Gerald R. Ford: The American Presidents Series: The 38th President, 1974-1977 by Douglas Brinkley:
Ford and some other congressional leaders happened to have an appointment that afternoon with John Mitchell. Ford managed to take Mitchell aside for a moment and asked him point-blank whether the White House had had any involvement with the Watergate burglary—and whether the president had known anything about it in advance. Mitchell adamantly replied that there was no connection. That was enough for Ford. “He looked me right in the eye,” Ford remembered, “and said he had nothing to do with it—had no knowledge of it. That was pretty strong language from somebody who had been attorney general.”
The next day, Mitchell looked the rest of the country just as straight in the eye and disavowed any CREEP involvement in the crime. His statement responded in particular to Democratic chairman Larry O’Brien’s charge that the Hunt connection between the burglars and Colson marked “a developing clear line to the White House.” O’Brien would be proved right in the end, but at the time his comments seemed only to politicize the debate over the Watergate affair. Two days later, on June 22, Nixon himself submitted to his first news conference in three months to assert that the Whie House had had nothing to do with the break-in, and that electronic surveillance “has no place whatever in our electoral process or in our governmental process.” Nixon loyalists quickly adopted White House press secretary Ronald Ziegler’s characterization of Watergate as a “third-rate burglary attempt.” To the astonishment of most Democrats and other Nixon opponents, the matter languished as a campaign issue through most of the summer.