Spiro T. Agnew, Governor of Maryland, had been Nixon’s odd choice for a running mate in 1968. Columnists wrote derisively of this selection, asking “Spiro who?”
It’s still a good question.
In 1968, Nixon received ten million dollars in secret campaign funds. Investigators have since tracked the money through the hands of what was then the Greek dictatorship. The conduit was Tom Pappas, an Agnew friend, who was closely associated with both the Greek generals and the CIA. The Greek generals, it should be noted, are the ones depicted in Costa-Gavras’ brilliant film, “Z”, who murdered the nation’s leading peace candidate to attain power. Nixon knew the source of the funds.
When Nixon went “out of his mind over the CIA and Pentagon roles in Watergate,” as Colson confided to Bast, he certainly realized that with Agnew poised to succeed him in the White House the CIA had plenty of reason to push him out the window. He fought back.
In 1970, before he’d served half of his first term, his Attorney General, John Mitchell, received information leaked from a Baltimore grand jury which named Agnew, among others, in a massive bribery and extortion racket. Mitchell declined to prosecute; the U.S. Attorney assigned to the case did likewise.
When it became obvious that he was in a fight for his political life, Nixon rolled Agnew under the bus. The Vice President, whose alliterative assaults on “radical-liberals” and on “nattering nabobs of...” (well, never mind) had made him Nixon’s attack dog, was suddenly indicted for the very crimes the Justice Department had known all about back in 1970.
Spiro, whatever his moral IQ, was smart enough to figure out what was being done to him, and by whom. Agnew’s assistants, notably his chief of staff Ted Gold, publicly accused the President of being behind it.
It bought Nixon some time. Until he named a successor, it would not be possible to impeach him without bringing down the entire house. The presidency would be delivered to the Democrats. Nixon had warned the CIA that “all the trees in the forest” would fall, and he would not go down alone.
The problem was, however, all those tapes, boxes and boxes of them, and the taping system still operating, even as Dean jumps ship and Haldeman and Ehrlichman resign, even as the Senate Committee, with Sam Ervin as chairman, begin televised hearings and the American people, fascinated at last, slip away from him.
On Sixty Minutes, the CBS News Magazine, July 13, 1975, Mike Wallace talked about the taping system, described the friendship between its installer, Al Wong, and James McCord, who was CIA’s chief of security when Wong put in the system, and then said that a member of the Senate Committee had told him that there had been “a direct feed” from the White House taping system and that the CIA had copies.
Here’s what I think we know:
The Watergate burglary which led to the capture of McCord, Barker, Martinez, Gonzales, and Sturgis – and Hunt and Liddy – plays like an old Keystone Kops show. In fact, it was fucked-up by experts.
McCord’s tape jobs, odd disappearance (which necessitated a second taping), ordering the walkie-talkie turned off; Hunt’s instructing the burglars to carry their room keys and money with them while taking the IDs and parking those in their rooms; the bewilderment of Eugenio Martinez who’d never seen anything like it, and whose questions to Hunt via Barker brought the “do as you’re told and don’t ask questions” response. McCord’s buddy, Carl Shoffler happening to work overtime, right around the corner.
Between them, Hunt and McCord had around fifty years of work for the CIA; the latter had been chief of security, the former chief of domestic intelligence. I don’t care what kind of rationalizations you can dream up, there is no way in the world these had been mistakes. None. Think it through a little. You’re E. Howard Hunt. You do not want the burglars caught, and not in possession of anything that looks suspicious, such as sequentially-numbered – and traceable – hundred dollar bills, and you definitely do not want them caught with their room keys, which will lead to their address books with your name and White House phone number in them. No, you do not.
Not only that. Even if you, Mr. Hunt, are in some sort of fog, it is bound to get your attention when James McCord, having ‘discovered’ the removal of the first tape job, comes to your room for a consultation. Since the removal of the tape means that somebody is onto you, it might be prudent to abort the mission. Come back another time; figure out something else.
Nope. Screw it. Full speed ahead.
Same with McCord. Here you are, nine years of handling security for the CIA. You are an expert by now or your body is holding up a building, take your pick. You place the tape on the locks so that everybody can sneak inside, but when its time to go in you see that you’ve been discovered. The tape is gone. The door is locked. Has to be a security guard, making the rounds. Do you bail out? Hell, no. You huddle with Hunt and then tell the boys, we’ve decided to go ahead.
Thing is, though, for reasons never quite clarified, you can’t go up with the rest of them. Got a brief errand. So when Gonzalez picks the lock, you have to retape the door. Horizontally. Barker later asks, did you remember to take the tape off on your way in, and you lie and say yes. This time, Frank Wills calls the cops.
I don’t want to sound too argumentative, but how many feet of hose does it take?
Coming soon, Watergate, Part 9: Dorothy Hunt Takes A Little Trip