The Landslide Is Eroded
Early Monday morning, President Nixon started his administration over. He announced the resignations of the two men he called "his most trusted advisers," fired his legal counsel, and accepted the decision of his attorney general to bow out of the Cabinet.
Monday night, a shaken man went before the American people on nationwide television to explain the Watergate scandal. But more important, Nixon tried desperately to recover from a crisis that has caused irreparable damage to Nixon's personal plans for his second Presidency, which seemed so bright after his landslide victory last November.
The Watergate scandal has washed away the euphoria his inauguaration brought just two months ago. Monday night, the President looked haggard, and his face betrayed the agony of the past two weeks.
But no sooner did the President end his speech with a blessing for America, the Watergate affair started to crest again. Only hours after Nixon told the American people that John D. Ehrlichman was one of "the finest public servants," an FBI memorandum revealed that Ehrlichman had hired convicted Watergate conspirators G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt to investigate the leaks that led to the release of the Pentagon Papers.
In the course of their inquiries, which Ehrlichman said came at Nixon's request, Hunt and Liddy burglarized the psychiatric files of Daniel Ellsberg '52. When Ehrlichman found out about the espionage, he told the two men "not to do this again."
Ehrlichman's failure to report the break-in subjects the former Nixon aide to indictment for suppression of evidence in connection with a crime. But Ehrlichman, who said he disagreed with this method of investigating the Ellsberg case, also opened entirely new avenues of criticism.
If he disliked the methods used by Hunt and Liddy, why did he permit the two men to continue on the White House payroll? Further, did Ehrlichman inform anyone of the Ellsberg burglary, and if so, were Hunt and Liddy hired for the Watergate bugging operation despite the Ellsberg incident?
It now appears that Hunt and Liddy, who became jacks-of-all-trades for the Committee to Re-elect the President, headed a "vigilante team" which bugged the telephones of two New York Times reporters.
The endless operations conducted by Hunt and Liddy seem to contradict Nixon's contention that Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman will eventually be cleared of charges. Government investigators say now that the two Nixon aides and four other White House officials led a coverup of the bugging, and former Attorney General John N. Mitchell reportedly ordered the wiretapping of The Times reporters.