Does Woodward Know Watergate?

Exclusive: Republicans are hyping the flap over Benghazi talking points by calling it “worse than Watergate,” a false narrative that Bob Woodward has helped along by ignoring new evidence connecting Richard Nixon’s sabotage of Vietnam War peace talks in 1968 to his political spying in 1971-72, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward has popped up on TV recently affirming a key Republican talking point, likening the “scandal” over the Obama administration’s Benghazi talking points to Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, which Woodward helped make famous.

But, as he joins in hyping the GOP’s Benghazi scandal-mongering, Woodward doesn’t appear to know that new documentary evidence has transformed our understanding of Watergate and especially its tie-in to the Vietnam War – and how those documents make comparisons between Watergate and Benghazi both ludicrous and obscene.

Journalist and author Bob Woodward.

During an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on May 17, Woodward compared the administration’s development of talking points for TV appearances by UN Ambassador Susan Rice in 2012 to Nixon’s mendacious editing of his Oval Office tapes to conceal the role of his reelection campaign in the break-in at the Democrats’ Watergate headquarters in 1972.

“You were talking earlier about kind of dismissing the Benghazi issue as one that’s just political and the president recently said it’s a sideshow,” Woodward said. “But if you read through all these e-mails, you see that everyone in the government is saying, ‘Oh, let’s not tell the public that terrorists were involved, people connected to al-Qaeda. Let’s not tell the public that there were warnings.’”

Then, noting that four U.S. diplomatic personnel died in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, Woodward added, “I would not dismiss Benghazi. It’s a very serious issue. As people keep saying, four people were killed.”

But Woodward appears to have been relying on Republican talking points in his understanding of why Obama administration officials decided to leave out some details from Rice’s talking points, specifically a concern that divulging certain specifics would compromise the ongoing investigation to catch the Islamic terrorist believed responsible.

At the time, there also remained genuine confusion over the connection between the Benghazi attack and angry demonstrations sweeping the Middle East over an American video mocking the Prophet Muhammad. Indeed, the recently released e-mails buttress then-CIA Director David Petraeus’s testimony about concerns over the possibility of harming the investigation.

By contrast, Nixon systematically reviewed tape transcripts of his Oval Office conversations to remove sections that incriminated him and his top aides in a felonious cover-up. We also now know what Nixon’s most dangerous secret was, i.e., why he hired ex-CIA officer E. Howard Hunt to organize an espionage team in the first place.

Nixon was terrified that a missing file might surface revealing FBI wiretaps of his 1968 campaign’s sabotage of President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks, a politically motivated case of obstruction that Johnson privately called “treason.”

In other words, the ultimate secret of Watergate – one that apparently still remains a mystery to Woodward – was that Nixon was terrified that the American people might learn that he had extended the Vietnam War for an additional four years to get an edge in a political campaign.

As a result of LBJ’s failed peace initiative, some 20,000 more U.S. soldiers died along with an estimated one million Vietnamese and countless more dead in Cambodia. The war also tore apart America’s political and social fabric.

So, to put the flap over the Benghazi talking points in the same sentence with Nixon’s Watergate crimes suggests either a complete lack of proportionality or some self-serving agenda. It’s possible that Woodward doesn’t want to acknowledge the new evidence because it would show that he missed the most important element of a scandal that made his career.

Recognition of the fuller Watergate scandal also would shatter a favorite saying of Official Washington, “the cover-up is worse than the crime.” That surely wouldn’t be true if the Watergate scandal were understood to encompass Nixon’s treacherous scheme to block Johnson’s Vietnam peace deal.

Memoirs and Documents

We now know based on memoirs of principals and documents available at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, that in 1969, Johnson ordered his national security aide, Walt Rostow, to remove the wiretap file on Nixon’s peace-talk sabotage from the White House and that Nixon later learned of the file’s existence from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover

However, Nixon’s senior advisers, Henry Kissinger and H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, were unable to locate the missing file, not realizing that it was in Rostow’s personal possession. Nixon’s concern about the incriminating wiretaps grew into a panic after June 13, 1971, when the New York Times began publishing the top-secret Pentagon Papers, which detailed the mostly Democratic lies that had drawn the United States into the Vietnam War from 1945 to 1967.

As those stories dominated the front pages of newspapers across the nation and the world, Nixon realized something that few others knew, that there was a sequel that was arguably even more scandalous, a file containing evidence of his campaign’s successful sabotage of Johnson’s peace talks, which could have negotiated an end to the war in 1968.

As the Pentagon Papers dominated the news, Nixon summoned Kissinger and Haldeman into the Oval Office again on June 17, 1971, and ordered them to redouble their efforts to locate the missing file. Nixon’s panic is captured on an Oval Office tape that was made public decades ago but not fully understood.

“Do we have it?” Nixon asked Haldeman about Johnson’s file. “I’ve asked for it. You said you didn’t have it.”

Haldeman: “We can’t find it.”

Kissinger: “We have nothing here, Mr. President.”

Nixon: “Well, damnit, I asked for that because I need it.”

Kissinger: “But Bob and I have been trying to put the damn thing together.”

Haldeman: “We have a basic history in constructing our own, but there is a file on it.”

Nixon: “Where?”

Haldeman: “[Presidential aide Tom Charles] Huston swears to God that there’s a file on it and it’s at Brookings.”

Nixon: “Bob? Bob? Now do you remember Huston’s plan [for White House-sponsored break-ins as part of domestic counter-intelligence operations]? Implement it.”

Kissinger: “Now Brookings has no right to have classified documents.”

Nixon: “I want it implemented. … Goddamnit, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.”

Haldeman: “They may very well have cleaned them by now, but this thing, you need to –“

Kissinger: “I wouldn’t be surprised if Brookings had the files.”

Haldeman: “My point is Johnson knows that those files are around. He doesn’t know for sure that we don’t have them around.”

But Johnson did know that the file was no longer at the White House because he had ordered Rostow to remove it in the final days of his own presidency.

On June 30, 1971, Nixon again berated Haldeman about the need to break into Brookings and “take it [the file] out.” Nixon even suggested using former CIA officer E. Howard Hunt to conduct the Brookings break-in.

“You talk to Hunt,” Nixon told Haldeman. “I want the break-in. Hell, they do that. You’re to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them in. … Just go in and take it. Go in around 8:00 or 9:00 o’clock.”

Haldeman: “Make an inspection of the safe.”

Nixon: “That’s right. You go in to inspect the safe. I mean, clean it up.”

For reasons that remain unclear, it appears that the Brookings break-in never took place. Also unclear to historians was the full significance of the missing file. They knew that it had a connection to Johnson’s peace initiative in October 1968 but they assumed, mistakenly, that it was a file containing policy papers, not wiretap evidence.

The ‘X’ Envelope

The missing link to the story was filed away at the LBJ Library, where Rostow eventually deposited what he labeled “The ‘X’ Envelope.” Rostow transferred the file to the library after Johnson’s death in 1973 but with instructions that it not be opened for 50 years. Library officials eventually overrode Rostow’s mandate but not until 1994 when the envelope was opened and declassification of its contents began.

But the two-decade delay caused serious damage to the historical record because, in the interim, a distorted narrative of the Watergate scandal had taken shape and solidified. Not knowing the contents of the missing file – the one that Nixon thought might be at Brookings – led Woodward and other Watergate reporters to concentrate on the cover-up, not the underlying crime.

Because of that mistaken focus, an entire generation of journalists cut their teeth saying, “The cover-up is worse than the crime.” There also grew an animosity toward evidence suggesting that Republicans would go behind the back of a Democratic president to undermine an important foreign policy initiative like, say, trying to end the Vietnam War. Somehow disclosing such facts was deemed not “good for the country.”

So, my discovery of the missing piece of the Watergate mosaic in 2012 was unwelcome news in many quarters, easier to ignore than to explain. However, the false narrative of Watergate is not old news; it has become a current reference point for Republican efforts to undermine another Democratic president on a foreign policy incident.

Because of the lack of proportionality – made possible by the distorted Watergate narrative – Sen. John McCain and other leading Republicans can breezily call the Benghazi story “worse” than Watergate. Then, by recycling some bad history, Bob Woodward contributes to the problem. [For details on Rostow’s “X Envelope,” see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

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7 comments on “Does Woodward Know Watergate?

  1. F. G. Sanford on said:

    There are a number of stories “out there” that make it easy for Woodward and his ideological soul-mates to ignore this. One website claims that, given the resemblance of the “Dealy Plaza Tramps” photo to some of the Watergate “Plumbers”, the file contained information that could link Nixon to the assassination. Another claims that the CIA had gone rogue, and created a scandal that was intended to weaken the Executive branch of government. Nixon, according to this theory, hung himself by trying to conceal the assault on his presidency based on the idea that he could be blackmailed either way. Another theory suggests that Benghazi was a new “October Surprise” intended to embarrass President Obama. Still another suggests it was intended to stage an event which would make him look heroic.

    What’s most likely is that Woodward would do his Neocon brethren more harm than good if he weighed in with the truth. As long as people believed there were flying saucers at Area 51, nobody was paying much attention to the development of stealth technology. The truth, at any rate, isn’t as exciting as the “theories”. It would be intriguing if maybe there really was a coup d’etat waged by the so-called “Mormon Mafia” and rogue elements of the “shadow government” in order to install Mitt Romney or discredit The President. And, it would make it easier to believe he had good reasons for all the secrecy, war on whistle-blowers, unlimited surveillance, etc.

    But the real “cover-up”, like most of the other “conspiracies”, is the result of bungling, ass-covering, deflecting responsibility and careerism. Telling the truth just doesn’t sell. And, like my Grandaddy used to say, “Show me your friends, and I’ll tell you who you are”. Bob Woodward was never Nixon’s friend. He isn’t Obama’s friend either.

  2. Arlene McCarthy on said:

    IMO Woodward was part of a CIA-Joint Chiefs of Staff cabal whose goal was to oust Nixon. Woodward was in Naval Intelligence and he is still a spook.

  3. Julie on said:

    Personally, I don’t buy the story that Mark Felt was Deep Throat. And I always wondered if getting Agnew out of the way was something other than fortuitous.

  4. Bob Woodward on said:

    Robert Parry ought to contact me to discuss. I would argue—with facts—that he is missing a great deal here. Bob Woodward

    • F. G. Sanford on said:

      Somehow, I find it hard to believe that you’re really the “Bob Woodward” to whom the article refers. Just a hunch…

  5. k mansfield on said:

    Skitt’s Law: “Any post correcting an error in another post will contain at least one error itself”

    Robert Parry isn’t familiar with the development of the Bengazi talking points

    “We had some new members on the committee, and we knew the press would be very aggressive on this, so we didn’t want any of them to make mistakes,” Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger III (Md.)

    ..What Petraeus decided to do with that request is the pivotal moment in the controversy over the administration’s Benghazi talking points. It was from his initial input that all else flowed, resulting in 48 hours of intensive editing that congressional Republicans cite as evidence of a White House coverup.

    A close reading of recently released government e-mails that were sent during the editing process, and interviews with senior officials from several government agencies, reveal Petraeus’s early role and ambitions in going well beyond the committee’s request, apparently to produce a set of talking points favorable to his image and his agency.

    The information Petraeus ordered up when he returned to his Langley office that morning included far more than the minimalist version that Ruppersberger had requested. It included early classified intelligence assessments of who might be responsible for the attack and an account of prior CIA warnings — information that put Petraeus at odds with the State Department, the FBI and senior officials within his own agency.

    Patreaus decided the talking points to give himself CYA, and Hillary fell on the sword to cover for him.

    This is the real video released on friday sept 7, before the 9/11 anniversary: “Zawahiri eulogizes Abu Yahya al Libi”
    http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2012/09/zawahiri_eulogizes_abu_yahya_a.php

    June 5, our “embassy” in Bengazi was attacked. it was really a front for the CIA. The jihadist group that claimed responsibility for the failed attack on the U.S. Mission in leaflets left at the scene called itself the Imprisoned Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades. It promised more attacks against American interests.
    It was first heard from a month earlier, when it claimed responsibility for an attack on a Red Cross office in Benghazi. A purported video of the attack was apparently posted on jihadist websites that regularly feature statements by al Qaeda. The video showed several rockets being fired into a building at night.

    Noman Benotman, a former senior member of the LIFG, now a Quilliam analyst, said
    that pro al Qaeda groups operating in Libya could use the death of al Libi as a pretext to expand their operations.
    Abdulbasit Azuz complained that a drone strike had targeted his training camp in the east of Libya
    Last month, there were reports of explosions outside the Derna area in the vicinity of the camps, according to a different source.

    Libya’s grand mufti, Asadiq Gherayli, met with five militant commanders, and four of them, including Azuz, agreed with the government terms not to carry out attacks.
    Only one refused: Sufian bin Qumu (also known as Abu Faris al Libi).
    Looks really bad for the CIA/DoD/State:Chris Stevens to be partnering with the same extremists that our leaders have been shaking at us like a voodoo fear doll for 10 years.
    I guess that’s why Innocence of the Muslims film and its creator make a better scape goat. More lies for American public consumption.

  6. k mansfield on said:

    Abdulbasit Azuz is a senior AQ operative and longtime close associate of the group’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

    Sufian bin Qumu, age 53. (Abu Faris al Libi) who is a released GTMO detainee who is believed to be operating a camp in the mountainous woods along the sea outside Derna. He was a tank driver in the Libyan army, spent time in prison for murder and drug dealing, but he escaped. He is also associated with the Taliban, LIFG in the Sudan and Bin Laden.

    Gadhafi’s government said the assessment considered him “a dangerous man with no qualms about committing terrorist acts.” Locals in Derna believe he tried to assassinate Abdel Hakim al Hasadi, another militant commander in the Derna.

    This report was put together specifically for the senate 2 weeks after the attack, so all these AQ characters were already well known.
    http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2012/09/al_qaedas_plan_for_l.php