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Around 4 p.m, gunman Arthur Bremer shoots Alabama Governor George Wallace in a Maryland shopping center. Wallace, mounting a third-party bid for the presidency, survives the shooting, but is crippled for life. He is also essentially out of the race. The political ramifications are powerful: Wallace, a segregationist Democrat, is doing well in many Southern states. With Wallace out of the picture, his voters will almost uniformly go to Richard Nixon, and whatever threadbare chance of victory Democratic candidate George McGovern has of defeating Nixon is over.
Lone Gunman - There is no evidence to connect Nixon or the GOP with Bremer—all evidence will show that Bremer is a classic “lone gunman” who stalked several presidential candidates before gunning down Wallace—but Nixon and his campaign officials know that even a hint of a connection between the Nixon campaign and Bremer would be politically devastating.
Break-in - On the night of the shooting, Nixon aide Charles Colson orders campaign operative E. Howard Hunt (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) to break into Bremer’s Milwaukee apartment to discover if Bremer had any political connections (hopefully Democratic or liberal connections, though none are ascertained). (Woodward 2005, pp. 47-50) Interestingly, by 6:30 p.m., White House communications official Ken Clawson calls the Washington Post to announce that “left-wing” literature had been found in Bremer’s apartment, and that Bremer may have been associated with the presidential campaign of George McGovern. No such evidence is found. Colson tells reporters that Bremer is a dues-paying member of the Young Democrats of Milwaukee, a lie that makes it into several newspapers. Post editor Howard Simons will consider the idea that Wallace was assassinated on the orders of the White House—“the ultimate dirty trick”—but no evidence of that connection ever surfaces. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 326; Reeves 2001, pp. 480)
FBI Leaves Apartment - Hunt will claim in his autobiography, Undercover, that he refused the order to burglarize Bremer’s apartment. The FBI finds both left-wing and right-wing literature in Bremer’s apartment, as well as a diary whose opening line is, “Now I start my diary of my personal plot to kill by pistol either Richard Nixon or George Wallace.” Local reporters will later claim that the FBI leaves Bremer’s apartment for about 90 minutes, during which time reporters and other unidentified figures are able to spirit away papers and other materials. It is not clear whether Hunt is one of those “unidentified figures.” (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007)
Deep Throat - Top FBI official W. Mark Felt provides useful information for Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s profile of Bremer, operating as a “deep background” source. It is the first time Felt, who will become Woodward’s “Deep Throat” Watergate source (see May 31, 2005), gives important information to Woodward. (Woodward 2005, pp. 47-50)
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. (Lewis 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. (Lewis 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 )
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.” (Martinez and Barker 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.” (Stern and Johnson 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)
The Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) files a lawsuit against the Washington Post, the Washington Star-News, the New York Times, and Time magazine, demanding that the various news outlets be forced to reveal their notes and sources regarding the Watergate investigation. Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, and Jim Mann are subpoenaed, as are editor Howard Simons and publisher Katherine Graham. The young law student who delivers the subpoena to Bernstein, a part-time employee in CREEP lawyer Kenneth Parkinson’s firm, is not happy with the proceedings, and promises to give Bernstein any information he might develop. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 260-261)
Senate Watergate counsel Samuel Dash tells reporters that, following the extraordinary letter from convicted Watergate burglar James McCord that alleged perjury and enforced silence in the trial of the burglars (see March 19-23, 1973), he has twice interviewed McCord. McCord has “named names” and begun “supplying a full and honest account” of the Watergate operation. He refuses to give details, but promises that McCord will soon testify in public Senate hearings. Shortly after the press conference, the Los Angeles Times reports that McCord named White House counsel John Dean and Nixon campaign deputy director Jeb Magruder as two of the Nixon officials involved in planning the Watergate surveillance operation. Dean has not been named as being involved in the Watergate planning until now. The White House denies Dean’s involvement; significantly, its statement does not mention Magruder—the Nixon administration has cut him loose. Three Capitol Hill sources confirm the story; one Republican politician anonymously tells the Post that McCord’s allegations are “convincing, disturbing, and supported by some documentation.” Dean’s lawyer learns of a planned follow-up story by the Washington Post and threatens to sue the Post if it prints the allegations; Post editor Howard Simons orders that the story be published, including the threat from Dean’s lawyer. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 276-277)
The New York Daily News reports that acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray destroyed potentially incriminating evidence taken from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see Late December 1972). Gray, who testified to this days before to the Watergate grand jury, said that he received the material from White House counsel John Dean. “I said early in the game,” Gray testifies, “that Watergate would be a spreading stain that would tarnish everyone with whom it came in contact—and I’m no exception.” Shortly afterwards, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learns from his “Deep Throat” source, FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt (see May 31, 2005), that the story is true. Felt informs Woodward that Gray was told by Nixon aides Dean and John Ehrlichman that the files were “political dynamite” that could do more damage to the Nixon administration than Watergate (see June 28, 1972). Woodward realizes that the story means Gray’s career at the FBI is finished. Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein write their own report for April 30; the same day, Gray resigns from the FBI (see April 5, 1973). Instead of Felt being named FBI director, as he had hoped, Nixon appoints the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, William Ruckelshaus, to head the bureau. Felt is keenly disappointed. (Time 8/20/1973; O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 ; Woodward 2005, pp. 96-98) When he learns of Gray’s actions, Post editor Howard Simons muses: “A director of the FBI destroying evidence? I never thought it could happen.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 306-307) The FBI’s 1974 report on its Watergate investigation dates Gray’s resignation as April 27, not April 29 (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 ) , a date supported by reports from Time. (Time 8/20/1973)
President Nixon formally asks for and receives the resignations of two of his most senior advisers, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman (see April 16-17, 1973 and April 24, 1973), along with Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. In addition, he fires White House counsel John Dean, who has begun cooperating with Watergate investigators (see April 6-20, 1973).
Replacements - Kleindienst is replaced by Defense Secretary Elliot Richardson, whom Nixon tasks with the responsibility for “uncovering the whole truth” about the Watergate scandal. Richardson will be given “absolute authority” in handling the Watergate investigation, including the authority to appoint a special prosecutor to supervise the government’s case (see April 30, 1973). Dean is replaced temporarily by Nixon’s personal lawyer Leonard Garment.
Additional Resignation - Also, Gordon Strachan, the general counsel to the United States Information Agency (USIA), resigns. Strachan is a former aide to Haldeman, and, according to a USIA statement, resigned “after learning that persons with whom he had worked closely at the White House had submitted their resignations.”
Lawmakers' Comments - Senate Majority Leader Hugh Scott (R-PA) says of the resignations: “[A] lack of grace in power has led to a fall from grace. This rotten vine of Watergate has produced poisonous fruit, and all nourished by it should be cast out of the Garden of Eden.” House Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-MI) says the resignations are “a necessary first step by the White House in clearing the air on the Watergate affair.… I have the greatest confidence in the president and I am absolutely positive he had nothing to with this mess.” Representative John Moss (D-CA) says the House must prepare itself to deal with the possibility of impeachment, but “before we even suggest impeachment, we must have the most uncontroverted evidence.” In their letters of resignation, Haldeman and Ehrlichman promise to cooperate with the Justice Department investigation of Watergate. (Stern and Johnson 5/1/1973)
Reaction at the Washington Post - Knight Newspapers reporter James McCartney later writes an article for the Columbia Journalism Review on the Post’s Watergate coverage, which describes the reaction in the Post offices to the news: “For a split second [executive editor] Ben Bradlee’s mouth dropped open with an expression of sheer delight.… ‘How do you like them apples?’ he said to the grinning Simons [managing editor Howard Simons]. ‘Not a bad start.’” As reporters and employees begin gathering around, Simons murmurs: “Don’t gloat. We can’t afford to gloat.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 310)
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