THE ADMINISTRATION: Ripping Open an Incredible Scandal

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and cover-up is ugly. The burglary and wiretapping of Democratic National Committee Headquarters in Washington's Watergate complex last June was a serious crime in itself. But now it has been revealed as clearly part of a far broader campaign of political espionage designed to give Nixon an unfair, illegal—and unnecessary—advantage in his re-election drive. It was financed with secret campaign funds, contributed in cash by anonymous donors and never fully accounted for, in violation of the law. Then, after the arrests of seven men in the Watergate breakin, the same funds were used to persuade most of them to plead guilty and keep quiet about any higher involvement.

Hush. Initially the Justice Department and the FBI were influenced by either White House officials or their own leaders, who had an extravagant sense of political loyalty to the President, to limit their investigations. They avoided any definitive findings on who had ordered the espionage, who had approved it, who had paid for it and who had conveyed or known about the hush money. That extraordinary attempt at concealment might have succeeded. But persistent newsmen kept probing on their own, asking questions and printing partial answers from lower-level Government officials who were indignant at the evasion above them.

A courageous Washington federal judge, John J. Sirica, applied intense pressure on the wiretappers after their conviction in January, urging them to break their silence. A determined federal grand jury in Washington, which had handled the original Watergate indictments last summer, then got firmer leadership from aroused prosecuting attorneys. And a select Senate committee headed by North Carolina's Sam J. Ervin Jr. moved rapidly to explore the whole sordid Watergate scandal in televised public hearings.

As the pressure built up, Nixon's adamant refusal to let any of his aides testify before Ervin's committee became untenable. Hardly a legal scholar could be found to support this unheard-of claim of unqualified Executive privilege. Republican Senators began protesting just as vigorously as Nixon's Democratic critics. The President's brief and bland denials of White House involvement no longer satisfied anyone.

Finally, last week, Nixon spoke up. He called a White House press conference, grimly read a prepared statement that took just three minutes, and refused to answer questions. While top politicians in both parties expressed relief that the President finally seemed aware of the ramifications of Watergate, Nixon's statement reflected only the minimum that needed to be said—and it should have been expressed months ago.

Looking tense and haggard, Nixon announced that all members of his staff will, after all, appear voluntarily before Ervin's committee if they are asked to do so. They will testify under oath and in public, "and they will answer fully all proper questions." He said they will, however, retain the right to refuse to answer any question that infringes on Nixon's concept of Executive privilege.*

The complete reversal by Nixon amounted to almost total capitulation to Ervin's insistence that no presidential aide is entitled to blanket immunity from congressional inquiry into wrongdoing. But the matter could become academic, at least for a while. Ervin conceded that if key witnesses are

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