Last week in TNN I discussed the American Journalism Review article by former New York Times reporter Robert M. Smith in which he described a lunch he had in August 1972 with L. Patrick Gray in which (Smith now says) the acting FBI director conveyed by wordless facial expressions the implication that the White House was involved in the cover-up of the Watergate break-in. When the Times reported on Smith’s recollections last month, Ed Gray, who co-authored the book In Nixon’s Web with his late father, took issue with them, and at the AJR site this week he explains why:
The truth is that at the time of this luncheon–as my father testified multiple times under oath–neither he nor anyone else in the FBI had any evidence whatsoever that the president was involved. At that early stage of the FBI’s Watergate investigation, the White House’s criminal cover-up was still working perfectly. My father was still convinced of the opposite–that Nixon was trying to get to the bottom of it, too.
And as for the attorney general? Here I can even more emphatically deny that my father nodded in answer to that question. The attorney general was Richard Kleindienst, not John Mitchell, and Kleindienst, a very close friend of my father, was never implicated in Watergate at all.
Perhaps Smith asked about Mitchell, Kleindienst’s predecessor and then Nixon’s campaign manager. If so, he’s directly misquoted himself here, leaving us to wonder about the accuracy of the rest of his recollection.
But if Smith had asked about Mitchell, silence–without the nod–would have been my father’s only possible answer. August 1972 was way too early for anyone involved in the investigation to know Mitchell was part of the cover-up. No investigators up to and including Kleindienst and my father knew of Mitchell’s involvement until White House Counsel John Dean started confessing in April 1973, nearly eight months after this luncheon.