Donald Segretti was born in San Marino, California on 17th September, 1941. He studied law at the University of Southern California. Fellow students included Dwight L. Chapin, Ron Ziegler, Herbert Porter and Gordon Strachan. They became members of a group called "Trojans for Representative Government".
After leaving university Segretti became a lawyer in California. His friend Dwight L. Chapin found employment at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in Los Angeles. A senior figure at the agency was was H. R. Haldeman. In 1968 Haldeman went to work for Richard Nixon as the president's chief of staff.
Dwight L. Chapin was appointed as Special Assistant to the President. Chapin had special responsibility for acts of political sabotage and espionage against the Democratic Party. Chapin recruited Segretti as part of this "dirty tricks" campaign.
On 18th December, 1971, J. Timothy Gratz received a phone call from a man calling himself Don Simmons. In fact, his real name was Donald Segretti. Apparently, Dwight Chaplin had hired Segretti to disrupt the Democratic campaign. Gratz later recalled: "Simmons said he was interested in running a "negative campaign" in Wisconsin. He explained that the purpose of the campaign was to create as much bitterness and disunity within the Democrat primary as possible.... He also said he was interested in planting spies in the Democrat candidate's offices."
Donald Segretti offered J. Timothy Gratz $100.00 per month, plus expenses, to co-ordinate these projects. Gratz agreed to work on the project and he was given an advance payment of $50.00. Gratz later told Anthony Ulasewicz that "although the whole incident seemed strange" he agreed to help "as most of the ideas he suggested seemed like they were worth doing anyway". However, Gratz claimed he told Karl Rove, Chairman of the College Republican National Committee, about this dirty tricks campaign. We now know that Rove himself was part of Segretti's campaign. In fact, he probably played a leading role in this dirty tricks operation. Rove had become friends with CIA asset, Robert F. Bennett in 1968. According to one report, Bennett became a "mentor of Rove's".
In 1970, Karl Rove used a false identity to enter the campaign office of Democrat Alan J. Dixon, who was running for Illinois State Treasurer, and stole 1000 sheets of paper with campaign letterhead. Rove then printed fake campaign rally fliers promising "free beer, free food, girls and a good time for nothing," and distributed them at rock concerts and homeless shelters, with the effect of disrupting Dixon's rally.
It is also significant that Rove put J. Timothy Gratz in touch with Anthony Ulasewicz. We now know that Ulasewicz, was in charge of Operation Sandwedge. This was a highly secret operation that has never been fully revealed. In fact, as Ulasewicz points out in his autobiography, The President's Private Eye, the Senate Committee looking into the Watergate Scandal, avoided all questions on Sandwedge.
Donald Segretti later told the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (3rd October, 1973) the main objective was to discredit Edmund Muskie as he was the candidate that Richard Nixon feared the most. As one political commentator pointed out: "he seemed unstoppable; he had had ample financial backing, name recognition, experience, image, endorsement, and top standing in the polls."
Other targets included Edward Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey and Henry Jackson. It was decided that George McGovern was the candidate that Nixon wanted to face in the presidential election. J. Timothy Gratz was one of 28 people hired by Segretti to carry out this smear campaign.
During the New Hampshire primary, the Manchester Union Leader, published a letter that claimed Muskie had made disparaging remarks about French-Canadians. The newspaper also attacked the character of Muskie's wife Jane, reporting that she drank heavily and used bad language during the campaign. Muskie made an emotional speech defending his wife. The press reported he had broken down in tears and this damaged his image as a calm and rational politician. Although Muskie won the New Hampshire primary, this incident had raised doubts about his ability to be a strong president.
As Keith W. Olson (Watergate: The Presidential Scandal That Shook America) has pointed out: "Segretti carried out his tricks to the fullest extent in Florida". Patrick J. Buchanan told John N. Mitchell and H. R. Haldeman on 2nd January, 1972, "clearly, the Florida primary is shaping up as the first good opportunity and perhaps the last good opportunity to derail the Muskie candidacy".
One of Segretti's agents stole Muskie campaign stationery and mailed a fraudulent letter to 300 supporters of fellow contenders, Hubert Humphrey and Henry Jackson. This letter claimed that Jackson had fathered a child with an unmarried teenager and that the police had arrested him on homosexual charges. It went onto claim that Humphrey had been arrested while in the company of a prostitute, for driving under the influence of alcohol. It was assumed that Muskie was behind this smear campaign and his credibility as a honest politician was severely damaged.
Other dirty tricks in Florida included a naked girl running through Muskie's hotel claiming that she was in love with the Democratic contender. Segretti's agents, posing as Muskie supporters, telephoned voters in the middle of the night asking them to support their candidate.
George Wallace, won 42% of the vote in the Florida primary. Hubert Humphrey came in second, with 18.6%, then Henry Jackson with 13% and the the pre-election favourite, Edmund Muskie, finished fourth with 8.9%. This result added support to Segretti's claim that his dirty tricks campaign had the ability to remove people like Muskie from the race.
Segretti and his team of agents, including Gratz, now began to concentrate on the Wisconsin primary. Dirty tricks included distributing leaflets that appeared to have been produced by Muskie's campaign team. One of these invited Milwaukee's black residents to a free lunch and beer picnic at which they could meet Coretta Scott, the widow of Martin Luther King and famous television stars. When they arrived their excitement turned to anger when they found no celebrities, no lunch, and no beer.
Once again this dirty tricks campaign worked. On 4th April, 1972, George McGovern won the Wisconsin primary. George Wallace came second with Edmund Muskie in fourth position. A few days later, Patrick J. Buchanan reported to John N. Mitchell and H. R. Haldeman that "our primary objective, to prevent Senator Muskie from sweeping the early primaries.... and uniting the Democratic Party behind him for the fall has been achieved." Buchanan then recommended that they concentrate on assisting McGovern's bid to be the presidential candidate "in every way we can".
During their investigation of the Watergate Scandal the journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein discovered that Donald Segretti had attempted to smear leading politicians such as George McGovern, Edward Kennedy, Edmund Muskie and Henry Jackson. This included the letters sent during the Florida primary elections. The FBI had also revealed that the letter that had been sent to the Manchester Union Leader during the New Hampshire primary was also a forgery.
On 27th October, 1972, Time Magazine published an article claiming that it had obtained information from FBI files that Dwight Chaplin had hired Segretti to disrupt the Democratic campaign. The following month Carl Bernstein interviewed Segretti who admitted that E. Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy were behind the dirty tricks campaign against the Democratic Party.
In 1974 Segretti pleading guilty to three misdemeanor counts of distributing illegal campaign literature and producing faked documents. He only served four months in prison but he lost his California license to work as a lawyer.
Segretti eventually returned to work as a lawyer. In 1995 he became a candidate as Superior Court judge in Orange County, California. However, he was forced to withdraw when local newspapers pointed out his connections to the Watergate Scandal.
In 2000 Segretti served as co-chair of John McCain's campaign in Orange County.