H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, 67, President Richard M. Nixon’s White House chief of staff and a key figure in the Watergate scandal that forced Nixon to resign from the presidency, died of cancer yesterday at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Haldeman, a former advertising executive who was credited with remaking Nixon’s image in his successful 1968 campaign for the White House, served 18 months in prison for his role in Watergate. The episode became one of the great constitutional crises in the nation’s history.
The story began on June 17, 1972, when five men carrying recording equipment and cameras were arrested in the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate office building in Washington. It soon was learned that they were working for Nixon’s Committee to Reelect the President.
The scandal consisted of the gradual unraveling of White House efforts to cover up its involvement in this incident and a wide range of other abuses. The struggle was played out in the media, in televised Senate hearings, in various court proceedings and finally in the U.S. House of Representatives, which voted articles of impeachment against the president.
Haldeman, who kept such close guard over access to Nixon that he was accused of erecting a Berlin Wall around the Oval Office, was involved in the coverup from the beginning. He relished his role in the White House as what he once called “the president’s son-of-a-bitch.” Critics made fun of his German name, short haircut, arrogance and capacity for detail.
Tapes Nixon had made of his White House meetings became a central element in the drama. Investigators wanted access to them. The White House gave up some of them grudgingly but refused to release all of them. When one tape was found to have an 18 1/2-minute gap, it turned out that Haldeman was the person who had been talking to Nixon when the mysterious period of silence occurred.
The U.S. Supreme Court finally directed Nixon to turn over all of the tapes. The result was the discovery of the “smoking gun” long sought by prosecutors. This was a conversation a few days after the break-in in which Nixon discussed with Haldeman a plan to have the CIA tell the FBI to stay clear of the situation because it involved national security. It proved that Nixon himself was involved in the coverup.
Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s assistant for domestic affairs, were known as the Prussians in the White House. Because of disclosures by other Watergate figures, they were forced to resign on April 30, 1973. Both subsequently were convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
In 1978, Haldeman published “The Ends of Power,” in which he took responsibility for fostering the atmosphere in which Watergate flourished.
“I put on too much pressure, and in the process laid the groundwork for the mental attitude that ‘the job must be done,’ “ he wrote. This “badly served the cause when Watergate struck. By then, our whole crew was so strongly indoctrinated in the principle that there were to be results, not alibis, that they simply once again swung into action -- doing what they felt was expected of them.”
In a statement issued yesterday, Nixon said: “I have known Bob Haldeman to be a man of rare intelligence, strength, integrity and courage. . . . He played an indispensable role in turbulent times as our administration undertook a broad range of initiatives at home and abroad.”
Harry Robbins Haldeman was born on Oct. 27, 1926, in Los Angeles. His father, Harry F. Haldeman, was a prosperous plumbing, heating and air conditioning supplier and a supporter of Republican causes.
Young Haldeman was an Eagle Scout. He attended the University of Redlands and the University of Southern California, served in the Naval Reserve in World War II, then went to the University of California at Los Angeles, where he graduated in 1948. One of his classmates was John Ehrlichman.
In 1949, Haldeman joined the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency and became an account executive in New York. In 1959, he returned to Los Angeles as vice president and manager of the California office.
Haldeman became an admirer of Nixon in 1947, when the latter was leading the House Un-American Activities Committee in efforts to unmask the communist connections of Alger Hiss, a former high State Department official.
In 1952, when Nixon was Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vice presidential running mate, Haldeman’s father was one of the businessmen who contributed to a private political expense fund for Nixon. When the existence of the fund became known, Nixon gave his famous “Checkers” television speech, which saved his place on the GOP ticket.
The younger Haldeman tried to work for Nixon in 1952, succeeded as an advance man for Nixon in the 1956 and 1960 campaigns and was named manager of his unsuccessful campaign for the governorship of California in 1962.
In 1968, he was chief of staff of Nixon’s presidential campaign. In presenting a “new” Nixon to the electorate, Haldeman said, he was guided, first, by the idea that the candidate appeared rattled when he was fatigued, and second, that the existence of electronic media meant that strenuous campaigning all over the country was unnecessary. The result was a campaign in which Nixon appeared relaxed and in control of the issues.
In later years, Haldeman was a vice president of the David H. Murdoch real estate development company. He also had interests in restaurants and hotels. He let his hair grow and took on an altogether softer image. He devoted much time to his family.
Survivors include his wife of almost 45 years, the former Joanne Horton, of Santa Barbara, and four children, Susan, Peter, Hank and Ann.