July 8: History was crowding in, but the heat numbed men’s reactions. Pulsing under a debilitating sun, the Washington Monument seemed to detach itself gently from its base and hang there, waiting. Despite 90-degree temperature at 8 AM, hundreds of young people were found waiting at the Supreme Court, veterans of this long, drenched weekend of the Fourth. They had patiently sorted out questions of precedence, seniority, and merit; turning in their own report card for admission, working out their tables of rotation. It was participatory democracy come to witness the working of judicial authority, calling the big marble temple to account, hoping it could call the President back to accountability—an iffy bet; the hard money held off, waiting.
Still other people, also mainly young, were waiting Monday morning, just across Capitol Hill, for the first appearance of John Ehrlichman in his own defense at the “Ellsberg break-in trial.” But the marathon waiters were those newsmen who stood, as they have for weeks, outside the House Judiciary Committee’s waiting room, begging like puppy dogs for scraps of testimony to print, so they could be excoriated by the White House for “selective” presentation of the evidence—as if they had a wide range of material from which they could select.
This morning they must piece together the testimony of Fred LaRue, called by Mr. St. Clair and questioned while he spoke at the Supreme Court. St. Clair hopes to prove that hush money to E. Howard Hunt was authorized by phone before John Dean met the President on March 21. At best that would indicate when Mr. Nixon joined the cover-up, not that he did anything to prevent it. But LaRue seems not to have contributed much, either way. The White House scored points last week, in the euphoric afterglow of Moscow, when some of St. Clair’s witnesses were disallowed. It looked as if the Committee was trying to head off a St. Clair triumph. At last the chairman caught on, and gave St. Clair his witnesses—like giving him enough rope.
The journalists’ rut, worn outside the Committee room, is a dreary beat. As one says: “I’ve got so used to it now, I go home and stand around in the middle of the living room. Then my wife comes in and speaks to me—but she sounds like Peter Rodino, so I go to sleep.” Another draws a Snoopy hanging over his doghouse, with the bubbles-of-thought up to this balloon: “Being a witness to history gets to be a bore.”
Washington is currently bored with great events, and narcotized by stimulants. Estragon doubts and Vladimir hopings reduce everyone to passive expectation. The capital is waiting, but afraid of what it waits for—which should be enough to make that “something” never come. But already unwilled things have happened, large and barely discernible, but there. The proof of that lies in the mere concentration of business around the Capitol—in both House and Senate, and in courtrooms that form the other axis of the…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.