In his "Watergate Reminiscences" published in The Journal of American History in 1989, Don Sanders looked back on his role with the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (SCPCA), recalling that "[w]hen I learned in January 1973 that the Senate was forming an investigative committee, I made application for a staff position." Indeed, his calendar for early 1973 shows numerous attempts to contact the Committee's Chairman Senator Sam Ervin and its Vice Chairman Senator Howard Baker, presumably about a position on the SCPCA staff. Sanders was hired in March to serve as Deputy Counsel and Investigator to Chief Counsel for the Minority (Republicans) Fred Thompson.
The SCPCA, though commonly referred to in the press as the Watergate Committee, had a broader mandate than just the connection of the events at the Watergate Hotel to the White House. The Committee was to investigate "the extent, if any, to which illegal, improper, or unethical activities were engaged in...in the Presidential election of 1972, or any campaign, canvass, or other activity...." Thus the SCPCA looked at not only the Watergate break-in and cover-up, but at general campaign practices, campaign financing - focusing in this regard on the contributions from dairy producers and the campaigns of Senator Hubert Humphrey and Congressman Wilbur Mills - and contributions to President Nixon's 1972 campaign handled by Charles Rebozo.
Sanders' well-known contribution to the work of the SCPCA was his questioning of Alexander Butterfield (former aide to Nixon's Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman) that led to the revelation of the taping system in the White House. Sanders, however, was also engaged in other aspects of the Committee's work, including questioning witnesses during the public hearings, preparing subpoenas, and working on the Committee's various reports.
This is Don Sanders' copy of Senate Resolution 60 passed in early February of 1973 to constitute the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (SCPCA) and charge it with investigating the propriety of campaign activities surrounding the 1972 presidential election. The resolution defined the role and scope of the investigative committee and determined the makeup of its membership.
Before being amended, the resolution called for five members of the Senate, of which three were to come from the current political majority (Democrats). The final resolution stipulated a membership of seven, with four from the Majority and three from the Minority. The appointed membership from the Majority was: Chairman Sam Ervin, Jr. (NC), Herman Talmadge (GA), Daniel Inouye (HI), and Joseph Montoya (NM); and from the Minority: Vice Chairman Howard Baker (TN), Edward Gurney (FL), and Lowell Weicker, Jr. (CT). The Minority members were given 1/3 of the professional staff of the committee. The staff reached its maximum of around 90 in August of 1973.
One of the statements underlined in Sanders' copy is that the committee shall investigate "... activities of any and all persons or groups of persons or organizations of any kind...."
There are many monthly planners and calendars in the Donald G. Sanders Papers and they are a rich source of information about Sanders' work and daily life. This particular planner, however, has special significance because it covers the first year of the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities and Sanders' busy schedule for that period.
The planner is open to July of 1973 for which month Sanders recorded everything from the time he spent working on the ceiling of his carport over the holiday to his interview with then Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Alexander Butterfield. The interview of Butterfield was conducted by Majority Investigator Scott Armstrong and Sanders. Per their established protocol, Sanders waited until Armstrong had finished questioning Butterfield before asking him why at one time Nixon took White House Counsel John Dean into a corner of the office to talk quietly about an earlier conversation of Nixon's regarding clemency for one of the Watergate burglars. In response, Butterfield revealed the White House audio taping practices.
In this photograph from the Donald G. Sanders Papers, Sanders is shown on the left, sitting next to Senator Howard Baker and Senator Sam Ervin in the Senate Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington during the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (SCPCA) hearings held in the summer of 1973. Sanders put questions to former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Maurice Stans who gave testimony to the SCPCA in his role as head of the finance committee for the 1972 re-election campaign of President Nixon. At the time of the June 12th hearing, Stans was under grand jury indictment in a New York trial involving 1972 contributions made by financier Robert Vesco to Nixon's campaign.
Sanders noted the following in his monthly planner for June 12th: "Questioned Stans in public hearing. Baker and Weicker [Senator Lowell P. Weicker Jr. of Connecticut] said good job. Interview by Eric Engberg for Col[umbia] Tribune."
Don Sanders is seated at the lower right in this photograph of the Minority Staff for the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (SCPCA). In the center sits Fred D. Thompson, who at the time of his appointment as Minority Chief Counsel by SCPCA Vice Chairman Senator Howard Baker was a trial lawyer and a former assistant U.S. Attorney in Nashville, Tennessee. Thompson had served as campaign manager for Baker during his 1972 re-election to the Senate. Thompson would go on to successful careers in both politics (senator from Tennessee) and film and television acting (Law & Order).
Michael Madigan, Howard Liebengood, and Richard Schultz were three of the five assistant minority counsel who worked under Thompson and Sanders. Schultz had been Associate Chief Counsel under Sanders on the staff of the House Committee on Internal Security 18 months earlier.
Joan Cole was the Secretary to the Minority and Gail Oliver was one of her Minority Staff secretaries.
The photograph was taken in 1974 in the Senate Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington where the hearings of the "Watergate Committee" were held.
The Watergate break-in and cover-up was only part of the investigative mandate of the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (SCPCA) and it occupies only about a quarter of the SCPCA's final report.
The three documents on display here highlight another area in which Don Sanders contributed to the work of the Committee, namely that of campaign finance and, specifically, the contributions made by one of the three large U.S. dairy farmer cooperatives, the Associated Milk Producers, Inc. (AMPI).
Financial connections between AMPI and the Nixon administration extended back to the cooperative's formation in 1969. During 1970 and 1971, pledges totaling around two million dollars were reportedly in place from AMPI to Nixon's reelection campaign and the industry saw exceptional administrative increases in milk price supports and favorable import quotas. How the contribution funds passed from AMPI to the reelection campaign was part of the SCPCA's investigation and these two documents from Sanders and James Hamilton, a member of the Majority counsel team, sought to help answer those questions.
The amount of files in the Donald G. Sanders Papers associated with the work of the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (SCPCA) would seem to bear witness to the commendation spelled out in this resolution presented by the SCPCA to Sanders in July of 1974. The thousands of pages of notes, documents, and drafts all speak to his "exceptional services in the Investigation of the various matters charged to the Select Committee under Senate Resolution 60 and in the public and private hearings and final report of the Committee."
The importance of this document to Sanders - as with the photograph of Sanders and FBI Director Clarence Kelley in the FBI section of this exhibit - can be seen in the fact that it was framed and displayed by Sanders, the evidence of which is found in the "tan line" along the edge of what would have been the frame matting and in the extreme fading of the ink signatures of Sam Ervin and Howard Baker caused by extended exposure to natural or other light.