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1970-1984 this week. I overdid Disco (I only got up to 1981 in one of the classes), I convinced myself that Jimmy Carter was a missed opportunity, and I remembered I spent as little time thinking about Reagan when he was in office as I possibly could. I missed the Kent State anniversary by four days, my notes on Spiro Agnew's troubles are cribbed from I think Time, and I know why I didn't vote for Ford, and there's not enough in the reasoning behind that for a diary (the reason is at the end of this diary). But Watergate is always fascinating, and I have a LOT of cartoons, so I'll arrange them in order and provide commentary, and maybe some snark too.

In fact, the cartoons come from the Washington Post, which is SO proud of the "reporting" that Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward did on Watergate that their dossiers on the event are still online, the existence of W. Mark Felt to the contrary. Woodward has been so oblivious to the coming out of the late Mr. Felt, who had been the Associate Director of the FBI (second only to J. Edgar Hoover in rank) during the Nixon administration, as "Deep Throat," Woodward and Bernstein's informant in their Watergate reporting, that he displayed his acumen as a reporter in some books in which he played mouthpiece for the George W. Bush administration. But these cartoons are the work of the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Herbert Block, or 'Herblock," as he signed himself. Herblock had no Deep Throat to help him, only his own reading of the news that was about to print. Since he had started at the Post in 1946, he already had a serious backlog of significant work, and here is one of my favorites, a comment from June 17, 1949, about the anti-Communist hysteria of the McCarthy Era. It's called "Fire!":

So let's begin. There are several basic narratives of Watergate. Most begin with the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee Office in the Watergate Hotel, some with the White House response to Republican losses in the Congressional elections of 1970, some with the plumbers and the Pentagon Papers, and some with the election of 1968. Essentially, there are liberal and conservative versions, both of which hold, to different degrees, that Watergate was an aberration, and that Nixon was a paranoid of a sort unlikely to be seen in the White House again. Probably the second part is true. The liberal narrative teaches us that we need to institute new norms of ethical behavior in government and to keep Watergate in mind as a warning of how things can go awry if government is not made accountable to Congress and  the public; this might be called the “system almost didn’t work” position. The conservative version concentrates on the fact that the constitutional system worked; it takes off from the view that “our long national nightmare is over." There's also an extreme right position that describes Watergate as a media effort to overturn the result of the election of 1972; it absolves Nixon and his associates of all blame for anything. I only mention it to demonstrate that batshit crazy in American politics goes back a long way.

We're going to begin with the break-in too because I'm saving the Pentagon Papers for another diary (I have a personal story that goes with that). On June 17 1972, in the thick of the presidential campaign,

Five men, one of whom says he used to work for the CIA, are arrested at 2:30 a.m. trying to [place a] bug [in] the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate hotel and office complex.
Two days later, the Post discovered that one of the burglars was a Republican security aide (irony, anyone?). John Mitchell, Nixon's former attorney general (he had resigned to work on the Nixon campaign, citing propriety), denied any connection to the incident. Herblock ran this cartoon, "Who Would Think Of Doing Such a Thing?" June 20.
Beside Nixon and Mitchell, this cartoon also depicts the new attorney general, formerly Mitchell's Deputy AG, Richard Kleindienst. Both Mitchell and Kleindienst are carrying tape recorders labeled "Unconstitutional Tapping and Bugging." the variety of scandals associated with the Nixon White House led Herblock to publish "Strange -- They All Seem to Have Some Connection With This Place" June 23.
On August 19, a $25,000 cashier's check seemingly destined to the Committee to Reelect the President (for those of you who don't remember, the acronym for this group was CREEP) showed up in the bank account of a Watergate burglar. As Lewis Carroll wrote, "curioser and curioser," and yes, this started to have a rather unusual sheen to it. It was apparent that the Nixon administration wanted no part of this whole business, and this, which was published August 25, 1972, placed Nixon in a very sinister light:
In October, the FBI found that the events at the Watergate hotel came from a campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted by CREEP. The voting public didn't seem to care, though. Nixon took more than 60% of the popular vote and won the electoral votes of 49 of the 50 states (by the middle of 1973, bumper stickers appeared that said "Don't Blame Me: I'm from Massachusetts").

On January 30, G. Gordon Liddy and James W. McCord, Jr, former Nixon aides, were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping in the Watergate case. Naturally, there were appeals but they were quashed before very long

Then the purge of the Nixon administration began. Bob Ehrlichman, White House Counsel, H.R, Haldeman, Nixon's chief of staff, and Richard Kleindeinst, the Attorney General, resigned from their positions on April 30, 1973 and deputy White House Counsel John Dean was fired. Dean would turn against the White House almost immediately, and the administration tried to no avail to discredit him because Dean just knew too much. Nixon studiously avoided the issue of a special prosecutor, but he appointed Elliott Richardson of Massachusetts his new attorney general.
The Senate then convened a Special Select Committee on Watergate, chaired by Sam ErvIn (D-NC), and the new Attorney General dutifully appointed Archibald Cox, a law professor from Harvard, to be the special prosecutor on the Watergate case. The Senate hearings were televised.
More revelations about the case kept percolating up, but the BIG event came on July 13, 1973, when a former presidential appoinments secretary, Alexander Butterfield, testifying before the Senate Select Committee, acknowledged the existence of an audiotaping system in the oval office. J. Fred Buzhart, the primary lawyer for White House matters, confirmed the existence of this system on July 16 noting that LBJ had done this too, but the Secret Service noted that Nixon's voice-activated system was unique (Somebody in the Johnson administration had to turn the tape recorder on and off). For the next 13 months, the Watergate story would be about control of tapes, with Nixon arguing executive privilege and Congress arguing that they belonged to the nation. Nixon reportedly had the taping system turned off July 18, and on July 23 he categorically refused to turn over the tapes to anyone.
To make things even more difficult for Nixon, his Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, was also under investigation. Agnew had been Nixon's hatchet man, but it turned out that as Governor of Maryland he had been accepting kickbacks for state contracts which he continued to receive as Vice President of the United States. From Rolling Stone's Top Ten Political Scandals, here's #5:
During Agnew's fifth year in office, the U.S. Attorney's office in Baltimore, Maryland began investigating the VP for bribery, tax fraud, extortion and conspiracy. Agnew was charged in October for having accepted more than $100,000 in bribes during his time as Vice President and Governor of Maryland; he was allowed to plead no contest on the condition that he resign.
And he did, on October 10, 1973 (that was a wonderful 24th birthday present for me). Nixon had always considered Agnew his insurance against impeachment, and now that insurance was gone.

Ten days later, the events that have become known as the Saturday Night Massacre which produced the neology "Borking" took place. I wrote about this when George Will tried to redefine it as something political in March of this year, and I'll just refer you to that diary for what happened and for the attempted whitewash. For this diary, Nixon ordered Richardson to fire Archibald Cox. He refused and was fired. The same thing happened to the Assistant Attorney General, William Ruckelshaus. So Cox was fired by the #3 man in Justice, the Solicitor General, Robert Bork. Voila, "Borked."

More memorable moments. On November 17, Nixon was in Orlando to address and take questions from the managing editors of the Associated Press. From tthe Washington Post:

Declaring that "I am not a crook," President Nixon vigorously defended his record in the Watergate case tonight and said he had never profited from his public service. "I have earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life I have never obstructed justice," Mr. Nixon said. "People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got."
Do you remember anything Nixon said beside "I am not a crook?" This was Herblock's response the day after:
From the Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum:
[As dictated in the 25th Amendment] Before choosing Spiro Agnew’s replacement, President Nixon sought the views of Republicans in and out of Congress. In the end, Gerald Ford received the nod. On December 6, 1973, the United States House of Representatives voted 387 to 35 to confirm Gerald R. Ford [the Minority Leader of the House] as Vice President of the United States.
NOW Nixon could be impeached.

And that only made the next event in the saga of the tapes more, well, ridiculous. On December 7, one of the tapes the White House released to the district court had an 18 minute gap in it. This convinced Judge John Sirica that the tapes, which he had been willing to let the White House keep during the appeal process, needed to be in someone else's custody. Nixon's long time secretary, Rosemary Woods, tried to show how she might have inadvertently erased it, but by now, nobody was buying the explanation.

On February 6 1974, the House of Representatives authorized the Judiciary Committee to investigate whether there were grounds to impeach Nixon.  Herblock ran this cartoon on March 11.

Hearings began on May 9, and Nixon tried to browbeat Republican congressmen to stand up against impeachment; Herblock ran this cartoon May 13:
Finally, the House Judiciary Committee went on television to present the articles of impeachment they prepared on July 25. I CANNOT go any further without presenting you with Rep. Barbara Jordan (D-TX) on the subject of impeachment during this broadcast. It's not her complete remarks, but it's enough to let you know the impact. As you listen to her, think about the conduct of the House in preparing the articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton.

The next day, the House reported out three articles of impeachment:
I. Preventing, obstructing, and impeding the administration of justice concerning the Watergate investigation: 27-11 (twenty-one Democrats [that's all of them] and six Republicans for).
II. Conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens concerning illegal wiretaps, and misuse of the FBI, the CIA, and the IRS: 27-11 (twenty-one Democrats and six Republicans for).
III. Failure to produce subpoena-ed material “to the manifest injury of the people of the United States” and in violation of the Constitution: 28-10 (twenty-one Democrats and seven Republicans for).

While the committee was voting, Nixon’s lawyers were listening to the tapes, and what they heard  staggered them, especially the tape of June 23, 1972 – six days after the break in – in which Nixon ordered the CIA to stop the FBI from investigating. This was the “smoking gun” that for many people cinched the case. When tapes were released to the public on August 5, the pressure on Nixon to resign became overwhelming. It became clear to him that he could count on no more than 15 senators to support him. Thus, Nixon gave an unapologetic speech the evening of August 8, in which he told American people he’d resign.

Gerald Ford was sworn in as President the next morning, and the Nixon family flew off to the San Clemente residence. In the memory of Watergate, the cover-up didn’t end with Nixon’s resignation. The most important event that followed Nixon's resignation was the fact that one month after Nixon left office, President Gerald Ford pardoned him, and the law and order president escaped having to subject himself to, well, law and order. It was argued that hauling a president up to face charges in a criminal court would be destructive, and I'll let Richard Ben-Veniste,  former chief of the Watergate Task Force of the Watergate Special prosecutor's Office summarize, as he did in the Washington Post , in remembering Gerald Ford upon his death:
At bottom, the decision to pardon Nixon was a political judgment properly within the bounds of Ford's constitutional authority. The specter of a former president in the criminal dock as our country moved into its bicentennial year was profoundly disturbing. I believe Jerry Ford acted in accord with what he sincerely felt were the best interests of the country; that there was no secret quid pro quo with Nixon for a pardon in return for resignation; and that Ford, a compassionate man, was moved by the palpable suffering of a man who had lost so much.
I don't think there was a quid pro quo either, and I LIKED Ford and his family (I loved the idea that the Secret Service had to accompany his son Jack to the Lost and Found, the preeminent gay bar in DC, during Ford's term) but the pardon was just too much for me.

So that's Watergate. Absolutely riveting while it was going on. Still contentious, as George Will's attempt to whitewash Robert Bork's part in it demonstrates. I know some of you expected the liberation movements of the late 1960s, but that will be a summer project for me.

Originally posted to History for Kossacks on Fri May 10, 2013 at 04:30 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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