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June/July issue of garrison


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Adding to the topic - Ray Locker, the author of Haig's Coup, did an ask-me-anything chat on Reddit a couple of months back. I haven't followed Locker's writing but his comments there, and some bits and pieces online that he referenced or linked to, are worth preserving here.

 

 

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Hi, I’m Ray Locker, a Pulitzer Prize nominee and former enterprise editor at USA Today. I’ve also written Nixon’s Gamble: How a President’s Own Secret Government Destroyed His Administration:

When General Alexander M. Haig Jr. returned to the White House on May 3, 1973, he found the Nixon administration in worse shape than he had imagined. President Richard Nixon, reelected in an overwhelming landslide just six months earlier, had accepted the resignations of his top aides—the chief of staff H. R. Haldeman and the domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman—just three days earlier.

Haldeman and Ehrlichman had enforced the president’s will and protected him from his rivals and his worst instincts for four years. Without them, Nixon stood alone, backed by a staff that lacked gravitas and confidence as the Watergate scandal snowballed. Nixon needed a savior, someone who would lift his fortunes while keeping his White House from blowing apart. He hoped that savior would be his deputy national security adviser, Alexander Haig, whom he appointed chief of staff. But Haig’s goal was not to keep Nixon in office—it was to remove him.

In Haig’s Coup, Ray Locker uses recently declassified documents to tell the true story of how Haig orchestrated Nixon’s demise, resignation, and subsequent pardon. A story of intrigues, cover-ups, and treachery, this incisive history shows how Haig engineered the “soft coup” that ended our long national nightmare and brought Watergate to an end.

 

Thank you so much for joining us today! What I mainly know about Haig is of course his infamous "I'm in control" speech following Reagan's assassination, and to be honest, knew quite little about his earlier political career. Clearly it didn't have too much of a negative impact as he was in place to be Secretary of State for Reagan, but just how did his behind the scenes involvement in Nixon's ouster impact his standing within the Republican Party? Was it seen positively, as a pragmatic necessity, or something else?

The truth is that most Republicans didn't know what Haig had done to Nixon. They thought he was Nixon's defender. One reason was that the Nixon tapes that detailed much of what Haig had done weren't released until the 1990s and they weren't easily avaiable until 20 years after that. That's why I think there's a lot of news in Haig's Coup. I also built on the work by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin in their 1991 book Silent Coup and others. It's the combination of these sources that led to this conclusion. Also, there was a general sense at the time of Nixon's resignation that Haig had given him the final push and essentially told him the fight was over. In that respect, most people gave credit to Haig for making Nixon go away and ending the crisis. But the back story remained untold.

 

Re 'recently declassified documents'. Was this documentation the result of Freedom of Information Act requests, or declassifed as part of ongoing government policy? What kinds of documentation are we talking about - internal memos, private communications, legal documents, etc?

I got most of it through routine declassification of documents via the Nixon library, State Department and other agencies. They include oral histories, legal documents, communications between agencies and individuals. I found a great declassified oral history with Adm. Elmo Zumwalt that shed light on the military's interest in what Nixon was doing. Also, the newest Nixon tapes on the Nixon library site were a huge help.

I'll also add that the ease with which historians are able to navigate most of the Nixon White House tapes was a game changer. You can do it at home via the Internet, which enables historians to do their work more easily and for readers to find the source materials themselves. It let me listen to President Nixon tell Alexander Haig about the White House taping system on May 8 and 11, more than nine weeks before Haig admitted to learning about it.

 

What do you mean by the phrase "soft coup"? This language seems incendiary in the extreme, and as a student of intelligence history is close enough to "silent coup" to make me nervous. What did Haig do, and what is your threshold for considering something a coup d'etat?

I'll quote author/reporter Jules Witcover from 1974, which I cite in the book. He said he witnessed "a bloodless presidential coup engineered by an army general, a man who had gravitated to the very right hand of one president and who, when that president fell, saw to a swift removal of the body." Haig leaked information to the press that compromised Nixon's position, picked aides close to Nixon who did the same thing. He made it possible for the White House taping system to be exposed, which Haig himself said rendered Nixon's position untenable. He knew about the so-called "smoking gun" tape in which Nixon obstructed justice by May 11, 1973, at the latest, and he encouraged Nixon to allow deputy CIA director Vernon Walters to testify about the White House's attempts to use the CIA to block the FBI's Watergate information. He misled Nixon to think that Elliot Richardson would support firing Archibald Cox when Richardson had told Haig the exact opposite. I think it's clear the Haig greased the skids to make Nixon's resignation inevitable.

 

To be clear, do you believe the CIA or John Dean orchestrated the Watergate burglaries?

I believe John Dean orchestrated the burglaries and that the CIA lied about its activities, particularly supporting the White House Plumbers, immediately after the burglary to hide what it was doing. I don't believe the CIA initiated the burglaries. It was the conclusion of the special prosecutor's office in the so-called Watergate roadmap released last October that Dean was behind the cover-up. Dean also disavowed his book Blind Ambition in a 1996 court deposition, claiming that his coauthor, historian Taylor Branch, had made up parts of the book.

 

Why in particular do you think that Dean was the person who orchestrated it? My knowledge about this is a bit sketchy, but I thought Hunt and McCord (along with Mitchell) were the organizers.

Here are the main reasons: Jeb Magruder said so in interviews after the Watergate investigation; Dean was implicated in the cover-up by the special prosecutor in the so-called Watergate roadmap; Dean tried to get the CIA to help him cover it up; Dean tried to interfere with the investigation of the call girl ring operating at the Columbia Plaza apartments that was used by the DNC. Mitchell's involvement was in the early implementation of the CRP security plan, which spun out of control. There's nothing that supports the claim that Mitchell authorized the break-in. Hunt and McCord were merely operatives but not the authorizers.

 

I'm not an expert on the history of Watergate, but as far as I know this is at odds with the historical consensus. What information leads you to believe that the CIA lied about the extent of their involvement?

This story is one reason: https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/163784 This CIA document cited here shows Helms lied about some of what the CIA was doing. Helms also asked the FBI not to interview two CIA officials, John Caswell and Karl Wagner, during their investigation. Wagner was the executive assistant to the deputy director, who knew about the CIA's assistance of the White House Plumbers in the Daniel Ellsberg case. And yes, I realize it's at odds with what other people have written, but not everyone. I believe that once people set on a version of what happened, most of them stopped investigating the new leads and acted as if doing so was somehow a kind of kooky revisionism. The bottom line is that they seemed to think that any new interpretation of evidence was somehow a defense of Richard Nixon. It's not. My conclusion is that Nixon most likely deserved to go, but there are better ways to do it. He should have been impeached and convicted by the Senate.

 

What was the process that went into picking Haig as CoS? Who recommended him? And you say that 'Haig's goal was to remove Nixon', but do you feel that was his aim from the time of his appointment, or rather that it was a view that developed once he came into the position? Or more simply, was Haig a Trojan horse from the start of his tenure?

Bob Haldeman recommended to Nixon that he pick Haig to succeed him. That's on the White House tapes from May 2, 1973. Haig said in an interview with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein from Sept. 10, 1974, that he knew early on that Nixon would not complete his term and was very erratic. I think he knew Nixon was involved in many things related to foreign policy and politics that would cause him problems and soon learned things were worse than he thought. Haig was also implicated in the so-called Moorer-Radford spy ring from the beginning, and he spent much of his time at the White House covering that up.

 

Is there any evidence that Haldeman was aware of what Haig would do at CoS? That is, could you extend "Haig's coup" to include Haldeman as a conscious enabler?

No, Haldeman was shocked when he realized what Haig had done. He said he never would have recommended Haig to be CoS if he had known that Haig had been tied to the military spy ring. The White House insiders were high on Haig, except for Kissinger, who told Nixon on May 3, 1973, that he didn't trust Haig. Nixon picked him anyway.

 

So why did Haig act to remove Nixon? Did he have personal reasons to do so? Did he feel he was acting in the interests of the Republican Party or the country by purposely sabotaging Nixon?

Haig had multiple reasons in my view. One is that he had personal reasons, because of his involvement in the military spy ring that was stealing White House documents and leaking them to the press and the FBI wiretaps of government officials and journalists. Second is that he realized Nixon was unstable and unsuitable, a conclusion that became more obvious as time went on. I don't think he particularly cared about the Republican Party then or ever. Also, bear in mind that some of my conclusions are based on a review of the evidence not from anything Haig said explicitly. He never admitted helping the spy ring, covering it up or doing more on the FBI wiretaps than the bare minimum. But the evidence shows that he covered up the spy ring and his involvement in multiple ways and he lied about what he knew about the FBI wiretaps.

 

I'm currently writing a doctoral dissertation on the Reagan administration, and I've been consistently fascinated by Haig's personality and his rocky relationship with his fellow White House staffers in Reagan's administration. While most saw him as competent, they also believed that he was smug, power-hungry, attention-seeking, and paranoid. These character faults ultimately led to Haig's ouster as Secretary of State. To what degree were these traits prevalent during Haig's tenure in the Nixon White House? Did his colleagues in the Nixon administration dislike Haig as much as those in the Reagan administration?

Haig had some loyalists in the Nixon White House, starting with J. Fred Buzhardt, who I believe was also a coconspirator in a lot of what happened to Nixon. Jerry Jones, a Nixon aide, says in the book that Haig did yeoman work in getting Nixon to resign and keeping the White House afloat during the turmoil of 1973-1974. But Haig was so used to being in charge during the Nixon years that he carried those traits to the Reagan administration. He wore out his welcome quickly with Reagan's team, particularly when he gave them a document that made the secretary of state the "vicar" of foreign policy. Haig knew what a national security adviser could do to a secretary of state and didn't want it to happen to him. But the people close to Reagan didn't trust him, and Reagan eventually realized he was too much of a hassle to have around.

During the transition between administrations, Haig drafted a plan that would have put him in charge of the Reagan administration's foreign policy. See this review of Haig's memoirs: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/entertainment/books/1984/05/13/turf-wars-alexander-haig-strikes-back/150c85ee-d59d-4fc5-b5d5-bf5acd90dfe0/?utm_term=.1ca3d1c4f4c0

Jim Baker, Reagan's chief of staff, and Mike Deaver and Ed Meese, the two other presidential counselors, thought that intruded too much on what they wanted to do in the White House. Haig had watched Kissinger run circles around Secretary of State William Rogers in the Nixon administration, and he wanted to avoid that when he was secretary of state. Reagan and company told Haig they wouldn't grant him those powers.

 

 

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9 hours ago, Anthony Thorne said:

The Elmo Zumwalt classified history referred to by Locker is here. It's a part two, and I haven't seen the first part online.

https://history.defense.gov/Portals/70/Documents/oral_history/OH_Trans_Zumwalt, Elmo 10-22-1991.pdf?ver=2016-06-20-114138-600

Pt. 1 is down at the bottom of the page link below.  I'm putting up the whole finding aid page rather than the Zumwalt link because many among Our Beloved Cast Of Characters from the JFKA and Watergate (Bundy, Lemnitzer, Helms, Taylor, e. g.) have interviews archived here:

https://history.defense.gov/Historical-Sources/Oral-History-Transcript-3/

Edited by David Andrews
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Thanks to everyone who has ordered. The newest issue - issue 002 - will release in about two weeks. I'll make sure to keep everyone posted. It really means a lot to me that some of you have liked what has been done. It has been a monumental task to do this magazine, but I love doing it.

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48 minutes ago, S.T. Patrick said:

Thanks to everyone who has ordered. The newest issue - issue 002 - will release in about two weeks. I'll make sure to keep everyone posted. It really means a lot to me that some of you have liked what has been done. It has been a monumental task to do this magazine, but I love doing it.

Already looking forward to the next issue.  Please let us know when we can order it.   Thanks!

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I definitely will, Stephanie. Thank you.

And hey, we already have the Letters to the Editor done for this issue, but feel free to write one for Issue 002 after you read it. I'll print it.

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