News & Politics

A Final Interview With Nixon “Plumber” Egil “Bud” Krogh, Who Has Died at Age 80

His memoir is currently being made into an HBO series

Egil "Bud" Krogh, just after pleading guilty in 1973. Photograph by AP Photo/CT.

Editor’s note: This story appears in the February issue of Washingtonian. On Jan. 18, after the piece went to press, Krogh died from undisclosed causes, according to his partner, Nancy Glenn Hansen. He was 80 years old.

One quiet Thursday morning in December, Egil “Bud” Krogh was having breakfast at the University Club on 16th Street. Now 80, Krogh is best known as the lawyer who ran the Nixon-administration dirty-tricks team dubbed the White House Plumbers, due to their efforts to plug leaks. In the wake of Watergate, Krogh went to prison for some of his unsavory handiwork, but he has since become a renowned advocate for integrity in government, renouncing his Nixon-era tactics and teaching at DC’s School for Ethics and Global Leadership.

“Integrity is the key quality in one’s life,” said Krogh, who was wearing a dress-code-mandated tie and blazer on top of sweatpants and red hospital socks. “If I had understood that when I went to work in Nixon’s White House, I probably would not have made the decision to [break the law]. I like to think that’s true.”

Integrity is also the title of Krogh’s 2007 book about his Nixon years, and HBO recently announced that it’s making a miniseries based in large part on the work, to be called The White House Plumbers. Krogh associates E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy are the focus, as portrayed by Woody Harrelson and Justin Theroux (who also are executive producers). Krogh himself probably won’t be a major character—which suits him fine. “I personally am not the story here,” he said. “It’s the ideas. That’s really where the story is.”

With his wheelchair parked at a table in the wood-paneled dining room of the University Club—which Nixon also once frequented—Krogh explained the unlikely events that led HBO to his book. In 2015, Krogh suffered a stroke, and one of his doctors, local neurologist Peter Bernad, was fascinated by Krogh’s story. Bernad mentioned it to his son David, who happens to be a prominent entertainment producer, recently overseeing the NBC sitcom Superstore. From there, the project made its way to the HBO team. (David is an executive producer.)

Krogh’s memoir is a serious act of revelation and reflection—“To a lot of people, it’s sort of an egghead book,” he said—but the TV series might lean toward biting satire. Veep executive producers Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck are overseeing the proceedings, and all five episodes will be directed by Veep showrunner David Mandel. The series will no doubt have all kinds of resonances with the current administration. Krogh—who wasn’t previously a big watcher of HBO or Veep—just hopes his pro-ethics message will come through. 

Krogh wouldn’t speculate about how the HBO show might indirectly comment on today’s political situation, but he did offer some general advice to anyone faced with an ethical dilemma. “You have to be constantly aware,” he said, “and to be asking yourself: What does integrity require of me in doing this particular job?”

So is he eager to see his work brought to life onscreen? “Interested” more than “excited,” he said, finishing up his smoked salmon. “One never knows how the message is going to survive” when it’s translated to TV, “but I think young people sometimes are moved by what comes out in popular media.”

Rosa is a senior editor at Bitch Magazine. She’s written for Washingtonian and Smithsonian magazine.