“There will be no whitewash at the White House”
Guard Frank Wills was doing his rounds in the Watergate hotel that served as headquarters of the Democratic Party when he became suspicious that someone had broken in. Wills called police after seeing that tape used to hold a door open had reappeared after he’d removed it during his earlier rounds. He called the police at 1.47arn and at 2.30am they arrested five men who gave fake names. They had sophisticated spying equipment with them and one had a direct-line phone number for the White House. The next day, on holiday in Florida, President Nixon dismissed the incident as “a third-rate burglary”. At Republican Party headquarters, an aide boasted of their own security in the hands of James W. McCord, a former CIA operative who at that moment was appearing in court — as one of the five Watergate burglars.
Alongside him were Frank Sturgis, Bernard Barker, Virgil) Gonzalez and Eugenio Martinez who had been hired by the White House and the Citizens’ Committee to Re-elect the President (known as CREEP) to spy on their political enemies. It was imperative that the burglary was not linked to the White House in an election year and for five months the facade was maintained; Nixon was easily elected to a second term. The FBI investigated and linked the Watergate break-in to two White House officials, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt. In 1971 a newspaper had reported on Nixon’s covert military operations in Vietnam and he was determined that the White House would stop such damaging information from getting out, so a group — nicknamed the Plumbers, because they would plug such “leaks” — was formed.
The White House pressurized McCord to plead guilty and to blame the CIA, and it was later learned that Nixon had approved the payment of as much as $1 million (“A million dollars? We could get that,” he said) from CREEP campaign coffers to buy the burglars’ silence. At the trial only McCord arid Liddy pleaded guilty but Judge John Sirica postponed sentence for two months; McCord lost his nerve and revealed the depth of the conspiracy.
Watergate Hotel, 2600 Virginia Avenue NW, Washington DC, USA
1.47am 17 June 1972
In June 1973 a Senate Committee convened and the truth, including the revelation that Nixon taped all the Oval Office conversations, emerged. Grudgingly, and after losing a lengthy court battle, Nixon released the tapes — “There will be no whitewash at the White House” — but numerous transcripts were heavily edited and featured the words “Expletive deleted” as Nixon’s foul language was censored. On 9 August 1974 Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment. Many of the revelations of the scandal came in the Washington Post and they were written by novice local reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. They were helped by a secret source nicknamed Deep Throat after a porno movie of that name. On 31 May 2005, it was revealed that former FBI Deputy Director, W. Mark Felt, 91, was Deep Throat. He died at the age of 95 on 18 December 2008.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Curiously, an 18-minute gap appeared on a crucial tape discussing the break-in but, most incriminating, it failed to delete Nixon’s demand on 23 June 1972 that the CIA be directed to interfere with the FBI’s investigation into Watergate (known as ‘The Smoking Gun” tape, it sealed the President’s fate).