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Context of 'April 9, 1973: Watergate Burglar: Nixon Campaign Paid Off Burglars to Remain Silent'

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President Richard Nixon writes an action memo to senior aide H. R. Haldeman saying, “One of our most important projects for 1970 is to see that our major contributors funnel all their funds through us.” Haldeman and Commerce Secretary Maurice Stans set up a secret fund-raising enterprise, the “Townhouse Operation,” designed to bypass the Republican National Committee. By doing so, Nixon intends to ensure the GOP will field candidates suitably loyal to him, and reliably opposed to the GOP’s traditional Eastern Establishment base that Nixon so resents. Although George H. W. Bush is a charter member of that Eastern Establishment, Nixon likes and trusts him. Bush is “a total Nixon man,” Nixon once says. “He’ll do anything for the cause.” Bush is the main beneficiary of the slush fund, which is made up of about $106,000 in contributions from Texas GOP sources, but up to 18 other Republican Senate candidates also receive money from the fund. The Wall Street Journal will later lambast Townhouse, calling it a “dress rehearsal for the campaign finance abuses of Watergate, as well as for today’s loophole-ridden system.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 115-116]

Entity Tags: Wall Street Journal, Townhouse Operation, Republican National Committee, H.R. Haldeman, George Herbert Walker Bush, Maurice Stans, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000

Frank Wills, the security guard who discovers the taped doors and alerts the DC police.Frank Wills, the security guard who discovers the taped doors and alerts the DC police. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Five burglars (see June 17, 1972) are arrested at 2:30 a.m. while breaking in to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Headquarters offices in Washington’s Watergate hotel and office complex; the DNC occupies the entire sixth floor. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Discovery - They are surprised at gunpoint by three plainclothes officers of the DC Metropolitan Police. Two ceiling panels have been removed from the secretary’s office, which is adjacent to that of DNC chairman Lawrence O’Brien. It is possible to place a surveillance device above those panels that could monitor O’Brien’s office. The five suspects, all wearing surgical gloves, have among them two sophisticated voice-activated surveillance devices that can monitor conversations and telephone calls alike; lock-picks, door jimmies, and an assortment of burglary tools; and $2,300 in cash, most of it in $100 bills in sequence. They also have a walkie-talkie, a shortwave receiver tuned to the police band, 40 rolls of unexposed film, two 35mm cameras, and three pen-sized tear gas guns. Near to where the men are captured is a file cabinet with two open drawers; a DNC source speculates that the men might have been preparing to photograph the contents of the file drawers.
Guard Noticed Taped Door - The arrests take place after a Watergate security guard, Frank Wills, notices a door connecting a stairwell with the hotel’s basement garage has been taped so it will not lock; the guard removes the tape, but when he checks ten minutes later and finds the lock taped once again, the guard calls the police. The police find that all of the stairwell doors leading from the basement to the sixth floor have been similarly taped to prevent them from locking. The door leading from the stairwell to the DNC offices had been jimmied. During a search of the offices, one of the burglars leaps from behind a desk and surrenders. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972] The FBI agents responding to the burglary are initially told that the burglars may have been attempting to plant a bomb in the offices. The “bomb” turns out to be surveillance equipment. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]
Last Mission for Martinez - One of the burglars, Cuban emigre and CIA agent Eugenio Martinez, will recall the burglary. They have already successfully burglarized a psychiatrist’s office in search of incriminating material on Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see September 9, 1971), and successfully bugged the DNC offices less than a month previously (see May 27-28, 1972), but Martinez is increasingly ill at ease over the poor planning and amateurish behavior of his colleagues (see Mid-June 1972). This will be his last operation, he has decided. Team leader E. Howard Hunt, whom Martinez calls by his old code name “Eduardo,” is obviously intrigued by the material secured from the previous burglary, and wants to go through the offices a second time to find more. Martinez is dismayed to find that Hunt has two operations planned for the evening, one for the DNC and one for the campaign offices of Democratic candidate George McGovern. Former CIA agent and current Nixon campaign security official James McCord (see June 19, 1972), the electronics expert of the team, is equally uncomfortable with the rushed, almost impromptu plan. Hunt takes all of the burglars’ identification and puts it in a briefcase. He gives another burglar, Frank Sturgis, his phony “Edward J. Hamilton” ID from his CIA days, and gives each burglar $200 in cash to bribe their way out of trouble. Interestingly, Hunt tells the burglars to keep the keys to their hotel rooms. Martinez later writes: “I don’t know why. Even today, I don’t know. Remember, I was told in advance not to ask about those things.”
Taping the Doors - McCord goes into the Watergage office complex, signs in, and begins taping the doors to the stairwells from the eighth floor all the way to the garage. After waiting for everyone to leave the offices, the team prepares to enter. Gonzalez and Sturgis note that the tape to the basement garage has been removed. Martinez believes the operation will be aborted, but McCord disagrees; he convinces Hunt and the other team leader, White House aide G. Gordon Liddy, to continue. It is McCord’s responsibility to remove the tape once the burglars are inside, but he fails to do so. The team is well into the DNC offices when the police burst in. “There was no way out,” Martinez will recall. “We were caught.” Barker is able to surreptitiously advise Hunt, who is still in the hotel, that they have been discovered. Martinez will later wonder if the entire second burglary might have been “a set-up or something like that because it was so easy the first time. We all had that feeling.” The police quickly find the burglars’ hotel keys and then the briefcase containing their identification. As they are being arrested, McCord, who rarely speaks and then not above a whisper, takes charge of the situation. He orders everyone to keep their mouths shut. “Don’t give your names,” he warns. “Nothing. I know people. Don’t worry, someone will come and everything will be all right. This thing will be solved.” [Harper's, 10/1974; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/7/2007]
'Third-Rate Burglary' - White House press secretary Ron Ziegler will respond to allegations that the White House and the Nixon presidential campaign might have been involved in the Watergate burglary by calling it a “third-rate burglary attempt,” and warning that “certain elements may try to stretch this beyond what it is.” [Washington Post, 5/1/1973] The Washington Post chooses, for the moment, to cover it as a local burglary and nothing more; managing editor Howard Simons says that it could be nothing more than a crime committed by “crazy Cubans.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 19]
CIA Operation? - In the weeks and months to come, speculation will arise as to the role of the CIA in the burglary. The Nixon White House will attempt to pin the blame for the Watergate conspiracy on the CIA, an attempt forestalled by McCord (see March 19-23, 1973). In a 1974 book on his involvement in the conspiracy, McCord will write: “The Watergate operation was not a CIA operation. The Cubans may have been misled by others into believing that it was a CIA operation. I know for a fact that it was not.” Another author, Carl Oglesby, will claim otherwise, saying that the burglary is a CIA plot against Nixon. Former CIA officer Miles Copeland will claim that McCord led the burglars into a trap. Journalist Andrew St. George will claim that CIA Director Richard Helms knew of the break-in before it occurred, a viewpoint supported by Martha Mitchell, the wife of Nixon campaign director John Mitchell, who will tell St. George that McCord is a “double agent” whose deliberate blunders led to the arrest of the burglars. No solid evidence of CIA involvement in the Watergate conspiracy has so far been revealed. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, Howard Simons, Lawrence O’Brien, James McCord, Martha Mitchell, Richard M. Nixon, Richard Helms, Washington Post, Ron Ziegler, George S. McGovern, Miles Copeland, G. Gordon Liddy, John Mitchell, Frank Sturgis, Carl Oglesby, Bob Woodward, Andrew St. George, Central Intelligence Agency, Carl Bernstein, Democratic National Committee, Daniel Ellsberg, E. Howard Hunt, Eugenio Martinez, Frank Wills

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000

Carl Bernstein, Katherine Graham, and Bob Woodward discuss the newspaper’s Watergate coverage.Carl Bernstein, Katherine Graham, and Bob Woodward discuss the newspaper’s Watergate coverage. [Source: Southern Methodist University]The Washington Post reports that John Mitchell, the former attorney general and former head of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), personally controlled a secret Republican “slush fund” used to finance widespread intelligence-gathering operations against the Democratic Party (see Early 1970). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Mitchell had authorized expenditures from the fund beginning in the spring of 1971, while he was attorney general. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 98-103] The fund was originally conceived by White House aide G. Gordon Liddy, who in 1972 came up with what he called “Operation Gemstone,” a $1 million plan to carry out a series of covert and often illegal actions against President Nixon’s political enemies (see January 29, 1972). Mitchell scaled back the budget to $250,000 (at first) to launch a scaled-down version of Gemstone. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Mitchell personally approved a number of withdrawals from the fund, which swelled in size from around $350,000 to $700,000 at any given time. Four others besides Mitchell were later authorized to approve payments from the secret fund. One is Maurice Stans, the former commerce secretary who is now finance chairman of CREEP; the fund was kept in a safe in Stans’s office. A second is Jeb Magruder, the former manager of CREEP who is now deputy director of the organization. A third is a senior White House official involved in the campaign, and the other is a campaign aide based outside of Washington. [Washington Post, 9/29/1972] (Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward are all but convinced that the “senior White House official” is H. R. Haldeman, but they cannot get anyone to go on record to confirm their assumption, and therefore do not print Haldeman’s name in the story.) [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 100]
Mitchell's Explosive Reaction - Mitchell is outraged by the allegations. When Bernstein calls to confirm the story, he explodes: “Jesus!… All that crap, you’re putting it in the paper? It’s all been denied. Katie Graham [Katherine Graham, publisher of the Post] is gonna get caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published. Good Christ! That’s the most sickening thing I’ve ever heard.” (The actual quote, which Post executive editor Ben Bradlee cleans up for public consumption, is, “Katie Graham’s gonna get her t_t caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.”) [Washington Post, 9/29/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 105; Woodward, 2005, pp. 72] Mitchell continues: “You fellows got a great ball game going. As soon as you’re through paying Williams [Edward Bennett Williams, whose law firm represents the Democratic Party, as well as the Post], we’re going to do a story on all of you.” When Bradlee hears of Mitchell’s reaction, he asks if Mitchell was drunk. When Bernstein replies that he doesn’t believe so, and Bradlee confirms that Bernstein properly identified himself as a reporter, Bradlee tells Bernstein to print Mitchell’s reaction. CREEP spokesman Powell Moore tries to persuade Bradlee not to run the Mitchell quote, saying that it wasn’t fair to run the quote because Bernstein woke Mitchell up, and therefore Mitchell’s “composure [was] not guarded.” Bradlee refuses to delete the quote. [Washington Post, 9/29/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 105-108]
CREEP Denials - Moore later states that neither Mitchell or Stans knows anything about “any disbursement from an alleged fund as described by the Post and neither of them controlled any committee expenditures while serving as government officials.” One of the planners of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), G. Gordon Liddy, withdrew well over $50,000 from the fund. Although records of the fund’s disbursements have been destroyed, other sources indicate that some of the other recipients of the fund include Magruder; Herbert L. “Bart” Porter, CREEP’s scheduling director; several White House officials; and other unidentified persons not officially part of either CREEP or the Nixon administration. Magruder denies ever receiving any such funds. The General Accounting Office has said that such a fund is a “possible and apparent” violation of a new, stricter campaign finance disclosure law. [Washington Post, 9/29/1972]

Entity Tags: Edward Bennett Williams, Carl Bernstein, Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, Committee to Re-elect the President, Powell Moore, General Accounting Office, Katharine Graham, H.R. Haldeman, Herbert L. Porter, Maurice Stans, Jeb S. Magruder, John Mitchell, G. Gordon Liddy

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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

James McCord demonstrates a bugging device during his testimony.James McCord demonstrates a bugging device during his testimony. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Convicted Watergate burglar James McCord testifies behind closed doors to the Senate Watergate Committee (see March 25, 1973). The committee’s ranking minority member, Howard Baker (R-TN), tells reporters after the lengthy session that McCord has provided “significant information… covering a lot of territory.” One senator anonymously tells Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of McCord’s testimony: McCord has told the senators that fellow Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy said the burglary and surveillance operation was approved by then-Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell in February 1972, while Mitchell was still attorney general (see March 20, 1971). In addition, McCord told the senators that White House aide Charles Colson knew about the Watergate operation in advance. Little of this is news to the Post reporters, and they are not heartened by Baker’s admission that McCord’s testimony is almost all secondhand information. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 280-281]

Entity Tags: John Mitchell, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, James McCord, Charles Colson, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, G. Gordon Liddy, Howard Baker

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Artist’s rendition of McCord’s testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee.Artist’s rendition of McCord’s testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee. [Source: Franklin McMahon / Corbis]The New York Times reports that convicted Watergate burglar James McCord told the Senate Watergate Committee (see March 28, 1973) that the cash payoffs for the burglars came directly from the Nixon re-election campaign (CREEP). McCord’s testimony is the first confirmation that CREEP bought the silence of the burglars during their trial (see January 8-11, 1973). Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, attempting to confirm earlier information that the CREEP “slush fund” had continued to operate well after the Watergate burglaries (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), speaks to a CREEP official; the official explodes about the reaction among his colleagues to McCord’s testimony. “John Mitchell [the former head of CREEP] still sits there smoking on his pipe, not saying much… I used to take that for wisdom—you know, keeping your mouth shut. Now I realize that it’s ignorance.… God, I never thought I’d be telling you guys that I didn’t hate what you did. It’s the way the White House has handled this mess that’s undermined the presidency.… I’ve got friends who look at me now and say, ‘How can you have any self-respect and still work for CREEP?’ I’m sick.” Former CREEP treasurer Hugh Sloan confirms that at least $70,000 of the “slush fund” money (see Early 1970 and September 29, 1972)was used to pay off the burglars, all with the approval of CREEP financial director Maurice Stans. Woodward and colleague Carl Bernstein will later write: “That tied the knot. The secret fund had brought the reporters full circle—first the bugging, and now the cover-up.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 282-284]

Entity Tags: Maurice Stans, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Committee to Re-elect the President, Hugh Sloan, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Richard M. Nixon, John Mitchell, James McCord

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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