Transcript: Geoff Shepard on the Watergate “Road Map”
Geoff Shepard is author of “The Real Watergate Scandal: Collusion, Conspiracy, and the Plot That Brought Nixon Down.”
Jonathan Movroydis: Welcome to Nixon Now Podcast. I’m Jonathan Movroydis. This is brought to you by the Nixon Foundation. We’re broadcasting from the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California. You can follow us on Twitter @Nixon foundation or at Nixonfoundation.org.
In October, “Politico” reported that Chief US District Court, Judge Beryl Howell, granted a request to unseal a large chunk of the “road map” that a federal grand jury in Washington sent to the House Judiciary Committee in early 1974 as part of the Watergate investigation.
The petition to the court was made by Geoff Shepard, an author and former Nixon White House official who served as associate director for general government on the White House Domestic Council and deputy to Nixon’s defense attorney, Fred Buzhardt.
Mr. Shepard is the author of two books about Watergate, “The Secret Plot to Make Ted Kennedy President: Inside the Real Watergate Conspiracy” and “The Real Watergate Scandal: Collusion, Conspiracy, and the Plot That Brought Nixon Down.” Geoff Shepard, welcome.
Geoff Shepard: Thank you Jonathan. It’s good to be with you.
Jonathan Movroydis: Just to kind of start off, why did you petition for this road map and why do you believe its contents might be important?
Geoff Shepard: Well, this started back in 2011. Other people, some 30 history professors, petitioned the court in the District of Columbia, the district court, the Chief Judge, to unseal President Nixon’s grand jury testimony from 1975. It’s a little-known fact. But after Nixon had resigned and gone out to San Clemente and was too sick to come back for the cover-up trial, the special prosecutor in Pent [SP] took two grand jurors and flew them out to San Clemente to interview Nixon.
Then in 2011, even though grand jury testimony is supposedly sealed forever and there’s no statutory basis for unsealing it, these professors said that this was so important because history demanded it and there was great interest, they should unseal Nixon’s grand jury testimony. And I sought to intervene because I thought that it was unfair to take his testimony in the first place. And it was probably what’s called a perjury trap that the special prosecutor decided that since Nixon had been pardoned, completely pardoned by President Ford, that he could not take the Fifth Amendment.
And they could get him under oath in front of a grand jury and they could ask him about what his former colleagues did. And he could either tell the truth about what they did or he could lie. And they could get him for perjury. So that a perjury trap is a way that a prosecutor can get someone who they can’t prosecute directly because of the statute of limitations or because of immunity and they try to get them to lie anew under oath. And I thought that…
My position was twofold. One, Nixon was sick, demoralized, and out of office. And the only thing he knew for sure was his grand jury testimony could never be unsealed, so they shouldn’t do it. But secondly, if you were gonna unseal Richard Nixon’s testimony, you should unseal everybody’s. That you can’t just start selectively unsealing.
And so what I did…I was fearful the court would say, “Well, that’s an interesting proposition. But that’s not what’s before this court. What’s before this Court is just Nixon’s.” So I filed a separate petition before the Chief Judge to unseal everything, all the grand jury testimony, the urban committee records, the House Impeachment Committee records, just everything in the kitchen sink.
And the judge did two things. He ruled he would not let me join the other petition. He did not combine the efforts. But he did rule that they could unseal Nixon’s testimony. It had only been down a couple times before in the history of the United States. They unsealed Julius and Ethel Rosenberg’s grand jury testimony out of New York and they unsealed Alger Hiss’ testimony also out of New York.
And they ruled that…in DC, Chief Judge, then Chief Judge Royce Lamberth, ruled that they would unseal Nixon’s. And they also denied my petition as too broad, but granted me leave to narrow my petition. So I think you were around. There was great anticipation of the unsealing of Nixon’s, and it was posted by the archives.
Then it turned out there was no news there, that Nixon was more nimble than people had thought. He didn’t admit to anything. He didn’t perjure himself. And he handled himself quite admirably. And, therefore, there was no news. It became a non-event. My petition, I sought to narrow it to ask for less broad disclosure. And it sat there pending.
And it was pending, even though Judge Lamberth retired as Chief Judge. He’s still a senior judge, but he’s no longer Chief Judge. And then almost out of nowhere, last year, I think he was cleaning out old cases. He asked that the road map, which is what I narrowed my request down to… And I’ll tell you about that in a second. He asked that the road map be produced for his in-camera review, so he could decide whether or not it should be unsealed.
Now, let me tell you what the road map is. The special prosecutors concluded that they could prove that Richard Nixon has personally approved the payment of blackmail to Howard Hunt. And they concluded this because of events on March 21st, 1973. It’s a very, very significant date in a very, very significant week for Watergate because that’s the Wednesday morning, March 21st, when John Dean went in to see the President and for the first time described in any detail the cover-up that had been going on, the perjury, the payments.
And John Dean starts out… We have the tape of the conversation. John Dean starts out and says, “You know, things are going from bad to worse. There’s a cancer on the presidency. It seems to be all-consuming. You’re going to have to make some decisions very soon that are very significant. And you don’t know the background. I think it’s time that I share the background with you because we’re being blackmailed.”
And he describes Howard Hunt monetary demands. And what Hunt has done is Hunt has told his lawyer to tell the administration’s lawyers that he wants $125,000 before Friday. And this is the start of this week. On Friday, Judge Sirica is gonna pronounce sentence on the Watergate burglars. And Hunt realizes, since he’s pled guilty, he will be led off to jail.
And what he wants from the Committee to Re-elect the President is payment of $75,000 of his legal bills that are outstanding. And they’ve always paid the legal bills. And because he says these guys are slow pay, he wants an additional $50,000 in advance. And if he doesn’t get that, he may be inclined to tell some of the seamy things he’s done for the administration, entirely apart from the Watergate burglary.
Now, what’s interesting is Nixon learns about that on Wednesday morning. And the prosecutors were able to show that that final payment was made Wednesday night. And so they concluded, because of the proof they had gathered through the grand jury, that they could prove Nixon authorized the payment. Now, this is a…can be a logical fallacy. You put it in Latin and it’s done post hoc ergo propter hoc. And the rough translation is this followed, therefore, was caused by.
But the prosecutors were quite certain that was the only reason the payment was made, and they had Nixon cold. Their problem was Judge Sirica would not let them indict President Nixon. Sirica was of the opinion that you can’t indict a sitting president. It’s an unresolved question because nobody’s tried. But Sirica announced that. So what the prosecutors decided to do because they felt that they alone had gathered this information and the House Judiciary Committee couldn’t get it on their own.
So they resolved they had to come up with a way to get this information, this grand jury testimony, to the House Judiciary Committee. And the way they did it was a secret sealed report from the grand jury. And it’s called the road map because the theory was…this is a nickname. The theory was if you follow this road map, it will lead you to the conclusion that Nixon needs to be impeached. And that road map has been sealed, never leaked. It’s been sealed for almost 50 years.
And one of the people wrote a description. He was the press officer, James Doyle, for the special prosecutor. And in his book, he says, “You know, people are gonna be surprised when they see the road map, because it’s really not what they expect.” It’s a 55 page document.
And it says on this date, this happened. On this date, this happened. On this date, this happened. And then there’s a whole bunch of attachments which constitute the evidence of what happened on a particular day. And so what we think, what we’ve been told, is there’s 800 pages of attachments to this 55-page document.
Now, the reason it’s done that way is Sirica was adamant that they couldn’t include legal analysis or conclusion. They could only report facts. So, the special prosecutor sent it up. It was quite something at the time. But the special prosecutor sent it up and it has remained sealed. And I narrowed my petition to two parts. I wanted to unseal the road map itself and I wanted to unseal the grand jury transcripts, if they exist, of what the prosecutors told the grand jurors to cause them to name Nixon as an unindicted co-conspirator and to adopt the road map, which had been drafted by the prosecutors, to adopt the road map as their own and to recommend it be forwarded to the House Judiciary Committee.
So, that motion has been pending. Even though Judge Lamberth reviewed, saw the road map a year ago, he didn’t take any further action. And then you have the development of this past month or so. Maybe six weeks ago, a different group of three very prominent legal scholars petitioned the court to unseal the road map for an entirely different reason. This is called In re the Petition of Benjamin Witte, W-I-T-T-E.
It was assigned to the current Chief Judge Beryl Howell. And it consisted of representations that the road map had occurred. And it was a way, a manner, of moving grand jury information from the grand jury to the House of Representatives. And in their petition they said, “This needs to be unsealed because it will provide a great precedent for doing the same thing to President Trump. We want to see what happened back then because we suspect Mueller’s grand jury has come into information that the House Judiciary Committee today can’t gather. And this would be a way of making that information available to the House Judiciary Committee so they could impeach Donald Trump.”
And they include three affidavits from prominent members of the Watergate era, John Dean who was the president’s lawyer, Philip Lacovara who was associate special prosecutor, and Richard Benvenuti who headed the Watergate task force that prosecuted the cover-up defendants. And it’s a nice tidy little package. And it got referred, as it should have, to the current Chief Judge Beryl Howell.
And I called after I saw it because it was news. This was big stuff. I called Lamberth’s clerk and said, “You know, I’ve had a petition urging the unsealing of the exact same document pending for five or six years. And Judge Lamberth looked at it last year. You know, this is the same area.”
So what happened was Judge Lamberth’s office reassigned my case to Chief Judge Beryl Howell. So now Howell is presiding over both petitions. They haven’t been combined. But since theirs was just filed and the Department of Justice hadn’t even responded and mine had pending motions, the Chief Judge started ruling on my petition. And her first ruling was really eminently reasonable.
She said that she understood that parts of the road map had become public already due to its use in either a trial or its use in the House Judiciary Committee hearings. So she ordered that those parts which had already become public be unsealed now. And what she means is those parts of the 800 pages underlying this 55-page document where they’ve already become public, they should be disclosed as a part of the road map.
And that was supposed to happen on November 2. And then she directed the National Archives, which possesses all of this information… They can’t go read it. But they keep it under seal to review the remainder of the road map and to inform her of who would be hurt, whose privacy would be invaded, if it were to be unsealed. And then to do…this is something of a surprise. And she’s ruling on my petition, not the other petition.
And then Archives got their work done early. So it really came out on October 31. And at 9:00 a.m., those portions, which it’s said to be 60, 70% of the road map, was unsealed. Now, it’s not the document itself. It’s the transcripts and evidence underlying the document. And I think the Department of Justice still has a little bit more time, the Justice that is representing the National Archives, to respond about the rest of the road map. But however they respond, they’re gonna respond under seal so we won’t really see.
So the current status is two-thirds of the information behind the road map have been unsealed. Another third is pending. And as kind of a delight, the Department of Justice took the position that this second petition, the one by Benjamin Wittes, was really superfluous because mine had been filed earlier. Mine covered slightly more ground because mine wants not just the road map, but the prosecution’s representations about the road map and about Nixon, to be unsealed.
So there was no really reason for the judge to rule on that petition because mine was older and covered more. And she was already ruling on it. Now, just to finish up because this is all legal stuff, there’s a separate case pending in front of the DC Circuit. The DC Circuit sits over the DC district courts that has to do with grand jury secrecy and unsealing the grand jury materials.
And the Judge has said, “Let’s just hold both of these petitions in abeyance until the circuit rules in the McKeever case because that may be instructive and there’s no, on grand jury secrecy matters. And there’s no sense going out on a limb here.” So that’s the current status.
And I did one other thing to add to the confusion. I filed a subsequent motion, even though the judge said, “Let’s hold this stuff in abeyance,” because the Department of Justice asked me to see if I couldn’t narrow my request and be more specific about what I wanted unsealed, in addition to the road map itself. So I put in a petition, a motion, on November 5. And if any of your listeners wanna find that, we can make that available. It’s a public document.
But it develops the case for why I want the road map to be unsealed and why I want those grand jury transcripts to be unsealed. The other folks think it’s a great precedent. They wanna use it against President Trump. I think unsealing the road map and its related materials will show substantial prosecutorial and judicial abuse of the grand jury. I think it will show that the prosecutors misrepresented factual material to the grand jury that convinced the grand jury to take its action.
And it goes right back to this idea that the prosecutors concluded that Nixon had personally ordered the payment of blackmail to Howard Hunt because I don’t think he did. And I think the witness’s testimony proves that he didn’t do it. These accusations were made in secret, so we didn’t know. Those on Nixon’s defense team didn’t know they had been made, so we couldn’t refute them. I think we could have.
And I also think that Richard Nixon would never have resigned, if he had known that the reason the grand jury named him an unindicted co-conspirator, the reason the grand jury sent the material to the Hill, was because they were told he had personally approved the payment. And Nixon would have known he hadn’t approved the payment.
And he would never, never have allowed himself to be run out of office based on a misrepresentation. So, you know, it sounds like it’s all lost in arcane ideas about secrecy of the grand jury. But, in fact, we are standing on the verge of showing that we lost a president because of misrepresentations made in secret to a grand jury.
Jonathan Movroydis: The transcripts of this road map, some of the first third that was unsealed is all available at the National Archives website.
Geoff Shepard: It’s on a website. I don’t have the website in front of me, but I can email it to you. It was posted publicly. They don’t have to go to the Archives.
Jonathan Movroydis: Sure. We’ll make that link available online, as well.
Geoff Shepard: I think what you should make available is “The New York Times” story about the other petition. There’s been an excellent article by Josh Gerstein of “Politico” discussing both petitions and then my motion to narrow the scope of unsealing, which develops my views for why the road map and its related materials should be unsealed and then, of course, as you said, the two-thirds that have already been unsealed.
Jonathan Movroydis: And that two-thirds which have been unsealed, were you able to derive any new information from that?
Geoff Shepard: No, I wasn’t. But I confess I have not spent a massive amount of time going through it because…the reason that the judge ordered that that part be unsealed is because it had already come out in one of the Watergate prosecutions or in the House Judiciary hearings. So I just assumed that if there were some real surprise, we would have heard about it before. Now, there was an article, I think you may have sent it to me, where one publication said, “Well, gee-whiz, the grand jury was prepared to indict Richard Nixon on four criminal counts.”
And my reaction is yes, they were. So there’s no question that they were prepared to indict him. Sirica wouldn’t let them. But the issue is not were they prepared to indict. It’s why were they prepared to indict? And the only reason is because of what they were told by the special prosecutor. Let’s go see what the prosecutor told the grand jurors because if, as I maintained, they told them in error that’s [inaudible 00:24:10].
I’m not saying they deliberately misrepresented. They wanted it to be true so badly that they deemed it to be true. And that ended up as a misrepresentation of the grand jury. That’s what still needs to come out about Watergate. It’s not the grand jurors decided Nixon was a crook. They did. It’s why. What were they told? Because they’re not running the investigation? The special prosecutor’s running the investigation. What did the prosecutors tell the grand jurors?
Now, I can tell you from Jaworski’s records, from what I’ve uncovered so far from the internal records of the special prosecutor, that they were gleeful when they found out that final payment was made that Wednesday night because they thought that proved it. It’s almost like a light switch inside their records.
They then decide…and Jaworski comments on this in his materials. They decide they’ve got to get Richard Nixon because now they believe they have proof of his personal criminality. It’s just believe they were mistaken. And that’s where I think the debate should be.
Jonathan Movroydis: You’re talking about the payments regarding the alleged cover-up.
Geoff Shepard: Yeah. We have to be careful of how we characterize them. The Committee to Re-elect, directly or indirectly, paid a total of $425,000 to the Watergate defendants. And they did it in secret. I think that’s the main problem. It was stipulated at the trial that every dime paid to the Watergate defendants was either against existing legal bills… We were repaying their legal bills or for humanitarian aid because Sirica would not let the Cubans out of jail. And their families needed money.
So they were given humanitarian aid. And their legal bills were paid for. And what the prosecutor said at trial was, “We stipulate that that what it was. But if one red cent was also paid to them for their silence, then that’s an obstruction of justice. And we can send them to jail for that. We can convict them.” And John Dean was saying as the government’s witness, “Well, of course, it was for their silence. Who’s kidding who?”
So we have to be careful when we say, “Well, Hunt was blackmailing the administration.” Well, that’s John Dean’s characterization. You could say, “Well, Fred LaRue who’s the paymaster who actually issued the money, that he was paying out hush money.” That was the term used at trial. And the existence of those payments was devastating to the defendants.
And they said, “We thought we were just covering legal bills and humanitarian aid.” But the prosecution was able to put on other people who said, “You gotta be kidding. You know, everybody knew we were buying their silence.” Now, assume for a second that the payments had been made publicly. Most institutions, businesses, families, when somebody gets in trouble and they put them on administrative leave, the institution typically pays their legal fees because the prosecutors don’t like that.
But the person is abandoned and alone and accused of a crime. And the institution says, “Look. It’s one thing, if they can prove the crime. But we shouldn’t let the guy’s family starve. They were a 15-year employee. They were loyal to us.” So it’s typical that legal fees are paid.
And that’s one of the reasons I think the prosecution was mistaken when they said, “Nixon authorized the payment,” because Fred LaRue testified under oath that he personally reduced the amount of the payment from the demanded $125,000, which includes $50,000 of walk-around money. He just paid the $75,000 legal bill.
And I gotta tell you, if President Nixon had ordered the payment, nobody, not Bob Haldeman, not John Mitchell, not Fred LaRue, would have dared reduce the payment. And the only number Nixon ever heard was $125,000. And the prosecutors could never prove a phone call from John Mitchell to Fred LaRue Wednesday afternoon.
If the call occurred Tuesday or Wednesday morning, then it doesn’t fit because Nixon didn’t know about what was going on. The communications have to occur in a very tight window of between noon on Wednesday when the meeting with Dean breaks up and 10:00 p.m. that night when the money is left in the mailbox of Howard Hunt’s lawyer. And the prosecution tried like mad to prove linkage at trial. But they couldn’t do it.
When their witnesses were under oath subject to cross-examination, they didn’t back up the prosecution’s story. But nobody else knew that that’s what they were trying to prove because the original allegation against Richard Nixon was made in secret to the grand jury. So you’ve got this very, very strange situation where they thought they had him cold. They told the grand jurors…I think they told the grand jurors they had him cold.
The grand jury told the House of Representatives they had him cold. And then when it came time to prove it, Nixon was already out of office. And nobody knew about the accusation. And it’s remained undiscovered for 45 years. And that’s why I’m so… And when you look at my petition… And we’ll send you the link, that’s why I’m so adamant that we have to disclose what the prosecutors told the grand jurors.
Jonathan Movroydis: Focusing on the cover-up trial just a bit, who were the defendants? And was there anything else alleged besides the paying of hush money?
Geoff Shepard: Oh, yes. The comprehensive Watergate ended up… Remember, there’s a burglary. They’re caught red-handed. They’re indicted on September 15th, 1972. They come to trial in January. And they’re all convicted. The question is yeah, but who else knew? Who was running the cover-up? It’s very clear there was a cover-up. The indictment, the comprehensive indictment for the cover-up comes out March 1st, 1974.
And it’s in two parts. It’s seven people who are indicted for obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and perjury. That’s when the road map is announced. And a sealed briefcase is dispatched to the House of Representatives. Then that case came before Judge Sirica for trial in October, October 1. Nixon has resigned on August 9th. He’s been pardoned on September 9th. And the cover-up trial begins three weeks after that.
And several things happened. Seven people were indicted, John Mitchell, Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Charles Colson, Ken Parkinson, Robert Mardian, and Gordy Strong. Gordy was Bob Haldeman’s assistant. And before the case came to trial, Gordon Strong was separated because he was given immunity by the Senate and the Circuit Court said, “You know, there’s an honorable deal here. You can’t prosecute him.”
So six people were gonna come to trial. And Charles Colson pled guilty to a related offense that had to do with the Plummer’s break-in at Daniel Ellsberg’s office. So Colson is removed from the case. They dropped the charges because he pled guilty to a different felony. So, five people actually come to trial, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, Robert Mardian, and Ken Parkinson.
Now, Ken Parkinson was the outside attorney retained by the Committee to Re-elect the President to defend them in the Democratic National Committee’s lawsuit for monetary damages for being involved in the break-in. The DNC filed a civil suit demanding millions of dollar because the Committee to Re-elect the President, they allege, was responsible for the break-in. And Ken was an outside lawyer retained to defend them in that suit. He was acquitted.
After trial, only four people were convicted. And aside from Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Mitchell, the fourth person to be convicted was a gentleman named Robert Mardian. And Mardian had hung around after Nixon’s re-election to help defend the lawsuit and then had left a month after Nixon was re-elected. And Mardian assumed that they didn’t have enough proof that he wouldn’t be convicted and was astonished when he was convicted.
But on appeal, his conviction was reversed and remanded for new trial because Mardian’s lawyer, the second week of the cover-up trial, fell ill and never returned. Mardian maintained he should have been severed. They couldn’t… It wasn’t fair to require him to go forward with a trial when his main lawyer who had spent all the time with him could no longer appear to defend him. Sirica didn’t let him out. But the appellate court said, “No, no, no. You go try him separately. But this conviction’s no fair.”
So in the end, when it was affirmed by the appellate court, the three key defendants, John Mitchell, Bob Haldeman, and John Ehrlichman, are convicted on all counts, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and perjury. And the perjury for each is slightly different. But it’s either testimony before the Ervin Committee or testimony before the Watergate grand jury. None of them took the fifth.
So they thought that they could maintain…they did maintain their innocence throughout, maintained their innocence going to the grave, that they hadn’t done what they were accused of. And the issue, Jonathan, for your listeners to appreciate, there really was a break-in. So there really was a crime. There’s no question there was a crime.
The issue is who knew and who was involved in the cover-up to prevent higher ups from being accused of knowing about the burglary? There really was a cover-up. The issue for the prosecutor, for the courts, for the grand jurors was who was involved in the conspiracy. And if you study the law of conspiracy, particularly as it existed at the time in the mid-1970s, once you have established the existence of a conspiracy, it takes almost no proof to add additional defendants.
And that was the dilemma that Haldeman, Mitchell, and Ehrlichman were caught in. They maintained they weren’t part of the conspiracy. And the guy who was running the conspiracy, John Dean, flipped, got immunity, and said, “Well, sure, we were all in on it.” So it would be very hard to protect yourself from that, even though there was virtually no intrinsic evidence.
The only tape system occurred in the Oval Office, conversations with the President. If Dean met with Haldeman or Ehrlichman or Mitchell outside the Oval Office, that wasn’t recorded. You’d have the fact of the meeting. But you wouldn’t have any evidence about what the conversation was. And Dean said, “I was keeping them informed all along.”
And they said, “We didn’t know what he was doing. We thought he was acting as the president’s lawyer defending the president’s interest. We weren’t at risk.” It’s never been shown in the 45 years since the break-in that anybody on the White House staff, with the possible exception of John Dean, knew about the proposed break-in in advance.
So when the burglars were caught, the White House’s interest was in protecting the White House. What happened at CRP, which is physically across the street, was gonna be determined by the prosecutors. Particularly after the first week, nobody thought that people at CRP to escape unscathed. James McCord, who was there caught red-handed, was head of security at CRP.
And then it turned out that Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt, Gordon was a lawyer for CRP and Howard Hunt was a consultant. They were heavily involved. So nobody was kidding themselves about carnage going to occur at the Committee to Re-elect the President. The issue was protecting the White House itself. And that’s what they thought John Dean was doing.
And John Dean, when faced with his own criminal actions, said, “No, no, no. We were all in on this together. I was doing what they wanted me to do.” And then, the jury believed him. I mean, John Dean emerges as a potentially innocent whistleblower amongst these evil people. And the other people were convicted on all counts and sentenced to two and a half years in jail. And each of them served…Haldeman, Mitchell, and Ehrlichman, each of them served 18 months in prison.
Jonathan Movroydis: You had mentioned these ex parte meetings that took place between the Judge, Judge Sirica and the special prosecutor Leon Jaworski.
Geoff Shepard: Yes.
Jonathan Movroydis: You had discovered the contents of these meetings in Mr. Jaworski’s papers over at Rice University. What did you discover about them that could call into question the whole trial?
Geoff Shepard: The difficulty was that the prosecutors were so eager to convict Richard Nixon and his colleagues that they cut a whole bunch of corners in arranging the prosecution and in getting the evidence up to the Hill. And you don’t know which the bigger surprise is, that they cut these corners or that they actually left a paper trail that documented what they were doing.
And what I uncovered at the Archives, which basically forms the core of my book that was published in 2015, was Leon Jaworski’s confidential Watergate file. What he had done, he put the really sensitive stuff in a confidential file. And then he took the file with him when he left office in October of 1974.
You talk about a cover-up. These were papers that were government papers that he prevented being disclosed. He took them back to Texas. He had a full legal career. He passed away. He gave his papers to his alma mater, Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Baylor took his sweet time in getting around to making them available. And then it was discovered that amongst Jaworski’s papers was Grand Jury materials.
And the Archives went down and basically seized these improperly disclosed papers, brought them back up to Archives, went through them on a six-month all-hands-on-deck effort. And then because I had a Freedom of Information Act request pending, they made them available to me. And I was the first person to see what amounts to three document boxes of Jaworski’s confidential Watergate files. And it documents a whole series of ex parte meetings with Judge Sirica where they work out issues in advance of trial.
And it documents a whole series of meetings with Judge Sirica where they worked out the road map in trial. The road map was an incredibly creative bit of legal work that said, “Oh, yes, we can take grand jury information in secret before the grand jury is through and dispatch it to the Hill.” And you can look at their materials. And this is a part of my motion. I’ve attached three documents to my motion. But the first document is a recommendation that they meet secretly with Judge Sirica to warn him of this initiative.
Because the initiative is so creative, I’ve used the word bizarre, that they’re afraid Sirica will reject it out of hand before they even get to present their arguments. So the recommendation is, “Let’s go see Sirica on the side and convince him of his power to do this. And, of course, we’re not gonna tell anybody else that we’re gonna go do this. We’re gonna go meet with him by ourselves.” And the idea of prosecutors meeting with judges in advance to discuss materials that are gonna come before the judge for ruling is totally improper.
Then a second, Exhibit B, is a memo to the file by Jaworski describing that very meeting. And it’s one of the more intriguing documents you’ll ever wanna run across in a prosecution. He goes and sits down with Sirica. Sirica says, “You know, you gotta get these indictments handed down in time so I can appoint myself to preside over the trial. I’m gonna turn 70 soon. And when I turned 70, I can’t appoint myself. So hurry up the indictment.”
And Jaworski says, “Well, you know, a funny thing about that indictment, we wanna send materials up to the Hill. And we think that we should do this with a secret report, a sealed report. And we want you to send that up.” And it’s almost like a quid pro quo. “We’ll bring the indictment in time for you to name yourself, if you agree to send these materials up to the Hill.”
And then the third exhibit, which I’ve attached, Exhibit C, is the discussions on March 1st when the indictment and the road map are issued from the grand jury to the judge. And Jaworski goes into judge’s chambers in advance. And they rehearse how they’re gonna handle it. And Jaworski says, “I will present the indictment. And I will move that it requires special handling.” And this is the legal trigger that enables Sirica to name himself, to take it out of rotation, and name himself to preside over the trial. “And then we will present this road map. And we will ask you to send it to the Hill.”
So they rehearse what they’re gonna do in the hearing. And then after the hearing is concluded, they meet again. This is all documented in Jaworski’s memo. They meet again to go congratulate themselves on how well it went. And they agree they’ll be in touch, as need be, going forward. So you have absolutely irrefutable proof of secret meetings, just indefensible secret meetings, between the judge and the prosecutor where they pitch him in private on something that’s gonna come before him in public.
And then the other part that I kind of take great delight in, I know from having been there that the Nixon administration, the Nixon White House, we, as his defense lawyers, did not object to the road map. Nixon took the position politically that if the material had been presented to the grand jury, it could be presented to the House Judiciary Committee because Nixon had nothing to hide. Now, we didn’t know it was the allegation that he had personally ordered the payoff. Haldeman and Mitchell sued, filed a suit, filed a motion, to prevent the road map from being sent to the Hill. And they lost on appeal.
But the White House itself did not contest. So these people in the Benjamin Witte petition who thought they’d have this great precedent, you know, “We got grand jury information on Nixon sent to the Hill. Let’s get it on Trump and send it to the Hill,” suddenly, they’re in this quicksand where it’s shown that the original effort was improperly conceived, was improperly executed, because of secret meetings and was never contested by the White House. So there was no real decision based on a White House prosecutorial conflict, which makes it a rather difficult precedent to argue today, it should be used against President Trump.
Jonathan Movroydis: You correctly pointed out that Mr. Jaworski’s papers over or at Baylor University his alma mater, and not Rice as I said. But I also wanted to ask you another question.
Geoff Shepard: But just to complete the thought, Jonathan, when Archives went down and seized them, they brought them back up to the National Archives, Archives too, in College Park Maryland. And they returned to Baylor materials that could be made public. But the real materials, that are special prosecutor materials, are now at the National Archives.
Jonathan Movroydis: At the National Archives, okay.
Geoff Shepard: Yes. And they’re available for public review, but they’re at the National Archives. One other thing that I may add, if I could, subsequent to the publication of my book, James Vorenberg’s papers surfaced. He was associate special prosecutor. He also took his papers with him when he left.
And what makes the Vorenberg papers so interesting, he volunteered to write the report from the special prosecutor when they were through. So he was taking notes in every staff meeting of what was happening, handwritten notes. He took them with him.
These are clear government documents. He took them with him. And they became available for review after my book was published. They are maintained at the Harvard Law Library in their Treasure Room. It basically reconfirms all of the Jaworski’s files about secret meetings with Sirica and secret discussions about who was doing what and what the issues of the special prosecutor were.
It’s a real treasure trove of materials. I’m told that my publisher is gonna issue a paperback edition of my book. And we’re going to include more references to the Vorenberg papers in an afterword when we do that.
Jonathan Movroydis: Are these papers also available online?
Geoff Shepard: No. And I don’t think Jaworski’s key documents are available online. I think you have to go… They’re reproduced in the back of my book. Let me correct that. Harvard’s Law Library does not have them available online. But if you go to my website and you click about the book, which is across the top, you know, they’re window shades, the book, the author, if you click under the book, the bottom tab says, “New documentation.”
And the Vorenberg papers are reproduced there. The relevant section of the Vorenberg papers is reproduced there. When I send you all these, these other links, I can send you the link to the critical portion, what I think is the critical portion of the Vorenberg papers. One of the difficulties is they’ve never been turned over the Archives, which is I think terribly unfortunate because they’re not complete. They were when Vorenberg left. But four months of his notes have somehow come up missing.
Jonathan Movroydis: And this is available at Geoffshepard.com. I have another quick question regarding the ex parte meetings, not its contents, but the meetings themselves. Did the cover-up defense have any knowledge of it?
Geoff Shepard: No. One of the great frustrations in life, Jonathan, is all this stuff came out after 2013. So, President Nixon, Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, John Mitchell, all went to their graves not knowing about the secret meetings, not knowing about the exculpatory information on John Dean that was hidden from their defense counsel, not knowing about the Vorenberg notes or the secret misrepresentations regarding Nixon’s personal actions. All of that has come out within the last five years.
I mean, it just goes without saying. If it had come out that there was this secret agreement between the prosecutors and the judge to bring the indictments in a timely way so that Sirica could name himself to preside over the trial, those convictions would have been vacated. There would have had to be a new trial. It’s just open and shut. If these other secret meetings had come out, the government wouldn’t have been allowed to maintain its prosecution. That’s why this stuff remains secret.
I have been able to show, not just Jaworski and not just Sirica, there was a secret meeting that involved, four Watergate prosecutors, and Judges Sirica and Giselle. And you just marvel that there’s a record of that, not on what they said, but the fact the meeting existed. It is just astonishing. All of that it’s in my book. So you don’t have to go to Archives to find it. The documents are reproduced in the appendix of my book.
Jonathan Movroydis: With that said, is there a possibility for a posthumous vacation?
Geoff Shepard: Well, yeah, you dream about it. You could. There is a writ, an ancient Anglo-Saxon writ. It’s called coram nobis writ of error. And it could be maintained by the descendants that new information has come to light that was unknowable at the time of trial that changes everything. And you could. It’s anything but a sure thing. But you could go into court and asked the court to vacate in light of the wrongdoing.
I think that will be reviewed again, once this road map and the related materials comes out, because if those grand jury transcripts are unsealed and if they show that prosecutors were mistaken, made these allegations and it turns out they were mistaken, I think you may have substantially renewed interest in challenging the convictions themselves.
Jonathan Movroydis: One final question.
Geoff Shepard: You know, think about it for a second, Jonathan. What if it were true? What if it turned out that Nixon was driven from office by the mistaken allegations made against him by the prosecutors? I mean, his being named an unindicted co-conspirator, the House voting to recommend impeachment, were devastating to the president. And if those two things hadn’t happened, Nixon would have served out his term.
Jonathan Movroydis: No, that’s a big question. And one final question. What could the release of this road map mean for future prosecutions, especially those of a political nature?
Geoff Shepard: Well, you begin… I mean, I don’t happen to like special prosecutors that are specially selected in political cases. The temptation to twist the law and go after people just in a never-ending pursuit is bad all the way around. You can have special prosecutors where there’s… This California wildfire, you might end up with a special prosecutor in a situation like that, if somebody alleges criminality. But in politics, it’s too easy to go specially recruit people with opposing political points of view who can twist and connive and selectively prosecute people.
When the truth is known…and that’s a big issue because, you know, we’re unsure of what the truth is today. When the truth is all known, I maintain the Watergate prosecutions will be an example of massive prosecutorial abuse. Other people will say, “No, no, no. All those things Geoff cites were necessary because Nixon was evil. He was inherently criminal.” Man, it’s like going after the Mafia or the mob. Yeah, you may cut corners. But the end justifies the means.
And I maintain exactly the opposite. These people were specially recruited. They hated Richard Nixon. They dusted off statutes that hadn’t been used in 30 years to ruin his people. Remember, there were two dozen members of Nixon’s administration who are convicted and imprisoned. And Nixon is driven from office. And they say, “Yes, and good riddance.” And I say, “No, no, you cheated. You just outright cheated and I’ve got the proof.”
Jonathan Movroydis: Our guest today is author and former Nixon White House official, Geoff Shepard. Our topic was the actions of the special prosecutor and the federal judiciary during Watergate and Mr. Shepard’s successful position of the Watergate road map for US district court in Washington, DC. Geoff, thank you so much for joining us.
Geoff Shepard: Jonathan, good to be with.
Jonathan Movroydis: Please check back for future podcasts at Nixonfoundation.org or on iTunes, Stitcher, and SoundCloud. This is Jonathan Movroydis signing off.