John Ehrlichman was born in Tacoma, Washington, on 20th March, 1925. During the Second World War he was a navigator in the 8th Air Force, flying 26 bombing missions over Nazi Germany and receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1948 and a law degree from Stanford University in 1951. The following year he became a partner in a Seattle law firm. Later it established a law office in Washington.
In 1960 Ehrlichman joined the campaign staff of Richard Nixon in his fight with John F. Kennedy for the presidency. Ehrlichman was also tour director of Nixon's 1968 campaign. After Nixon's victory, Ehrlichman was appointed presidential counsel. The following year he became presidential assistant for domestic affairs the next year.
Ehrlichman worked closely with Nixon and approved the break-in at the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and the Washington Post. He also supervised the plumbers, a group whose illegal activities were aimed at stopping White House press leaks and discrediting political opponents of the Nixon administration.
On 3rd July, 1972, Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, Bernard L. Barker and James W. McCord were arrested while removing electronic devices from the Democratic Party campaign offices in an apartment block called Watergate. It appeared that the men had been to wiretap the conversations of Larry O'Brien, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
The phone number of E.Howard Hunt was found in address books of the burglars. Reporters were now able to link the break-in to the White House. Bob Woodward, a reporter working for the Washington Post was told by a friend who was employed by the government, that senior aides of President Richard Nixon, had paid the burglars to obtain information about its political opponents.
In 1972 Nixon was once again selected as the Republican presidential candidate. On 7th November, Nixon easily won the the election with 61 per cent of the popular vote. Soon after the election reports by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, began to claim that some of Nixon's top officials were involved in organizing the Watergate break-in.
Ehrlichman was involved in the cover-up from the beginning. In April 1973, Nixon forced Ehrlichman and H. R. Haldeman, to resign. A third adviser, John Dean, refused to go and was sacked. On 20th April, Dean issued a statement making it clear that he was unwilling to be a "scapegoat in the Watergate case". When Dean testified on 25th June, 1973 before the Senate Committee investigating Watergate, he claimed that Richard Nixon participated in the cover-up. He also confirmed that Nixon had tape-recordings of meetings where these issues were discussed.
The Special Prosecutor now demanded access to these tape-recordings. At first Nixon refused but when the Supreme Court ruled against him and members of the Senate began calling for him to be impeached, he changed his mind. However, some tapes were missing while others contained important gaps.
Under extreme pressure, Nixon supplied tapescripts of the missing tapes. It was now clear that Nixon had been involved in the cover-up and members of the Senate began to call for his impeachment. On 9th August, 1974, Richard Nixon became the first President of the United States to resign from office.
Nixon was granted a pardon but Ehrlichman was charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy and perjury. At his trial in 1974, Ehrlichman accused Richard Nixon of deceiving him about the cover-up. Ehrlichman was convicted on all charges and sentenced to 20 months to five years in prison. He served 18 months in a minimum-security Arizona prison camp.
In October 1977, Ehrlichman issued a statement where he claimed that while working for Richard Nixon he had "an exaggerated sense of my obligation to do as I was bidden, without exercising independent judgment in the way I might have if it had been an attorney-client relationship.... I went and lied and I'm paying the price for that lack of willpower. I, in effect, I abdicated my moral judgments and turned them over to somebody else."
After his release Ehrlichman lived in New Mexico and wrote the novels, The Company and The China Card. He also two accounts of his work with Richard Nixon, The Whole Truth (1979) and Witness to Power: The Nixon Years (1982).
In 1991 Ehrlichman moved to Atlanta in 1991 where he worked as a business consultant for Law Environmental. In 1996, an Atlanta gallery displayed 43 of Ehrlichman's pen-and-ink drawings.
John Ehrlichman died of complications of diabetes in Atlanta, Georgia, on 14th February, 1999.