John Ehrlichman

John Ehrlichman

John Ehrlichman was born in Tacoma, Washington, on 20th March, 1925. During the Second World War he was a navigator in the 8th Air Force, flying 26 bombing missions over Nazi Germany and receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1948 and a law degree from Stanford University in 1951. The following year he became a partner in a Seattle law firm. Later it established a law office in Washington.

In 1960 Ehrlichman joined the campaign staff of Richard Nixon in his fight with John F. Kennedy for the presidency. Ehrlichman was also tour director of Nixon's 1968 campaign. After Nixon's victory, Ehrlichman was appointed presidential counsel. The following year he became presidential assistant for domestic affairs the next year.

Ehrlichman worked closely with Nixon and approved the break-in at the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and the Washington Post. He also supervised the “plumbers,” a group whose illegal activities were aimed at stopping White House press leaks and discrediting political opponents of the Nixon administration.

On 3rd July, 1972, Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, Bernard L. Barker and James W. McCord were arrested while removing electronic devices from the Democratic Party campaign offices in an apartment block called Watergate. It appeared that the men had been to wiretap the conversations of Larry O'Brien, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

The phone number of E.Howard Hunt was found in address books of the burglars. Reporters were now able to link the break-in to the White House. Bob Woodward, a reporter working for the Washington Post was told by a friend who was employed by the government, that senior aides of President Richard Nixon, had paid the burglars to obtain information about its political opponents.

In 1972 Nixon was once again selected as the Republican presidential candidate. On 7th November, Nixon easily won the the election with 61 per cent of the popular vote. Soon after the election reports by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, began to claim that some of Nixon's top officials were involved in organizing the Watergate break-in.

Ehrlichman was involved in the cover-up from the beginning. In April 1973, Nixon forced Ehrlichman and H. R. Haldeman, to resign. A third adviser, John Dean, refused to go and was sacked. On 20th April, Dean issued a statement making it clear that he was unwilling to be a "scapegoat in the Watergate case". When Dean testified on 25th June, 1973 before the Senate Committee investigating Watergate, he claimed that Richard Nixon participated in the cover-up. He also confirmed that Nixon had tape-recordings of meetings where these issues were discussed.

The Special Prosecutor now demanded access to these tape-recordings. At first Nixon refused but when the Supreme Court ruled against him and members of the Senate began calling for him to be impeached, he changed his mind. However, some tapes were missing while others contained important gaps.

Under extreme pressure, Nixon supplied tapescripts of the missing tapes. It was now clear that Nixon had been involved in the cover-up and members of the Senate began to call for his impeachment. On 9th August, 1974, Richard Nixon became the first President of the United States to resign from office.

Nixon was granted a pardon but Ehrlichman was charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy and perjury. At his trial in 1974, Ehrlichman accused Richard Nixon of deceiving him about the cover-up. Ehrlichman was convicted on all charges and sentenced to 20 months to five years in prison. He served 18 months in a minimum-security Arizona prison camp.

In October 1977, Ehrlichman issued a statement where he claimed that while working for Richard Nixon he had "an exaggerated sense of my obligation to do as I was bidden, without exercising independent judgment in the way I might have if it had been an attorney-client relationship.... I went and lied and I'm paying the price for that lack of willpower. I, in effect, I abdicated my moral judgments and turned them over to somebody else."

After his release Ehrlichman lived in New Mexico and wrote the novels, The Company and The China Card. He also two accounts of his work with Richard Nixon, The Whole Truth (1979) and Witness to Power: The Nixon Years (1982).

In 1991 Ehrlichman moved to Atlanta in 1991 where he worked as a business consultant for Law Environmental. In 1996, an Atlanta gallery displayed 43 of Ehrlichman's pen-and-ink drawings.

John Ehrlichman died of complications of diabetes in Atlanta, Georgia, on 14th February, 1999.

Primary Sources

(1) H. R. Haldeman, The Ends of Power (1978)

I was puzzled when he (Nixon) told me, 'Tell Ehrlichman this whole group of Cubans is tied to the Bay, of Pigs.'

After a pause I said, 'The Bay of Pigs? What does that have to do with this?'

But Nixon merely said, 'Ehrlichman will know what I mean,' and dropped the subject.

After our staff meeting the next morning I accompanied Ehrlichman to his office and gave him the President's message. Ehrlichman's eyebrows arched, and he smiled. `Our brothers from Langley? He's suggesting I twist or break a few arms?'

'I don't know. All he told me was "Tell Ehrlichman this whole group of Cubans is tied to the Bay of Pigs".'

Ehrlichman leaned back in his chair, tapping a pencil on the edge of his desk. 'All right,' he said, 'message accepted.'

'What are you going to do about it?'

'Zero,' said Ehrlichman. 'I want to stay out of this one.'

He was referring to an unspoken feud between C.I.A. Director Richard Helms and Nixon.. The two were polar opposites in background: Helms, the aloof, aristocratic, Eastern elitist; Nixon the poor boy (he never let you forget it) from a small California town. Ehrlichman had found, himself in the middle of this feud as far back as 1969, immediately after Nixon assumed office. Nixon had called Ehrlichman into his office and said he wanted all the facts and documents the CIA had on the Bay of Pigs, a complete report on the whole project.

About six months after that 1969 conversation, Ehrlichman had stopped in my office. 'Those bastards in Langley are holding back something. They just dig in their heels and say the President can't have it. Period. Imagine that! The Commander-in-Chief wants to see a document relating to a military operation, and the spooks say he can't have it.'

'What is it?'

'I don't know, but from the way they're protecting it, it must be pure dynamite.'

I was angry at the idea that Helms would tell the President he couldn't see something. I said, 'Well, you remind Helms who's President. He's not. In fact, Helms can damn well find himself out of a job in a hurry.'

That's what I thought! Helms was never fired, at least for four years. But then Ehrlichman had said, 'Rest assured. The point will be made. In fact, Helms is on his way over here right now. The President is going to give him a direct order to turn over that document to me.'

Helms did show up that afternoon and saw the President for a long secret conversation. When Helms left, Ehrlichman returned to the Oval Office. The next thing I knew Ehrlichman appeared in my office, dropped into a chair, and just stared at me. He was more furious than I had ever seen him; absolutely speechless, a rare phenomenon for our White House phrase-makers. I said, 'What happened?'

'This is what happened,' Ehrlichman said. 'The Mad Monk (Nixon) has just told me I am now to forget all about that CIA document. In fact, I am to cease and desist from trying to obtain it.'

When Senator Howard Baker of the Evrin Committee later looked into the Nixon-Helms relationship, he summed it up. 'Nixon and Helms have so much on each other, neither of them can breathe.'

Apparently Nixon knew more about the genesis of the Cuban invasion that led to the Bay of Pigs than almost anyone. Recently, the man who was President of Costa Rica at the time - dealing with Nixon while the invasion was being prepared - stated that Nixon was the man who originated the Cuban invasion. If this was true, Nixon never told it to me.

In 1972 I did know that Nixon disliked the CIA Allen Dulles, the CIA Director in 1960, had briefed Jack Kennedy about the forthcoming Cuban invasion before a Kennedy-Nixon debate. Kennedy used this top secret information in the debate, thereby placing Nixon on the spot. Nixon felt he had to lie and even deny such an invasion was in the works to protect the men who were training in secret. Dulles later denied briefing Kennedy. This betrayal, added to Nixon's long-held feeling that the agency was not adequately competent, led to his distrust and dislike.

And now that antipathy was to emerge again on June 23, 1972, when Nixon would once again confront and pressure the CIA

This time the CIA was ready. In fact, it was more than ready. It was ahead of the game by months. Nixon would walk into what I now believe was a trap.

(2) H. R. Haldeman, The Ends of Power (1978)

So we had failed in our one previous attempt to obtain CIA co-operation, and now in Ehrlichman's office on June 23, 1972, the CIA was stonewalling me again: 'Not connected.' 'No way.' Then I played Nixon's trump card. 'The President asked me to tell you this entire affair may be connected to the Bay of Pigs, and if it opens up, the Bay of Pigs may be blown....'

Turmoil in the room. Helms gripping the arms of his chair leaning forward and shouting, 'The Bay of Pigs had nothing to do with this. I have no concern about the Bay of Pigs.'

Silence. I just sat there. I was absolutely shocked by Helms' violent reaction. Again I wondered, what was such dynamite in the Bay of Pigs story? Finally, I said, 'I'm just following my instructions, Dick. This is what the President told me to relay to you.'

Helms was settling back. 'All right,' he said.

(3) Laurence Stern and Haynes Johnson, Washington Post (1st May, 1973)

President Nixon, after accepting the resignations of four of his closest aides, told the American people last night that he accepted full responsibility for the actions of his subordinates in the Watergate scandal.

"There can be no whitewash at the White House," Mr. Nixon declared in a special television address to the nation. He pledged to take steps to purge the American political system of the kind of abuses that emerged in the Watergate affair.

The President took his case to the country some 10 hours after announcing that he had accepted the resignations of his chief White House advisers, H.R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman, along with Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst.

He also announced that he had fired his counsel, John W. Dean III, who was by the ironies of the political process a casualty of the very scandal the President had charged him to investigate.

The dramatic news of the dismantling of the White House command staff that served Mr. Nixon through his first four years in the presidency was the most devastating impact that the Watergate scandal has yet made on the administration.

The President immediately set into motion a major reshuffling of top administration personnel to fill the slots of the Watergate causalities. Defense Secretary Elliott L. Richardson was appointed to replace Kleindienst and to take over responsibility for "uncovering the whole truth" about the Watergate scandal.

He said last night that he was giving Richardson "absolute authority" in handling the Watergate investigation - including the authority to appoint a special prosecutor to supervise the government's case.

As temporary successor to Dean, the President chose his special consultant, Leonard Garment. Mr. Nixon said Garment "will represent the White House in all matters relating to the Watergate investigation and will report directly to me."

Last night Gordon Strachan, whose name has been linked to the Watergate case, resigned as general counsel to the United States Information Agency. The USIA said the former aide to Haldeman resigned "after learning that persons with whom he had worked closely at the White House had submitted their resignations. . ."

The immediate reaction to yesterday's White House announcement was a mixture of relief, especially among congressional Republicans, at the prospect of internal housecleaning. But there was also some dismay at the President's failure to appoint a special prosecutor for the Watergate inquiry...

Besides the resignations announced yesterday, at least five other high administration or campaign officials have quit in the wake of revelations about the Watergate: Mitchell, presidential appointments secretary Dwight Chapin, special counsel to the president Charles W. Colson, deputy campaign director Jeb Stuart Magruder and acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray III.

The massive shake-up of the White House command and the ensuing personnel reshuffling threw the administration into a state of disarray if not temporary immobility.

It threatens the federal government's largest single enterprise, the pentagon, with a state of leaderlessness with Richardson's new assignment. In the White House, Haldeman and Ehrlichman had been the twin pillars of a management system in which they had been regarded as indispensable to the President. Haldeman, particularly, was the ultimate traffic controller and organizer of the flow of presidential business.

(4) Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Washington Post (13th June, 1973)

The Watergate prosecutors have a one-page memo addressed to former White house domestic affairs adviser John D. Ehrlichman that described in detail the plans to burglarize the office of Pentagon papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist, according to government sources.

The memo sent to Ehrlichman by former White House aides David Young and Egil (Bud) Krogh, was dated before the Sept. 3, 1971 burglary of the office of the Beverly Hills psychiatrist, the sources said.

The memo was turned over to the prosecutors by Young, who has been granted immunity from prosecution, the sources said.

The sources confirmed earlier reports that Young will testify that Ehrlichman saw the memo and approved the burglary operation.

Ehrlichman could not be reached directly for comment yesterday, but Frank H. Strickler, one of his attorneys, said: "It has been his consistent position that he had no advance knowledge of the break-in and Mr. Ehrlichman stands by that position."

The burglary was supervised by Watergate conspirators E. Howard Hunt, Jr. and G. Gordon Liddy, who in 1971 were members of the White House special investigations unit called the "plumbers."

The group which was directed by Young and Krogh, was charged with investigating leaks to the news media and had been established in June, 1971, after the publication of the Pentagon Papers by several newspapers.

The memo from Krogh and Young directly contradicts a statement Ehrlichman made to the FBI on April 27. According to a summary of that interview made public May 2, Ehrlichman stated that he "was not told that these individuals (Hunt and Liddy) had broken into the premises of the psychiatrist for Ellsberg until after this incident had taken place. Such activity was not authorized by him, he did not know about this burglary until after it had happened."

In an affidavit released last month, Krogh had given "general authorization to engage in covert activity" to obtain information on Ellsberg.

Reliable sources said that Krogh prepared his affidavit by referring to an incomplete copy of the memo that he and Young sent to Ehrlichman before the burglary. Missing from that copy, the sources said, was the bottom portion in which plans for the burglary were described.

The top portion merely made a general reference to covert activity and Krogh based his affidavit on that, according to the sources.

The sources said the prosecutors have the entire memo and that Krogh, now reminded of its contents, is expected to change his statement, thus adding to the damaging testimony against Ehrlichman.

The sources said that the bottom portion of the memo was apparently removed late last year or early this year to sanitize Korgh's files before Senate confirmation hearings on his nomination as undersecretary of Transportation.

Krogh was confirmed without difficulty. He resigned last month after acknowledging that he approved the burglary operation on Ellsberg's psychiatrist.

Young was a member of the National Security Council staff and had previously been the appointments secretary to foreign affairs adviser Dr. Henry A. Kissinger. He resigned in April.

Ehrlichman, one of the President's closest advisers, resigned April 30.

In another Watergate matter, three government sources said that Ehrlichman and former presidential counsel John W. Dean, III taped telephone and personal face-to-face conversations with other figures in the Watergate affair beginning last January.

Ehrlichman taped one telephone conversation with former acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray III concerning some incriminating files removed last summer from the White House safe of Watergate conspirator hunt, the sources said.

In another instance, the sources said that Ehrlichman taped a telephone conversation with Dean about the same explosive documents that Gray later destroyed.

Dean taped several conversations, including a long interview with alleged political saboteur Donald H. Segretti in January, one source said.

Segretti, a California attorney, was allegedly hired to conduct political espionage and sabotage against Democratic presidential contenders by former presidential appointments secretary Dwight L. Chapin and was paid $40,000 by the President's former personal attorney, Herbert W. Kalmbach.

In a related matter, two sources close to Dean said that the three months of recent Watergate disclosures were triggered in part by a request from Watergate conspirator hunt in mid-March for $130,000 to remain silent.

Hunt had received "hush money" before that, the sources said. They said the White House staff did not have $130,000 at hand and several persons, including Kalmbach and former Attorney General John N. Mitchell, were balking at raising additional money to buy the silence of seven original Watergate defendants.

(5) John D. Ehrlichman, statement (October, 1979)

I had (while working for Richard Nixon) an exaggerated sense of my obligation to do as I was bidden, without exercising independent judgment in the way I might have if it had been an attorney-client relationship.... I went and lied and I'm paying the price for that lack of willpower. I, in effect, I abdicated my moral judgments and turned them over to somebody else... And if I had any advice for my kids, it would be never - to never, ever defer your moral judgments to anybody... That's something that's very personal. And it's what a man has to hang on to."

(6) Richard Nixon, Memoirs (1978)

In our conversation on Wednesday morning, June 21, Haldeman told me that Gordon Liddy was "the guy who did this." I asked who Liddy was, and Haldeman said he was the counsel for the finance committee at CRP.. When I said I thought McCord was the man responsible for the break-in, Haldeman said no, it was Liddy; we didn't know what McCord's position was, but everyone seemed to think he would hang tight.

Ehrlichman had come up with the idea of having Liddy confess; he would say he did it because he wanted to be a hero at the CRP. This would have several advantages: it would cut off the Democrats' civil suit and minimize their ability to go on fishing expeditions in the depositions connected with it; it would divert some of the press and political attacks by establishing guilt at a low level instead of letting it be imputed to a high one; and finally, since all the arrested men felt that Liddy had been in charge, once Liddy admitted guilt it wouldn't matter what else they thought because everything would tie back to Liddy. Then, Haldeman said, our people would make an appeal for compassion on the basis that Liddy was a poor misguided kid who read too many spy stories.

I said that after all this was not a hell of a lot of crime and in fact if someone asked me about Ziegler's statement that it was a "third-rate burglary," I was going to say no, it was only a"third-rate attempt at burglary." Haldeman said the lawyers all felt that if Liddy and the arrested men entered a guilty plea they would get only fines and suspended sentences since apparently they were all first offenders.

I said I was for Ehrlichman's plan. We had to assume the truth would come out sooner or later, so if Liddy was the man responsible, he should step up and shoulder the blame. My only reservation, I said, would be if this would involve John Mitchell-in that case I didn't think we could do it. A day earlier Haldeman seemed certain Mitchell was not involved. Now he was not so reassuring. He had already told me that Mitchell was concerned about how far the FBI's investigation was going and thought that someone should go directly to the FBI and get it turned off. Haldeman said, too, that Ehrlichman was afraid that Mitchell might be involved. When Haldeman had all but put the question directly to Mitchell when they had talked earlier that morning, he had received no answer; so he could not be sure whether Mitchell was involved or not. He indicated that Mitchell had seemed a little apprehensive about Ehrlichman's plan because of Liddy's instability and what might happen when Liddy was really put under pressure. In any case, he said, Ehrlichman had just developed the plan that morning, and everyone was going to think about it before anything was done.

I still believed that Mitchell was innocent; I was sure he would never have ordered anything like this. He was just too smart and, besides, he had always disdained campaign intelligence-gathering. But there were two nagging possibilities: I might be wrong and Mitchell might have had some involvement; and even if he had not actually been involved, if we weren't careful he might become so circumstantially entangled that neither he nor we would ever be able to explain the truth. Either way, I hoped that Liddy would not draw him in. I said that taking a rap was done quite often. Haldeman said that we could take care of Liddy and I agreed that we could help him; I was willing to help with money for someone who had thought he was helping me win the election.

I never personally confronted Mitchell with the direct question of whether he had been involved in or had known about the planning of the Watergate break-in. He was one of my closest friends, and he had issued a public denial. I would never challenge what he had said; I felt that if there were something he thought I should know, he would have told me. And I suppose there was something else, too, something I expressed rhetorically months later: "Suppose you call Mitchell ... and Mitchell says, `Yes, I did it,' " I said to Haldeman. "Then what do we say?"

(7) Martin Weil, John D. Ehrlichman, Washington Post (16th February, 1999)

John D. Ehrlichman, 73, the White House domestic affairs adviser imprisoned for his role in the Watergate scandal, died Feb. 14 at his home in Atlanta. Mr. Ehrlichman's son Tom said his father had diabetes.

Mr. Ehrlichman was one of the most prominent members of the administration of Richard M. Nixon. Often scowling from beneath bristling eyebrows, the energetic Mr. Ehrlichman seemed to symbolize, in his pugnacity, the administration's determination to confront its foes and reshape policy over a wide front.

He was convicted in the Watergate coverup along with H.R. Haldeman, the White House chief of staff, and John N. Mitchell, the attorney general. In a separate trial, he was convicted for the break-in at the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, a Vietnam War critic.

After serving 18 months in federal prison, Mr. Ehrlichman, a disbarred lawyer, made a new life for himself as an author and appeared to have changed his personality as well. Once known as a brusque stickler for efficiency, he grew a beard and seemed mellow, relaxed and amiable.

He suggested that his earlier image might have been distorted.

"I was never the person everybody saw in the Watergate hearings," he told an interviewer in 1979. Arguing for a balanced view of the administration in which he was a principal figure, he cited such accomplishments as its passage of significant environmental legislation.

Yet the Watergate scandal cast a long shadow on American public life, and it was for his identification with it that Mr. Ehrlichman achieved his greatest prominence.

Specifically, he was accused of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury in the matter that started with the June 17, 1972, break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office building. Five men with cameras and electronic gear were arrested at 2:30 a.m. in the Democratic Party offices.

Watergate, and the high-level efforts to cover it up, forced Nixon's resignation. The term was expanded to include other abuses of power traced to the administration.

As the matter unraveled, senior White House officials were implicated not only in covering up the break-in, but also in the use of government agencies in a campaign of "dirty tricks" aimed at discrediting Democratic opponents.

In April 1973, Mr. Ehrlichman and Haldeman were summoned to the presidential retreat at Camp David, where Nixon told them they would have to resign.

Mr. Ehrlichman, one of those closest to the president, had acknowledged knowing that money was being raised to pay legal fees and expenses of the original defendants, but he insisted that it was a proper act and was not part of any coverup. However, the trial that began in federal court in Washington in 1974 resulted in his conviction.

Early in his days at the White House, Mr. Ehrlichman had established an in-house investigative unit and ultimately was instructed to monitor its activities.

From this assignment stemmed his conviction for conspiracy in connection with an operation that led to a break-in at the California office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist.

In addition to his appearance at his two trials, Mr. Ehrlichman also gained notoriety from his appearance at the Senate's nationally televised hearings looking into Watergate. That did much to cement his public image as a combative and abrasive administration loyalist.

Nixon resigned Aug. 9, 1974, as impeachment loomed, and was pardoned by his successor, Gerald R. Ford. Mr. Ehrlichman spent 18 months at Swift Trail Camp, a minimum-security federal facility near Safford, Ariz. He was released on parole in 1978.

His son was asked yesterday about reports that Mr. Ehrlichman did not remain a staunch Nixon defender. He answered: "I guess one way to respond to that is: He served his president faithfully. Was the reverse true?"

(8) Martin McLaughlin, John Ehrlichman, World Socialist Website (17 February 1999)

The death Sunday of John Ehrlichman provides an occasion for recalling the significance of the Watergate affair, a political scandal involving genuine abuses of power. There is an enormous difference between Watergate and the year-long Lewinsky affair, where "high crimes and misdemeanors" have been committed, not by the White House, but by the right-wing political operatives - judges, lawyers, congressmen, journalists - who organized the attack on the Clinton administration.

Ehrlichman was 73 when he died of complications of diabetes at his Atlanta home. He was a public political figure for less than five years, from the time he entered the White House as a key Nixon aide in January 1969 until his forced resignation on April 30, 1973, some 15 months before Nixon himself was compelled to step down.

A Seattle lawyer who had worked on Nixon's defeated election campaigns in 1960 and 1962, Ehrlichman rejoined Nixon for his successful 1968 campaign. He became White House counsel and then domestic policy coordinator.

Ehrlichman and his friend and former college classmate, H.R. Haldeman, Nixon's chief of staff, were widely considered the two most powerful White House aides and the men closest to the president.

Ehrlichman's most important assignment, as far as Nixon was concerned, was to supervise the administration's assault on its political opponents--in the antiwar protest movement, in the Democratic Party, and within the federal bureaucracy. Ehrlichman established the "plumbers" unit in an effort to stop leaks to the press, particularly of information damaging to Nixon's policies in Vietnam. The "plumbers" were former CIA and FBI agents hired by the White House to bug government officials suspected of leaking and carry out other criminal actions at the direction of the president.

Daniel Ellsberg, the former Pentagon analyst who leaked a secret US government history of the war in Vietnam ("the Pentagon Papers") to the New York Times, became the main target of this counterintelligence operation. At Ehrlichman's direction, E. Howard Hunt and other members of the "plumbers" broke into the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding, in September 1971, in an effort to find information which could discredit Ellsberg's revelations. A few days later Ehrlichman briefed Nixon on the efforts of the burglars, who found nothing.

After Hunt and six other men were arrested in June 1972 for the break-in at Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate complex in Washington, Ehrlichman, Haldeman and Nixon were concerned that the trail would lead from Watergate to other operations of the "plumbers." In an effort to limit the damage, the unit was disbanded and Ehrlichman was ordered to distance himself from the Watergate cover-up, which was delegated to the new White House counsel, John Dean.

This decision proved to have disastrous consequences for the conspirators. Ehrlichman and Haldeman were Nixon loyalists, ready to fall on their swords if necessary. Dean proved more susceptible to mounting legal pressures, and he agreed to testify before the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973. Before a national television audience, he identified the president as the organizer and initiator of a wide range of illegal actions, from the use of government agencies like the IRS and FBI to harass and spy on political opponents, to attempts to suppress the ongoing Watergate investigation by paying hush money to the burglars and involving the CIA in the cover-up.

Ehrlichman and Haldeman resigned on April 30, 1973, at Nixon's request, in an effort to limit the damage to his administration. This maneuver might have been successful, but for the revelation two months later of the existence of a White House taping system which recorded all meetings and telephone conversations involving the president and his top aides.

The next 15 months were consumed by a struggle for control of the tapes, culminating in a unanimous Supreme Court decision in July 1974 compelling Nixon to turn over the tapes to the Watergate special prosecutor and House and Senate investigators. When key tapes confirmed that Nixon had been deeply involved in the Watergate cover-up from its inception, his political support collapsed and he resigned rather than face impeachment.

Nixon left office without pardoning his key accomplices, although he himself received a pardon from his successor Gerald Ford. Ehrlichman went to trial for the Watergate cover-up, together with Haldeman, former Attorney General John Mitchell and former Assistant Attorney General Robert Mardian, and was convicted and sentenced to prison for two and a half to eight years. He was also convicted on charges stemming from the burglary of Ellsberg's psychiatrist, but received a term to be served concurrently. He was released in 1977 after 18 months in a minimum security facility.

Watergate was far more than a failed burglary and unsuccessful cover-up, and here Ehrlichman's role sheds light. It was necessary for the White House to cover up its links to the Watergate break-in because this threatened to expose a far broader criminal enterprise. What was involved was the use of the resources of the federal government to carry out a whole series of attacks on basic democratic rights, ranging from "dirty tricks" against likely Democratic presidential candidates in the 1972 elections to burglaries, wiretapping and other forms of illegal surveillance.

The White House tapes document Nixon's personal role in directing these actions, and Ehrlichman's role as his right-hand man. Among their discussions: how to use the IRS against political opponents like Senator Hubert Humphrey and Senator George McGovern; burglaries by the plumbers at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank; planting agents and bugging devices; hiring private detectives to follow Senator Edward Kennedy; using the CIA to block the Watergate investigation; planting smears in the media through favored journalists.

One conversation between Nixon and Ehrlichman, on November 1, 1972, as Nixon was anticipating his reelection victory and plotting revenge on his enemies, gives the flavor of their collaboration. The two men are discussing measures of retaliation against the Washington Post for its Watergate coverage, including denial of a license to operate a radio station:

NIXON: And now they're finished.

EHRLICHMAN: Believe me, I would be very disappointed to see us now forgive and forget.

NIXON: There ain't going to be no forgetting, and there'll be Goddamn little forgiving, except they're going to know (unintelligible). They're off the guest list, they don't come to the Christmas.

EHRLICHMAN: That to my way of thinking would be not nearly as important as coming down the pike--there will be our main chance. There will be a license application--

NIXON: Oh, I know. I know that, sure.

EHRLICHMAN: But I would love to see you fire the silver bullets.

NIXON: How can I?

EHRLICHMAN: Well, your day will come.

NIXON: But John, how do you fire a silver bullet at the Post without them saying you're taking the FCC and trying to get after somebody?

EHRLICHMAN: I think you could get away with it ( Abuse of Power, The New Nixon Tapes, pp. 174-175).

The tapes do reveal some distinctions between Nixon and his henchman. Nixon was obsessively anti-Semitic. Hardly a day goes by without him voicing some demand for a crackdown on Jewish supporters of his political opponents, such as IRS audits of Jewish campaign contributors for the Democrats, or otherwise expressing his venom. Ehrlichman was more cautious in his language, rarely initiating but always going along approvingly.

The generally respectful obituaries of Ehrlichman published in the newspapers Tuesday make no reference to such discussions or attitudes. This is not just a matter of letting sleeping dogs lie. On the contrary, too close an examination of his character would have an uncomfortable resonance today.

The Ehrlichman of the White House transcripts or the videotapes of the Watergate hearings is a definite social type who reappears in the current political crisis, not in the Clinton White House, but in the Office of Independent Counsel and among the House managers. In his vicious and antidemocratic political methods he would be right at home with Kenneth Starr and other witch-hunters of the Republican extreme right.

It must be said, however, that the programs on which Ehrlichman worked as White House domestic policy adviser in the early 1970s would today be considered on the left fringe of the Democratic Party. These included the Philadelphia Plan, which introduced affirmative action into the building trades unions, the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and passage of clean air and clean water legislation, increased safeguards for workers' pensions, revenue sharing grants from the federal government for state and local public services, and greater autonomy for Native American reservations.

The contrast between the policy agenda of the Nixon White House and that of Clinton in his recent State of the Union speech is a measure of how far to the right the whole spectrum of big business politics has moved in the last generation.