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  • By George Lardner Jr.
    and Walter Pincus

    Washington Post Staff Writers

    Thursday, October 30, 1997;
    Page A19

    On March 7, 1973, President Richard M. Nixon met in the Oval Office with one of his major campaign contributors, Thomas A. Pappas, to personally thank him for providing money that Nixon knew was being used as hush money for the Watergate burglars.

    Pappas, who held joint Greek and U.S. citizenship and ran a $200 million industrial complex in Greece, had contributed more than $100,000 to Nixon in both 1968 and 1972. He has been identified in previously released Nixon White House tapes as the source of cash used to keep the Watergate defendants quiet. But newly transcribed conversations show for the first time that Nixon acknowledged Pappas's role with an Oval Office thank-you.

    "I want you to know that ... I'm aware of what you're doing to help out in some of these things that Maury's people and others are involved in," Nixon told Pappas, referring to GOP fund-raiser Maurice Stans. "I won't say anything further, but it's very seldom you find a friend like that, believe me."

    Five days earlier, White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman told Nixon that Pappas had provided funds for "one of the major problems" that White House counsel John W. Dean III "is working on." Haldeman described the problem as "the question of ... continuing financial activity in order to keep those people all in place," an apparent reference to funds provided to the seven defendants convicted in the Watergate burglary.

    "And the way he's working on that," Haldeman continued, "is via [Attorney General John] Mitchell to Tom Pappas." Haldeman described Pappas as "the best source we've got for that kind of thing."

    In a recent telephone interview, Dean said, "Mitchell, through [aide Frederick] LaRue, was dealing with Pappas to get money for the coverup." Pappas, who was investigated but never charged in the Watergate scandal, became a leading fund-raiser for Gerald R. Ford's 1976 campaign. When his name first surfaced in the Watergate affair in 1974, Pappas denied he was asked for money by Mitchell or LaRue.He died at his Palm Beach, Fla., estate in 1988.

    Haldeman also bluntly told Nixon on March 2, 1973, what Pappas wanted in exchange for his financial contributions. "Pappas is extremely anxious that [U.S. Ambassador to Greece Henry J.] Tasca stay in Greece," Haldeman said. Tasca, a career diplomat who had been selected as envoy to Athens in September 1969, had a close relationship with both Pappas and Nixon. Pappas also was closely affiliated with the junta of colonels who ran Greece in the early 1970s and who continued to receive U.S. military aid during the Nixon administration.

    "Let him stay," Nixon quickly said of Tasca. "Let him stay. No problem. Pappas has raised the money we need for this other activity."

    When Nixon then asked how Pappas did it, Haldeman responded that he had sold one of his companies and was "one of the unknown John Paul Gettys of the world or something now. ... And he's able to deal in cash."

    Later, when the first news accounts disclosed that hush money had been paid to the Watergate defendants, Nixon recalled his meeting with Pappas.

    "I didn't discuss this, believe me," Nixon told Haldeman on April 26, 1973. "Pappas was, said he was helping on, uh ... helping Mitchell on certain things. And I said, 'Well, that's fine, thank you.' But I, he didn't tell me what it was."

    Then, in a burst of candor, Nixon recalled, "I think it's a matter of fact though that somebody said be sure to talk to Pappas because he's being very helpful on the, uh, Watergate thing."

    Haldeman reminded Nixon that he was the one who had suggested the president see Pappas, but added, "I don't think I said Watergate thing. ... I said Mitchell wants you to be sure and talk to Pappas. He's been very helpful."

    © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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