THE ADMINISTRATION: Ripping Open an Incredible Scandal

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had asked Ehrlichman to take over as his own top aide in investigating Watergate, replacing Dean, in whom the President had obviously lost confidence. Martha Mitchell insisted to newsmen that her husband had been called in by the President and had talked to him. She called Ziegler's report that her husband had not seen Nixon "a god-blessed lie." Said Mrs. Mitchell in a telephone call to the Associated Press: "The President wanted Mr. Mitchell down there. They're trying to get him and me as the two culprits." If Mitchell did not see Nixon, the snub seemed a demeaning way for the President to deal with an intimate on such a grave matter as implication in the scandal.

As speculation rose about Mitchell's involvement, the nation's onetime law-enforcement chief remained remarkably calm. Publicly, he scoffed at it all. "The stories are getting sillier all the time, aren't they?" he commented to a reporter. But TIME has learned that Mitchell's grand jury testimony at week's end was both self-incriminating and sensational.

Mitchell told the jurors that he had indeed discussed plans to bug Democratic headquarters on three, rather than just two, occasions. He did so in his office as Attorney General on Jan. 24 and Feb. 4, as well as in Key Biscayne about a month later, after he shifted to head the Nixon campaign committee. But on each occasion, Mitchell testified, he opposed the plans. This statement directly contradicted Magruder's story. Mitchell said that he thought that his objections had caused the plans to be abandoned.

Lowly. He did not learn that they were proceeding, Mitchell testified, until the wiretappers were arrested at the Watergate in June. Then, he told the jury, he became certain that someone in the White House had gone over his head and approved the plans. Without White House approval, Mitchell insisted, such lowly figures as Hunt and Liddy would not have dared to go ahead. Mitchell thus passed the buck back to Nixon's White House.

The former Attorney General also told the jury that he had known in advance that his Nixon committee deputy, Magruder, was going to give a false story to the grand jury last summer by denying any advance knowledge of the Watergate plans. Magruder has since conceded to Justice Department officials that he did testify untruthfully, but claims that he did so at the urging of Mitchell. Mitchell denies that he told Magruder to lie. Magruder is thus wide open to a perjury charge and is in turn accusing Mitchell of suborning that perjury.

As for the payments to the wiretappers, Mitchell told the jury that he did approve such payments, beginning before the 1972 election and continuing even after he was no longer technically the head of the re-election committee. He claimed, however, that the payments were not hush money, but funds needed by the arrested men for living expenses and legal fees. Mitchell said he was not sure precisely where this money had been kept, but that it was from campaign contributions.

Mitchell's testimony last week destroyed his previous public claims that he had never been aware in advance of any plans to bug Democratic headquarters. It is not yet clear whether Mitchell made the same assertions in his previous testimony to the grand jury last summer. If he explicitly did so, he too faces a potential perjury charge.

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