Harry Robbins "H.R." Haldeman (October 27, 1926 – November 12, 1993) was an American political aide and businessman, best known for his service as White House Chief of Staff to President Richard Nixon and his consequent involvement in the Watergate Affair.
His intimate role in the Watergate cover-up precipitated his resignation from government, subsequent to which he was tried on counts of perjury, conspiracy and obstruction of justice and found guilty and imprisoned for 18 months. Upon his release, he returned to private life and was a successful businessman until his death from cancer in 1993.
Haldeman was born in Los Angeles on October 27, 1926, one of three children of socially prominent parents. His father, Harry Francis Haldeman, founded and ran a successful heating and air conditioning supply company, and gave time and financial support to local Republican causes, including the Richard Nixon financial fund that led to the so-called "Fund Crisis" during the 1952 presidential race. His mother, Katherine (née Robbins), was a longtime volunteer with the Salvation Army and other philanthropic organizations. His paternal grandfather, Harry Marston Haldeman, co-founded the Better American Federation of California, The Oz Film Manufacturing Company, and the gentleman's club, The Uplifters. Young Haldeman and his siblings were raised as Christian Scientists. Known to his peers as a "straight arrow," he sported his trademark flat-top haircut from his high school years, enjoyed discussions of ethics, and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. He attended Harvard School, during which time he met Jo (Joanne) Horton, who was a student at Marlborough School. They married in 1949.
During World War II he was Naval Reserve but did not see active combat. Haldeman attended the University of Redlands and the University of Southern California before transferring to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He received his B.A. from UCLA in 1948, where he was a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity. At UCLA, he met John Ehrlichman, who would become a close friend and colleague in the Nixon administration. In 1949, he joined the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, where he worked for 20 years in both Los Angeles and New York City; other employees of this firm during this period included Ronald Ziegler, who went on to serve as White House Press Secretary in the Nixon administration.
A long family association with the Republican Party and his own interest drew Haldeman to politics and during this period he commenced working for Richard Nixon, for whom he developed both an intense respect and steadfast loyalty. Beginning as an advance man on Nixon's 1956 and 1960 campaigns, Haldeman managed Nixon's 1962 run for Governor of California and when Nixon was elected President in 1968, he chose Haldeman to be his Chief of Staff.
When Haldeman's appointment to the White House was announced, Robert Rutland, a close personal friend and eminent presidential scholar, urged him to start keeping a daily diary recording the major events of each day and Haldeman's thoughts on them. Haldeman took this suggestion and started keeping and maintaining a daily diary throughout his entire career in the Nixon White House (January 18, 1969, to April 30, 1973). The full text of the diaries is almost 750,000 words, and an abridged version was published as The Haldeman Diaries after Haldeman's death. A full version is available to researchers on CD-ROM at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.
Gaining a reputation as a stern taskmaster who expected top-notch work, he and John Ehrlichman were called "the Berlin Wall" by other White House staffers in a play on their German family names and shared penchant for keeping others away from Nixon and serving as his "gatekeepers." They became Nixon's most loyal and trusted aides during his presidency. Both were keen in protecting what they regarded as Nixon's best interests. He and the President were very close – Haldeman was even dubbed "the President's son-of-a-bitch" – and Nixon relied on him to filter information that came into his office and to make sure that information was properly dispensed. To more easily accomplish this, Haldeman reorganized the White House staff to a "funnel" model still followed in the White House today.
Haldeman was one of many key figures in the Watergate scandal. The unexplained 18½-minute gap in Nixon's Oval Office recordings occurred during a discussion that included the President and Haldeman. Nixon requested the resignations of Haldeman and Ehrlichman in what has been described as a long and emotional meeting at Camp David. Haldeman was fired and the resignations were announced on April 30, 1973. In a phone conversation shortly after the resignations, Nixon told Haldeman that he loved him like his brother. On the eve of Nixon's resignation, Haldeman asked for a full pardon along with a full pardon of Vietnam War draft dodgers. He argued that pardoning the dodgers would take some of the heat off him. Nixon refused.
On January 1, 1975, Haldeman was convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to serve 2½ to 8 years, reduced to 1 to 4 years after appeal. In Lompoc Federal Prison, he worked as a chemist in the sewage treatment facility. On December 20, 1978, after serving 18 months, Haldeman was released on parole.
In his post-White House years, he went on to a successful career as a businessman, taking an interest in hotels, development, real estate, and chain restaurants in Florida, among other investments.
In 1978, Times Books published The Ends of Power, written by Haldeman with Joseph DiMona. Haldeman said in the book that Nixon had initiated the break-in and had participated in the cover-up from the onset. Reviewing The Ends of Power, Kirkus Reviews said: "H. R. Haldeman, as the world now knows, tells all and proves virtually nothing but the crumminess of everyone concerned in this glazed and wooden account of Watergate and after."
The "Smoking Gun" tape revealed that Nixon instructed Haldeman to have the CIA pressure the FBI into dropping their Watergate investigation. Nixon instructed him to tell the CIA that the investigation would "open up the whole Bay of Pigs thing again." In his book, Haldeman wrote: “It seems that in all those references to the Bay of Pigs, he was actually referring to the Kennedy assassination." He added that Nixon might have been reminding CIA Director Richard Helms that the CIA assassination attempts on Fidel Castro may have triggered the assassination of Kennedy.
Oliver Stone's 1995 film Nixon, in which Haldeman was portrayed by James Woods, presents the scenario that Nixon attempted to use the CIA's hidden anti-Castro history to help cover up his own misdeeds during Watergate. Stone credited the comments attributed to Haldeman in The Ends of Power as the source for his scenario.
According to Chris Matthews, Haldeman denied writing those words and said the theory of events actually belonged to DiMona. Matthews reported that Haldeman said he had no idea of what Nixon meant by the "whole Bay of Pigs" comments. Noting that Stone had implicated Nixon as having a role in planning a plot to kill Castro, Howard Rosenberg described it as "one of the most controversial themes of his movie". A response by Nixon writers Steven Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson stated that DiMona, Haldeman's ghostwriter, had confirmed that it was Haldeman's conclusion that "the Bay of Pigs thing" was a code for the Kennedy assassination.
On November 12, 1993, after refusing medical treatment in accordance with his Christian Science beliefs, Haldeman died of abdominal cancer, at his home in Santa Barbara, California. His remains were cremated and scattered at a site that has not been revealed. He was survived by his wife of almost 45 years, Jo, and their four children — Susan, Harry (Hank), Peter, and Ann.
Upon his death Richard Nixon issued a statement, "I have known Bob Haldeman to be a man of rare intelligence, strength, integrity and courage. He played an indispensable role in turbulent times as our Administration undertook a broad range of initiatives at home and abroad." White House diaries were released posthumously as The Haldeman Diaries in 1994. The book includes an introduction and afterword by noted historian Stephen E. Ambrose.
as White House Appointments Secretary
|White House Chief of Staff
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