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How the Good Guys Finally Won
Notes from an Impeachment Summer
By Jimmy Breslin
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1975 Jimmy Breslin
All rights reserved.
"... impeachment is going to hit this Congress."
He doesn't remember the date, he wasn't keeping notes on everything at the time, but Congressman Thomas P. O'Neill, Jr., does know that it was just after he had become Majority Leader of the House of Representatives in January of 1973 that he walked into Speaker Carl Albert's office and said, "All my years tell me what's happening. They did so many bad things during that campaign that there is no way to keep it from coming out. They did too many things. Too many people know about it. There is no way to keep it quiet. The time is going to come when impeachment is going to hit this Congress and we better be ready for it."
His opinion was not received with great warmth. The House of Representatives is not a place of positive action. It is an institution designed only to react, not to plan or lead. O'Neill had not often broken the rule. Albert's caution begins with breakfast. To speak of impeaching Richard Nixon was like asking him to use his shoetip to inspect for landmines. As O'Neill persisted in his conversation, Peter W. Rodino, Jr., was asked to the meeting. Through his years in Congress, Rodino had shown great natural cautiousness; he once took the grave risk of getting out front to pass a bill declaring Columbus Day a national holiday. And at this time, early in 1973, Rodino had just been made Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and thus was moving even more hesitantly than usual.
When you see Peter Rodino now, today, he sits in the back of a car, the windows open to the chill of a fall evening, and somebody in the car tries to close the window but there are so many people on the sidewalk pushing their hands and faces into the car to say hello to Peter Rodino that the window cannot be closed. The people are at the bus stop on Roosevelt Avenue, in the Flushing section of Queens, in New York City, and one of them, a woman, puts her head into the car and says she is Rae Grossman. "For what you did for America," she says, "can I go get you a cup of coffee?" "Thank you," Peter Rodino says, "but we're leaving in just a moment now." "For what you did for this country just let me get a cup of coffee for you," she says. "No, thank you very much, but we're leaving," Rodino says. Outside the car, in the wind swirling up the block, the people coming home from work take a quick look at Rodino and then, talking excitedly, jam onto buses.
However, when it started, when Rodino was a Congressman from Newark whom nobody knew, Rodino regarded impeachment as a word that had danger hanging from it the instant it left the mouth. Rodino pointed out to O'Neill that there was absolutely nothing to go on. This irritated O'Neill. Of course he had something to go on. What was it? Why, he had what he just said, that an impeachment was going to hit this Congress and they all had better be ready for it.
There was one Sunday, in the summer of 1974, when O'Neill was talking about how it all started. O'Neill was at Harwichport, on Cape Cod, and the church traffic had the main street in town tied up. I got to O'Neill's long ranch house at 12:15, just as O'Neill was going out of the house into the early summer heat. The lawn was wet and trees were dripping. He got into a well-used Impala, put a pack of Daniel Webster cigars on the dashboard for the trip, and then we started driving to Boston, two hours away.
"I'll tell you how it happened, but of course you can't use any of this," he began. In the weeks to come, I would learn that he began practically every conversation with everybody in this manner, and those who heeded him, who did not write what he was saying, almost invariably woke up in the morning to find it printed in some other place.
"Now," O'Neill went on, "I was the Chairman of the Democratic Congressional campaign dinner in Washington, and because of that I got to know every big giver to the Democratic party in the nation. We had a guy everywhere to organize and to get you the money. You take New York, we got a dozen in New York. Jim Wilmot, Mary Lasker, Abe Feinberg, Gene Wyman did a terrific job for the party in California. And when he died his wife kept going for us. My job was to come in at the end and talk to them, and then to talk to anybody they had been contacting. I did the asking. Substantial contributors, I knew the majority of them in the country. You need them. There's no way it can be done without them until the entire system changes. As it is now, there are four parts to any campaign. The candidate, the issues of the candidate, the campaign organization, and the money to run the campaign with. Without the money you can forget the other three.
"Well, I can tell you that I started hearing from a lot of them. There would be a guy who always was a big giver and nobody was hearing from him. I'd go over the lists for our dinner and I'd say, 'Hey, where is so and so? He always was a helluva good friend of ours. Why haven't we heard from him?' So I'd call the guy and he'd call me back and he'd say, 'Geez, Tip, I don't know what to tell you. Nine IRS guys hit me last week and I'd like to stay out of things for a while.' I began getting that from a lot of people. Fellows like George Steinbrenner. He's a helluva guy. I called him up and I said, 'George, old pal, what's the matter? Why don't we hear from you any more? Is something the matter?' You bet I called him up. He was one of these guys who would get on the phone for you and raise up a half dozen other guys to come and help out. So what does Steinbrenner say to me? He said, 'Geez, Tip, I want to come to see you and tell you what's going on.' And he came into my office. He said, 'Gee, they are holding the lumber over my head.' They got him between the IRS, the Justice Department, the Commerce Department. He was afraid he'd lose his business.
"Believe me, when they start doing IRS audits on you, there is no way that they're not going to get something on you if they want to. No way. So I talked it over with Steinbrenner and what do you think he told me they wanted off him? He said Stans's people wanted a hundred thousand dollars for Nixon's campaign. And then they wanted him to be the head of Democrats for Nixon in Ohio. He told me he'd been in to see them and this is what they told him. Well, there was nothing we could do to help him at that point. These other guys had taken over the Republican party. They had set up independent financing. That would cripple the Republican party. And now they were going to cripple the Democratic party. I told George to do what he had to do. George said he didn't think he was going to give in. Then he left the office and I don't know what he did. He went over to see this Kalmbach or somebody like that. I guess he had no choice. This Maurice Stans. He has to be the lousiest bastard ever to live. Now, I was getting this from all over. Guys began to come in and see me and say, 'Tip, I'm having trouble with a contract. I never had trouble before. It's legitimate business. They tell me to see Stans. What can I do?'
"That's what it was like. All our old friends, our best friends, were afraid to come around. Well, you didn't have to draw a map for me to let me know what was going on. It was a shakedown. A plain old-fashioned goddammed shakedown. I can read pressure. I could see what they were doing. And then out comes this great big newspaper ad. Democrats for Nixon. And the ad had all the names of our people on it. The day the ad came out, they were calling me up saying, 'Tip, I had to sign the ad. They sandbagged me. It's either sign the ad or go into the soup.' Well, I kept saying to myself, this Nixon and Stans have got to be kidding. What they're doing is too big. You never can get away with a thing like this. Not in this country. But they were sure trying. Now I don't remember when I said it, but I know I said to myself somewhere in the 1972 campaign. I said, 'This fellow is going to get himself impeached.' The strange thing about it is that I never gave much thought to the Watergate break-in when it happened. I thought it was silly and stupid. I never thought it was important. I was concentrating on the shakedown of these fellas like Steinbrenner."
This ride ended in the rain in the parking lot of Suffolk Downs Race Track in East Boston. The occasion was the thirty-ninth running of the Massachusetts Handicap. They ran the 1974 Race on a Sunday and Thomas (Tip) O'Neill was going to be there no matter what. In his life, only a swearing-in is more important than Mass Handicap Day. Inside the track, on his way to the dining room, O'Neill shook hands with a head-waiter, with Joe Dugan, an old New York Yankee third baseman, and with Rip Valente, the fight promoter. O'Neill sat at a window table and looked over the menu. "I'm going to eat something very light," he said. He put the menu down. "A New England boiled dinner and a bottle of beer," he told the waiter. When the food came, he looked at the scattered strips of corned beef on his plate. "Bring us a whole plate of corned beef on the side," he said. He put his glasses on and began making pencil marks on the program for the next race. "Class really stands out when there is no class," he said. This is a race-track saying older than the race track we were sitting in. It was direct evidence of part of the higher education O'Neill received as a youth, training of inestimable value to a person who, someday, was going to push for impeachment of a President. For at the race track, where life is uncoated and speech is direct, there is an extraordinarily keen awareness of the possibilities of larceny jumping up at any moment, in any form. And a man who spent time at the paddock of a race track, as Tip O'Neill did, had no trouble at all in understanding exactly what was happening to people in this country like George Steinbrenner.
Early in 1968, at the big Democratic campaign fund-raising dinner in Washington, great anticipation ran through the room upon the appearance of George M. Steinbrenner III, the owner of a shipbuilding company in Cleveland, who was taking his first step into heavyweight politics. Steinbrenner was new money, which in politics is stronger than new love. Therefore, Steinbrenner had been given a great table, right down front, where he could be thoroughly exposed to attacks by the great names of Democratic politics. A tree facing a forest fire. But also a tree ready to join the fire: Steinbrenner owned a company which did business with the government.
On other counts, too, he was a natural to come into the game. He'd been active in Cleveland, saving the National Air Show for the city, walking through Hough at the time of the riot in 1968, and he also was interested in show business and sports, two distant cousins of politics. At the end of the 1968 campaign, Steinbrenner discovered how much of a natural for politics he really was. Nixon had just won the election and the Democrats were in debt $8.5 million nationally and there was no money left in the Democratic Senate and House campaign funds. At this point, Senators Daniel Inouye and Gaylord Nelson spoke to Steinbrenner, asking him to be the chairman of the 1969 fund-raising dinner. Steinbrenner accepted. In 1969, the dinner raised $800,000 for Congressional campaigns. The next year it brought in over a million. Great national heroes are as prominent as waiters when matched against a man who can raise big money for politicians.
The record also shows that from 1968 on, Steinbrenner was in continual difficulty with the government. How much of the trouble was for legitimate reasons—and how much of it was illegitimate (the Nixon re-election people at work)—is impossible to tell. Steinbrenner, over a gin at Shea Stadium in New York—he owns the Yankees—refers you to lawyers. The Nixon people, all either in prison or awaiting trial, also refer you to lawyers. It is understood, however, that this was an Internal Revenue Service audit of Steinbrenner and his businesses after 1968. So, as O'Neill said later, there is no such thing as an audit being done and nothing being found. If the IRS auditor doesn't find something amiss, his pencils are taken away from him and he has to write all reports with a buffalo nickel. Steinbrenner also had problems with the Commerce Department. In purchasing the American Shipbuilding Company in 1968, Steinbrenner inherited an obligation to build an oceanography research ship for the government. The ship was to cost, Steinbrenner claimed, $8 million more than originally estimated by the owners of American Shipbuilding. Each department Steinbrenner went to, Commerce and then Defense, gave him either no action or no hope. After phone calls and letters, Steinbrenner finally was given word that Maurice Stans, then Secretary of Commerce, would see that there was a hearing. In November of 1971, a Department of Defense auditing team moved into the shipbuilding company. When the audits were finished, Stans sent word that the results appeared favorable. In February of 1971, Stans ruled against Steinbrenner. In 1972 he left the Commerce Department for the job of Chairman of the Finance Committee to Re-Elect the President.
On another front, Steinbrenner also was in difficulty with the Justice Department's antitrust division. Steinbrenner had entered into negotiations to purchase the shipbuilding division of Litton Industries. The Justice Department said the purchase would be in violation of antitrust laws. Steinbrenner became involved in the purchase of a tug company, Great Lakes Towing. Again, the Justice Department said it would be in violation. All during this period, industries of any size were being allowed and encouraged to use machetes on all rules and consumers. The only anger Richard Nixon ever showed was at the least hint of a government agency preventing an industry from gouging the people of the nation. Yet all Steinbrenner, the Democratic Dinner Chairman, had was trouble. He began to entertain the notion that somebody was trying to tell him something.
Steinbrenner had in 1968 placed some of his law business with a college classmate, Tom Evans, an attorney in the firm of Mudge, Rose, Guthrie & Alexander—formerly Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, Alexander & Mitchell. The law firm had offices at 20 Broad Street in Manhattan. Upon senior partner Nixon's election, branch offices immediately were opened in Washington, on Pennsylvania Avenue. This did not appear to be a move to discourage potential clients who had legal problems with government agencies. If you stumbled coming out of the Mudge, Rose Washington building, you wound up banging your head into the guard booth on the White House driveway. Evans does not seem to have been of any spectacular help to Steinbrenner at first. Somewhere in their relationship, Steinbrenner asked about a possible ambassadorship for his brother-in-law Jacob Kamm, a professor at Case-Western Reserve University. The price list Steinbrenner saw for ambassadorships was too high for him, brilliant brother-in-law or not. At the start of 1972, attorney Evans and client Steinbrenner began to discuss Evans' great desire to see Richard Nixon re-elected. Steinbrenner admitted he was not in love with the thought of supporting George McGovern, who at the time was methodically putting together the Democratic nomination. At the same time, Steinbrenner primarily was in love with the thought of getting out of his problems with government agencies. Nowhere has it ever been said that American business or politics is an amateur sport. During these conversations, attorney Evans told his client, "I'm setting up a meeting for you with Herb Kalmbach."
Steinbrenner asked who Herb Kalmbach was. Evans told him that Kalmbach was the man in charge of big donors to the Nixon campaign.
Steinbrenner saw Kalmbach in the offices of the Committee to Re-Elect the President. These offices were located in the same building on Pennsylvania Avenue as the Mudge, Rose law firm. One of the beauty parts of royalty is that you don't have to be subtle. At first Steinbrenner and Kalmbach talked good, pleasant Republican talk. Football. Steinbrenner once was an assistant coach at Purdue. Kalmbach knew the names of Southern California football players.
Kalmbach then said, "I understand from Tom Evans that you're interested in contributing to the campaign."
"Yes I am," Steinbrenner said.
"Well, if you're thinking of coming in here for under a hundred thousand dollars, don't bother," Kalmbach said. "We work up to a million around here."
"That's too steep for me," Steinbrenner said.
Kalmbach preferred not to hear. At this stage, Steinbrenner was in the exact position of a person who has lost on gambling to a bookmaker, and the bookmaker, seeking to get paid, has brought the gambler to a shylock with whom the bookmaker has an alliance.
"Do you intend to do this by check or by cash?" Kalmbach said.
Excerpted from How the Good Guys Finally Won by Jimmy Breslin. Copyright © 1975 Jimmy Breslin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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