Author Ray Locker’s newest work on Richard Nixon’s fall details how Chief of Staff Alexander Haig orchestrated the president’s downfall.
By S.T. Patrick
In Haig’s Coup: How Richard Nixon’s Closest Aide Forced Him from Office, Ray Locker’s newest work on the fall of Richard Nixon, we see exactly how Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander Haig orchestrated Nixon’s demise and resignation.
“It’s easy to criticize Nixon for his handling of the Watergate affair,” said Roger Stone, an aide to Nixon. “But until one fully understands the roles of White House Counsel John Dean and subsequent White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig, one cannot fully understand why the Woodward and Bernstein narrative about Watergate is false.”
Locker, a former editor at USA Today, released Nixon’s Gamble in 2016. In it, he set the stage for the eventual fall. President Richard Nixon took a risk in establishing a tight-knit foreign policy team that bypassed the departments of State and Defense as well as the CIA. As per National Security Decision Memorandum 2, signed by Nixon shortly after being sworn in as president, Nixon would be at the center of foreign policy, and he would be surrounded by a small team of loyal aides. Under Nixon’s command, Vietnam and Cold War policy would be conducted through the National Security Council (NSC) and its national security adviser, Henry Kissinger. The new power structure was secret, unprecedented, and extra-constitutional. For Nixon, it was also a dangerous gamble that, on his first day as president, set into motion his precipitous fall.
Nixon’s restructuring jumpstarted a series of spying operations between the Defense Department and the White House. The Joint Chiefs were suspicious of Nixon’s policies in Vietnam, détente with the Soviets, and opening up trade with China. In what is now called the Moorer-Radford Affair, the Joint Chiefs, led by chairman Adm. Thomas Moorer, set about spying on the Kissinger team. U.S. Navy Yeoman Charles Radford was tasked with much of the spying and theft of documents that led to the outing of the spy ring in a Jack Anderson column in December 1971.
Haig had been the link between the military and the White House, even before becoming chief of staff in May 1973. Haig was Kissinger’s deputy at the NSC and received the secret communications from the military leadership at the Pentagon as well as from world leaders. In 1969 and 1970, the Navy lieutenant who manned the Pentagon’s secret communications room was Bob Woodward. In that role, he was charged with briefing Haig at the White House. This was the impetus for Woodward’s professional relationship with the general, a relationship that would pad the journalist’s second best-seller.
Woodward insisted to authors Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin (Silent Coup) that he had never met Haig until 1973. Testimony from Moorer, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, and Pentagon spokesman Jerry Friedheim proves otherwise. Woodward would go on to journalistic fame at The Washington Post and Haig would remain the most consequential leaker in the Nixon White House.
Haig consolidated power within the office of the chief of staff, a position he ascended to when H.R. Haldeman was forced to resign. He closed off access to the Oval Office and even chose Nixon’s personal attorney. Nixon was somewhat justified in his paranoia. After Haldeman and John Ehrlichman left, there was no one remaining in the White House who had the president’s best interests in mind. Rather, Haig was acting completely out of his own best interest and was hastening the president’s downfall.
It is Locker’s contention, backed by his study of recently declassified documents, that Haig orchestrated Nixon’s actions in the “Saturday Night Massacre” of October 1973 that saw the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Haig lied to Nixon and Attorney General Elliot Richardson, informing the president that Richardson had agreed to fire Cox, when he had not. The “massacre” rid Haig of Cox, whom he saw as an enemy, but the backlash further damaged Nixon. Each of Haig’s maneuvers was a calculated one in a further effort to conceal his own role as a leaker and primary participant in the spy ring. In doing so, other scapegoats were built to fall.
Regarding Mark Felt-as-Deep Throat, Locker writes that much of the information that has since been attributed to Felt “bore the unmistakable fingerprints of Alexander Haig.” Watergate revisionists have long pointed to Haig as either the sole Deep Throat or as part of a composite Deep Throat character built by Woodward solely for narrative purposes. But Woodward protected Haig and, in fact, used him as the major source (and hero) of the second Woodward and Bernstein Watergate book, The Final Days.
Locker’s research also damns Haig regarding the White House taping system that was first publicly revealed by the testimony of deputy assistant Alexander Butterfield. Haig stated in his memoirs that he hadn’t heard of the taping system until Butterfield revealed the information to America. The truth is that Nixon had told Haig of the system two months earlier, and Haig used that knowledge to orchestrate Butterfield’s release to the Senate Watergate Committee. Locker also discusses Haig’s involvement in selected erasures, and he once again proves that Haig lied about encouraging Nixon to destroy the tapes.
At one point, upon overhearing a conversation between Nixon and Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, Haig stated, “I run this White House, and don’t you ever forget it!”
For a man who would, in 1981 as secretary of state, infamously declare, “I’m in charge here,” in the wake of the assassination attempt on President Reagan, Haig was following a pattern of rushing in when a power vacuum existed. He had brought down one president; he was going to be present and accounted for if another president fell as fatally as Nixon did politically.
S.T. Patrick holds degrees in both journalism and social studies education. He spent 10 years as an educator and now hosts the “Midnight Writer News Show.” His email is [email protected]. He is also an occasional contributor to TBR history magazine and the current managing editor of Deep Truth Journal (DTJ), a new conspiracy-focused publication available at the AFP Online Store.