This is not a hagiography of Nixon nor an analysis of his presidency. Nixon was a three dimensional person that occupied the Oval Office with strengths and weaknesses. He, like LBJ before him, was the tail end of a political epoch, dealing with pent up problems from the policies put into motion decades before him by the New Deal. I have always thought his foreign policy work was interesting and far more advanced than anyone from our 35th to our current president. His domestic policies were expansions of government power, but a president can choose to work with what he has or not. As Nixon aide John Ehrlichman wrote, when Nixon entered the presidency, "it was a time when there was almost no leadership in Congress". Nixon intended to aggressively push Congress and fill that power vacuum. These actions partly play into my theory of why Watergate, a third rate failed burglary or bugging operation, turned into the impetus for the only presidential resignation in American history.
Theory: Nixon's razor thin victory of 1968 (just 153K votes shift over four states and Humphrey wins) betrayed the shift in presidential voting that would secure Nixon, and later Reagan, victories due to the South's shift and the battle between the New Left and Old Left best shown by the street battles of 1968 followed by the hours long convention floor battles of 1972. Nixon knew the power sources in DC and was using the presidency in an attempt to change the system and act like how he thought a president should have power. Responding to this threat, the system (cathedral, deep state, whatever) reacted in a combined effort to remove him and stop reform, stop change, and stop the threat to their destruction. It is not just on their whim or will as Foseti writes, but it is in response to a threat.
All threatened pieces come into play. The media acts as the conduit between different parts. All insiders use the media to get information between each other without direct contact, using the press' constitutional protection for sourced insider information. There is much mythology to Watergate and none as rich as the source Deep Throat. The official version has always been one man, and when he came out in the open just prior to death it was revealed to be the number two man at the FBI, Mark Felt. You can believe that if you want. Making Deep Throat one person allows cover for what was probably multiple sources that eventually made up an idea for privileged information from deep insiders to help hide who holds real power. As I wrote earlier, Operation Mockingbird was a long established CIA project with the American media with significant ties to the Washington Post, and especially Ben Bradlee. In Deborah Davis's book on the Washington Post, she mentions at the end how the CIA may have used Woodward to oust Nixon in a coup of sorts. Her finger points to Richard Ober of the CIA as Deep Throat. Len Colodny's research pointed to Gen. Al Haig as Deep Throat. Haldeman thinks John Dean assistant Fred Fielding was Deep Throat. Felt is the official Deep Throat. What if the guesses are all right? The composite figure makes the most sense. The Watergate scandal was not simply a burglary that unearthed horrible abuses of power. It was an ignition spark to an unleashing of information and orchestrated performance to get a threat out of the Oval Office.
Threats to the Status Quo
Threat #1 - No one ever mentions this, but the information is out there. Nixon's main objective once in power was a total reorganization of the government. It started as a reorg of the executive branch, but would expand. Nixon was going to reorganize the government to break the greying New Dealer grip on the government. Haldeman writes extensively about this. It was not a total secret even as early as 1969 as the Ash Commission on Executive Branch Reorganization was gearing up, John Connally acted as a conduit between LBJ and Nixon. His message from LBJ, "he could reorganize everything all he wanted, but he had three main problems, 1) press 2) Congress 3) disloyal people in State and CIA".
Despite Nixon's capture of the presidency, he learned where real power lay. In Haldeman's "Ends of Power", he writes,
...by 1971 Nixon had realized he was virtually powerless to deal with the bureaucracy in every department of the government... Civil servants, almost all liberal Democrats, would thumb their noses at him. Washington insiders all acknowledge that the man who is still King in Washington has been dead for 32 years. Franklin D. Roosevelt's legacy lives on.Haldeman writes later about this being common Washington knowledge but unknown outside of the Beltway. Later in his book, "the greatest power centers in Washington are the liaisons between Congressional Committee Staffs and the Federal bureaucratic departments they deal with". Haldeman recorded Nixon's pessimistic attitude towards this problem with his statement that "the enemy, then, is the invisible bureaucracy, the self-perpetuating people that are not elected and that blatantly brag that they'll be here, and are not going to change regardless of who comes in and out" (The Haldeman Diaries). Nixon's team was actively working to deal with this bureaucratic problem.
In 1971, the Nixon team sent four reorganization bills to Congress. As Ehrlichman writes in Witness to Power, "Congress and the Washington Establishment weren't willing to let him" reorganize the Federal government. Eliminating duplicate functions, streamlining government and just altering the value of long established official or unofficial relationships was too much for the DC power system to tolerate. The bills went nowhere. The Nixon team was willing to use executive orders if they needed to, but the major plans for changes were being dreamed up at Camp David after the election.
The Nixon team was attempting to make a change many Americans today would love to see: a streamlining and overhaul of the DC bureaucracy. Per Ehrlichman, the Camp David meetings after the election with a public mandate unheard of were aggressive planning sessions,
We would reorganize as completely as the law allowed. We would repopulate the bureaucracy with our people. We would seek new laws or permit the dead (and disloyal) wood to be cast out.Haldeman goes a bit more into detail, and cites that as the secret story behind Watergate. The second term plan was to,
...initiate a dramatic, even revolutionary, new structure of government. In this structure there would be four "super Cabinet" officers with offices in the White House supervising activities of their own departments as well as those of associated independent agencies in four areas: Economic Affairs, Human Resources, Natural Resources, Community Development. In addition, four traditional cabinet posts would be retained: State, Defense, Justice and Treasury. In effect, this would accomplish two goals: streamline all of the dozens of helter-skelter and redundant independent agencies into four departments that were manageable; concentrated them so that all departments of the executive branch of government would be controlled by the White House.
Sounds rather audacious and adventurous from a government operations standpoint. The way they envisioned it was in the manner Nixon-Kissinger handled foreign policy, pulling control of it to be in their sets of hands, not the civil servant professionals. Haldeman notes as Ehrlichman did that Congress and the DC crowd was scared by the reorganization bills of 1971, so it is hard to see how the second term attempt would work unless they went the executive order route. Going after the permanent institution that is the civil service was a huge threat. The problem for the Establishment was that Nixon had won, had no next election to worry about, and the Democrats looked in chaotic disarray from a presidential candidate standpoint. The Tea Party-GOP establishment battle of today does not involve actual fights like the Democrats of yesteryear.
Threat #2 - Nixon was immediately badgering the CIA. Early in his presidency, he had assigned Robert Cushman, whom he had befriended as far back as the 1950s, into the CIA hierarchy to keep tabs on Director Helms. Nixon waned an inside man. Nixon knew of the CIA's history of dirty tricks due to his decades in DC. He worked hand in hand with Director Helms and knew where bodies were buried. I do think there is something to Haldeman's claim that the "Bay of Pigs" phrase was a code Nixon used to get after Helms, but I will not speculate if that dealt with the actual Bay of Pigs fiasco or the JFK assassination. Nixon's chief concern was getting the CIA working for him. Nixon had submitted the Huston Plan for intelligence agencies to step up their surveillance and work against internal subversion. Nixon wanted to align their behaviors and priorities with his. Even though it took until 1972 for Nixon to approach Helms about leaving, he remarked in November of 1972 how Helms was "a captive of the Georgetown set". This is not a passing remark of a simple label. The Georgetown set was known as the DC establishment that populated the Wisner-Meyer-Graham salons. Helms was exposed to them for too long, and would not play the way Nixon wanted. As Nixon stated in the fall of 1972 to Ehrlichman, "We must get control of the CIA".
Another factor lay in Nixon's knowledge of their dirty work and the public growing knowledge of how the CIA acted. The CIA was actively looking to fight back with assassination plans for Nixon per Roger Stone's new book. What if Nixon is in power and the Church Committee rolls around, sparking public furor over CIA abuses? In reality, the Church Committee did not force real reform, and CIA Director George H. W. Bush did a nice job of putting a friendly face on some clean up and business as usual for the national security deep state. Say a clean Nixon positions himself as a reformer and can disassociate himself from the CIA's past abuses, similar to the Pentagon Papers detailing Kennedy-Johnson lies, and uses the public fury to eliminate the CIA (unlikely) or repopulate it with his people in his reorganization of the government idea? Suddenly, the CIA is remolded to serve Nixon and more importantly, Nixon's financial supporters in foreign locations, and not act along the lines of the State Department and Peace Corps types. A lot of career Agency men would be unhappy or worse, out of work.
Threat #3 - Nixon and Kissinger had maddened the defense establishment and State Department. Yes, Nixon was the mad bomber to scare the commies, but in reality Vietnamization was a wind down of troop levels that the Army did not consider adequate. After Tet, the Army asked for an additional 200,000 troops. President Johnson said no, and then Nixon's secret plan turned out to be Vietnamization. Not more fighting and munitions orders for our military-industrial complex. Similar to the pull in of foreign policy moves to Nixon and Kissinger, Nixon and Kissinger were angering the military establishment by bombing like mad while conducting talks with Hanoi. It angered them so much that they spied on the National Security Council and White House to the tune of thousands of documents. The book Silent Coup goes over this in detail. Nixon wanted to cut the Pentagon down in size. He was moving foreign intervention in a direction of America providing supplies and possibly air power if the nations supplied the manpower (sound familiar?).
Nixon's constant refrain of the "shits", "traitors" or "faggots" at State is bombast, but he and Kissinger had brought the power and handling of foreign affairs into the White House. It was how they would handle the reorganization of all government they planned. As Haldeman writes, I was possible for Nixon to "control foreign policy, workin hand-in-hand with the man who would carry his policy out". This was how he achieved détente, opening China, Vietnamization, the Paris Peace Talks. Nixon's own secretary of state felt useless because of how Nixon and Kissinger worked as a duo that only knew everything planned. This worked and took power and control away from the civil servants and "striped pants faggots of Foggy Bottom". If such success continued, exactly how easy of a sell would it have been for the president to talk of pairing the State department down as the Federal government looked to save money?
Threat #4 - Besides the Nixon threat with the Huston Plan on intelligence agencies, there was an active move against the FBI. Nixon wanted his man (Assistant Attorney General Pat Gray) in at the FBI, and to turn the FBI into his organization for his means, helping his supporters. Keep in mind, he installed Arthur Burns at the FED who was a political animal and yes man for Nixon. There was an FBI power struggle that insiders wanted to see go their way. The Deep Throat source (if you believe Mark Felt is the sole source) spoon fed Woodward and Bernstein, mere crime beat reporters, the information of the FBI's investigation. Why? Felt was passed over for promotion to the top spot as Nixon attempted to appoint an outsider to clean up the FBI after Hoover's death. It is organization infiltration 101. Get dirt on the Mob from the guy who was passed over. Felt guided the Watergate reporting, and without him, do Woodward and Bernstein even make the connections to that small time burglary and CREEP? Felt's fight against Nixon's attempt to reduce the autonomy of the FBI and bring it under presidential control smells strongly of the system wanting to assert itself and defend its power.
The FBI was weird anyway as when Nixon came to power, Hoover mentioned to Nixon rumors of his top staff being homosexuals. Nixon went along with the silly rumor and allowed Hoover to interview his men. Assistant Director Felt actually performed the interview with Ehrlichman. Per Ehrlichman when Hoover died, Nixon instructed then Asst Attorney General Gray to "seize all Hoover's secret personal files". Despite the president requesting them, Hoover's secretary got to them first, keeping those secrets. Ehrlichman also noted that the FBI's intransigence also nudged Nixon down the path of using internal people through Bud Krogh to investigate Daniel Ellsberg, which would later become a black mark and piece of the ouster. With internal enemies like the FBI, who needed campus, communist subversion.
Threat #5 - Nixon's admin in '71-'72 made power moves with the media. Nixon's antagonism with the media was well known, but the White House was boosted by Edith Efron's The News Twisters, which was the first book to discuss the media's liberal bias. While flawed, it dared to discuss the hurdle that the right had to leap that the left did not due to the media. Earlier Nixon's strong Silent Majority speech tested well, and was pounced on immediately by the media on TV as it was broadcast. Nixon's team used a speech at the Regional Republican Conference in Des Moines by VP Agnew a week later about television and the media's control over public opinion. Agnew's money line quote in the speech written by a young Pat Buchanan is:
"The American people would rightly not tolerate this kind of concentration of power in government. is it not fair and relevant to question its concentration in the hands of a tiny and closeted fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one and enjoying a monopoly sanctioned by government?"
Agnew speech struck at the heart and power of television news. He was swinging at the media. He was going after the Cathedral. The key part is the very last bit I quoted. Agnew recognizes that this is an unelected crew of powerful men who have television station licensing granted by the very government they skewer when not controlled by Democrats. The media was legitimately scared about licensing. This was pre-cable. If the stations were not licensed, how can a network exist? The book Nixonland discusses this threat. It was real. It was powerful. The Cathedral was just figuring out TV, and this was a tool they would need to work on and use to their advantage. How else could northerners learn about the Civil Rights struggle? How else were Vietnam's horrors shown to people eating their TV dinners?
Ehrlichman and Haldeman both wrote of Nixon's hyperfocus on media spin and how to get in their heads. Nixon was quick to point out different treatment media gave to Democrats caught drunk driving or with a dead girl in their car as opposed to anything by anyone on his side. Haldeman noted in his diaries that the PR strategy involved calling live television press conferences to force coverage, and on all channels, without the dditing and massaging of fact by the media. Ehrlichman called this non-substantive work because he did not fully understand the media's power. What is odd about that is Ehrlichman's own words that "an aggressive Washington newspaper can virtually set the Federal (hence the national) agenda". Nixon tried to think of how to say something or discuss an item that would be too juicy for Cronkite resist airing to mock, which would by nature give it airtime at all. Ehrlichman cited Nixon's enegy on "designing Walter Cronkite's lead story for that evening" thinking of a way to "deliver it [a briefing] in such a way that Cronkite couldn't ignore it". This is a sad misallocation of time and energy, but it is how the game is played. Nixon was big on going above the heads of the White House press corps and getting smaller markets involved. As Ehrlichman wrote, it was "the first time the White Housewould systematically propagandize the public". It had not had to before because the media's chosen darlings had occupied the White House since 1933. This was similar to his forgotten minorities approach. While Nixon understood the possibility of this power, he did not understand exactly how powerful it was and could be used against him even if president.
Placing Pieces on the Chessboard
Every piece of the DC establishment has been attacked and/or threatened by a man who just wont he largest electoral landslide in US history, and the party properly aligned with the establishment is in utter disarray. Fortunately, they had pieces in place within the White House web, acting or able to act in their interests and not Nixon's. They also knew that Nixon knew, once in office, of some of the dirty tricks LBJ had played and the recording system LBJ had in place. The CIA could place people into the Nixon White House, anticipating Nixon to screw up and play dirty. Once he'd screw up, the other tentacles of the system could do their work with no one considering it coordinated. An example would be the FBI not investigating Ellseberg, so Nixon gets the Plumbers moving on it. The break in gets uncovered and called horrible, yet when the break in happened, which CIA assets were involved in, the burglars celebrated. Russ Baker's book on the Bush family discusses the odd, happy reaction the Ellsberg break in cronies had despite finding nothing, which alarmed G. Gordon Liddy. The point was just to do it, and let it come out eventually, damaging Nixon. Watergate just happened to be the little dumb prank that pops the Rube Goldberg machine into action.
Weirdest piece of all might be Bob Woodward being an intelligence officer that briefed people in the White House who had made friends with Gen. Al Haig and Mark Felt prior to his work at the Wapo. Keep in mind, Woodward was discharged from the Navy, worked for a year at a weekly newspaper with no sterling writing to his name and then hired in 1971 to work for the Wapo. Less than twelve months on the job and Ben Bradlee is giving him the green light on the political investigative story of the century. Please read Silent Coup for great details on Woodward's career path. Woodward is a key though as he is a messenger boy used by the system. Bernstein eventually wrote an epic on the CIA's ties to the media for Rolling Stone in 1977. He skips over the Post and Watergate. Was the spark for his interest in the nexus of the media and CIA from what happened with Watergate? Possibly, and possibly his article was a cathartic writing exercise.
The White House was a nest for spying and oddities. Besides Gen. Al Haig's weird connections to the Joint Chiefs spying, there were numerous CIA plants within the Nixon White House. Alexander Butterfield, who would reveal the taping system, E. Howard Hunt, Plumber who made enough mistakes in organizing jobs, and James McCord, man who identified himself as CIA at his arraignment and then wrote the letter to the judge that blew the case wide open, were all former CIA members. Some of the other Watergate burglars were active CIA men who would have had actual case officers handling them and aware of their activities. When the Ervin Committee sought to talk to some CIA officers, they were told the officers were on safari in Africa. They were on safari the entire investigation.
The Break In and What Nails Nixon
Official panels do not discuss the details of who ordered the burglary because it is unclear, and if made clear, would show how much of a Nixon witch hunt this was. Much has been theorized on who ordered the burglary, but best bet is that it was just the right dumb move at the right time with just enough cover up to get Nixon. Reading different sources, it appears John Dean set the break in into motion. His later testimony is an act like a drug dealer caught and giving up anyone and everyone they came into contact with to lessen their sentence. Russ Baker and Len Colodny cover the Dean ground well. It was a dumb break in idea with Dean's leadership to get information about call girls because of their connection to his future wife. It was another dumb move the CIA could fiddle with and use to make Nixon look bad.
A break in by supposed experts has McCord leaving tape on locks horizontally to give it away and then retaping locks that the guards had removed tape from earlier in the same night. Criminals have items on them that connect them to each other whether on hand or in the hotel across the way because of sequential dollar bill serial numbers or having a White House phone number or leaving equipment behind to be found. They break in twice to the office to plant bugs. Haldeman writes in Ends of Power of the Democrats knowing ahead of time a break in would occur, going so far as to reveal journalist Jack Anderson (Mockingbird asset) knew ahead of time and did not publish anything. By remaining silent, Anderson was letting the break in happen. The CIA knew due to active members being involved and let it happen, or even sabotaged it due to the actions listed above and weirder.
The weird part gets into who was there. McCord gave his job as former CIA in a court room, which is astounding. Haldeman relays from the official reports that after the break in, CIA employee Wayne Pennington went to McCord's home and "burned all documents connecting McCord to the CIA". Despite a letter from Senator Mansfield about its taping system, the CIA destroyed all of its tapes. E. Howard Hunt was hired into the Plumbers but was still on the payroll of the Mullen Company, which was a CIA front at the time. E. Howard Hunt's personal secretary was a CIA employee while he worked for the Plumbers. Chuck Colson who worked directly with President Nixon claims that Hunt volunteered his services repeatedly to work for him prior to being hired. The Plumbers should have been properly renamed "CIA 1600 Penn Ave Squad". Think of these men placed into the Nixon White House like trying to take down a terrorist group. The CIA sends in teams to infiltrate foreign groups, and if threatened, it appears they would do it to a US president.
Notice the Watergate timeline of when reporting started on Watergate. The break in happens on June 17th at 2:30am. By the print time on June 20th, the no. 2 man in the FBI is tipping reporters to look into this burglary. The Wapo ran different Watergate related stories for months, making no headway in the president's re-election stomping of McGovern nor his immediate post-election favorability. The scandal was low level and burglars were sentenced. The public did not care, but the big media outlets did. A few things happened to change this. The Senate started up the hearings, and prior to the hearings initiation, and during them, Bob Woodward was there feeding information to Senator Sam Ervin. Woodward, a rookie reporter, helped guide who to call to testify. Woodward was of course acting with insider information being passed to him by whomever you believe was Deep Throat. Reading up on the Watergate timeline is a tremendous example of how the cathedral's system works.
The real game changers were, first, the letter from James McCord to Judge Sirica explaining that perjury and higher ups were involved and that in no way was the CIA involved in the Watergate break in. Second, Alexander Butterfield's revelation that there was a taping system. Reading Haldeman's or Ehrlichman's books or other insider essays, once the hits rolled in, the Nixon team was always reacting to an ever changing situation with hits coming in from all pieces of the system. Without McCord's letter, does the investigation threaten John Dean, which then makes him buddy up to the investigators to save his hide? No. Without those two game changers, Nixon's team deals with second term shenanigan slowdowns (see every two term president since) but survives. As Haldeman notes, by spring of 1973 every power bloc of DC was not "conspiring together to overthrow the president, were avidly competing with each other for the lead in the chase".
How much does history change? Impossible to quantify but there are some interesting possibilities. No Watergate. Clean Nixon. It does not mean a clean Spiro Agnew. Agnew leaves, maybe Nixon replaces him with John Connally. Connally was the only politician Nixon considered tough enough like him to be president. He also saw Connally as his successor and flirted with making him the VP for the '72 election. Ehrlichman writes a bit about Nixon and Connally's thoughts, they "began to daydream about forming a new political party which might attract voters all across the middle and right of the political spectrum". What they were unknowingly discussing was the coalition that would vote Reagan to success and bring the solid south into the GOP fold. It was the old Northern GOP-Dixiecrat alliance of Eisenhower national election years that the SDS abhorred. Nixon wanted it formalized.
A clean Nixon, and he probably moves Connally to VP instead of Ford. Does Connally win in '76? Yes. Ford was just 23K votes away spread over two states in 1976 from winning versus Carter with all of the baggage. If Connally is the nominee he wins Texas (his home state and 26 electoral votes), and blunts Carter's appeal in the south. No Watergate pardon stink, and it's a walk for Connally. As the corporations grew in the 1970s to see the need for political donations and advocacy, their push of money into the GOP would have kept the Democrats floundering in presidential elections. The public disliked the press already (due to Vietnam) and without the shining knights in armor uncovering Nixon's evil plans, does the press reach 2014 levels for distrust and public disgust a couple decades earlier? Possibly, and that would have knock on effects to every other piece of society as the media is the most powerful piece of our system. This does not fix the problem of immigration, education, the universities or social decay.
The biggest change though is if Nixon's governmental reorganization goes through and has Connally at the helm for one or two terms. A reduction in the size of the USG leviathan and limitation of its reach or destruction of the New Dealers would have been a massive improvement. Carter and Reagan both worked on government efficiency measures while in office. Nixon's plan was that idea but on steroids. The shift to "ruling the skies", cruise missiles
That is my unified theory on Watergate. Does it matter? Not really. It does go to show the hypocrisy of a Congress and media so dedicated decades ago to uncover Nixon's abuses now dedicated to hushing up Benghazi, Fast and Furious, Gunwalker, IRS Tea Party targeting and whatever Obama scandal you want to throw in that makes a failed burglary in a hotel look small time. Obama is not a threat; he's the hand picked man. Nixon was a threat. He interfered with how the New Deal system was operating, and he wanted to reform it entirely. That system was already wary of his actions and placed assets right under his nose to report and misbehave. Knowing their hated enemy so well, they anticipated he would play dirty and then used an opportunity to its fullest. That was Nixon's biggest mistake. He knew who was in charge. He knew how the system was biased against him from the civil service to the press on a purely political basis. He just did not understand the full extent of their powers in American society. The system proved its grip on power. No president however charismatic or with whatever mandate, has challenged that system since.