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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Watergate ► The End of the End

Dateline August 8, 1974 - President Richard Milhous Nixon tenders his resignation, effective noon the following day, and becomes the first -- and so far only -- President of the United States to resign in disgrace. This was the culmination of events that began on June 17, 1972 when police arrested 5 men for Breaking & Entering into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. At the time White House Press Secretary Ron Zeigler dismissed it as a "third rate burglary." While it might have been "third rate," it was the third rate burglary that brought down a president. The story didn't get much traction until August 1st, when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein wrote their first story for the Washington Post. From that moment on the drip, drip, drip of stories in the Post and other newspapers isolated President Nixon. Once it was proven that Nixon participated in the Watergate cover-up, it was all over for his presidency.

There are so many ironies in this story, but here are just three:

President Nixon posing with the
"expletive deleted" transcripts.
The "Smoking Gun" tape of March 21, 1973 that proved Nixon was up to his ears in the cover-up, was made by a secret automatic recording system that Nixon had installed to preserve his historical legacy. Once the existence of the recordings were made known, Nixon could have had them destroyed; they had yet to be subpoenaed and therefore were not yet evidence. Once they were subpoenaed Nixon tried to tough it out, first claiming Executive Privilege, and then trying to get away with just releasing poorly edited transcripts of the Oval Office conversations. That's when the words "expletive deleted" became a national punchline.

► Nixon's resignation letter (above left) was addressed "Dear Mr. Secretary," which was Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. However, it was Kissinger's apoplectic reaction to earlier leaks, such as the New York Times printing the Pentagon Papers, that led to the creation of the infamous "Plumbers Unit" created to stop the "leaks."

► Nixon's presidency was brought down by Frank Wills, a minimum wage Security Guard at the Watergate Hotel Complex. Wills discovered duct tape on a door in the building while making his rounds, so he removed it. One of the "third rate" burglars saw the tape had been removed and, instead of it alerting them to the fact that the jig was up, replaced the tape. On his next round Wills noticed the tape was back and called police, who arrested the "third rate" burglars in the middle of their "third rate" act. Harry Nilsson dedicated "A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night" to Frank Wills and included a small picture of Mr. Wills on his lapel in the cover photograph. [The other picture is Harry's son Zak, who I am proud to call a friend.] Frank Wills was also memorialized in the song "The Ballad of Frank Wills" by folk artist Ron Turner.

Further Reading on The Aunty Em Ericann Blog:

Watergate ► The Beginning of the End
Aunty Em Ericann's Bun Fight With James Rosen of Fox "News"

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