Saturday marks 40 years since Richard Nixon resigned the presidency over the Watergate scandal. The saga began more than two years earlier, in June 1972. A group of political operatives known as the plumbers broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex in Northwest Washington.
What many Americans do not know, however, is how the plot started, what the plumbers were looking for in the DNC headquarters, why they got caught and how the man lionized by liberals for breaking the scandal wide open actually deserves much of the blame.
The leader of the plumbers was G. Gordon Liddy, a former FBI special agent and official in the office of the Committee to Re-Elect the President, or CREEP. In 2012, while a talk-show host and colleague of this reporter at the Radio America network, Liddy detailed how the road to the Watergate break-in began.
“I was down in the office of what came to be known as the plumbers,” Liddy said. “I was called by Egil Krogh, who was an assistant to John Ehrlichman, and he said, ‘(White House Counsel) John Dean wants to pitch you on something and I think I ought to be there.’ That’s because nobody trusted John Dean. So I went up to Dean’s office. He said that he wanted an intelligence operation to operate against the Democratic Party in the 1972 election.”
He said, “He wanted me to be in charge of it and Mr. E. Howard Hunt, whose background was CIA, to be assisting me. He said he wanted an all-out, full-bore offensive and defensive intelligence operation.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with G. Gordon Liddy:
Liddy and Hunt came up with multiple elaborate plans to gather intelligence on the Democrats, but their superiors rejected most of them simply because they were too expensive. Finally, a pared-down plan received the green light.
So what were they looking for? In 1972, President Nixon was bracing for a re-election fight against Democratic Sen. George McGovern. While many believe the plumbers were looking for campaign secrets and strategies, Liddy said the break-in had a very different goal.
"The FBI was investigating not one, not two, but three separate call girl operations back then. The assistant United States Attorney who was in charge of that was a man named John Rudy. He testified that the FBI came to him and said, 'We have found a connection between (the DNC and) the call-girl ring that's being run out of the Columbia Plaza Apartments, which is across the street from the Democratic headquarters," Liddy said.
The plumbers carefully scouted for a way to slip into the DNC offices without being noticed. They soon determined the night cleaning crew was the weak link in the security because they failed to use a key to lock and unlock the headquarters every time they came in and out of the offices. That provided a way in but also led to the team being discovered.
"We watched what they did and they put tape across the spring-loaded lock so they could bump it back and forth, and that's what we did," Liddy explained. "The security guard came by and he saw the tape. And he said, 'Oh geez, they've done it again.' He ripped it off and started making his rounds again. We put the tape back on and that was our mistake. He came around again and saw the tape a second time. He knew the clean-up crew had left. So then the question in his mind was, 'Who put the tape on there? Wait a minute, we've got a problem.' And he called the police."
While Watergate did not engulf President Nixon until after his re-election, Liddy was arrested and later convicted on multiple counts.
He was sentenced to prison in January 1973. Between his arrest and his sentencing, Liddy became a household name for refusing to say a word about the Watergate plot. Liddy said his silence was based on a very simple premise.
"It concerned me that it was a threat to the administration," he said. "I wanted to preserve the administration of Richard Nixon, and I knew that if I didn't talk, it would secure those above me. So I didn't talk, but Dean cracked and talked. That's what brought down Richard Nixon."
Through his eventual testimony to Congress, the Watergate plot was exposed by the very man Liddy said ordered the "all-out, full bore offensive and defensive intelligence operation" in the first place.
Liddy already held Dean in exceedingly low esteem. When word of Dean's actions reached Liddy in prison, he said it simply confirmed what he already knew.
"I said to myself, 'This is consistent with what we've always known about Dean,'" he said. "What do I mean by that? When I first went over to the White House, Donald Santarelli, the deputy attorney general, said, 'Beware Dean. Beware Dean.' He said, 'Dean's the type of guy that you'll be typing away on an idea you have. Dean will come over and ask what you're doing and then you'll tell him. Then it's lunchtime and everybody will go to lunch except Dean. Dean will stay back, not have lunch, type up a memo with your idea and submit it. He's an idea thief."
G. Gordon Liddy served more time in prison than any other figure associated with Watergate. His sentence was commuted by President Carter after nearly five years of incarceration. He soon became a prolific author, actor and then a radio talk-show host for some 20 years.
More than 40 years after the Watergate saga began, Liddy made it clear he has few regrets about the episode. He said he had good reasons to break the law and those reasons have since been validated again and again.
"I saw Democrats as being dangerous to the country," he said. "I see the Democrats now as being even more dangerous to the country. I wanted to prevent them from being able to damage the country further. So I chose to make use of the special knowledge that I had as a result of the FBI and so forth. That was it."