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Context of 'January 30, 1973: Liddy, McCord Found Guilty in Watergate Trial'

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A confident G. Gordon Liddy leaves the courtroom.A confident G. Gordon Liddy leaves the courtroom. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]The trial of the seven men accusing of breaking into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate hotel and office complex (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) begins. Defendant G. Gordon Liddy is confident to the point of exuberance, waving triumphantly to the jurors; the other defendants are more subdued. Prosecutor Earl Silbert’s opening argument presents a scenario in which Liddy had been given money for legitimate political intelligence-gathering purposes, and on his own decided to mount illegal operations. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, observing in the courtroom, is dismayed; Silbert is giving the jury the “Liddy-as-fall-guy” tale Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein had learned of months before, and which Nixon and his aides had discussed in June (see June 21, 1972). After Silbert’s opening argument, Hunt abruptly changes his plea to guilty; the four Miami-based burglars—Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, and Frank Sturgis—soon follow suit (see January 10, 1973). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 229-231; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Eugenio Martinez, Bob Woodward, Bernard Barker, Carl Bernstein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Earl Silbert, Virgilio Gonzalez, G. Gordon Liddy, Frank Sturgis

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

During the Watergate trial of G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord (see January 30, 1973), Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward begin poring over the exhibits and papers filed as evidence with the court. Woodward begins calling the phone numbers listed in the address books of the burglars (see June 18, 1972). He is told by one of the first people he calls: “The FBI? They never, never contacted me. I never talked to them.” Woodward is appalled that the FBI has made such a fundamental investigative failure of not calling all of the people listed in the books. (An FBI internal report will later attempt to explain the lapse—see July 5, 1974.)
Woodward Calls Witnesses - When the court releases the names of upcoming witnesses, Woodward begins calling them, too. He asks one witness, who knows burglar E. Howard Hunt (see January 8-9, 1973) very well, what he will testify to. “I’ll tell you what I could testify to, but [prosecutor Earl] Silbert won’t ask,” the witness replies. “If the judge does or any of the attorneys, I’ll say it.” The witness has already told everything he knows to Silbert and FBI investigators.
Ehrlichman Allegedly Ran Plumbers - He says that if asked, he would tell the court that, according to Hunt, White House aide John Ehrlichman was in charge of the Plumbers (see December 7, 1972). Hunt would have rather dealt with another White House aide, Charles Colson, “because Colson understood that such [secret intelligence gathering operations against political opponents] are necessary.” Ehrlichman was reluctant to implement some of Hunt’s schemes, the witness says, but Colson pushed them through. Former Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell received typed logs and reports of the wiretaps on the Democrats, the witness says.
Conspiracy Linked to Dean - Most surprisingly for Woodward, the witness says that when Hunt was in hiding from investigators (see June 18, 1972) and demanding a lawyer, he insisted that White House counsel John Dean find him one. This is the first time anyone has publicly connected Dean to the Watergate conspiracy.
Not Asked - As the witness predicts, he will not be asked any of this when he testifies. Woodward and Bernstein write a long analysis of the trial, headlined “Still Secret: Who Hired Spies and Why,” observing that the Liddy/McCord trial is notable for “questions that were not asked, answers that were not given, witnesses who were not called to testify, and some lapses of memory by those who were.” At the bond hearing for Liddy and McCord after the trial, Judge John Sirica will say that he hopes the proposed Senate investigation (see February 7, 1973) can find out what the trials did not. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 237-241]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, ’Plumbers’, Charles Colson, Earl Silbert, John Dean, John Mitchell, James McCord, G. Gordon Liddy, John Sirica, E. Howard Hunt, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Hugh Sloan.Hugh Sloan. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Former Nixon campaign treasurer Hugh Sloan testifies during the trial of the “Watergate Seven” (see January 8-11, 1973). Judge John Sirica becomes impatient with the diffident questioning of the prosecutors, excuses the jury, and grills Sloan himself. Sloan admits to disbursing $199,000 in secret campaign funds for G. Gordon Liddy’s covert campaign espionage operations, and that the transaction had been approved by both campaign director John Mitchell and campaign finance director Maurice Stans (see January 23, 1973). [Reeves, 2001, pp. 563-564; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]

Entity Tags: John Mitchell, John Sirica, Maurice Stans, Committee to Re-elect the President, G. Gordon Liddy, Hugh Sloan

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

W. Mark Felt.W. Mark Felt. [Source: Southern Methodist University]Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward once again meets with his FBI background source, W. Mark Felt—known around the Post offices as “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005). Felt says that everyone in the FBI knows, or is convinced, that former Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell and White House aide Charles Colson were the driving forces behind the “Plumbers,” the “special investigative unit” that carried out illegal surveillance and burglaries for the Nixon re-election campaign (see Late June-July 1971). “Colson’s role was active,” Felt says. “Mitchell’s position was more ‘amoral’ and less active—giving the nod but not conceiving the scheme.” While no one at the bureau doubts this, Felt says, there is only “the weakest circumstantial evidence” to prove it. “‘Insulation’ is the key word to understand why the evidence can’t be developed.” He adds, perhaps challengingly, “If the FBI couldn’t prove it, I don’t think the Washington Post can.” Mitchell and Colson sponsored convicted Watergate burglars G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, Felt says. “And if you’ll check, you’ll find that Liddy and Hunt had reputations that are the lowest. The absolute lowest. Hiring these two was immoral. They got exactly what they wanted. Liddy wanted to tap the New York Times and everybody knew it. And not everybody was laughing about it. Mitchell, among others, liked the idea.” (The scheme to wiretap the Times was never carried out.) With the convictions of the burglars (see January 8-11, 1973 and January 30, 1973), the White House’s plan now is to contain the damage and prevent any congressional hearings from finding out anything further. The key to the damage-control plan, Felt says, is the broad claim of presidential “executive privilege” to keep investigators from subpoenaing White House records. Someone from inside the conspiracy is going to have to crack, Felt says, or there will never be more than rumor and circumstantial evidence that will prove nothing. Felt is disgusted with the FBI investigation’s deliberate narrowness (see Mid-January, 1973), saying that it could have gone far deeper and farther afield than it did. “The efforts to separate the Watergate and the espionage-sabotage operations are a lot of bullsh_t,” he says. After heated discussions over Felt’s latest revelations, Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein decide there is not enough concrete evidence for a new story. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 243-246]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Charles Colson, G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, Nixon administration, New York Times, John Mitchell, W. Mark Felt

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

G. Gordon Liddy.G. Gordon Liddy. [Source: Robert Maass / Corbis]Following on the five guilty pleas of their fellow defendants (see January 8-11, 1973), the final two Watergate defendants, G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord, are found guilty of conspiracy, burglary, and wiretapping Democratic headquarters. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] During the trial, the court hears damning testimony from confessed Watergate accomplice Alfred Baldwin (see Mid-January 1973) and former Nixon campaign treasurer Hugh Sloan (see January 23, 1973). As the trial progressed, the stolid solidarity of the defendants began to crack, with Liddy’s lawyer attempting to shift the blame for criminal actions onto E. Howard Hunt, who pled guilty three weeks before. McCord’s lawyer won little sympathy from the jury by attacking Judge John Sirica’s impartiality and competence during the trial. Prosecutor Earl Silbert, calling Liddy “the leader of the conspiracy, the moneyman, the boss,” told the jury in his final statement, “[W]hen people cannot get together for political purposes without fear that their premises will be burglarized, their conversations bugged, their phones tapped… you breed distrust, you breed suspicion, you lost confidence, faith and credibility.” He asked for “a verdict that will help restore the faith in the democratic system that has been so damaged by the conduct of these two defendants and their coconspirators.” The jury takes a mere 90 minutes to return its verdict. Sirica orders the two immediately jailed while he considers bail. [Washington Post, 1/31/1973; Reeves, 2001, pp. 567]

Entity Tags: John Sirica, Alfred Baldwin, James McCord, Earl Silbert, E. Howard Hunt, Hugh Sloan, G. Gordon Liddy

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

While awaiting sentencing, convicted Watergate burglar James McCord (see January 30, 1973) tells fellow burglar Bernard Barker that he is “not going to jail for these people,” apparently referring to White House officials. “If they think they are going to make a patsy out of me, they better think again.” Barker and his fellow “Cubans” are proud of their stubborn silence throughout the investigation, especially, as Barker will write, “not telling about the Ellsberg burglary” (see September 9, 1971). But, Barker will note, their silence did not pay off as they had hoped. “We were exposed by the very people who ordered us to do it—without their ever being in jail. [Egil] Krogh [the White House supervisor of the ‘Plumbers’] popped, they all popped.” Their lawyer tells them that the Ellsberg burglary is no longer secret, but in the news now, and they had better speak up about their role in that burglary while they still have a shot at gaining immunity for their testimony. But their colleague and putative leader E. Howard Hunt tells Barker and the others: “National security. We don’t talk. None of us talks.” [Harper's, 10/1974]

Entity Tags: E. Howard Hunt, Bernard Barker, James McCord, Egil Krogh, Nixon administration

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Convicted Watergate burglar James McCord (see January 30, 1973) writes a letter to the presiding judge, John Sirica, in response to Sirica’s requests for more information. McCord writes that he is “whipsawed in a variety of legalities”—he may be forced to testify to the Senate (see February 7, 1973), and he may be involved in future civil and other criminal proceedings. He also fears unspecified “retaliatory measures… against me, my family, and my friends should I disclose” his knowledge of the Watergate conspiracy. But McCord wants some leniency from Sirica in sentencing. McCord alleges that the five defendants who pled guilty did so under duress. The defendants committed perjury, McCord continues, and says that others are involved in the burglary. The burglary is definitely not a CIA operation, though “[t]he Cubans may have been misled” into thinking so. McCord writes, “I know for a fact that it was not,” implying inside knowledge of at least some CIA workings. McCord requests to speak with Sirica privately in the judge’s chambers, because he “cannot feel confident in talking with an FBI agent, in testifying before a Grand Jury whose US attorneys work for the Department of Justice, or in talking with other government representatives.” In his discussion with Sirica, he makes the most explosive charge of all: he and his fellow defendants lied at the behest of former Attorney General John Mitchell, now the head of the Nixon re-election campaign, and current White House counsel John Dean. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 275-276; Time, 1/7/1974; James W. McCord, Jr, 7/3/2007; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] It seems that McCord writes his letter to Sirica in retaliation for President Nixon’s firing of CIA director Richard Helms, and the White House’s attempts to pin the blame for the Watergate conspiracy on the CIA (see December 21, 1972).

Entity Tags: Richard Helms, James McCord, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, John Dean, John Mitchell, John Sirica, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Former White House counsel John Dean helps destroy the credibility of the sensationalistic new book Silent Coup, which alleges that Dean masterminded the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), that his wife was involved in a Democratic Party-operated prostitution ring (see May 6, 1991), that Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, one of the reporters instrumental in exposing the Watergate conspiracy, was a CIA plant, and former White House chief of staff Alexander Haig orchestrated the “silent coup” that removed Richard Nixon from office (see May 8, 1991). Dean learns that convicted Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy (see January 30, 1973) worked behind the scenes with the book’s authors, Leonard Colodny and Robert Gettlin, on developing, sourcing, and writing the book. Although Dean has played a key role in destroying the book’s credibility, the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, intends on publishing the book anyway, now marketing it to what Dean will later call “Nixon apologists and right-wingers, giving them a new history of Nixon’s downfall in which Bob Woodward, Al Haig, and John Dean were the villains, and randy Democrats had all but invited surveillance. Who better to peddle this tale than uber-conservative Gordon Liddy?” Preparing for an onslaught of negative publicity and legal actions, St. Martin’s Press doubles its defamation insurance and reissues Liddy’s Watergate biography, Will, with a new postscript that endorses Silent Coup. Dean notes that for years, Liddy has attempted to restore Nixon’s tarnished reputation at the expense of others, particularly Dean and Liddy’s fellow burglar, E. Howard Hunt. The book comes at a perfect time for Liddy, Dean will later note: “Since the first publication of Will in 1980 he had made a living by putting his dysfunctional personality on display. By the early nineties speaking engagements were becoming less frequent for him, and his business ventures, including several novels, were unsuccessful. Silent Coup put him back in the spotlight, where he loved to be—publicly misbehaving.” Dean is disturbed when another convicted Watergate figure, former White House counsel Charles Colson, joins Liddy in backing the book. Dean believed that he and Colson had forged a friendship during their incarceration in federal prison (see September 3, 1974), and questions Colson’s integrity and his public reinvention as a Christian minister because of Colson’s endorsement. [Dean, 2006, pp. xx-xxii]

Entity Tags: St. Martin’s Press, Leonard Colodny, Robert Gettlin, G. Gordon Liddy, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Bob Woodward, John Dean, Charles Colson

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Right-wing radio host and convicted felon G. Gordon Liddy (see January 30, 1973) denigrates Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009)‘s race and gender in comments on his show. Liddy refers to the Spanish language as “illegal alien,” and speculates that Sotomayor’s rulings may be influenced by her menstrual cycle. Liddy says: “I understand that they found out today that Miss Sotomayor is a member of La Raza, which means in illegal alien, ‘the race’ (see May 28, 2009). And that should not surprise anyone because she’s already on record with a number of racist comments.… Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she’s menstruating or something, or just before she’s going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then.” After making these attacks, Liddy then states his belief that the Supreme Court should not represent a diversity of Americans: “And everybody is cheering because Hispanics and females have been, quote, underrepresented, unquote. [T]he Supreme Court is not designed to be and should not be a representative body.” [Think Progress, 5/29/2009]

Entity Tags: G. Gordon Liddy, US Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, National Council of La Raza

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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