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 Mil house 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 telephone 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 basement.
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 cover-up. 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.
Ba hlberg. 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 through 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 won re-election. 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 resign ment 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 Archibald 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 scandal.