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The DNC headquarters were on the sixth floor of the Watergate Office Building. The burglaries and wiretaps were monitored from across the street, in room 723 of the 9-story Howard Johnson Motor Lodge. This political scandal and constitutional crisis led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. This is an account of corruption in a democratic society. It is also the scandal that made our home, Watergate, a recognized name worldwide.
On June 17, 1972, Frank Wills, a security guard working at the office complex of the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., noticed a piece of tape on the door between the basement stairwell and the parking garage. It was holding the door unlocked. Wills removed it, assuming the cleaning crew had put it there. Later, he returned and discovered that the tape had been replaced. Wills then contacted the D.C. police.
The police discovered and arrested 5 men for breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.
The men apparently broke into the office to fix wiretaps they had dropped in three weeks earlier that were not working. And, according to some, they had planned to photograph documents.
McCord, one of the men arrested for burglry, was Chief of Security at the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP). Later, the police found the telephone number of a prior White House employee, Howard Hunt, in McCord's notebook. At the time of the break-in, Frank McCord was serving as Chief of Security at the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP), later commonly referred to as CREEP. His association with CRP suggested a link between the burglars and someone close to the President, some said.
But, Ron Ziegler, Nixon's press secretary, dismissed the affair as a "third-rate burglary."
And, most Americans initially believed that no President with Nixon's advantage in the looming presidential campaign would be so foolhardy or unethical as to risk association with such an affair.
In fact, the burglary, along with other "dirty tricks" were directed by Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy and undertaken on behalf of CRP. They too had been White House employees. They worked in a Special Investigations unit informally referred to as the "Plumbers"; Their specialty was to investigate unauthorized leaks of information.
Special Investigations had a second focus: to conduct various operations against the Democrats and anti-war protestors. It was the Plumbers who had broken into the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. Hunt and Liddy ran that operation. They found nothing useful, however, and trashed the office to cover their tracks. Ellsberg, you may recall, was the former Pentagon and State Department employee who had leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and as a result was prosecuted for espionage, theft, and conspiracy.
The break-in was only linked to the White House much later, but at the time it caused the collapse of Ellsberg's trial due to evident government misconduct.
Chap Stick microphones used by E. Howard Hunt
and G. Gordon Liddy during the burglary.
Attorney General, John Mitchell (a Watergate resident during these unfolding events) was the head of CRP, along with campaign manager Jeb Stuart Magruder and Fred LaRue. Mitchell had approved Hunt and Liddy's espionage plans, including the break-in.
Magruder, gave a number of different accounts regarding Mitchell and Nixon's involvement. In one, he claimed that he had overheard Nixon order Mitchell to conduct the break-in in order to gather intelligence about the activities of Larry O'Brien, the director of the Democratic Campaign Committee. But whether the conspiracy went above Mitchell was not finally established.
The original burglars along with Liddy and Hunt went to trial on January 8, 1973. The group had been paid by CRP to plead guilty but say nothing. All pleaded guilty except for McCord and Liddy. All were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping. But, their refusal to allocute to the crimes angered the trial judge John Sirica. Sirica handed down thirty-year sentences, but indicated he would reconsider if the group would be more cooperative. McCord complied, implicated CRP in the burglary and the payoff for the burglars' silence, and admitted to perjury.
H.R. Haldeman (top),
John Ehrlichman (bottom)
The Senate investigation
The Watergate Burglary was now linked to the President's re-election campaign. Senator Sam Ervin, chair of the committee to investigate the Watergate break-in, issued subpoenaes to White House staff.
Haldeman and Ehrlichman were soon indicted. Nixon asked for the resignations of his two powerful aides. (4/30). He also fired White House counsel John Dean, who had testified before the Senate and would become the key witness against Nixon himself. Ultimately, aides and counsel went to prison.
Nixon named a new Attorney General, Elliot Richardson. His goal was to establish a special counsel who would be independent of the regular Justice Department hierarchy. Richardson named Archibald Cox to as Nixon's prosecutor and on May 18, the televised hearings had begun.
Senator Sam Ervin, chair of the committee to investigate Watergate (left). Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee (right).
The Senate Watergate Committee hearings were broadcast through most of the summer, causing devastating political damage to Nixon. Star witness John Dean. Other former key administration officials gave dramatic testimony.
Most famously, Republican Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee (once a resident of Watergate South) directed attention on Nixon's role in the scandal when he asked,
"What did the president know
and when did he know it?"
"Was there any type of recording system in the White House?" Donald G. Sanders, Watergate Committee Deputy Minority Counsel, asked of Alexander Butterfield, deputy assistant to the President (7/13),
Butterfield answered that though he was reluctant to say so, there was a system in the White House that automatically recorded everything in the Oval Office.
The tapes were soon subpoenaed by both Cox and the Senate as they might prove whether Nixon or Dean was telling the truth about key meetings.
Nixon refused to turn over the tapes, citing executive privilege. He ordered Cox, via Attorney General Richardson, to drop his subpoena.
Cox refused to drop the subpoena.
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