Watergate Revisited

Why do mainstream journalists and scholars continue to insist that the desire for political intelligence produced the Watergate break-ins on May 28 and June 17, 1972? FBI evidence has long existed showing that the office of the head of the DNC, Larry O'Brien, which should have been the logical target of a political espionage operation, had not been the target of either break-in. Instead, the burglars concentrated both times on the office of R. Spencer Oliver, the national president of the Young Democrats and executive director of the State Democratic Chairmen, and of his secretary Ida Maxwell ("Maxie") Wells. While Oliver was seldom at DNC headquarters, Wells worked every day there.

One of the burglars, Eugenio Rolando Martinez, had a key Wells's desk, but when Liddy announced on his radio program some 20 years later that her desk was the target because it contained information about a prostitution ring supposedly operating out of the DNC, she unsuccessfully sued him for defamation in Federal District Court. Several appeals and one mistrial later, this suit is still pending. A judge in one decision cited material from the 1991 book, Silent Coup: The Removal of a President by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin saying that there was credible evidence backing Liddy's statements about call girl arrangements being made over her phone. Then, of course, there was the key to her desk, which after being photographed as evidence, had been "lost" by the FBI.

Additionally, in 1996 Alfred Baldwin, the only member of the Watergate team not charged with the crime of breaking-in because he was across the Howard Johnson Hotel monitoring the operation, testified that one of the bugs planted produced mainly "calls of a sexual nature." More to the point, John Dean can be heard on Sept. 15, 1972, White House tape saying that one of the lawyers for a Watergate defendant believed that the reason for the break-ins was to get "into the sex life of some of the members of the DNC (National Democratic Committee)."

But this titillating explanation for the break-ins, which makes more sense in terms of the office targeted, has never been seriously pursued by the mainstream media. The question is why? I believe that the reason that motivation for the break-ins has not been investigated is that it would uncover the motivation for some of the more damaging leaks to the press, which occurred at crucial moments in 1972 to keep the Watergate story appearing in the Washington Post, and in 1973 to ensure that the Congressional investigations would continue. These leaks, according to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, came from Deep Throat. So the mystery of Watergate 30 years later is not WHY the break-ins (although it would be satisfying to know this), but WHY the leaks? Specifically, who within the Executive Branch had the most to gain from furthering advancing the on-going investigations along some lines and not others?

In addition to not questioning why O'Brien's office was not the target of the Watergate burglars or whether the motivation may have sex and not politics, most mainstream journalists and scholars have not looked carefully enough at the unconstitutional spying on the National Security Council by the Joint Chiefs of Staff which took place in 1970-71. This spy ring existed because many top brass in the military thought that Nixon gone "soft on communism" by reaching out to the Chinese and Russians, and they resented Vietnamization as a way to end the war.

This atmosphere of extreme distrust led to the decision by Admiral Thomas Moorer, head of the JCS, and carried out by Robert O. Welander, the liaison between the Joint Chiefs and the White House's National Security Council, to approve spying on the NSC from late 1970 to late 1971. In his first statement admitting his role in this naval surveillance operation, Admiral Welander implicated Alexander Haig, deputy to Kissinger and later chief of staff after Haldeman resigned, in the criminal operation. Haig prevailed upon his old friend and colleague Fred Buzhardt, then general counsel to the Defense Department, to re-interview Admiral Welander and eliminate the compromising references to him. Still, the existence of the first interview continued to haunt Haig because he knew if the president found out there would be no more military promotions for him, let alone a future in politics and so he was determined to see that his role in this military spy affair remained under wraps.

Haig was the single individual working in the White House or Executive Branch who wanted to ensure that the various Congressional investigations never exposed his involvement in the earlier cover-up of unconstitutional military insubordination. And who in the White House was in the best position to leak information damaging to the president's Watergate defense to an unknown cub reporter for the Washington Post, especially about tampering with White House tapes? Only Nixon, Rosemary Woods, Steve Bull, a Nixon aide, Haig, and the custodian of the tapes Major General John C Bennett, a Haig loyalist, could have known about any gaps in the recordings. Of those, the only individual who knew Woodward was Haig.

Although they have both denied knowing one another until 1973, it has been conclusively documented that they met back in 1969 when Woodward briefly served as junior officer at the Pentagon as a briefer to Nixon's JCS, specifically as a navy briefer to Haig for Admiral Moorer. Why else would a nine-month-on-the-job cub reporter be singled out by a top government official to receive such important secret information? The answer: Haig wanted to ensure that the various Congressional investigations never exposed unconstitutional surveillance and insubordination at the highest level of the military establishment. The first violation of the constitution during Nixon administration was not the cover-up of Watergate, but the Joint Chiefs' spying on their Commander in Chief.

Nixon chose to cover up this incredible incident because he would have had to take on the entire military command if he exposed the spy ring. Moreover, this expose would take place in an election year and when the president had scheduled trips to both China and the Soviet Union to confirm improved relations with countries &endash; which the military opposed. Taking on the military establishment with such important political and diplomatic events on the horizon could have proven politically disastrous to the president and revealed other back-channel diplomatic activities of the administration. The cover-up of this military insubordination makes Nixon's cover-up of Watergate pale by comparison.

The mystery of Watergate goes far beyond the motivations for the break-ins and the subsequent cover-up. The heart of the matter, still covered-up 30 years later, is that the media is more invested in perpetuating the mainstream political espionage interpretation of Watergate rather than the role Woodward's relationship with Haig played in bringing that about Thus, Woodward's and other mainstream authors' interpretations has dominated press coverage of Watergate since 1975. Woodward, in particular, doesn't want his connection with Haig and the JCS spy ring exposed any more than Haig does. Deep Throat was (and remains) a perfect diversion from finding out the truth about Watergate.

Joan Hoff is Distinguished Research Professor of History at Montana State University and author of Nixon Reconsidered (Basic Books). Email

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