10 Crimes of the Nixon Administration
10 Crimes of the Nixon Administration

10 Crimes of the Nixon Administration

Larry Holzwarth - March 27, 2018

10 Crimes of the Nixon Administration
Nixon watches as John Mitchell is sworn in as Attorney General. Mitchell controlled illegal slush funds as both Attorney General and while leading Nixon’s Committee to Re-elect the President. Wikimedia

Illegal Slush Funds and Money Laundering

Nixon’s biggest scandal, known as Watergate, is remembered as a botched burglary and a massive attempt to cover it up. But that is not what brought down the Presidency. Investigations into the burglary and the subsequent cover-up revealed massive financial fraud, the misuse of campaign funds, the maintenance of slush funds controlled by the Attorney General of the United States, money laundering, and other financial improprieties. Nixon administration officials used techniques amounting to extortion to extract illegal and secret campaign donations from businesses and persons.

As the investigation into the burglary began in 1972, it was quickly learned that the money to pay the legal fees for the men arrested inside the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee had come from the Committee to Re-elect the President. Officially called the CRP it quickly became derisively referred to as Creep. The money had followed a circuitous path from donors through banks to cover its source, before ending up in the bank accounts of the burglars. Further investigation revealed that all of the burglars, including E. Howard Hunt were paid salaries by the CRP.

Nixon officials extorted money from businesses, corporate officers, and wealthy individuals through the threat of IRS audits. The extortion efforts resulted in the campaign receiving donations in cash, often arriving at the offices of the CRP in bags. The Nixon administration during its first term responded to donations with quid pro quo, easing regulations for donors through the use of waivers for specific areas, or calling off previously established investigations or legal actions. Nixon’s campaign workers weren’t the only people involved in the establishment and control of secret slush funds.

In 1969 H.R. Haldeman, the President’s Chief of Staff received orders from the President to create a secret slush fund to be used to provide financial support to Nixon loyalists during the 1970 mid-term elections. Nixon wrote to Haldeman in his order, “One of our most important projects for 1970 is to see that our major contributors funnel all their funds through us.” The intent of the fund, which was designated Operation Townhouse, was to give the administration control over the “donations” avoiding the Republican National Committee.

At least 19 Republican candidates for the Senate in the 1970 mid-term elections received support from Operation Townhouse, all of them personally approved by the President. One of them was George H. W. Bush, of whom Nixon said that he was, “…a total Nixon man. He’ll do anything for the cause.” When Bush was running for President in 1980 he claimed that he had reported the donation, despite the existence of documents in the National Archives which show that he did not. Despite the donation, which totaled $106,000, Bush lost that election to Lloyd Bentsen.

10 Crimes of the Nixon Administration
Nixon speaks to the American Milk Producers Inc during the 1972 re-election campaign. National Archives

Nixon Colluded with Milk Producers to Increase the Price of Milk

The Associated Milk Producers Inc, was a consortium of milk producers who wanted an increase in milk subsidies, artificially increasing the cost of milk to the consumer. In 1971 Nixon met with the AMPI and negotiated a deal through which the milk subsidies would be increased by $100 million dollars, in return for a $2 million dollar campaign contribution, broken up and routed to the campaign coffers through the creation of several political action committees or individual donors. Nixon met with officials of the AMPI personally, and the agreement was negotiated for the most part by John Ehrlichman.

Former Nixon aide Murray Chotiner left the White House in 1971 to return to the practice of law. He was retained by the AMPI to improve the group’s access to the White House, since Chotiner had an over twenty-year association with the President. Before the donations for subsidies the AMPI twice delivered cash to Herbert Kalmbach, the President’s longtime friend and private attorney, as contributions to Operation Townhouse. The lobbying through the use of illegal donations and personal relationships got the AMPI access to the President in March, 1971.

During the meeting in the White House the President warned the AMPI representatives not to discuss donations while he was in the room. Nixon tried to make small talk with the AMPI representatives, suggesting that they market milk as a mild sedative, a safe alternative to a sleeping pill. When the AMPI representatives tried to return to the subject of the money Nixon responded, “Don’t say that while I’m sitting here. Matter of fact, the room’s not tapped. Forgot to do that.” When the meeting was over Nixon’s aides, led by Ehrlichman, finalized the deal. Ehrlichman suggested they celebrate with a glass of milk, while it was still relatively cheap.

After the meeting, Harold Nelson, president of the AMPI, and Chotiner transferred the $2 million to Kalmbach. When the deal was exposed Nelson was convicted and went to jail, as did another AMPI official, David Parr. Nixon was not prosecuted for his involvement in the affair as the pardon he received from his successor, Gerald Ford, covered all of his high crimes and misdemeanors. The $100 million to the AMPI was absorbed by milk consumers and the taxpayers. AMPI as a corporate entity was found guilty of violating campaign donation laws and fined $35,000, equivalent to about $145,000 in 2018.

10 Crimes of the Nixon Administration
Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew at the 1972 Republican National Convention. They won the election in a landslide only for both to resign in disgrace. National Archives

The IT&T San Diego Convention Scandal

President Nixon wanted the city of San Diego to be the site of the 1972 Republican National Convention, where he would accept the nomination of his party for a second term. The problem was San Diego was not inclined to go to the expense of hosting the convention. Despite the chaos which the convention would bring with it, including antiwar protests, civil rights protests, the need for increased security, the shortage of accommodations, and other problems faced by the city it was agreed that the convention would take place there, bolstered with corporate sponsorship in the form of $400,000 pledged from IT&T. The city also applied for a grant of nearly $1 million from the Nixon Justice Department to help fund the additional police needed to provide security.

Meanwhile, John Mitchell, the Attorney General, and other Justice Department officials negotiated pending antitrust litigation involving IT&T in a manner which benefited the communications giant and obscured the reasons for which the government had brought the suit in the first place. The Justice Department had filed the suit to determine if an existing law applied to the mergers of conglomerates, a decision which would have to be made by the courts. The Nixon administration essentially dropped the suit, after receiving promises that IT&T would, through a subsidiary, help fund the Republican convention in the city which the President preferred.

On February 29, 1972, a column by syndicated writer Jack Anderson revealed a memo written by a lobbyist for IT&T which directly linked the $400,000 pledge to the dropping of the lawsuit by the Nixon administration. Further investigations in San Diego revealed evidence the administration obstructed justice in several instances of investigations into prominent Republicans in San Diego who had used various illicit practices to ensure that the city would apply to host the convention. The Senate opened hearings into the Justice Department decision.

The Nixon White House launched a defamation campaign against the writer of the memo, Dita Beard, who had written that the $400,000 pledge had “gone a long way” towards achieving the settlement which IT&T wanted and that, “Certainly the President has told Mitchell to see that things are worked out fairly.” Mitchell told the Senate investigators that he had nothing to do with the negotiations over the litigation but later revelations and testimony as Watergate expanded revealed that he had been directly involved, and tapes of Nixon discussing the deal in the Oval Office also emerged.

In the end, to avoid the taint of scandal surrounding the convention, the Republicans moved the event to Miami Beach. Subsequent investigations took a back seat as the Watergate scandal began to unravel late in the year. The Nixon administration was furious at the way the story was leaked and in response to rumblings that the Justice Department might reinitiate the litigation involving IT&T the company placed the memo’s writer under surveillance. The Watergate break-in occurred as the scandal over the IT&T pledge, extracted by the Nixon administration as a quid quo pro, was still being investigated by several news organizations.

10 Crimes of the Nixon Administration
Nixon suggested using his longtime friend Bebe Rebozo to set up a defense fund for the Watergate burglars, using laundered money. With Rebozo (couch) and Nixon is FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Library of Congress

More Money Laundering

With new campaign financing regulations scheduled to go into effect in April 1972, the CRP focused in the late winter of 1972 on raising as much money as possible. Campaign contributions would have to be reported after April 7, but the money received before then could be laundered and thus be untraceable when it came time to report donations. Herbert Kalmbach collected secret donations, much of it in cash, under the explicit instructions of Richard Nixon, who made it known that the reward of an ambassadorship would require a donation of a quarter of a million dollars.

Most of the money (but not all, to have no money to report on April 7 would have been an obvious falsehood) was laundered through banks in Mexico and Venezuela, some of it by the White House Plumbers. Cash was placed in safes in the White House and the offices of the CRP, run by former Attorney General Mitchell, who was leading the President’s re-election campaign. More cash was hidden in safe deposit boxes around the country. Some of the money was routed by E. Howard Hunt hired young volunteers for the Democratic Party, to report back to the CRP as spies.

CRP Finance director Maurice Stans began a fundraising drive across the country, focused on the South, and helped donors set up laundering systems so that their donations could not be traced. On this funding drive, Stans used the velvet glove and the iron fist. Promises of easy access to the White House and threats of government investigation if donations weren’t forthcoming were used as necessary. By law, corporations were not allowed to make direct donations to political campaigns, but the means of transferring funds via banks in Mexico and Venezuela, which did not allow the subpoena of bank records, allowed for these illegal contributions to be made.

The illegally acquired campaign funds were to be used by the CRP and the White House Plumbers to fund the so-called White House Dirty Tricks which were already being employed to discredit Democratic candidates, certain reporters, newspapers, and other news outlets. They were also used for travel and other expenses, and other illegal activities which would mark the remainder of Richard Nixon’s time in office. The campaign funds were also diverted, illegally, to cover the legal fees of the men caught in the offices of the Democratic National Committee. CRP funds were used to send thousands of telegrams to the White House claiming to support the mining of Haiphong Harbor in North Vietnam, prepared by campaign operatives under false names.

Nixon’s defenders have long claimed that these operations were all done without his approval or even knowledge and that they were deliberately kept from the President. The papers and tapes held in the Nixon Presidential Library and the later testimony of thousands of individuals inside the administration and outside of government provides overwhelming evidence that Nixon was not only aware of the fundraising and its illicit use, in many instances he directed where some of the money was to be spent. Following the arrest of the Watergate burglars, for example, Nixon called Haldeman and suggested that he have Bebe Rebozo start a fund for their defense in Miami. The slush fund money could then be deposited in the defense fund.

10 Crimes of the Nixon Administration
The Watergate Hotel and Office Complex was the site of the break-ins that led to the discoveries of many of the Nixon Administration’s crimes. Library of Congress

The Watergate Break-In

The Watergate break-in was one of the most famous burglaries of all time, for all the wrong reasons. There wasn’t one break-in, there were at least two. They were part of a campaign of what their protagonists considered were dirty tricks, which included felony burglary, illegal wiretaps, defamation of character, the planting of false stories later denied to embarrass political enemies, and much more as the whole thing unraveled. The entire plan was approved by John Ehrlichman and John Mitchell, with knowledge of the plan held by White House Counsel John Dean, by April 1972. The first entry into the Watergate complex was scheduled for May.

In May a successful break-in (successful in that it wasn’t immediately discovered) allowed for illegal wiretaps to be placed on two telephones. However one of the taps did not work properly and a second burglary was planned to repair or replace the device. During this burglary, the men were caught inside the complex and the Nixon administration moved quickly to gain the upper hand over the investigation. Whether Nixon knew of the burglary in advance has never been established with certainty, but there is anecdotal evidence that he did not. One of his initial responses, when informed of the burglary, was to ask who had ordered the operation, at least according to Haldeman.

Within hours of learning of the burglars being in custody Nixon suggested setting up a fund through his friend, Bebe Rebozo, and using campaigns contributions routed through the fund to provide for the burglars’ defense. Several payments went through Mexican banks from CRP coffers to the burglars. It is possible that some of these funds were payments for the continued silence of the burglars over the subject of how high up the chain of command knowledge of the CRP activities was known, in other words, blackmail. The media response was tepid other than that of The Washington Post, The New York Times, and to some extent TIME Magazine.

One of the immediate defenses of the Nixon administration was to attack the media, using both the President’s Press Secretary Ron Ziegler and the Vice President, Spiro Agnew, to condemn the coverage that was there. The Attorney General, John Mitchell also condemned the coverage and The Washington Post was banned from the White House. These attacks were largely successful, and polls showed the public’s distrust of the press rose to levels of around 40% before the election, in which Nixon won a second term in a landslide. It wasn’t until after the election when knowledge of the various financial and other irregularities began to emerge on a daily basis, that the scandal gained traction.

The Watergate burglars were convicted, arrested and sentenced to prison in early 1973. The sentencing judge, John Sirica, tried to pressure E. Howard Hunt and two more of the burglars into trying to make a deal for information by sentencing them to 40 years in prison. Spiro Agnew came under investigation for accepting bribes and kickbacks as Governor of Maryland, and though it had nothing to do with Watergate, it added to the sense of scandal surrounding the entire Nixon administration. One by one Nixon’s associates and aides were implicated in the ever-widening scandal, indicted, convicted, and sent to prison.

10 Crimes of the Nixon Administration
Former President Nixon, about to depart the White House on Marine One after resigning earlier in the day, August 9, 1974. The White House

The Crimes of Richard Nixon

There are those today who continue to defend Richard Nixon, using his foreign affairs expertise as an example of the good he did for the country. They claim that he ended the Vietnam War and opened relations with China as examples of his foreign affairs acumen. Many claims that Nixon didn’t do anything that all President do and that he had no knowledge of Watergate. Many of Nixon’s other crimes are unknown to these defenders, who believe Watergate to have begun and ended with a second-rate burglary which he did not authorize and of which he was unaware before the fact. Nixon’s crimes extended far beyond Watergate, and after he was pardoned by President Ford were largely forgotten.

It was the extent of those crimes, which the Congress was becoming increasingly aware of as the visual media focused on the Watergate hearings which led to Nixon’s downfall. The general public was increasingly concerned only with whether the President directed a cover-up. If Ford had not given Nixon a pardon for all of his crimes the investigation over what is called Watergate would have continued. In fact, several investigations did continue as the full extent of the illegal activities practiced by Richard Nixon and his accomplices continued to come under scrutiny of journalists, investigators, and government activities. With the possibility of a trial eliminated by Ford’s pardon, the public turned its attention to other things.

Before and after Nixon’s resignation, members of the Nixon administration were tried and sent to jail. Forty-eight members of the administration were convicted, some for actions which had nothing to do with the break-in at the Watergate Complex, an event for which they had no prior knowledge nor participation. Charles Colson and Egil Krogh were sentenced to prison for their activities regarding Daniel Ellsberg. Former Attorney General John Mitchell was sentenced to 1 to 4 years imprisonment, he served 19 months. Nixon’s two closest White House aides, H. R. Haldeman (Chief of Staff) and John Ehrlichman (Chief Domestic Adviser) each served 18 months in prison.

One of the remaining questions about the Watergate scandal is why Nixon didn’t destroy the tapes which contained evidence of his own involvement in the cover-up of the burglary. Once the existence of the tapes was made known to the investigating committee the act of destroying them would have been considered tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice, both impeachable offenses. Nixon believed that the principle of executive privilege protected him from surrendering the tapes and once the Supreme Court decided that it did not there was no other action available to him. In 1975 Nixon gave secret testimony to a Grand Jury (transcripts released in 2011) in which he discussed modifying some of the tapes’ content when they were initially released to the public in transcript form, protected from self-incrimination through his pardon.

The Watergate scandal so affected the American psyche that every major political scandal since has been labeled by some with the word gate. Watergate covers a vast number of illegal activities, but it does not begin to cover all of the crimes committed by Richard Nixon and members of his administrations. Whether conservative, moderate, or liberal, all Americans should consider their extent and intent when exploring them further. Nixon’s legacy should not be rehabilitated but studied in detail to prevent other abuses of the public trust and executive power in the highest elected office in the land.


Where do we get this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House”, by Seymour Hersh, 2013

“Wild Man: the life and times of Daniel Ellsberg”, by Tom Wells, 2001

“The enemies list revisited”, by John Dean, Boston College Magazine, Winter, 2005

“The Ends of Power”, by H. R. Haldeman and Joseph DiMona, 1978

“The Gores, the Bushes, and Watergate”, Slate, August 22, 2000

“More Spilled Milk”, Special to the New York Times, The New York Times, March 28, 1974

“Maurice Stans, Alone”, by Ken Ringle, The Washington Post, June 14, 1992

“All the President’s Men”, by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, 1974

“Richard Nixon committed far greater crimes than the Watergate Break-in”, by Vincent Browne, The Irish Times, June 19, 2013

“Will”, by G. Gordon Liddy, 1980