The goal of the enemies list was to highlight and target some of the president’s most pesky critics. The document described “how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.”
The White House attempted to use numerous tactics to go after these figures. The Internal Revenue Service turned to audits as a method of harassment, while federal contracts became a tool to punish other perceived enemies of the state. In one “eyes only” memo, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein reported in The Washington Post, Colson wrote: “I have received a well-informed tip that there are income tax discrepancies involving the returns of Harold J. Gibbons, a Vice President of the Teamsters Union in St. Louis … Gibbons, you should know, is an all-out enemy, a McGovernite, ardently anti-Nixon … Please see if this one can be started on at once and if there is an informer’s fee, let me know. There is a good cause at which it can be donated.”
Nixon officials attempted unsuccessfully to break into the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, who had leaked the Pentagon Papers, to find dirt on him.
The list remained hidden from public view. In the early 1970s, the president and his advisers assumed that doing any of this out in the open would be devastating. There was still a sense of norms that restrained an administration from publicly abusing its power in this way. Americans only learned of the list on June 27, 1973, when Dean informed the Senate Watergate Committee about what his colleagues had done. Dean told the panel, “There was also maintained, what was called an enemies list, which was rather extensive and continually being updated.” Committee Chair Sam Ervin quipped: “I can’t forbear observing, when I consider the list of opponents, why the Democratic vote was so light in the general election.”
Schorr read the names on air as soon as he received a copy. “I got to No. 17, and I said, ‘No. 17, Daniel Schorr, a real media enemy,’” the CBS reporter later recalled. “I almost collapsed on the air. I had never read it before, never seen it before, never expected it.” After the list was revealed, Tom Wicker of the Times said: “I wouldn’t have expected the White House to list me as a friend. I’ve been critical of the president, but I’ve also supported many things President Nixon stood for. It strikes me as a pretty silly piece of business for high officials who supposedly have the country’s affairs to manage to be sitting around keeping lists of people supposedly against them.” When Vice President Gerald Ford learned of this list, he said to an assistant that someone “who can’t keep his enemies in his head has got too many enemies.”
The White House struck back by immediately accusing Dean and former Attorney General John Mitchell of being the architects of the Watergate break-in.