Donald Henry Segretti (born September 17, 1941, in San Marino, California) is a former political operative for then-U.S. President Richard Nixon's Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP) during the early 1970s.
He holds a B.S. in finance from the University of Southern California (1963) and a J.D. from UC Berkeley School of Law (1966). While at USC he was initiated into Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity and became associated with Dwight L. Chapin, Tim Elbourne, Ron Ziegler, Herbert Porter and Gordon C. Strachan, all of whom joined the "Trojans for Representative Government" group.
Segretti was hired by friend Dwight L. Chapin to run a campaign of dirty tricks (which he dubbed "ratfucking") against the Democrats, with his work being paid for by Herb Kalmbach, Nixon's lawyer, from presidential campaign re-election funds gathered before an April 7, 1972, law required that contributors be identified. His actions were part of the larger Watergate scandal, and were important indicators for the few members of the press investigating the Watergate scandal in the earliest stages that what became known as the Watergate scandal involved far more than just a simple break in.
Segretti's involvement in the "Canuck letter" typifies the tactics Segretti and others working with him used, forging a letter ascribed to Senator Edmund Muskie which maligned the people, language and culture of French Canada and French Canadians, causing the soon-to-be Democratic presidential candidate Muskie considerable headaches in denying the letter and having to continue dealing with the issue. Many historians have indicated over the years that Muskie's withdrawal from the Presidential primaries was at least partly the result of Segretti and some of the other "Ratfuckers" creating so much confusion and false accusations that Muskie simply could not respond in any meaningful way.
One notable example of his wrongdoing was a faked letter on Democratic presidential candidate Edmund Muskie's letterhead falsely alleging that U.S. Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, a fellow Democrat, had an illegitimate child with a 17-year-old. The Muskie letters also accused Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of sexual misconduct as well. After testimony regarding the Muskie letters emerged, Democrats in Florida noted the similarity between these sabotage incidents and others that involved stationery stolen from Humphrey's offices after Muskie dropped out of the race. A false news release on Humphrey's letterhead "accused Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.) of being mentally unbalanced" and a mailing with an unidentified source mischaracterized Humphrey as supporting a controversial environmental measure that he actually opposed.
Jailed following Watergate
In 1974, Segretti pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of distributing illegal (in fact, forged) campaign literature and was sentenced to six months in prison, actually serving four months.
Segretti was a lawyer who served as a prosecutor for the military and later as a civilian. However, his license was suspended for two years following his conviction. In 1995, he ran for a local judgeship in Orange County, California. He quickly withdrew from the race when his campaign awakened lingering anger over his involvement in the Watergate scandal. In 2000, Segretti served as co-chair of John McCain's presidential campaign in Orange County.
Segretti in popular culture
In the 1976 film about Watergate, All the President's Men, Segretti was played by Robert Walden. The character downplayed the dirty tricks he had undertaken as "Nickel-and-dime stuff. Stuff. Stuff with a little wit attached to it."
- "News of the Weak in Review". The Nation. October 2, 2000.
- Bernstein, Carl; Woodward, Bob (10 October 1972). "FBI Finds Nixon Aides Sabotaged Democrats". www.washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post Co. Retrieved 14 May 2014.
- Swint, Kerwin C. (2006). Mudslingers: the top 25 negative political campaigns of all time: countdown from no. 25 to no. 1. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 135.
- New York Times Press Service. "Watergate jogs memory: Democrats recall strange election incidents," The Dallas Morning News, May 13, 1973, page 14A.