- Fifty Years Ago, to the day
In June, 1972, the Watergate plumbers, the dirty tricks division of Nixon's administration, was caught out by a night watchman, a retired soldier, who noticed duct tape over the latch of the interior doors and removed it. The robbers were attempting to break into the professional office of the Democratic National Committee, to obtain documents and to wiretap the phones of two leading members, including Lawrence O’Brien.
The Watergate Complex had only recently been completed - it included five buildings, Luigi Moretti from Rome was the architect, and it was said to be the first project involving extensive computer design. It also claimed to have the most intricate electronic security of any building in America. The Washington Post described the complex as “antipasto on the Potomac.”
In a building across the street, the Howard Johnson Motel, the robbers had a spotter in case anything went astray. But he became involved in watching a movie, The Attack of the Puppet People, and did not notice when three police officers, dressed undercover as hippies, entered the Watergate Building, having been called by the night watchman who was alarmed that the duct tape was back on the doors.
The officers surprised five men and arrested them for burglary. The connection to the presidency might never have been established had not Martha Mitchell, the wife of Attorney General John Mitchell, told her friend, a week later, the UPI reporter Helen Thomas, that she knew one of the burglars, James McCord. As she was talking to Thomas on the phone, the line was abruptly disconnected.
It turned out that Martha Mitchell was being forcibly held in detention to prevent any further public contact. When she was released a week later, both her arms and shoulders and face showed noticeable bruising. James McCord, a CIA officer and one of the Watergate burglars, later described that she had been “basically kidnapped.”
In the months and investigation that followed, the most profound emotion of the Watergate hearings was the return to order - the presentation of honor, intelligence, sense and history. When you have a country of honor and intelligence and dignity, at work, then you can work.