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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Politics

James Rosen

Washington

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Blumenthal in the Nixon White House

May 18, 2010 - 11:50 AM | by: James Rosen

As the New York Times has reported, Connecticut Attorney General and Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal remained stateside during the Vietnam War thanks to five deferments he obtained, the last of which enabled him to take a job in the Nixon White House.

During research for my book The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate (Doubleday 2008), I uncovered some documents that showed Blumenthal, then a staff lawyer for Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a key domestic policy adviser to the president, had aroused the suspicions of Attorney General Mitchell.

The year was 1969, and the country was wracked by divisions over the war.  A massive march on Washington was held over the long weekend of November 13-16.  The organizing group, the New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, or “New Mobe,” rallied upwards of 250,000 people to descend on the nation’s capital — then a record-shattering turnout for the first major antiwar protest against the Nixon administration.

Despite pledges of nonviolence by New Mobe leaders, an ad hoc committee of Justice Department, Pentagon, and D.C. police officials reckoned otherwise.  “The potential for violence, with resulting injuries and possible deaths, as well as damage to real and personal property…is extremely high,” concluded the group’s internal report.

Against this backdrop of political tension and the prospect of violence by radical groups — indeed, the Justice Department was attacked over the weekend, with windows smashed and the building defaced, amid plumes of tear gas unleashed by police – Attorney General Mitchell came to believe that the youthful Blumenthal, who was deputized to serve as a liaison to the New Mobe, was actually “taking orders” from Mobe leaders, “and in turn directing the District Police to do [the group's bidding].”

That was how Moynihan summarized Mitchell’s views to top Nixon aide John Ehrlichman, the declassified documents show.  Upon orders from the attorney general, Ehrlichman staffer Egil Krogh — later infamous as the head of the Plumbers, the covert group that conceived and executed the break-ins at the offices of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist and the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex — called Blumenthal on the telephone with stern orders.  Krogh instructed him to withdraw from all contact with the demonstrators; Blumenthal complied.

The incident upset Moynihan, who complained to Ehrlichman that Attorney General Mitchell was “mistaken” about the young attorney.  “Dick was not taking orders from anyone, nor giving them to anyone,” Moynihan told Ehrlichman in a November 25, 1969 memorandum, previously unpublished.  “He was merely passing on to the mayor and deputy mayor information they requested he obtain.  This is at least Dick’s story, and I believe it….The trouble is that now, as last February, when the Washington Post began reporting a great (and non-existent) rift between me and Mitchell…the attorney general just seems to assume Blumenthal is the cause of trouble.”

Moynihan finished the memo with a swipe at the attorney general, who before government service in the Nixon administration had been a leading municipal bond counsel on Wall Street: “It is time he acted a bit more lawyer-like, if you want my opinion.”

Mitchell dropped the issue, and Blumenthal continued on Moynihan’s staff.  However the documents show that Blumenthal later hesitated to accept a job working for Donald Rumsfeld, then head of the Office of Economic Opportunity, because Blumenthal was “worried about the A.G.’s [attorney general's] reaction (as yet unknown).”  That assessment was recorded in a January 1970 memo exchanged between two White House aides, Chester Finn and Kenneth Cole, on Ehrlichman’s staff.

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