A key to the attention being generated for Gaslit, based on the 2017 first season of Leon Neyfakh’s Slate podcast Slow Burn and which premiered last Sunday, is clearly that Julia Roberts stars as Martha Mitchell, an unlikely whistleblower on the Watergate break-in that occurred 50 years ago next month, and Sean Penn plays her husband.
It’s unfortunate that nowhere among the many characters portrayed during the course of the series is there a place for Egil (Bud) Krogh, who was a young Seattle attorney who gained a seat at the center of power as assistant to Nixon's key advisor and former Seattle attorney John Ehrlichman and thus personal attorney and advisor to the President. Krogh took personal responsibility for Watergate and the evil that unfolded after it, all of which he blamed on a break-in he had orchestrated nine months earlier.
As I read about Gaslit and the half-century-old history it brings to light anew, I realized that a large portion of the population watching the series will be learning of the Mitchells and many of the other Watergate personalities for the first time, to no particular benefit except learning a bit of history.
But the story of Bud Krogh could provide a lesson in integrity that would have been valuable for all at a time when the word "integrity" is so remote from the current political climate that politicians who hear the word may not even know how to spell it and certainly not be able to define it.
For Bud Krogh, the lessons from the fall of a president echoed down the years less as a bitter memory than as a reminder of integrity lost. He felt it was important that the events of 1972 that led inexorably to the resignation of Richard Nixon two years later be kept ever in the minds of not only elected officials but also those who work for them
The series reminded me of a column I did a decade ago to mark the 40th anniversary of Watergate, a 2012 column that was an interview with Krogh, with whom I had become friends because of columns and a series of interviews I did with him before various audiences after we met in 2007.
The interviews and columns first occurred in 2008, 40 years after the 1968 campaign in which two other Washington State figures had key roles: then Gov Dan Evans, who was the keynoter at that year’s Republican National Convention, and mountaineer Jim Whittaker, who had become the closest aide to Sen. Robert Kennedy in the months of the campaign leading up to Bobby Kennedy’s assassination.
Krogh, who had just passed the bar in 1968 after graduating from law school at the University of Washington, actually didn't have a part in Nixon's campaign. Instead, being left to run the Seattle law practice of John Ehrlichman, the prominent Seattle attorney who helped engineer Nixon's general-election victory and became Nixon’s chief domestic advisor.
Krogh told me once with a chuckle that after the election, Ehrlichman returned to Seattle to close his law office and said to him, “how would you like to come back and work for the president?”
There is an Ehrlichman character in two of the eight Gaslit episodes
After the June 17, 1972, arrest of five people for breaking in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Washington, D.C., Watergate building investigators found that the perpetrators were connected to Nixon's re-election campaign, which was run by John Mitchell.
Krogh recalled for that 2012 column that even though he had moved from the White House to be Undersecretary of Transportation by then when he picked up the Washington Post that June morning in 1972 to read of the arrest of those who had been caught in the Watergate break-in, he said he recalled one thought: "My God, that's my fault."
The reason for that reaction was that as co-director of the White House special investigations unit called the "Plumbers," Krogh had nine months earlier, in September of 1971, approved a covert operation as part of a national security investigation into the leak of the top-secret Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.
The covert operation was a break-in at the office of Lewis Fielding, the psychiatrist for Daniel Ellsburg, who had released the Pentagon Papers. Krogh hired G. Gordon Liddy and H. Howard Hunt to do that break-in, the same men who were arrested at the Watergate break-in.
“I had made it seem that it was okay to do a break-in in the name of the President,” he told me to explain his sense of personal blame.
It's that certainty about his personal responsibility for what became Watergate, even though he knew nothing about the break-in before reading about it that morning, that guided his thinking and involvements through the following decades as a sort of personal quest for redemption.
His 2007 book, "Integrity: Good People, Bad Choices and Life Lessons from the White House," had a second run the month before I caught up with him by phone as he was en route toward a Pennsylvania speaking engagement and I asked him how the sales were going. "It's selling better now than at the beginning, he replied. “The issue of government integrity seems more relevant to people today," a comment that would obviously be at least equally true in 2022.
He also developed and was sharing a decision-making model he called The Integrity Zone, which was designed to help people make integrity-based choices in their professional and personal lives.
The dedication in his book, written with the help of his son, was a telling reflection of that lifelong campaign: "To those who deserved better, this book is offered as an apology, an explanation, and a way to keep integrity in the forefront of decision-making.”
The book itself details the lessons of Krogh's lifelong effort to make amends for what he describes as a "meltdown of personal integrity" in the face of issues of loyalty to the president and to the power of the office.
Krogh eventually went to prison for almost five months after pleading guilty to criminal conspiracy for engineering the break-in at Fielding's office.
He told me that Nixon had offered to pardon him but that he had pleaded "Please, Mr. President, if I ever hope to get to practice law again, I will need to have served my punishment."
Krogh recalled in several of our discussions over the half-dozen years we were friends, that after Nixon's resignation, his personal path toward reconciliation involved a visit with Fielding to apologize to him for what Krogh told him was "an unacceptable violation of the rights of a genuinely decent human being."
Then followed a visit with Nixon in California in which Krogh recalls basically saying: "Mr. President, I apologize to you because everything that's happened was really my fault."
Krogh left Seattle soon after that 2012 interview, he had returned to Washington to be a Senior Fellow on Ethics and leadership at the Center for Study of the Presidency and Congress and Counselor to the Director at the School of Ethics.
Reviewing the 2012 column and thus recalling his words and thoughts is what made me realize that the mini-series should have provided a role for Krogh, who died In January of 2020 at the age of 80.
An amusing close to this column is that Krogh once told me that even the famous meeting between Nixon and Elvis Presley, who wanted to help the President tackle the nation's drug problem, had an outcome that simply lacked integrity.
"Elvis asked if the president could get him a special badge from the bureau of narcotics and, even though he wasn't entitled to that kind of a badge, I told the president I'd get one," recalls Krogh, who had actually arranged the Elvis meeting. "Elvis not only got a badge, but he carried it for seven years and he simply shouldn't have had that badge."
Krogh told me that in arranging the 1970 meeting, he had needed to explain to Nixon who Elvis was!
A historical note is that at the time of our conversation he told me that of all the requests made each year to the National Archives for reproductions of photographs and documents, the one that was requested more than any other was the photograph of Elvis and Nixon shaking hands at that December 1970, visit. More requests than for copies of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.
The Day Nixon met Elvis, published in 1974, was Krogh's other book, basically a picture journey through that day.