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The Case of Peter Flanigan

On October 2 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a public hearing on former White House aide Peter Flanigan's nomination by President Ford to be US ambassador to Spain. Even before it was officially announced the Flanigan nomination had stirred up opposition among Senate Democrats such as Majority Whip Robert Byrd and Thomas Eagleton. Byrd was bothered by Flanigan's role in the unusual settlement of the ITT antitrust case, and Eagleton had encountered Flanigan while investigating White House pressures on the Environmental Protection Agency. But the senators who should have been most interested in Flanigan—the members of the Foreign Relations Committee— were not. And that is odd, since these same senators have been complaining for three years about big Nixon contributors being rewarded with diplomatic posts. And Flanigan was the man in the White House who had passed along those names to Mr. Nixon in the first place. It was Flanigan to whom Nixon Finance Chairman Maurice Stans had given the list of embassy-seeking big donors after the 1968 election.

One might have thought that the committee members would at least have been keenly interested in the role Flanigan played in the appointment of Ruth Farkas as our ambassador to Luxembourg. In March 1973 before the Watergate cover-up collapsed, Mrs. Farkas had told the Foreign Relations Committee that a $300,000 contribution she and her husband made to the Nixon reelection effort in the winter of 1972-73 "had absolutely nothing to do with whether I was getting an ambassadorship or not…." Rep. Louis Wyman of New Hampshire, a booster of Mrs. Farkas, sent a letter to the committee supporting that statement. The senators accepted it and approved the nomination.

In July 1974, however, Mr. Nixon's former personal lawyer and fund-raiser, Herbert Kalmbach, testified under oath before the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment inquiry and told a substantially different story. Kalmbach recalled that White House aide Flanigan had telephoned him in July or August 1971: "Peter said, 'Herb we would like to have you contact a Dr. Ruth Farkas in New York. She is interested in giving $250,000 for Costa Rica.'" Kalmbach then met with Mrs. Farkas, and she had said "words to the following effect: she said, 'well, you know, I am interested in Europe, I think and isn't $250,000 an awful lot of money for Costa Rica?'" So if Kalmbach is to be believed Mrs. Farkas had been less than forthcoming in her testimony a year earlier before the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senate confirmation hearings offer an opportunity to question a nominee such as Flanigan on any and all matters that may relate to his suitability for the position he is to assume. The hearing becomes one-sided, however, if the senators asking the questions are unprepared and thus unable to judge how accurately or completely the witness is answering. The confirmation process becomes meaningless when the witness realizes the senators are ill-informed, that his answers will not later be checked, that he runs little risk of being caught if he sidesteps the truth. When Mr. Flanigan came before Sen. Fulbright's committee on October 2, he knew it had not followed up on Mrs. Farkas' incomplete if not false earlier testimony. Flanigan may or may not have known that the committee staff had pulled together only the skimpiest background material on him. A chronology of the Farkas nomination was there, but Flanigan's name hardly appeared. All the committee members really had was the incriminating Kalmbach testimony.

Chairman Fulbright had earlier turned over to Eagleton—who is not a member of the committee—responsibility for making the case against Flanigan. Fulbright did not do the job himself because, as he had told Eagleton and others, he was tired of being the lone critic of these nominations. But since Eagleton was busily engaged in a Senate floor debate on cutting off military aid to Turkey, his staff did not have time to intensively examine Flanigan's past—and no one on the Foreign Relations Committee staff was put on the job. A "shotgun" approach was therefore adopted. The Library of Congress was asked to supply copies of all recent news stories about Flanigan. These were reviewed and Eagleton's case was made primarily from them.

One additional step was taken. Eagleton asked Special Prosecutor Jaworski for a report on Flanigan's situation with regard to the ongoing investigation into selling ambassadorships. Jaworski replied that Flanigan was not facing charges based on evidence then in the prosecutor's possession. He then added that the White House, when it had asked about Flanigan—prior to sending up his name in nomination—had been told to read Kalmbach's testimony to the House Judiciary Committee. The second of these points ought to have been a red alert to the committee.

After Eagleton had finished his presentation, Flanigan quickly ticked off responses to the various allegations that had been made. They were familiar to him. Some he had been fending off for years. Flanigan then turned to the Farkas contribution and the Jaworski letter. He said that the special prosecutor had "thoroughly investigated" the matter and had questioned others than Kalmbach. He said Jaworski had told the White House there was "no reason not to send [Flanigan's] nomination forward." He then called on Sen. Hugh Scott, a member of the committee, who told his colleagues that he had talked to Jaworski and had been told by the special prosecutor that they knew "the whole story" and it did not involve Flanigan.

Within hours Jaworski's spokesmen were disputing both Flanigan's and Scott's statements. The special prosecutor was so disturbed at how he was being used that he told his staff that in the future all such questions had to be answered by letter and not over the phone.

When Flanigan was asked about the Kalmbach statement, he said that "my recollection is that [Kalmbach] asked me did I have any ideas as to people whom he should go to solicit campaign contributions. I told him that President Nixon had had" Mrs. Farkas in mind for Costa Rica. In short Flanigan had not called Kalmbach, Kalmbach had called him.

Since Rep. Wyman had set up the Farkas-Kalmbach 1971 meeting, Flanigan was asked by the committee what he had said to Wyman. Flanigan could not recall the details of that conversation. Flanigan did suggest, however, that Kalmbach's confession to the crime of selling ambassadorial posts "was in exchange for no further investigation or no further action on some other matters." He also suggested that speculation about his own role in the Farkas nomination "grows only from this one piece of testimony from Mr. Kalmbach." In fact the information that ties Flanigan closest to the Farkas case is in a file turned over to the special prosecutor by Rep. Wyman and subsequently made available to the press in New Hampshire, where Wyman is running for the Senate.

The Wyman file as well as the Kalmbach testimony and other public records show that Flanigan first became involved in the Farkas nomination in March 1969, when Wyman met with Flanigan. The congressman had been told that Mrs. Farkas' past contributions to Republican politicians such as Sen. Javits and John Lindsay would earn her no brownie points with Mr. Nixon. But Wyman was a long-time Nixon supporter, and in April 1969 he sent a personal request to President Nixon on behalf of Mrs. Farkas. In June 1969 Flanigan called Wyman to say there was no hope of a European post but that Mrs. Farkas might get Costa Rica. That same month the State Department sent the Foreign Relations Committee a letter of intent to nominate Mrs. Farkas for Costa Rica, pending FBI clearance. Ironically the committee did not know it had that letter when Mrs. Farkas first appeared before it.

One week after the letter of intent was delivered, the committee was informed the nomination was being held up. A grand jury investigation was underway in New York City involving an alleged political contribution by Alexander's, Inc., the Farkas corporation. In February 1970—with the nomination still in abeyance—Wyman was told by Flanigan that the grand jury was causing the delay. Wyman also made note of the fact that Flanigan said there were 15 other candidates for four embassy posts, all of whom were six-figure contributors to theNixon campaign. As of that time Mrs. Farkas had apparently given the Nixon campaign nothing. Wyman's records also show that in July 1971 he was called by Flanigan who wanted Kalmbach to interview Mrs. Farkas. Their discussion covered the fact that the Farkas family had money and that she wanted to be an ambassador.

On October 20, 1971 the New York federal grand jury indicted Judge Bemard Klieger on charges of campaign fund fraud. Alexander's was named a co-conspirator. The Farkas nomination was back on ice. Seven months later a jury found Klieger not guilty. Thirteen days later Mrs. Farkas accompanied by Rep. Wyman, met with Maurice Stans. According to Kalmbach Mrs. Farkas had been listed as a potential $250,000 contributor—a figure he says was given to him by Flanigan. On August 15, 1972 another letter of intent to name Mrs. Farkas ambassador, this time to Luxembourg, was received by the Foreign Relations Committee. Again an FBI investigation was begun. On September 20, 1972 Flanigan telephoned Wyman to say that President Nixon had approved the nomination. It was agreed, however, that her name would not be sent up immediately, because the White House did not "want to fuel fires… before the first of the year." Eight days after the Flanigan phone call Mrs. Farkas met again with Finance Chairman Stans and within a week a $300,000 contribution began to flow into the Nixon treasury from the Farkas family. The final Farkas check, for $5000, was received on February 21, 1973. Six days later her nomination went to the Senate.

What has Congress learned from the Watergate affair? Unless committees such as Foreign Relations begin to take their responsibilities more seriously, the answer must be "not much." It would be relatively simple, after all, for the committee to ask Rep. W]/man about his file and to ask Flanigan to return and explain his role not only in the Farkas nomination, but in the nominations of others who gave six-figure contributions to the Nixon campaign. The committee should not leave Flanigan and the public "twisting in the wind" by allowing the nomination to lapse without action. It should complete the record.

This article originally ran in the October 19, 1974, issue of the magazine.