Leader of Water­gate Plumbers has died


Egil Krogh, who as part of Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon’s staff was one of the lead­ers of the se­cret “Plumbers” unit that broke into the of­fice of Daniel Ells­berg’s psy­chi­a­trist, a pre­lude to the Water­gate bur­glary that brought down the Nixon pres­i­dency, died Satur­day in Washington. He was 80.

His son Peter said the cause was heart fail­ure.

In Novem­ber 1973, Krogh, known as Bud, plead- ed guilty to “con­spir­acy against rights of cit­i­zens” for his role in the Septem­ber 1971 break-in at the of­fice of Dr. Lewis Field­ing

in Bev­erly Hills, Cal­i­for­nia.

The Plumbers, a group of White House op­er­a­tives, were tasked with plug­ging leaks of con­fi­den­tial ma­te­rial, which had be­dev­iled the Nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion. Ells­berg, a mil­i­tary an­a­lyst, had been re­spon­si­ble for the big­gest leak of all: pass­ing the Pen­tagon Pa­pers, the top-se­cret gov­ern­ment his­tory of the Viet­nam War, to The New York

Times ear­lier that year. The Plumbers were hop­ing to get in­for­ma­tion about Ells­berg’s men­tal state that would dis­credit him, but they found noth­ing of im­por­tance re­lated to him.

“We be­lieved then that these leaks con­sti­tuted a na­tional se­cu­rity cri­sis and needed to be plugged at all costs,” Krogh wrote in a 2007 mem­oir, “In­tegrity: Good Peo­ple, Bad Choices and Life Lessons From the White House,” writ­ten with his son Matthew. “But we were wrong, and the price paid by the coun­try was too high.”

Be­fore his in­volve­ment with the Plumbers, Krogh, a lawyer and Navy vet­eran, was re­garded as up­stand­ing and re­li­able — “the White House Mr. Clean,” Carl Bernstein and Bob

Wood­ward called him in “All the Pres­i­dent’s Men.” And af­ter tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for his mis­takes and serv­ing four and a half months in prison, he re­built his rep­u­ta­tion, re­sum­ing his law prac­tice and speak­ing and writ­ing on ethics.

In 2007, to mark the 35th an­niver­sary of the Water­gate break-in (in which he played no part), Krogh wrote an es­say for

The Times about the Field­ing break-in, which he be­lieved had es­tab­lished the mind­set for Water­gate.

“The premise of our ac­tion was the strongly held view within cer­tain precincts of the White House that the pres­i­dent and those func­tion­ing on his be­half could carry out il­le­gal acts with im­punity if they were con­vinced that the na­tion’s se­cu­rity de­manded it,” he wrote. “As Pres­i­dent Nixon him­self said to David Frost dur­ing an in­ter­view six years later, ‘When the pres­i­dent does it, that means it is not il­le­gal.’ To this day the im­pli­ca­tions of this state­ment are stag­ger­ing.”

Egil Krogh Jr. (the first name is pro­nounced EHgil; the last name rhymes with “vogue”) was born Aug. 3, 1939, in Chicago. His fa­ther was a busi­ness­man, and his mother, Josephine (Wool­ing) Krogh, was a home­maker.

He grew up in Chicago, Seat­tle and St. Louis, and earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in 1961 at Prin­cipia Col­lege in Illi­nois. Af­ter three years in the Navy, he earned a law de­gree at the Uni­ver­sity of Washington in 1968.

He went on to work for a Seat­tle law firm in which John Ehrlich­man, a fam­ily friend, was a part­ner. When Nixon was elected in 1968, Ehrlich­man be­came White House coun­sel and brought Krogh onto the tran­si­tion team. Krogh and another lawyer, Ed Morgan, were given the job of vet­ting nom­i­nees for Cab­i­net and other posts in the new ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Krogh then co­or­di­nated the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s drug ini­tia­tives, pay­ing par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to drug use among the troops in Viet­nam and the flow of heroin and other nar­cotics into the United States. In 1971 Ehrlich­man asked him to tackle another prob­lem: leaks like the Pen­tagon Pa­pers. He and David Young, an aide to Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, were to lead the Plumbers unit.

“I felt deep loy­alty to John Ehrlich­man,” Krogh wrote in his mem­oir, ex­plain­ing why he agreed to the new as­sign­ment. “My be­ing in the White House was in part based on 15 years of friend­ship be­tween the Ehrlich­man and Krogh fam­i­lies.”

In Au­gust 1971, he at­tended a meet­ing at which E. Howard Hunt, later con­victed in the Water­gate scan­dal, sug­gested bur­glar­iz­ing Field­ing’s of­fice.

“At no time did I or any­one else there ques­tion whether the op­er­a­tion was nec­es­sary, le­gal or moral,” Krogh wrote in his 2007 Times es­say. “Con­vinced that we were re­spond­ing le­git­i­mately to a na­tional se­cu­rity cri­sis, we fo­cused in­stead on the op­er­a­tional de­tails: who would do what, when and where.”

Sev­eral other peo­ple were also charged in the Field­ing bur­glary, in­clud­ing Ehrlich­man, whose sen­tence on var­i­ous charges was made con­cur­rent with his sen­tence for con­spir­acy, ob­struc­tion and per­jury in the Water­gate case. Though the Field­ing bur­glary turned up lit­tle about Ells­berg, Krogh be­lieved it led di­rectly to Water­gate.


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