Donald Henry Segretti (born September 17, 1941, in San Marino, California) is an attorney best known for working as a political operative with then-U.S. President Richard Nixon's Committee to Re-elect the President during the early 1970s. Segretti served four and a half months in prison after investigations related to the Watergate scandal revealed his leading role in extensive political sabotage efforts against the Democrats.
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.
|1973 Watergate Hearings; 1973-10-03; Part 1 of 5, 1:04:56, Library of Congress, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC|
Segretti was hired by his friend Dwight L. Chapin to run a campaign of dirty tricks (which Segretti referred to as "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. Segretti's actions were part of the larger Watergate scandal and were important indicators for the few members of the press investigating the Watergate break-in in the earliest stages that what became known as the Watergate scandal involved far more than just a burglary.
Overview of 'dirty tricks' against Democrats
Segretti's involvement in the "Canuck letter" typifies the tactics Segretti and others working with him used; in this case they forged a letter ascribed to Senator Edmund Muskie which maligned the people, language, and culture of French Canada and French Canadians, forcing that soon-to-be Democratic presidential candidate considerable headaches by having to deny having written the letter and to continue dealing with that recurring 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"' having created so much confusion and so many false accusations that Muskie simply could not respond in any meaningful way.
Another notable example of Segretti's wrongdoing was a letter he faked, 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.
After testimony regarding the Muskie letters emerged, Democrats in Florida noted the similarity between those sabotage incidents and others that involved stationery stolen from Humphrey's offices after Muskie dropped out of the race. For example, 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.
Imprisoned following Watergate felony conviction
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. Segretti served four months.
Segretti was a lawyer who served as a prosecutor for the military and later as a civilian. However, his license was suspended on February 27, 1976. Segretti is currently shown as an active member in good standing of the State Bar of California.
Unsuccessful Orange County judgeship bid
In 1995, Segretti ran for a local judgeship in Orange County, California. He quickly withdrew from the race when his campaign awakened lingering anger over and memories of his involvement in the Watergate scandal.
Orange County co-chair of McCain 2000 primary campaign
Segretti in popular culture
In the 1976 film about Watergate, All the President's Men, Segretti was portrayed 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."
- "Watergate Scandal and Deep Throat Update, Donald Segretti". Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-01-15.
- "1973 Watergate Hearings; 1973-10-03; Part 1 of 5". Library of Congress, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. October 3, 1973. Retrieved January 16, 2018.
- "News of the Weak in Review". The Nation. October 2, 2000.
- Bernstein, Carl; Woodward, Bob (10 October 1972). "FBI Finds Nixon Aides Sabotaged Democrats". The Washington Post. 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.
- The New York Times Press Service (May 13, 1973). "Watergate jogs memory: Democrats recall strange election incidents". The Dallas Morning News. p. 14A.