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Context of 'May 18, 1973: Archibald Cox Named Special Prosecutor for Watergate'

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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

Attorney General Richard Kleindienst stays up until 5 a.m. going over the evidence surrounding the Watergate burglary with other Justice Department officials. He and Assistant Attorney General Henry Petersen meet with President Nixon, and tell the president that they both believe White House officials as well as officials of his re-election campaign are involved in the cover-up conspiracy. Kleindienst, who along with Petersen will testify to this before the Senate Watergate Committee (see Mid-August, 1973), will recall that Nixon is “dumbfounded”; Petersen’s recollection is that Nixon seems concerned but calm. Kleindienst openly weeps as he discusses the likelihood that his friend and former superior at the Justice Department, former campaign head John Mitchell, may be involved. Kleindienst will testify that Nixon consoles him: “I don’t think since my mother died when I was a young boy that I ever had an event that has consumed me emotionally with such sorrow, and he was very considerate of my feelings.” Petersen urges Nixon to fire both of his senior aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, because he is certain that their continuation as White House officials will become a “source of vast embarrassment.” Petersen says bluntly that if the Justice Department finds any evidence of Nixon’s own involvement, he will not only resign, but will “waltz it [the information] over to the House of Representatives”—where impeachment proceedings begin. When Petersen asks about Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see August 5, 1971), before he can even ask about the burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office (see September 9, 1971), Nixon cuts him off, saying: “I know about that. That is a national security matter. You stay out of that.” [Time, 8/20/1973] Peterson passes along Nixon’s instructions to chief prosecutor Earl Silbert, who accuses Peterson of acting as Nixon’s agent. The two get into a shouting match, and take the dispute to Kleindienst, who informs them that because he is recusing himself from the matter (see April 19, 1973), he cannot settle the issue. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 593]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, H.R. Haldeman, Earl Silbert, Daniel Ellsberg, Henry Peterson, John Mitchell, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, John Ehrlichman, Richard Kleindienst, US Department of Justice, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Archibald Cox.Archibald Cox. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Attorney General Elliot Richardson names former Solicitor General Archibald Cox as the Justice Department’s special prosecutor for Watergate. Cox is officially sworn in on May 25. [Washington Post, 2008] Cox, who served in the Kennedy administration, says: “This is a task of tremendous importance. Somehow, we must restore confidence, honor and integrity in government.” Richardson says Cox’s appointment should allay suspicions that the White House will try to influence the investigation, but, “There wasn’t going to be any influence from the White House anyway.” Cox is not Richardson’s first choice for the job. Judge Harold Tyler turned the job down, not wanting to leave the bench and unsure how much independence he would truly have in conducting the investigation. Former Deputy Attorney General Warren Christopher cited similar concerns over “the requisite independence” of the position in turning down the job. Another choice, retired judge and current Wall Street lawyer David Peck, cited “urgent commitments to clients of long standing” as his reason for not taking the post; Richardson’s fourth choice, Colorado Supreme Court Justice William Erickson, was apparently never asked to take the job. Cox is not considered the best choice by Richardson because he lacks extensive experience in criminal prosecutions; Richardson intends to name a deputy for Cox who has such experience in trial work. Cox is not related to Nixon’s son-in-law, Edward Finch Cox. [Washington Post, 5/19/1973]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, David Peck, Archibald Cox, Edward Finch Cox, Harold Tyler, William Erickson, Elliot Richardson, Warren Christopher

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Henry Petersen.Henry Petersen. [Source: Spartacus Educational]Former Attorney General Richard Kleindienst and Assistant Attorney General Henry Petersen testify before the Senate Watergate Committee. Both say they had been disturbed by the amount of White House interference they had gotten over their attempts to investigate the Watergate burglary, particularly from White House aide John Ehrlichman. Kleindienst tells of a phone call from Ehrlichman to Petersen demanding that the Justice Department stop “harassing” Maurice Stans, the former Nixon re-election campaign finance chairman. Kleindienst recalls that he told Ehrlichman he was flirting with an obstruction of justice charge, and threatened to resign “if the president tells me that you have the authority and the power to give specific instructions to people in the Department of Justice.” Ehrlichman reassured Kleindienst that “it will never happen again.” Kleindienst also recalls Ehrlichman coming to him in early 1973 asking for “technical” advice about securing lenient sentences or even presidential pardons for the Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Ehrlichman “did not have much of a knowledge of the criminal justice system,” Kleindienst says, and asked such questions as “What happens when somebody is convicted of a crime?… When are you eligible for a pardon? When do the circumstances arise for executive pardon?” (Ehrlichman has already testified that he never sought any executive clemency for one of the burglars, E. Howard Hunt.) Kleindienst testifies that when he told Petersen of the conversation, Petersen declared that the defendants would almost certainly do “jail time,” and said he would strongly oppose any efforts to grant anyone clemency. Petersen testifies that Kleindienst replied, “Tell those crazy guys over there [at the White House] what you just told me before they do something they will be sorry for.” For his part, Petersen says it struck him most how suspiciously everyone at the White House and the re-election campaign were acting. “There were no records,” he recalls. “Things were destroyed. They didn’t act like innocent people. Innocent people come in and say: ‘Fine, what do you want to know?’ It was not like that.” Petersen says that he and the Justice Department could and would have solved the entire case, and that they had the case 90 percent solved when Archibald Cox was appointed to take over the investigation (see May 18, 1973). “Damn it!” he cries, “I resent the appointment of a special prosecutor!” [Time, 8/20/1973]

Entity Tags: John Ehrlichman, Archibald Cox, E. Howard Hunt, Henry Peterson, Nixon administration, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, US Department of Justice, Maurice Stans, Richard Kleindienst

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Cover for ‘All the President’s Men.’Cover for ‘All the President’s Men.’ [Source: Amazon (.com)]Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward publish the book All the President’s Men, documenting their 26-month coverage of the Watergate scandal. The Post will win a Pulitzer Prize for its Watergate reporting and the book will be made into an Oscar-winning film of the same name. Between the book and the film, All the President’s Men will become the touchstone for defining the complex, multilayered Watergate conspiracy. [Washington Post, 1996]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

FBI official R. E. Lewis writes an internal memo suggesting that the FBI disclose “some information from the Watergate investigation aimed at restoring to the FBI any prestige lost during that investigation. He argues, “Such information could also serve to dispel the false impression left by the book All the President’s Men (see June 15, 1974) that its authors, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, not the FBI, solved the Watergate case.”
FBI Ahead of Reporters - “[A] comparison of the chronology of our investigation with the events cited in All the President’s Men will show we were substantially and constantly ahead of these Washington Post investigative reporters,” Lewis writes. “In essence, they were interviewing the same people we had interviewed but subsequent to our interviews and often after the interviewer had testified before the grand jury. The difference, which contributes greatly to the false image, is that the Washington Post blatantly published whatever they learned (or thought they learned) while we reported our findings to the US attorney and the Department [of Justice] solely for prosecutorial consideration.”
Decision Not to Go Public - The FBI will decide not to make any of its information public, citing ongoing prosecutions. In 2005, Woodward will counter: “What Long didn’t say—and what Felt [FBI deputy director Mark Felt, Woodward’s “Deep Throat”—see May 31, 2005] understood—was that the information wasn’t going anywhere until it was public. The US attorney and the Justice Department failed the FBI, as they folded too often to White House and other political pressure to contain the investigation and prosecution to the Watergate bugging (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). There was also a failure of imagination on the part of lots of experienced prosecutors, including US Attorney Earl Silbert, who could not initially bring himself to believe that the corruption ran to the top of the Justice Department and the White House. Only when an independent special prosecutor was appointed (see May 18, 1973) did the investigation eventually go to the broader sabotage and espionage matters. In other words, during 1972, the cover-up was working exceptionally well.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 120-121]

Entity Tags: W. Mark Felt, R. E. Lewis, Earl Silbert, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

W. Mark Felt.W. Mark Felt. [Source: Life Distilled.com]The identity of “Deep Throat,” the Watergate source made famous in Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s book All the President’s Men, is revealed to have been W. Mark Felt, who at the time was the deputy director of the FBI. As “Deep Throat,” Felt provided critical information and guidance for Bernstein and Woodward’s investigations of the Watergate conspiracy for the Washington Post. Felt’s identity has been a closely guarded secret for over 30 years; Woodward, who knew Felt, had repeatedly said that neither he, Bernstein, nor then-editor Ben Bradlee would release any information about his source’s identity until after his death or until Felt authorized its revelation. Felt’s family confirms Felt’s identity as “Deep Throat” in an article published in Vanity Fair. Felt, 91 years old, suffers from advanced senile dementia. Felt’s character as the romantic government source whispering explosive secrets from the recesses of a Washington, DC, parking garage was burned into the American psyche both by the book and by actor Hal Holbrook’s portrayal in the 1976 film of the same name. Woodward says that Holbrook’s portrayal captured Felt’s character both physically and psychologically. [Washington Post, 6/1/2005] Bernstein and Woodward release a joint statement after the Vanity Fair article is published. It reads, “W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat and helped us immeasurably in our Watergate coverage. However, as the record shows, many other sources and officials assisted us and other reporters for the hundreds of stories written in the Washington Post.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 232]
Surveillance Methods to Protect Both Felt and Woodward - Felt used his experience as an anti-Nazi spy hunter for the FBI to set up secret meetings between himself and the young reporter (see August 1972). “He knew he was taking a monumental risk,” says Woodward. Woodward acknowledges that his continued refusal to reveal Felt’s identity has played a key role in the advancement of his career as a journalist and author, as many sources trust Woodward to keep their identities secret as he did Felt’s.
Obscuring the Greater Meaning - Bernstein cautions that focusing on Felt’s role as a “deep background” source—the source of the nickname, which references a popular 1970s pornographic movie—obscures the greater meaning of the Watergate investigation. “Felt’s role in all this can be overstated,” Bernstein says. “When we wrote the book, we didn’t think his role would achieve such mythical dimensions. You see there that Felt/Deep Throat largely confirmed information we had already gotten from other sources.” [Washington Post, 6/1/2005] Felt was convicted in 1980 of conspiring to violate the civil rights of domestic dissidents belonging to the Weather Underground movement in the early 1970s; Felt was pardoned by then-President Ronald Reagan. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 146-147] At that time, Felt’s identity as “Deep Throat” could have been revealed, but was not.
Felt, Daughter Decide to Go Public - The Vanity Fair article is by Felt family lawyer John D. O’Connor, who helped Felt’s daughter Joan coax Felt into admitting his role as “Deep Throat.” O’Connor’s article quotes Felt as saying, “I’m the guy they used to call Deep Throat.” O’Connor says he wrote the article with the permission of both Felt and his daughter. Woodward has been reluctant to reveal Felt’s identity, though he has already written an as-yet unpublished book about Felt and their relationship, because of his concerns about Felt’s failing health and increasingly poor memory. The Washington Post’s editors concluded that with the publication of the Vanity Fair article, they were not breaking any confidences by confirming Felt’s identity as Woodward’s Watergate source. [Washington Post, 6/1/2005]
Endless Speculation - The identity of “Deep Throat” has been one of the enduring political mysteries of the last 30 years. Many observers, from Richard Nixon to the most obscure Internet sleuth, have speculated on his identity. Watergate-era figures, including then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan, Nixon deputy counsel Fred Fielding, Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig, National Security Council staffers Laurence Lynn and Winston Lord, then-CBS reporter Diane Sawyer, and many others, have been advanced as possibilities for the source. Former White House counsels John Dean and Leonard Garment, two key Watergate figures, have written extensively on the subject, but both have been wrong in their speculations. In 1992, Atlantic Monthly journalist James Mann wrote that “Deep Throat” “could well have been Mark Felt.” At the time, Felt cautiously denied the charge, as he did in his 1979 memoir, The FBI Pyramid. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 153-156; Washington Post, 6/1/2005] In 1999, the Hartford Courant published a story saying that 19-year old Chase Coleman-Beckman identified Felt as “Deep Throat.” Coleman-Beckman had attended a day camp with Bernstein’s son Josh a decade earlier, and Josh Bernstein then told her that Felt was Woodward’s source. Felt then denied the charge, telling a reporter: “No, it’s not me. I would have done better. I would have been more effective. Deep Throat didn’t exactly bring the White House crashing down, did he?” Woodward calls Felt’s response a classic Felt evasion. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 158-159]
Motivated by Anger, Concern over Politicization of the FBI - Woodward believes that Felt decided to become a background source for several reasons both personal and ideological. Felt, who idealized former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, was angered that he was passed over for the job upon Hoover’s death; instead, the position went to L. Patrick Gray, whom Felt considered both incompetent and far too politically aligned with the Nixon White House. The FBI could not become an arm of the White House, Felt believed, and could not be allowed to help Nixon cover up his participation in the conspiracy. He decided to help Woodward and Bernstein in their often-lonely investigation of the burgeoning Watergate scandal. Woodward and Bernstein never identified Felt as anyone other than “a source in the executive branch who had access” to high-level information. Felt refused to be directly quoted, even as an anonymous source, and would not give information, but would merely confirm or deny it as well as “add[ing] some perspective.” Some of Woodward and Felt’s conversations were strictly business, but sometimes they would wax more philosophical, discussing, in the words of the book, “how politics had infiltrated every corner of government—a strong-arm takeover of the agencies by the Nixon White House…. [Felt] had once called it the ‘switchblade mentality’—and had referred to the willingness of the president’s men to fight dirty and for keeps…. The Nixon White House worried him. ‘They are underhanded and unknowable,’ he had said numerous times. He also distrusted the press. ‘I don’t like newspapers,’ he had said flatly.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 167-215; Washington Post, 6/1/2005]

Entity Tags: Diane Sawyer, W. Mark Felt, Vanity Fair, Ronald Reagan, Carl Bernstein, Weather Underground, Winston Lord, Chase Coleman-Beckman, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, Patrick Buchanan, Nixon administration, Washington Post, Laurence Lynn, Fred F. Fielding, Hartford Courant, Henry A. Kissinger, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Mann, J. Edgar Hoover, John D. O’Connor, Joan Felt, Josh Bernstein, L. Patrick Gray, Leonard Garment, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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