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. The proposals were put together by H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Jack Caulfield in 1971. Caulfield, a former police officer, created 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 help Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign. Operation Sandwedge included proposed surveillance of Nixon's enemies to gather information on their financial status 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, Richard Nixon, the United States Republican Party nominee, won the presidential election, defeating Democrat Hubert Humphrey by seven-tenths of a percent of the popular vote. Nixon appointed H. R. Haldeman as his Chief of Staff; this position granted Haldeman a relatively large degree of control over the activities of the presidential administration. Haldeman had first worked for Nixon in 1956, during Nixon's successful bid for the vice-presidency under Dwight D. Eisenhower.
By 1971, Nixon's staff were receiving a cursory intelligence report from Haldeman's assistant, Gordon C. Strachan; Strachan's reports essentially collated information about political rallies and campaign groups that had already been gathered by the police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Prior to this, Nixon's initial election bid had already involved the planting of rumors and false information about his opponents as a dedicated strategy; these tactics had been dubbed "political hardball" by Nixon's opposition researcher Pat Buchanan. In August 1971, Strachan had convinced Jeb Stuart Magruder, a member of the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CRP)—the campaign group for Nixon's re-election bid—to infiltrate the office of Edmund Muskie. Muskie was a Democratic senator who had been Humphrey's 1968 vice-presidential candidate, and was a front-runner for his party's presidential bid for the 1972 campaign.
In late 1971, John Dean, the White House Counsel, pushed to expand the existing intelligence program ahead of the 1972 re-election campaign. Dean delegated the task to Jack Caulfield, a member of his staff who was a former New York police officer. According to Dean, Caulfield himself was interested in work outside of politics; he intended to create a private security company, and felt that if the Nixon cabinet were an early client, it would lead to lucrative future clients within the private sector. Fred Emery, a journalist for The Times and BBC, refutes this, claiming in his book Watergate: The Corruption & Fall of Richard Nixon that the idea of a private sector security firm was simply a front for a committed campaign of surveillance working Nixon and the Republican Party, with political donations to the re-election campaign able to be diverted through the company as though they were unrelated transactions.
John Ehrlichman, a long-time friend of Haldeman, who had also served as White House Counsel, had been part of the operation's inception; at this time he was Nixon's domestic affairs assistant. Ehrlichman was the one who had initially hired Caulfield in 1969; Ehrlichman intended for Caulfield to conduct private investigation while undercover as a private sector employee, it was Caulfield who insisted on working from the White House. Caulfield's work to this end had already resulted in two wiretaps on phone lines—one on Nixon's brother Donald, and another on journalist Joseph Kraft.
Caulfield prepared a twelve-page draft proposal detailing an intelligence-gathering strategy, aimed at the opposition Democratic Party; he had worked on this draft for several months and presented it to Nixon's staff in September 1971. The proposal, dubbed "Operation Sandwedge",[nb 1] called for a budget of $500,000, primarily to cover private investigative work and security for the Republican National Convention, however Caulfield intimated privately that it would also include electronic surveillance.
The investigations and surveillance would, in part, assess how the anti-Vietnam War movement could damage Nixon's 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, a Democrat and former Attorney General. Caulfield 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 plans to scrutinize the private lives of the targets, including their tax records and sexual habits. The Sandwedge proposal also included a list of people willing to work with Caulfield on the project; these included several investigators and officials of Inland Revenue, and a former sheriff of Cook County, Illinois.
Herb Kalmbach, Nixon's own attorney, transferred $50,000 to Caulfield at the request of John N. Mitchell. Mitchell had served as Attorney General under Nixon's first term, and directed the 1972 re-election campaign. Caulfield was also given responsibility for the salary of Tony Ulasewicz, an operative he planned to use for Sandwedge activities. However, Strachan, Dean and other staff members were frustrated at the pace of Caulfield's development of the project. Strachan directly questioned whether Caulfield was adequately capable for the role in a memo dated from October 1971, while Haldeman, wishing for a project on a larger scale, pressed Mitchell for a budget of $800,000 for surveillance and "miscellaneous" activities.
During this time, Caulfield recruited James W. McCord, Jr., a retired CIA officer, to protect the offices of the Republican National Convention and the CRP from electronic bugging. McCord would later be directly employed by CRP from January 1972. Caulfield also sent Ulasewicz to the campaign offices of Paul McCloskey in New Hampshire. McCloskey was a Republican congressman for California, who was running for the party's presidential nomination against Nixon on a platform opposing the Vietnam War. He was not regarded as a credible threat to Nixon's campaign, but had made statements calling for Nixon to be impeached. In December 1971, Ulasewicz masqueraded as a journalist to interview McCloskey's staff, with Caulfield dubbing the effort a "Sandwedge-engineered penetration".
That October, a meeting concerning Sandwedge was arranged between Haldeman, Mitchell, Magruder and Strachan. 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. Another factor in Caulfield's removal from the helm was the belief of several White House officials, including Dean, that Caulfield's Irish-American, non-college educated background was at odds with "an Administration of WASP professional men".
Liddy built upon the proposals to devise "Operation Gemstone", a more expansive plan of espionage. Gemstone was an umbrella term for several individual operations, each of which expanded upon elements of the Sandwedge draft or existing CRP activities—Operation Diamond covered breaking up protest demonstrations, Ruby involved undercover infiltration and honeypot traps, Crystal concerned electronic surveillance and wiretaps, and Sapphire proposed the sabotage of rival political campaigns. Liddy's initial draft of Operation Gemstone was deemed "too extreme" by campaign officials, but a scaled-down version was later approved in 1972. Despite Liddy's restructuring of the project, a request for additional funding for the original Sandwedge proposal was made by Dean in January 1972, although Mitchell's rejection of this request signalled the project's end.
Liddy's revised Gemstone plan included a range of illegal activities, including a proposal to break into Democratic Party offices in the Watergate complex. The Watergate burglaries were initially 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 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
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 by the administration was an error in judgement, possibly "the most monumental of the Nixon Presidency". He believed that, if had Sandwedge been adopted as the campaign's strategy, "there would have been no Liddy, no Hunt, no McCord", and the subsequent Watergate scandal would not have occurred. Speaking of the initial proposal, Dean defended its merits, stating that "Caulfield, not the plan itself, had killed Sandwedge".
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