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I was on Nixon’s Enemies List: A true story

John A. Volpe, President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Volpe was the Secretary of Transportation during Nixon's administration. Credit: Lucius Beebe Memorial Library

It's been 40 years since we learned about President Richard M. Nixon's infamous Enemies List. To commemorate the anniversary, Common Cause is sponsoring a program this week in Washington, D.C.

Many members of the list are now deceased, including the late Stimson Bullitt and Ed Guthman, a Seattle journalist who went on to become Robert Kennedy's press secretary and the national editor of several publications. I am the only living member on the list with a Seattle connection. A scheduling conflict will prevent my attending the D.C. event in person. But I've sent my photo and recollections, which will be used in the proceedings.

The enemies list was compiled by Nixon aide Charles Colson during the 1972 presidential campaign and passed along to White House counsel John Dean. Those on the list were to be harrassed by the Internal Revenue Service and punished wherever possible through other federal actions. Some list members escaped any harrassment. Others were not so lucky. Some people, not on the list, also were pursued, most ofen through repetitive tax audits.

I had several brushes with the Nixonites. I had served in policy roles in the 1968 and 1972 Democratic presidential campaigns. I had helped to start a committee supporting peace candidates in the 1970 congressional elections, and had continued my political activities past 1972. Even before publication of the Enemies List, in 1970, I learned that my correspondence and phone calls were being monitored illegally by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Early in 1973, my business partner Frank Mankiewicz, a fellow 1972 McGovern campaigner, and I learned from a front-page news story that the Nixon White House had specifically instructed the IRS to go after both of us. One of my consulting clients, United Airlines, which was headed at the time by Seattleite Eddie Carlson, was contacted by a federal agency pursuing an allegation (false) that I had arranged below-market UAL charter rates for McGovern campaign flights. An Associated Press reporter called to ask for comment on a report (also false) that I was laundering campaign money for Democratic candidates. Later, I was subpoenaed by Watergate Committee Republican staff to testify about allegations (false again) that I had directed Democratic "dirty tricks" against the Nixon campaign in 1968 and 1972.

These were the kinds of things you might expect from a Nazi or Soviet regime, but not from one democratically elected in the United States.

The Enemies List included not only those active in politics, but bystanders in the arts, finance, business and other fields who had made one time Democratic financial contributions or lent their names to liberal causes. It appeared to have been compiled, ad hoc, from scanning news stories that mentioned individuals opposing Nixon. Some names came from a 1972 McGovern campaign staff directory.

There were several hundred names on the list. Common Cause has informed me that I was No. 52. Why 52? Who knows.

It's easy to vent at Nixon and Co. and express gratitude that his excesses forced him from the presidency. But these things are possible under any government, of any ideological tilt, which feels itself sufficiently powerful and unchecked. How many of us have had personal experiences in which federal, state or local officials have tried to impose policies or take actions that appear to be outside the law? The response to this? Eternal vigilance and, where appropriate, outrage.

Today the Enemies List is an interesting historical artifact. But it could reappear almost anywhere, at any time.

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