As his second term began, the public’s perception of Richard Nixon differed significantly from how he would be seen only a year later. In January 1973 voters saw him as a highly successful politician who had been reelected easily, only the third president since World War I to win a second term on his own. They saw a man who had beaten his critics and who had fought a Democrat-controlled House and Senate to a standstill. By the end of 1973, they would see a beaten man who was marking time until his resignation.
Nixon, Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman, and domestic advisor John Ehrlichman felt comfortable, if not confident, in January 1973, so the White House inner circle spent its time planning harassing strategies against perceived enemies. They discussed denying Washington Post reporters access to the White House, challenging the FCC licenses of two television stations owned by the Post company, and launching a public relations offensive to obliterate any negative, lingering Watergate images. They also reflected on their mistakes. Nixon told aide Charles Colson on January 2 that involving White House staff directly in the dirty tricks campaign led by Donald Segretti had been a bad idea. Colson responded simply: “The mistake of the Watergate was whoever said, ‘Do it.’”1
At the same time, everyone in the Oval Office feared what might happen. Only seven persons had been implicated in the Watergate break-in—the five burglars plus the masterminds, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt—but the White House knew that if any of the seven talked, the entire administration would be endangered. At first, there seemed to be nothing to worry about. As the burglars’ pretrial appearances began, they remained silent. The money found in Dorothy Hunt’s purse after the Chicago crash had not been traced definitively to anyone beyond the seven defendants either. Although Hunt was blackmailing the White House (the money in the purse had led to other demands), the strategy of enforced silence appeared to be a success. Two weeks be