Slow Burn

Rabbit Holes

Read a transcript of Slow Burn: Season 1, Episode 6.

What follows is a lightly edited transcript of Episode 6.

United Airlines Flight 553 was a minute away from landing at Midway Airport in Chicago when it crashed on a residential street on the city’s South Side. As the Boeing 737 hit the ground, it sent a car flying through one house and sliced the roof off another.

Reporter 1: Power lines were severed. Police and firemen set up a temporary morgue in a local schoolhouse. A woman who lived nearby said the place is bedlam. There are ambulances screaming up and down the street.

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Forty-five people were killed, including the captain.

Among them was a woman named Dorothy Hunt. And there were two noteworthy facts about her: First, she was carrying $10,000 in cash. And second, she was the wife of E. Howard Hunt, who had helped plan and carry out the Watergate break-in.

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The plane crash happened on Dec. 8, 1972, six months after the bugging operation at Democratic Party headquarters. At that point in time, Howard Hunt stood accused of burglary, conspiracy, and wiretapping.

The plane crash that killed Hunt’s wife Dorothy got a lot of coverage on television and in the papers.

Reporter: In Mrs. Hunt’s purse, 100 hundred-dollar bills were found. Federal investigators have asked the Federal Reserve to trace the bills.

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The crash also attracted interest from some less mainstream sources.

Unidentified: It’s time once again for Dialogue Conspiracy, with Mae Brussell. Our conspiracy? Political assassination and abuses of power affect us all.

Mae Brussell was a radio host who became known during the 1970s as “the queen of conspiracy.”

Brussell: Oh, I’ve brought so much material in this week—I don’t know where to start. The news is just coming in so rapidly.

Brussell’s show was broadcast out of KLRB, a small left-wing FM rock station in California. She also published a newsletter called, simply, the Conspiracy Newsletter.

The death of Dorothy Hunt set off alarm bells for Mae Brussell.

Brussell: ’Cause Mrs. Hunt had testified to the grand jury, and they may be wanting to use her later. And Mrs. Howard Hunt died on that plane crash in Chicago …

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She noted that the day after the United 553 incident, Richard Nixon had nominated one of his aides to the position of undersecretary of transportation—giving him direct control over the agency that would be investigating the crash. About a week after that, he nominated another aide to head the Federal Aviation Administration. And then, a few months later, a third Nixon aide became an executive at United Airlines.

Brussell did not think any of this was a coincidence.

Brussell: Now that’s an interesting location for an espionage agent who’s tied in with his whole team and secret funding.

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She also had some ideas about the cash that Dorothy Hunt was carrying when her plane went down.

Brussell: The money came from El Paso Gas. It had something to do with John Mitchell. There were cyanide traces in the bloodstream of the pilot in the crash that Mrs. Hunt was on…

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In an interview with a Canadian tabloid called Midnight, Mae Brussell listed 30 people connected to Watergate who had died either just before or after the break-in. Dorothy Hunt was on the list. So was longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who had died suddenly of a heart attack in May 1972. The last person on the list was Martha Mitchell. We talked about Martha in our first episode—she was the wife of Nixon’s first attorney general, and she died of cancer in 1976.

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Brussell: Well, Martha Mitchell is dead. They murdered her the same way they did Jack Ruby, and Martha Mitchell and Jack Ruby had a lot in common.

Some of the people we’ve talked about on this show could fairly be described as tragic figures. Martha Mitchell was one. But Mae Brussell, who died in 1988, was not.

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Rather, I’ve come to think of Brussell as the embodiment of a dark but invigorating energy that was unleashed after Watergate, one that made Americans more suspicious than they’d ever been, and more desperate to uncover the secrets that their government was keeping from them.

Basically, Watergate turned everyone into a conspiracy theorist.

David Greenberg: We’re still coming out of the most heated, florid period of kind of ’60s radicalism.

This is historian David Greenberg, author of the book Nixon’s Shadow.

Greenberg: So there’s in the culture this deep-seated distrust of authority, distrust of officialdom, and so people are already in a skeptical frame of mind when it comes to official explanations.

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And here’s something that might seem obvious, but it’s worth dwelling on for a minute.

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Greenberg: Also, importantly, Watergate was a conspiracy.

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The Watergate plot proved that the paranoiacs were right. There really was a cabal of government officials working in the shadows to seize and maintain power and to stifle dissent. And they really did steal, and cheat, and lie.

Greenberg: Once you realize that part of the picture lies outside of view, you sort of wonder how much else.

Thanks to Watergate, wild-eyed speculation about invisible forces and schemes no longer seemed all that crazy. And it wasn’t just crazy people who took it seriously. Between 1963 and 1976, the percentage of Americans who thought Lee Harvey Oswald had acted as part of a conspiracy jumped from 52 percent to an astonishing 81 percent. In 1975, a columnist for the Washington Post lamented that, when you “prove the existence of one batch of conspiracies—Watergate, for example—belief in others proliferates. American society has gone buggy on conspiracy theories,” the columnist concluded, “because so many nasty demonstrations of the real thing have turned up.”

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All of the secrets and skullduggery that were revealed during Watergate created an enormous appetite for explanations. And for answers. And the weird bouquet of conspiracy theories that Watergate inspired is a manifestation of that appetite.

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In today’s episode: Why were so many Americans ready to believe conspiracy theories after Watergate? And how did those beliefs help trigger the downfall of Richard Nixon?

And given everything we know about Watergate, what separates a conspiracy theory from just a theory?

This is Slow Burn. I’m your host, Leon Neyfakh.

Reporter: There was speculation that the crash might have had a Watergate connection.

David Bean: It confirmed to everybody that Mae had it right!

Mae Brussell: If they had the proper witnesses, we’d begin to exhume some of these bodies and find out what’s really happening in this nation.

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Episode 6: Rabbit Holes

Mae Brussell was a child of 1920s and ’30s Los Angeles. She grew up in a wealthy family, descended from a California department store magnate. They had a swimming pool, and they took exotic vacations. Brussell’s father was a prominent rabbi in Beverly Hills—the Los Angeles Times once called him the “rabbi to the stars.” He went on bike rides with Albert Einstein and hosted luminaries like Thomas Mann as house guests.

Brussell studied philosophy at Stanford. Afterward, she got married and settled into a quiet life as a stay-at-home mother in L.A. In an interview, she once said that during this period, she was “just a housewife, interested in tennis courts and dancing lessons and orthodonture for [her] children.”

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That life ended on Nov. 22, 1963.

Reporter: President Kennedy died at approximately 1 o’clock—just about 35 minutes ago—after being shot…

Brussell was 41 years old when President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas.

JFK’s assassination was the central inflection point of Brussell’s life. It was the moment that dislodged her from the world she thought she’d understood and made her distrust everything the government said.

Brussell: The Navy intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, and the FBI not only covered up the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but they were in the execution of it, with the full knowledge of who Lee Harvey Oswald was at the time.

In 1964, a presidential commission investigated the assassination and concluded that Kennedy’s killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, had acted alone. Brussell was convinced that was a whitewash—that Oswald was actually a government agent who had been trained to be a killer and then discarded. When the commission released 26 volumes of evidence, Brussell bought all 26 as a Christmas present to herself. She then spent years indexing and cross-referencing them—identifying the connections between people and noting coincidences that she believed were nothing of the sort.

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Brussell: The fact remains that Washington, D.C., has the total responsibility for the cover-up of the entire assassination of John F. Kennedy.

She started reading eight newspapers a day, looking for new information and new examples of mysterious deaths. She mostly worked alone. And while she gave lectures here and there, she didn’t really start to publicize her theories until she got her Sunday afternoon radio show on KLRB. That was in 1971, which meant that Mae Brussell was just in time for Watergate.

Brussell: I want to talk now—we’re going to go to the Watergate. There is no way that the prosecution is going to run a trial when they’re part of the system that did the espionage work. They’re not going to investigate themselves…

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As Brussell’s friend David Bean told me, Watergate made the harebrained ideas Brussell had been talking about for years sound much more legitimate. Bean worked at KLRB as a 19-year-old kid when Brussell’s show first got on the air. He still remembers her in the studio, wearing long skirts that reached down to her ankles and ’70s-style gypsy tops. He remembers going to her house for coffee and looking at the original Henry Miller watercolors that she had on her walls. He also remembers being bewildered, but ultimately dazzled, by her theories.

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Bean: Mae talked very fast and would cover so many topics. It was hard to put them all together, and you weren’t quite sure if both feet were on the ground for her or not. But when the Watergate thing broke, it confirmed to everybody that Mae had it right, in so many ways.

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Brussell’s radio show began as a local broadcast that only reached Monterey and Santa Cruz.
After Watergate, it got picked up by stations across the country. Soon, you could hear her in Boston, in Sacramento, in Syracuse, in San Francisco, and in New York. For fans who lived in cities where her show didn’t air, Brussell offered a subscription service—every week she would mail out tapes to people’s homes, complete with elaborate bibliographies in which she cited all of her sources.

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In 1972, shortly after the Watergate break-in, Brussell started working with Paul Krassner, the publisher of an underground newspaper called the Realist. The Realist had been conceived as a grown-up version of Mad magazine; its contributors included Norman MailerKen Kesey, and Joseph Heller. It was distributed nationally, and Paul Krassner told me that it had 100,000 subscribers.

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Brussell’s first published piece of writing appeared in the Realist in August of 1972. It was all about Watergate, and it was titled, “Why Was MARTHA MITCHELL KIDNAPPED?” It ran at 18,000 words. Krassner says that in order to pay for printing costs, he had to coax his friend John Lennon into lending him $5,000.

Brussell’s article wasn’t just about Martha Mitchell—it was a treatise on the secret government’s role in all of our lives, with Watergate serving as the ultimate proof. “1972 is a very important year in American history,” she wrote. “Provisions have been made to eliminate the outdated Constitution. The new version of democratic rights does not resemble anything but a fascist dictatorship.”

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Brussell: The intent of my article—even though it’s in a funny magazine, a magazine filled with satire—is a serious article of how a police state can operate.

In the piece, Brussell marshaled the research she had been doing over the past decade to compile dossiers on all the participants in the Watergate affair, complete with all their known ties to the CIA and to past government operations like the Bay of Pigs. The kidnapping of Martha Mitchell was a tell—she wrote: “The manner in which Martha was handled simply indicates how the fascist police agents are forced to treat any witness.”

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Brussell: That is the system of putting down a person who knows too much. They’re trying to discredit her.

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Now, I feel compelled to say here that I don’t really believe Mae Brussell’s theories. I don’t understand most of them, and the ones I do understand, I mostly find absurd.

Brussell: Manson was at the Barker Ranch, which was a safehouse. The Sharon Tate massacre—I’ve said for several years—was an Army intelligence operation …

She believed the government was using “chemical weapons as mind control.”

She believed that a fascist takeover of the United States was imminent.

Brussell: The CIA has elaborate facilities to spread germ warfare inside the U.S.A., and I don’t have any doubt that they will be doing this on certain test cities.

Also, she was really interested in dune buggies. Brussell connected them to everything from the Manson murders to the military industrial complex.

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Brussell: He gave a lot of warning about the dune buggy scene in the last few months, with plans in mind. One is to plow into the hippie communes and the other is to kill 63 million minority people, one-third of the population.

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That’s from 1973. It’s bananas. But while I don’t think Mae Brussell was right about dune buggies, I do think that the stuff that she and other conspiracy theorists wrote about Watergate wasn’t that much less plausible than what really happened.

After Watergate, Brussell found herself with a bigger audience than she’d ever had. Suddenly, she had a cult following—fans, whom she referred to as Brussell Sprouts. “I’ve just gone about my research slowly and steadily,” she told the Monterey Herald in 1976. “[B]ut after Watergate, I found a lot more people were listening to me.” In a different interview, she said that Watergate had made Americans hungry for truth. “Woodward and Bernstein won a Pulitzer Prize for taking a position against the whole administration,” she said. “There is money in truth these days, although for years, you couldn’t give it away. I think people are … bored with lies.”

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After her big 1972 article about Watergate, Brussell wrote a follow-up for the Realist in 1973 titled: “Why is the Senate Watergate Committee Functioning As Part of the Cover-Up?” In that essay, Brussell criticized Senator Sam Ervin’s committee for calling the wrong witnesses, asking the wrong questions, and ignoring discrepancies. “Murder, conspiracy, sabotage, and treason should be the charges,” she wrote. “[O]r they would be if the investigators weren’t part of the conspiracy.”

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Brussell: Somebody in the Watergate thing murdered J. Edgar Hoover, and if they had the proper witnesses and the right questions, we’d begin to exhume some of these bodies and find out what’s really happening in this nation.

Brussell never got much respect from mainstream journalists. In a semi-satirical Esquire piece outlining 43 theories that purported to explain Watergate, John Berendt and Edward Jay Epstein wrote that “Mrs. Brussell is fast becoming America’s leading conspiracy theorist, already championed by the underground.” But then they added that for all of her conspiracy theories to be true, “more than half the country would have to be in on them.”

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In a 1974 interview published in Playgirl magazine, Mae Brussell estimated that it was actually “less than one half of one percent of the population.” So, under a million people.

Mae Brussell was just one of many conspiracy theorists to make hay out of Watergate.

Sherman Skolnick was an investigator in Chicago who was paralyzed by polio at age 6. He made headlines locally when he helped expose corruption on the Illinois Supreme Court. Later, he wrote a whole book about the 1972 plane crash that killed Dorothy Hunt, The Secret History of Airplane Sabotage. In the book, Skolnick situated the crash as part of the Watergate cover-up—Dorothy Hunt had dirt on Nixon, and she had to be silenced. Here’s Skolnick talking to Pacifica Radio in 1973:

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Skolnick: Capt. Whitehouse, the pilot of this ill-fated plane, was dead prior to the crash. What happened in the Midway crash was divided into murder, robbery, and sabotage.

That September, a long magazine profile of Skolnick said that his work on Watergate had transformed him from “an obscure little cripple” into a “famous,” “full-time fanatic.”

That profile ran in Rolling Stone. I mention that because after Watergate, conspiracy theories became something they’re not really supposed to be: mainstream. In 1976, a paperback imprint of New American Library published a book called Government by Gunplay. On the cover flap was the slogan, “Conspiracy is an ugly word. But what has been happening in America for 15 years IS ugly.”

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The book was edited by a young man named Sidney Blumenthal. Blumenthal would go on to become a key adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton during the heyday of the “vast right-wing conspiracy” against them.

In his introduction to the book, Blumenthal positioned the rise of conspiracy theory as an expression of left-wing ideas left over from the 1960s. “The reason the hopes of the ’60s were not realized,” he wrote, was that “a group of people at the top made certain they were dashed. Conspiracy theory is the doctrine of those still holding on to their faith.”

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But the Left did not have a monopoly on Watergate conspiracy theories. Nixon supporters had their own versions of events that exonerated their president and put the blame on someone else.

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A former CIA officer, Miles Copeland, published an article in National Review claiming that the Watergate break-in had been deliberately set up to fail. According to Copeland, the driving force behind this conspiracy against Richard Nixon was the CIA—and the inside man was the treacherous James McCord.

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My favorite of the pro-Nixon conspiracy theories came from a molecular biologist named Charles Lane. Now, I don’t know if Lane was a Nixon supporter per se, but he did believe that responsibility for Watergate ended with the relatively low-level White House operative Howard Hunt. Lane believed that Hunt initiated the Watergate scheme unilaterally, then used a voice-altering device to impersonate members of the Nixon administration over the phone.

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But it wasn’t just people on the fringes of culture who began to think like conspiracy theorists during and after Watergate. In some cases, it was powerful individuals at very center of things—people with influence and access to classified information. That even includes some who worked on the Senate Watergate Committee.

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Sens. Howard Baker and Fred Thompson, the top Republicans on the committee and its staff, subscribed to the idea that maybe the CIA was to blame for Watergate, and that the agency had sabotaged the break-in to weaken Nixon. They also believed that the Democrats might have known about the burglary in advance and allowed it to happen in order to embarrass the Republicans.

They undertook a full investigation, but in the end the evidence proved elusive. In 1974, Baker and his Republican staff completed a report that drew no conclusions about the CIA’s involvement. Even so, Baker insisted that there were still unanswered questions. Here he is on CBS’s Face the Nation:

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Baker: But I do say there are aspects of the involvement of the CIA that require further inquiry.

There were conspiracy theories on the Democratic side of the committee, too. Scott Armstrong, the investigator you heard about in Episode 5, says he still believes that the key figure in the Watergate affair was the secretive millionaire Howard Hughes.

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This is actually worth explaining in some detail because it’s a really entertaining theory, and while it seems far-fetched, the evidence is also weirdly compelling. So, if you will, join me in the rabbit hole for a moment.

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OK, so Howard Hughes was a famous and mysterious recluse—a movie producer, an aviator, an obsessive-compulsive maniac. In 1956, when Nixon was vice president under Eisenhower, Hughes loaned about $200,000 to Nixon’s younger brother, Donald. $200,000 was a lot of money at the time—the equivalent of nearly $2 million today.

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Donald was considered kind of an embarrassment to the Nixon family. The reason he wanted the money was to fund a chain of hamburger restaurants in California. The marquee item on the menu at these places was, no joke, the Nixon Burger! The burger chain ended in failure, and Donald Nixon never paid Howard Hughes back.

So that part is all true. We know that because two muckraking columnists, Jack Anderson and Drew Pearson, dug it up and reported it during the 1960 presidential campaign. They thought that in exchange for the loan, Richard Nixon, as vice president, had made sure that Howard Hughes’ businesses got favorable treatment from the government. In other words, they thought the loan was a bribe.

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Nixon lost the 1960 election to John F. Kennedy. The defeat scarred him. And he was convinced that Anderson and Pearson’s reporting on the Nixon Burger loan was the reason he had lost. Nixon was so preoccupied with this that he had his own brother Donald wiretapped.

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So what does this have to do with Watergate? Well, fast-forward to 1972. Howard Hughes had made a second suspicious loan: this one to Nixon’s best friend, Bebe Rebozo.

Some investigators on the Democratic side of the Senate Watergate Committee staff, including Scott Armstrong, believe that this loan was also intended as a bribe—and that Nixon, because of his experience in 1960, was obsessed with preventing the public from finding out about it.

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According to Armstrong, Nixon was worried that the head of the Democratic Party knew about the loan and was going to use it against him during the campaign. Nixon needed to find out if this was true. And that’s why he ordered the bugging of the Democratic Party headquarters.

So, that’s the Howard Hughes theory.

As it happens, Mae Brussell also had some thoughts about the Watergate–Howard Hughes connection.

Brussell: I maintained for many, many years that the president is owned, and he’s owned by a handful of people. And the major piece of the action belongs to Howard Hughes. Richard Nixon has represented the interests of the aerospace, and the armament, and the banking industries…

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Scott Armstrong would probably be a little bit mad at me for putting him, a professional investigator, on the same plane as Mae Brussell. In his view, the Howard Hughes theory is unequivocally true. He says there is evidence that the loan from Howard Hughes to Bebe Rebozo was the reason Nixon ordered the Watergate break-in. And, he says, that evidence would have come to light if only the committee hadn’t disbanded before it could be nailed down.

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For all I know, Armstrong is right. My point is just that Watergate all but forced people to think in this paranoid-seeming way. All kinds of people: reasonable people, unreasonable people, radicals on the left and the right, and moderates too. With Watergate, the truth was stranger than fiction, or at least it was as strange, and that meant all bets were off.

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Think about what Woodward and Bernstein were writing in the Washington Post—wasn’t that conspiracy theory, too? The story they told had all kinds of implausible elements: undercover agents, surveillance devices, sabotage plots, surreptitious phone calls placed from random payphones.

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Once you accept all that as true, why wouldn’t you accept that United 553 was deliberately brought down to prevent Howard Hunt’s wife from revealing everything she knew about the Nixon administration?

In June 1973, Sherman Skolnick, the guy who wrote the book about Flight 553, showed up at a public hearing for the National Transportation Safety Board. The board was discussing the crash that day, and Skolnick was allowed to give a presentation about his theory—that one of the flight attendants aboard the plane had been a CIA agent in disguise. And that Dorothy Hunt had information that would “blow the White House out of the water.”

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The board ignored Skolnick’s findings.

Reporter: The official investigation ended today into the plane crash last year …

According to the official report, the plane crash had been an accident.

Reporter: But the official word today is that the crash was due solely to pilot error.

As for the $10,000 that Dorothy Hunt was holding when she died? We still don’t know what that was for.

At the end of last week’s episode, I said that Richard Nixon’s refusal to hand over the White House tapes was the first thing that really tested his supporters. And I said that it caused the first crack in the wall that had been protecting him up to that point.

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Now, I’m not spoiling anything by saying that eventually the wall crumbled. But before we get there, we have to understand the shift in the culture that preceded the crumbling—the shift that I think got people ready for the crumbling.

There’s a widespread idea that Watergate brought about a new level of cynicism about politics. It’s sort of conventional wisdom. And … it’s right. It makes sense, and the data says it’s true. In 1972, two professors asked a sample of graduate students whether they agreed that “often those who enter politics think more about their own welfare or that of their party than about the welfare of the citizens.” Just 12 percent of the respondents said yes. The following year, after Watergate had begun dominating the headlines, that number rose to 94 percent.

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But an increase in cynicism about politics doesn’t explain why, at a certain point, the American people got so fed up with Nixon that he was forced to leave office.

So, what does explain it? I think it’s the same thing that explains the rise of conspiracy theory after Watergate: People just really wanted to know what the deal was.

They wanted to know what happened. What actually happened. Who did what, and who was in on it? It wasn’t acceptable to people that they couldn’t hear these tapes. Can you imagine knowing there might be a tape of the president doing something illegal? Just hypothetically, can you imagine how badly you’d want to get your hands on it?

The facts that came out about the Nixon administration during the Senate Watergate Hearings encouraged Americans to assume the worst. They also exhausted people’s patience for Nixon’s stubborn fight to block the tapes from being released.

Obviously not everyone became a professional conspiracy theorist as a result. Some people, like Mae Brussell and Sherman Skolnick, investigated their suspicions more energetically than most. But the desire to find out the truth, to look past appearances? Watergate spread that far and wide.

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When the tapes did finally come out, they revealed that Richard Nixon—the president, the architect of all these secret plots and cover-ups—was himself obsessed with conspiracies against him.

Among other things, he believed that the leaking of the Pentagon Papers was the result of a liberal conspiracy.

Richard Nixon: [inaudible]

You probably couldn’t make that out. But it was Nixon talking to his chief of staff in 1971 about how to deal with the release of the Pentagon Papers. And what Nixon said was, “I want you to find me a man who will work with me on this whole situation. I want a son of a bitch who’s just as tough as I am for a change. We’re up against an enemy, a conspiracy using any means.”

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As it turned out, the paranoia and suspicion that flowed out of Watergate started on the inside—and it went all the way to the top.

In an article called “The Ballad of Mae Brussell,” published in High Times magazine, Paul Krassner relayed a comment that Brussell had once made to him about the origins of her conspiratorial worldview. She told him that her “initial concern over who killed John Kennedy was basically a selfish one.”

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“I wanted to find out if there had been a coup, if the United States was going fascist,” she said.

Then she added something surprising and kind of profound: What she didn’t want, she told Krassner, was to turn out like Anne Frank’s father—a man “who told his family … as they were living their last days … that things were okay and that people were basically good.”

“With a family of five children, my husband and myself,” Brussell said, “I had an obligation to understand the world outside my home.”

Few people took that feeling of obligation as far as Mae Brussell did, but many felt it. And the fact that Richard Nixon and his enablers didn’t notice that change would cost them very dearly when a man named Archibald Cox was appointed special prosecutor to investigate the Watergate affair.

Reporter: Cox is a professor at Harvard Law. He served as solicitor general, the government’s chief trial lawyer…

With all these conspiracy theories floating around, Archibald Cox was going to get to the bottom of it. Maybe even more so than the Senate hearings, the special prosecutor’s investigation was going to deliver some clarity on what exactly took place and who was responsible.

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Cox: All I can do is pledge my best. I am confident that whatever else I shall be, I shall be independent.

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Cox had been hired and empowered to conduct the investigation by Nixon’s new attorney general, Elliot Richardson. Before he was confirmed, Richardson pledged to Congress that he would appoint a special prosecutor to look into Watergate and that he would give him complete independence to pursue the investigation.

Reporter: Cox has been given extraordinary power to investigate the Watergate scandal. And Richardson’s confirmation now seems assured.

What no one knew at the time was that Richard Nixon had also asked his new attorney general for a kind of pledge. “I had no knowledge of any of this,” Nixon had said. “You must believe that, or you can’t take this job.”

If you like Slow Burn, do us a favor and leave us a rating and a review on iTunes—it helps new listeners find the show.

This podcast is a production of Slate Plus, Slate’s membership program. Slate Plus members get a complete bonus episode of Slow Burn every week, going deeper into the wild world of Watergate. I’m sharing some of the amazing stuff I’ve found in researching the series and playing extended versions of my interviews with people who watched it all go down.

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This week, I’ve got an interview with David Dorsen, an assistant chief counsel in the Senate Watergate Committee. The subject of our discussion is the controversial judge who presided over key parts of the Watergate proceedings—and what it means that his aggressive, arguably unethical methods on the bench may be responsible for Nixon’s resignation.

David Dorsen: Here was a trial judge presiding over a trial in which he’s already pretty much said he thinks the people are guilty. The defendants did not get a fair trial.

Slate Plus members help support this show and the rest of our work. You can find out more, and sign up for Slate Plus, at slate.com/watergate.

Slow Burn is produced by me and Andrew Parsons. Our script editor is Josh Levin. Gabriel Roth is the editorial director of Slate Plus. The artwork for Slow Burn is by Teddy Blanks from Chips. Thanks to NBC News Archives, Pacifica Radio Archives, CBS news, and Tim Canale from MaeBrussell.com for the audio you heard in this episode.

Thanks also to Slate’s Chau Tu, Rachel Withers, June Thomas, and Steve Lickteig. You can find a full list of books, articles, and documentaries used to research this episode on our show page.

On next week’s episode of Slow Burn, how a bizarre proposed compromise over the White House tapes led to the Saturday Night Massacre—and what it felt like to watch the FBI, on orders from the Nixon administration, storm the offices of the special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Unidentified: At that point, my wife had walked into the office. I thought it was the safest thing to give her the evidence, which she stuffed into her jeans.

Leon Neyfakh: Come on.

Unidentified: And the elevator doors opened, and the FBI agents came in.

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