Remembering the Watergate break-in

We all like to think we have a good take on events right after they happen. Some things smell right and some don’t, and until our first take is taken down, that’s how we’ll view it.

The first time it happened to me was the day the Watergate break-in was reported. It immediately had the stench of a Richard Nixon deal. George McGovern was on his way to being nominated less than a month later by the Democrats, who already had an idea of what was going to happen. Nixon had nothing to fear from McGovern, and the electoral vote later proved it.

My younger brothers, both conservatives at the time (and I think they still are), chortled when I sat down with them and said, “Well, of course Nixon knew about it.” In my older brotherly way, I spent a lot of time until August of 1974 pointing out that I was right.

But I wasn’t completely right. I might have forgotten to mention that to my brothers. Nixon was indeed the proof that it isn’t the crime that will get you, it’s the cover-up.

I read all the Watergate books, and concluded my reading by wading through “The Memoirs of Richard Nixon” after its publication in 1978.

And here’s the truth, I believe:

Nixon didn’t know his people were about to break into the Democratic Party headquarters, but when he figured it out — and I’m willing to bet he figured it out faster than I did — Nixon and his team were left trying to decide how to react, and the fact that he was later forced to resign lets you know he decided wrong.

After news of the break-in became public, Nixon knew the people who had been arrested; he knew that one of the henchmen (G. Gordon Liddy) had an office in the basement of the White House; and he knew that White House phone numbers were in the wallets of those arrested, along with thousands of dollars in cash.

What to do?

He might have fallen on his rhetorical sword, disavowed the actions of the break-in team, and thrown them to the legal wolves. He didn’t do that, in part because he didn’t know what information the henchmen might have supplied to law enforcement.

What happened was that the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) spent about $500,000 on the criminal defense of burglars they said they didn’t know anything about, and of course the media ferreted out that information through sources such as Deep Throat.

It was a scandal such as Washington had never seen, and still hasn’t. Many of us think impeachment will be the final justice for The Current President (TCP), and he might yet be nailed for obstruction of justice. It will be important to remember that Richard Nixon tried to buffer everything between himself and the criminals, but he failed.

Interestingly, The Godfather, which I believe to be the greatest movie of all time, was released in March of 1972, so as each and every revelation was uncovered, I think many in the American movie-going public made the comparison between Don Vito Corleone and Richard Nixon (they liked the Don more than they liked Dick).

The current scandal has many days yet to run. The most important thing to remember is that Democrats were running the Congress in 1972 when the Republican president ran afoul of the Constitution. Now, with the entire government in the hands of one party, it remains to be seen how this will turn out.

I was not prescient in thinking Nixon was guilty. I just had a knowledge of Nixon and knew the Watergate break-in and coverup was exactly the kind of thing he would do.

The other times I was right, by the way, were on O.J. Simpson (I know, he was acquitted), Bill Clinton (one look at Monica, and you knew something happened — impeachable or not), and I believe I’m right right now. TCP doesn’t even bother using henchmen, like Nixon did.

He really does believe he could shoot a guy in Times Square and the people would let him get away with it.

To close, if you want to read more on Watergate, here are my top three on that list:

  • All The President’s Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
  • The Final Days, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
  • Washington Journal,” Elizabeth Drew
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