Commentary Magazine


Watergate

To the Editor:

Congratulations to James A. Nuechterlein for giving some perspective to a tragic event in American political history [“Watergate: Toward a Revisionist View,” August]. Mr. Nuechterlein should also be commended for calling attention to Judge John J. Sirica’s sometimes questionable judicial conduct. Although I am not a defender of Watergate, I was appalled, from the beginning, by Judge Sirica’s apparent violation of judicial standards. His book, and also his comments in interviews, only support the view that he does not have a full understanding of judicial demeanor. . . . It is about time someone raised the points Mr. Nuechterlein does.

Berl Falbaum
Oak Park, Michigan

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To the Editor:

James A. Nuechterlein’s article is one of the most regrettable pieces I have seen on the subject. The self-serving books and statements published by some of the convicted participants are more comprehensible than the author’s “revisionist” views.

The most unforgivable aspect of the article is Mr. Nuechterlein’s obvious ignorance of much of the factual record. To place reliance on the assertions and views of a Maurice H. Stans, whose credibility throughout left much to be desired, and at the same time to express such unwarranted and niggardly criticism of Judge Sirica, who contributed so much to the resolution of the break-in and cover-up conspiracies, raises a not-so-slight question of perspective, if not judgment.

Perhaps the revisionists are excessively eager to get on with it—with or without facts—because Richard Nixon, the biggest revisionist of them all, has beaten them to the punch.

Ralph S. Pollock
Potomac, Maryland

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To the Editor:

In his attempt to get Watergate in perspective, James A. Nuechterlein says much that is plausible and that needs to be said, but then ruins it all by saying . . . that no government jobs, “especially ambassadorships, were sold to the highest bidders.” He quotes Maurice H. Stans, with an apparent complete suspension of disbelief, as having said to a potential contributor that “Luxembourg was not for sale.”

The line of reasoning in the article does not stand or fall by the accuracy of what Stans says about ambassadorships, so it is possible that all the rest of what Stans is quoted as saying, and that Mr. Nuechterlein seems to accept, is correct; but what the former finance chairman of the Committee to Reelect the President says about ambassadorships is certainly untrue. As a matter of fact, Luxembourg did go to the highest bidder, or at least to a contributor to the CRP who ponied up $300,000. Nobody has ever been able to advance any other explanation for Mrs. Ruth B. Farkas’s appointment as Ambassador to Luxembourg than the fact that she made that contribution.

Mr. Nuechterlein (or Mr. Stans) might say that this doesn’t prove that Mrs. Farkas became an American ambassador on the strength of her financial contribution, any more than it could be proved that any of the other large financial contributors to President Nixon’s election campaign were appointed as a result of their contributions, and, after all, the Watergate special prosecutor was unable to prove the charge.

I happen to know a good deal about this because I was myself an American ambassador (to Bulgaria), though a non-political career officer, and I was approached for campaign contributions, along with all the others in the ambassadorial category; and I have it from eyewitnesses that Stans solicited money for the 1972 campaign from potential contributors by holding out the prospect of ambassadorial appointments to them.

This was not done by way of “auctioning” ambassadorships. Nor was it done by offering an explicit quid-pro-quo, which would have been a criminal offense. As the New York Times reported on March 17, 1974, from a source involved in the Watergate investigation, the dealings among Stans, Herbert Kalmbach (President Nixon’s lawyer), and the would-be ambassadors would go this way: “What you were paying for was to have your name in the hopper. People were told they would only get it [the nomination] if they were ‘qualified,’ but they would only send the name over if he contributed.”

As a matter of fact, Kalmbach—after having been promised immunity from prosecution—pleaded guilty to a charge that he had promised a prestigious diplomatic post to J. Fyfe Symington in return for $100,000 in political contributions to Republican senatorial candidates in 1970 and to Nixon in 1972. Is it at all likely that Stans, who was in charge of the financial aspects of the Nixon campaign, was unaware of that proven and admitted arrangement?

Former Secretary of State William Rogers had the decency (or perhaps just the prudence) to inform the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1973 that the government “could learn some lessons from Watergate” in the area of campaign funding, and he said, without naming any names, that he and President Nixon had agreed that something should be done about the tradition by which wealthy campaign contributors could “buy” assignments as ambassadors (New York Times, March 17, 1974).

Now, whom are we to believe—the President’s lawyer (who was promised immunity), a former Secretary of State (who was not involved in Watergate but had knowledge about the purchase of ambassadorships), or Stans, who, when the transactions could not be proved in a court of law, was spared a criminal indictment—and then proceeded to claim that none of this ever happened? Mr. Nuechterlein should read the newspapers more carefully. They have carried news about the “purchase” of ambassadorships for years.

Nor, I must hasten to add, did the practice cease when Jimmy Carter came into office, despite his campaign promises that he would make ambassadorial appointments “strictly on the basis of merit, not reward for political favors.” Although other cases could be cited, an egregious one was that of Marvin Warner, an Ohio real-estate developer who had made major campaign contributions to various Democratic candidates and was nominated to be Ambassador to Switzerland. The American Foreign Service Association testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “an examination of Mr. Warner’s background suggests that the appointment was a reward for political support and for substantial financial contributions” and that there was “little evidence” that Warner had better qualifications than the career officer with thirty years of diplomatic experience whom he was to replace.

It should be stated that the practice of buying ambassadorships, which has been rampant under both Democrats and Republicans, is actually a case in point for Mr. Nuechterlein’s argument that Nixon was charged with offenses that had been committed also by his predecessors and successors. So it is quite unnecessary for the “revisionist” point of his article to claim, or to believe a claim, that Stans was not a party to such transactions. Nor should the complicity of our Congress be overlooked. In every case the Senate, when it approved unqualified nominees, had information showing that they were unqualified and that they owed their nominations to campaign contributions or other political services.

Martin F. Herz
Washington, D.C.

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To the Editor:

James A. Nuechterlein writes that “[T]he only path of historical rehabilitation for Richard Nixon will be the recognition that there was more to his administration than Watergate.” But such “historical rehabilitation,” if ever undertaken, would be incomplete should it fail to consider Nixon’s pre-presidential political career. It might then end up proving that the Watergate cover-up was one of the minor crimes of a political life which from its very start was governed by the un-American concept of the end justifying the means.

Walter A. Sheldon
Lido Beach, New York

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James A. Nuechterlein writes:

I cannot quarrel with Ralph S. Pollock’s right to find my article “regrettable,” but I do object to his failure in any way to document his charge concerning my “obvious ignorance of much of the factual record.” If I got things wrong, he should point out where and how; if he has no specific evidence, he should avoid irresponsible accusations. That holds as well for his disparaging reference to Maurice H. Stans’s “credibility.” It is precisely that sort of unsubstantiated charge which Stans legitimately complains of in his book. As for my “unwarranted and niggardly” criticism of Judge Sirica, it would again be helpful if Mr. Pollock would deal substantively with the issues I discussed. It is worth noting that my views on those issues are hardly unique: Mr. Pollock will in fact find more severe judgments on Sirica’s behavior expressed in the reviews of To Set the Record Straight by both Joseph Rauh, Jr. in the New Republic—which I cited in my article—and Nicholas von Hoffman in the New York Review of Books.

Martin F. Herz raises the question of Maurice H. Stans’s credibility in the specific context of the “sale” of ambassadorships. He suggests that what Stans has said about the matter is “certainly untrue,” and that I was naive and careless to believe him. Mr. Herz’s letter, however, does not make the case he thinks it does. His argument fails because he neglects to make crucial distinctions. Neither Stans nor I have claimed that President Nixon’s 1972 fund-raising campaign ended the universal practice by which major contributors to any successful presidential campaign received special consideration for certain ambassadorial posts. That, as Mr. Herz concedes, has been standard operating procedure in all presidential campaigns since time out of mind (and known even to those who do not read their newspapers carefully). What Stans did claim—and what, on the basis of the record, I found plausible—was that no jobs were promised in exchange for contributions. The difference, put simply, is between traditional political practice and criminal offense. Mr. Herz in fact appears implicitly to recognize and acknowledge that distinction in the course of his argument, but he then promptly muddies it up and forgets about it.

That the distinction is no mere quibble can be established by a careful comparison of Mr. Herz’s letter with Stans’s explanation in The Terrors of Justice of how he handled contributors who indicated a desire for a government job:

No one was “sold” an ambassadorship or any position in the government. I instructed the finance organization a number of times on the record that such deals could not be made. The general policy, specifically worked out in an early meeting with [H.R.] Haldeman, was that if a prospect indicated an interest in serving the government, he was to be told that his desires would be conveyed to the White House after the election, regardless of the amount he contributed and regardless of whether he made a contribution at all. He was also to be informed that such appointments would be made only by the President on the basis of qualifications, with the concurrence of the State Department, and after full investigation by the FBI. A record was kept by me of all such persons, and the White House was given a list of them in December 1972. It contained the names of fifty-six individuals interested in foreign-service posts and seven offering to serve in Washington; more than a third of them had made no contributions or had given minor amounts. There were no commitments to any of them [emphasis added].

Note that the only significant difference between this account and that of the anonymous source in the New York Times cited by Mr. Herz concerns whether or not aspiring ambassadors had to contribute to the campaign in order to be placed on Stans’s White House list. Stans says no, and he says the list exists to prove it. Among the names on that list, Stans says further, is that of the man who asked, “How much for Luxembourg?” He was told that no promises could be made, and he thereupon left Stans’s office without making a contribution, but his request for office was nonetheless forwarded to the White House. Stans tells of a similar case in which he turned down a $100,000 contribution from a woman who offered it in exchange for assurances that she would be named Ambassador to Haiti. There were, according to Stans’s account, many other such offers and many other refusals.

The point at issue becomes even more clear in comparison with the case of Herbert Kalmbach. In the instance that Mr. Herz cites—and which, incidentally, Stans refers to in his book—Kalmbach pleaded guilty to accepting, on behalf of the White House, a contribution of $100,000 from J. Fyfe Symington in exchange for a promise of an ambassadorial position. In that action, which occurred in 1970 when Stans was still Secretary of Commerce and was not involved in campaign fundraising—Kalmbach stepped over the line that Stans insists that he always maintained. And Kalmbach, who testified freely concerning his knowledge of criminal actions connected with Watergate, never implicated Stans in criminal knowledge or wrongdoing in this or other matters. We do not have to choose, then, between the word of Kalmbach and that of Stans: they do not contradict each other. As for the testimony of William Rogers, it seems clearly to have referred to the general practice by which large contributors receive special consideration for office, and not to the specific sale of specific positions. Thus Stans was “spared” a criminal indictment with respect to selling ambassadorships because, after admittedly exhaustive investigation by the Watergate special prosecutor and others, no evidence of criminal behavior could be found.

Mrs. Farkas may not have been particularly qualified for her position and she may have in effect purchased consideration by the White House for it. But that problem—and I agree with Mr. Herz that it is one worthy of attention and correction—is one quite separate from the problem of Watergate and quite separate as well from Maurice H. Stans’s credibility as a Watergate witness. Mr. Herz has presented no good evidence that, on this matter at least, Stans has not told us the truth.

Walter A. Sheldon may well be right that a thorough investigation of Richard Nixon’s public career will disclose a consistent pattern of improper behavior, but one hopes that the investigation, when it comes, will not be conducted with the presumption of guilt that Mr. Sheldon appears to harbor.

My thanks for the kind comments of Berl Falbaum.

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