The secretary of State-designate, Gen. Alexander Haig Jr. -- who turned to old Democratic friend Joe Califano Jr. for help in his confirmation hearings -- has often used Califano as a sounding board, even during the darkest days of Watergate, according to friends of both men.

In April 1974, for example, Haig -- then chief of staff in Nixon's White House -- was facing a subpoena ordering him to testify before the Senate Watergate Committee.

He called Califano and asked the former Johnson White House tactician to meet him for dinner at the posh French restaurant, Jean-Pierre.

At dinner, Haig asked Califano if he should claim executive privilege. Califano, who at the time numbered The Washington Post among his influential corporate clients, gave Haig some blunt advice: Haig should position himself squarely between the committee and Nixon. If Nixon wanted Haig to claim executive privilege, then let Nixon invoke the privilege for Haig and take the heat for defying the committee, Califano said. That's exactly what happened.

In September 1974, a month after Nixon resigned, Haig again sought out his old friend -- this time for some career counseling.

Haig had four alternatives: he could become NATO commander, become Army chief of staff, work for former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller or write a book.

Califano told Haig to forget about being Army chief of staff because any confirmation hearings could trun into a major reinvestigation of Watergate and of everything Haig had been doing at the White House and as Henry Kissinger's deputy.

Haig disagreed, telling Califano he thought he could get confirmed. Califano later told friends he thought Haig seemed not to understand the political realities. But, as it turned out, Haig apparently heeded Califano's advice and took the job as NATO commander.

The closeness of their relationship is clear from another topic of conversation that September evening, -- just days before President Ford pardoned Nixon.

Haig told Califano that he felt very strongly that Nixon should be pardoned and said he was going to press very hard for it before leaving the White House. "I know you think he's a terrible, terrible person," Haig said. "But unless he is pardoned, he is going to go over the cliff."

Califano argued against any pardon that would precede an indictment and trial of the former president. But Haig continued to lobby for the pardon.

This time Haig is likely to heed Califano's advice. Califano is one of a relative handful of Democrats who emerged from the Carter administration with friends in the Hill. If the general runs into any trouble at the hearings, it will doubtless be from Senate Democrats -- Califano's old buddies.