Ehrlichman, John Daniel

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(b. 20 March 1925 in Tacoma, Washington; d. 14 February 1999 in Atlanta, Georgia), attorney, Republican campaign organizer, and domestic policy adviser to President Richard M. Nixon who went to prison for his role in the Watergate cover-up.

Ehrlichman was the only child of Rudolph Ehrlichman, a World War I pilot who enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force early in World War II and died in a plane crash in 1941, and Lillian C. Danielson. Growing up in Washington State and California, Ehrlichman drove a milk truck and worked as a store clerk and a mailman. After his freshman year at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943. As a lead navigator in a pathfinder squadron of the Eighth Air Force, he flew twenty-six bombing missions over Germany and was awarded the Air Medal with clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In 1945 Ehrlichman was discharged from the air corps and reenrolled under the GI Bill at UCLA. While a student there, he met H. R. ("Bob") Haldeman. He also met and courted Jeanne Fisher, whom he married on 21 August 1949. The couple had five children before divorcing in 1978. After receiving his B.A. in 1948, Ehrlichman entered Stanford University School of Law and earned his law degree in 1951. He was admitted to the bar in California and practiced for a few months, and then the family returned to Washington. Ehrlichman and a few colleagues established the firm of Hullin, Ehrlichman, Roberts, and Hodge in Seattle in 1952. Practicing in the area of land use and real estate law, he remained a partner in the firm until 1968.

While in New York City on business in late 1959, Ehrlichman visited Bob Haldeman at the latter's Connecticut residence. Haldeman was working part-time for Vice President Richard M. Nixon's presidential campaign, traveling to several states that had presidential primary elections to make arrangements for Nixon's campaign visits. He asked Ehrlichman to do similar advance work for the campaign. Ehrlichman was responsible primarily for logistics and public relations, but he occasionally engaged in "dirty tricks." For example, in his memoirs, Witness to Power: The Nixon Years (1982), he related how he was able to infiltrate the campaign of Nelson Rockefeller, Nixon's primary opponent in 1960. Ehrlichman signed on as a driver for the Rockefeller motorcade that traveled across North Dakota. In this position he was able to gather political intelligence about the Rockefeller campaign. Later in 1960 he was sent to the Democratic convention in Los Angeles to observe John F. Kennedy's campaign. Ehrlichman also worked on arrangements for the Nixon campaign at the Republican convention in Chicago. He later acknowledged that he knew more about Kennedy's campaign after observing the Democratic convention than he knew about the Nixon effort after the Republican convention. After Nixon was nominated, Ehrlichman continued doing advance work for the candidate, arranging rallies, public appearances, and visits with local Republican politicians. After Kennedy defeated Nixon in November 1960, Ehrlichman returned to Seattle.

Haldeman enlisted Ehrlichman to work as the scheduler for Nixon's 1962 gubernatorial campaign in California. In November the incumbent governor Edmund ("Pat") Brown soundly defeated Nixon. Ehrlichman was present the morning after the election, when Nixon informed the world that "the press wouldn't have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore." In 1964 Haldeman again called on Ehrlichman to assist with Nixon's appearance at the 1964 Republican convention in San Francisco. Although the former vice president's speech was well received, Ehrlichman left the convention convinced that Nixon's heavy drinking would cost him any return to public life.

In the fall of 1967 Nixon called Ehrlichman to New York to join another presidential campaign. Ehrlichman signed on to the campaign as national tour director, a position in which he managed Nixon's 50,000-mile travel schedule. He also oversaw most of the arrangements for the 1968 Republican convention in Miami. After winning the election, Nixon rewarded Ehrlichman by naming him White House counsel. He was promoted to assistant to the president for domestic affairs late in 1969. In this position Ehrlichman ranked second behind Chief of Staff Haldeman in the White House hierarchy.

Some in the Nixon administration viewed Ehrlichman as a closet liberal. As chief domestic policy adviser, he argued strongly in favor of increasing antipoverty programs, liberalized abortion laws, welfare reform, and school desegregation. He also advocated the development of a national energy policy. Over time, Ehrlichman and Haldeman, along with a few other trusted aides, became the primary sounding board for the president, filtering governmental activities for presentation to Nixon while protecting him from undue burdens on his time. To the public, Ehrlichman and Haldeman were interchangeable, and the two were criticized for being a "palace guard" in the White House. In an effort to protect the president, in 1969 Ehrlichman established a political intelligence operation to support the administration. This need for intelligence led him in 1971 to authorize a covert operation to uncover information on Daniel Ellsberg, the State Department and Defense Department employee who had leaked the so-called Pentagon Papers to the press. (The Pentagon Papers represented the fruits of a secret internal study examining the history of U.S. policy in Vietnam, the publication of which eroded public support for the war and for the Nixon administration.) The conspiracy in which Ehrlichman participated involved breaking into the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist.

The White House aide John Dean implicated Ehrlichman and Haldeman in another conspiracy to cover up the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate complex. Nixon asked them to resign on 30 April 1973, and he himself eventually resigned in August 1974 after Congress began impeachment proceedings. On 1 January 1975 Ehrlichman was convicted for his role in the cover-up and sentenced to thirty months to five years in prison. While appealing the conviction, he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and wrote his first novel, The Company (1976). Although the book purportedly was a work of fiction, critics noted that the plot closely resembled the recent history of the Nixon administration. Ehrlichman served eighteen months at the federal minimum-security Swift Trail prison camp near Safford, Arizona.

After his release from prison in 1978, Ehrlichman married Christy McLaurine that November. They had one son. In 1991 his second marriage dissolved, and Ehrlichman moved to Atlanta, where he became senior vice president for Law Companies Group, an architectural and environmental engineering firm. He married Karen Hilliard in January 1995. At the end of his life, Ehrlichman was trying to redeem himself in the eyes of history when he died of complications from diabetes. His body was cremated.

The John Ehrlichman Papers are at the Hoover Institution Archives on the campus of Stanford University in California. Ehrlichman's gossipy memoir, Witness to Power: The Nixon Years (1982), provides a discussion of his role in Nixon's campaigns of the 1960s, as well as a view of his role in the Nixon administration. William Safire, Before the Fall: An Inside View of the Pre-Watergate White House (1975), is another view of Ehrlichman's role at the White House. Dan Rather and Gary Paul Gates, The Palace Guard (1974), is an interesting look at the Nixon administration, which Ehrlichman claimed was an inaccurate account of events. Obituaries are in the New York Times and Washington Post (both 16 Feb. 1999).

John David Rausch, Jr.