The latest conversations were recorded on microphones in the White House, the Executive Office Building and Camp David from July through October 1972 as the viral contagion from the June burglary of Democratic campaign offices in the Watergate Hotel began gnawing in earnest at his administration.
Perhaps the most entertaining tapes are those from mid-October in the days immediately after Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein published their first truly far-reaching story, tying the Watergate break-in to a program of political espionage, sabotage and surveillance that would ultimately lead to the White House.
“What is the circulation on this really shocking goddamn story on [presidential appointment secretary Dwight] Chapin this morning?” the president asks H.R. Haldeman, his chief of staff, on Oct. 15. Woodward and Bernstein had discovered that a young Californian named Donald Segretti, recruited for the Nixon reelection campaign by Chapin, had been roaming the country sabotaging the campaigns of various presidential candidates.
Haldeman explains that Chapin had known Segretti in college. “Christ, that’s where the problem is. Those kids talk too much,” Nixon says. In the 1968 campaign, he recalls bitterly, his carefully groomed presidential image was later undone by Joe McGinnis, author of “The Selling of the President,” whom he also describes, with an obscenity, as a “liberal.”
Nixon doesn’t appear to know about Segretti’s activities, but he is clearly unsettled that Segretti’s pay has been traced to funds dispersed by Nixon’s personal attorney, Herbert Kalmbach. “I think you better get pretty quickly the story ready on Kalmbach. As to the funds he was using.” It was never any secret, Nixon says, that Kalmbach was raising money for the Nixon reelection committee, and “we have to separate Watergate” and the Segretti business from the presidency itself.
Well, there’s a bit of a problem, Haldeman says. G. Gordon Liddy, one of the Watergate burglars, heard that someone was running around doing sabotage, “and you know Liddy’s pretty vicious. . . . He said, ‘My people are going to kill him.’ . . . The guy was in serious jeopardy.”
The solution, Haldeman said, was that Liddy was informed that Segretti was one of the Nixon campaign’s own saboteurs, and thereafter Segretti and Liddy worked together on several operations.