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The two Washington Post reporters present the inside story of their investigations into the persons involved in the Watergate scandal
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Bob Woodward is an associate editor at The Washington Post, where he has worked for forty-four years. He has shared in two Pulitzer Prizes, first for The Washington Post’s coverage of the Watergate scandal, and later for coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He has authored or coauthored twelve #1 national nonfiction bestsellers. He has two daughters, Tali and Diana, and lives in Washington, DC, with his wife, writer Elsa Walsh.
Carl Bernstein is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair magazine and has written for a variety of publications. He is the author of Loyalties: A Son’s Memoir, and has coauthored His Holiness: John Paul II and the History of Our Time with Marco Politi, as well as All the President's Men and The Final Days with Bob Woodward.
June 17, 1972. Nine o'clock Saturday morning. Early for the telephone. Woodward fumbled for the receiver and snapped awake. The city editor of the Washington Post was on the line. Five men had been arrested earlier that morning in a burglary at Democratic headquarters, carrying photographic equipment and electronic gear. Could he come in?
Woodward had worked for the Post for only nine months and was always looking for a good Saturday assignment, but this didn't sound like one. A burglary at the local Democratic headquarters was too much like most of what he had been doing -- investigative pieces on unsanitary restaurants and small-time police corruption. Woodward had hoped he had broken out of that; he had just finished a series of stories on the attempted assassination of Alabama Governor George Wallace. Now, it seemed, he was back in the same old slot.
Woodward left his one-room apartment in downtown Washington and walked the six blocks to the Post. The newspaper's mammoth newsroom -- over 150 feet square with rows of brightly colored desks set on an acre of sound-absorbing carpet -- is usually quiet on Saturday morning. Saturday is a day for long lunches, catching up on work, reading the Sunday supplements. As Woodward stopped to pick up his mail and telephone messages at the front of the newsroom, he noticed unusual activity around the city desk. He checked in with the city editor and learned with surprise that the burglars had not broken into the small local Democratic Party office but the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate office-apartment-hotel complex.
It was an odd place to find the Democrats. The opulent Watergate, on the banks of the Potomac in downtown Washington, was as Republican as the Union League Club. Its tenants included the former Attorney General of the United States John N. Mitchell, now director of the Committee for the Re-election of the President; the former Secretary of Commerce Maurice H. Stans, finance chairman of the President's campaign; the Republican national chairman, Senator Robert Dole of Kansas; President Nixon's secretary, Rose Mary Woods; and Anna Chennault, who was the widow of Flying Tiger ace Claire Chennault and a celebrated Republican hostess; plus many other prominent figures of the Nixon administration.
The futuristic complex, with its serpent's-teeth concrete balustrades and equally menacing prices ($100,000 for many of its two-bedroom cooperative apartments), had become the symbol of the ruling class in Richard Nixon's Washington. Two years earlier, it had been the target of 1000 anti-Nixon demonstrators who had shouted "Pigs," "Fascists" and "Sieg Heil" as they tried to storm the citadel of Republican power. They had run into a solid wall of riot-equipped Washington policemen who had pushed them back onto the campus of George Washington University with tear gas and billy clubs. From their balconies, anxious tenants of the Watergate had watched the confrontation, and some had cheered and toasted when the protesters were driven back and the westerly winds off the Potomac chased the tear gas away from the fortress. Among those who had been knocked to the ground was Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein. The policeman who had sent him sprawling had probably not seen the press cards hanging from his neck, and had perhaps focused on his longish hair.
As Woodward began making phone calls, he noticed that Bernstein, one of the paper's two Virginia political reporters, was working on the burglary story, too.
Oh God, not Bernstein, Woodward thought, recalling several office tales about Bernstein's ability to push his way into a good story and get his byline on it.
That morning, Bernstein had Xeroxed copies of notes from reporters at the scene and informed the city editor that he would make some more checks. The city editor had shrugged his acceptance, and Bernstein had begun a series of phone calls to everybody at the Watergate he could reach -- desk clerks, bellmen, maids in the housekeeping department, waiters in the restaurant.
Bernstein looked across the newsroom. There was a pillar between his desk and Woodward's, about 25 feet away. He stepped back several paces. It appeared that Woodward was also working on the story. That figured, Bernstein thought. Bob Woodward was a prima donna who played heavily at office politics. Yale. A veteran of the Navy officer corps. Lawns, greensward, staterooms and grass tennis courts, Bernstein guessed, but probably not enough pavement for him to be good at investigative reporting. Bernstein knew that Woodward couldn't write very well. One office rumor had it that English was not Woodward's native language.
Bernstein was a college dropout. He had started as a copy boy at the Washington Star when he was 16, become a full-time reporter at 19, and had worked at the Post since 1966. He occasionally did investigative series, had covered the courts and city hall, and liked to do long, discursive pieces about the capital's people and neighborhoods.
Woodward knew that Bernstein occasionally wrote about rock music for the Post. That figured. When he learned that Bernstein sometimes reviewed classical music, he choked that down with difficulty. Bernstein looked like one of those counterculture journalists that Woodward despised. Bernstein thought that Woodward's rapid rise at the Post had less to do with his ability than his Establishment credentials.
They had never worked on a story together. Woodward was 29, Bernstein 28.
The first details of the story had been phoned from inside the Watergate by Alfred E. Lewis, a veteran of 35 years of police reporting for the Post. Lewis was something of a legend in Washington journalism -- half cop, half reporter, a man who often dressed in a blue regulation Metropolitan Police sweater buttoned at the bottom over a brass Star-of-David buckle. In 35 years, Lewis had never really "written" a story; he phoned the details in to a rewrite man, and for years the Washington Post did not even have a typewriter at police headquarters.
The five men arrested at 2:30 A.M. had been dressed in business suits and all had worn Playtex rubber surgical gloves. Police had seized a walkie-talkie, 40 rolls of unexposed film, two 35-millimeter cameras, lock picks, pen-size tear-gas guns, and bugging devices that apparently were capable of picking up both telephone and room conversations.
"One of the men had $814, one $800, one $215, one $234, one $230," Lewis had dictated. "Most of it was in $100 bills, in sequence....They seemed to know their way around; at least one of them must have been familiar with the layout. They had rooms on the second and third floors of the hotel? The men ate lobster in the restaurant there, all at the same table that night. One wore a suit bought in Raleigh's. Somebody got a look at the breast pocket."
Woodward learned from Lewis that the suspects were going to appear in court that afternoon for a preliminary hearing? He decided to go.
Woodward had been to the courthouse before. The heating procedure was an institutionalized fixture of the local court's turnstile system of justice: A quick appearance before a judge who set bond for accused pimps, prostitutes, muggers -- and, on this day, the five men who had been arrested at the Watergate.
A group of attorneys -- known as the "Fifth Street Lawyers" because of the location of the courthouse and their storefront offices -- were hanging around the corridors as usual, waiting for appointments as government-paid counsel to indigent defendants. Two of the regulars -- a tall, thin attorney in a frayed sharkskin suit and an obese, middle-aged lawyer who had once been disciplined for soliciting cases in the basement cellblock -- were muttering their distress. They had been tentatively appointed to represent the five accused Watergate burglars and had then been informed that the men had retained their own counsel, which is unusual.
Woodward went inside the courtroom. One person stood out. In a middle row sat a young man with fashionably long hair and an expensive suit with slightly flared lapels, his chin high, his eyes searching the room as if he were in unfamiliar surroundings.
Woodward sat down next to him and asked if he was in court because of the Watergate arrests.
"Perhaps," the man said. "I'm not the attorney of record. I'm acting as an individual."
He said his name was Douglas Caddy and he introduced a small, anemic-looking man next to him as the attorney of record, Joseph Rafferty, Jr. Rafferty appeared to have been routed out of bed; he was unshaven and squinted as if the light hurt his eyes. The two lawyers wandered in and out of the courtroom. Woodward finally cornered Rafferty in a hallway and got the names and addresses of the five suspects. Four of them were from Miami, three of them Cuban-Americans.
Caddy didn't want to talk. "Please don't take it personally," he told Woodward. "It would be a mistake to do that. I just don't have anything to say."
Woodward asked Caddy about his clients.
"They are not my clients," he said.
But you are a lawyer? Woodward asked.
"I'm not going to talk to you."
Caddy walked back into the courtroom. Woodward followed.
"Please, I have nothing to say."
Would the five men be able to post bond? Woodward asked.
After politely refusing to answer several more times, Caddy replied quickly that the men were all employed and had families -- factors that would be taken into consideration by the judge in setting bond. He walked back into the corridor.
Woodward followed: Just tell me about yourself, how you got into the case.
"I'm not in the case."
Why are you here?
"Look," Caddy said, "I met one of the defendants, Bernard Barker, at a social occasion.
"In D.C. It was cocktails at the Army-Navy Club. We had a sympathetic conversation...that's all I'm going to say.
"How did you get into the case?
Caddy pivoted and walked back in. After half an hour, he went out again.
Woodward asked how he got into the case.
This time Caddy said he'd gotten a call shortly after 3:00 A.M. from Barker's wife. "She said her husband had told her to call me if he hadn't called her by three, that it might mean he was in trouble."
Caddy said he was probably the only attorney Barker knew in Washington, and brushed off more questions, adding that he had probably said too much.
At 3:30 P.M., the five suspects, still dressed in dark business suits but stripped of their belts and ties, were led into the courtroom by a marshal. They seated themselves silently in a row and stared blankly toward the bench, kneading their hands. They looked nervous, respectful and tough.
Earl Silbert, the government prosecutor, rose as their case was called by the clerk. Slight, intent and owlish with his horn-rimmed glasses, he was known as "Earl the Pearl" to Fifth Streeters familiar with his fondness for dramatic courtroom gestures and flowery speech. He argued that the five men should not be released on bond. They had given false names, had not cooperated with the police, possessed "$2300 in cold cash, and had a tendency to travel abroad." They had been arrested in a "professional burglary" with a "clandestine" purpose. Silbert drew out the word "clandestine."
Judge James A. Belsen asked the men their professions. One spoke up, answering that they were "anti-communists," and the others nodded their agreement. The Judge, accustomed to hearing unconventional job descriptions, nonetheless appeared perplexed. The tallest of the suspects, who had given his name as James W. McCord, Jr., was asked to step forward. He was balding, with a large, flat nose, a square jaw, perfect teeth and a benign expression that seemed incongruous with his hard-edged features.
The Judge asked his occupation.
"Security consultant," he replied.
The Judge asked where.
McCord, in a soft drawl, said that he had recently retired from government service. Woodward moved to the front row and leaned forward.
"Where in government?" asked the Judge.
"CIA," McCord whispered.
The Judge flinched slightly.
Holy shit, Woodward said half aloud, the CIA.
He got a cab back to the office and reported McCord's statement. Eight reporters were involved in putting together the story under the byline of Alfred E. Lewis. As the 6:30 P.M. deadline approached, Howard Simons, the Post's managing editor, came into the city editor's office at the south side of the newsroom. "That's a hell of a story," he told the city editor, Barry Sussman, and ordered it onto Sunday's front page.
The first paragraph of the story read: "Five men, one of whom said he is a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, were arrested at 2:30 A.M. yesterday in what authorities described as an elaborate plot to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee here."
A federal grand jury investigation had already been announced, but even so it was Simons' opinion that there still were too many unknown factors about the break-in to make it the lead story. "It could be crazy Cubans," he said.
Indeed, the thought that the break-in might somehow be the work of the Republicans seemed implausible. On June 17, 1972, less than a month before the Democratic convention, the President stood ahead of all announced Democratic candidates in the polls by no less than 19 points. Richard Nixon's vision of an emerging Republican majority that would dominate the last quarter of the century, much as the Democrats had dominated two previous generations, appeared possible. The Democratic Party was in disarray as a brutal primary season approached its end. Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, considered by the White House and Democratic Party professionals alike to be Nixon's weakest opponent, was emerging as the clear favorite to win the Democrats' nomination for President.
The story noted: "There was no immediate explanation as to why the five suspects would want to bug the Democratic National Committee offices, or whether or not they were working for any other individuals or organizations."
Bernstein had written another story for the Sunday paper on the suspects. Four were from Miami: Bernard L. Barker, Frank A. Sturgis, Virgilio R. Gonzalez and Eugenio R. Martinez. He had called a Miami Herald reporter and obtained a long list of Cuban exile leaders. A Post reporter had been sent from the President's press party in Key Biscayne to make checks in Miami's Cuban community. All four of the Miami suspects had been involved in anti-Castro activities and were also said to have CIA connections. ("I've never known if he works for the CIA or not," Mrs. Barker told Bernstein. "The men never tell the women anything about that.") Sturgis, an American soldier-of-fortune and the only non-Cuban among them, had been recruiting militant Cubans to demonstrate at the Democratic national convention, according to several persons. One Cuban leader told Bernstein that Sturgis and others whom he described as "former CIA types" intended to use paid provocateurs to fight anti-war demonstrators in the streets during the national political conventions.
Woodward left the office about eight o'clock that Saturday night. He knew he should have stayed later to track down James McCord. He had not even checked the local telephone directory to see if there was a James McCord listed in Washington or its suburbs.
The national staff of the Washington Post rarely covers police stories. So, at Sussman's request, both B...
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