Watergate Reunion – June 1992
From 1990 to 1996, Michael Hershman co-hosted The Law Show on National Public Radio, which was produced by WAMC-Northeast Public Radio. This innovative, nationwide show was broadcast on CBS as well as the Armed Forces Radio. The Law Show hosted guest speakers ranging from Supreme Court Justices to leading trial lawyers for conversations, in an explanatory style, about critical legal issues confronting our nation and its citizens.
ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Law Show. A National production made possible by a grant from the Fairfax Group. Providing litigation support to law firms and corporations and specialized security services worldwide. Your hosts are Michael Hershman, president of the Fairfax Group, and Lee Farbman.
MICHAEL HERSHMAN: I’m Michael Hershman.
LEE FARBMAN: And I’m Lee Farbman. We have a very special Law Show today. On the 20th anniversary of the break in at the Watergate Hotel, the senate committee that investigated the burglary and the cover up held a reunion in Washington.
HERSHMAN: Today we’ll hear from some of the senators and staff of that committee as they remembered that summer.
FARBMAN: We’ll hear from the man who figured out President Nixon recorded conversations in the oval office.
HERSHMAN: And we’ll hear from the woman who is convinced she spoke regularly with the man that has come to be known as Deep Throat.
FARBMAN: She thinks she recognized his voice. She says she knows who he is.
HERSHMAN: So stay with us for a very special Law Show.
FARBMAN: Some of the members and staff of what was officially the Senate Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities gathered in the senate caucus room. That room has huge glass chandeliers, dark wood paneling, there’s gold leaf or at least gold paint on designs on the ceiling. It’s a little hard to tell which. The ceiling must be 30 feet high. Well, that’s where the Watergate Committee held public hearings in the summer of 1973. For those of you too young to remember, or whose memories have faded, the Iran Contra Committee used the same room for its public hearings. Now Michael, you were an investigator for this senate committee, and I’d like to start today by having you share some of your memories. How did you come to the Watergate Committee?
HERSHMAN: Well, I had come on a leave of absence from the New York State Special Corruption Prosecutor’s Office to work on the Watergate Committee. In the early days, of course we knew nothing more than there was a break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee. I had been working up until that time on some very sensitive and very complex corruption cases in New York involving the police and judges, and I thought that what was going on in Washington could be settled in about 60 days or so, and we could all go home and pick up where we left off. I was wrong, obviously. It had turned out to be a far greater problem than originally anticipated.
FARBMAN: Did this thing as you sort of realized what was going on–was it sort of–geez, what are we going to discover today as it sort of unraveled in front of you?
HERSHMAN: You did have that feeling, but I will tell you that it was such an intensive effort with workdays lasting 18, 19 hours, and 7 days a week. Now, we also had the responsibility of briefing the senators prior to the hearings, and then assisting them during the hearings. If we had a witness that we were responsible for, we would generally sit in back of the members and assist them in their questioning of that witness.
FARBMAN: Which of the senators did you think was the best questioner? Which was the best inquisitor or prosecutor?
HERSHMAN: Well, that’s hard to say. We had some real good ones. I remember of course the very thorough questioning that Senator Sam Irvin did. Senator Howard Baker was excellent as was Senator Weichert, and Senator Inouye.
FARBMAN: At this gathering there’s a picture of Senator Irvin up on an easel. Of course, he passed away a couple of years ago. I’m wondering if you could share some memories of him?
HERSHMAN: Senator Irvin often described himself as just a country lawyer, which indeed he was from North Carolina, but he also was a very brilliant man. One who often quoted the Bible, and one who believed in strict interpretation of the Constitution. He was a pleasant man to work with and for, and one who, while obviously a partisan democrat, really wanted to conduct this investigation in as much a non partisan fashion as humanly possible.
FARBMAN: OK. Thanks Michael. The senate caucus room was almost empty when I arrived for the reunion except for a photograph on an easel immediately opposite the door. It was the committee chairman Senator Sam Irvin of North Carolina, bushy eyebrows furrowed in concentration, chewing on a pencil, but the room filled up quickly.
RUFUS EDMISTEN: I’m Rufus Edmisten, Secretary of State of North Carolina. Twenty years ago I was the Deputy Chief Council on the Senate Watergate Committee. I had worked for Senator Irvin 10 years prior to that. The hearing table was up there where Irvin sat in the middle, Baker on his right and it went by seniority on each side, and we councils filled in whenever we questioned, and the press took over well over half of the room. At any one time there were 100, 200 people with snapping cameras, and every news organization in the nation had somebody here. People waited for hours to get a seat in here. We had movie stars that came in all the time. Paul Newman was here. Mark Russell, a local comedian was here all the time. Joanne Woodward was here. People would crave to get in here. It was the thing to do back then. You had to get in here
FARBMAN (VO): Naturally in 20 years, memories fade.
EDMISTEN: Anything like this has a time when you get all kinds of things that didn’t really happen. You build up the myths, and the myths have built up about… I delivered the subpoena on Richard Nixon. Well the myth was that he wouldn’t take it from me. Well, frankly I never saw him. They wouldn’t let me near him. But the myth is today… I got through about 5 doors. I gave it to Leonard Garment. He was one of his many councils, and Professor Charles Alan Wright, and I also left him a Constitution. I said, “I think you need it.”
INTERVIEWER: What was the answer to that?
EDMISTEN: They scowled at me.
FARBMAN (VO): Much of the discussion here has to do with the lessons of Watergate, and whether we as a country learned anything.
EDMISTEN: I’ve used the lessons of Watergate many times in my job as attorney general and secretary of state. I gave a ruling, a very controversial ruling when I was attorney general about the separation of powers, and I used Watergate experiences. I told them in my ruling that we must learn the lessons of Watergate; that if one branch of the government overpowers the other, then you don’t have freedom. It worked.
SAM DASH: My name is Sam Dash. At the time of the Watergate investigations I was chief council of the Senate Watergate Committee. At that time I was a professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, and took a leave of absence, and that’s what I am today. We felt the mission, and it was historic in the sense that we were carrying out the senate’s constitutional responsibility to oversee the executive, and when we got close and were getting the evidence of the president’s involvement in these crimes, and we served a subpoena on the president, that’s the first time in the history of the United States that the senate of the United States ever subpoenaed the president. You know, we had a lot of firsts and therefore that sense of urgency was that we wanted to find the facts. and we wanted to tell the American people it, because they are the ultimate sovereigns.
FARBMAN (comments in studio): And Sam Dash took exception to marking the occasion on the anniversary of the break in, rather than the anniversary of the committee, of the hearings. He feels not enough attention is being paid to Senator Sam Irvin.
DASH: His courage and his integrity allowed us to do the work that we did to unfold the scandal, and I see very little in the present stories that mention Sam Irvin, and he was to the American people the true hero who told them the truth about Watergate. I don’t see his photograph. I don’t see his reference to him. Every once in a while there’s a little passing reference, and I know that Woodward and Bernstein get a lot of credit. They deserve some credit. They asked the right questions in the beginning. They didn’t break Watergate. Our committee broke Watergate, and their stories afterwards were leaks out of our committee. They were feeding on our investigation, but they ought to get their credit because it was their questions and continuous writing that led, I think to the creation of the Senate Watergate Committee, because they kept the interest up. And they ought to get whatever credit they deserve, but I think you ought to also give the credit to Senator Sam Irvin who took the mandate from the senate and did something that no other committee has ever done. Iran-Contra made a mess of what they were supposed to do, but the Senate Watergate Committee carried out its mission, and told the people what happened.
INTERVIEWER: Any ideas why this most recent Iran-Contra Committee got nowhere and you folks…
DASH: They didn’t want to get anywhere. They were terribly afraid of backlash from a very popular president, Ronald Reagan. And so they didn’t want to find out anything about Reagan. And they limited their time. They limited their witness list, and they didn’t know how to tell a story that the public could understand.
FARBMAN (comments in studio): Professor Dash says he doesn’t need a reunion to remind him of Watergate.
DASH: You have to understand my present students at the law school were only 5 years old, and some of them come to see me at the beginning of the year and they say “My mother said you had something to do about Watergate,” and you know I have to tell them I didn’t have to go to jail, I was asking the questions, not answering them. They had no idea about what I did about Watergate. They had no idea what Watergate was about, but their mother wanted them to say that. It’s kind of disappointing that a whole generation has changed, and there isn’t enough of the remaining knowledge which I think all Americans should know about that tragic event, because we came close to losing our democratic government.
HERSHMAN: Some of the members of the Senate Watergate Committee made brief comments to the gathering. First up is Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.
DANIEL INOUYE: I think this is a great occasion because we are not celebrating Watergate. We are celebrating the Constitution of the United States. If anything, the investigation and the proceedings demonstrated to one and all in this country and in the world that our democracy works, that our Constitution is not just a piece of paper, that in this land, no matter who you are, equal justice will prevail. And so in that sense I am proud to have had some role to play in this, and I thank all of you who supported us in this investigation. It was not a happy assignment, but we did our best.
HERSHMAN: Also here today is Connie Chung of CBS News who was a young on-air reporter for the Washington bureau of CBS when Watergate broke.
CONNIE CHUNG: All of us reporters I think earned our spurs in many ways, those of us who were younger, on Watergate. And we learned our trade indeed. We learned our trade on this story. It was the story of the century. We learned much more from Watergate as well, I think. We were trying to find out what the Watergate Committee members knew before they knew it, and many times we succeeded. Many of us went through withdrawal symptoms after Watergate was over. I certainly did. I couldn’t cover another story. There wasn’t a story that was good enough. There wasn’t another story that was significant enough. I couldn’t get my teeth into any red meat anymore, so I left. I actually left Washington. I went to California. And actually I haven’t been back. Couldn’t find my way to the senate caucus room today because it had been so many years since I had been gone.
MIKE MADIGAN: I’m Mike Madigan. I was assistant minority council to Senator Baker on the Watergate Committee, and I’m now partner at the law firm, Akin Gump Hauer & Feld here in Washington. Those of us who had a trial background like mine as a former U.S. attorney spent a lot of time conducting interviews and gathering evidence. Then ultimately when the hearings began, of preparing lines of questioning and that sort of thing. In our case for Senator Baker. We were very lucky that Senator Baker had spent 17 years as a trial lawyer himself, so he didn’t need a whole lot of assistance in terms of how to ask the questions. But we did a lot of that, and then of course in any kind of investigation like this the preparation is not all that evident, but there are what they call executive sessions of testimony with all the witnesses, except John Dean in this case. But all the witnesses’ testimony are taken by staff people ahead of time prior to their public appearances. So we spent a lot of time doing that.
FARBMAN: And any memories that stand out?
MADIGAN: Well of course the biggest thing that stands out is the revelation of the Watergate tapes which, as you probably recall, although not many people know was uncovered in an interview of a then obscure witness, Alexander Butterfield by Don Sanders who was one of our republican council, and who is standing right over there. And none of us could really believe that there could be such a system, but obviously there was, and that of course changed history forever.
FRED THOMPSON: I’m Fred Thompson and what I did then was minority council on the Watergate Committee, and what I do now is practice law here in Washington and Nashville.
INTERVIEWER: Any particular stories or memories…
THOMPSON: Well for me of course I guess it was the day that Alexander Butterfield appeared, and then I asked him the question in public session about the taping system, and it was something that was kind of unique in that it did not leak before the public hearing, and certainly unique in terms of the substance, and that disclosed the tapes which ultimately led to the resignation of the president. Don Sanders on the staff really was the guy who asked the question. In a staff meeting, he came to me and told me that, and that was kind of my reaction. Somewhat of a surprise to say the least. Especially that, you know it was at Camp David, and the cabinet room and all these other places. And I didn’t really appreciate the true significance of it even then. I thought it might have been something that Nixon had foreseen, and that the tapes might help him out even. Of course that turned out to be wrong.
FARBMAN: When I met Don Sanders, naturally I had to ask him about the Butterfield discovery.
DON SANDERS: The democratic side of the committee scheduled Butterfield for an interview. They were scheduling all the people who had positions of responsibility close to the president. And the republican staff was simply told that Butterfield would be interviewed that afternoon. I think it might have been two o’clock, and I went. I had not talked to Butterfield previously, but his name had come up in other interviews and I knew what his role was very well. That afternoon we had nearly a 4 hour interview with Butterfield. Scott Armstrong interviewed him for the democratic staff, and in my recollection although I didn’t record this or time it, it was approximately– that he interviewed him for about 3 hours concerning the flow of paper to the president, how people came in and out, how meetings with the president were recorded, and by that I mean documented. And so when he finished I had by that time decided that I felt there really must be a recording system in the White House because some of the so-called summaries that we received from the White House were much more explicit than could have been recorded after the fact by memory. And in addition to that, there was this comment by John Dean. I think it was just a week before he had testified in public and said the president had talked to him quietly in his office, and you don’t do that in your own office. You have more confidence in the security of it. And so, when my time came I asked him about that and he said, “Well I was hoping you wouldn’t pressure me about that. I wondered what I would say if I were asked that, but I feel that I have to tell the truth.” So he did. I decided that if there were tape recordings there, there had to be something either exculpatory or inculpatory. One way or the other it was going to either prove or disprove John Dean, and I felt very strongly that this was a very important event. I called Fred out of the local pub. Did he tell you about that? He was down drinking a beer in the Carroll Arms, and I went down and got him out. Because he was talking to some reporters I got him away from them and took him out on the street corner and told him the story.
HOWARD LIEBENGOOD: I’m Howard Liebengood. I was assistant minority council of the committee, working with Fred Thompson.
INTERVIEWER: What do you do now?
LIEBENGOOD: I lobby now. Certainly at the staff level there was a lot of cooperation between both sides. We attended lots of interviews together. We compared lots of notes with each other, and there was great camaraderie amongst that staff. And maybe that’s because of the task that we were about. Maybe it was the fact that we were working incredibly long hours, and around the clock, day and night and weekends. But somewhere in the process the staff at least became very very close without any real partisan rancor by and large, which is kind of nice.
DEBORAH HERBST: I’m Deborah Herbst. I was a researcher hired as a puppy out of college with a zeal to work for government, and I landed by great stroke of luck, happenstance and fabulous fortune on the Watergate Committee. Every single day–I mean in that year I had 10 days off, and that’s weekends, holidays, Christmas, Easter, New Year’s. Ten entire days. You do it because you believe it’s right. That’s republican. That’s democratic. And some of the dearest friends I have today, like Howard Liebengood whom you met, minority council. We stay in touch, and I know that I can call him and I can rely on him.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think that that sort of coming together for lack of a better term could happen in 1992 if the circumstances were–something were to come up?
HERBST: We were rabidly partisan in those days, but we liked each other. And I think there’s the lesson in communications. If you remove the issue from the back room you’re not going to get it. If you get the coalition from the people who work on it day-to-day, then I would say, I mean honestly without being doe eyed, idealistic, that if you go into any back room, the sweat shops of here. You know, you look at the caucus room and you have gorgeous brocade drapes. You go back in the back where there are green government partitions. Those people have to make a compromise, and that is what the U.S. government is all about. You’re not going to get it on the surface. Can it be done? Yes it can. Will it be done? It depends on whether you ask people to do it or not. If you tell them in public they don’t have to compromise, they won’t do it.
FARBMAN: I chatted with Carolyn Andrade for a while. She worked for Senator Irvin for several years, and was in charge for hiring staff for the committee. She said Irvin told her at first it was just a third rate burglary, and the only question she asked the first few staffers that she hired was, “Can you type?” And she told me a story about receiving anonymous phone calls offering the committee information.
CAROLYN ANDRADE: I didn’t recognize it when he was talking to me but I said, “You’re not a country lawyer. I know you.” And he said, “No you don’t know me.” “I know your voice. We’re friends. Well maybe we’re not friends, but I’ve talked to you before.” He said, “No no you don’t know me.” He said, “Why don’t you tell Mr. Dash you ought to have called this one up, or you ought to have called that one up.” And I would tell Sam Dash. And I’d say, “I know this voice.” So everyone keeps asking who’s Deep Throat? That was Haig talking to me all the time, and I have always felt sure that it was he who was Deep Throat, and I felt like they had made up–Woodward and Bernstein had made up all that fiction around him to really disguise him, because from day 1 I would always say to Mr. Dash, “Oh, but I have good ESP. If somebody was in the White House he’s got to be there now. The news that we are getting is too current.” And everybody would ask me what do you think? I never figured it was Haig, but after I got those calls I thought he’s not only tipping their hand. He’s tipping mine too you know.
FARBMAN: The final word from the reception comes from Watergate Council, Sam Dash.
DASH: I don’t remember a bad time really during the time I was chief council. As a matter of fact when we finished, I found it very difficult to get my lawyers, my staff to leave and get jobs. You know, they didn’t have a job any more. But basically they were saying, “Where can we go from here? What can we do now that we did Watergate?”
FARBMAN: Well Michael before we close do you have any unusual stories or memories to add to all of this?
HERSHMAN: One pretty unusual story had to do with my first assignment that I had been given on the Watergate Committee which was to go down to Florida and to interview some of the Cubans who were involved in the break in, and some of their associates. And I wasn’t down there for more than I think 48 hours when one of the people I was interviewing made very serious allegations about corruption on the part of one of the sitting members of the committee, Senator Gurney from Florida. It took me quite by surprise, and when I returned to Washington I sat down with Sam Dash and Senator Irvin, and I explained to them this information that I had gotten, and it was later turned over to the Justice Department and there was a criminal case brought against Gurney based on those allegations.
FARBMAN: And what ended up happening?
HERSHMAN: Well if my memory serves me correct, he was convicted and then it was thrown out on appeal, but it turned out to be the end of his political career.
HERSHMAN: I’m Michael Hershman and that’s our Law Show for this week.
FARBMAN: And I’m Lee Farbman. See you again next week.
ANNOUNCER: Michael Hershman is president of the Fairfax Group. Lee Farbman is producer of the Law Show. Allen Chartoff is executive producer. Production support for the Law Show comes from the Fairfax Group, providing litigation support to law firms and corporations and specialized security services worldwide. The Law Show is a presentation of National Productions which is solely responsible for its content.