Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Chapin Away At The Truth

The Nixon foundation's campaign against the Nixon library's new Watergate exhibit became public in an Aug. 6, 2010 New York Times article. The foundation has now published a portion of its 132-page complaint, dated Aug. 2. Among other things, Nixon's White House aides criticize library director Tim Naftali's use of his oral history interviews with, well, Nixon's White House aides, including some involved in Watergate or Watergate-related activities.

Naftali's subjects all signed gift and release forms, which the foundation described as follows:
We note that the “Gift” document conveys the interview to NARA “for eventual deposit” with NARA and that the Donor’s wish is that the “Interview be made available for research as soon as possible, and to the fullest extent possible, following its deposit with NARA."
The foundation's argument is that even though the interviewees agreed that their comments should be made available to researchers and scholars to the fullest extent possible, they shouldn't have been been available to Naftali, the researcher and scholar whom the archivist of the United States asked to assemble a Watergate exhibit. The foundation refers to Naftali's proposed exhibit videos as "snippets" and "brief excerpts."

I guess it depends on what you mean by snippet. The videos and White House tape segments which Naftali had chosen for the exhibit have been available for months at nixonlibrary.gov. Among them is a two-minute, 40-second super-snippet in which Dwight Chapin, who organized dirty tricks for the 1972 Nixon campaign, claims that President Nixon was present when Chapin was ordered to ramp up. Chapin says:
One day the buzzer goes off, and I go into the president’s office, and he’s sitting there with [chief of staff Bob] Haldeman. And they say, “Do you know—“ -- by they, Bob says it, the president’s sitting there – “Do you know anyone who can do Dick Tuck-type stuff? We should have somebody like that.”
Chapin describes hiring Donald Segretti, his USC roommate, and arranging for Nixon's personal attorney, Herb Kalmbach, to pay him. Chapin continues:
I gave [Segretti] some direction. I aimed him at [Democratic candidates] Muskie…[and] Humphrey…He went and innovated and did whatever he did…I never questioned this, because to me, Dick Tuck had always been— This had been part of what I had grown up with….Their request to have a Dick Tuck type-guy was not that insane of an idea. Now you can look at it and say, “You mean to tell me the president of the United States is sitting in his office with his chief of staff; you’re coming in there; and they’re talking about dirty tricks stuff and there’s a Vietnam war and why the hell aren’t they running the war and why are they focused on this stuff?” Can’t answer that. I mean, we had all been in campaigns. Nixon had always had this little rinky-dink crap pulled on him….I don’t know what prompted it that made them buzz me in there, but I went in, that’s what they asked me to do, and that’s what I did. It’s not a good excuse, but that’s what I did.
Watch the video here. Chapin's charge is explosive. During the long months of Watergate in 1973-74, Senate, House, and special prosecutor investigators tried but failed to obtain evidence of Nixon's direct involvement in arranging campaign dirty tricks.

It's also important to remember that Chapin did federal time for perjury. He doesn't say when he was buzzed into Nixon's office, but if it was after February 1971, when the taping system was installed, then the conversation would've been recorded. No such tape has turned up so far, except Chapin and Naftali's. When the new Watergate exhibit is unveiled on Thursday, it will be interesting to see whether those now controlling Nixon's foundation have managed to persuade the National Archives to withhold Chapin's interview and, perhaps, others (such as White House aide Fred Malek's unrepentant conversation with Naftali about counting the number of Jews at the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

If Chapin himself has had second thoughts about his late hit on Nixon, he was well positioned to have an influence on the exhibit's final contents. We also learn from the foundation's Aug. 2 memo that a member of the five-person task force brought on board to critique Naftali's work was none other than Dwight Chapin.

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