When I was waved into John Ehrlichman's office, he got up and quietly closed the door behind me. This surprised me because his office was already in the innermost sanctum of offices closest to the president's own. Any additional secrecy afforded by a closed door didn't seem necessary to me at the time. Then he told me about the president's second national security decision.
I sat down in a chair in front of his desk, and he handed me a bulky file labeled "Pentagon Papers." I leafed through the contents, which included newspaper reprints of the Pentagon Papers, news stories about the papers and about the Supreme Court's rejection of the government's request to restrain their publication, and various internal memos. As I read, Ehrlichman told me that the assignment he was about to give me had been deemed of the highest national security importance by the president. He emphasized that the president was as angry about the leak of the Pentagon Papers as he had ever seen him on any other issue.
In his dry style, Ehrlichman said that while I had been junketing around the world working on drug programs and policies, he, Bob Haldeman, Henry Kissinger, and Chuck Colson had been working hard and meeting regularly with the president to determine how best to respond to the leak of the Pentagon Papers, which he described as a "crisis." According to Ehrlichman, the president was certain that a conspiracy was involved in the release of the Pentagon Papers and that we needed to run our own investigation to find out who was part of the conspiracy. He said that the president didn't believe that a thorough investigation could be carried out by the FBI or the Department of Justice (DOJ). Consequently, he had ordered that an independent White House team be set up to begin its own investigation immediately. This new team would investigate the ramifications of the release of the Pentagon Papers to the press by Daniel Ellsberg, a former Pentagon military analyst. The investigation was to have the highest priority, and preparations
were to begin that day.
Ehrlichman told me that a decision had also been made to share responsibility for the Pentagon Papers investigation between a representative from Kissinger's National Security Council staff and one from Ehrlichman's Domestic Council staff. Ehrlichman had assigned me to be a codirector of the investigation, and Kissinger had assigned David Young, one of his closest personal aides, to be the other codirector. All personal and written reports were to go to Ehrlichman, who was to be the channel to the president. He told me that Chuck Colson, a special counsel to the president, would assign someone from his group to work with us as well.
It was a lot to digest in one short meeting. The idea of making a team—soon to be known as the Special Investigations Unit (SIU)—out of three people drawn from three different staffs, each person with primary loyalty to his own boss, seemed to me to be at best unwieldy, if not impossible to manage effectively. I did not express any misgivings to Ehrlichman at the time, however, since I felt that this was the most critical assignment I had yet been given on Nixon's staff and it was not for me to question the wisdom of the structure.