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DeVan Shumway, 77; spokesman of Nixon during Watergate

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post / April 28, 2008

WASHINGTON - DeVan Shumway, the spokesman for the Committee to Re-Elect the President who staunchly defended the Nixon administration throughout the Watergate scandal, died Wednesday of lung disease at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He was 77 and lived in Fairfax County, Va.

Mr. Shumway was proficient at what became known as "nondenial denials," in which administration officials sounded as if they were denying charges without doing so. He was the main public contact for President Nixon's reelection committee while reporters tracked down who ordered the 1972 burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington. The coverup led to Nixon's resignation in August 1974.

The Washington Post story "is not only fiction, but a collection of absurdities," he said in October 1972, when Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward wrote that the FBI had established that the burglary was connected to political spying and sabotage on behalf of Nixon's reelection campaign. When asked to say what was not true, he refused, on the grounds that "the entire matter is in the hands of the authorities."

When Watergate burglar James McCord, who worked for the reelection committee, told the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973 that then-attorney general John Mitchell had approved plans to bug the Democrats' offices, Mr. Shumway said, "I cannot believe these allegations to be anywhere near the truth."

Seven months after the Watergate break-in, The New York Times reported that four of the five burglary suspects were still being paid, that $900,000 in committee funds was unaccounted for, and that Mitchell knew more than he was saying. Mr. Shumway told Times reporter Seymour Hersh that the charges were "outrageously false and preposterous. . . . If the Times chooses to publish these unsupported statements, it will be a serious act of journalistic recklessness and irresponsibility."

It was later established that the charges were true.

Mr. Shumway, a native of Blanding, Utah, attended the University of Utah and served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. He worked for what became United Press International, rising to the position of West Coast bureau chief in 1959, a job he held for 10 years.

He led the unsuccessful 1970 reelection campaign for Senator George Murphy, Republican of California, before going to work for Nixon as assistant director of communications for the White House. In 1972, he switched to the reelection committee, where he was director of public relations.

He left the committee in late 1973 and became editor of newspapers in Springfield, Ill., and San Diego. He returned to Washington in 1975 to direct the public information office for the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

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