The White House Plumbers, also known as Washington Plumbers or plumbers for short, were a White House convert Special Investigation Unit formed on July 24, 1971 by the Nixon administration to “fix leaks” in the White House — that is, to stop the leaks of classified information to the press and news media. This formation was almost a direct response to the publication of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times on June 13, 1971.
The formation of White House Plumbers, despite its name, was utterly serious. The White House had never really experienced classified documents leaked to the media and press prior to the leak of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger thought the leak could highly damage President Nixon’s reputation.
John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s counsel and assistant in domestic affairs, supervised Kissinger’s assistant David Young and his assistant Egil Krogh – the two creators of the White House plumbers as they formed their stealth team. It was Young who coined the term “Plumbers” as his grandfather was a real plumber.
Members of the Plumbers included G. Gordon Liddy, a former FBI agent and E. Howard Hunt, a former CIA agent. John Paisley, a liaison to the CIA was also assigned to the Plumbers. John Ehrlichman, Egil Krogh and David Young worked closely with the White House Plumbers regarding their operations. There was also a group of Cubans who worked with the plumbers to create necessary distractions.
The White House Plumbers’ main target was Daniel Ellsberg who had leaked those Pentagon documents. They had attempted to find a communist link to Ellsberg but to no avail.
The plumbers’ first major operation was to break into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in Los Angeles in an attempt to find files and information that would be used to discredit Ellsberg. By discrediting the man who copied and released the documents, the government could then make it appear as though he was just a mentally ill person whom had fabricated his own agenda due to political paranoia, thus covering up its secret operations in Vietnam and restoring the public’s faith in the government as well. However, they could not find any files and the operation ended up in embarrassment. The White House Plumbers also wire tapped several offices and telephone lines in a dual attempt to both gather information on Ellsberg and discover other leaks in the Nixon Administration.
Under Nixon’s demand, there was a plan of a possible fire-bombing the “Brookings Institution” to create chaos and steal other important classified documents believed to store there. Nonetheless, the plan was deemed too expensive to be conducted. Apart from the burglary, other Plumbers’ operations included Hunt’s and Liddy’s investigation into Teddy Kennedy Chappaquiddick incident and the Kennedy administration involvement in the assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem respectively.
Together with the initial operations, there was also an immensity of wire-tapping, eaves dropping, and other means of private investigations that took place under the pretense of “National Security.”
By early 1972, the Plumbers were basically merged with the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP or derogatorily as CREEP) whose dirty tricks to ensure Nixon would be re-elected in the upcoming election would go far beyond a fundraising organization for the president.
It was the same group of plumbers who would eventually be tied to the crimes of the infamous Watergate Scandal. Ironically, the Plumbers who were supposed to fix the leaks burst the pipes, and opened the water’s gate, thus leading to the flooding of distrust that Americans would carry against its government for generations to come.