Watergate Revelations: The Coup Against Nixon, Part 2 Of 3
This is the second installment of a three-part series, featuring chapters related to Nixon and Watergate from WhoWhatWhy editor Russ Baker’s book, Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America’s Invisible Government and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years.
Notes: (1) Although these excerpts do not contain footnotes, the book itself is heavily footnoted and exhaustively sourced. (2) To distinguish between George Bush, father and son, George H.W. Bush is sometimes referred to by his nickname Poppy, and George W. Bush by his, W. (3) Additional context can be found in the preceding chapters.
Before you read this second installment, please go hereto read the first installment.
Who Will Rid Me of This Troublesome Priest?
ascribed to Henry II
On June 17, 1972, a group of burglars, carrying electronic surveillance
equipment, was arrested inside the Democratic National
Committee offices at 2650 Virginia Avenue, NW, in Washington,
D.C., the Watergate building complex. The men were quickly identified as
having ties to the Nixon reelection campaign and to the White House.
Though at the time the incident got little attention, it would snowball into
one of the biggest crises in American political history, define Richard Nixon
forever, and drive him out of the White House.
Most historical accounts judge Nixon responsible in some way for the
Watergate burglary—or at least for an effort to cover it up. And many people
believe Nixon got what he deserved.
But like other epic events, Watergate turns out to be an entirely different
story than the one we thought we knew.
Almost no one has better expressed reasons to doubt Nixon’s involvement
than Nixon himself. In his memoirs, Nixon described how he learned about
the burglary while vacationing in Florida, from the morning newspaper. He
recalled his reaction at the time:
It sounded preposterous. Cubans in surgical gloves bugging the
DNC! I dismissed it as some sort of prank . . . The whole thing
made so little sense. Why, I wondered. Why then? Why in such a
blundering way . . . Anyone who knew anything about politics
would know that a national committee headquarters was a useless
place to go for inside information on a presidential campaign. The
whole thing was so senseless and bungled that it almost looked
like some kind of a setup.
Nixon was actually suggesting not just a setup, but one intended to harm
Perhaps because anything he might say would seem transparently self-
serving, this claim received little attention and has been largely forgotten.
Notwithstanding Nixon’s initial reaction to the news of the break-in,
less than a week later he suddenly learned more—and this gave him much
On June 23, Nixon’s chief of staff, H. R. “Bob” Haldeman, came into the
Oval Office to give the president an update on a variety of topics, including
the investigation of the break-in. Haldeman had just been briefed by John
Dean, who had gotten his information from FBI investigators.
HALDEMAN: . . . The FBI agents who are working the case, at this
point, feel that’s what it is. This is CIA….
Nixon’s response would show that he had already realized this:
NIXON: Of course, this is a, this is a [E. Howard] Hunt [operation,
and exposure of it] will uncover a lot of things. You open that
scab there’s a hell of a lot of things and that we just feel that it
would be very detrimental to have this thing go any further.
This involves these Cubans, Hunt, and a lot of hanky-panky that
we have nothing to do with ourselves… This will open the
whole Bay of Pigs thing…
Of course, it is important to remember that Nixon knew every word he
uttered was being recorded. Like his predecessors Kennedy and Johnson,
he had decided to install a taping system so that he could maintain a record
of his administration. He was, in a way, dictating a file memo for future historians.
But that doesn’t make everything he said untrue. While Nixon undoubtedly
spun some things, he still had to communicate with his subordinates,
and the tape was rolling while he was trying to run the country. Those were
actual meetings and real conversations, tape or no tape. And though the
result was 3,700 hours of White House tape recordings, Nixon evinced
merely sporadic consciousness of the fact that the tape was rolling. Only after
his counsel John Dean defected to the prosecutors did Nixon appear to
be tailoring his words.
Nixon’s memoirs, combined with the tape of June 23, make clear that
Nixon recognized certain things about the implementation of the burglary.
The caper was carried out by pros, yet paradoxically was amateurish, easily
detected—an instigation of the crime more easily pinned on someone else.
A break-in at Democratic Party headquarters: On whom would that be
blamed? Well, who was running against a Democrat for reelection that
fall? Why, Richard Nixon of course. Nixon, who frequently exhibited a grim
and self-pitying awareness of how he generally was portrayed, might have
grasped how this would play out publicly. Dick Nixon: ruthless, paranoid,
vengeful— Tricky Dick. Wouldn’t this burglary be just the kind of thing that
that Dick Nixon—the “liberal media’s” version of him—would do? Nixon’s
opponent, George McGovern, made this charge repeatedly during the 1972
Though Nixon would sweep the election, it would become increasingly
apparent to him that, where Watergate was concerned, the jury was stacked.
The path was set. Someone had him in a corner.
Many people, including those within Nixon’s own base of support, were
not happy with him—even from early in his administration. As Haldeman
noted in his diary, one month after the inauguration in 1969:
Also got cranking on the political problem. [President’s] obviously
concerned about reports (especially Buchanan’s) that conservatives
and the South are unhappy. Also he’s annoyed by constant right-
wing bitching, with never a positive alternative. Ordered me to assemble
a political group and really hit them to start defending us,
including Buchanan . . . [and political specialist Harry] Dent.