Neglected in the vast materials documenting the Nixonian corruption is the calculated White House criminality against the trust of millions of taxpayers who finance the federal government.
More evidence of this conduct is contained in a White House memorandum, dated March 17, 1972, and marked “Extremely Sensitive —Confidential,” from Nixon aide Fred Malek to H. R. Haldeman.
THE MEMO lays out a plan for disbursing federal funds specifically to help re-elect the President or otherwise buy votes by manipulating federal actions.
The Malek plan, manifestly illegal, was to induce or pressure government agencies to channel funds to groups or geographic areas deemed essential for the November election.
Malek wrote that, while the Department of Commerce had already responded to prior White House requests for a dozen favorable grant decisions “which otherwise would not have been made,” the “potential is much greater.”
Malek elaborated: “In the Commerce Department, for example, there is nearly $700 million in funds remaining in this fiscal year and over $700 million in next fiscal year which could be redirected in some manner.”
HE NAMED the Economic Development Administration ($275 million), the regional action planning commissions ($40 million) and the Maritime Administration ($230 million) as major areas for emphasis within the Department of Commerce.
Deputy Director of the powerful Office of Management and Budget under Roy Ash until he resigned last week, Malek is known for his meticulous political planning.
He wanted his program to proceed with precision, specifying that “the political priorities would be spelled out in terms of key states and major voting bloc groups upon which departmental action could have an impact. The departments would be updated as needed, as the political priorities evolve.”
THE TYPES of activities Malek wanted covered were what he called “positive decisions (project grants, contracts, loans, subsidies, procurement and construction projects), and negative actions (taking legal or regulatory action against a group or governmental body, major cutbacks in programs and relocation of department operations).
He also wanted follow-through, asserting that, “under this program, the departments would be expected to cultivate the leaders of organized groups which are affected by the department to gain their support and the support of their groups for the President’s re-election.”
There Os: one aspect of how the White House worked to have taxpayers finance its re-election campaign and involve civil servants as well.
Having spelled out the details, Malek noted some possible drawbacks: that the plan would be leaked to the public and that the President would be associated with the program.
To avoid these risks, he ordered that there would be no written communications from the White House to the departments. Any other documents would be written, he said, to “give the impression that the program was initiated by the department head without the knowledge of the White House.”
WITH UNDILUTED cynicism, Malek then proceeded to assert that “the departments must be given a clear understanding of what is expected of them in carrying out the program, as well as the President’s full backing of the program. To demonstrate presidential support, it should first he covered briefly at a Cabinet meeting.”
In a subsequent confidential Malek-to-Haldeman memo of June 7, 1972, Malek reports that the response to his plan “has been fairly good” from such high level officials as HUD Secretary George Romney, Secretary of Labor James Hodgson, Secretary of Commerce Peter Peterson, Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz, Secretary of Transportation John Volpe, Budget Chief Cap Weinberger and, of course, John Mitchell lie noted examples of the program’s success, such as: the Department of Labor was asked to award a $2.2-million migrant labor program contract in Texas to a pro- administration group after reversing its public commitment to award the monies to another recipient.
HOW is the public to respond to the Malek plan and other similar abuses from the highest governmental levels? Perhaps some questions can provide some answers:
Could this plan have been carried out if (1) there was a strong campaign reform enforcement agency; (2) if there had been an independent special prosecutor’s office; (3) if the freedom of information laws were stronger and had effective sanctions; (4) if Congress got down to work and exercised its awesome monitoring powers over government programs; (5) if just one of the hundreds of government employees from the Cabinet down had blown the whistle on this systematic lawlessness, or (6) if the laws clearly provided citizens with the right to challenge in court government agencies and employees for breach of their fiduciary duties to voters and taxpayers?
These questions raise the larger issues beyond Watergate — the issues of government accountability, citizen participation, a more effective congressional check of the executive branch and the role of money and power.
Watergate’s watershed must focus on these larger issues if Americans are to shape a meaning from this historic corruption so that it cannot happen again to deteriorate the quality of law and the standard of living in its broadest sense.