'I want the Brookings Institute safe cleaned out'
President Nixon tasked the 'Plumbers' with plugging the leaks revealed by the Pentagon Papers
President Richard M. Nixon had just lost a Supreme Court case 6-3. The justices ruled unanimously that the President could not prohibit the New York Times, Washington Post, and other newspapers from publishing the Pentagon Papers, a classified Defense Department history of America’s Vietnam War. Now, Nixon was worried. The study had stopped before his administration took office, so its publication posed no threat to him (though it did reflect poorly on his Democratic predecessors, Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy). But the notion that the leak was the work of a conspiracy did worry him, since his own secrets might be revealed next.
His conspiracy theory proved wrong in the long run, but in the short run Nixon acted on it. He decided to put together a team, later known as the Plumbers, to gather and then leak information about the people he suspected were conspiring against him. He also wanted the team to break into the Brookings Institution, because he (mistakenly) thought it had a classified report on Lyndon Johnson’s decision in October 1968 to stop the bombing of North Vietnam and to start peace talks to end the war. Nixon had undermined those negotiations by secretly encouraging South Vietnam to boycott the peace talks, and he had been obsessed ever since with getting his hands on every bit of classified information available on the bombing halt. Nixon had big (and criminal) plans, but first he needed to find someone to run the team.
Date: Thursday, July 1, 1971
Time: 8:45 a.m.–9:52 a.m.
Participants: Richard M. Nixon, H. R. "Bob" Haldeman
Location: Oval Office