Robert Mardian

Robert Mardian

Robert Charles Mardian was born on 23rd October, 1923. After graduating from the University of California at Santa Barbara he served in the United States Navy during the Second World War. After being discharged he took a degree from the University of South California.

A member of the Republican Party he took part in the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater in 1964. Mardian was also chairman of the advisory committee when Ronald Reagan ran for the governor of California in 1966. Two years later he was western co-chair of the successful campaign to elect Richard Nixon as president.

Nixon appointed Mardian as general counsel to the department of health education and welfare. While in office Mardian came up with a plan which would secretly relax federal guidelines on Supreme Court ordered school desegregation. He was appointed head of the cabinet education committee.

In 1970 he was named assistant attorney general under John N. Mitchell. One of his responsibilities was to head the Internal Security Division, which tapped phones of reporters and launched investigations of those opposed to the Vietnam War. Mardian headed the government's team prosecuting Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers case in 1971.

Mardian was also appointed coordinator of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP). In 1972 James W. McCord was appointed as security director for CREEP. Later that year Gordon Liddy presented Nixon's attorney general, John N. Mitchell, with an action plan called Operation Gemstone. Liddy wanted a $1 million budget to carry out a series of black ops activities against Nixon's political enemies. Mitchell decided that the budget for Gemstone was too large. Instead he gave him $250,000 to launch a scaled-down version of the plan.

One of Liddy's first tasks was to place electronic devices in the Democratic Party campaign offices in an apartment block called Watergate. Liddy wanted to wiretap the conversations of Larry O'Brien, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Liddy recruited McCord to help him with this. On 28th May, 1972, McCord and his team broke into the DNC's offices and placed bugs in two of the telephones.

It became the job of Alfred Baldwin to eavesdrop the phone conversations. Over the next 20 days Baldwin listened to over 200 phone calls. These were not recorded. Baldwin made notes and typed up summaries. Nor did Baldwin listen to all phone calls coming in. For example, he took his meals outside his room. Any phone calls taking place at this time would have been missed.

It soon became clear that the bug on one of the phones installed by James W. McCord was not working. As a result of the defective bug, McCord decided that they would have to break-in to the Watergate office again. He also heard that a representative of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War had a desk at the DNC. McCord argued that it was worth going in to see what they could discover about the anti-war activists. Gordon Liddy later claimed that the real reason for the second break-in was “to find out what O’Brien had of a derogatory nature about us, not for us to get something on him.”

The original operation was unsuccessful and on 17th June, 1972, James W. McCord, Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez and Bernard L. Barker returned to O'Brien's office. However, this time they were caught by the police.

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.

Frederick LaRue now decided that it would be necessary to pay the large sums of money to secure their silence. LaRue raised $300,000 in hush money. Tony Ulasewicz, a former New York policeman, was given the task of arranging the payments.

On 21st December, 1972, James W. McCord wrote a letter to Jack Caulfield: " Sorry to have to write you this letter but felt you had to know. if Helms goes, and if the WG (Watergate) operation is laid at the CIA's feet, where it does not belong, every tree in the forest will fall. It will be a scorched desert. The whole matter is at the precipice right now. Just pass the message that if they want it to blow, they are on exactly the right course. I'm sorry that you will get hurt in the fallout.”

Caulfield was unable to persuade Richard Nixon to leave the CIA alone. On 30th January, 1973, James W. McCord, Gordon Liddy, Frank Sturgis, E. Howard Hunt, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, and Bernard L. Barker were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping.

In February, 1973, Richard Helms was sacked by Richard Nixon. The following month McCord carried out his threat. On 19th March, 1973, McCord wrote a letter to Judge John J. Sirica claiming that the defendants had pleaded guilty under pressure (from John Dean and John N. Mitchell) and that perjury had been committed.

James W. McCord also gave more details about Operation Gemstone. In a statement given to Sam Ervin on 20th May he claimed that there was a plot to steal certain documents from the safe of Hank Greenspun, the editor of the Las Vegas Sun. According to McCord, the plot was organized by John N. Mitchell, Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt were to carry out the break-in and that people connected to Howard Hughes were to supply them with a getaway plane.

In April 1973, Nixon forced John 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, Richard 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, Nixon became the first President of the United States to resign from office.

Nixon was granted a pardon by Gerald Ford but John Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman, and John N. Mitchell were charged and convicted with obstruction of justice, conspiracy and perjury. Robert Mardian was also charged with obstruction of justice. At his trial Mardian claimed that he was unaware of the burglary. However, Jeb Magruder testified that John N. Mitchell had ordered Mardian to telephone Gordon Liddy to put the cover-up in motion. Mardian now confessed that he was involved in organizing hush money for the burglars. He also admitted shredding papers linking CREEP with the operation. Mardian was found guilty and sentenced to 10 months to three years.

Mardian was found guilty but at his appeal he argued that his actions were covered by lawyer-client privilege and the details of his participation in the cover-up revealed in Nixon's White House tapes were inadmissible as hearsay. However, when the appeal court quashed his conviction, it was ruled that his case should have been severed from the other defendants when his lead counsel fell ill during his trial.

Rather than retrying Mardian, the special prosecutor dropped the charge. Mardian returned to the family construction firm in Arizona. He retired in 2002.

Robert Mardian died of lung cancer in San Clemente, California on 17th July, 2006.

Primary Sources

(1) The Herald (25th July, 2006)

Robert Mardian, a lawyer for Richard Nixon's re-election committee whose conviction in the Watergate scandal was overturned, has died. He was 82.

Mardian long denied helping to conceal the Nixon administration's involvement in the break-in and attempted bugging of the Democratic national headquarters office at Watergate. Nixon had named him head of the internal security division of the Justice Department in 1970, but Mardian left two years later to work for Nixon's campaign. He represented the committee when the Democratic National Committee sued after the 1972 break-in.

The government accused Mardian of interfering in its investigation when he interviewed a number of key figures in the Watergate break-in, said Arnold Rochvarg, author of the 1995 book Watergate Victory: Mardian's Appeal.

In 1974, Mardian and six others were indicted; five went to trial. Mardian was charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice.

During the trial, he contradicted much of the testimony against him, including witnesses who said he was key to getting the Watergate burglars released from jail before the administration's connections were discovered. In 1976, a federal appeals court ruled Mardian should have been tried separately. Rather than retrying Mardian, the special prosecutor dropped the charge.

(2) Patricia Sullivan, The Washington Post (21st July, 2006)

Mr. Mardian, a former assistant attorney general, consistently denied that he was involved in Nixon administration attempts to cover up its involvement in the break-in and attempted bugging of the Democratic National Headquarters office at the Watergate complex June 17, 1972. He was assigned to handle the legal issues growing out of the break-in, he testified during his 1974 trial, but he said he didn't know about the break-in before it happened. He also testified that former attorney general John N. Mitchell admitted approving a $250,000 budget for G. Gordon Liddy, who led the team of burglars.

Mr. Mardian testified that he was golfing on the West Coast when he learned of the break-in from Nixon's campaign aide, Jeb Stuart Magruder. According to his testimony, he told Magruder: "Burglary is bad enough. You might get away with it - boys will be boys. But bugging is disastrous."

Others testified that he was key in getting the Watergate burglars released from jail before it was discovered how deeply the administration was involved in the crime, but Mr. Mardian said that was impossible, given his location and the difference in time zones.

Mr. Mardian was sentenced to 10 months to three years on a single count of conspiracy. In the same trial, Mitchell and White House aides John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman were also convicted. Another campaign attorney, Kenneth W. Parkinson, was acquitted.

Mr. Mardian, a balding, gravel-voiced and dour-faced man, had unsuccessfully tried to avoid testifying at the trial on the grounds of attorney-client privilege. Upon the verdict, The Washington Post reported that he "seemed stunned. . . . Mardian seemed devastated by the jury verdict against him and sat glued to his seat in the courtroom until it was almost empty, apparently trying to compose himself."

(3) Jon Kamman, The Arizona Republic (21st July, 2006)

Convicted in 1974 on a charge of conspiring with top Nixon administration officials to cover up details of the June 1972 break-in of Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate office complex, Mardian won the right to a retrial on grounds that he should have been tried separately.

The government declined to prosecute again. Mardian, saying he spent $675,000 on the three-year appeal, maintained that an Oval Office tape recording released later indicated he was attempting to get at the truth and should not have been indicted.