John Ehrlichman

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John Ehrlichman
John Ehrlichman in 1969.png
circa 1969
White House Domestic Affairs Advisor
In office
November 4, 1969 April 30, 1973
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by Pat Moynihan
(Urban Affairs)
Succeeded by Melvin Laird
White House Counsel
In office
January 20, 1969 November 4, 1969
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by Larry Temple
Succeeded by Chuck Colson
Personal details
John Daniel Ehrlichman

(1925-03-20)March 20, 1925
Tacoma, Washington, U.S.
DiedFebruary 14, 1999(1999-02-14) (aged 73)
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s)Karen Hilliard
Education UCLA (BA, 1948)
Stanford (JD, 1951)
Military service
AllegianceFlag of the United States (1912-1959).svg  United States
Branch/service US Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg U.S. Army Air Forces
Years of service1943–1945
Unit Eighth Air Force - Emblem (World War II).png Eighth Air Force
Battles/wars World War II
  European theater

John Daniel Ehrlichman ( /ˈɜːrlɪkmən/ ; [1] March 20, 1925 – February 14, 1999) was counsel and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs under President Richard Nixon. Ehrlichman was an important influence on Nixon's domestic policy, coaching him on issues and enlisting his support for environmental initiatives. [2]


Ehrlichman was a key figure in events leading to the Watergate break-in and the ensuing Watergate scandal, for which he was convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury and served a year and a half in prison.

Early life, family, military service, and education

Ehrlichman was born in Tacoma, Washington, the son of Lillian Catherine (née Danielson) and Rudolph Irwin Ehrlichman. [3] [4] [5] [6] His family practiced Christian Science (his father was a convert from Judaism). [7] In 1931, the family moved to southern California. [4] He was an Eagle Scout, recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award, [8] graduated from Santa Monica High School in 1942, and attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for a year. At age 18 in 1943, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces.

In World War II, Ehrlichman won the Distinguished Flying Cross as a lead B-17 navigator in the Eighth Air Force. [8] Earlier in the war, his father joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as an instructor pilot in 1940 and was killed in a crash in Torbay, Newfoundland and Labrador (later Canada, from 1949) on May 6, 1942. [4] [9]

Taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, Ehrlichman returned to UCLA and graduated in 1948 with a B.A. in political science; he graduated from Stanford Law School in 1951. [4]

Early career

After a short time back in southern California, Ehrlichman joined a Seattle law firm, becoming a partner, practicing as a land-use lawyer, noted for his expertise in urban land use and zoning. His uncle was president of the Municipal League, and Ehrlichman was active, supporting its efforts to clean up Lake Washington and to improve the civic infrastructure of Seattle and King County. He remained a practicing lawyer until 1969, when he entered politics full-time. [10]

Political life

"The Berlin Wall" of Ehrlichman and Haldeman on April 27, 1973, three days before they would be asked to resign. Haldeman and Ehrlichman discuss policy, 1973.png
"The Berlin Wall" of Ehrlichman and Haldeman on April 27, 1973, three days before they would be asked to resign.

Ehrlichman worked on Nixon's unsuccessful 1960 presidential campaign and his unsuccessful 1962 California gubernatorial campaign. He was an advance man for Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign.

Following Nixon's victory, Ehrlichman became the White House Counsel. (John Dean would succeed him.) Ehrlichman was Counsel for about a year before becoming Chief Domestic Advisor for Nixon. It was then that he became a member of Nixon's inner circle. He and close friend H. R. Haldeman, whom he had met at UCLA, were referred to jointly as "The Berlin Wall" by White House staffers because of their German-sounding family names and their penchant for isolating Nixon from other advisors and anyone seeking an audience with him. Ehrlichman created "The Plumbers", the group at the center of the Watergate scandal, and appointed his assistant Egil Krogh to oversee its covert operations, focusing on stopping leaks of confidential information after the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

Henry Paulson was John Ehrlichman's assistant in 1972 and 1973. [11] Ehrlichman spoke with the hijackers of Southern Airways Flight 49 on November 10, 1972 via telephone.

After the start of the Watergate investigations in 1973, Ehrlichman lobbied for an intentional delay in the confirmation of L. Patrick Gray as Director of the FBI. He argued that the confirmation hearings were deflecting media attention from Watergate and that it would be better for Gray to be left "twisting, slowly, slowly in the wind."

White House Counsel John Dean cited the "Berlin Wall" of Ehrlichman and Haldeman as one of the reasons for his growing sense of alienation in the White House. This alienation led him to believe he was to become the Watergate scapegoat and then to his eventual cooperation with Watergate prosecutors. On April 30, 1973, Nixon fired Dean. Ehrlichman and Haldeman resigned.

Ehrlichman was defended by Andrew C. Hall [12] during the Watergate trials, in which he was convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, perjury, and other charges on January 1, 1975 (along with John N. Mitchell and Haldeman). All three men were initially sentenced to between two and a half and eight years in prison. In 1977, the sentences were commuted to one to four years. Unlike his co-defendants, Ehrlichman voluntarily entered prison before his appeals were exhausted. He was released from the Federal Correctional Institution, Safford, after serving a total of 18 months. [4] Having been convicted of a felony, he was disbarred from the practice of law. [13] Ehrlichman and Haldeman sought and were denied pardons by Nixon, although Nixon later regretted his decision not to grant them. [14] Ehrlichman applied for a pardon from President Reagan in 1987. [13]

Post-political life

Following his release from prison, Ehrlichman held a number of jobs, first for a quality control firm, then writer, artist and commentator. Ehrlichman wrote several novels, including The Company, which served as the basis for the 1977 television miniseries Washington: Behind Closed Doors . [15] He served as the executive vice president of an Atlanta hazardous materials firm. In a 1981 interview, Ehrlichman referred to Nixon as a "very pathetic figure in American history." His experiences in the Nixon administration were published in his 1982 book, Witness To Power. The book portrays Nixon in a very negative light, and is considered to be the culmination of his frustration at not being pardoned by Nixon before his own 1974 resignation. Shortly before his death, Ehrlichman teamed with best-selling novelist Tom Clancy to write, produce, and co-host a three-hour Watergate documentary, John Ehrlichman: In the Eye of the Storm. The completed but never-broadcast documentary, along with associated papers and videotape elements (including an interview Ehrlichman did with Bob Woodward as part of the project), is housed at the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia.

“You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? 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.”

John Ehrlichman, Legalize It All: How to win the war on drugs, Harper's Magazine (April 2016) [16] [17]

In 1987, Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream hired Ehrlichman to do a television commercial for a light ice cream sold by the company, as part of a series of commercials featuring what the company called "unbelievable spokespeople for an unbelievable product." After complaints from consumers, the company quickly pulled the ad. [18] [19]

Ehrlichman died of complications from diabetes in Atlanta in 1999, after discontinuing dialysis treatments.

In the media

Appearing on British TV discussion programme After Dark in 1987 John Ehrlichman appearing on "After Dark" on 5 June 1987.jpg
Appearing on British TV discussion programme After Dark in 1987

John Ehrlichman was portrayed by J. T. Walsh in the film Nixon , and by Wayne Péré in Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House .

Fiction works

See also

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  1. "NLS: Say How, E-H".
  2. Rinde, Meir (2017). "Richard Nixon and the Rise of American Environmentalism". Distillations. 3 (1): 16–29. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  3. Rubin, Alissa J., "Nixon Loyalist Ehrlichman Is Dead at 73", LA Times, February 16, 1999.
  4. Ehrlichman, John (1986). The China card: a novel . Simon and Schuster. p. 5. ISBN   0-671-50716-8.
  5. The 1930 U.S. Census, as indexed on, lists the family as: "John D Ehrlichman", age "5"; "Rudolph I Ehrlichman", age "33"; and "Lillian C Ehrlichman", age "28".
  6. Rather, Dan; Gates, Gary Paul (1974). The Palace Guard. Harper & Row. p. 134. ISBN   006013514X.
  7. 1 2 Stout, David (February 16, 1999). "John D. Ehrlichman, Nixon Aide Jailed for Watergate, Dies at 73". The New York Times. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
  8. "Memorial: Flight Lieutenant Rudolph Irwin Ehrlichman",
  9. "Nation: John Ehrlichman". Time. June 8, 1970. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
  10. Conversation with Henry Paulson Archived November 24, 2009, at the Wayback Machine , Charlie Rose Show, October 21, 2008
  11. "Andrew Hall: Achieving Success as a Litigator", South Florida Legal Guide, 2010 Edition.
  12. 1 2 "Ehrlichman Seeks a Pardon for Watergate Crimes". New York Times. Associated Press. August 15, 1987. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  13. Spagnuolo, Paul; Mott, Wendell (May 17, 1988). "Presidential pardons: a ticking bomb". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  14. Washington: Behind Closed Doors on IMDb
  15. Sherman, Erik (March 23, 2016). "Nixon's Drug War, An Excuse To Lock Up Blacks And Protesters, Continues". Forbes.
  16. Baum, Dan (April 2016). "Legalize It All". Harper's Magazine . Retrieved August 8, 2019. At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? 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.”
  17. Bruce Horovitz, Dreyer's Sacks Ehrlichman as a Spokesman in Its TV Ads, Los Angeles Times (May 15, 1987). Retrieved June 19, 2015.
  18. Viewers had chilly response to Ehrlichman ice cream ads, Deseret News (May 16, 1987), page A2. From Google News. Retrieved June 19, 2015.

Further reading

Legal offices
Preceded by
Larry Temple
White House Counsel
Succeeded by
Chuck Colson
Political offices
Preceded by
Pat Moynihan
as White House Urban Affairs Advisor
White House Domestic Affairs Advisor
Succeeded by
Melvin Laird