USA Nixon Campaign ‘72
In 1972 I organised a visit for Young Conservatives to observe the Presidential Election of that year.
Whilst others in the group went to various States across the country, I spent the two weeks in the US solely in Washington, seeking contacts with key figures on both sides of politics, to find out how they planned and carried out the campaign tours for the Presidential Candidates.
At this time I had already organised and managed one election campaign tour for Mr Heath, and the idea was for me to seek their advice in the planning ahead of the next campaign in Britain.
I had two important contacts in Washington, and in order to protect their identities, I will call them ‘S’ for the Democrats and ‘H’ for the Republicans. They were individuals I had met at European youth conferences, and both were in key jobs working at the top levels of their respective party’s’ campaigns.
Obviously, since the Republicans were in power most of any new contacts were going to be Republican, and so my very first visits were to ‘H’ in his office in Pennsylvania Avenue, where he was part of the Campaign for the Re-election of the President, otherwise known as 'Creep'.
‘H’ gave me a briefing and provided me with a list of those I could usefully meet and have discussions with. He also telephoned Charles Colson, Special Counsel to the President. Colson, generally known as Chuck, and who is now seen as one of the so-called ‘Watergate Seven’ - one of the seven indicted for complicity in the conspiracy and the subsequent cover-ups associated with the Watergate break-in.
Colson agreed to see me the following day, and ‘H’ indicated to me to write as he spoke - The OEB 10.30 tomorrow.
The Old Executive Office Building, now known as the Eisenhower EOB, was alongside the more famous West Wing, and housed many of the White House administrative staff.
So, I duly presented myself to the entrance and was seen by a US Marine. He examined my passport, checked his list, and said, ‘You do not have an appointment sir, please leave this building immediately’. I was very shocked at this dismissal, but left.
I returned at once to my hotel, which was just happened to be across the road from the White House, and immediately called ‘H’. He rang off, and called me back a few minutes later. ‘OK, there’s been some kind of a major cock-up. Stay put in your room, and Chuck will call you later’.
Later in the afternoon Colson called me, and he apologised at length. He asked me to return the following morning at 9.00 a.m., and he would wait for me at the gate.
So the next day I duly turned up, and there was Colson waiting for me. I spent the rest of the morning with him. During our conversation, he again apologised several times over.
He said something, which had no significance for me at that time, but had a great deal more meaning further down the line. He said, ‘I’m sorry, but our guys here are getting more paranoid by the day, particularly involving visits by strangers they know nothing about.’
I met with him later in the day, since he handed me over to a colleague who was organising the youth vote, and who took me to lunch in the OEB cafeteria.
When I saw Colson again he told me the hotel where I was staying would be one of the sites hosting one of three victory parties.
He told me he was arranging for me to attend the party in my hotel, and I would have a second level button. It seemed there were three levels of contact with the President - VIPs at level one, important guests at level two, which was obviously my ‘category’, and key workers at level three. I could collect my invite the next day from the OEB entrance.
I duly collected the invite and with it there was a handwritten note from Colson, with the invite and the button attached.
Over the next ten days I had several conversations on the telephone with my contact ‘S’ at the Democrat’s HQ, and eventually we met, not in his Watergate office, but in one of the restaurants within the Watergate complex. He explained the break-in prevented us meeting in his offices, and so he could not take anyone there.
The two break-ins at the Democratic HQ on the sixth floor of the Watergate had taken place on 28 May and 17 June 1972. There were a considerable number of associated stories in the months which followed the break-ins, but when I was there in late October/early November, there were strong denials of any involvement in the burglaries coming from the Republican Party, the White House, and Creep. It was only after the election different news stories built up very quickly of the extent of a major conspiracy and a cover-up.
On election night, with all predictions showing a massive Nixon landslide, I went to the party in the ballroom of my hotel. I caught only a glimpse of the President as he swept through. Later when I went to my room, I carefully put the note from Colson, the invitation and the button into the original envelope, and tucked them safely in the pocket in my suitcase which had a zip. I wanted to keep them safely as souvenirs.
I never saw that envelope or its contents again!
Given that security checking at airports was nothing then compared to what it is today, someone, somewhere, had removed the envelope and the precious button from my suitcase.
At the time I found it very weird!
But years later when all the information was revealed about the Watergate burglaries I began to put two and two together.
It transpired that my contact ‘S’, at the Democrat HQ in the Watergate had had his telephone wire-tapped. I had called him maybe four or five times before going to my meetings in the White House OEB.
Did someone, perhaps being as paranoid as Colson had suggested, decide I was something of a risk since they had evidence I was in contact with both sides - in other words they knew what I had said to my contact ‘S’.
Had that in turn meant I was considered a marked man, leading to a search of my hotel room before I left Washington? Or was that simply me becoming very paranoid?
Don’t suppose I’ll ever know the truth!
Another trip to the USA click here