ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Three weeks after White House agents were caught inside the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, President Richard M. Nixon gave orders that whatever action was taken should not appear to be a cover-up.
Notes from the conversation came from the files of John D. Ehrlichman, then the No. 2 man on Nixon's staff. The document was among 252,000 pages of materials made public today in the first release of Nixon's Watergate papers since his resignation 13 years ago.
"Can't appear to cover up--not a whiff of it," says the outline made by Ehrlichman as he talked with Nixon on July 8, 1972. Ehrlichman took notes in that form on yellow legal paper whenever he spoke with Nixon.
The memorandum indicated that he was instructed by the President to "get out the enthusiastic nature of the investigation" and that Nixon wanted to be quoted as saying of the investigation, "Do it fully, let the chips fall--no cover-up--no one in the White House involved."
Liddy and Hunt Fled
Indeed, that was the word that was released from the White House in that time period.
The Democratic Party headquarters was burglarized June 17, 1972, by five men, one of them a security agent for Nixon's reelection committee. The masterminds of the operation, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, both working for the reelection committee, were nearby and fled. All seven were convicted either by pleading guilty or after a trial, and all served prison sentences.
The first release of documents included the files of Ehrlichman, who spent 18 months in prison as a Watergate cover-up conspirator, and of John Dean, who gave the first detailed information about the affair to federal prosecutors and served 127 days.
The documents totaled one-sixth of the 1.5-million-page cache that the Nixon Administration itself set aside as "special files." The special files contained the most sensitive documents, those involving Watergate.
However, an early look at the papers showed very little that related directly to the scandal.
Feared Reagan Challenge
There was correspondence, however, that as Nixon's political advisers made plans for his 1972 reelection campaign, they were worried that then-Gov. Ronald Reagan of California might challenge Nixon.
The Republicans had planned to hold their convention in San Diego, and a memo to White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman from aides Jeb Stuart Magruder and William Timmons cited the "possibility of a Reagan candidacy" as an argument against choosing San Diego.
The memo was dated in June, 1971. The Republicans later chose Miami Beach for their convention after disclosure that ITT, owner of the Sheraton Hotel chain, had pledged $400,000 in cash to help cover convention expenses.
Another document revealed that in March and April of 1973, when he was telling the Watergate story to federal prosecutors, John Dean was acting in the White House as if it was business as usual. His correspondence included giving permission to a publisher of a cookbook to use White House photographs and a note of appreciation for receiving the first copies of the 1973 Republican Almanac.