Study Guide

John Ehrlichman in United States v. Nixon

By Supreme Court of the United States

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John Ehrlichman

Like his buddy Haldeman, John Ehrlichman was an Eagle Scout and attended UCLA. He left UCLA after his freshman year to enlist in the Air Force, and he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross as a B-17 Navigator in the 8th Air Force during WWII. His father also served in World War II and died in a plane crash in Newfoundland in 1942. After the war, Ehrlichman used the G.I. bill to finish his degree at UCLA, which is when he met his close friend and colleague Haldeman. After graduating in from Stanford Law School in 1951, he joined a law firm in Seattle, where he practiced until he decided to enter politics full time in 1969.

Haldeman had recruited Ehrlichman to work on Nixon's political campaigns in 1960 and 1962. When Nixon was elected President in 1968, Ehrlichman was appointed White House counsel, then chief domestic affairs advisor for Nixon. Ehrlichman became known in Nixon's inner circle as the "White House fireman," because of his success in putting out political fires before they got out of control. (Source)

Turns out, he became one of the chief arsonists. It was Ehrlichman who had the bright idea to burglarize the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. Ellsberg had leaked what would be known as The Pentagon Papers, secret Department of Defense papers about U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Concerned about further disclosures, Ehrlichman headed up a covert unit called "the plumbers," who were assigned to plug any future leaks.

Ehrlichman eventually disbanded the plumbers, but it was too late. He was deeply involved with the Watergate cover-up and along with Haldeman, resigned at Nixon's request on April 30th, 1973. The "Berlin Wall" had fallen.

For his role in Watergate, Ehrlichman was convicted of perjury, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice. Along with Haldeman, he was originally sentenced to 2 ½ to 8 years in prison, but was released after 18 months. Because he was a felon, he lost the ability to practice law. After Watergate, Ehrlichman became a writer, writing a fictionalized account of the Watergate Scandal called The Company. He'd eventually write a more fact-based account of his time in the White House called Witness to Power.

Besides writing, another source of income for Ehrlichman was a stint as the spokesman for Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream. Uncomfortable that a convicted felon and a symbol of political corruption was trying to sell ice cream to their kids, parents soon protested, and Ehrlichman was again out of a job.

It eventually came to light via some newly released White House tapes, that in a 1994 interview Ehrlichman had claimed that Nixon organized the war on drugs to discredit the anti-war hippies and the African American community. Ehrlichman said that, "We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did" (source).

John Ehrlichman died from complications of diabetes (too much ice cream?) in 1999.

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