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Sunday 24 September 2017

Jack Caulfield

Irish-American master of dirty tricks for Nixon who survived Watergate scandal

Jack Caulfield, who has died aged 83, was one of Richard Nixon's masters of dirty tricks but walked away from the Watergate scandal that caused the US president's downfall.

A chunky Irish-American and former New York police detective, Caulfield specialised in secret snooping of every kind. When Nixon's staff ordered him to dig dirt on the Democrats, Caulfield was immediately on the case.

When he first joined Nixon's campaign team Caulfield was no more than a bit player; the US Secret Service dismissed him as the baggage handler. But Caulfield had loftier ambitions.

In March 1969, two months after Nixon's inauguration, one of Nixon's top aides John Ehrlichman invited Caulfield to set up a private security agency to provide "investigative support". It was Caulfield who suggested setting up Operation Sandwedge, illegal electronic surveillance of Nixon's political opponents, with emphasis on their sex lives, drinking habits, tax records and domestic woes.

One of Caulfield's first acts was to hire a former FBI agent to bug the telephone of a newspaper columnist who was a Nixon critic; and when another journalist wrote disobligingly about the president, Caulfield reported him anonymously to the taxman.

John James Caulfield was born on March 12, 1929, in the Bronx. His parents, Irish immigrants, hoped that their son would become a priest. But after studying at Fordham University, and serving in the Korean War, he joined the New York City police in 1953.

Caulfield was soon assigned to the NYPD's Bureau of Special Service and Investigation, where his duties included guarding visiting world leaders. He also protected Nixon when he was Governor of California and, realising that he was a serious contender for the presidency, offered his services to the Nixon campaign in 1968.

One of Caulfield's more outlandish ideas was the proposed firebombing of the Brookings Institute, a left-wing think-tank critical of American government policy in Vietnam, although the idea was eventually dropped.

In April 1972 Nixon appointed Caulfield assistant director of criminal enforcement, putting him in charge of 1,500 Federal agents.

When the infamous break-in at Democrat headquarters in the Watergate building, Washington, was discovered, many assumed the burglary had been part of Caulfield's Operation Sandwedge. In fact, it had been ordered under the auspices of another Nixon dirty tricks campaign, Operation Gemstone.

But when one of the Watergate burglars revealed Caulfield's role in Sandwedge, Caulfield was forced to resign. As one of the first witnesses to give evidence before the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973, he was asked about claims that, as part of the White House cover-up, he had carried a message to one of the burglars, offering him clemency, money and a job if he agreed not to testify against the Nixon administration.

Nixon's denial that he had been the source of the offer was supported by transcripts of White House tapes. Caulfield attributed the fact that he was never implicated in the Watergate cover-up to "Irish luck".

Jack Caulfield, who died on June 17, was twice married, and is survived by his second wife, Nancy, and two sons.

Sunday Independent

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