The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House – H.R. Haldeman

HaldermanOn August 8, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) resigned from his position as the thirty-seventh Commander-In-Chief. In the months preceding his announcement, the Watergate scandal investigation had gained significant traction and Nixon faced the possibility of impeachment. The nation watched in shock and silence as Nixon gave his speech. It marked the first and only time in history that a United States President had resigned from office. In the decades that followed, scores of books, articles, and documentaries have been published regarding the Watergate affair. I strongly recommend Fred Emery’s “Watergate: The Corruption of American Politics and the Fall of Richard Nixon“. It is a fascinating account of the scandal and the fallout that ensued. Within Nixon’s inner circle was his Chief of Staff Harry Robbins “Bob” Haldeman (1926-1993), known simply as H.R. Haldeman. The former insider served eighteen months at the Lompoc, California Federal minimum-security facility after being convicted on one count of obstruction of justice and three counts of lying under oath. During his time in Washington, Haldeman kept a meticulous daily diary that he intended to publish following his release from prison. However, he passed suddenly on November 12, 1993, at his home in Santa Barbara, California. But all hope was not lost. His widow Joanne continued her husband’s goal and worked extensively to have them published. They are presented here in this book that deserves a rightful place in the annals of historical non-fiction.

Haldeman’s ability to keep a daily diary in addition to his tasks during the day is astonishing. Anyone who has worked in Washington will tell that every day is a roller coaster ride of appointments, statements, problems, and success. As Chief of Staff, Haldeman faced the brunt of these problems and was one of the few people that Nixon trusted the most. However, Joanna points out early in the book that the two were not close friends. In fact, throughout the book, it is clear that no one in the administration really knew the real Richard Nixon. But that did not deter his cabinet from doing their best to serve the White House in whichever way necessary. The daily diary entries are primarily short snippets of the day’s events. Readers will notice the change in the length of the notes after Haldeman switches to a dictation machine. The notes become extensive but if we follow closely, we are provided a rare look into Nixon’s White House.

This book is not an examination of Nixon himself or an attempt to discern why he took certain actions. In fact, Nixon changed his mind on things daily. Haldeman made notes of what he saw, heard, and did with his own observations added. The hotbed issues of the time are sprinkled throughout the story. Vietnam and Civil Rights are the biggest concerns with the latter being the issue that Nixon never fully understood. Interestingly, Nixon does not oppose civil rights but his ideas on how to achieve it come off as misguided. And his obsession with the Kennedy family reveals the lingering insecurities he could never move past. I also took note of the discord within his administration, mostly centered around National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and Secretary of State William P. Rogers (1913-2001). The Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew (1918-1996) is not mentioned as much as I would have thought but Haldeman does refer to the scandal that led to his resignation.

As I read the book, there were times where I was not exactly sure what to make of Nixon. Undoubtedly, he was not a liberal and appealed to more conversative voters. But he was not far right either and makes multiple statements about both political parties that will surprise readers. And had he succeeded with his own vision for the future of American politics, the political landscape as we know it today would be quite different. Nixon was a shrewd politician, seasoned by his years in the Senate and in the White House. He understood the political spectrum and how to exploit openings. But his paranoia and failure to grasp changes in society helped contribute to his downfall.

Nothing in the diaries comes off as explosive until June 17-18, 1972, when the White House learns of the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Office Building in Washington, D.C. As one would expect, the book picks up in pace with the Nixon Administration taking action to contain the story and limit its exposure, even if that meant obstruction of justice. Haldeman writes himself that obstruction might be necessary. It is not clear from the diaries if he knew of the operation beforehand, but he did support and take part in covering up evidence of Nixon’s complicity. His nickname “Iron Chancellor” did not come about without reason. As I read his notes, I understood Haldeman’s position. His job was to protect the president at all costs. Nixon was aware of his devotion and initially resisted pressure to make Haldeman resign. However, the Watergate scandal was becoming a major threat and far from the small issue that it was originally thought to be by Nixon and former President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) whom Nixon consulted on various issues. This too may surprise readers.

I believe we may never know who the real Richard Nixon was. There is no simple explanation to describe him. His administration did pull the country to the right, but he also had ideas that would be embraced by the left today. He has been called a bigot, but he also supported integration and equality. He wanted to end the war in Vietnam, but approved bombing raids in Cambodia. He campaigned on law and order but strongly believed in female judges. He never fully trusted the State Department though it is critical to an administration. He is a conservative icon, yet he signed into law the act that created the Environment Protection Agency. The mystery may be what Nixon wanted to leave behind. Haldeman’s job was not to figure him out but to do the best job possible as chief of staff. In this area he succeeded, and Joanna includes this statement by the late president about his assistant whom people called an “S.O.B.”:

“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.” – Richard M. Nixon

If you are curious about the administration or Richard Nixon and the actions behind the scenes, this book which contains the personal diary of H.R. Haldeman is must-read. Highly recommended.

ASIN: B01NCYX17R

Watergate: The Corruption Of American Politics And The Fall Of Richard Nixon-Fred Emery

20180603_003341The resignation of Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) as President of the United States on August 9, 1974,  remains one of America’s darkest political moments.  The revelation of the break-ins at the Democratic National Committee office in the Watergate complex and the subsequent attempted cover up, riveted American citizens and resulted in the downfall of a political icon.   Through the years, myths and disinformation about the Watergate scandal have been propagated causing an aura of mystique over a crime of monumental proportions.  I picked up this investigative account by Fred Emery to learn what really happened on June 17, 1972 and the process behind the scenes that led to Nixon’s resignation.  And what I found is a book that dives deep into the Watergate scandal to show the reader what really happened from start to finish.

The story about Watergate, as we learn in the book, begins far in advance of the actual break-in and was rooted in retribution, paranoia, arrogance and greed.  It shook the foundation of American politics and caused many to question their own Commander-in-Chief.  Throughout the book, we are introduced to a steady stream of characters whose names became permanently etched in history due to their involvement in the Watergate affair.  Many of them will be familiar to most readers but others forgotten over time.  In the story at hand, they are resurrected with their deeds and mis-deeds on full display.  The plot, crime and cover-up formed a complex nexus of covert activity that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.  Emery does a masterful job of putting the pieces together in a narrative that is easy to follow but deeply engaging.  And throughout the book,  there were times where I could not believe what I was reading.

It is well-known that Nixon recorded nearly all of his conversations in the oval office. The very tapes which he created would later be used to force his resignation and result in the indictments and convictions of several co-conspirators, several of whom will be known to those familiar with the secrets of the CIA and the administration of John F. Kennedy, who by this time had been deceased for nine years.  Nixon’s obsession with Kennedy is deeply disturbing and raises more questions than answers.  And as to why Nixon would record himself discussing the cover up of a crime is a secret he took with him to his grave. The tapes become the crux of the book as the battle between the White House and John Sirica evolves into clash of the titans. Incredibly, for all of the hours that are on the tapes that were released, there are thousands of minutes that have been hidden from the public.   And perhaps it will never be known what they contain.

As the walls around Nixon began to collapse, attention shifted to John Dean (1938- ), who served as Nixon’s White House Counsel.  He plays a prominent role in the story and the unavoidable fallout was largely the result of his decisions to cooperated with investigators.  But as we see in the book, Dean was not the only person who realized what was at stake and decided to change their tune. Inadvertent comments, disgruntled operatives and eagle-eyed investigators combined to slowly peel the lid of the scandal turning Nixon’s fears into nightmares.  And while Dean was in fact, largely responsible for the downfall of Nixon, there are many parts of the story that are either forgotten or ignored. In fact, the importance of Alexander Butterfield (1926-) cannot be overstated.  He and Dean were just two members of a group of individuals who would eventually provide investigators with the facts that they needed to open Pandora’s box. And what they found changed the course of American political history.   Nixon was eventually pardoned by his successor Gerald Ford, on September 8, 1974 but the damage had been done and he would live with the cloud of Watergate over his head until his death.   His action and decisions remain somewhat mystifying and there are still many unanswered questions that will probably never be answered.   And among all of them, the one that continues to stand out is what did the President know and when did he know it?

For anyone wishing to learn about the Watergate scandal and the sad ending of a President’s time in office, this is a great place to start. Highly recommended.

ISBN-10: 0684813238
ISBN-13: 978-0684813233

Dorothy, “An Amoral and Dangerous Woman”: The Murder of E. Howard Hunt’s Wife – Watergate’s Darkest Secret

25246114On January 23, 2007, E. Howard Hunt died in Miami, Florida at the age of 88.  Hunt is best remembered for his conviction as a result of his role in the Watergate scandal that helped end the presidency of Richard M. Nixon.  Hunt was also a prime suspect in the murder of John F. Kennedy. His son St. John, spoke with his father prior to his death and their discussion is referred to as his deathbed confession about what he knew about the events in Dallas, Texas.  In the years following his death, truths about his role in the Central Intelligence Agency and the events in Dallas disproving his claim to be just a ‘bench warmer” in the crime.   Next to Hunt throughout the Watergate crisis was his first wife Dorothy who perished when United Flight 553 crashed on December 8, 1972 as it approached Chicago Midway Airport to make its landing.   The NTSB attributed the crash to pilot error but researchers have long suspected sabotage in the crash and have alluded to a long number of disturbing facts surrounding the crash.  On the surface, it seems to be just a tragic accident that killed a housewife en route to visit acquaintances.  But upon deeper examination of the crash and her life as revealed by her son in this book, the real story of the life of Dorothy Hunt is nearly as intriguing as that of her husband.

St. John Hunt has made himself known in JFK assassination circles.   His prior book. Bond of Secrecy: My Life with CIA Spy and Watergate Conspirator E. Howard Hunt, looks into the life of his father and the effects of his profession on their family.  Here, the focus is on his mother and her untimely demise.   No stranger to the world of covert operations, Dorothy also has a past with intelligence work, having been station in Europe on more than one occasion.  Her marriage to the blossoming operative Hunt, was a bond between two intelligence assets deeply involved the back channels of Washington and tied to a president facing a dark fate.

The early parts of their lives reads like a great novel; two young adults, meet, fall in love, start a family and move from one country to the next as their father is reassigned from one post to another.  Enter Watergate and the scandal that turned their lives upside down.  It is at this point in the book that the rug is pulled right out from under our feet and the dark side of Richard Nixon and Washington politics is revealed.  Those old enough to remember Watergate will not be surprised in what is contained in this book. In fact, the book is not a complete source on the investigation as St. John himself points out.  This is purely what he saw his parents go through as his father faced criminal prosecution and the impact his mother’s dad had on his life and those of his siblings. What is evidently clear from taped conversations at the Nixon White House and St. John’s account, is that his father’s legal defense was being paid for by Nixon and the money was also intended to keep Hunt quiet.  Following her death, Hunt ended up being convicted and served thirty-three months in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal.

The lives of St. John and his siblings would never be the same again.  Fallout from Watergate and the loss of their mother caused splits between siblings as each struggled to put their lives back together and come to terms with what they had been through.  I do not believe they will ever get over what happened but have learned to cope with it on a daily basis.  It is clear that  St. John, the first son of the family had a special bond with his mother.  The heartache and grief he experienced is evident in the pages of this book. And through his words, her memory continues to live on.

At the conclusion of the book, there is a section on the crash itself and the investigation by Sherman Skolnick (1930-2006), a noted conspiracy theorist and activist who challenged the NTSB’s position of pilot error.  This part of the book is an added bonus and reveals a ton of incredible and troubling information about the crash.  And what was once believed to be an open and shut case is revealed to be far more complicated and sinister.  While it is not inconclusively proven that Dorothy Hunt died as a result of homicide, there are dozens of deeply disturbing facts about the incident that should have raised the eyebrows of anyone investigating the crime. And next to 9/11, it is the only case I can think of where the FBI preempted an investigation by the NTSB, removing key evidence from the scene while preventing emergency personnel from completing their assigned tasks.  The complete story of what really happened that day may never be known but what we do know is that many strange things were occurring that had nothing to do with pilot error.

JFK Assassination researchers may be looking for a smoking gun but it will not be found here. In fact, not much about Dallas is discussed.   In St. John’s defense, that was not the purpose of the book.  His intention was to bring his mother’s story to light which he succeeds in doing.  And although he did get some factual information wrong,  the story is still a good read about a family caught up in one of the greatest crimes in American political history.

ISBN-10: 1634240375
ISBN-13: 978-1634240376