Review (Guest): Integrity–Good People, Bad Choices, and Life Lessons from the White House

5 Star, Biography & Memoirs, Consciousness & Social IQ, Corruption, Crime (Government), Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform), Justice (Failure, Reform), Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization)
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REVIEW BY  Russell J. Geoffrey (East Greenwich, RI)

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful:

5.0 out of 5 stars INTEGRITY: easy to lose, hard to restore

February 4, 2008

He was a Navy officer serving on the USS Yorktown by the age of 22, in law school at 26, a staff assistant to the counsel to the president at 29, and Undersecretary of Transportation at 33. At 34, he was in jail. How could this happen to a man raised in a highly moral family, with an excellent education, with Christian Middle American values and a strong sense of patriotism? Yet here was Egil “Bud” Krogh at 33, starting a prison sentence for violating the civil rights of Dr. Lewis Fielding, a California psychiatrist. Bud says the principal cause was the collapse of integrity of those members of the White House’s Special Investigative Unit (SIU) who conspired, ordered and carried the break-in of the doctor who had been consulted by Dr. Daniel Ellsburg, the “leaker” of the Pentagon Papers” to the New York Times in early 1971.

In this short book on integrity and decision-making, Bud Krogh tells his story as an advisor in the White House during the Nixon administration and his role as co-director of the SIU. The reason for the book is quite clearly stated in the Dedication: “To those who deserve better, this book is offered as an apology, an explanation, and a way to keep integrity in the forefront of decision-making”.

After leaving the Navy in June of 1965, Bud was assisted in his career by John Ehrlichman, a close family friend and father figure to whom he admits he owed complete personal loyalty. Bud was working for Ehrlichman’s law firm in Washington State when Ehrlichman was named counsel to the president upon Richard Nixon’s election in 1968, and jumped at the chance to move to Washington to assist in the transition, eventually acting as assistant counsel and deputy counsel to the president.

In June of 1971, the “Pentagon Papers”, revealing that the United States government was deliberately expanding its role in the war while President Johnson was promising not to do so, were leaked to the New York Times by Dr. Daniel Ellsberg. Subsequent attempts by the Nixon Administration to prevent disclosure failed, including a ruling by the Supreme Court halting Administration attempts to prevent publication. Together with a article in the Times revealing the fall- back position of the U.S. in the first SALT talks, these disclosures created a “crisis of major proportions” in the Nixon White House. Bud was selected to co-direct the White House’s Special Investigations Unit (better known as the “Plumbers”), and tasked with stopping leaks of top secret information related to the Vietnamese War, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and other foreign policy operations. The SIU included such now famous names as G. Gordon Liddy, David Young and E. Howard Hunt, and according to Bud the group felt that it “had been given a critical responsibility by the president, and we were embarking on a quest that held great import for the security of the nation.”

Bud’s SIU decided to go forward with its own investigation. During deliberations, no one in the SIU questioned the necessity, legitimacy, legality, or morality of the proposed covert action. Relying on the president’s declaration of a national security crisis, the unit never asked whether their actions were “right”. Instead, the unit focused on questions such as who had the skills, who could be trusted, and who would pay for it? They assumed it was “right” because the president was pressing for action and because they believed that information from Dr. Fielding’s office would help prevent further leaks from undermining Nixon’s plan for ending the Vietnam war. Their loyalties were to their principals and to the president personally.Staff members had been hired on the basis of loyalty to the president and to the senior presidential aide who had recruited him or her. To suggest that national security was being improperly invoked would have been to invite a confrontation with both patriotism and loyalty, well beyond what he was capable of at that time. (In the Foreword, Daniel Ellsberg relates although he had taken an oath of office a number of times, he first noticed the Code of Ethics for Government Service hanging on a wall while he was a visitor at a New Mexico correction facility. He was particularly struck by the first principle: “Put loyalty to the highest moral principles and to country above loyalty to persons, party, or Government department.” Ellsberg admits that he didn’t recall that it ever occurred to him that he was taking on obligations to the Constitution that might contradict the demands of a cabinet secretary or the president.)

And so the members of the SIU conspired to break into the psychiatrist’s office because national security mandated an assessment of Ellsberg’s mental state to determine if he was likely to release other classified information. It was seven weeks from the “crisis” declaration to the break-in. Bud sums it up: “In those seven weeks, the SIU had undergone a journey from suspicion to certainty to covert action to frustration to zealotry: hardened by their first action, the Plumbers knew that the rules of engagement had been changed and the conventional respect for laws set aside. A botched break-in, evidence by a few Polaroids, didn’t seem to represent much. In practice, however, it was the first irreversible step by which a presidency ran out of control.”

The efforts of the SIU didn’t end with the break-in of Dr. Fielding’s office. Failing to garner any information on Dr. Ellsberg, it was suggested that a break-in be conducted at Dr. Fielding’s home. After Bud rejected this idea, his involvement with covert action ended, but his troubles had just begun.

In February of 1973 Bud was confirmed as undersecretary of Transportation. In May he reisgend his position. In August, he was indicted for making a false declaration to the DOJ regarding the travel to California by the Plumbers. Then, in November of 1973, while on a vacation in Williamsburg, VA with his family, he admitted to himself that he felt uncomfortable with the soundness of using national security as a defense: “The more I tried to align my thought with a higher sense of right, the more problematic it became.” He recognized that here he was under federal and state indictment, but still free to travel wherever he wanted, speak to the press, worship freely, etc. , but had nonetheless violated another man’s civil rights in order to protect the country. If he continued to justify violating rights he continued to enjoy, he felt he would not only be a hypocrite, but a traitor to the fundamental American idea of the right of an individual to be free from unwarranted government intrusion in his life. He decided to plead guilty: “While there may have been some damaging impacts upon national security from Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers, those impacts simply could not justify the invasion of Fielding’s rights that this operation involved.”

Four days after making his decision, Bud walked into the office of Leon Jaworski, the special prosecutor for Watergate and related crimes and offered to plead guilty to the more serious charge of the deprivation of civil rights in exchange for a dismissal of lesser federal and state charges. His one other stipulation – to avoid any suggestion that he was seeking leniency through testifying, and in the belief that it would be wrong to benefit directly from sharing a truth that would damage others, Bud made it clear that his guilty plea was conditional on the prosecutor’s agreement that he would not talk with them or the grand jury until after he’d been sentenced: “It was critically important to me that Judge Gerhard Gesell sentence me solely on the basis of what I did, not for what I might say that would implicate others.” Bud pled guilty on November 30th and was eventually sentenced to a term of two to six years of which he was to serve six months, with two years of unsupervised probation.

Bud spices up the book with a few tales that have only a tertiary relationship to the issue of integrity. He tells one story of working in the Nixon transition office as one of those screening the backgrounds of the president’s nominees. He also discusses his experiences in Vietnam in December of 1967 studying land reform as a method of defeating the Viet Cong insurgency; the famous May, describes the 1970 Nixon “wee hours” of the morning meeting with war protestors at the Lincoln memorial; and challenges the decisions of the current Bush Administration regarding interrogation techniques and wiretapping.

Reflecting back upon his actions, Bud concludes that his absolute loyalty to President Nixon personally and to his view of the national security threat had skewed his perspective. This kind of absolute loyalty lacked integrity, he came to understand, because it was unbalanced and too exclusive. Loyalty to the president was obviously important up to a point. However, loyalty to the Constitution, to the rule of law, and to moral and ethical requirements should have been key factors in his decisions as well: “The key point I had not internalized was that the integrity in which the president was reposing special trust was my own. Not his integrity, not the integrity of someone else on the staff, but my own. In short, no one can check their personal integrity at the door when they walk into work at the West Wing or anywhere else”.

This is an excellent book addressing the competing pressures of individual integrity and personal loyalty and is recommended reading for all, both private and public sector.

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