nixon’s reelection campaign, or whether some duty could possibly be traced again to the White Home, if not the Oval Office itself. This similar situation was a matter of eager curiosity for Baker too, for to a level he had now tied his personal future to the president’s protestations of innocence.
Baker insisted the meeting with Nixon be clandestine. It was organized for a day when he was already scheduled to attend a large reception within the White Home for supporters of the president’s Vietnam policy. Baker arrived an hour early, and was escorted to Nixon’s hideaway in the Government Office Constructing.
Unfortunately, the recording of their meeting occurs to be one of the Nixon tapes that is irreparably flawed. Baker just happened to take a seat as distant from the microphones implanted in the president’s desk as potential, resulting in a principally inaudible recording. Furthermore, while the assembly lasted 40 minutes, the tape recording is just eight minutes long. Still, the gist of some remarks might be discerned, and the president later described the dialogue in subsequent conversations with John Ehrlichman, his prime domestic policy adviser, Lawyer Common Richard Kleindienst and H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, the White House chief of employees.
Baker confused that he was intent on stopping a “fishing expedition.” Whereas he anticipated the hearings to start out with a bang, he thought public curiosity would taper off dramatically—and his aim was to help make that happen. Baker disclosed that the Democrats have been hoping, as Nixon later put it, to first name “a lot of pipsqueak witnesses, little shit-asses over durations of weeks to build it up, the strain.” Contained in the committee, Baker was arguing for a unique strategy, one that might have all the president’s massive males up there from the begin to “prick the boil.” Then Baker might confront Ervin with the emptiness of their testimonies and minimize off the inquiry, leaving it on the seven men already convicted of the housebreaking. As Nixon defined, Baker aimed to “choke the goddamn thing for the week, and after that individuals can be fed up.” While this strategy had its points of interest, the president remained wary. He expressed the hope to Baker that by way of some mixture of government privilege, closed government periods or written interrogatories, the administration may keep away from the spectacle of getting its prime males “dragged up” to Capitol Hill, testifying in public beneath oath.
When the senator gingerly hinted at the potential for White Home involvement, the president denied the insinuation vigorously. However Nixon allowed that he was concerned about former marketing campaign chairman John Mitchell’s position, thereby indicating to Baker where the line ought to be drawn if crucial: across the now-defunct Committee for the Re-election of the President (CRP). Certainly, as Nixon later recounted, he informed Baker that if and when the time got here for him to cross-examine Mitchell, the senator needed to deliver out the details about Mitchell’s “horrible home state of affairs,” which means his alcoholic spouse, Martha.
I stated [to Baker], Martha, you realize, could be very sick. And John wasn’t paying consideration, and these youngsters ran away with it. … John Mitchell is a pure, shiny man who would have by no means accomplished such a factor, but the youngsters ran away with it. And if John did lie [about CRP involvement], it was just because he’d forgotten. Now whether that may wash or not, I don’t know. But I simply need you [Baker] to know that [is what] I think about the Mitchell drawback.
The subsequent day, Nixon recounted the meeting to Kleindienst; the president now believed Baker can be working for him contained in the committee. “Howard got here down for the purpose of telling me what are his plans for the hearings … what he’s planning to do. What he’s going to do is … try to make it appear the Republicans are cooperating … [that] the hearings are trustworthy and the administration’s cooperating.” There was a concrete cause for discussing the meeting with the lawyer basic as properly. Baker had indicated he didn’t need to be seen speaking to anyone within the White House any more, so that they had agreed that Baker’s liaison can be Kleindienst. He was to convey no matter inside info Baker had to John Dean solely, who would then take it to the president, and vice versa. Baker hoped the line of communication would run each methods, as he needed a heads-up before the White House publicly said its place on any of the contentious procedural points that still needed to be worked out.
Within the 11 weeks that remained before hearings commenced, Baker, now assisted by Fred Thompson, his selection for minority counsel, labored to circumscribe the probe alongside the strains of Baker’s February 22 secret meeting. Truncating the witness listing in order that the hearings can be finished in one month was Baker’s prime priority. One in every of his arguments was that People fixated on daytime cleaning soap operas can be upset by having their favourite exhibits preempted by long, drawn-out hearings. Ervin dismissed Baker’s proposal as preposterous, even if it risked frightening TV viewers’ ire. If accepted, Ervin argued, Baker’s scheme would make the committee an accessory to the White House’s obfuscations and falsehoods. Then, on April 30, the state of affairs turned immensely more difficult and the stakes exponentially larger. The White Home introduced Haldeman and Ehrlichman had resigned, that Dean was fired and Kleindienst had give up.
Now the query was not whether or not all the president’s huge men would appear, however in what order. During a pivotal committee assembly on Might 8, Baker lobbied for the burglars to testify first, adopted by Mitchell, Colson, Haldeman and Ehrlichman, with Dean coming in last. This topsy-turvy strategy meant that none of them might be requested about Dean’s accusations; the accused can be heard earlier than the accuser, and every little thing could possibly be wrapped up in 20 days. Baker also needed senators to query witnesses first, earlier than committee counsel did. That each one however assured the hearings might simply veer into incoherence and grandstanding, moderately than fact-finding and narrative-building. Most tenaciously, and with uncharacteristic vehemence, Baker fought towards giving Dean immunity for his testimony, echoing the then-prevailing White Home line that Dean was “probably the most culpable and dangerous individual within the Watergate affair.”
Baker did not prevail on any of those narrative-building points,
and his preliminary effort to collude with the White Home was largely
for naught. When the hearings lastly commenced on Might 17, the
senator, exuding allure, assured his colleagues, along with a
national tv viewers, that “this is not in any method a
partisan enterprise, however moderately, it's a bipartisan search for the
unvarnished fact.” In actuality, although, Baker was soon to embark
on the subsequent part of his partisan effort to save lots of Nixon’s
presidency no matter that fact.
The context of Baker’s famous question means the whole lot. Baker posed it to Dean after 3½ days of earth-shattering testimony from the previous White House counsel—testimony that Baker readily agreed was “pretty mind-boggling.” Single-handedly, and within the area of a day, Dean had decisively shifted the committee’s focus from the preliminary crime, of which Nixon had no foreknowledge, to the cover-up. If the president committed just some of the acts attributed to him, he had violated his oath of workplace. Nor have been the president’s alleged misdeeds as a result of passivity, inattention or distraction. He had, in line with Dean, abused his powers and actively conspired to impede justice.
Seen in its correct context, Baker’s question—“What did the president know and when did he realize it?”—represented a shrewd defense from a extremely expert lawyer who acknowledged the inherent limits in Dean’s testimony. Baker meant to erect nothing less than an insurmountable firebreak within the conflagration that now threatened the Oval Workplace.
Dean had had virtually no private contact with Nixon for greater than seven months after the June break-in. He could not supply direct testimony about what the president stated and did within the earliest and most vital part of the cover-up. Dean’s first pressing, Watergate-related meeting had not occurred till February 27, 1973; only after that have been there virtually every day meetings with the president.
Repeating his rhythmic query time and again, Baker took Dean step-by-step by way of the key events beginning in June 1972 till Dean’s departure. At every essential juncture, Baker depicted Dean’s account as based mostly on hearsay or circumstantial evidence at greatest—which means Dean was drawing unwarranted inferences concerning the president’s conduct. The technique was imagined to end in an alternate narrative, wherein the president allegedly was unaware of the steps taken to hush the burglars, or supposedly ignorant about the strain the White House exerted on the CIA to thwart the FBI from pursuing sure avenues of investigation. Finally, it would come right down to Dean’s word and narrative towards the president’s. And actually, Baker’s firebreak did work as well as might be expected. By the point Dean finished his final day of testimony on June 29, the shortage of unbiased corroboration of his allegations seemed to be an insuperable obstacle.
What Baker didn't know on the time, in fact, was that Nixon had finished his fast predecessors one higher, and surreptitiously installed a voice-activated taping system that had been operational since February 1971. Two weeks after Dean’s final day of testimony, White Home assistant Alexander Butterfield revealed the tapes’ existence. Out of the blue, the recordings promised to resolve who was telling the reality. And just as abruptly, Baker’s calculated query transmogrified into a dagger pointed on the coronary heart of the presidency.
As Stanley Kutler wrote, the “discovery of the tapes undid
Baker’s careful handiwork. The tapes made irrelevant his question
to John Dean . . . [Because now] Richard Nixon himself might answer
Baker, and in indelible phrases.”
In late 1973, as the Watergate committee moved nearer to its expiration date; while the authorized battle over the tapes was winding its method towards the Supreme Courtroom; and months before the Home Judiciary Committee mounted its impeachment hearings, Baker turned desperately to a last resort—what would at present be recognized as deep state conspiracy-mongering. Given his own direct information from Nixon that only the CRP was liable for the break-in, this final part represented Baker’s most cynical tactic.
First, a bit of the back-story is required.
The potential of CIA involvement within the burglary had been an situation from the very begin. Two of the 5 burglars arrested, and one of many masterminds who organized the illegal entry, had plain hyperlinks to the agency. However then it swiftly turned out that one of the burglars, and each masterminds, had plain hyperlinks to the White House or president’s reelection campaign. The FBI was initially flummoxed and investigated each prospects. By mid-July 1972, nevertheless, the FBI investigation had “settled down.” Brokers working the case knew the CRP, not the CIA, organized the break-in. The one remaining question was how high up in the CRP the conspiracy went.
This notion of culpability lasted until Might 1973, when two
new revelations triggered allegations of CIA involvement to resume
with even higher ferocity. It turned out that starting in July
1971 the company, at Ehrlichman’s behest, had given technical
help (a wig, digital camera, voice-altering system and false id
playing cards) to E. Howard Hunt, one of the two Watergate masterminds,
with out figuring out what it was going to be used for. And before the
Democratic Nationwide Committee break-in, a few of the gadgets had been
used in the burglary at the workplace of Daniel Ellsberg’s Los
Angeles psychiatrist. Ellsberg was the Protection Department
advisor behind the embarrassing leak of the so-called Pentagon
Papers in 1971.
Numerous House and Senate committees (there have been no Intelligence Committees as such at the time) leaped into the fray and announced investigations. Perhaps envious of the eye the Senate Watergate committee was already generating, though it had but to hold its first hearing, the Home Armed Providers announced a full-blown probe. A special subcommittee was swiftly shaped, and Consultant Lucien Nedzi, a Democrat and College of Michigan Regulation Faculty graduate, was appointed chairman.
Nedzi’s investigation proceeded quickly. The first listening to occurred Might 11, 1973, and by the top of July the special subcommittee had gathered statements or testimony from 26 witnesses. Nothing like this probe into the CIA had ever been carried out before, a lot less in full public view. Nedzi’s subcommittee (together with a much smaller Senate investigation that occurred in parallel) developed beautiful new info instantly associated to the CIA and Watergate all right, however nothing proving foreknowledge of the break-in, a lot less that it was a CIA operation. Slightly, the Home subcommittee spent nearly all of its time investigating the White Home’s try, albeit unsuccessfully, to make use of the CIA to impede delicate elements of the FBI’s Watergate investigation over a period of two weeks proper after the break-in.
The Nedzi subcommittee laid out its findings in a ultimate report revealed on October 27, 1973. While the report criticized the CIA for bowing to White Home strain to help out Hunt within the first place, it appropriately famous that the CIA had terminated the help in August 1971 because Hunt stored making new calls for, and absolved the CIA of duty for the break-in. Nonetheless, 10 days later, Baker initiated his personal investigation of CIA involvement with a letter addressed to the new director, William Colby. The agency responded by supplying Baker with most of the similar documents it had already produced for Nedzi. Baker determined to plow forward, and in January 1974 even set up a activity drive comprised of three Republican employees members from the Watergate committee, headed by Fred Thompson. For the subsequent three months they reinvestigated what Thompson referred to as the CIA’s “mystifying position,” typically working 18-hour days.
Baker had no concept what was on the White Home tapes and whether or not they might exonerate or implicate the president within the cover-up, or simply be inconclusive. But he did know that his well-known query now threatened the president. Indicating the CIA had foreknowledge of the break-in would recommend that maybe it was a CIA operation all along—and that seemed probably the most promising, if not only, method out for the president. In a single stroke it will return the main target to who was chargeable for the break-in, and render the cover-up virtually moot. In any case, Nixon might hardly be blamed for any measures he took in response to a cost he knew to be untrue. In this new narrative Nixon can be the sufferer of dark forces, somewhat than the offender.
About midway via Baker’s frantic, three-month investigation, the Washington press corps, because of Charles Colson—the one individual in the White Home to take a eager curiosity in the last-ditch effort—obtained wind of the duty drive. Reporters pressed the senator for some concrete results, but all Baker might supply in return was innuendo and unsupported implications. There have been “animals crashing round in the forest” that he might hear but not yet see, Baker claimed.
Increasingly alarmed by what Baker was up to, the CIA turned recalcitrant about responding to Thompson’s incessant calls for. Journalists recognized for their ties to the company, resembling Tom Braden, a former CIA officer but now a syndicated columnist for the Washington Publish, revealed articles that pointedly criticized Baker. Braden steered Baker was pursuing a fruitless angle for transparent political causes and harming the CIA in the course of. Feeling the heat, and with nothing to point out after three months of ceaseless effort, Baker ordered the duty pressure to tug collectively no matter info it had developed and write a report.
Baker submitted what got here to be often known as the “Baker-CIA report” to Ervin for inclusion in the committee’s last report, to be revealed in mid-July 1974. However the chairman didn't need to lend any dignity to the rump report and refused to incorporate it in the primary textual content. Fairly than admit that there was “no there there,” in any case, Baker insisted the report was merely “incomplete” and raised more justifiable questions than it answered. About two weeks earlier than the committee’s full report turned obtainable, Baker and Thompson leaked their findings to the press, with modest outcomes. Probably the most newsworthy merchandise was that the agency had discovered by way of its grapevine, prior to the break-in, that E. Howard Hunt had been trying to rent a retired lock picker from a gaggle of former CIA staff. The Baker-CIA report shortly fell flat, and Thompson recalled in his memoir that it was a “lonely time” for his boss. “Because of his persistent inquiries, [Baker] seemed to have placed himself at odds, not solely with the CIA, but with the White House [sic], the press, and the rest of the committee.”
Three weeks after newspapers disclosed the Baker-CIA report, the
Supreme Courtroom issued its unanimous ruling that Nixon had to offer
all of the tape recordings demanded by the Watergate particular
prosecutor, not just transcripts the president unilaterally deemed
responsive. And on August 5, the White Home released what
instantly and infamously turned referred to as “the smoking gun”
tape: an Oval Workplace dialog between Haldeman and Nixon on
June 23, six days after the break-in, which offered the definitive
answer to what the president knew and when he knew it.
Howard Baker’s status, perhaps surprisingly, maybe not, suffered no lasting injury from his position on the Watergate committee. It was as if image, relatively than substance, prevailed. As Kutler put it, Baker “projected extremely nicely on tv, combing a boyish smile with the appearance of a diffident, nonpartisan pursuit of the truth.” When the senator’s devastating query was remembered, and it typically was, it was misremembered as a result of it was invariably taken out of context. Baker definitely exhibited no abiding impulse to right the misunderstanding.
So for the Democrats to pine now for an additional Howard Baker is, at greatest, folly. Howard Baker was no Howard Baker, and any hope that a Republican champion will instantly emerge and relieve Democrats from doing the required arduous work that is still..