As Richard Nixon’s Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman was positioned at the epicentre of the Watergate scandal—a pivotal role that would ultimately lead to an eighteen month spell in jail for his part in the cover-up. In his posthumously published diaries from that period, Haldeman recounts the inner turmoil, calculated decisions, and clandestine discussions that marked those fraught days in the White House. The following entry came just three days after the infamous break-in, with the storm clouds ominously approaching. Not only is it a glimpse into their plans to limit the investigation and plot a PR counteroffensive, but this entry also recalls a date that would later become notorious for the inexplicable 18-minute gap in the White House tapes.
The Diary Entry
Tuesday, June 20, 1972
We got back into the Democratic break-in again. I told the President about it on the plane last night. He was somewhat interested. The more he thought about it, it obviously bothered him more, because he raised it in considerable detail today. I had a long meeting with Ehrlichman and Mitchell. We added Kleindienst for a little while and John Dean for quite a while. The conclusion was that we’ve got to hope the FBI doesn’t go beyond what’s necessary in developing evidence and that we can keep a lid on that, as well as keeping all the characters involved from getting carried away with any unnecessary testimony.
The President was concerned about what our counterattack is, our PR offensive to top this. He felt we have to hit the opposition with their activities. Also put out the point that the libertarians have created public callousness. Do they justify this kind of thing less than stealing the Pentagon Papers, or the Anderson files, and so on. He feels we should be on the attack for diversion, and not just take it lying down. He raised it again several times during the day, and it obviously is bothering him. He had Colson over to talk about it, and then later called me a couple of times on various specifics. He called at home tonight, saying that he wanted to change the plan for his press conference and have it on Thursday instead of tomorrow, so that it won’t look like he’s reacting to the Democratic break-in thing.
Haldeman recorded his diary on tape each evening; each entry was later transcribed and in 1994 published in the book, The Haldeman Diaries. You can listen to Haldeman’s original recording of this entry here. The portion I’ve excerpted above can be heard from 1:08 onwards.
Excerpt from HALDEMAN DIARIES by H.R. Haldeman, copyright © 1994 by The Haldeman Family Trust. Used by permission of G. P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, and Scott Meredith Literary Agency. All rights reserved.