Illegal Wiretaps

Summary of Testimony Regarding

The Illegal Wiretaps

Pages 250-297 of the Testimony

After Nixon spends some time rambling about why his memory of the time in question is so poor, the questioner manages to get back to the subject: a San Clemente meeting Nixon had with Haldeman and Erlichman, where Rosemary Woods had also been in attendance, at least for a portion of the time. Nixon stated at this meeting that Secretary of State Rogers should be tapping more. During the interview Nixon claims not to be able to recall that remark, but says Kissinger had believed the State Department to be less trustworthy and more vulnerable to leaks than other departments, and that “we should make some effort to do something about the State Department people.” The Secretary of State couldn’t do any tapping—taps had to be approved by the Attorney General, even if ordered by the President. (Nixon makes and immediately corrects a gaffe here, saying “the Attorney General approved them or I approved them—no, I didn’t approve them.”) No State Department personnel, Nixon says, were tapped.

Nixon is asked if he recalls any reference to wiretaps somehow being discovered or discovery motions related to wiretapping during the course of the Grand Jury investigation. Once again, Nixon cannot recall. Nixon told Kissinger that we should not be defensive about wire tapping but that we could defend it, however they did not want to disclose any information because that would “blow the whole program.” Since Grand Jury proceedings are entirely off the record, said Nixon, his testimony is the one place where wiretapping may be disclosed.

Nixon is asked if he had been at all concerned that journalist being held in contempt of court as a hostile witness refusing to testify might raise the issue of being wiretapped (as could potentially be the case with Halperin and numerous journalists). The Grand Jury at that time had been the Boston Grand Jury investigating the delivery of the Pentagon Papers to the Times and the Post. He does not recall.

Nixon does recall when asked about Robert Mardian, an official in the Nixon administration and one of the Watergate Seven, coming out to San Clemente to discuss a problem with the taps, but does not recall anything beyond the fact that Mardian had made a trip. Nixon complains that he is unable to review his papers, saying “your actions have made it impossible for me to have my papers here.”

The subject turns to a meeting on July 12, 1971 with Mardian, Ehrlichman, and Haldeman. Nixon is asked if he recalls Haldeman giving any list of names, such as those found listed in Ehrlichman’s notes; Nixon does not recall, but admits it is possible that he had. Here, a page is left blank except for the words “Classified Material Deleted.” The classified material seems from the discussion to consist of a list of names of people who had been tapped. Nixon comments that they were reporters, several of whom were with the New York Times. He cannot recall whether Mardian had also listed names of NSC staff.

The questioner explains that the people on the list, as well as Ellsberg, had been overheard on NSC tapes, but the fact that Ellsberg had been overheard was not disclosed as it should have been after he was indicted. Nixon does not recall anyone mentioning that the “overhearings” would need to be disclosed, or even Mardian ever being in San Clemente—he was, as he claimed earlier, busy with other things.

The questioner states that there are references in the evidence to gathering and destroying (or having Hoover destroy) the wiretap records. Nixon said that discussion was had because Mardian was going to go back to DC and gather the documents together, but he does not recall discussing destruction of the documents. Nixon said it was not related directly to the Pentagon Papers or Ellsberg, but rather to plugging leaks.

The questioner asks Nixon to clarify his justification for keeping the system in place.  Nixon explains that after Daniel Ellsberg’s glorification for leaking the Pentagon Papers, there was concern that there would be more leaks in the intelligence agencies.  He the agrees with the questioner’s assessment that the wiretaps were a “necessary evil” to prevent future leaks.

The discussion turns to President Nixon’s relationship FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and a memo authored by G. Gordon Liddy suggesting that Hoover would reveal the wiretap system to congressional authorities and, therefore, should be fired immediately.  The questioner then references a conversation between Nixon and Erlichmann that seemed to suggest that Nixon was considering firing Hoover.  Nixon denies this and proceeds to talk for over three pages on how much he admired Hoover, at one point calling Liddy “stupid” for suggesting his removal.

The questioner brings up the Senate confirmation hearings of FBI Director Patrick Gray.  In his hearing, Gray supposedly lied about the wiretapping system.  The questioner asks Nixon whether he participated in any discussions related to the Radford Project wiretapping, to which Nixon replied, “I don’t recall participating in any, I don’t recall being aware of any.”  Nixon is asked whether he had any reason to believe that Gray, at the time of his confirmation, had any knowledge of the Radford Project.  Nixon said he had no reason to believe that Gray did.  He further explains that Hoover discontinued the wiretaps in February 1971 not because of the surrounding controversy, but because that was Hoover’s common practice.  About a month before Hoover would have to testify before the Appropriations Committee, he would always stop the taps so that when he would be asked if he was tapping anyone, he could say no.

The 270th page of the Nixon Grand Jury Testimony states that information contained within these pages contains information that is “classified” and isn’t printed upon the pages. The blank pages only cite that “Classified Material Deleted” and leave nothing to hint at what former President Nixon discusses during this interlude.

When the print returns on page 277, Nixon is discussing someone being ‘tapped’ – although no name is provided and the subject of the tapping remains anonymous except that they shipped the man off from the DOD to Oregon. But Nixon quickly states that the position he has taken has produced considerable good from his actions. “I want to say this” Nixon commands to the interviewer, “that if as a result of the secret negotiations that we have had we have changed the world, which we have, if as a result we have saved American lives.”

Nixon claims to be unable to recall having conversations with his staff on nine separate occasions in the span of a single 15-page section of testimony. It’s hard to tell from the transcript alone, but Nixon’s wordplay is on a genius level, a lawyer trained in handling this inquisitorial method of investigation. Nixon dodges and ducks every questioned asked of him. He repeats “no, I don’t recall” at the beginning of every answer.

“I believe you should press me,” Nixon tells the interviewer on pg 282, “but don’t put words in my mouth and make me lie about something… I am not going to lie about something. If I don’t remember something, I have to say I don’t remember.”

 The final portion of the transcripts, pages 284-297, covers further discussion on the use of FBI wiretaps and whether Nixon instructed L. Patrick Gray to lie about the existence of certain wiretaps during his Senate confirmation hearing to become Director of the FBI.

The questioner refers to notes taken by Haldeman regarding FBI wiretaps and a forthcoming Time Magazine article revealing some of the people who were being wiretapped. Nixon says he instructed Ehrlichman and Haldemann to spend less time on the issue and leave it to others in the Administration to deal with. He maintains he did not brief or ask anyone else to brief Patrick Gray on the situation.

The questioner also refers to notes taken by John Dean discussing with Nixon Gray’s “stonewalling” of the wiretap issue in his Congressional hearing. Nixon admits that the use of the term means Gray would not admit to Time Magazine’s allegations, but maintains he did not discuss how Gray should testify. The grand jury implies that in order to stonewall the issue, Gray would have to be untruthful. Nixon takes issue with this, arguing that Gray would not have been familiar with many topics to be able to discuss them in a hearing with Congress. Nixon says Gray would stonewall it the same way J. Edgar Hoover had for 50 years: Congress would ask if wiretaps were done, and if there were none currently being conducted, Hoover would answer that way.

When asked about the wiretaps in his hearing, Gray stonewalled by saying there were no records of such wiretaps at the FBI. The records had been delivered to Ehrlichman and were located at the White House. Nixon maintains that he did not ever direct Gray to respond in that way, couching his answer in a facially truthful answer.

Nixon finishes off the testimony by providing a statement explaining that he appointed Gray FBI Director because he believed him to be an honest and trustworthy man. The questioner consults the Grand Jury for any remaining questions and the deposition ends.

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