Haldeman, H(arry) R(obbins)

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Haldeman, H(arry) R(obbins)

(b. 27 October 1926 in Los Angeles, California; d. 12 November 1993 in Santa Barbara, California), advertising executive who became chief of staff to President Richard M. Nixon and who was deeply implicated in the Watergate affair.

H. R. Haldeman was the first of three children born to Harry Francis Haldeman, a successful businessman, and Katherine Elizabeth Robbins, a homemaker. He graduated from Harvard School, a private high school in the San Fernando Valley, in 1944. Between 1944 and 1946 he attended the University of Redlands and the University of Southern California while participating in the U.S. Naval Reserves’ V-12 program. He next entered the University of California at Los Angeles, earning a’ B.S. degree in business administration in 1948. While at UCLA he became friends with John D. Ehrlichman, who later joined him as a member of the Nixon administration and was Haldeman’s codefendant in the criminal trial resulting from the Watergate cover-up.

In 1949 Haldeman joined the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency as an account executive, and on 19 February of that year he married Joanne Horton. The couple had four children. By 1959 Haldeman had risen to vice president and was manager of the Thompson agency’s Los Angeles office.

During the 1950s Haldeman was slowly drawn to Republican leader Richard M. Nixon. Although Haldeman’s grandfather was a founder of the Better America Federation, an early anticommunist organization, Haldeman claimed not to have been attracted to Nixon because of ideology. Haldeman later stated in The Ends of Power (1978) that it was not, as had been widely reported, because of Nixon’s anticommunism, but because Haldeman felt his fellow Californian was “a fighter.”

In 1952 Haldeman’s offer to work on Nixon’s vice presidential campaign was ignored, but in 1956 he worked for Nixon’s reelection as an advance man. In 1960 he took a leave of absence from the Thompson agency to work full time as the chief advance man during Nixon’s unsuccessful campaign for the presidency. In 1962, when Nixon ran unsuccessfully for the governorship of California, Haldeman managed his campaign. After this debacle, many people thought that Nixon was finished politically, but he came back to gain his party’s nomination for the presidency in 1968. With the Democratic party in disarray over President Lyndon Johnson’s handling of the Vietnam War, Haldeman, aided by his former schoolmate Ehrlichman, directed Nixon’s victorious campaign.

In January 1969 Haldeman became chief of staff in the new Nixon administration. Haldeman was fiercely loyal to the president, and his vigorous efforts to protect the chief executive soon earned him the hostility of the press, which portrayed him as the arrogant “keeper of the gate” who severely limited access to the Oval Office. His German origins and crew cut led to such labels as the “Iron Chancellor,” the “Prussian Guard,” and the “Berlin Wall.”

During Nixon’s reelection campaign in 1972, Haldeman remained at his post in the White House, leaving the direction of the Committee to Reelect the President (CRP or CREEP) to former attorney general John Mitchell. In The Ends of Power, Haldeman argued that Mitchell was distracted from his duties by the apparent emotional and mental problems of his wife, Martha. Without firm direction from the top, CREEP operatives carried out what Ronald L. Ziegler, Nixon’s press secretary, called a “third-rate burglary attempt” on the night of 17 June 1972, when five men were apprehended inside the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate apartment and office complex in Washington, D.C. The effort to cover up the connection between the burglars and the Nixon campaign eventually led to the resignation of the president on 9 August 1974.

In the meantime, as a result of congressional and judicial investigations into the Watergate affair, Haldeman was forced to resign on 30 April 1973. In March 1974 he was indicted by a grand jury, and on 1 January 1975 he was found guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and three counts of perjury in connection with his role in the Watergate cover-up. In June 1977, after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal, Haldeman entered a minimum-security federal prison in Lompoc, California. His sentence of two and a half to eight years was reduced to one to four years by Judge John J. Sirica because Haldeman admitted his “guilt and feelings of remorse.” An editorial in the New York Times (5 October 1977) disagreed with Sirica’s ruling, suggesting that Haldeman’s “admission of guilt” was made only to get a reduced sentence. Haldeman, paroled on 20 December 1978 after serving eighteen months, returned to Los Angeles and rebuilt a career in business and real estate. Seven months after his release from prison, he became a vice president with the David H. Murdock Development Company in Los Angeles. In 1986 he moved to Santa Barbara and managed his own real estate investments and a chain of Sizzler Family Steak Houses in Florida.

While still in prison Haldeman published The Ends of Power to give his view of the Watergate affair. However, in his preface to the work, Haldeman stated that this was not the book he had hoped to write, for his original goal had been to deal with the accomplishments of the Nixon presidency. To some extent the posthumously published Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House (1994), which covers Haldeman’s entire time at the center of power, is an effort to show that Watergate was only one facet of the Nixon years.

Haldeman’s post-Watergate relations with his old boss were strained as the result of Nixon’s May 1977 television interview with David Frost. First Ehrlichman and then Haldeman publicly criticized the version of Watergate that Nixon gave to Frost. When some 250 former members of the Nixon administration gathered at Nixon’s home in San Clemente, California, on 4 September 1979, the New York Times noted that Ehrlichman and Haldeman, the only two who had criticized the former president, were “conspicuous by their absence.” The Times also pointed out that neither man appeared at a reunion of Nixon’s 1972 campaign workers held in Washington, D.C., on 6 November 1982.

However, in his afterword to The Haldeman Diaries, the historian Stephen E. Ambrose suggests that by 1990 Haldeman had come to regret some of the negative things he had said earlier about Nixon. Indeed, when the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace was dedicated on 19 July 1990, the New York Times duly noted that Haldeman was in attendance. Three years later Haldeman died at his home in Santa Barbara of an abdominal tumor after an illness of one month. He is buried in Santa Barbara.

Although Haldeman suggested that he was not guilty of any specific crime in connection with the Watergate affair, many of his critics argue that he played a fundamental role in the cover-up. As he admitted in The Ends of Power, his fervid loyalty to Nixon and his demand that all members of the White House staff serve the president without question certainly helped create an atmosphere that made both Watergate and its cover-up possible.

Haldeman’s The Ends of Power (1978), written with Joseph DiMona, provides some biographical information but is mainly concerned with giving Haldeman’s perspective on the Watergate affair. The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House (1994), gives a chronological record of Haldeman’s activities as chief of staff from 21 January 1969 to 30 April 1973. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, All the President’s Men (1974), and Theodore White, Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon (1975), deal with Haldeman’s involvement in the Watergate cover-up. A brief biographical sketch is in Current Biography 1978. Peter Haldeman, “Growing up Haldeman,” New York Times Magazine (3 Apr. 1994), gives a son’s view of the travails of his father. Obituaries are in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times (all 13 Nov. 1993). An oral history interview is in the California State Archives, Sacramento, California.

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