washingtonpostlive.com Bud Krogh
Watergate, brought to you in part by Seattle attorneys, is still being brought to you by one of them. "It's a lot easier to get into this building with valet parking," said Egil "Bud" Krogh, one of the speakers at an event in the Watergate Building in D.C. last week, marking the anniversary of the historic break-in by some of the black-bag burglars from Krogh's former White House "Plumbers" 40 years ago today.
washingtonpostlive.com Bud Krogh
That was the 1971 entry into the Los Angeles offices of Lewis Fielding, the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, in an attempt to dig up dirt on the man behind the release of the Pentagon Papers.
Krogh's Plumbers team - so named for their mission to plug White House leaks - was led by H. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, political soldiers of fortune. They bungled what was supposed to be a clandestine, unnoticed entry into Fielding's files - leaving behind messy evidence of an obvious break-in. After Ehrlichman went ballistic and ordered Krogh to shut down the illegal operation, Hunt and Liddy and their Cuban/CIA team were moved from the White House to Nixon re-election headquarters.
It was from there the June 17, 1972 Watergate break-in was launched, subsequently turning the building's name into a catch-all phrase for Nixon's political crimes, cover-up and bitter resignation, and "gate" into a suffix for all scandals to follow.
At the anniversary event last Monday, hosted by the Washington Post on the top floor of the renovated Watergate complex, Krogh, a UW Law grad, had to remind the audience that though he did go to prison for four months (the Tacoma-born Ehrlichman, who died in 1999, served 18 months), he wasn't actually in on the building's infamous attempted heist.
Now I had nothing to do with Watergate, and when I've said that, when I've given talks, people groan and say,"Oh no."
But I say "Don't worry, I did something more serious the year before." [The Fielding job].
"Oh good...we can stay and listen to you."
Krogh once rationalized his black-bag work as necessary for the preservation of national security and the Nixon White House. Winning Tricky Dick's approval meant proving you were capable of dirty tricks. In the words of special prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste, you "left the dead mouse at the door" so Nixon could appreciate your devotion.
But after pleading guilty to conspiracy in 1973 for the Fielding burglary, Krogh has been almost religious in admitting he was a hypocrite and crook. "Jail was the right place, prison was the right place for me," he said last week on a panel held several floors above what Nixon's press secretary had once labeled a "third-rate burglary" of Democratic Headquarters, the beginning of the end of the rotted Nixon presidency.
"I had a wonderful lawyer here, Steven Shulman," said Krogh, "and a wonderful lawyer in Seattle, Bill Dwyer, who said 'You own up to it, you plead guilty, you take the hit, you don't write a book, and then we'll work with it.' I was disbarred for six years and eventually reinstated in 1980."
He didn't indeed write a Watergate book, opting to publicly apologize for his role at speaking events. But he did write one of the more unique Nixon-era books, about the day Elvis visited the White House, a meeting arranged by Krogh.
He is fondly remembered for that, at least, and likes to joke about the awkward moments (Nixon had to be reminded who the Beatles were after Elvis brought them up). Then Elvis, to everyone's surprise, pulled out a handgun in the White House, and gave it as a gift to Nixon. In exchange, the president later sent a DEA badge to the man who died in part from drug abuse.
But Krogh also saw a serious parallel to the demise of the King and the dethroned president.
"Some of those who worked for the President (including myself) and some of those who surrounded Elvis, were not able to consistently manifest true integrity, to tell 'truth to power,' and to protect these great men from the excesses of their own titanic natures," Krogh says. "If these professionals had adhered to integrity and to their professional codes, perhaps history would have been different."
A Seattle attorney since his reinstatement, Krogh, 72, is today working with the Center for the Study of the President and Congress in D.C. At times, he says, he and others work with the Obama White House, aiding staff on ethics issues.
Such experienced advice may be needed now more than ever, said one of the other panelists, ex-Defense Secretary and Sen. William Cohen. The political system is overwhelmed by money, and "All the so-called Watergate reforms have been swept by the wayside," he cautioned. "It's very dangerous."