The Senate Watergate Report
The Great Cover-Up: Nixon and the Scandal of Watergate
The Palace Guard
The Fall of a President
Undercover: Memoirs of an American Secret Agent
No Final Victories
Even at the present modest distance from Watergate one is left with the somewhat depressing conclusion that the lifeblood of scandals, political as much as sexual, is detail. Depressing, because detail after all is what people forget first. Too soon we are left with “general lessons” and the trite impedimenta of editorial writers and other chartered accountants of our social and moral inventory.
Consider the case of Braniff Airways. It does not cost much to denounce, deplore, and otherwise animadvert on the huge sums of money forthcoming in 1971 and 1972 to fill Nixon’s war chest. Since such sums will always be forthcoming to fill political war chests the achievements of Maurice Stans are not really of much value as general historical parables. But it is the details of how Braniff Airways transferred the modest sum of $40,000 to Stans’s safe in the CREEP offices that excite the imagination.
On March 1, 1972, Harding Lawrence, chairman of the board of Braniff, gave Stans $10,000 in cash, as an unsolicited contribution. As Lawrence later related it to investigators for the Ervin Committee, Stans thanked him for the contribution but stated that he felt Braniff executives could do more because “the company was doing much better than the rest of the industry.” He suggested that a donation in the neighborhood of $100,000 would be more appropriate.
Lawrence decided that $40,000 was as far as Braniff would go, and delegated a group of executives to get the money, washed clean of “corporate” contamination, into Stans’s hands before the April 7 deadline, when donors would have to go public. This group opted for a Central American connection. Camilo Fabrega, Braniff’s manager in Panama, owned and controlled a firm called Camfab, described in the investigative literature as “a Panamanian entity.” A Braniff voucher was issued, approving the payment of $40,000 to Camfab for “expenses and services,” and the check was entered on Braniff’s books as an account receivable, due from Camfab.
The check was forwarded to Fabrega, who endorsed it on behalf of Camfab and cashed it at a bank in Panama. He returned the proceeds in US currency to Braniff officials in Dallas. Finally Lawrence and two colleagues delivered the money to Stans. But the Braniff executives now had the problem of paying off and liquidating the account receivable. So a supply of special ticket stock was given to Fabrega. Tickets written on this stock were sold at the ticket counters only by the supervisor in the Braniff Panama office, generally for cash. If a customer wanted to pay by check then regular tickets were used. The receipts for these cash sales were not accounted for as ticket receipts but applied to the liquidation of the account receivable from the Panamanian entity. Then, on his trips from Panama to the Dallas office, Fabrega would take the cash and deliver it to Braniff. The long-suffering Fabrega described these deliveries to investigators as “unusual.”
Despite the …