Man jailed for Watergate still praises Richard Nixon: ‘He was a visionary’

by Heather Robinson

From The New York Post

Dwight Chapin (pictured today and with Richard Nixon in 1969) was offered a chance to cooperate with prosecutors against the president, but told them “to go f–k themselves.” He ultimately served a nine-month sentence for lying to a Watergate grand jury. NY Post photo composite

 

Dwight Chapin went to prison because of Richard Nixon.

But he’s still The President’s Man.

The first to go on trial in the Watergate affair, Chapin served a nine-month sentence from 1975 to 1976 for lying to a Watergate grand jury about political sabotage.

But today, Chapin — who still maintains his innocence — is out to redeem Nixon’s legacy.

In Chapin’s memoir “The President’s Man,” the former aide praises the 37th President.

“President Nixon was visionary and a realist,” said Chapin via phone. “The world today needs leaders who can demonstrate the level of strategic thinking Nixon did.”

Sticking up for his former boss, who was recorded on the infamous “Nixon tapes” as having said of Chapin, he’s “just got to take the heat,” might strike some as strange. As Chapin acknowledges in the book, Nixon did “discard” him when it became politically expedient. He writes, “The president clearly understood the depth of my loyalty and was confident I would sacrifice my career for him.”

 

Bob Haldeman (from left), special assistant Dwight Chapin and John Ehrlichman meet with President Richard Nixon in the White House in 1970.

 

But Chapin bears no resentment. At 81, he is among the few who knew Nixon well enough to tell a more complete story.

“I’m one of the few men still living who can write about this and give an understanding of the man I knew,” said Chapin, who now lives with his second wife, Terry, in Riverside, Conn., with whom he shares 15 grandchildren and step-grandchildren, to whom his book is dedicated.

 

Chapin (above) was first hired at 21 to work on Nixon’s unsuccessful campaign for California governor in 1962.

 

After he was released from prison, Chapin worked in marketing and publishing before becoming a public relations executive at Hill & Knowlton with assignments taking him to Geneva, Switzerland, Tokyo and Hong Kong. But he never worked in politics again.

In 2016, to mark the centennial anniversary of Nixon’s birth, he was asked to lead the renovation efforts at the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, Calif. From that effort came the spark for his memoir.

 

As deputy assistant to Nixon, Chapin was aware of the “dirty tricks” going on, but now says he regrets it. “If I could do it again, I wouldn’t participate in any dirty tricks or pranksterism,” he said.

 

In the book, Chapin recalls how Bob Haldeman, who went on to serve as Nixon’s chief of staff, hired him to do field work for Nixon’s 1962 gubernatorial campaign when he was a 21-year-old student at the University of Southern California. After that, Chapin was tapped for subsequent jobs including as Nixon’s personal aide in his successful 1968 run for the presidency. Chapin remembers the president “recording his thoughts and ideas by hand on yellow legal pads” and once tapping his forefinger on the schedule Chapin had prepared for him, saying “Dwight … it says here that when I’m finished speaking, I will dance with this lady … I don’t dance.”

Chapin’s close, even codependent relationship with Haldeman is also explored. While grateful to Haldeman, his loyalty to his mercurial mentor ultimately cost him as the Watergate scandal snowballed.

 

After being by Nixon’s side throughout his ascendancy to the presidency, Chapin was abruptly fired when the Watergate scandal blew up. The Nixon Presidential Library

 

On June 17, 1972, burglars were caught breaking into Democratic National Committee Headquarters at the Watergate hotel in Washington, DC. At first, it appeared to be a simple burglary until a check found on one of the burglars was connected to the Nixon re-election campaign committee. This led to Congressional hearings, where witnesses including White House Counsel John Dean testified that Nixon had participated in the attempt to cover up the break-in. As the House moved toward impeachment, the Supreme Court ruled that the “Nixon tapes” — recordings the president made of his personal conversations in the White House — could be played. The tapes revealed that Nixon had tried to prevent information leaking about the break-in and subsequent wiretapping of the offices. In order to avoid being removed from office, Nixon resigned in 1974, becoming the first US president to do so.

It’s never been established who the true architect of the plan was. At first, Haldeman was suspected. But Chapin, who insists he knew nothing about the break-in and points out it’s been established that neither Nixon nor Haldeman directed it or knew about it in advance, believes John Dean, Nixon’s trusted White House Counsel, was instrumental in pressuring others, including Jeb Magruder, deputy campaign manager for Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP), to conduct the operation.

 

Chapin paints White House Counsel John Dean (above) as a “master manipulator” who discouraged Nixon from coming clean about the scandal — in order, Chapin believes, to cover up his own role. Corbis

 

Dean, known to many as the truth-teller who famously advised Nixon, “There’s a cancer on the presidency,” emerges in Chapin’s account as a “master manipulator” who discouraged Nixon from coming clean about the scandal — in order, Chapin believes, to cover up his own role. (When The Post contacted Dean, 83, who now resides in Beverly Hills, and told him of Chapin’s claims, he said: “I haven’t read the book and I don’t have a dog in that fight, so I’m going to pass on commenting.”)

Meanwhile, when prosecutors offered Chapin the chance to cooperate and avoid disgrace, his reply was “Tell them to go f–k themselves.”

Chapin writes, “I would never have testified against the president or Haldeman. … Second, and most important, I had absolutely nothing to tell … The prosecutors very simply would not believe I did not know more.”

 

Bob Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, had a close, even codependent relationship with Chapin, who remains unfailingly loyal to both him and the president long after Watergate. White House/GAMMA

 

Chapin was fired from the Nixon administration in March 1973 and found guilty of making false statements the following year. Though he appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court, he finally served time at Lompoc, a low-security prison near Los Angeles, while he was in his mid-30s.

Chapin maintains that there were two separate issues to the Watergate scandal: “dirty tricks” — or practical jokes and hoaxes designed to undermine political rivals — and the more serious crimes of breaking in and wiretapping Democratic headquarters.

Chapin admits he was generally aware of the dirty tricks, having been assigned by Nixon and Haldeman to hire his fellow USC grad and roommate, the lawyer Don Segretti, to conduct political pranks. But, Chapin writes, he was never aware of the serious crimes, and he doesn’t believe President Nixon was either.

 

 

Media, including Woodward and Bernstein, the celebrated Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story, misled the public by conflating the separate issues of “dirty tricks” and the more criminal acts, Chapin believes.

When Chapin hired Segretti, he instructed him to operate within the law, and the book cites Segretti’s testimony corroborating that fact.

Nevertheless, Chapin was eventually convicted of making “false and misleading statements” after a jury refused to believe he didn’t remember a particular dirty trick by Segretti — a press release falsely claiming Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress, had been institutionalized for schizophrenia.

 

Nixon historically opened relations between the US and China in 1972 by meeting President Mao Tse-Tung in a fierce desire to end the Vietnam War.

 

Chapin was one of more than a dozen men from Nixon’s administration to do jail time, including G. Gordon Liddy, a former FBI agent who worked as a Nixon campaign aide, and E. Howard Hunt, a former CIA officer and leader of the White House Plumbers, a covert White House investigation unit. Also convicted was Jeb Magruder, but “Magruder was scared of his own shadow and I believe it’s highly unlikely he would’ve initiated the break-in,” said Chapin.

Media then, and now, hold Republicans who transgress to a higher standard of accountability than they do Democrats, Chapin contends. Included in the book are excerpts from his personal journal while in prison: “The prosecution was political and had many of us served a man named Kennedy [that is, a Democrat] and not one named Nixon [a Republican], we would never have faced prison.” He believes that Nixon’s notorious paranoia was an outgrowth of the media’s and Democrats’ efforts to destroy his presidency, perhaps to resurrect the hope of a presidential run for Teddy Kennedy after the Chappaquiddick scandal.

 

Chapin joined Henry Kissinger on China’s Great Wall during one of Nixon’s historic visits. Chapin says Nixon was prophetic on China.

 

“Destroying Nixon became the Democrats’ number one mission,” Chapin writes. “Incredibly, all 43 of the lead prosecutors were Democrats and many were formerly associated in some way, or friendly with, the Kennedys.”

While “dirty tricks have been around since the dawn of politics, and they still are,” according to Chapin, he noted he regrets participating in them. “If I could do it again, I wouldn’t participate in any dirty tricks or pranksterism,” he said. “My life has been absolutely spectacular except for one thing and that was the cost of Watergate.”

 

Chapin remembers attending a banquet in Beijing and sitting next to Chinese Premier Chao En-lai (center), who taught him how to use chopsticks as Henry Kissinger (left) looked on.

 

In his book, he highlights Nixon’s accomplishments: ending the draft; lowering the voting age; initiating the first affirmative action programs; starting the EPA; and establishing the National Cancer Institute. He recounts that Nixon historically opened relations between the US and China in 1972 in a fierce desire to end the Vietnam War, including seeking Beijing’s help in freeing American POWs. Chapin recalls sitting beside National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger at a banquet in Beijing and being taught by Chinese Premier Chao En-lai how to use chopsticks.

Quoting Nixon, Chapin writes: “‘We are going to China because in 50 years we will be adversaries, and we must be able to talk to one another.’ Taking into account the current state of US-China relations, it is interesting to note that Nixon said that, prophetically, in 1972, exactly 50 years ago!”

 

Chapin with Pat Nixon aboard her plane, “The Tricia,” in 1968. “She taught me how to do correspondence,” Chapin said.

 

Chapin also recounts the 1972 trip to Russia, which he coordinated as an advance man, for Nixon’s historic signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Overall, the memoir is suffused with an abiding respect for Nixon, whom Chapin saw as a rare, complex man of resilience, decency and courage. One example: in 1960, the first time he ran for president, some observers felt Nixon had actually won the election (there were claims of significant fraud in Illinois and Texas), but Nixon conceded to Kennedy in what Chapin views as an act of great patriotism.

 

Today, Chapin lives with his second wife, Terry, in Connecticut and bears no resentment. “The world today needs leaders who can demonstrate the level of strategic thinking Nixon did,” he said. Stephen Yang for NY Post

 

It reflected the same love of country, and humility, to Chapin, that Nixon displayed when he resigned.

Asked how he could forgive the man he had admired for allowing him to go to prison when Nixon himself did not, Chapin said it was not ever a matter of forgiveness, as he never blamed Nixon and felt “it would have served no purpose” for Nixon to be imprisoned.

 

Chapin’s memoir is suffused with an abiding respect for Nixon.

 

“I think people don’t realize the hell it was for Nixon having to be the first president to resign the presidency,” said Chapin. “That was his pain, his dues.

“It had to have been a hundred times harder for him than it even was for me.”

This entry was written by and posted on March 29, 2022 at 9:24 pm and filed under Features.