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Robert Strauss’s Watergate Secret

By       Message Robert Parry     Permalink
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For his part, Strauss said he had discussed a settlement with former Attorney General Mitchell "with the knowledge and approval of the Democratic leadership on the Hill after talking to a number of Democratic governors and with eight or 10 members of the Democratic National Committee." Asked if he was compromising the interests of the Democratic Party, Strauss responded, "If I was doing so, I was doing so with a lot of company."

After the public flare-up over the aborted Watergate settlement, the strained relationship between Oliver and Strauss grew even worse. Oliver said, "Strauss started calling around to state chairs, saying 'Did you see what that little SOB said about me? He's accusing me of being a crook.' He really launched a campaign against me."

Meanwhile, inside the Nixon administration, Connally took a more active role on Watergate, meeting with RNC chief Bush and urging the President to take some forceful action to get ahead of the expanding scandal. "Bush says that Connally wants something done drastically, that someone has to walk the plank and some heads have to roll," Haldeman recounted in his diary.

Haldeman discussed Watergate directly with Connally, who urged the White House to go on the offensive against the Senate committee. "We should be outraged at their demagoguery," Connally advised Haldeman, according to the diary entry. "Take them head-on in open session and grandstand it."

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Haldeman wrote that Connally wanted senior White House officials to "go up and really put on an act, take the Committee on, try to nail them, that they'd been on a witch-hunt. You need some phrases. You need to be coached and rehearsed, each one of you. You might, by that, screw the Committee in people's minds and destroy it, or at least pull its teeth."

As the scandal continued to grow -- and the cover-up created new legal dangers -- Nixon even considered appointing Connally as Attorney General. Haldeman doubted Connally would take the job, drawing a response from Nixon that "Connally says he'll do anything he has to do."

Putting the Pieces Together

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Oliver said it was not until spring 1973 that he began putting the pieces of the Watergate mystery together, leading him to believe that the events around the Texas convention were not simply coincidental but rather the consequence of Republican eavesdropping on his telephone.

If that were true, Oliver suspected, Strauss may have been collaborating with his old mentor Connally both in arranging a Texas outcome that would ensure McGovern's nomination and later in trying to head off the Watergate civil lawsuit. That would not mean that Connally and Strauss necessarily knew about the bugging of the DNC, only that they had been used by Republicans who had access to the information from the Gemstone wiretappers, Oliver said.

"In my opinion, they were listening to me on that phone do a vote count and they're listening to us start a project to block McGovern's nomination," Oliver said. "They were scared to death that it would be Scoop Jackson or Terry Sanford" emerging as the Democratic nominee.

"This strategy is about to work and we're about to stop McGovern. Now, how do you block that? Well, the man who Nixon admired the most in the world, who he wanted to be his Vice President was John Connally. And who could block it in Texas? John Connally. Who was the state party chairman? Who controlled the machinery? John Connally's people. No Republican could have done it. Only Connally. They had to go directly to him because he's the only one who could fix it.

"But Connally wasn't somebody who could be called by just anybody. So I believe what happened was that they went to Connally -- Haldeman or Nixon, maybe Mitchell or [Charles] Colson -- but it had to be one of them. They must have briefed him on what they knew, and what they knew is what they got off the interception of my telephone.

"Nixon wanted Connally to be his successor, but this is in jeopardy if Nixon doesn't get reelected. So Connally may have contacted Will Davis and may have sent Strauss to Texas."

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McGovern got his share of the Texas delegates after a marathon session that ended at 3:31 a.m. on June 14, 1972. That same day, according to Hunt, Liddy was told by his "principals" that the burglars needed to return to the Democratic offices at the Watergate to install more eavesdropping equipment. Three days later, the Watergate burglars were arrested.

"Once they were caught, they [Nixon and his men] had to cut off our avenue of discovery, which of course was the civil suit," Oliver said. "I think Strauss may have run for national chairman for that purpose. Strauss wanted to kill the Watergate thing because he may have been part of this conspiracy to help nominate McGovern, part of the conspiracy to cover up the Watergate matter and put it behind us.

"In desperate fear of exposure later on, he tried to crush me. Somebody told me about a conversation with Strauss when someone said, 'Spencer's never going to give in on the Watergate thing,' and Strauss said, 'When he doesn't have any more income, he'll be a lot more reasonable.'"

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at

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