John Ehrlichman

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John Ehrlichman
John Ehrlichman in 1969.png
White House Counsel
In office
January 20, 1969 – November 4, 1969
President Richard Nixon
Preceded by Larry Temple
Succeeded by John Dean
Personal details
Born John Daniel Ehrlichman
(1925-03-20)March 20, 1925
Tacoma, Washington, U.S.
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Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Karen Hilliard (3rd marriage)
Alma mater University of California, Los Angeles (B.A.)
Stanford Law School (J.D.)
Religion Christian Science

Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. John Daniel Ehrlichman (March 20, 1925 – February 14, 1999) was counsel and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs under President Richard Nixon. He was a key figure in events leading to the Watergate first 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

Ehrlichman was born in Tacoma, Washington, the son of Lillian Catherine (née Danielson) and Rudolph Irwin Ehrlichman.[1][2][3][4] His family practiced Christian Science (his father was a convert from Judaism).[5] He was an Eagle Scout and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award.[6]

In World War II, Ehrlichman won the Distinguished Flying Cross as a lead B-17 navigator in the Eighth Air Force.[6] In the same war, his father served in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and was killed in a crash in Torbay, Newfoundland (later Canada), on May 6, 1942.[7][8]

Taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, Ehrlichman attended the University of California, Los Angeles, graduating in 1948 with a B.A. degree in history. After graduating from Stanford Law School in 1951, he joined a Seattle law firm, becoming a partner, practicing as a land-use lawyer, noted for his expertise in urban land use and zoning. He was active in the Municipal League, supporting its efforts to clean up Lake Washington and improve the civic infrastructure of Seattle and King County. He remained a practicing lawyer until 1969, when he entered politics full-time.[9]

Political life

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"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 (later replaced by John Dean). He held this post for about a year before he became the 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 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.[10]

After the start of the Watergate investigations in 1972, 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 and Ehrlichman and Haldeman resigned.

Ehrlichman was defended by Andrew C. Hall[11] during the Watergate trials where 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,[12] after serving a total of 18 months. Having been convicted of a felony, he was disbarred from the practice of law.

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.[13] 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) are housed at the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia.

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.[14][15]

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

In the media

John Ehrlichman was portrayed by J. T. Walsh in the film Nixon.


  • The Company
  • The Whole Truth
  • China Card

See also


  1. LA Times
  2. Essay on John Ehrlichman,
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  4. 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".
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  10. Conversation with Henry Paulson, Charlie Rose Show, October 21, 2008
  12. Federal Correctional Institute at Safford Az, Federal Bureau of Prisons
  13. Washington: Behind Closed Doors on IMDb
  14. Bruce Horovitz, Dreyer's Sacks Ehrlichman as a Spokesman in Its TV Ads, Los Angeles Times (May 15, 1987). Retrieved June 19, 2015.
  15. 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

  • Ehrlichman John D. Witness to Power: The Nixon Years. New York: Pocket Books, 1982.

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by White House Counsel
Succeeded by
John Dean