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According to Watergate burglar Eugenio Martinez (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), White House aide E. Howard Hunt, whom he calls by his old CIA code name “Eduardo” (see September 9, 1971), is ratcheting up the activities of the White House “Plumbers” operation. Martinez is not yet aware of the nature of the team’s operations, but believes he is part of a black-ops, CIA-authorized organization working to foil Communist espionage activities. Hunt gives team member Bernard Barker $89,000 in checks from Mexican banks to cash for operational funds, and orders Barker to recruit new team members. Barker brings in Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, and Reinaldo Pico, all veterans of the CIA’s activities against Cuba’s Fidel Castro. On May 22, the six—Hunt, Barker, Gonzalez, Martinez, Pico, and Sturgis—meet for the first time at the Manger Hays-Adams Hotel in Washington for Hunt’s first briefing. By this point, Martinez will later recall, G. Gordon Liddy, who had been involved in the burglary related to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, is involved. Hunt calls Liddy “Daddy,” and, Martinez recalls, “the two men seemed almost inseparable.” They meet another team member, James McCord, who unbeknownst to Martinez is an official with Nixon’s presidential campaign (see June 19, 1972). McCord is introduced simply as “Jimmy,” an “old man from the CIA who used to do electronic jobs for the CIA and the FBI.” McCord is to be the electronics expert.
Plans to Break into McGovern HQ - Martinez says that the group is joined by “a boy there who had infiltrated the McGovern headquarters,” the headquarters of the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern. According to Hunt, they are going to find evidence proving that the Democrats are accepting money from Castro and other foreign governments. (Interestingly, Martinez will write that he still believes McGovern accepted Cuban money.) Hunt soon aborts the mission; Martinez believes “it was because the boy got scared.”
New Plans: Target the DNC - Instead, he and Liddy begin planning to burglarize the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the Watergate hotel and office complex. They all move into the Watergate to prepare for the break-in. Martinez will recall: “We brought briefcases and things like that to look elegant. We registered as members of the Ameritus Corporation of Miami, and then we met in Eduardo’s room.” The briefing is “improvised,” Martinez will recall. Hunt says that the Castro funds are coming to the DNC, not McGovern’s headquarters, and they will find the evidence there. The plans are rather impromptu and indefinite, but Martinez trusts Hunt and does not question his expertise. (Martinez and Barker 10/1974)
The five men caught burglarizing the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate hotel (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) are arraigned in a Washington, DC, city court on charges of felony burglary and possession of implements of crime. All five originally gave the police false names. (Lewis 6/18/1972) The real identities of the five are:
Bernard Barker of Miami, a Cuban-American whom Cuban exiles say has worked on and off for the CIA since the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. Barker was one of the principal leaders of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, the exile organization established with CIA help to organize the Bay of Pigs invasion. Barker’s wife reportedly told attorney Douglas Caddy, one of the team’s lawyers, that, as Caddy says, “her husband told her to call me if he hadn’t called her by 3 a.m.: that it might mean he was in trouble.” (Lewis 6/18/1972; Woodward and Bernstein 6/19/1972) Barker owns a Miami real estate firm, Barker & Associates. (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
Virgilio Gonzalez, a Miami locksmith of Cuban extraction. Gonzalez’s boss, Harry Collot, says Gonzalez came to the US about the time Fidel Castro became well-known, and is an ardent opponent of the Castro regime. Collot describes Gonzalez as “pro-American and anti-Castro… he doesn’t rant or rave like some of them do.”
Eugenio Martinez, a real estate agent from Miami, who authorities say is active in anti-Castro activities in Florida, and violated US immigration laws in 1958 by flying a private plane to Cuba.
James W. McCord, the security director for the Committee for the Re-election of the President (CREEP). McCord initially identifies himself as “Edward Martin,” a former CIA agent and “security consultant” who resides in New York City and possibly the DC area. Neither the police or the press are aware, at the moment, of McCord’s true identity (see June 19, 1972).
Frank Sturgis, a former Cuban army intelligence officer, mercenary, and now the agent for a Havana salvage firm in Miami. Sturgis uses the alias “Frank Florini” during the arraignment. “Fiorini” was identified in 1959 by the Federal Aviation Agency as the pilot of a plane that dropped anti-Castro leaflets over Havana. Previous news reports describe “Fiorini” as a “soldier of fortune” and the former head of the International Anti-Communist Brigade, an organization formed after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of 1962. The Brigade trained and ferried 23 Cuban exiles into Cuba, where they began guerrilla operations against Castro. “Florini” reportedly fought with, not against, Castro during the Cuban revolution and was originally slated to be named overseer of Cuba’s gambling operations before Castro shut down Cuba’s casinos. Apparently, Sturgis is involved in trying to orchestrate Miami Cubans to demonstrate against the Democratic National Convention, to be held in Miami in July. Sturgis is also involved in the John Birch Society and the Reverend Billy James Hargis’s Christian Crusade.
During their arraignment, one of the burglars describes the team as “anti-Communists,” and the others nod in agreement. Prosecutor Earl Silbert calls the operation “professional” and “clandestine.” The court learns that four of the five, all using fictitious names, rented two rooms at the Watergate, and dined together in the Watergate restaurant on February 14. A search of the two rooms turns up $4,200, again in sequential $100 bills, more burglary tools, and more electronic surveillance equipment, all stashed in six suitcases. Currently, FBI and Secret Service agents are investigating the burglary. Caddy, who says he met Barker a year ago at the Army Navy Club and had a “sympathetic conversation [with Barker]—that’s all I’ll say,” attempts to stay in the background during the arraignment, instead having another attorney, Joseph Rafferty Jr, plead before the court. Caddy is a corporate lawyer with no criminal law experience. (Lewis 6/18/1972; Woodward and Bernstein 6/19/1972) Interestingly, Caddy shows up at the arraignment apparently without any of the burglars contacting him (see June 17, 1972). (Woodward 2005, pp. 35) Silbert argues unsuccessfully that the five should be held without bail, citing their use of fictitious names, their lack of community ties, and the likelihood that they would flee the country after they post bail. “They were caught red-handed,” Silbert tells the court. (Lewis 6/18/1972; Woodward and Bernstein 6/19/1972)
The first indictments against the five men accused of burglarizing Democratic National Headquarters (see June 17, 1972)—James McCord, Frank Sturgis, Bernard Barker, Eugenio Martinez, and Virgilio Gonzalez—are handed down. White House aides G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt are also indicted. (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007) The indictments are for conspiracy, interception of communications, and burglary. (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 )
Washington Post Investigation - In its story of the indictments, the Washington Post will note that the indictments do “not touch on the central questions about the purpose or sponsorship of the alleged espionage” against the Democrats. Post reporter Carl Bernstein asks a Justice Department official why the indictments are so narrowly focused, as the FBI has certainly unearthed the same information as the Post investigation. After the source admits that the Justice Department knows about the campaign “slush fund” and the White House connections to the electronic surveillance, an indignant Bernstein asks why the Post should not run a story accusing the department of ignoring evidence. The official responds that the department does not intend to file any future indictments, and that the investigation is currently “in a state of repose.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 69-70)
FBI Continues to Probe - FBI spokesman J. W. Hushen says that the indictments have ended the investigation and the agency has “absolutely no evidence to indicate that any others should be charged.” Contrary to Hushen’s statement and the Justice Department official’s comment to Bernstein, the FBI will continue its investigation. A day later, Deputy Attorney General Henry Peterson says that any charges that the FBI has conducted a “whitewash” of the Watergate conspiracy are untrue. (O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 ; Reeves 2001, pp. 526-527)
Bay of Pigs Forged Bond - Martinez will later recall Hunt as one of his heroes from the time of the Cuban Revolution. Hunt, a CIA agent using the code name “Eduardo,” endeared himself to Martinez and other anti-Castro Cubans by denouncing the failed Bay of Pigs invasion as the fault of then-President Kennedy and others unwilling to fight against Fidel Castro. Martinez, himself then a CIA agent and an associate of Barker, Sturgis, McCord, and Gonzalez, will later write, “I can’t help seeing the whole Watergate affair as a repetition of the Bay of Pigs.” (Martinez and Barker 10/1974)
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)
After the press reports that the Watergate burglars will receive cash payments in return for their guilty pleas and their silence (see January 8-9, 1973 and January 8-11, 1973), Judge John Sirica angrily grills the four Miami-based defendants in court about the claims. To a man, they deny any pressure to plead guilty, any knowledge of cash payments to themselves or their families, and any knowledge of discussions of possible executive clemency. Defendant Virgilio Gonzalez even denies being a former CIA agent, when evidence has already established that he was on a $100/month retainer by the agency until the day after the Watergate burglary. (Defendant G. Gordon Liddy laughs aloud when Gonzalez makes this claim.) Gonzalez claims that the entire Watergate operation was somehow involved with the Communist regime of Cuba: Gonzalez says he is committed to “protect[ing] this country against any Communist conspiracy.” Sirica rolls his eyes in disbelief. Gonzalez claims not to know any specifics of the supposed connection between the Democrats and Castro’s Cuba, and says that he trusted the judgement of his superiors, Liddy and E. Howard Hunt. Fellow defendant Bernard Barker claims that none of them were paid for their actions: “These are not men that sell themselves for money,” Barker states. Barker confirms that he worked for Hunt, and says it was an honor for him to perform such a service. Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward later write, “The prosecutors’ assurances that everything would come out at the trial were fading into nothingness, as the defendants ducked into the haze of their guilty pleas.” The five who pled guilty are led off to jail before their bail and sentencing hearings. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 233-235; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007) In his Watergate grand jury testimony, White House counsel John Dean will say that President Nixon approved executive clemency for Hunt in December 1972 (see January 10, 1973). (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 312) In 1974, Barker will write that while in jail, James McCord is their group leader, but they do not fully trust him, partly because he is “very friendly with Alfred Baldwin, and to us Baldwin was the first informer” (see May 29, 1972). Another disconnection between McCord and the Cubans is his lack of participation in the Ellsberg burglary (see September 9, 1971). (Martinez and Barker 10/1974)
E. Howard Hunt, the leader of the seven Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) currently on trial, tells fellow burglars Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, and Bernard Barker (sometimes called the “Cubans”) that if they plead guilty and keep their mouths shut, the White House will financially take care of their families. Hunt will plead guilty the next day; the others will plead guilty days later (see January 8-11, 1973). (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007) Hunt has been pressuring the White House for executive clemency—in essence, a presidential pardon—for himself in return for his and the burglars’ guilty pleas and subsequent silence. (Reeves 2001, pp. 557-558) Watergate burglar Bernard Barker will write of the decision to plead guilty in October 1974. He will recall Hunt as being thoroughly demoralized by the death of his wife Dorothy (see December 8, 1972), and telling Barker, “Well, you do what you want, but I am going to plead guilty.” When Barker asks why, Hunt replies: “We have no defense. The evidence against us is overwhelming.” Barker asks, “What about Liddy and McCord?” asking about the two accused burglars, G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord, who are being tried separately. Hunt replies: “Liddy and McCord are in a different sector. We are in one sector and they are in another. They have their own plan.” Barker then asks the Cubans’ lawyer, Henry Rothblatt, what his strategy is. Rothblatt confirms that they have no defense against the charges (see Early January, 1973), but he intends to “aggravate that Judge Sirica [John Sirica, presiding over the trial] to the point where I am going to drive him out of his cotton-pickin’ mind, and he is going to make so many mistakes with his arrogance that this will be a perfect case for appeal.” Unimpressed, Barker says he will follow Hunt’s lead and plead guilty. Rothblatt insists that Barker not trust Hunt and the others, saying: “They are a bunch of b_stards. They’ll double-cross you. They’ll sell you down the river.” Nevertheless, Barker and the other three burglars agree to follow Hunt’s lead and plead guilty. Rothblatt resigns from the case. Apparently, Barker is unaware at this time of Hunt’s negotiations with the White House for executive clemency for himself. (Martinez and Barker 10/1974)
The Watergate burglars are sentenced to jail. G. Gordon Liddy receives between six years eight months to twenty years in federal prison. The actual burglars—Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, and Frank Sturgis—receive forty years. E. Howard Hunt receives 35 years. Judge John Sirica announces that the prison terms are “provisionary,” depending on whether they cooperate with government prosecutors. Convicted burglar James McCord is to be sentenced, but Sirica delays his sentencing, and reveals that McCord has written a letter to the court (see March 19-23, 1973) about the perjury and concealment that permeated the trial. After news of the letter hits the press, President Nixon writes in his diary that the letter is “a bombshell.” Watergate prosecutor Earl Silbert says he will reconvene the grand jury investigating the break-in. (Reeves 2001, pp. 578-580)