My occasional series tracing the 40th anniversary of the Watergate scandal began with the establishment of the Plumbers Unit on July 1, 1971. A little bit earlier, on June 24, 1971, came the very first version of what grew into the Nixon Enemies List. It wasn't originally part of the Watergate scandal, though, and only turned into a criminal action on August 16, 1971.
Over time, the Enemies List grew, eventually numbering 576 names (though a few were duplicates). The first version, known as the "Opponents List," consisted of a mere twenty names, in order of importance.
- Arnold Picker (United Artists)
- Alexander Barkan (AFL-CIO)
- Ed Guthman (LA Times)
- Maxwell Dane (Doyle, Dane and Bernbach)
- Charles Dyson (Dyson-Kissner Corporation)
- Howard Stein (Dreyfus Corporation)
- Allard Lowenstein (Nassau County congressman)
- Morton Halperin (Common Cause)
- Leonard Woodcock (UAW)
- Sterling Munro (AA to Sen. Jackson)
- Bernard Feld (Council for a Livable World)
- Sidney Davidoff (aide to Mayor Lindsay)
- John Conyers (Detroit congressman)
- Samuel Lambert (NEA)
- Stewart Rawlings Mott (Mott Associates)
- Ron Dellums (California congressman)
- Daniel Schorr (CBS)
- S. Harrison Dogole (Globe Security Systems)
- Paul Newman (actor, not yet a food manufacturer)
- Mary McGrory (WaPo columnist).
Discrediting, embarrassing, and distracting these people would become a central political objective of the Nixon administration.
That's not necessarily or automatically wrong. Identifying and fighting your political opponents is perfectly normal, and many tactics are perfectly legal and legitimate. Using the power of incumbency to harness the Federal government to attack them for you, however, is not.
The Enemies List entered the Watergate scandal on August 16, 1971, when White House counsel John Dean explained in writing what the list was for, and how it was to be used. Here's Dean:
"This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration; stated a bit more bluntly—how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies." (Emphasis added.)From that point on, it was a crime, and as such fell into the cover up, a project managed by John Dean. (Much of the Watergate cover up had little to do with the actual break-in, but rather trying to keep the lid on the many other illegal activities of the White House staff, most notoriously the Plumbers Unit.)
Strangely, it was Dean himself who first revealed the existence of the Enemies List during his marathon testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee. Daniel Schorr managed to get a copy of the list and read it on the air — unaware that he himself was on it until he came to his own name.
Interestingly, for all the political and moral fallout from the Enemies List, it turns out that nothing much actually happened on the "screw our political enemies front" that used Federal resources. The Congressional Joint Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation concluded that people on the list had not been subjected to an unusual number of tax audits.
Deep Throat famously told Bob Woodward that his opinion of the Nixon men was that the weren't that smart, and I suspect that's true. There's a Three Stooges quality about Watergate, a bunch of overprivileged rich kids playing at superspy intrigue and failing miserably. Being on the Enemies List didn't appear to hurt many of Nixon's enemies, but its revelation severely backfired on its creators.