Japanese American leaders and organizations are busy issuing statements on the death of former Nixon White House operative William H. “Mo” Marumoto, who died following a heart attack Nov. 25. He was 73.
The late Mr. Marumoto is being remembered as a fund-raiser and adviser to many Asian American groups including the Japanese American Citizens League and the Asian American Government Education Group.
At the time of his death, Marumoto served on the board of the Japanese American National Museum, the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging and the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies.
Press releases flooding media in-boxes throughout the country laud Marumoto for “the more than 40,000 volunteer hours” he worked for nonprofit agencies and the more than 25 national professional awards he received during his half-century of work in Washington, D.C.
But all the eulogies from these Asian American organizations fail to paint a full portrait of William H. “Mo” Marumoto’s defining career moment in halls of power and influence. One all-important chapter is missing, and its absence is the 4000-pound elephant behind the drapes.
None of the orchestrated flackistry touches on the only reason why American history will remember “Mo” Marumoto; that he was a cynical and ruthless special assistant to President Richard M. Nixon, who under the glare of congressional scrutiny cowered behind the 5th Amendment and high-priced legal counsel.
With an office next to E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, Marumoto worked under H.R. Haldeman, John D. Erlichman and Charles Colson, all of whom did prison time for their roles in the Watergate cover-up scandal that rocked the nation and culminated with the resignation of a disgraced Nixon.
Marumoto, then an ambitious bureaucrat in his late 30s and a contemporary of GOP apparatchiks like Donald Rumsfeld, escaped indictment but was subpoenaed and grilled by Sen. Sam Ervin’s Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities that investigated the Watergate scandal.
Wrote Harvard Univ. sociologist John D. Skrentny in Minority Rights Revolution (Harvard Press, 2002) on Marumoto’s role in the Nixon White House.
“William H. Marumoto, a Japanese American apparently uninterested in advocating for Asian Americans as a minority, moved from a position in the White House involved in recruiting to work on Latino issues under Colson.
“Part of the responsibility with which Marumoto had been charged was called ‘Capitalizing on the Incumbency.’ This meant he was to find ways to use the executive branch’s grant-making and hiring powers to secure Latino support.”
According to Skrentny, Marumoto convened weekly meetings with his deputy Antonio Rodriguez, a Latino White House aide named Carlos Conde, Henry Ramirez, head of Cabinet Committee on Opportunities for the Spanish Speaking CCOSS and Alex Armendariz, director of the Committee to Re-elect the President.
Marumoto called his team the “Brown Mafia,” until his supervisor Fred Malek warned him that the name would “look bad if it ever got out.” Reportedly, during this period, Marumoto contributed Latino (and some say Asian American) names to a White House enemies list that was being compiled by Colson.
The unstated purpose of the Brown Mafia was to shake down Latino grant seekers for re-election support and campaign contributions. If these groups agreed to support Nixon for a second term, they would be given an open pipeline to taxpayer-funded grants and lucrative minority contracts. If they did not agree, the spigot was turned off and they went onto the infamous Nixon enemies list.
“Marumoto’s 1972 ‘Weekly Activity Reports for Spanish Speaking’ were sprinkled with embarrassingly incriminating comments,” the Ervin committee wrote in its final report. “These included having an administrator on March 24 ‘set aside $300,000 for one of our Spanish-speaking contractors.’ An April 7 entry described reviewing proposals and grants at OMBE (the Office of Minority Business Enterprise) to make sure the right people are being considered and receiving grants from OMBE. On May 19, Marumoto wrote, ‘Rodriguez is assisting Ultrasystems, Inc., of Long Beach, Calif. with a $200,000 grant from OMBE. This organization strongly supports the administration.’”
From the Senate Watergate Report here’s Marumoto under questioning by select committee member Sen. Herman Talmadge (D-Georgia):
Senator Talmadge: What was the responsiveness group?
Mr. Marumoto: As I explained this morning, this was a group of four to five gentlemen… who were responsible to and working for various special interest groups under Mr. Colson as well as our personnel operation to make sure that the various departments and agencies were responsive to requests that went to them from the White House on personnel matters, publicity, public relations, grants and contracts.
Talmadge: Simplified, it was a group to take maximum political advantage of public dollars that were awarded in the form of public grants and contracts, was it not?
Marumoto: A system to facilitate some of our requests.
Talmadge: “Facilitate.” What do you mean by that?
Marumoto: Try to get through the bureaucratic red tape.
Talmadge: In other words, my statement is correct. It was to maximize the advantage of the American taxpayers’ dollars in a political effort, was it not?
Throughout his testimony before the committee, Marumoto whispered back and forth to his high-priced Washington lawyer William M. Treadwell clearly wary of being trapped into admissions that could lead to prosecution and possible imprisonment.
Although the select committee seemed to clearly identify Marumoto as an architect of the plan to illegally politicize taxpayer-funded minority grants and contracts, he was never charged. Reportedly, he was forced to resign his White House job to placate angry Latino community groups who were pressing for criminal indictments against him and his cronies.
Now, 35 years after Nixon, Haldeman, Erlichman, Colson, Attorney General John Mitchell and minor thugs like Marumoto and his Brown Mafia made a mockery of government, ethics and the rule of law from the highest office in the land, self-serving press releases blur and even erase historical fact.
In many ways, the Watergate cover-up still goes on today. No one in their right mind would let criminals like Haldeman, Erlichman, Howard Hunt or G. Gordon Liddy off the hook, ever. Neither should Japanese America’s journalists and academics allow a morally corrupt opportunist like “Mo” Marumoto to be held up as anything more than an object lesson on how not to conduct oneself in a position of power—and certainly not as an Asian American patriot, hero or role model.
It’s a natural tendency to be charitable when considering the recently deceased, and my Japanese American parents admonished me not to speak ill of the dead. So, personally, this is the way I’ll remember “Mo” Marumoto, our Nick Carraway, without the whitewash.
An intelligent and adroit politician, Mr. Marumoto was led astray in a corrupt time and made serious mistakes of moral judgment when in a position of great power. Basically a good man, he endured years in which he was loathed as an anathema, and when given a second chance he sought atonement by helping young people of his community to enter government and serve the people.