FBI agents are now convinced that the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) is one example of actions conducted by a massive campaign of political espionage and sabotage conducted on behalf of the Nixon re-election effort, the WaPo reports. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] The efforts, ongoing since at least 1971, were directed at all of the major Democratic presidential contenders, and represent a fundamental strategy of the Nixon re-election effort. The entire conspiracy is, according to FBI and Justice Department information, directed by officials in the Nixon administration and in the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been set aside to pay for what reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward call “an extensive undercover campaign aimed at discrediting individual Democratic presidential candidates and disrupting their campaigns.” Some of the operations include:
- Following members of Democratic candidates’ families and assembling files on their personal lives (former Democratic presidential candidate Edmund Muskie tells reporter Carl Bernstein that his children were followed and that inquiries about them had been made at their school, but cannot be sure that it was Nixon campaign agents doing the surveillance; Bernstein will report this and other Muskie campaign allegations on October 12).
- Forging letters and distributing them under the candidates’ letterheads.
- Leaking false and fabricated items to the press (Bernstein’s October 12 story includes an item about false allegations of sexual misconduct against Democrats Hubert Humphrey and Henry Jackson).
- Sabotaging Democrats’ campaign schedules with planned disruptions (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond).
- Stealing confidential campaign files.
- Investigating the lives of dozens of Democratic campaign workers.
- Planting “provocateurs” in organizations expected to demonstrate at the Democratic and Republican national conventions.
- Investigating potential donors to the Nixon campaign before approaching them for money.
A CREEP spokesman calls the allegations “not only fiction but a collection of absurdities,” and notes that “the entire matter is in the hands of the authorities.” Perhaps the best-known example of CREEP political sabotage is the so-called “Canuck letter” (see (February 24-25, 1972). The letter was apparently written by White House official Ken Clawson, who denies writing the letter (see October 10, 1972). [Washington Post, 10/10/1972] Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who co-writes the story, uses information from his “Deep Throat” FBI source (see October 9, 1972) to pen what he later recalls as a much more “aggressive, interpretive” story than he and colleague Carl Bernstein have ever written before. White House press secretary Ron Ziegler refuses to answer questions about the story 29 separate times in a press conference held just after the story is published. Woodward later writes that he is astonished the FBI never responded to the story, even though information sourced from the bureau is heavily cited throughout the story. Woodward later learns that the FBI had repeatedly declined to investigate Segretti. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 149-150; Woodward, 2005, pp. 75-81]