"Someone brought me a note that Larry O'Brien called and wants you to call him," Oliver said. "I put the note in my pocket. The meeting went on. They brought a second note and said, 'Larry O'Brien wants you to call.' At the lunch break, I went upstairs to call O'Brien a little after 12 o'clock.
"I asked to speak to Larry. Stan Gregg, his deputy, came on the line: 'Spencer, Larry's at lunch, but he wanted me to tell you that he's going to have a press conference at 2 o'clock and he's going to announce that the burglars that they caught in the Watergate were not in there for the first time. They had been in there before, in May.'
"I was saying to myself, 'Why's he telling me all this?' He said, 'and they put taps on at least two phones. One of the phones was Larry's and one was yours.' I said, 'What?' And he said, 'the tap on Larry's didn't work. He's going to announce all this at 2 o'clock.'"
After digesting the news of the May break-in, Oliver called Gregg back, telling him, "...Stan, take my name out of that press release. I don't know why they tapped my phone, but I don't want my name involved in it. Let Larry say, there were two taps involved and one was on his. But I don't want to become embroiled in this.' He said, 'it's too late. The press releases have already gone out.'"
Oliver suddenly found himself at the center of a political maelstrom as the DNC moved to file a civil lawsuit accusing the Republicans of violating the federal wiretap statute.
"Immediately, I became the object of all sorts of speculation," Oliver recalled. "The worst thing about it was that other people on the national committee were jealous that my phone was tapped, not theirs. One of the worst was Strauss, who was reportedly saying things like 'I don't know why they tapped his phone. He didn't mean anything. He was an unimportant guy.' Everybody wanted to be the celebrity victim."
Smearing the Victim
The wording of the wiretap statute, however, made Oliver a legally significant player, since only the bug on his phone worked and his conversations were the ones intercepted. "If somebody put a tap on your phone and if nobody listened to it, then you have no cause of action," said Oliver, a lawyer by profession. "You have to be able to prove interception and use. So I was crucial to the lawsuit."
The statute also created legal dangers for anyone who got information, even indirectly, from the wiretaps. "I realized that anybody who received the contents of the intercepted telephone conversation and passed them on, in other words, the fruits of the criminal act, was also guilty of a felony," Oliver said.
"So that meant that if someone listened to my phone, wrote a memo like McCord had done and sent it to the White House or to CREEP, everybody who got those memos and either read them or passed them on was a felon. It was a strict statute. Wherever the chain led, anybody who got them, used them, discussed them, sent them on to someone else was guilty of a felony and subject to criminal as well as civil penalties."
After the Democratic lawsuit was filed, lawyers for CREEP immediately took Oliver's deposition. Some of the questions were trolling for any derogatory information that might be used against him, Oliver recalled. "CREEP asked if I was a member of the Communist Party, Weather Underground, 'were you ever arrested?'" But some questions reflected facts that would have been contained in Gemstone memos, Oliver said, such as "Who is Terry Sanford?"
The FBI also launched a full field investigation of Oliver. "They tried to tie me to radical groups and asked questions of my neighbors and my friends about whether I had ever done anything wrong, whether I drank too much, whether I was an alcoholic, whether I had a broken marriage, whether I had had any affairs," Oliver said. "It was a very intrusive and obnoxious assault on my private life."
Initially, Nixon's Justice Department denied that the bug on Oliver's phone had been installed by the Watergate burglars, implying that the Democrats may have tampered with the crime scene by installing the wiretap themselves to create a bigger scandal. In a television interview, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst said the device on Oliver's phone must have been put on after June 17 because FBI agents had found nothing during "a thorough sweep" of the office.
Also, in September 1972 -- around the time the Democrats learned about the initial break-in and the bug on Oliver's phone -- John Connally joined Nixon's inner circle in discussing what to do about the growing Watergate scandal.
Haldeman diary entry for Sept. 13 noted that Nixon "had [former Attorney General John] Mitchell, [CREEP chairman Clark] MacGregor, and Connally up for dinner and a general political planning session. Spent quite a little time on Watergate."
Soon, Democrats were encountering solid stonewalls when they tried to crack the Watergate mystery through discovery in the wiretap case. "Our guys couldn't get anybody's deposition; everybody was stalling," Oliver said. "It was clear to me that what's going on was that the Justice Department was fixed, the FBI was fixed, and the only way we were going to get to the bottom of this was to have an independent investigation."