Monday, June 18, 2012

June 17, 1972

They were caught.

Well, you know about that, and while the details are fun, I'm going to skip past them because there's more to get to.

First of all, let's put everyone in place. Five burglars, including James McCord, Bernard Barker, Eugenio Martinez, Frank Sturgis, and Virgilio Gonzalez, are in the DNC headquarters in the Watergate, and sometime just after 2AM they were on their way to jail.

Al Baldwin is across the street at the Howard Johnson, acting as lookout (I don't know whether I've mentioned that there were two rooms at HoJo's that they were using).

Hunt and Liddy were at one of those two hotel rooms they were using at the Watergate hotel.

The CRP leadership, including John Mitchell and Jeb Magruder, were in California.

President Nixon is on vacation, and on that Saturday he's at a friend's house on an island, leaving some of the top White House staff, including Bob Haldeman, in Florida.

Fred Emery argues, basically, that the only hope was to get them all released very rapidly via a call from...the White House? The FBI? Could have happened. But no one tried, at least not immediately, before the FBI got to work.

Barring that...One of the burglars now on his way to jail was James McCord, who was also employed by the Committee to Re-elect (and was former CIA, and so his fingerprints were on file; claiming an alias wasn't going to work for long). So that's not good.

Second, the burglars had cash on them that would be trouble (large bills with suspiciously linked serial numbers). Oh, and keys to the rooms at the Watergate hotel.

Hunt and Liddy now cleared out some of their stuff from room 214 at the Watergate, but left plenty in that room and in 314. Baldwin loaded up McCord's van with stuff from the Howard Johnson, and drove it out to McCord's house (perhaps at Hunt's urging, perhaps not; either way, hardly a smart choice), and leaving it there eventually got in his own car and drove to Connecticut.

Liddy went home and went to sleep.

Hunt went to his White House office in the EOB and stashed more of the evidence in the safe there.

He also wound up calling a lawyer, which by morning meant a visit to the jail by lawyers claiming to represent the five men. Which the cops thought was odd, because they hadn't phoned anyone. All of it -- the men in suits apprehended, the money -- it was certainly no ordinary robbery, and in fact the DC cops had called in the FBI, which started working immediately. The aliases that the men had given were quickly beaten by fingerprints, and warrants were arranged for the two Watergate hotel rooms.

Hunt, after dealing with the lawyer, then went to sleep.

The warrants were issued, and the two rooms at the Watergate were searched. The burglars personal effects were there, including address books with Hunt's name, the initials "WH", and a phone number that turned out to be a White House phone number. The lookout who must have been watching the arrests and called a lawyer? The FBI had their suspect.

A DC cop recognized McCord, who he had met at CRP. So now they have connections to both the White House and the campaign, even though they don't exactly know what it all is.

The five burglars were arraigned, bail was set, and they were returned to jail.

Meanwhile, Liddy woke up, went into his office at CRP and started shredding everything in sight.

Liddy -- who still had a White House pass -- then walked over to the White House, and to the Situation Room there to place a secure call to Jeb Magruder in California. I'm not sure which is more astounding: that he used the White House, or that he waited some 10 hours to notify his bosses.

There follows a lot of contradicting and disagreeing testimony about who ordered exactly what, but the upshot of it all was that Gordon Liddy then headed out to find newly confirmed Attorney General Richard Kleindienst on the golf course at Burning Tree to ask him to shut down the investigation. Indeed, Liddy and Kleindienst both have the same story about this conversation: that Liddy basically told him exactly what had happened, and Kleindienst angrily responded that any intervention on his part would sink the president. Note: the Attorney General of the United States now has been given evidence of a crime, and while he refused to take any improper action...he also failed to turn over the evidence he now had to the FBI. He apparently just sat on it.

Haldeman, in Florida, says he heard about the arrests from news sources. Ehrlichman, in Washington, got tipped off through the Secret Service about the Hunt connection. Both of them say they immediately thought it was a Colson adventure.

The truth is that by now everyone is sunk -- Hunt and Liddy of course, Mitchell, Magruder, and others at the campaign, Ehrlichman, Colson, and almost certainly Haldeman, plus others lower down, at the White House. I'm not certain that impeachment or resignation was certain by the morning of June 17, but it was very likely. That's why the immediate cover-up was the next logical step. As Magruder said, "The cover-up, thus, was immediate and automatic no one ever considered that there would not be a cover-up."  And after the false start with Kleindienst, the cover-up is certainly well under way by the end of June 17.


  1. Happy anniversary, and let me say thanks again very much for this series. One request: On the 23rd, I'd like to hear your views of what was in the 18 1/2-minute gap.

    The story of Liddy and Kleindienst is indeed amazing, and I don't remember hearing that detail before. For some reason, I'm not surprised that the burglars were a bunch of Keystone Kops. But how does an AG not grasp that he's the chief federal law-enforcement official? How does someone like Liddy know that he won't grasp it? It's astoundingly unprofessional, as if these guys were thinking of high federal office in terms of the old spoils system -- it's all just patronage. Did they think that because JFK made his brother the AG, that meant the Justice Department was just the president's plaything? Well, at least there were lessons learned, and since then we've had no more hacks and only top people as AG, like, you know, Alberto Gonzalez.

  2. Sometime, when you have an hour or so, can you link the whole series? When you're done, it would be great to re-read this from the beginning. Thanks.

    1. Anon, this is a bit crude, but you can reconstruct much of the series if you Google "plain blog about politics" and "1971," then the same with "1972." Most of the hits are these posts, especially when the search includes '72.

  3. Wonderful series. Certainly learning alot about Watergate and am now hooked. I'm not going to lie, at first I didn't read the initial posts, but am now in the process of re-reading them and buying some Watergate books. "Watergate" by Emery among them. Hope the posting continues.

  4. One story based on participant recollections I remember reading in National Journal (but I don't remember the issue): During the break-in, Al Baldwin over in the HoJo apparently became engrossed in a rerun of _Attack of The Puppet People_ on the TV. Not saying he would have reacted faster or could have changed outcomes and warned the Watergate crew in time, seen the cops coming better, but it sounds like he wasn't at least the best lookout they could have asked for.


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