The forty-fifth anniversary of the Watergate break-in of June 17, 1972, has come and gone with recognition by most major broadcasters, but without any mention of the whole series of disclosures that should alter conventional wisdom about “what the President knew and when he knew it.
ABC produced a much touted two hour special on their 20/20 Issues and Answers. NBC breathlessly disclosed an internal prosecutorial memo that did little more than confirm the worst fears of targeted prosecutions. C-Span featured one of Nixon’s harshest critics, appearing alone, on their Washington Journal. The bottom line is that it was the same re-hash of events: burglars caught red-handed, an ensuing cover-up by their superiors that was unsuccessful only because of heroic reporting by two cub reporters for the Washington Post, and President Nixon undone by statements he made on his own secret White House recording system.
Nowhere mentioned were latently emerging facts that cloud this very pat story. These include:
- Jim Hougan’s points in Secret Agenda: Watergate, Deep Throat and the CIA (1984) that no microphones were found in DNC phones and that everyone on the break-in team except its supposed leader had long term CIA connections – the most mysterious of whom was James McCord, a CIA wireman whose whereabouts during much of the break-in cannot be accounted for.
- Len Colodny’s stories in Silent Coup, the Removal of a President (1991) regarding White House counsel John Dean’s possible personal motives in connection with the second break-in and the existence of a military spy ring within the White House itself, the notorious Admiral Welander/Yeoman Radford Affair.
- House Judiciary Committee Majority Counsel Jerry Zeifman’s Without Honor, the Impeachment of Richard Nixon and the Crimes of Camelot (1995), revealing behind-the-scenes subplots during that committee’s Impeachment Inquiry that taint the entire proceedings.
- A thoroughly researched biography of Attorney General John Mitchell by Fox News reporter James Rosen, The Strong Man, John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate (2008), showing that Mitchell’s supposed approval of Gordon Liddy’s campaign intelligence plan (and hence his motive to participate in the cover-up) was not nearly as certain as had been portrayed.
- The emergence of Mark Felt as Woodward and Bernstein’s infamous Deep Throat after three decades of searching, confirming that their source was not a whistle-blowing patriot within Nixon’s White House staff (as so clearly inferred in the movie version of All the President’s Men), but the disgruntled Deputy Director of the FBI, who was angling for the top job – as so definitively described in Max Holland’s Leak, Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat (2012).
- The disclosures in Jeff Himmelman’s Yours in Truth, A Personal Portrayal of Ben Bradlee (2012) that Woodward and Bernstein really had interviewed one or more Watergate grand jurors, a highly improper interference with the judicial system that they had stoutly denied for four decades. As it develops, the unnamed CRP secretary in All the President’s Men, the mysterious “Z”, was, in fact, a Watergate grand juror. Himmelman’s research of Bradlee’s files uncovered a seven page typed summary of a Bernstein grand juror interview, casting serious doubt on the integrity of the Post’s executive editor – along with an unpublished interview where Bradlee had expressed doubt as to the validity of Woodward and Bernstein’s descriptions of their Deep Throat narrative.
- Perhaps most telling of all, nowhere in all of the media coverage was there any mention of the two shocking admissions in John Dean’s The Nixon Defense, What He Knew and When He Knew It (2014): that the 18 Minute Gap was “historically insignificant” (see his Appendix A) and that the Smoking Gun tape recording of June 23, 1972, wherein Nixon appears to concur in Dean’s idea of getting the CIA to tell the FBI not to interview two witnesses, had virtually nothing to do with Watergate and has been totally misunderstood for four decades (see his detailed footnote at page 54, ending with the observation that “the smoking gun was only shooting blanks”.)
Of course, I have a personal interest in all of this, too: My own book, The Real Watergate Scandal, Collusion, Conspiracy and the Plot that Brought Nixon Down (2015), includes documented proof of truly astounding judicial and prosecutorial wrong-doing that denied Watergate defendants any semblance of a fair trial. Among my book’s disclosures are letters, memos and other documents that detail how Chief Judge John Sirica met secretly with Watergate prosecutors and other interested outside parties on at least a dozen occasions. I also detail how Judge Sirica, wanting to increase John Dean’s witness credibility, sentenced him to a prison term of one to four years, only to reduce that sentence to time served once the Watergate cover-up trial had concluded. As a result, Dean not only served the least time of any major Watergate figure, he never spent a single night in a jail cell, let alone ever actually going to prison.
The Watergate Special Prosecution Force, for its part, indicted certain individuals on flimsy evidence just because they didn’t like them (“the case is not strong, but I’d really like to nail him [Nixon’s special counsel, Charles Colson]”) and suppressed exculpatory evidence regarding their principal witness’s changing narrative (“prior to that he’d given the impression that Haldeman was clean and Ehrlichman’s involvement was restrained” and “On May 4th, he began focusing on Nixon, thereby changing dramatically his prior stance.”).
Watergate remains America’s mother of all political scandals, but conventional wisdom from that era has yet to take into account the whole series of nuanced events that have come to light since Nixon was forced to resign that cast serious doubt on story Americans are being told about those historic happenings.