Donald Segretti

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Donald Segretti
Born (1941-09-17) September 17, 1941 (age 81)
Occupationpolitical operative
image icon Getty Images

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 ("ratfucking") against the Democrats.[1]

Early life[edit]

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 a member of the Trojan Knights and initiated into Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity. At University of Southern California, he was a member of Trojans for Representative Government with future Watergate scandal participants Dwight L. Chapin, Tim Elbourne, Gordon C. Strachan, Herbert Porter, and Ron Ziegler.


External video
video icon 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[2]

Segretti was hired by his friend Dwight L. Chapin to run a campaign of dirty tricks – which Segretti referred to as "ratfucking"[3] – 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 burglary in the earliest stages that what became known as the Watergate scandal involved far more than just a burglary.[4]

Overview of "dirty tricks" against Democrats[edit]

Segretti's involvement in the "Canuck letter"[5] 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 writing the letter and to continue dealing with that recurrent 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.[6]

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.[6]

Segretti appeared as a witness before the Senate Watergate Committee in October 1973.

Imprisoned following Watergate conviction[edit]

In 1974, Segretti pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of distributing illegal campaign literature (including the forgeries described above) and was sentenced to six months in prison. Segretti served four months.[7]

Later activities[edit]

Segretti was a lawyer who served as a prosecutor for the U.S. Army and later as a civilian. However, his license was suspended on February 27, 1976.[8] Segretti is currently shown as an active member in good standing of the State Bar of California.

Unsuccessful Orange County judgeship bid[edit]

In 1995, Segretti ran for a local judgeship in Orange County, California. He quickly withdrew from the race when his campaign sparked lingering anger over memories of his involvement in the Watergate scandal.[9]

Orange County co-chair of McCain 2000 primary campaign[edit]

In 2000, Segretti served as co-chair of John McCain's presidential campaign in Orange County, California.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

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."


  1. ^ "Watergate Scandal and Deep Throat Update, Donald Segretti". Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-01-15.
  2. ^ "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.
  3. ^ "News of the Weak in Review". The Nation. October 2, 2000.
  4. ^ Bernstein, Carl; Woodward, Bob (10 October 1972). "FBI Finds Nixon Aides Sabotaged Democrats". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 May 2014.
  5. ^ 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. ISBN 9780275985103.
  6. ^ a b The New York Times Press Service (May 13, 1973). "Watergate jogs memory: Democrats recall strange election incidents". The Dallas Morning News. p. 14A.
  7. ^ " - watergate scandal and deep throat update, donald…". 2013-04-28. Archived from the original on 2013-04-28.
  8. ^ "Donald Henry Segretti #39856 - Attorney Search".
  9. ^ FILKINS, DEXTER (12 December 1995). "Ex-Nixon Trickster Segretti Won't Seek O.C. Judgeship : Politics: The convicted Watergate figure quits campaign, citing negative publicity about his candidacy" – via LA Times.

External links[edit]