The Real Watergate Scandal: Collusion, Conspiracy, and the Plot That Brought Nixon Down

The Real Watergate Scandal: Collusion, Conspiracy, and the Plot That Brought Nixon Down by Geoff Shepard

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Authors: Geoff Shepard
diary entries.
    On Friday, June 23, Nixon concurred with Haldeman’s suggestion that they get the CIA to ask the FBI to limit its investigation of funds found on the Watergate burglars. When the recording of this conversation was released in early August 1974 as a result of a Supreme Court decision, it appeared to reveal a clear obstruction of justice and led to Nixon’s resignation three days later. It is easy to see why this tape was called the “smoking gun,” for it seemed to be “proof positive” that Nixon had been in on the Watergate cover-up from the very outset. This interpretation of the conversation between Nixon and Haldeman was openly challenged for the first time in 2014 when John Dean declared that the conversation concerned their effort to prevent disclosure of the names of notable Democratic donors (whose contributions had inadvertently been paid to the Cubans) and had been totally misunderstood from the outset.
    John Mitchell announced his resignation as head of Nixon’s reelection campaign on Saturday, July 1, ostensibly to tend to his wife, Martha, whose alcoholic outbursts had become a distraction and an embarrassment to the campaign. At the time, everyone accepted his explanation at face value. We now know that Nixon and his people had been told that responsibility for the Watergate break-in might, if followed carefully, end up at Mitchell’s doorstep (because of his alleged approval of Liddy’s campaign intelligence plan), and he was strongly encouraged to resign. The president took action. He fired his best friend but refused to publicly throw him to the wolves. This apparent act of kindness would cost him his presidency.
    Thus the apparent Greek tragedy: Nixon’s concurrence with a recommendation made only six days after a burglary he knew nothing about would come back more than two years later to end his presidency.
    2. Collapse of the Cover-Up (March 19–March 28, 1973)
    The second set of critical events occurred nine months later, when the cover-up collapsed and Dean switched sides.
    The first response of every bureaucracy is to cover-up, to protect itself and its people from outside attack. The guilty declare their innocence, usually twisting the facts of their involvement to minimize their culpability. Their friends and colleagues want to believe them. It’s “us against them.”
    This is what happened at the outset of Watergate. The initial reports to the White House were that the Watergate break-in originated at CRP, and the White House goal from the outset was to contain it there. CRP people might ultimately go to jail, but no one on the White House staff was thought to be at risk. Dean, the president’s lawyer, was sent to CRP to help contain the problem and, above all, make sure it stayed at CRP.
    Unfortunately, Dean was a bad choice for this assignment, since he had recruited Liddy to develop a campaign intelligence plan and had attended the two critical meetings in Mitchell’s office where Liddy’s plans were detailed. Since Mitchell was still attorney general at the time, these were highly suspect meetings. Following the burglars’ arrests, Dean must have realized that he was at risk of prosecution for the break-in and appears to have cast his lot with others at CRP who were equally at risk.
    So there was certainly a cover-up. The essential and lingering question is just who was running it? Was Dean operating under the direction and control of Haldeman and Ehrlichman, as he has maintained, or did they believe he was acting as their lawyer, doing his best to “contain” the problem in a lawful manner? Regardless, the cover-up eventually collapsed (as it should have).
    Sentencing for the Watergate burglars was scheduled for Friday, March 23. Howard Hunt, who had pleaded guilty to all six counts at the beginning of the trial, knew that he would immediately be taken into custody to begin serving an exceedingly stiff sentence. On Monday, March 19, wanting to pay his lawyer

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