Forget conventional wisdom, or wisdom of any branch or brand. The "secret story of Watergate," according to H.R. Haldeman in `The Ends of Power,' was rooted in the Nixon Administration post re-election plans to reorganize government. More specifically, to reorganize the Cabinet into four `Super Cabinet' offices and, in the process, bypass the obstructionist federal bureaucracy that had proved so frustrating during Nixon's first term. Haldeman was Nixon's chief of staff until his resignation in April, 1973. Often likened to a Prussian guard, Haldeman was a loyal, stern and forbidding guardian of access to the President. That is, until he (Haldeman) became so mired in the ever-widening Watergate scandal that he was forced by circumstances to resign. Eventually he would go to trial for his role in the Watergate scandal and serve an 18 month prison sentence.
`The Ends of Power' is Haldeman's account of the scandal that brought down a president. Co-written with Joseph DiMona, it covers the period immediately following the break-in at the DNC headquarters in the Watergate to the resignation of President Nixon. Although it contains "most of what... I would like to ignore and forget," Haldeman attacks the topic with gusto. The topic is not the only thing he attacks, either. Credibility is assailed, as well. In Haldeman's scheme of things, an overwhelming re-election notwithstanding, the Nixon Administration was an embattled one. The `bureaucracy," filled with obstructionist New Deal holdovers, was only one of many enemies lurking in the shadows. Congress was controlled by the Democrats, the press was... well, the press, and Nixon could expect nothing from vitriol from them. The fourth great enemy, curiously, is the intelligence community, who had `plants' in the administration and, in one of a number of theories set forth by Haldeman to explain Watergate, may have "instigated the break-in in order to embarrass the president they feared."
To his credit, Haldeman discounts the CIA Trap Theory quickly after setting it forth. He discounts my favorite, the Democratic Party Trap Theory, just as quickly. The Democratic Trap Theory, first proposed by Senate Watergate Committee minority counsel Fred Thompson, holds that the Democrats engineered the break-in to embarrass the administration. It's convoluted enough to hold two theories, but it had some currency with Republican apologists back then. Thompson, I was tickled to note, failed to return Haldeman's phone calls. I was equally tickled to finally read Haldeman's theory on who caused the break-in. Without giving too much away - if anything CAN be given away from a book published thirty years ago, that is - Haldeman combines presidential aide Chuck Colson, Nixon, the Dita Beard/ITT memo, DNC Committee Chairman Lawrence O'Brien and Howard Hughes in his explanation. If you don't recognize the names `Ends of Power' is NOT the first book on Watergate you should read. Out of context Haldman's theories make sense, and I'm sure they'll be prime fodder when the revisionists take hold of the subject. The starkest revelation, to me at least, was the willingness Haldeman, the once-loyal Haldeman, shows in throwing Nixon under the bus not only on the break-in but in the cover-up. Richard Nixon was, he writes, "involved in the cover-up from Day One."
Observers mighty and small have noticed a duality to Nixon's nature, and have usually attributed Watergate to the nasty synergy generated whenever he and Haldeman squared off behind their yellow legal pads. Haldeman, in the popular view, was the evil catalyst that energized Nixon's darker angels. Haldeman, sprightly enough, gives that role to Colson. Admitting -grudgingly, I imagine - his own mistakes and culpability, Haldeman portrays himself as a distracted chief of staff who conceived his post-breakin duty to be that of containment. "We had no intention to impede the Watergate investigation itself - only to avoid... lead(ing) the investigators... into `other things'." Well, other things were indeed found, the press called it a cover-up up and the courts ruled it obstruction of justice. Haldeman admits vaguely to mistakes being made, and for that he deserves some credit. His theories, and this is a book full of them, maintain a certain internal logic although they wither when examines against certain known facts. `Ends of Power' is not recommended for the first-timer, but Watergate wonks should get a kick out of it.