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Dirty tricks during the 1972 election

Mark Gorton

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I am now interested in looking into the issue of the dirty tricks used against the democrats in the 1972 election. Sliming Muske and Eagleton, etc. These dirty tricks have been historically attributed to Nixon. And this very well might be the case, but there certainly are CIA ties to the people doing the dirty work. So I am wondering if it is possible that some of this was carried out without Nixon's knowledge or authorization at the behest of the CIA who had more at risk (their lives) than Nixon.

I don't have any evidence. This is just a theory, but I would appreciate it if anyone has any info on this topic, or could point me at places to look, books to read, etc.



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July 23, 2012

Hasty and Ruinous 1972 Pick Colors Today’s Hunt for a No. 2


The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Scott Lilly was a young member of Senator George McGovern’s presidential campaign staff in the summer of 1972, and he remembers the satisfaction he felt when Mr. McGovern chose Mr. Lilly’s home-state senator to be the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential candidate.

But a few days after the convention that nominated Mr. McGovern and his running mate, Senator Thomas F. Eagleton of Missouri, Mr. Lilly said, he came to a realization. “It suddenly struck me out of the blue that they didn’t know,” he said, that the decision to pick Mr. Eagleton had been made without some crucial facts.

And he was right. The information he had felt obligated to share with a top campaign aide several weeks before — that Mr. Eagleton had been hospitalized for mental health issues — had never been passed on. Mr. Lilly’s tip “did not register,” the aide, Frank Mankiewicz, said in an interview this year. “It was a very hectic time. I must have had not two things on my mind, but maybe 80.”

Today, one of the lasting legacies of Mr. McGovern’s choice of Mr. Eagleton — and the tumult it caused in his campaign — is the microscopic examination of the lives and records of potential vice-presidential candidates, a ritual involving teams of lawyers and consultants and reams of medical and financial records that the candidates are obligated to produce.

Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, is now engaged in that vetting process. And while he is renowned for his love of data, as well as his caution, every presidential candidate since Mr. McGovern has had the same goal in the vice-presidential search: no surprises.

In the case of Mr. Eagleton, a number of other people besides Mr. Lilly had some inkling of his history, even if they did not have definitive proof. They included a prominent member of Mr. Eagleton’s staff, many political figures and reporters in Missouri, reporters for Time magazine and probably officials in the Nixon White House.

But Mr. McGovern, who had pledged to “avoid the messy way vice presidents had been picked in the past,” chose Mr. Eagleton after considering him for less than an hour. The conversation in which Mr. McGovern offered Mr. Eagleton the nomination lasted precisely 67 seconds, and there was no mention of Mr. Eagleton’s three hospitalizations for depression or the electroshock therapy during two of the stays.

Eighteen days later, Mr. Eagleton was forced to resign from the ticket in a debacle that culminated with Mr. McGovern’s enduring one of the worst defeats in presidential history.

Joel K. Goldstein, a St. Louis University law professor and an expert on the vice presidency, said that in 2012 “a candidate would never be asked to run without extensive prior scrutiny and private exchanges.”

Yet in 2008, Senator John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin, a relatively unknown Alaska governor, as his running mate reinforced the inherent dangers of a selection process that mainly involves a presidential nominee and a small group of aides.

Steve Schmidt, who was involved in Ms. Palin’s selection and later publicly admitted that he regretted it, said that while McCain campaign aides were certainly aware of the consequences of the way Mr. Eagleton was selected, there was still “a tremendous tension that exists in the vetting process between the desire for secrecy and the ability to gather the type of information that would give you a sense about how the person functions under pressure or stress, for example.”

Over the years, Mr. McGovern, who turned 90 last week and has recently been ailing, has expressed regret that Mr. Eagleton, who died in 2007, when he was 77, was not more forthcoming about his health.

“I wish, of course, that Senator Eagleton had discussed his health problem with me before I selected him,” Mr. McGovern said in an interview in 2005. “I think that would happen nowadays.”

But Mr. McGovern also pointed out that it was a different time, when politicians felt it was unseemly to ask delicate questions about one another. “Almost no candidate for the vice presidency had ever been checked out before, with the exception of Lyndon Johnson, who checked out his colleague Hubert Humphrey very carefully,” Mr. McGovern said.

Forty years later, in an era of continuous news delivered on Twitter and the Internet and amplified by cable television, the slow and painful unfolding of Mr. Eagleton’s history and the reluctant response to it by Mr. McGovern and his aides seem unimaginable. But the story of the “18-day running mate” — as Mr. Eagleton is called in a new history of the episode by Joshua M. Glasser — remains a cautionary tale for candidates and their staffs.

For Mr. Eagleton, depression was an issue from the time he entered state politics. He was hospitalized for the first time in December 1960, less than a month after he was elected attorney general of Missouri. He was admitted to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis for what his father, Mark, a prominent lawyer, said was “a virus”; in reality, Mr. Eagleton received electroshock therapy. During his 1960 campaign, he also experienced an opposite extreme that involved a euphoric state of increased energy and activity known as hypomania. He said he lost 22 pounds and “became terrifically keyed up and terrifically exhausted.”

After being elected lieutenant governor in 1964, Mr. Eagleton was again hospitalized for depression. Two years later, he was admitted a third time, and he again received electroshock therapy. In the late 1970s, Mr. Eagleton received a diagnosis of bipolar II disorder from Dr. Frederick K. Goodwin, a psychiatrist who later directed the National Institute of Mental Health. Dr. Goodwin surmised that the same problem had plagued Mr. Eagleton in the previous decade.

As Mr. Eagleton worked his way up in Missouri politics and ultimately reached the Senate, he was careful not to disclose his medical history. From the first of his hospitalizations, news releases and euphemisms (like “undergoing tests”) were used to disguise the real reason for his stays.

Over the years, rumors about Mr. Eagleton’s health surfaced quietly and subsided without much consequence. The information stayed within Missouri journalistic circles and among the Eagletons’ friends.

“You would expect that if there was anything out there, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch would have it,” Gary Hart, Mr. McGovern’s campaign manager, who was later a senator and an unsuccessful candidate for president, said in an interview — an assumption that proved to be disastrous.

Some of Mr. Eagleton’s friends noted his drinking in the 1960s, according to James N. Giglio’s biography of the senator, “Call Me Tom.”

“He drank quite a bit,” said Mr. Lilly, who often socialized with Mr. Eagleton and who is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington. “Sometimes he was funny, sometimes he was frightening, sometimes he created some stirs about that. How much of what was going on was alcohol and how much bipolar? My guess is the fundamental problem was bipolar.”

While a small number of journalists, politicians and health workers heard rumors or knew that Mr. Eagleton suffered from depression and had a drinking problem, no one pursued the story because of a general reluctance to investigate the personal affairs of public figures. But at least one national news organization looked into the rumors.

An editor at Time magazine heard about Mr. Eagleton’s mental health issues in 1966, but the magazine did not pursue the story until 1968, when one of its reporters, Jonathan Z. Larsen, visited Missouri to report on its Senate race. Mr. Larsen was unable to confirm the rumors about Mr. Eagleton’s drinking and electroshock treatment, but he said that “we put it on record only for future reference, when and if Tom Eagleton assumes a position of higher authority.”

In July 1972, with Democrats gathered in Miami Beach for their convention and Mr. Eagleton being talked about as a possible choice for the ticket, Greg Wierzynski, then Time’s Chicago bureau chief, surprised an Eagleton campaign aide by asking about the electroshock rumors. The aide later delivered a denial. So did the senator’s brother, Mark, a doctor in St. Louis.

Exhausted after a long underdog campaign battling the Democratic Party establishment, Mr. McGovern and his aides spent the early days of the convention fighting off a last-minute challenge to the winner-take-all rule that had given him all the California delegates. On July 13, 1972, with the nomination finally his, Mr. McGovern turned his attention to selecting his running mate.

Until then, Mr. McGovern had focused on only one person, Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. After a long courtship, Mr. Kennedy rejected the offer a final time, and Mr. McGovern then tried and failed to interest two of his closest friends in the Senate, Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota and Gaylord A. Nelson of Wisconsin, in the position. His aides focused on the mayor of Boston, Kevin H. White, and Mr. Eagleton. They immediately realized that they had little information about either one.

Gordon Weil, Mr. McGovern’s Senate executive assistant, volunteered to check out both men. Mr. Weil had only an hour or so to inquire about a strong rumor that a journalist had passed on to a McGovern aide concerning Mr. Eagleton’s alcoholism or mental illness.

Mr. Weil’s quick check turned up rumors that Mr. Eagleton drank, but not seriously, and no evidence of mental health problems. Mr. McGovern dismissed the reports on Mr. Eagleton, and he instead put more stock in his Senate colleagues’ recommendations.

With a party-imposed deadline of that afternoon to pick his running mate, Mr. McGovern had to act quickly — and he did. He offered the nomination to a man with whom his longest meaningful conversation had lasted for 20 minutes, in the Senate steam room.

“I’m flattered, and I will do whatever I can,” Mr. Eagleton told Mr. McGovern in their decisive 67-second conversation, “and I hope I don’t let you down.”

Mr. McGovern then handed the phone to Mr. Mankiewicz, who asked Mr. Eagleton some questions but never explicitly raised the issue of his health. Mr. Eagleton, convinced that his mental health issues were behind him, later said he “took a calculated risk” in concealing his health information.

During a celebration that went on well into the next morning, Mr. Weil ran into Douglas J. Bennet, Mr. Eagleton’s chief of staff, and asked him about the drinking and mental health rumors. Mr. Bennet denied the drinking problem but did describe his boss’s hospitalizations and his electroshock therapy.

Mr. Weil said he “went straight upstairs after my conversation with Bennet, walked into a very crowded, noisy party and interrupted whatever discussion Gary Hart and Frank Mankiewicz were having” to tell them. They, in turn, went to Mr. McGovern, who said he assumed that the reports were the usual “kind of rumors that floated around.”

Roberta Weil, Mr. Weil’s wife, said her husband returned to their hotel room and told her that Mr. Eagleton had been treated for depression.

“I said, ‘That is not that bad,’ ” Mrs. Weil said. “And he said: ‘Yeah, but he has had shock treatment. It is all over.’ ”

By that time, Clark Hoyt, a reporter for The Miami Herald who would later become the public editor of The New York Times, was in St. Louis doing research for an article about Mr. Eagleton and was puzzled by the gaps when Mr. Eagleton dropped out of the news.

Mr. Hoyt’s interest shot up when his editors passed on a tip from a man who, identifying himself only as a McGovern supporter, called The Detroit Free-Press, part of the same chain as The Herald, on July 17, four days after Mr. Eagleton’s nomination. The caller had given the newspaper the name of a doctor knowledgeable about Mr. Eagleton’s case. When Mr. Hoyt went to the doctor’s home, she slammed the door in his face, and he knew the tip was correct.

On July 23, Mr. Hoyt and a colleague, Robert Boyd, flew to South Dakota to confront Mr. Mankiewicz. He told them their evidence was circumstantial and urged them to wait on the story, never letting on that he, too, had learned about Mr. Eagleton’s depression. But he promised them an interview with Mr. Eagleton.

Two days later, Mr. Eagleton and his wife, Barbara, also arrived in South Dakota. At breakfast with Mr. McGovern and his wife, Eleanor, Mr. Eagleton gave Mr. McGovern a full account of his illness for the first time, and they then held an impromptu news conference, depriving the journalists of their scoop.

Mr. McGovern and his principal aides still did not realize that Mr. Eagleton’s health would be a major issue. But on July 27, with criticism mounting over his selection, Mr. McGovern began consulting psychiatric experts.

One was Dr. Karl A. Menninger, who was blunt.

Mr. McGovern asked what the psychiatrist would do if he were in the politician’s shoes. Dr. Menninger’s reply: “You have to ask him to step down.”

While top aides and an increasing number of Democrats were urging Mr. McGovern to drop Mr. Eagleton, Mr. McGovern ordered his press secretary, Richard Dougherty, to issue a statement that he was “1,000 percent” behind Mr. Eagleton’s staying on the ticket — a phrase that would forever be associated with both men.

As the pressure mounted, Mr. McGovern vacillated, initially using others to send signals to Mr. Eagleton to carry out the pledge he had made when he said he would resign if his presence on the ticket embarrassed Mr. McGovern. On July 30, they met again, this time in Washington.

Mr. Eagleton resigned the next day, July 31, after Mr. McGovern agreed that he would say the reason was not Mr. Eagleton’s mental health, but the public debate over Mr. Eagleton’s past mental health, which was diverting attention from important issues.

In his unpublished autobiography, Mr. Eagleton wrote that “electroshock was the political killer.”

But, for a presidential campaign, the real killer might be something else: the unknown.

Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 26, 2012

An article on Tuesday about Senator George McGovern’s selection of Senator Thomas F. Eagleton as his running mate in 1972, and the lasting effect that decision has had on vice presidential selections, referred imprecisely to Mr. McGovern’s loss. While his defeat was the largest in a contested presidential race in terms of the margin of the popular vote, it was not the “worst defeat” ever in presidential history when judged by electoral votes — the standard most historians use. In 1936, Alf Landon carried Maine and Vermont and won eight electoral votes. In 1984, Walter Mondale won his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia for 13 electoral votes. And Mr. McGovern won the 17 electoral votes of Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

Also, because of an editing error, an article on Tuesday about Senator George McGovern’s selection of Senator Thomas F. Eagleton as his running mate in 1972, and the lasting effect that has had on the selection of vice presidential candidates, misstated the date that Mr. Eagleton was forced to end his candidacy because of mental health issues. It was July 31, 1972 — not Aug. 1.

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Regarding the Canuck letter which helped defeat Muskie who was leading Nixon in the polls. Bob Woodward wrote in the Post that Ken Clawson was the writer of this letter. However, Bob Woodward is suspect as a source for anything. And Ken Clawson denied authorship of the letter. So we have a situation where although the public generally assumes Nixon was behind this, there is no clear evidence to support this.

And thanks for the article Doug. It looks like the Eagleton thing was just a screw up on McGovern's part.

One of the lead dirty tricksters was Donald Segretti. Segretti told Carl Bernstein that E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy were behind the dirty tricks campaign. And Arthur Bremer, shotter of George Wallace was paid by a group associated with Segretti. So it seems that at the very least Segretti was working with some CIA folk.

From the tone of Nixon's Memoirs, it appears that Nixon and his senior people did know and were OK with some small scale dirty tricks, but they may have had no idea as the the scale of what was going on. This is consistent with the CIA being opportunistic and extending a nasty tendency into a criminal plot.

And the timing and revelation of these tricks and their being tied to Nixon is also consistent with the overall theme and plot of Watergate. And then you have Karl Rove getting his nasty start, apprenticing to CIA asset Robert Bennett. So at the very least, there are strong CIA ties in the whole nasty tricks department, and the exposure of these tricks seems to be linked to the CIA.

And then you have Chuck Colson. At the very least, he was a hardball political operator, and Nixon seemed to appreciate this. While it is clear that Nixon approved of some nasty tactics, and while they may have been unethical, it is not clear they were illegal. And it is not clear that every CIA asset in the White House has been identified. So Colson may have been a CIA operative, but that is just speculation.

So after a couple days of reading and Googling around, I am coming to the conclusion that while Nixon was no angel, a significant fraction of the really nasty stuff was either CIA conceived or made much worse by the CIA. This is consistent with the Townhouse operation which is was a CIA operation to trap Nixon. It makes sense that the CIA was laying lots of traps all over the place. The CIA could not be sure which scandal would catch, so having multiple scandals increased the probability of the operation succeeding.

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