An Eagle Scout, Navy veteran of World War II, and advertising executive, H. R. Haldeman had long admired Richard Nixon. It was during Congressman Nixon’s fight to expose Alger Hiss and his ties with Communism that Haldeman first took notice of his fellow Californian. In 1952, Haldeman’s father was one of the contributors to Nixon’s private campaign fund that almost derailed his spot as Eisenhower’s running mate. The younger Haldeman worked as an advance man in Nixon’s campaigns in 1956 and 1960 and managed his failed race for governor of California in 1962.
By 1968, Haldeman had earned Nixon’s confidence and loyalty. The president-elect appointed him chief of staff. Playing to Nixon’s reclusive management style, Haldeman became the “gatekeeper,” describing himself as the president’s “SOB.” Haldeman was a key player at many of the critical moments during the Watergate crisis. The June 20, 1972 tape containing the mysterious 18 ½ minute gap was a conversation between Haldeman and Nixon. The “smoking gun” tape, uncovered after the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to turn over relevant tapes, contained a conversation between the two plotting to instruct the CIA to tell the FBI to steer clear of investigating the Watergate break-in for reasons of national security.
Finally, after White House counsel John Dean implicated Haldeman and others in testimony before the Senate Watergate committee, he and Nixon’s domestic policy counsel, John Ehrlichman, resigned on April 30, 1973. With Haldeman’s resignation, the president lost more than his bulldog, more than his closest advisor. Following his speech to the nation in which he announced Haldeman’s dismissal, Haldeman called Nixon. Immediately, the president said, “I hope I didn’t let you down.” “No, sir,” replied Haldeman. The conversation, thick with emotion, stumbled on. “I don’t know whether you can call and get any reactions and call me back – like the old style. Would you mind?” Nixon asked. “I don’t think I can. I don’t –,” Haldeman began to answer. Nixon interrupted, “No, I agree.” The call continued for a few awkward moments, then Nixon, sensing it was spent, said for the third time, “I love you, as you know.” “Okay,” Haldeman said. “Like my brother,” Nixon added. In his memoirs, Nixon recalled, “from that day on the presidency lost all joy for me.”
Haldeman served eighteen months in prison for his Watergate-related crimes.