Richard Nixon

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After 45 years, newly published Watergate memo reveals plot to attack protesters

The plot included an attack on whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.


David Gilmour


Published Jun 19, 2017   Updated May 23, 2021, 2:39 am CDT

In 1972, political aides working for then-President Richard Nixon were plotting violent physical assaults against anti-war demonstrators, including Vietnam War whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, a never-before-published memorandum uncovered by NBC News has revealed.

The plan to counter an anti-war protest with violence was part of a wider operation to discredit Ellsberg, the former military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1969. The publication of these papers infuriated Nixon after it exposed the administration’s assessment that it did not have the resources to win the Vietnam War.

With Monday marking the 45th anniversary of the first Watergate disclosure by then-Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, NBC News published the 18-page investigative memorandum written by Watergate prosecutors in 1975. The document describes the plan to violently attack “long-haired demonstrators, in particular Ellsberg.”

The revelations corroborate a claim made in a memoir by Ellsberg in May 1972, that the White House had flown “Cuban-American CIA ‘assets’ from Miami to Washington to disrupt a rally that [he] and others were addressing on the steps of the Capitol” with orders “to incapacitate [him] totally.”

Written by Watergate special prosecutor Nick Akerman on June 5, 1975, the memo further reveals that investigators believed White House counsel Charles Colson was behind the operation—a charge also leveled at him by Watergate burglar and undercover operative Bernard Barker. Colson always denied the allegations.

Colson did plead guilty to obstruction of justice, having been involved in a plot to steal Ellsberg’s medical files.

“There is still no clear way to link Colson to the assault which is muddled by his efforts to organize a lawful counterdemonstration,” the memo concluded. “This melding of the counterdemonstration and the assault had been a problem throughout this investigation in charging anybody with a crime.”

NBC News also disclosed a memo that detailed an interview that investigators had with Roger Stone, a GOP organizer of the counter-demonstration and who, most recently, served as one of President Donald Trump’s campaign advisers.

Stone appeared on MSNBC on Sunday evening in a passionate face-off with Akerman where both men locked over Nixon’s motivations.

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*First Published: Jun 19, 2017, 11:09 am CDT