by Trowbridge H. Ford
The sudden death, perhaps even murder, on January 22, 1973 of LBJ threw a pall over
Washington despite the fact that it had just celebrated the inauguratation of the re-elected Richard Nixon as President. He claimed when he returned to Washington for it that he wanted to clear up everything else so that he would be free to handle all the details of the settlement of the Vietnamese War with the North Vietnamese, and South Vietnam's again most reluctant President Nguyen Van Thieu to any deal, but Nixon took off for Key Biscayne as soon as the state funeral - reminiscent of what former Director Hoover had experienced after he too had suddenly and most conveniently died the previous May - for the fallen President was finished. Nixon clearly did not want to be available for any troubling questioning.
Eleven days before the deadly collapse of the former President - going back on the plane to his Texas ranch - all the recording machines in the White House complex were turned off to make sure that there were no damaging discussions about its probable cause. Once there, Nixon was telling everyone that JFK and LBJ had handed him the poisoned chalice in Vietnam, and alluding to the prospect of fixing it and them. The day after Johnson died, a vindictive Nixon told his Cabinet hardly the unvarnished truth: "This is not Johnson's or Kennedy's war. They did start it and they did handle it badly, but the United States was involved. We have now achieved our goals - peace for Vietnam, the right of the South Vietnamese to determine their future without an imposed Communist government." (H.R. Haldeman, The Haldeman Diaries, January 23, 1973, p. 572)
The last recorded meeting in the Oval Office on January 11, 1973 had recounted Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman and the President apparently locking up the hard evidence that former FBI Assistant Director Cartha 'Deke' Deloach', now working for Nixon-controlled Pepsi Cola, had obtained of LBJ ordering the bugging of Nixon's 1968 campaign plane - what former
Texas Governor John Connally aide, and now working for Democrats for Nixon George Christian was to pass along to Johnson when he arrived in the nation's capital. The message was clearly intended to force the former President to make sure that there was no threatened congressional inquiry into the Watergate break-in. Former Attorney General John Mitchell informed Democratic National Committee Chairman Larry O'Brien similarly.
The conversation between Nixon and Haldeman was a most hard-hitting one where
Haldeman suggested following counsel John Dean's plan to go on the offensive with the claimed hard data, "...which is to use it on Johnson, because a lot of the problem we're dealing with on the Hill stuff, and all you get (Joseph) Califano and some of those people into, and if Johnson turns them off, it could turn them the other way." After Nixon became more interested in blackmailing the former President, Haldeman added: "...we've got to get this turned off, because it's going to bounce back to the other story and we can't hold them - and scare them. And at this stage and with his attitude right now, he's strutting around like crazy." (Quoted from Stanley I. Kutler, ed., Abuse of Power, p. 203.)
The White House's actions clearly did not overtly stop LBJ's threatened moves, as Haldeman's diary recorded the next day: "A (Fort Worth) Star reporter was making an inquiry in the last week or so, and LBJ got very hot and called Deke, and said to him that if the Nixon people are going to play with this, that he would release (deleted material - national security), saying that our side was asking that certain things be done." (The Haldeman Diaries, p. 567). 'Deke's version of the material - the leaking of which, he considered, would lead to a "direct threat" by the former President - was an order to bug Nixon's plane, which the Bureau apparently refused, to check Mrs. Anna Chenault's messages, and to bug her phone.
Both Nixon and Haldeman were most interested in hearing from the Bureau official who actually did the bugging, hoping that he would confirm their version of what was ordered and done. The official was apparently former Assistant Director William Sullivan. Nixon was most desirous of getting DeLoach to confirm the fact, "...and then (acting Director L. Patrick) Gray should nail him with a lie detector and get it settled, which would give us the evidence we need." (Ibid., January 11, 1973, p. 565) Whatever resulted, it could not have been favorable to what the Oval Office wanted, as there were no more references to 'Deke' and what he could do, setting off, it seems, a desperate chase to find an assassin to kill LBJ.
With almost all the Plumbers in the process of pleading guilty to various crimes before Judge John Sirica, the only Agency one left to make the necessary arrangements was ORD project chief Dr. Sydney Gottlieb aka America's "Official Poisoner". He was noted for making hand-deliveries of poisons to suitable targets, especially the Congo's Patrice Lumumba, Iraq's
Abdul Karim Kassem, and Cuba's Fidel Castro while the DCI Richard Helms ran interference for all the covert operators concerned. And Gottlieb had been most responsible for getting former 'Executive Action' director William King Harvey involved in arranging the assassinations of MLK and RFK while he was working for Jim Garrison's inquiry into the Dallas one. (For more of this, see Part III in the series.) Now it was Gottlieb's turn to make sure that King's role in the whole process did not leak out, and destroy the Agency.
Gottlieb had developed a friendship with the Air Force's Dr. Walter Tkash, former President Eisenhower's personal physician who was made Nixon's when he took office in January 1969. Tkash was not the typical armed service doctor who would usually give the complaining serviceman a placebo, and send them back to duty. Tkash was known for giving patients what they wanted or needed. He believed in new cures and their radical testing. During Nixon's visit to China in 1972, Tkash was so persuaded about the medical benefits of acupuncture that he was able to get an ad hoc committee formed to see that it became accepted practice.
It was Tkash - thanks to testing by the Dreyfus Medical Foundation of phenytoin aka dilantin, and to entrepreneur Jack Dreyfus's claims about its benefits as an anticonvulsant - who got
Nixon taking it daily. Dreyfus had persuaded his doctor back in the late '50s to give him the drug to deal with his depression, and it miraculously worked. According to Anthony Summers in The Arrogance of Power, Dreyfus supplied the Preisdent with 1,000 dilantin tables, and Tkash saw that it was refilled when they ran out. Dreyfus even came to the White House in July 1971 to see that it was approved by the Federal Drug Administration for a variety of aliments, not just the treatment of epilepsy. It was quite probably, though, the cause of Nixon's increasing slurred speech, decreased coordination, mental confusion, and ultimate phlibitis.
The trouble with dilantin really surfaced, though, if it were given to someone suffering from some heart aliment like angina or cardiac arrhythmia - what LBJ suffered from. The pills could cause pulmonary hypertension, resulting in increasing blood pressure, and ultimate heart failure, especially if the patient went on an airplane flight. It was while the former President was returning to Texas by plane after Nixon's inauguration under Dr. Tkash's care that Johnson fell into a coma, and died, as Haldeman explained:
"Tkach couldn't get any confirmation, until finally Lady Bird called an hour and 15 or 20 minutes after our first notice and officially informed the P. We had been informed just a few minutes before that by Tkash finally, that he was dead, but they had tried to revive him on the plane and that they couldn't get Mrs. Johnson to notify her and they didn't want to put any word out until she had been told." (Ibid., pp. 571-2)
It is possible that Johnson's death did not occur this way - LBJ expired naturally because of his own medical difficulties or because of an innocent mistake in giving him or prescribing the drug, what he might well have wanted - except for two things. Gottlieb suddenly canceled Project Ord just at this time - a program looking for just the right drug to simulate such an apparent natural death in a targeted individual - making it look as if the Agency thought it was responsible for LBJ's sudden death.
Moreover, Gottlieb, having just decided to retire from the Agency - assisted former DCI Richard Helms, before departing to Tehran as Ambassador to Iran, who "...presided over a wholesale destruction of documents and tapes - presumably to minimize information that might later be used against him." (John Marks, The Search For the 'Manchurian Candidate', p. 219) Gottlieb even got Agency archivists to destroy all records relating to MK-ULTRA. It was because of their failure to destroy seven boxes of invoices and financial records, particularly document #455, dated May 6, 1974, regarding the experimentation regard Project ORD, apparently because of misfiling that Marks had been able to vaguely reconstruct what Gottlieb's people were doing.
The White House itself behaved in a most suspicious manner too after LBJ's demise. In March 1973, Dreyfus was invited again to visit by Dr. Tkash, this time being allowed even to see the President, as if everything was in order for dilantin to be approved for treatment of just about anything serious, as is recorded in Dreyfus's The Story of a Remarkable Medicine, though researchers will find no mention of the visit on the tapes or in Haldeman's diary. The famous investment banker touched a most sensitive nerve by suggesting to Nixon that Vice President Spiro Agnew lead a task force on the subject, but the President settled for the Health Secretary, Caspar Weinberger, doing the job.
Again, nothing substantive was achieved, and it just looked as if Tkash and the Oval Office were looking for an abili for not having given LBJ the drug on the plane. This suspicion is strengthened when finally the drug was not adopted by the FDA for such treatment since it had never been properly tested by Dreyfuss's foundation, and its manufacturer had never recommended such use. It was not until 2001 that the FDA finally agreed to the general use of dilantin without a prescription, but suppliers still list its side effects, recommending
consulting a doctor before using it, and calling an emergency line at the first indication of trouble.
LBJ's demise, however, instead of solving the Oval Office's problems, merely increased them. As soon as it recording system was back on the air - four days after Watergate burglars G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord had pleaded guilty to eight criminal
counts before Judge John Sirica after a sixteen-day trial - Nixon and adviser Charles Colson were plotting how to head off Senator Sam Ervin's proposed congressional inquiry into the break-in. They decided upon presidential counsel John Dean taking the lead in threatening Senators inclined to go along with Ervin's inquiry with disclosure of financial improprieties if they persisted. Three days later, as calls for an investigation grew, Nixon told domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman that he may well have to "...throw in the Johnson wiretap" (Abuse of Power, p. 207) to stop the rot.
When the Senate approved the Ervin committee, and was involved in determining its composition, Nixon and Haldeman discussed the use of Dwayne Andreas, whose campaign contributions to re-elect the President had been used unsuccessfully the previous June to provide CIA cover for the break-in, to spread panic among its supporters by playing the NRO "Johnson wiretap". When the President suggested Andreas doing so, Haldeman replied: "Andreas took it to Hubert (Humphrey), and Hubert took it to Ervin, and Ervin was totally unimpressed, couldn't care less." (Ibid., p. 208)
While the Republicans did attempt to make the conduct of previous campaigns germane to the inquiry, they failed, leaving the Oval Office with plans for delaying it as much as possible, claiming that hearings would still jeopardize the rights of the defendants to a fair trial as they were considering appealing their alleged unfair convictions. It still wanted to use the "Johnson wiretap" rumors for all they were worth, especially with swing legislators like Barry Goldwater and Maryland's Daniel Brewster, but its potential was muted by Judge Charles Richey, who was hearing the civil suit that DNC Chairman Larry O'Brien launched against CREEP, releasing all the secret depositions taken in the case because of the hard-line approach that Judge Sirica was taking with the burglars.
This step induced the Oval Office to use acting Bureau Director L. Patrick Gray's unprecedented release of raw FBI files to bolster his faltering confirmation hearings as raising the matter of executive privilege, threatening to disclose what Nixon's advisers had advised in a confidential capacity. In early March, Nixon and counsel Dean were also discussing how to pressure former FBI official Sullivan into making DeLoach reveal LBJ's dictating to the Bureau that it change its files about the wire-tapping during the 1968 presidential campaign, and to prime friendly Senators into asking Gray leading questions which would oblige him to lie about the matter, furthering the White House fightback. When Dean seemed slow in catching on to what Nixon was suggesting, he added: "In other words, raise questions....(For example), ' in the 1968 campaign, has the FBI, at the request of the White House' - never say who - ' at the request of the White House did some electronic surveillance of Vice President Agnew's phone when he was in Phoenix? Is this true or not?...' " (Ibid., March 7, p. 223)
Soon Nixon was so enraged by Gray's apparent confirmationitis in his discussions with Dean that he even forgot that LBJ was dead: "...Do you see what I mean? He's pissed on the White House enough, frankly....Maybe you don't want to pull in Bobby Kennedy, but, Goddamn it, he's dead. But certainly you could pull in all the Johnson crap...It will worry Gray to death. And then if he does lie, he's to be called, and say, all right. I mean, that was a lie. Under the circumstances, you just have to paddle your own canoe up there." ( Quoted from p. 225)
Dean's efforts to blackmail the Senate into giving up the Ervin investigation for fear of revealing LBJ's alleged wire-tapping of Nixon's plane during the 1968 campaign were completely negated by the Plumbers', particularly Hunt, blackmailing the Oval Office into paying hush money for their sentences - what caused a flurry of new fundraising, legal and illegal, to finance it, and growing inquiries and information about who at the top was involved in the break-in, and the expanding cover-up. In the process, Dean's efforts to run with Sullivan's allegations about LBJ's manipulation of the Bureau for Humphrey's political benefit simply disappeared. Instead the President's counsel was increasingly shown to be the center of the Watergate cover up because he himself had played a key role in the operation's very inception, resulting in his hiring a criminal lawyer for his own protection.
The new crisis had been triggered by the stiff sentences for the Plumbers that Judge Sirica had handed down, thanks to McCord's turning state's evidence in order to minimize his punishment. While Liddy was quite tight-lipped about the 20-year sentence he received, and the White House was sure that McCord's most damaging claims were only based upon hearsay, Hunt and the Cuban-Americans were not about to spend a good part of the rest of their lives in prison, and Sirica had given them a way out by reviewing their sentences in three months, based upon whether they cooperated with his grand jury and the Ervin Committee. McCord had heard that Mrs. Hunt had told attorney, William Bittman, that her husband had information which would "blow the White House out of the water."
Soon "all the trees in the forest", to quote McCord, began to fall - Dean, Campaign Manager and former Attorney General John Mitchell, and his assistant and former Haldeman aide Jeb Stuart Magruder, and the axe McCord was wielding so effectively was based upon the agenda that Erlichman, Deputy NSA Alexander Haig, and special counsel Charles Colson
had given Plumber mastermind Harvey to carry out to insure Nixon's re-election. None of them apparently realized the lengths Harvey was willing to go to achieve this objective - what the Agency's 'Executive action' director incorporated his own hatreds into, especially towards former Director Hoover - and they soon had to cover up the original cover up for fear that Harvey's mission would leak out.
While students of Watergate have concentrated their attention on the original cover up - what McCord triggered exposing by claiming that the defendants had been pressured by Dean and Mitchell into pleading guility, and remaining as silent as possible, resulting in perjury which corrupted the structure, orientation and impact of the government's case against them - much interest was lost in the process about who the others were who were involved in the operation, and the fact that Watergate was not a CIA operation, as Nixon vigorously tried to establish. The new cover up stopped short of implicating Haig in the covert operation, and establishing that Harvey's role was the basis of the Cuban-Americans thinking that the Agency was behind it.
Harvey's role was behind the claims that Hunt and McCord were still somehow working for the Agency. Hunt, while he had worked for CIA - notably during the ill-conceived Bay of Pigs operation - was currently employed by Robert Bennett of the Mullen Company as a writer in the effort to blacken the Democrats, especially JFK, for the Vietnam fiasco (Gemstone Papers), and as a consultant of Colson's to see that the libels achieved results. Hunt's wife Dorothy, who had acted as the bagman with the hush money until she was killed in a plane crash, had told a secretary at the Mullen firm that "Howard is being made a scapegoat" (p. 205) for what the Plumbers had done, as Bob Woodward reported in All the President's Men. A desolate Hunt was restrained by a friend from telling much more when he met Woodward during his trial.
And McCord had been the chief of physical security at CIA but had been retired for a few years. He was now running McCord Associates, a Rockville private security firm, and teaching a course on it at Montgomery Junior College.
Colson was responsible for making the most of Dorothy Hunt's death when UAL flight 553 stalled after being waved off its first landing attempt at Chicago's Midway Airport on December 8, 1972. The pilot had failed to activate the wing spoilers - what deprives a plane of almost any lift for landing - and he managed to activate them when he went started to go around for another approach, indicating that the mechanism had been sabotaged. Colson apparently had Harvey, feigning to be an air traffic controller at Midway, call conspiracy theorist Sherman Skolnick, and claim, though, that it was the result of a bomb and cyanide poisoning. Then Colson got Mark Felt to rush the FBI disaster squad, led by Beverly Ponder, to the scene, justifying the Bureau's intrusion in the investigation of an airplane crash because it was an act of sabotage. It was all very reminiscent of how Colson and the FBI had acted after the attempt on Governor Wallace's life.
The crash not only eliminated the White House's most dangerous whistleblower, a former CIA agent herself who knew all about Harvey's cowboy activities for the Agency from their inception, but also two most knowledgeable people desirous of exposing them: CBS black reporter Michelle Clark and black Chicago congressman George Collins. Clark had covered the 1972 presidential campaign, and Collins had worked in the Cook County Sheriff's Office in several capacities before going to Washington in 1970. Its chief investigator was Richard Cain, Sam 'Mooney' Giancana's former driver, who had helped provide Harvey with all the Mafia assets he needed for his assassinations, going all the way back to the Dallas one.
Clark was most interested in picking Collins's brain about what the White House was so interested in finding by the Watergate break-in. Dorothy Hunt, Clark and Collins, it seems,
were putting together an indictment of the President having been complicit in the whole secret agenda, stemming from Larry O'Brien's knowledge of NRO operations, when they were deliberately killed.
Harvey's having made Flight 553 uncontrollable when it went to land was also intended to kill former CIA agent Lucien Conein who had helped Hunt fabricate for the White House JFK's involvement in the overthrow of South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem. While Hunt botched his meeting with Concein since Colson sat on the tape recorder he used for recording the alleged details, Nixon soon had Egil Krogh, Ehrlichman's chief aide, demanding that Concein be released from his silence by the Agency so that he, Nixon, could use this material to stem calls for overthrowing Thieu because of his foot-dragging over a settlement with the North. "...I would remind all concerned," the President told a September 1971 press conference, "that the way we got into Vietnam was through overthrowing Diem, and the complicity in the murder of Diem." (Quoted from Fred Emery, Watergate, p. 71.)
Conein was ushered out of the Agency when the shit started hitting the fan from the blowback from the break-in. In October 1972, DCI Richard Helms offered Conein and
"several former CIA assets to obtain strategic and operational intelligence for BNDD (Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs) on Cuban drug trafficking in the Caribbean." (Quoted from Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall, Cocaine Politics, p. 28.) Harvey was most undoubtedly one of the group too, and the transfer was intended to get its most dangerous agents, ones involved in its assassination program, especially the domestic ones, as far away as possible. Conein, apparently aka Harold Metcalf, was on Flight 553 in the hope of recruiting Mrs. Hunt as a BNDD clandestine operator, it seems, only to discover that they all had been set up for murder.
And while Conein managed to miraculously escape alive, Skolnick and a growing chorus of conspiracy theorists, especial Tom Valentine, made him out to be the flight's saboteur. By the time the official investigations, especially the one by the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB), were completed, Skolnick et al. had raised so many false explanations of the plane crash that the real cause of sabotage - the reversal of what the wings' spoilers were supposed to do - escaped notice. Given the public confusion, Nixon then got rid of his most dangerous assets: Krogh was immediately named Undersecretary of Transport, the agency which was to oversee the inquiries by the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) into the crash ; Alexander Butterfield, Haldeman's aide who knew of the Oval Office's secret tapes, and who was managing the payment of "hush money", was soon made chief of the FAA; and Dwight Chapin, Nixon's appointment secretary who knew all about the "ratfucking" - doing anything to win an election - was appointed chief executive of UAL's Chicago office.
Ultimately, Colson, thanks to becoming a born-again Christian while spending time in the cooler for his excesses, admitted as much, stating in the July 8, 1974 issue of Time magazine: "I think they killed Dorothy Hunt," though notice that he still does not go to the trouble of identifying who "they" were.
While the death of Dorothy Hunt turned her husband around - thanks to new claims
implicating Howard as being one of the bums arrested in the railroad marshalling yard nearby Dealey Plaza in Dallas when JFK was assassinated - the crash drove 'Deep Throat' aka Al Haig to take stronger measures against the Oval Office, as Woodward and Bernstein have described in All the President's Men. While the Watergate break-in had caused him to tell tales which led to the arrest, and successful prosecution of the burglars - as I have described in my article "How and Why Al Haig Torpedoed Richard Nixon as 'Deep Throat' " in the Trowbridge Archive, the crash killing nearly 60 people was too much for the former DNSA. This was when Woodward had the meetings with 'Deep Throat', now Army Vice Chief of Staff at the Pentagon, during which he described the scope of the White House's 'ratfucking':
"On evenings such as those, Deep Throat had talked about how politics had infiltrated every corner of government - a strong-arm takeover of the agencies by the Nixon White House. Junior White House aides were giving orders on the highest levels of the bureaucracy. He had once called it the 'switchblade mentality' - and had referred to the willingness of the President's men to fight dirty and for keeps, regardless of what effect the slashing might have on the government and the nation." (Quoted from p. 130.)
These meetings show convincingly that the Bureau's Mark Felt was not 'Deep Throat' - what Felt, along with Woodward and Bernstein, have recently been claiming - as he had volunteered the 150 agents immediately to cover up the cause of the crash without any prodding from anyone in the Nixon administration.
Viewers who still find this claim dubious at best should compare what Woodward and Bernstein wrote about 'Deep Throat' in All the President's Men with what Woodward grudgingly volunteered about him in The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat.
Woodward's "old friend and sometimes source who worked for the federal government" (p. 23), and Bernstein's "former official of the Nixon administration" (p. 27) was reduced to this soon after the denouement about 'Deep Throat's true identity was claimed in David Von Drehle's article, "FBI's No. 2 Was 'Deep Throat' " for The Washington Post: "Woodward had a source in the Executive Branch who had access to information at (Nixon's campaign committee) as well as at the White House." (addition Von Drehle's.) Von Drehle was not even willing to list Haig as a candidate of the secret source. Little wonder that Bernstein was reduced to this by all the news manipulation: "Felt's role in all this can be overstated."
While Haig was leading the hunt to bring down the White House as 'Deep Throat', he also was also instrumental in bringing about the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew, the manager of the "November Surprise" which assured Nixon's election in 1968, and had been recorded by the NRO - what had been Nixon's albatross ever since he entered the White House in 1969. While Nixon thought that he had finally shed the problems of Watergate by accepting the resignations of Erlichman, Haldeman, Dean and Attorney General Richard Kliendienst - what was more than offset by Butterworth's acknowledgement to the Ervin Committee of the existence of all the tapes - than Haig, now back at the White House as Chief of Staff, was given the responsibility by the new Attorney General, Elliot Richarson, of determining Agnew's fate.
Agnew was increasingly facing indictment on 40 counts of bribery, tax evasion and corruption, back in Maryland where he had been governor, and Nixon was unwilling to make any effort to shield him from prosecution. The charges were for the White House surrogates for what Agnew had done to stop the peace settlement while he was the Vice Presidential candidate for the 1968 Republican ticket. Haig, who had taken responsibility for the Vice President's strong-arming of Thieu to go along with the peace terms, was to make sure that there was no double impeachment - what would have given the White House to Speaker of the House Carl Albert, a Democrat.
While the White House was going to considerable lengths to get the Vice President to agree to a plea-bargain for a lesser offence - what would require his resignation - Agnew personally delivered a letter to Speaker Albert, requesting that the House decide his fate, as it had back in 1827 when Vice President John C. Calhoun was charged with having profited from War Department contracts.
Gerald Ford, the House Minority Leader, determined Agnew's and his own fate by telling Albert that the House would not save the Vice President - a verdict that Haig, despite all the pleasantries about the Vice President, was most happy to endorse because of his "ratfucking" the South Vietnamese President, but not so happy as to be his successor in Nixon's sinking ship of state. That was left to the new Vice President Jerry Ford.