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Operation Sandwedge

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Operation Sandwedge
Haldeman and Ehrlichman discuss policy, 1973.png
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, narrowly defeating Democrat Hubert Humphrey by seven-tenths of a percent of the popular vote.[1][2] 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.[3] Haldeman had first worked for Nixon in 1956, during Nixon's successful bid for the vice-presidency under Dwight D. Eisenhower.[4]


In late 1971, Haldeman directed John Dean, the White House Counsel, to assemble an intelligence plan for Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign. Dean delegated the task to Jack Caulfield, a member of his staff who was a former New York police officer.[5] John Ehrlichman, a long-time friend of Haldeman,[4] 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.[6][7]

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 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.[5] The plan would involve black bag operations, targeting political enemies of the campaign.[8] 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.[7]


A meeting concerning Sandwedge was arranged between Haldeman, John N. Mitchell, Jeb Stuart Magruder and Gordon C. Strachan.[9] Mitchell had served as Attorney General under Nixon's first term, and directed the 1972 re-election campaign.[10] 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.[5] Liddy built upon the proposals 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.[11] 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.[7]


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.[12]

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.[5]


  1. ^ "U.S. Electoral College: Historical Election Results 1789–1996". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved August 18, 2012. 
  2. ^ Black 2007, p. 558.
  3. ^ Genovese 2009, p. 86.
  4. ^ a b Severo, Richard (November 13, 1993). "H. R. Haldeman, Nixon Aide Who Had Central Role in Watergate, Is Dead at 67". The New York Times. Retrieved August 18, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c d Caulfield, Jack. "'s Nixon Era Times: In Their Own Words -- Jack Caulfield". Mountain State University. Archived from the original on April 5, 2012. Retrieved October 17, 2015. 
  6. ^ Warshaw 2013, p. 274.
  7. ^ a b c "Jack Caulfield". The Daily Telegraph. July 11, 2012. Retrieved August 17, 2012. 
  8. ^ Genovese 1999, p. 27.
  9. ^ Impeachment 1998, p. 57.
  10. ^ Meyer, Lawrence (November 10, 1988). "John N. Mitchell, Principal in Watergate, Dies at 75". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 12, 2012. 
  11. ^ Knight 2003, p. 725.
  12. ^ Marsh, Bill (October 30, 2005). "Ideas and Trends; When Criminal Charges Reach the White House". The New York Times. Retrieved August 18, 2012. 


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