The Heinous Crime Behind Watergate
Exclusive: The mainstream media’s big takeaway from Richard Nixon’s Watergate resignation is that “the cover-up is always worse than the crime.” But that’s because few understand the crime behind Watergate, Nixon’s frantic search for a file on his 1968 subversion of Vietnam peace talks, reports Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry/ConsortiumNews/ August 9, 2014
To fully understand the Watergate scandal, which led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation 40 years ago, you have to know the back story starting in 1968 when candidate Nixon took part in a secret maneuver to scuttle the Vietnam peace talks and salvage a narrow victory over Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
In essence, what Nixon and his campaign team did was to contact South Vietnamese leaders behind President Lyndon Johnson’s back and promise them a better deal if they stayed away from Johnson’s Paris peace talks, which President Nguyen van Thieu agreed to do. So, with Johnson’s peace talks stymied and with Nixon suggesting that he had a secret plan to end the war, Nixon edged out Humphrey.
After his election, Nixon learned from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover that President Johnson had amassed a detailed file on what Johnson called Nixon’s “treason,” but Nixon couldn’t locate the file once he took office and ordered an intensive search for the material that explained why the Paris peace talks had failed. But the material stayed missing.
Nixon’s worries grew more acute in mid-June 1971 when the New York Times and other major U.S. newspapers began publishing the Pentagon Papers leaked by former Defense Department official Daniel Ellsberg. Though the Pentagon Papers – covering the years 1945 through 1967 – exposed mostly Democratic deceptions, Nixon knew something that few others did, that there was a potential sequel that could be even more explosive than the original.
By mid-1971, an increasingly angry and radical anti-war movement was challenging Nixon’s continuation of the conflict. In early May, a series of demonstrations had sought to shut down Washington. Some 12,000 protesters were arrested, many confined at RFK Stadium in a scene suggesting national disorder.
In June, the Pentagon Papers further fueled the anti-war fury by revealing many of the lies that had led the nation into the bloody Vietnam quagmire. So, Nixon recognized the political danger if someone revealed how Nixon’s pre-election maneuvers in 1968 had prevented President Johnson from bringing the war to an end. Nixon became desperate to get his hands on the missing report (or file) about the failed peace talks.
In a series of tape-recorded meetings beginning on June 17, 1971, Nixon ordered a break-in (or even a fire-bombing) at the Brookings Institution where some Nixon insiders believed the missing material might be hidden in the safe.
“I want it implemented,” Nixon fumed to his senior aides, Henry Kissinger and H.R. “Bob” Haldeman. “Goddamnit, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.”