The Nation: The Rise and Fall of Herb Kalmbach

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The Rise and Fall of herb Kalbach

Discreet and studiously low-key, Herbert W. Kalmbach, 52, was the ideal lawyer to handle Richard Nixon's personal affairs. Like the President, he was a self-made and extraordinarily diligent man, both traits that Nixon admired in an aide. Above all else, Kalmbach was an unswerving and unquestioning loyalist.

The tall, well-groomed lawyer proved his devotion as far back as 1960, when he worked with zeal and success to raise money for Nixon's unsuccessful bid for the presidency. Nixon never forgot. During his run for the White House in 1968, Kalmbach once again helped raise funds. After the election, Kalmbach turned down Nixon's offer to become Under Secretary of Commerce, choosing instead to stay in California and to build up his law practice. But he later agreed to serve as the President's personal lawyer.

It was a shrewd choice. Kalmbach's solid but unspectacular career as a real estate lawyer was instantly touched with gold. In 1968 his firm had only two other lawyers. By 1970 the number of attorneys had jumped to 14, and by 1973 to 24. Suddenly major clients from all over the nation were eager to sign up with the attorney who represented the President: United Air Lines, Dart Industries Inc., the Marriott Corp., MCA Inc. (the dominant producer of prime-time TV shows). National companies traditionally seek out lawyers who have friends and clients in high places in Washington, and Kalmbach's were very high indeed.

For the President, Kalmbach performed a variety of minor legal chores, such as drawing up his will and writing out checks to cover routine expenses like insurance premiums, property taxes and mortgage payments.

Personal Clout. But Kalmbach also provided some distinctly profitable services to the President. He not only handled the complicated purchase of Nixon's estate in San Clemente but had the clout on his own to get the Government to make thousands of dollars worth of improvements on the property that were charged off to "security," including a $388.78 exhaust fan for the fireplace. It was Frank DeMarco, Kalmbach's partner, who helped arrange Nixon's controversial gift to the nation of his vice-presidential papers, a donation that the President claimed as a $482,000 deduction on his income tax returns.

More important, Kalmbach steadily emerged as the White House's financial Mr. Fix-It, the man who could be counted on, without quibbling, to collect or pay out money as problems arose. In addition to the charge of obtaining contributions and secretly and illegally funneling them to candidates, which he pleaded guilty to last week, Kalmbach was one of the bagmen who picked up campaign contributions from milk producers just before the Administration upped milk-price supports in 1971. He paid Donald Segretti some $45,000 in salary and expenses to carry out his campaign of political dirty tricks, and he illegally raised funds and paid out $220,000 to the seven Watergate defendants.

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