Spent the day with notorious Watergate felon John Ehrlichman back in the 1980s. Not my choice. It was my job to chauffeur, arrange publicity, and lunch with the man who perhaps was President Nixon’s closest advisor.
At the time, I happened to be News Bureau Director for the University of San Diego. My primary goal was to acquire positive publicity for the university. Among other duties as assigned, I often “handled” celebrities and elected officials invited to speak on campus.
Picked up Ehrlichman at Lindbergh Field and drove him directly to USD. Introduced him to the university’s top administrators. Then we left for San Diego State University’s public broadcast TV station, KPBS, where he was interviewed by long-time KPBS-TV’s popular political correspondent Gloria Penner.
Interview over, we headed to my car. He carried a gift from Gloria: a commemorative KPBS-TV coffee cup. As we were about to drive off, Ehrlichman flashed his temper. He ordered me to stop driving while he suddenly jumped out of the car to grab the coffee mug that he’d left on the top of my sedan’s roof.
Ehrlichman was most comfortable that day while we lunched at an Italian restaurant in Hillcrest. In addition to an entrée, he ordered a side of pasta. I resisted the urge to ask him about the Watergate break-in. To this day, I regret not discussing this infamous subject with Ehrlichman.
When I returned him to the university to prepare for his law school speech, was the first time he seemed relaxed. Maybe his testiness was due to his handler for the day.
NOTE: On Feb. 21, 1975, Ehrlichman, counsel and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs, Nixon’s Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, and Attorney General John Mitchell were sentenced to at least two-and-a-half to eight years in prison for their role in the cover-up of the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. Months earlier, the scandal drove Nixon from office. Mitchell, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman were the most powerful people in the Nixon administration. Although Nixon was identified as a key figure in the cover-up, he was not prosecuted in the federal court trial because President Ford had granted the disgraced president a pardon.
Convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury, Ehrlichman served 18 months in a Tucson prison camp. Ehrlichman’s conviction arose from his false testimony to the Senate Watergate Committee and through his involvement in the burglary of the office of Dr. Lewis Fielding, the psychiatrist who treated Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg was the Defense Department official who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.
As for the Nixon’s Administration’s so-called war on drugs, Ehrlichman later admitted it was “really about the anti-war left and black people.”
Ehrlichman authored several books, fiction, and non-fiction, including Witness to Power – The Nixon Years.
John Ehrlichman passed away Valentine’s Day 1999 one month shy of 74.
NOTE: During my 1986-1991 tenure at USD, several notables spoke to the students, including legendary Ray Bradbury, socialist/anarchist Abbie Hoffman, actor Richard Dreyfuss, and Chief Justice Warren Berger (see my earlier blog post, Encounters with U.S. Presidents, a Supreme Court Chief Justice & Moonbeam).