Operation Sandwedge was conceived by H. R. Haldeman (right), aided by John Ehrlichman (left)
|Cause||Investigation of Democratic rivals of Richard Nixon|
|Participants||Jack Caulfield, H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, G. Gordon Liddy|
|Outcome||Canceled, succeeded by Operation Gemstone and Watergate burglaries|
Operation Sandwedge was a proposed clandestine intelligence-gathering operation against the political enemies of the Richard Nixon presidential administration, put together by H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Jack Caulfield in 1971. Caulfield, a former police officer, detailed a plan to target the Democratic Party and the anti-Vietnam War movement, inspired by what he believed to be the Democratic Party's employment of a private investigation firm.
The operation was planned to aid Nixon's re-election campaign for the 1972 presidential election. Details of Operation Sandwedge included the proposed electronic surveillance of Nixon's enemies to gather information on their financial statuses and sexual activities, to be carried out through illegal black bag operations.
Control of Sandwedge was passed to G. Gordon Liddy, who abandoned it in favor of a strategy of his own devising, Operation Gemstone, which detailed a plan to break into Democratic Party offices in the Watergate complex. Liddy's plan eventually led to the downfall of Nixon's presidency, which Caulfield believed would have been avoided had Sandwedge been acted upon.
In 1968, United States Republican Party nominee Richard Nixon won the presidential election, narrowly defeating Democrat Hubert Humphrey by seven-tenths of a percent of the popular vote. Nixon appointed H. R. Haldeman as his White House Chief of Staff; a position which granted Haldeman a relatively large degree of control over the activities of the presidential administration. Nixon and Haldeman had first worked together in 1956, during Nixon's bid for the vice-presidential nomination under Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In late 1971, Haldeman directed White House Counsel John Dean to assemble an intelligence plan for Nixon's re-election campaign for the 1972 presidential election. Dean delegated the task to a member of his staff, former New York police officer Jack Caulfield. John Ehrlichman, a long-time friend of Haldeman, and who had also served as White House Counsel, had been part of the operation's inception; at this time he was Nixon's Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs.
Caulfield prepared a twelve-page draft proposal detailing an intelligence-gathering strategy, aimed at the opposition Democratic Party. The proposal, dubbed "Operation Sandwedge", would also assess how the anti-Vietnam War movement could damage the campaign. Nixon's staff also anticipated that the Democratic campaign would employ the services of Intertel, a private investigation firm led by former Department of Justice officials who had served under Robert F. Kennedy. Caulfield's noted that this firm had the potential to employ "formidable and sophisticated" intelligence-gathering techniques, and Sandwedge was his attempt to create a Republican counterpart to it. The plan would involve black bag operations, targeting political enemies of the campaign. Electronic surveillance was also an element of the proposal, with the private lives of the targets being scrutinized, including their tax records and sexual habits.
A meeting concerning the project was arranged between Haldeman, John N. Mitchell, Jeb Stuart Magruder and Gordon C. Strachan. Mitchell had served as Attorney General under Nixon's first term, and directed the 1972 re-election campaign. As a result of this meeting, control of the operation was passed along to G. Gordon Liddy, because Mitchell wished to have a lawyer in charge of the campaign's intelligence-gathering. Liddy built upon the proposal to devise "Operation Gemstone", a more expansive plan of espionage. Liddy's initial draft of Operation Gemstone was deemed "too extreme" by campaign officials, but a scaled-down version was later approved in 1972. This revised plan included a range of illegal activities, including a proposal to break into Democratic Party offices in the Watergate complex. The Watergate burglaries had initially been assumed to have been part of Operation Sandwedge, and the investigation into both the burglaries and the project led to Caulfield's resignation from his Nixon-appointed position as assistant director of criminal enforcement.
In the wake of the Watergate scandal, 69 people were tried for various crimes, with 48 of these pleading guilty. Among those found guilty for covering up the affair were Haldeman, Ehrlichmann, Mitchell, Dean and Magruder, while Liddy was found guilty for his role in the break-ins. All 48 men served time in prison as a result of their convictions.
Caulfield has suggested that Sandwedge's cancellation was an error in judgement on behalf of the administration, and may have been "the most monumental of the Nixon Presidency". He believed that had Sandwedge been followed through as the campaign's strategy, "there would have been no Liddy, no Hunt, no McCord", and the subsequent Watergate scandal would not have occurred.
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