NBC News exclusive: Memo shows Watergate prosecutors had evidence Nixon White House plotted violence

Watergate prosecutors had evidence that operatives for then-President Richard Nixon planned an assault on anti-war demonstrators in 1972, including potentially physically attacking Vietnam whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, according to a never-before-published memo obtained by NBC News.

The document, an 18-page 1973 investigative memorandum from the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, sheds new light on how prosecutors were investigating attempts at domestic political violence by Nixon aides, an extremely serious charge.

NBC News is publishing the memo, and an accompanying memo about an interview prosecutors conducted with GOP operative Roger Stone, as part of special coverage for the 45th anniversary of the Watergate break-in.

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Vice President Richard M. Nixon (2L) talking to crowd. (Photo by Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
RICHARD NIXON (1913-1994) 37th President of the USA with wife Pat at White House on 12 June 1971 at daughter's engagement
Georges Pompidou and President Richard Nixon at palace
Nixon and Paine at Apollo 12 Launch
Security Officer's Log of the Watergate Office Building Showing Entry for June 17, 1972, Page 1/2
President Nixon Meets the Apollo 11 Astronauts on the Lawn of the White House
US President Richard Nixon delivers welcome speech in front of the White House in Washington in honor of the Soviet leader
Nov. 10, 2011 - Yorba Linda, California, U.S. - An old photo of Richard Nixon, from right, daughters Tricia, Julie and wife Pat waits to be hung at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda...//ADDITIONAL INFO: Tim Naftali, who stirred controversy while overseeing the conversion of t
Jun 05, 1974 - Cairo, Egypt - RICHARD NIXON (January 9, 1913 Ð April 22, 1994) was the 37th President of the United States (1969Ð1974), having formerly been the 36th Vice President of the United States (1953Ð1961). A member of the Republican Party, he was the only President to resign the office as well as the only person to be elected twice to both the Presidency and the Vice Presi
Aug 05, 1969 - Malacanang, Philippines - RICHARD NIXON (January 9, 1913 Ð April 22, 1994) was the 37th President of the United States (1969Ð1974), having formerly been the 36th Vice President of the United States (1953Ð1961). A member of the Republican Party, he was the only President to resign the office as well as the only person to be elected twice to both the Presidency and the
A half length portrait of Vice President Richard Nixon and his wife Pat, 1950. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)
Politics, Personalities, USA, pic: circa 1950's, Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Richard Nixon of California, pictured with his wife Pat and his two children Julie, left, and Tricia, Richard Nixon, (1913-1994) was the 37th President of the USA, but resigned in 1974 after the Watergate scandal (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
circa 1930: Members of the Whittier College football team with Richard Nixon wearing the number 12 shirt. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1754: President Richard Nixon (USA) toasts Zhou Enlai the Chinese Prime Minister during a state banquet in Beijing in1972. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
Vice Presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon making a speech on TV. (Photo by Yale Joel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, UNITED STATES - 1953: William Knowland (L) and wife, and Joseph Martin (2R), joining Richard M. Nixon (R) and his wife (C), during the Governor's Reception. (Photo by George Skadding/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
1953: Richard Nixon with his wife Thelma (Pat) Ryan and his two daughters Julie and Tricia during his first year as vice president. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
A portrait of the American Vice President Richard Nixon and his family, (from left) daughters Tricia Nixon and Julie Nixon, and wife Pat Nixon, United States, mid-20th century. Richard Nixon later served as the thirty-seventh President of the United States. (Photo by Bachrach/Getty Images)
Richard M. Nixon riding with Syngman Rhee during his visit. (Photo by George Skadding/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Richard M. Nixon and his wife (R) with Attorney Gen. Herbert Brownell Jr. on his daughter's wedding day. (Photo by Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Vice-President Richard M. Nixon (L) watching his wife Pat Nixon (2L) cut her birthday cake. (Photo by Mark Kauffman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Richard M. Nixon at first formal press conference in White House. (Photo by Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Richard M. Nixon (R) with Malcolm S. Forbes and his wife, Nixon aiding Forbes during campaign for governor. (Photo by Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Richard M. Nixon addressing delegates at Sheraton Palace Hotel during the International Industrial Development Conference. (Photo by Nat Farbman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Vice President Richard M. Nixon (R) and his wife carrying a child. (Photo by Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
gina lollobrigida, richard nixon, pat nixon
President Richard M. Nixon and Dr. James C. Fletcher, NASA Administrator.
U.S. President Richard Nixon during Press Conference Regarding Middle East Crisis and Watergate, 1973
Elvis Presley poses for a photo with US President Richard M. Nixon in the Oval Office at the White House December 21, 1970 in Washington, DC.
Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994), 37th President of the United States, Smiling Portrait, 1969
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READ: Prosecutors' Memo on "Investigation Into The Assault On Anti-War Demonstrators On May 3, 1972"

READ:Prosecutors' Memo on "Interview with Roger Stone, re: May 3rd Incident"

A plot to physically attack Ellsberg is notable because the former Pentagon official has long alleged that Nixon operatives did more than steal his medical files, the most well-known effort to discredit him.

In his memoirs, Ellsberg wrote that in May 1972, the White House had flown "Cuban-American CIA 'assets' from Miami to Washington to disrupt a rally that I and others were addressing on the steps of the Capitol," with orders "to incapacitate [me] totally."

Nixon officials denied that account, however, and there were never any indictments related to the accusation.

The memo, written on June 5, 1975, by Watergate special prosecutor Nick Akerman, provides some contemporaneous support for Ellsberg's allegation that he was targeted.

It states that "an extensive investigation" found evidence that Nixon operatives plotted an "assault on antiwar demonstrators" at a rally at the U.S. Capitol featuring Ellsberg and other anti-war "notables." The anti-war demonstration occurred near a viewing of recently deceased FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. An accompanying memo by Akerman summarizes his interview with Stone, who said he helped organize young Republicans to join the counter-demonstration but who had no apparent knowledge of the White House plot on Ellsberg.

The attack would be on "long-haired demonstrators, in particular Ellsberg," the prosecutors' memo states, with the objectives of impugning Ellsberg for protesting near to Hoover lying in state and "simply having Ellsberg beaten up."

Akerman, appearing on Ari Melber's MSNBC show "The Point" on Sunday night moments after the documents were revealed, said Ellsberg emerged unscathed that day. "They were unable to reach him for some reason," Akerman told Melber, saying the reasons remained unclear.

Prosecutors concluded that White House counsel Charles Colson had directed the operation, which Colson denied.

Prosecutors initially responded to newspaper reports that Bernard Barker, a Cuba-born Watergate burglar, and a group of nine Miami associates "had engaged antiwar demonstrators in a fight" and that Colson was behind it.

Colson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice related to stealing Ellsberg's medical files, but was never charged for conduct related to this plot. The memo addresses that distinction, noting that while prosecutors concluded Colson was involved, the evidence they had "would not be sufficient to indict Colson."

"There is still no clear way to link Colson to the assault which is muddled by his efforts to organize a lawful counterdemonstration," the memo concludes. "This melding of the counterdemonstration and the assault had been a problem throughout this investigation in charging anybody with a crime."

Akerman told Melber that "it was the release of the Pentagon Papers that really set him (Nixon) off."

Stone, who also appeared on "The Point" Sunday night, insisted it was Henry Kissinger who had been riling up Nixon against Ellsberg — a point Akerman heatedly rejected.

"The Nixon administration's paranoia about Daniel Ellsberg is driven by Henry Kissinger," Stone said. "You can hear him in the tapes: 'He's a pervert, Mr. President. He must be dealt with, Mr. President.'"

Akerman's memo also suggests that Nixon was briefed on aspects of the plot, because aides John Ehrlichman and Bob Haldeman said the story "might someday hurt the president" if links to Nixon operatives were revealed. Ehrlichman had discussed "bringing the Cubans up to rough-up the demonstrators," and Nixon responded, "Campaign activities — I got that."

The conversation, captured on the Watergate tapes, continues as the talk turns to how the incident might ultimately be handled by Congressional investigators and the Watergate prosecutors.

"Probably, [it] will get in some way logged into the grand jury business because of the money," Haldeman says.

While that possibility apparently concerned the White House, the document shows prosecutors never had quite enough evidence to build the plot against the antiwar protestors into their case against Nixon and his operatives.

"I think what it (the plot) tells us is that Watergate was a much greater attack on our democracy from all different respects," Akerman told Melber. "People think of it as just the Watergate break in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington. It was much more than that."

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