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On the night of Saturday, June 17,1972, police arrested five burglars in the act of
bugging the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Apartment complex. The
five men were discovered crouched behind a desk wearing business suits, carrying a large
sum of cash and walkie-talkies. The five men were James W. McCord, Jr., Bernard L.
Barker, Frank A. Sturgis, Virgilio R. Gonzales, and Eugenio R. Martinez. The following
day, June 18, the men were charged with second-degree burglary. Astonishingly, what
appeared to be an average burglary unraveled into one of the greatest political scandals
ever. Upon the questioning of one of the defendants, McCord revealed his identity as a
former CIA Security consultant. Arousing interest, reporters further investigated and
discovered that he worked for the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CRP,) creating a
direct link to the President of the United States. In August 1968, Nixon stated at a
Republican convention “America is in trouble today not because her people have failed but
because her leaders have failed.” This ironic quote foreshadows the demise and corruption
of one of the most controversial presidents, Richard Milhouse Nixon.
The scandal known as Watergate was not an isolated event. In fact, criminal
actions took place throughout the entire Nixon administration. They began when Nixon
was faced with the Vietnam War. Nixon started secretly bombing Cambodia, aiming at
North-Vietnamese troops. After this was revealed, most of the public was upset since it
was wrong to bomb a country that was not involved in the war. Upset that the bombings
were discovered, Nixon was determined to find out who was leaking information to the
press. His desperation led to a series of criminal acts and corruption. The administration
bugged the telephones of suspected government officials. These were the first of
seventeen wiretaps used to uncover people leaking harmful information. Installing
wiretaps without a judge’s permission is illegal because it disregards the right of freedom
of speech. In order to prevent other leaks, Nixon told John Ehrlichman, chief domestic
adviser, to create a special undercover organization to stop the leakage of secret
information. This group became known as the Plumbers, working out of the White House
The corruption never stopped. Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia instigated
many public anti-war demonstrations. These demonstrations became a problem when four
students were killed by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University. Wanting to
know more about the anti-war movement, Nixon hired Tom Charles Huston to
investigate. He devised a plan which consisted of reading people’s mail, breaking into
homes, and listening to people’s telephone calls. Nixon approved the Huston Plan in 1970.
In 1971, Nixon continued to pressure White House aides to get information on his
enemies. Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy then created the CRP (also known as CREEP
to Nixon opponents) in order to practice illegal actions on Democratic opponents.
This corruption in the White House continued into President Nixon’s campaign for
re-election. The code name for the program intended to harass the democrats was “Sedan
Chair.” Worried about the upcoming election, Nixon created the CRP. Current poles
suggested that the public favored the Democratic candidate Senator Edmund Muskie. In
an attempt to incapacitate Muskie, several plans were instituted. First, a Republican spy
applied for a job with Muskie as his personal chauffeur. The chauffeur reported everything
he overheard in the car to Nixon and the CRP. The next step was for members of the CRP
to awaken voters in the middle of the night saying they were working for Muskie, asking
for their vote. The CRP aimed at other potential democratic candidates, as well, such as
Edward Kennedy. In the final CRP scandal, Liddy was asked to devise a plan to destroy
the Democratic campaign. Liddy’s original plan called for kidnapping opponents, using
prostitutes to embarrass prominent Democrats, and an intricate wiretapping program.
After being submitted to the head of the CRP, John Mitchell (former Attorney General,)
and White House lawyer John Dean, the plan was quickly rejected. Liddy created another
plan which was finally approved. This plan included the wiretapping of phones of
opponents, starting with Larry O’Brien, the Democratic Party Chairman, at the
Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate complex. The entire plan cost a sum of
250,000 dollars. The first break-in was a success, on May 28, 1972, bugging the
telephones. In an attempt to install a second series of bugs, the burglars were caught. The
White House did not accept responsibility for the crime thus beginning a long drawn out
The infamous Watergate cover-up began. Immediately following the burglary, top
officials of the White House and CRP were notified. No one felt that they should admit
that the burglars had White House approval. They kept it a secret fearing the result of
Republican officials being linked to a political burglary. There were too many other
burglaries and political scandals to risk publicity. Secrecy was in order It must be kept a
secret. Jeb Stuart Magruder was notified, by Liddy, of the arrest and of McCord’s direct
link to the CRP. Worried, Magruder met with John Mitchell to discuss the situation. They
decided that if they cleared McCord from the case, there would be no connection to the
White House. Their only problem was that McCord was already in jail. They decided to
call Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst to get McCord out. Kleindienst was
extremely irritated for being put on the spot, and could not free McCord.
The first step of the cover-up had failed. Other links started being discovered
between the burglary and the White House. The top aide to the President, John
Ehrlichman was notified that one of the burglars had a notebook with White House
employee E. Howard Hunt’s name in it. The third link was the hundred dollar bills found
on the five defendants. These bills were all traced back to various people who made
political donations to the CRP. In investigating the error in the burglary, Liddy accepted
full blame. He told Dean he was ready to be shot to death if it would help. In the following
days after the break-in, newspapers which indicated political sabotage were destroyed.
The content of Howard Hunt’s safe was locked away for a while but eventually given to
the director of the FBI, L. Patrick Gray Jr. Gray was instructed to destroy the
incriminating documents. The public investigation of the break-in was conducted by the
FBI, the “fox guarding the henhouse.” When FBI agents began asking too many questions,
Haldeman devised a plan to stop the FBI investigation. CIA agent, Vernon Walters, would
advise Gray to stop investigating in order to maintain national security. Haldeman
discusses this plan with Nixon on June 23, 1972. Later it was revealed that all White
House conversations were taped. In this conversation, Nixon agrees to Haldeman’s plan to
stop FBI agents from gaining information on Watergate. Nixon inculpates himself,
acknowledging that he knew of top aide John Mitchell’s involvement in the break-in, for
involvement in the cover-up and scandal. In the end of June, the White House and the
CRP began making payments to the burglars for legal costs and to support their families
while in jail. They also paid “hush money” to the burglars to make sure they would not tell
the court who they were working for. A total of over 220,000 dollars was spent over the
next three months.
During the months to follow the break in, the Justice Department investigated
burglary and a grand jury listened to the evidence. The trial focused on the five burglars,
since there was no strong evidence against the White House. As things resumed to normal,
Nixon, on August 23, was nominated by the Republicans for his second term as president.
In his speech after the nomination, Nixon stated that John Dean had conducted an
investigation of the Watergate break-in and that
no one on the White House staff, no one in the administration, presently
employed, was involved in this bizarre incident. What really hurts in
matters of this sort is not the fact that they occur, because overzealous
people in campaigns do things that are wrong. What really hurts is if you
try to cover it up.
The following week, the grand jury finished listening to evidence and indicted the
five burglars plus Liddy and Hunt, who were found at Watergate the night of the break-in.
The Justice Department concluded that there was no reason to look any farther, since
there was no evidence which points to anyone else. Apparently, several reporters
disagreed with that statement. Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, of The
Washington Post, were assigned top the case. After thorough investigation, with several
connections, Woodward and Bernstein wrote and published the first major story
connecting the White House to Watergate. They discovered the money link between the
burglars and the CRP. Twenty-five thousand dollars were collected by the CRP and placed
into Bernard Barker’s Bank account, one of the indicted burglars. The check was from
Kenneth H. Bahlberg. He Donated the money to Maurice Stans, the chief money-raiser for
Nixon, intended for the CRP. Other reporters followed this story and revealed that Stans
and others working for Nixon had laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars from people
through Mexico. Although the General Accounting Office felt that the CRP had broke the
law, in collecting money, A.G. Kleindienst said nothing of the money when the indictments
were publicly announced a few weeks later.
Woodward and Bernstein were the most successful reporters in uncovering the
Watergate scandal. They began by talking to many people, secretly at night. Many CRP
employees would not speak, fearing their job. There most success was based on
Woodward’s secret source known as Deep Throat. Deep Throat worked in the Nixon
Administration, close to the administration, and knew everything that had taken place.
Because of his political reputation, Deep Throat did not want his name revealed.
Woodward was the only one who knew who he was and communicated with him using his
flower pot as a sign. The two would meet secretly in a garage in the middle of the night.
The editor of the Post trusted Deep Throat, for he was always right. Deep Throat warned
Woodward to watch out, the White House was upset at the stories they have been
publishing. Anger spread throughout the Nixon administration in late September.
Woodward and Bernstein obtained secret information about John Mitchel. The tandem
discovered that as A.G., before Kleindienst, Mitchell was in charge of a secret campaign
fund through the CRP and had given approval for the money to be used to spy on the
Democrats. It is highly illegal for a government official to work for a political candidate
while in office, especially since the A.G. is the highest ranked law enforcer in the country.
Before publishing their story, Bernstein called Mitchell late at night to ask for a comment.
Mitchell became extremely angry and yelled at Bernstein.
It’s all been denied. Katie Graham [publisher of the Washington Post] is
gonna get her #$% stuck in a big fat wringer if that’s published. Good
Christ….You fellows got a great ballgame going. As soon as your throuh
paying Ed Williams [the Post's lawyer] and the rest of those fellows, we’re
going to do a story on all of you.
Indirectly threatening the newspaper, Woodward and Bernstein included Mitchell’s
expletive in the article. The two published that Haldeman, the man closest to Nixon, also
controlled the secret money fund used against the democrats. Although this was true, the
reporters said that Hugh Sloan, former treasurer for the CRP, had told the grand jury
investigating Watergate that Haldeman was in charge, but Sloan never did. Haldeman
quickly denied this charge, with no evidence against him. This crucial mistake brought
criticism to the paper, while making the White House happy. With in a few weeks, Nixon
The trial for the seven indicted men began on January 8, 1973, Chief judge of the
U.S. District Court, John Sirica, presiding. Howard Hunt pleaded guilty, but the remaining
six pleaded not-guilty. As time went on, every burglar, except for McCord pled guilty.
Liddy and McCord were found guilty. Taking the blame for the burglary, none of the men
would talk about the CRP, keeping their involvement a secret.
Although things appeared to be running smoothly for the Nixon administration,
their inevitable fate came slowly to end as their cover-up fell apart. Following the burglary
trial, in March 1973, the Senate voted to set up a special committee to resolve the
mysteries of Watergate creating public hearings. The White House publicly announced
that it would cooperate with the hearings. Dean later revealed that the White House would
“attempt to restrain the investigation and make it as difficult as possible to get information
and witnesses…The ultimate goal would be to discredit the hearings.” When Nixon
nominated Patrick Gray to become the permanent director of the FBI, the Senate needed
to approve. They would only approve him after being questioned about Watergate. Gray
revealed to the Senate his connection with Nixon and the CRP. Following Gray’s
confession, Howard Hunt, before being sentenced to prison, demanded 120,000 dollars
from Dean or he too would confess. It was then, when Dean realized that there would be
no end to the demand of money and everything would eventually come out. Dean met
with Nixon to discuss the situation. Dean stated, “…We have a cancer within, close to the
presidency, that is growing….” The two decided to pay hunt 75,000 more dollars to stay
quiet for a little while.
The major factor in the unraveling of the political cover-up came from James
McCord. Before going to prison, McCord wrote Judge Sirica a letter. He explained that
throughout the trial there had been political pressure for the defendants to remain silent
and plead guilty. He elaborated on the perjury during the trial and stated that there were
many others involved in Watergate, who were never mentioned in the trial. Along with his
letter, McCord told the Senate Watergate Committee that Dean and Magruder were
involved, blaming them for much of the scandal. At this point, Dean got a lawyer and
decided to tell the truth, admitting that he had lied at the trial of the burglars. Realizing he
was in trouble, Magruder decided to tell the truth as well. Magruder and Dean told the
public that Haldeman and Ehrlichman, Nixon’s two top aides, were involved in the cover-
up. After Dean told Nixon that he was talking to the prosecutors, Nixon used Dean as a
scape-goat, blaming him for the cover-up. Magruder told prosecutors that Mitchell had
approved the Watergate break-in. At that point, Nixon’s administration was in the public
spotlight. Realizing he had to settle things and on April 30, Nixon announced the
resignment of Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Kleindiest, while dismissing John Dean.
The investigation of Watergate, immediately reopened. After the resignation of
A.G. Kleindiest, Congress wanted an outsider working on the Watergate investigation.
Nixon moved Elliot L. Richardson into the Justice Department, who promised to place an
outsider on the case. Richardson chose Archibold Cox, who was given the title of special
prosecutor and was assigned to find out what illegal actions took place. As Cox began his
investigation, the Senate Watergate Committee, under Senator Sam Ervin, began their’s as
well. The Committee’s first witness was McCord. McCord acted innocent, saying that he
broke in because he felt there must have been a good reason for the wiretapping if John
Dean and A.G. John Mitchell approved it. The second witness was Bernard Barker. He
told the committee that the other burglars did it so that Hunt would help them and the
Cubans. Hunt, under the name of Eduardo, represented Cuban liberation to them. they
wanted to free Cuba from Communist rule of Fidel Castro. Dean, too, agree to testify to
the Committee if he was given immunity. Sirica gave him limited immunity which really
had no effect in the long run. At that, Dean began to tell the world of the Watergate
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