It is five months now since I left the Senate Caucus Room. Helms, the former CIA director, was testifying before the Committee that Thursday—thin, elegant, debonair, the only witness insouciant enough to smoke cigarettes in the witness chair. He was followed by General Cushman, who was followed, on Friday, by General Walters, both CIA brass and beefy. The next week came Pat Gray, former Attorney General Kleindienst, and Assistant Attorney General Henry Petersen, each in his own way an emotional witness, service-oriented and wearing Watergate wound-stripes. After that, the Committee went home for what was left of the summer—high time.
Something had happened, probably during the Ehrlichman week, to destroy the “spirit of wonderful unanimity” of which Senator Ervin had spoken so feelingly during the early stages of the tapes confrontation. When the Committee resumed hearings in the fall, it was more disunited than ever. There have been reports and rumors of fighting within the staff between majority and minority appointees, of dissatisfaction with Sam Dash, but these internal troubles may be mere localized symptoms of a general collapse. At the height of its success, seemingly in the prime of life, the Committee behaved like a broken man, and the public was quick to sense this and demonstrate boredom. The lie put about by the Nixon people during the exciting, electrifying months of June and July, that the public was fed up with the hearings and all the coverage, in due time became true.
Those who watched on television during late September (I was no longer in America) said the low point came when Patrick Buchanan, the White House speech writer, was able to make fools of the senators. For me, the low point had come before that, in the failure to call Colson to testify. Colson was a key figure, in my view the key figure who could have unlocked the mystery, if there really is one, of who ordered the Watergate break-ins. Though he was not Liddy’s sponsor (that was Egil Krogh), he had gone out of channels to press for action on the Liddy project, back in February, when the other principals—Mitchell, Dean, Magruder—were dragging their feet.
That is, if Jeb Magruder can be believed. The master of dirty tricks had called Magruder one evening “and asked me, in a sense, would we get off the stick and get the budget approved for Mr. Liddy’s plans, that we needed information, particularly on Mr. O’Brien.” Unfortunately for Magruder, Fred LaRue, who he said was present during this conversation, had no recollection of it. Yet Dean accepted Magruder’s word that there had been pressure on him from Colson and not just on that one occasion. Dean had the impression that Colson was on Magruder’s neck.
And even if one wonders about Magruder, there is the fact that it was Colson who detailed Howard Hunt, his employee and long-time protégé, to work on the Gemstone operation with Liddy and McCord, giving …
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