I wrote this long feature on the fall of the Aztec empire for All About History, issue 12.
Originally written for All About History Magazine
“I’m not a crook.”
That Richard Nixon, then Republican President of the United States of America, was forced to make such an astonishing denial shows the scale of the scandal that engulfed the White House. It would lead to the first and only resignation of an incumbent President and perhaps the defining political misdemeanour of the 20th Century.
So seismic was Watergate that the last syllable is added as a suffix to any public series of events deemed scandalous, yet the origins were seemingly small-fry in comparison to many political controversies – the burglary of the Watergate Hotel, where the Democratic National Committee was based.
At the time Richard Nixon delivered the quote, late in 1973, the net was beginning to close around him, yet it would take almost another year for the President to tender his resignation following a death-by-1000-cuts that would see allies and aides resigning or cast aside.
Days before Nixon resigns, beleaguered and facing impeachment, he consults an old colleague, Henry Kissinger, on the options available to him. Seeing a broken man in torment at the prospect of only the second US Presidential impeachment and a potential criminal trial, Kissinger tries to console the President and even accedes to Nixon’s request that the pair of them get down on their knees and pray. That it came to this was an indication as to the devastating nature of the revelations over a dirty tricks campaign that went all the way to the heart of the White House.
18 months earlier on 17 June 1972 five men had been arrested by police on the sixth floor of the Watergate Hotel building in Washington, D.C. – the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. Noticing that a number of doors have been taped open, to prevent them automatically locking, a security guard calls the police. All five are arrested and found to have connections with the CIA and a group that raises funds for the re-election of Richard Nixon, the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CRP), often satirically abbreviated to CREEP.
Nixon is a familiar face on the US and world stages, having been Vice President to Dwight Eisenhower between 1952-1960 and unsuccessfully fought John F Kennedy for the White House. During a Presidential debate the future President famously falls foul of a relatively new medium in political campaigning – while voters listening on the radio believe that the Vice President has triumphed, television viewers are won over by JFK’s good looks and charm; they are equally dismayed by Nixon’s hunched shoulders, jowly appearance and sweaty brow. But, having narrowly won the Presidency in 1968, Nixon wins a landslide in 1972 and enjoys approval ratings in the high 70s – almost unheard of for a President in his second term.
However the President deploys an array of dubious techniques to smear opponents. The CRP becomes a de facto intelligence organisation, engaged in dirty tricks campaigns against potential rivals: bugging offices, seeking material that could be used against opponents and attempting to prevent leaks to the media. While the CRP is technically a private fund-raising group, its existence and true nature is known to several federal government employees and Republican Party – Nixon is aware that the CRP gathers intelligence on his rivals and administration’s enemies, but conversations reveal that he is either unaware of the scale of their activities or chooses not to know.
Why The Watergate?
The reason for the Watergate burglaries remained shrouded in mystery for decades, with conflicting reports arising from various parties involved. Certainly those involved in the burglaries – including prominent members of the White House Plumbers – a covert intelligence group acting with the tacit approval of Nixon – were working on behalf of Nixon, whether the POTUS was aware of the specific activities or not. That Nixon learned about Watergate and sought to pull off a cover-up is beyond dispute.
Various motives indicate that government agencies believed that the Cuban government – one of America’s greatest ideological foes of the time – was funding the rival Democratic Party or that people in the upper echelons of government were keen to smear or bug Democratic bigwigs – or retrieve previously-installed wires. What may have begun as an attempt to prevent classified documents being leaked to the press degenerated into a dirty tricks campaign- known as ‘ratfucking’ in American political parlance – against political opponents that was as widespread as it was largely inept.
No definitive motive has ever come to light, with even those involved in the burglary seemingly evasive, contradictory or confused – perhaps due to the passage of time, the desire to paint their own motives as righteous or contemporaneous misinformation – over the true motive behind the biggest US political scandal of the 20th Century. Perhaps the old maxim about power – and absolute power – rings truest here. The President’s Men ordered the burglary – and the President himself approved the cover-up – because they could.
The five men arrested at the Watergate are likely there to recover bugs that had been left on the telephone of senior Democrats or install new surveillance equipment however, when arrested, little significance is ascribed to the break-in. When rookie Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward is sent to a local courthouse to cover the story he discovers that the five men were no ordinary burglary team, being discovered with unusually advanced bugging equipment and a surprisingly high-powered attorney. One of the men, James McCord, admits that he has previously worked for the CIA – Woodward connects him to E Howard Hunt and Charles Colson using phone books belonging to the men. Colson will claim that, upon hearing of the arrests the next day, Nixon hurls an ashtray at the wall in fury.
Hunt was another CIA operative with a colourful background – he had once been accused of involvement in the assassination of President John F Kennedy; anecdotal evidence implies he may have been in Dallas at the time of the killing – and at the time was working for the White House Plumbers, a shadowy group that worked to prevent classified information being leaked to the media from the Nixon administration.
While the existence of the Plumbers – comprising a heady mix of CIA operatives, Republican aides and assorted security personnel – is known to Nixon, the extent of their activities was initially kept from him by his senior staff. The group had arisen from a desire to punish and undermine the Republicans’ enemies – a memo from 1971 suggested the group use any federal machinery “to screw our political enemies” – but the line between what constitutes enemies of America, Nixon administration and Republican Party becomes hopelessly blurred. Colson is a special counsel, essentially a lawyer, and Woodward realises that he, unlike Hunt, is a genuine link between the burglary and upper echelons of the White House.
In 1972 Woodward is teamed with another reporter, Carl Bernstein, and the pair urged to develop the story by the Post’s executive editor. Woodward contacts an FBI source he has previously used using an elaborate system of signals and instructions – the reporter places a plant pot on his balcony when he seeks a meeting; the source replies by writing a time next to Woodward’s column in the Post – and is told that the scandal originates in the White House. The source is referred to as Deep Throat – a reference to a popular pornographic film of the day and an acknowledgement that the source was placed deep within federal ranks.
Who was Deep Throat
Bob Woodward of The Washington Post had long known a source at the FBI who fed him information on a regular basis. But when the Watergate scandal broke, Woodward’s source was in the perfect position to observe the Presidency and resulting investigation – his source was Mark Felt, an Associate Director at the FBI who had almost risen to the top of the tree. Woodward referred to his source as My Friend – an unwitting reflection of Felt’s actual initials – but the Post’s editor, Howard Simons, renamed him Deep Throat – a reference to the popular Pornographic film of the time – to protect his identity.
It was a pseudonym that fired the public imagination and one of US politics’ most enduring mysteries – aided by the enigmatic nature of the reporter’s rendezvous with the source: Woodward would move a flowerpot on the balcony of his apartment when he desired a meeting; Deep Throat would respond by leaving a time written on the journalist’s daily newspaper. The pair would meet in an underground garage in Virginia.
Deep Throat fed a constant source of information about the investigation to Woodward that allowed the journalist to piece together a complex and confusing web of deceit – the investigation was popularised in the film All The President’s Men – and bring down a President.
Woodward and colleague Carl Bernstein protected Deep Throat’s true identity for 30 years before Felt outed himself in 2005, just three years before his death. Speculation over Felt’s motives behind the leaks ranges from professional jealousy to moral conviction. Perhaps the real reason is more simple: Woodward thought Felt an “incurable gossip”.
When Hunt, Liddy and the five burglars are arrested and indicted on federal charges relating to the burglary, Hunt demands money from the CRP and White House to support the seven’s legal fees – the unspoken reality is that the indicted men will keep quiet in return for their silence. The five burglars – plus Hunt and Liddy – are all convicted in early 1973 and given stiff sentences, reflecting Judge John Sirica’s belief that the men are lying about having external help. The President announces that a full investigation has taken place and found no evidence of wrongdoing – in fact no investigation has taken place. Says the President:
“I can say categorically that his investigation indicates that no one on the White House staff, no one in this administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident [the Watergate burglary]. 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 words are prescient. Payments to the jailed men create a paper trail that implicates senior figures in the administration. Woodward deduces that Nixon’s Chief of Staff, Haldeman, and Attorney General John Mitchell are also implicated. Deep Throat claims that the Watergate break-in was masterminded by Haldeman and also states that the lives of the two reporters may be in jeopardy: Woodward and Bernstein press on regardless and write a book, All The President’s Men, later turned into a film, about their experience of the scandal.
While Woodward and Bernstein uncover the paper trail to the White House, another revelation was to prove just as disastrous for Nixon. James McCord, one of the jailed burglars, sends a letter to Judge Sirica in March 1973 explaining that he has perjured himself and alleging orders from high up in the White House.
Also in March, Nixon gets a lengthy rundown from Dean on how widespread the dirty tricks campaign has been and how the Watergate burglary came to happen. Nixon listens, appalled, as Dean recounts the web of deceit in which many of his staff are now trapped – Dean’s prognosis is grim:
“We have a cancer, close to the Presidency, that’s growing. It’s growing daily. It’s compounding, it grows geometrically now because it compounds itself.”
An exasperated, disbelieving Nixon sighs his way through Dean’s testimony, which reveals illegal activities, blackmail and perjury on a grand scale. It is clear that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link – and weakest links are cropping up everywhere as the net tightens. Nixon asks for Dean’s personal feeling on the matter; Dean replies that he is not confident the administration can ride it out.
“I’ve noticed of recent since the publicity has increased on this thing again, with the Gray hearings, that everybody is now starting to watch out for their own behind.”
Dean himself is certainly starting to feel the pressure – and gets the distinct impression that he is being set up as a fall-guy. He is probably correct: Nixon fires Dean, who turns star witness for the prosecution, and Nixon gambles – disposing of some of his most trusted Lieutenants, asking for the resignation of both Haldeman and Ehrlichman. Richard Kleindienst also resigns.
Coincidentally confirmation hearings begin for confirming L. Patrick Gray as permanent Director of the FBI. During the hearings, Gray reveals that he had provided daily updates on the Watergate investigation to the White House and alleges that John Dean had “probably lied” to FBI investigators, enraging the White House.
It is subsequently revealed that Gray, extraordinarily, had disposed of some of the contents of a safe belonging to Hunt – drawing the FBI into a web of deceit along with the CIA, federal government and Republican Party – and forcing his resignation in April 1973. Within weeks Nixon has lost his three most trusted lieutenants, his Attorney General and the head of the FBI.
By May more people disapprove than approve of Richard Nixon’s Presidency. By June the Watergate hearings are being televised; viewers see John Dean tell investigators that he had discussed the cover-up with Nixon at least 35 times. Although Nixon can plausibly deny knowledge of the CRP campaigns and protect himself by firing staff, things are about to get much worse for the President.
Nixon was an intensely suspicious individual who had few real friends and saw conspiracies against him everywhere. Given to brooding behaviour and capable of vulgar outbursts and ruthless behaviour, the President would later acknowledge that the American people knew little of his real personality. This side of his personality was to be his undoing. Known only to a few individuals the President has had secret recording equipment installed in the Oval Office, Cabinet Room and his private office in the White House. The resulting tapes are vital in proving his knowledge of – and active participation in – the Watergate cover-up and wider culpability in allowing his aides to commit behaviour both immoral and illegal.
The President had been at the sharp end of American politics for decades. He had made powerful friends and enemies alike and learned how to play dirty, even ordering tax investigations on Kennedy and 1972 Democratic Presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey. Nixon is heard on the tapes to remark: “I can only hope that we are, frankly, doing a little persecuting. Right?”
In the run-up to the Presidential election of 1972, when it looked like Ted Kennedy – brother of JFK – was a potential opponent for the 1976 election, Nixon and his aides had attempted to use the secret service and Inland Revenue Service to spy on the Democrat Senator in the hope of discovering material that they could use to smear him. Such operations had been learned on the stump over 25 years in politics – Nixon had smeared his first political opponents as Communists or Communist sympathisers during his 1946 and 1950 Congress election runs. Nixon’s nickname, Tricky Dicky, is devised during 1950 and is hard to shake off throughout his political career.
Watergate in Nixon’s words
Date: Nov 17 1973
Quote to: Associated journalists
Quote: “People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook.”
Date: Nov 17 1973
Quote to: Associated journalists
Quote: “I made my mistakes but in all of my years of public life I have never profited from public service.”
Date: August 8 1974
Quote to: American People (Resignation Speech)
“I am confident that the world is a safer place today, not only for the people of America but for the people of all nations, and that all of our children have a better chance than before of living in peace rather than dying in war. This, more than anything, is what I hoped to achieve when I sought the Presidency. This, more than anything, is what I hope will be my legacy to you, to our country, as I leave the Presidency.”
Date: 4 May, 1977
Quote to: David Frost
“I let down the country. I brought myself down. I gave them a sword and they stuck it in. And they twisted it with relish. And, I guess, if I’d been in their position, I’d have done the same thing.”
Date: 4 May, 1977
Quote to: David Frost
“If the President does it, it’s not illegal.”
Date: Nov 17 1978
Quote to: Oxford University Students’ Union
“Some people say I didn’t handle it properly and they’re right. I screwed it up. Mea culpa. But let’s get on to my achievements. You’ll be here in the year 2000 and we’ll see how I’m regarded then.”
Nixon also used the shooting of Presidential hopeful George McGovern in 1972 as an opportunity to place a loyal man within a secret service security protection detail on Ted Kennedy. The spy, Robert Newbrand, was to pass information back to the White House. “[W]e just might get lucky and catch this son-of-a-bitch and ruin him for ’76,” says the President of Kennedy.
In light of what the President knows to be on the tapes, July 1973 brings a bombshell that Nixon instantly recognises as disastrous. The aide responsible for the President’s schedule and day-to-day archiving testifies that Nixon has had recording equipment secretly installed throughout White House offices. The ramifications are obvious, with the tapes laying bare just how widespread the use of dirty tricks are – and how the orders frequently come direct from the President.
Archibald Cox, leading the hearings, instantly subpoenas the tapes. However Nixon, realising the gravity of the situation, refuses the request citing executive privilege and – for the next few months – begins a game of bureaucratic cat and mouse in an effort to keep the tapes in his possession. In October, just days after losing his Vice President Spiro Agnew to an investigation into past corruption, Nixon astonishes his advisors by ordering Cox’s firing – something only Elliott Richardson, the Attorney General, could do.
The President, furious at Cox’s intransigence over refusing to accede to an offer to appoint a Democrat Senator to listen to the tapes, rather than hand them over (absurdly the Senator in question, John C Stennis, is famously deaf) makes it clear that he will accept the resignation of Richardson and the Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus if they do not sack Cox. On a night in October dubbed the Saturday Night Massacre, Richardson refuses the order and promptly resigns. Having been given the same order by Nixon, Ruckelshaus also refuses and resigns, leaving the Solicitor General, Robert Bork to reluctantly carry out the order.
Public opinion turns against Nixon after this gross abuse of power, with protests greeting the President’s pubic appearances. In November he goes on the offensive, delivering a televised question-and-answer session where the President delivers his famous “I’m not a crook” speech.
“I have earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life I have never obstructed justice”.
“People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook. I’ve earned everything I’ve got.”
Nixon claims that the tapes will exonerate him, but he knows that this is not the case. The President had earlier recognised the danger that the tapes posed and asked Haldeman to dispose of them: “Most of it is worth destroying,” says the President. “Would you like – would you do that?”
“Sure,” replies Haldeman. But he does not, perhaps believing that if he is seen to be responsible for destroying the tapes he would make the President bullet-proof – and seal his own fate.
Over the next six months a constant stream of Nixon’s aides plead guilty to various misdemeanours relating to the Watergate burglaries and pressure mounts for the release of tapes. This pressure does not wane when, in April 1974, the White House releases transcripts of the tapes with portions redacted for security purposes. By now four of Nixon’s most trusted aides have been indicted, among them Mitchell, Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Colson – four of the so-called Watergate Seven who were instrumental in planning or covering up the break-ins.
In July 1974, having exhausted various means of preventing their release, including releasing transcripts and heavily-redacted tapes, Nixon is ordered to give up tapes to investigators and Congress moves to impeach the President. Any possibility that the President might hang on is exploded in August when a previously unheard tape is released. The evidence is known as the Smoking Gun tape. On the tape Nixon is heard advising Haldeman to advise the CIA to warn off the FBI from investigating the Watergate break-in:
“When you get in these people when you…get these people in, say: “Look, the problem is that this will open the whole, the whole Bay of Pigs thing” … they should call the FBI in and say that we wish for the country, don’t go any further into this case”, period!”
Opinion is divided as to what ‘the Bay of Pigs thing’ refers to, though the implication to the CIA is obvious – if they do not assist in the Watergate cover-up, sensitive information regarding the agency’s role in ‘the Bay of Pigs thing’ will be released by the White House. While the obvious inference is the aborted CIA-backed invasion of Cuba in 1961, Haldeman would state that he believed this to be a coded reference to CIA involvement in the assassination of John F Kennedy. Either way the tape constitutes prima facie evidence that the President was involved in the Watergate cover-up and attempted to pressure federal agencies into being complicit.
Senior Republicans gather to tell Nixon that he has no support in Congress. Ever the political survivor and having claimed that he would never resign, even Nixon realises that he has exhausted his options. The President promptly resigns in the knowledge that he will be impeached if he remains in office. His resignation speech is broadcast from the White House the night before he leaves for his home in California. Typically his speech wrongfoots many, with allusions to the difficulties of office and oblique mentions of wrong-doing, notions of duty and vague expressions of regret.
Watergate: Timeline of a scandal
Date: 17 June, 1972:
Event: White House Plumbers arrested in the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate Hotel.
Date: 17 March 1973
Event: Watergate burglar James McCord writes a letter to Judge John Sirica, claiming that he lied during trial and that the burglary had involved other government officials.
Date: 3 June, 1973
Event: John Dean tells Watergate investigators that he has discussed the cover-up with Nixon at least 35 times.
Date: 13 July, 1973
Event: Alexander Butterfield, a former presidential secretary, reveals that all conversations and telephone calls in White House offices have been taped since 1971.
Date: 24 July, 1974
Event: Nixon is ordered to hand over up tapes to investigators. Congress begins impeachment proceedings.
Date: 3 August, 1974
Event: The Smoking Gun tape, including a conversation between Nixon and Haldeman formulating the cover-up, is released. Opinion turns significantly against Nixon.
Date: 9 August, 1974
Event: Nixon resigns presidency. Gerald Ford becomes President.
Date: 1 January, 1975
Event: John N. Mitchell, John Ehrlichman and H. R. Haldeman convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice
and perjury. All serve prison sentences.
Date: 4 May, 1977
Event: Nixon gives his first major interview about Watergate; this interview would be dramatised in the film Frost/Nixon.
“I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.”
The President also includes a lengthy summation of what he sees as his achievements in office, preferring them to discussions of Watergate – a trope that would become familiar in years to come. Nixon never escapes the taint of Watergate but he becomes a respected statesman on the American and global stages and wins acclaim for his domestic and foreign accomplishments, much as he predicted. He is almost immediately pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford, in a move that many decry but others think unavoidable: the spectacle of an American President led to a prison cell too awful to contemplate.
Whether US politics ever recovered from the huge fall in the level of trust the public placed in the federal government is more debatable. The scale of wrongdoing – and the depth of the unpleasantness that modern US politics constituted – took voters completely by surprise and revealed those at the top of government as venal, vulgar, deceitful and greedy. Perhaps most of all it showed US Presidents to be flawed – particularly in the case of Richard Nixon. No other modern US President has inspired as much attention, with three enormously popular films about Nixon and Watergate by some of Hollywood’s most talented directors released over the last 35 years. By the time he dies, in 1994, Nixon’s reputation had been largely reassessed and rehabilitated, though he would never escape the stain of Watergate.
Upon leaving the White House Nixon spends most of his time at his house in California – driving to a small outhouse on his golf buggy every day to work on his memoirs. In 1977, short of cash and keen to rehabilitate his reputation, he agrees to the famous series of David Frost interviews. The trained lawyer and long-serving politician runs rings around the under-prepared Frost, but on the final day of interview the disgraced President finally opens up on Watergate. ““I let down the country. I brought myself down. I gave them a sword and they stuck it in. And they twisted it with relish.”
Another quote indicates that Nixon remains proud of his legacy – and determined to reclaim it.
“I feel that I owe it to history, to point out that from that time on April 30, until I resigned on August 9, I did some things that were good for this country. We had the second and third summits. I think one of the major reasons I stayed in office, was my concern about keeping the China initiative, the Soviet initiative, the Vietnam fragile peace agreement and then an added dividend, the first breakthrough in moving toward – not love, but at least not war – in the Middle East.
It’s a line that demonstrates Nixon’s utter conviction that the ends justified the means – Nixon had relied on a range of dirty tricks – many illegal – to claim and then hold onto power, then able to affect positive change as he saw it. It’s a microcosm of the apparently-insignificant burglary that brought down the 37th President of the United States.
Richard Nixon: The Aftermath
Following his resignation Nixon cut a sorry figure. Inconsolable at losing the job he had coveted so deeply, wounded by the thought he had betrayed the American people and lost with little to do at his home in California, he quickly became ill and almost died in the immediate aftermath of his resignation. However we worked to rehabilitate himself and by the time of his death was a respected political elder; sought out for his advice by sitting Presidents and former opponents such as Hilary Clinton. When he died it was revealed that he had requested not to have a state funeral, as is the custom for deceased US Presidents.
In his resignation speech Nixon made much of the advances he thought had been made in foreign policy – where many US Presidents believe their legacy will be judged. Opinions vary on his efforts here and Vietnam will always tarnish the reputations of Nixon and his predecessor Lyndon B Johnson. However Nixon’s work at home is perhaps more impressive. He forged ahead with the desegregation of the South, created numerous environmental acts to protect the US ecology and steered a course that avoided the ideological impulses of successive Republican Presidents.
Nixon strikes a strange figure among US Presidents – oddly awkward and self-aware yet driven by a conviction that the President could not be wrong and that the interests of the ruling administration and United States were indivisible. Arguably more sinner than sinned against, he nevertheless displayed the brooding character of someone bearing a great burden; his own self-image was laid bare in a quote from his resignation speech.
“Sometimes I have succeeded and sometimes I have failed, but always I have taken heart from what Theodore Roosevelt once said about the man in the arena, “whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again because there is not effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deed, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievements and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.””
Who’s Who in Nixon’s web of lies
The top tier
Name: HR Haldeman
Nixon’s exacting ‘son-of-a-bitch’, Haldeman was a tough White House aide who acted to block access to the President and protect his interests. With Ehrlichman he formed an impassable shield: as a result the pair became known as the Berlin Wall – a reference to their activities and Germanic names. Bob Haldeman – who Nixon considered to be ‘like a brother’ to him – was instrumental in the Watergate cover-up and served an 18 month prison sentence – never receiving a promised Presidential pardon. He died in 1993.
Name: John Ehrlichman
Along with Haldeman, Ehrlichman ensured that Nixon was protected from unnecessary attention and worked as White House Counsel before moving to a role as Chief Domestic Advisor. From this position Ehrlichman launched vicious assaults on the President’s enemies and created the White House Plumbers. He had worked with Nixon for over a decade – initially on his unsuccessful 1960 Presidential bid – and never forgave Nixon for the lack of a Presidential pardon in later years. He served 18 months in prison and died in 1999.
Name: John Dean
Dean worked as White House Counsel and was referred to as the ”master manipulator of the cover-up” by the FBI. Initially loyal he became the star witness for the prosecution at the Senate Watergate Committee hearings and pleaded guilty to a single felony count after suspecting that he was being set up as a scapegoat. Dean had destroyed evidence belonging to E Howard Hunt following the Watergate burglary arrests and received a prison sentence, despite his co-operation. In later life he became a critic of the Republican Party.
Name: John Mitchell
Mitchell was another personal friend and partisan colleague of Nixon’s who was rewarded with the job of Attorney General in 1969. A great believer in law and order, Mitchell was heavily involved in the so-called White House Horrors – a term he coined – of Nixon’s Presidency, okayed the Watergate burglary and had form in threatening journalists. Mitchell was found guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury and served a 19-month sentence. He died in 1988.
Name: Charles Colston
“Chuck” Colson was a lawyer who worked for Nixon and one of the Watergate Seven who was found guilty of obstruction of justice and sentenced to seven months in prison. Following his prison time Colston found God, donating all his subsequent fees and royalties to prison ministries in the following years. He died in 2012.
Name: E Howard Hunt
Hunt was a long-serving CIA agent who had been drafted into Nixon’s unofficial investigations unit – the White House Plumbers – charged with fixing ‘leaks’ of information to the media. Hunt’s demands for money created a paper trail that was traceable back to the White House. Rumoured to have been somehow involved in the Assassination of JFK, Hunt was involved in the planning of Watergate burglaries and was sentenced to over 30 months in prison.
Magruder served as Special Assistant to the President in the White House until the spring of 1971, when he left to manage the CRP, initially as Director. He was involved with planning, execution and cover-up of the Watergate break-in and alleged that Nixon had prior knowledge of the affair. He served seven months in prison.
A respected lawman and mediator, Cox was appointed as the first Watergate special prosecutor. Learning of the existence of secret tapes recorded at the White House, Cox pressed for their release. When he refused an offer from Nixon for transcriptions, Nixon ordered the Attorney General to fire Cox. Both the incumbent and his deputy – Elliott Richardson and William Ruckelshaus respectively – refused and resigned their post. Cox was eventually fired by Robert Bork but left with his reputation greatly enhanced.
Kleindienst replaced Mitchell as Attorney General when the latter moved to the CRP. He was unaware of the Watergate activities and only became aware of any connection when G Gordon Liddy approached him while playing golf and informed him that the break-in had originated within the CRP,and that Kleindienst should arrange the release of the burglars. Kleindienst apparently did not, but resigned on the same day that John Dean was fired and Haldeman and John Ehrlichman quit. He was one of the few in the administration to leave relatively unscathed.
McCord was a former CIA agent who had also worked for the FBI and acted as the security coordinator for the CRP. He was arrested at the Watergate complex and later informed Judge John Sirica that he had perjured himself at the trial and that he had been ordered to carry out the break-in by senior White House figures. The letter was instrumental in the cover-up failing.
G Gordon Liddy
Liddy was instrumental in forming plans of the White House Plumbers and was responsible for various bizarre dirty tricks schemes aimed at political opponents. The enigmatic Liddy ran the Watergate burglaries after more bizarre operations were refused. He supervised the break-ins at the Watergate and acted as the chief liaison to the White House. He received a stiff 20-year sentence for his role but served only four and a half. He later became a popular talk-show host.
Judge John Sirica’s presided over the trial of the Watergate burglars – giving them tough sentences in order to coerce admissions from them that they acted in concert with others. He later ordered Nixon to hand over tapes of White House conversations to Archibald Cox. Sirica’s previously indifferent reputation was boosted significantly by his role in the Watergate investigation. He died in 1992.
The lower tier
Working as Deputy Assistant to the President, Butterfield was a deputy to Haldeman and was responsible for the operation of the secret taping system which Nixon had installed in the White House. His deposition was crucial in establishing the existence of the system – and the tapes that sealed Nixon’s fate. Butterfield’s admission that secret recording equipment had been installed at the White House spelled the end for Nixon
Nixon’s unfancied Vice President had found himself surprisingly promoted following the resignation of Spiro Agnew in 1973. Within a year he was President. One of his first acts was to pardon Nixon. He lost to Jimmy Carter in 1977.
The identity of Deep Throat was one of the greatest political mysteries – until 2005 when Felt announced that he was journalist Bob Woodward’s source. Felt had been the FBI’s Associate Director in 1973 and was repeatedly passed over for the job of Director by Nixon. He died in 2008.
Woodward covered the trial of the five Watergate burglars, initially unaware of the significance. With coaxing from his editor and help from Carl Bernstein – not to mention Mark Felt – he was able to piece together a paper trail that was instrumental in exposing the White House’s campaign of dirty tricks.
Robert Bork was Solicitor General in October 1973 when both the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General resigned over a refusal to sack Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Bork later claimed that Nixon promised him a Supreme Court position if he carried out this order. He complied but Nixon was unable to fulfil his part of the deal. Ronald Reagan later appointed him to the Supreme Court.
A Cuban emigre who had served in the US armed forces and probably worked for both the FBI and CIA at various times, Barker was an early recruit to the White House Plumbers and served one year in jail for his part in the Watergate break-in.
Supposedly implicated in the assassination of JFK and the Cuban revolution, where he may have trained Che Guevara, Sturgis had long known E Howard Hunt. He was one of the five men arrested while burgling the Watergate. Sturgis was jailed for his part in the break-in and later made lurid allegations about the assassination of Kennedy.
L Patrick Gray
Gray was nominated to succeed J Edgar Hoover as head of the FBI but resigned as acting FBI director after less than a year. Underestimating the significance of it, Gray had destroyed evidence from a safe belonging to E Howard Hunt that had been passed to him by John Dean. When the scale of the conspiracy became clear to him he resigned and spent many years clearing his name afterwards.
Sloan was the treasurer of the CRP and was unwittingly responsible for endorsing cheques that went to pay the White House Plumbers. Once Sloan discovered the activities of the plumbers he resigned and became a source for Woodward and Bernstein. Journalists Woodward and Bernstein believed Sloan to be one of the few honest men involved in Watergate
Maurice Stans was the finance chairman for the CRP, allegedly responsible for raising large amounts of cash in donations that Nixon kept in a White House safe. Stans denied any knowledge of Watergate and, though indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice, he was acquitted the following year.