In writing the blog post on “Succumbing to the Ultimate Power Trip,” I was reminded of a bookend to this experience. One of the more interesting players in the Watergate affair was Egil “Bud” Krogh. Bud was the 32 year old Nixon White House staffer who was put in charge of the Special Investigation Unit (The Plumbers) which led to the Watergate Scandal.
Bud’s story is wonderfully captured in his book Integrity: Good People, Bad Choices, and Life Lessons from the White House. I was fascinated by the Watergate break in and Bud’s role in it, but had lost track of him. A couple of years ago, my colleague Marty Smith from Attenex days, invited my wife and I to dinner with several other families and Bud Krogh. I had no idea that Bud lived in Seattle and had been practicing law here. Marty shared that Bud had just written a book about his experiences and was starting on a book tour. I immediately ordered the book to be better prepared for the dinner.
As one who values integrity but struggles to meet my own high standards, I was enthralled with the book. With the distance of time in writing this book, Bud captured so wonderfully his own aspirations, his integrity lost, and the life long struggle to regain his own integrity.
Wrapped around Bud’s story is also the story of Richard Nixon. Bud revealed many different sides to Nixon that I’d never read about. Chapter 7 in the book relates the amazing story about Nixon going to the Lincoln Memorial in the midst of Vietnam war demonstrations.
The interesting correlation with Bud’s story is I had come up to DC with my roommates from Duke University to protest that weekend, but we didn’t stay on the Capital Mall. We spent the night with my roommate who lived in Silver Spring, MD. So I missed this moment of history. When Bud and I were talking about the event at dinner, all of a sudden he looked over at me and said “You were there weren’t you?” I nodded. And then with a gleam in his eye, he asked if I was on the “other side” like his current wife. ”Of course,” I shared.
Here is a glimpse of Nixon from Chapter 7:
“Although Richard Nixon was important to me as an authority figure, I became much closer to him personally when I followed him during one of the most moving, bizarre, and potentially dangerous ventures of his presidency. For the first time, I observed him in a crisis mode digging deep into his reservoirs of intellect and emotion. What I saw him say and do that day affected me strongly and bound me more closely to him than ever before. The episode began with an alarming message from a Secret Service agent.
“‘Searchlight is on the lawn!’ I looked up in shock as these tense words about the location of ‘Searchlight,’ President Nixon’s Secret Service code name, crackled over the loudspeaker in the Service’s command post in the Old Executive Office Building. It was 4:15 A.M. on May 9, 1970.
“A few hours before, in the evening of May 8, the president had explained in a news conference why he had ordered a military “incursion” into Cambodia. His comments had added fuel to the firestorm of frustration and rage among tens of thousands of students and other antiwar activists around the country. Those activists and students who lived closest to the District of Columbia were headed directly to the capital to vent their anger and grief. We had good reason to fear a violent and possibly lethal confrontation.
“The president’s news conference the night of May 8 followed the tragedy at Kent State University in Ohio just a few days before on May 4. The Kent State protest, like others on campuses throughout the country, was organized after news of the president’s decision to attack Cambodia first became public knowledge on April 29. At Kent State, Governor John Rhodes had called up the National Guard to help maintain order on the campus. When the inevitable clash occurred, young, frightened National Guardsmen, who had been issued live ammunition, fired on a rock-throwing group of angry students, killing four of them. The picture of one girl kneeling next to the bodies and looking up in shock and anguish had already been widely reprinted, searing the minds of millions around the country. The Kent State killings were a painful and forceful reminder to me not to allow our government defenders to overreact and precipitate a worse tragedy. In The Haldeman Diaries, former chief of staff Bob Haldeman noted that when Nixon heard the news about the Kent State killings on May 4, he was “very disturbed.” He was “afraid his decision set it off.” Haldeman and the president talked that day about how they could get through to the students but came up with no plan.
“I had just come into the command post to ensure that preparations to fortify the EOB and the White House were completed in preparation for the potentially violent protest that was brewing outside. Right after the first Secret Service announcement that “Searchlight is on the lawn” came a second: “Searchlight has asked for a car.” These two announcements made no sense to me and sounded extremely ominous. The president was supposed to be asleep in the White House residence. All of our security precautions were predicated on keeping him safe within the White House grounds. Not once in our crisis management group meetings did anyone envision the possibility that the president would venture out on his own during this volatile, potentially incendiary day. Certainly not two hours before dawn. . .
“Right after the second announcement that the president had called for a car, I phoned the White House signal operator and asked him to ring John Ehrlichman immediately. When John answered and mumbled, “What’s up?” I told him that the president was at large and had called for a car. “Go over to the lawn and see if you can render assistance.” “Yes, sir!” I answered and then warned the Secret Service duty officer that I was going to be moving at speed over to the West Wing. I ran across West Executive Drive, sprinted past the White House police desk inside the ground-floor West Wing entrance, took the steps two at a time up to the first floor, and arrived at the Rose Garden lawn just in time to see the president’s limousine disappear out the south entrance next to the Northwest Gate.
“After checking quickly with the Secret Service agent on duty, I learned that the president was heading to the Lincoln Memorial. I called Ehrlichman to let him know the president’s destination and then immediately called for a car and directed the driver to take me there. After a high-speed ride, we arrived at the Memorial about four minutes later and stopped right behind the president’s limousine, which was idling against the curb on the street between the Reflecting Pool and the Memorial. I ran up the steps but then slowed down when I saw the president talking with a group of students just inside the Memorial to the front and right of the famous statue of a brooding Lincoln sitting in a chair. It was still dark.
“President Nixon was talking earnestly to about eight or ten students who had formed a loose circle around him. Manolo Sanchez, Nixon’s valet, and Dr. Tkach, the physician who usually accompanied the president, were standing off to the side. Dr. Tkach looked tired and very worried. Other students were gradually moving over to join the circle when they realized who was there. Most disturbing, I counted only four Secret Service agents in the president’s detail-a frighteningly small number for such a potentially dangerous situation. They were positioned around him so that they could maintain a 360-degree observation. I could tell from their faces that they were as fearful as I was. As Nixon wrote later, “I have never seen the Secret Service quite so petrified with apprehension.” He certainly got that right.
“From the back of the circle of students, I leaned in closer to observe the president and hear what he was saying. As I wrote later that day, “It appeared that he was trying very hard to reach out and into the students, to communicate with them…. He did carry the conversation for the most part … but this was necessary as the students themselves had hardly anything to say, and were too stunned to respond at all. His manner was reminiscent of the campaign where he would go into a group of people, shake hands and comment on those things which popped into his mind.”
“And a lot popped into his mind. The vast range and mastery of the subjects he discussed was monumental. That he could offer these ideas around 5:00 A.M. after just an hour of sleep made it an even greater tour de force of intellect, compassion, and focus. Although I could not hear every word he spoke, I was awed and moved by what I did hear. All of my previous meetings with the president had been somewhat formal briefings in the Oval Office or the Cabinet Room. This was the first time I had heard the president speak extemporaneously and straight from the heart.
“In a memo Nixon dictated on May 13 about “what actually took place at the Lincoln Memorial,” he expressed frustration that neither Ron Zeigler (who didn’t join our traveling group until we were just leaving the Capitol) nor I got a clear understanding of what he was trying to communicate. He felt that we were too focused on the practical aspects of the visit-when he got up, how he looked in reaching out to the students, what he had for breakfast-than what was really important. He wrote that his staff “are enormously interested in material things, what we accomplish in our record … [but] very few seem to have any interest and, therefore, have no ability to communicate on those matters that are infinitely more important-qualities of spirit, emotion, of the depth and mystery of life which this whole visit really was all about.”
“The important thing was to communicate deeply significant ideas about our country, its problems, and their lives to students who might never have a chance to see and hear a president again. He told the students that his favorite spot in Washington was right there-the Lincoln Memorial at night.
“He then asked if any of them had seen his press conference. Because most of them had been traveling the night before to get to D.C. to protest against him, only a few hands went up. He said that he was sorry they had missed it because he had explained during the conference that his ‘goals in Vietnam were the same as theirs-to stop the killing and end the war to bring peace. Our goal was not to get into Cambodia by what we were doing but to get out of Vietnam.’”
The whole book is just incredible reading. Bud and I got about 30 minutes to ourselves during the picnic dinner. He talked about many things he couldn’t put in his book about Nixon and the enigma that he was.
I also wanted to know how Bud could possibly make it through the prison sentence. He shared that he took one book with him to prison – Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning which is one of my favorite books. I was also fascinated to understand how as a convicted felon he could get reinstated to the practice of law. Chapters 11 and 12 described his long process to readmission to the Washington State Bar.
However, what really galvanized the discussion is how many of the Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan advisers were invited back by Donald Rumsfeld to provide advice on how George W. Bush should deal with the mess in Iraq. Bud was astounded at their arrogance and unwillingness to take any input from the folks who had made a mess with Nixon. Bud was appalled as he watched the same patterns repeat even when he’d pleaded with the Bush folks not to make the same mistakes.
After the dinner with Bud, I was in DC a couple of weeks later for a conference. I spent several hours one evening seated in Lafayette Park trying to imagine then president George W. Bush walking down to the National Mall to meet with demonstrators. How much the world has changed in 40 years.
Bud’s book is an incredible story and the man is even more interesting (actually both Bud and Nixon).