Physical evidence that might or might not have corroborated the testimony was destroyed by a number of people involved in and peripheral to first burglary, including G. Gordon Liddy, Jeb Magruder, John Dean, and the acting head of the FBI at the time, L. Patrick Gray, who resigned after his admission of destruction of evidence that had been taken from the safe of E. Howard Hunt.
As a result, the only information available concerning the first burglary is contained in the sworn testimony and anecdotal accounts of the participants themselves.
As Senator Howard Baker reflected during congressional Watergate inquiries, the available testimony and accounts are "in conflict and in corroboration."
E. Howard Hunt, one of the two admitted co-commanders, said under oath in congressional testimony that the reason for the first burglary was because G. Gordon Liddy "had information" from "a government agency" that "the Cuban government was supplying funds to the Democratic Party." Hunt said that to "investigate this report, a surreptitious entry of Democratic national headquarters at the Watergate was made." No such report from a government agency was produced in evidence, and no other physical evidence is in the record to support or corroborate this motive.
G. Gordon Liddy, Hunt's co-commander, has never cited Cuban contributions to the Democrats as a motive for a first burglary. For several decades Liddy never cited any reason for a first burglary except an oral order Liddy said he received in a private meeting with Nixon adviser Jeb Magruder, which Liddy says took place "toward the end of April" 1972. According to Liddy, Magruder said that he "wanted to hear anything that was going on inside the office of Larry O'Brien, who was the chairman of the DNC" (and who was in Miami, Florida at the time); that Magruder "wanted to be able to monitor his [O'Brien's] telephone conversations;" and that "if there was anything else lying around," that was to be photographed.
In 1968, O'Brien was appointed by Vice President Hubert Humphrey to serve nationally as the director of his presidential campaign and by Howard Hughes to serve in Washington as his public-policy lobbyist. O'Brien was elected in 1968 and 1970 by the DNC to serve nationally as its chairman. With the upcoming Presidential election, John H. Meier a former business adviser to Howard Hughes, working with Hubert Humphrey and others, wanted to feed misinformation to Richard Nixon. In late 1971, the President’s brother Donald Nixon, was collecting intelligence for his brother at the time and was asking Meier about Larry O'Brien. Meier told Donald that he was sure the Democrats would win the election since they had a lot of information on Richard Nixon’s illicit dealings with Howard Hughes that had never been released, and that Larry O’Brien had the information, (O’Brien didn’t actually have any documents but Meier wanted Richard Nixon to think he did). Donald then called his brother and told him that Meier gave the Democrats all the Hughes information that could destroy him (Richard Nixon) and that O’Brien has it. Nixon's Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman said he believes Nixon told his Chief Counsel Chuck Colson to get the goods on O’Brien’s connection with Hughes. This would have provided the President with the motivation to break into O’Brien’s office, as he wanted to see if anything was going to break before the election.
In more recent years, Liddy began to state in speeches, and in a subsequent libel suit, that the motive for a first burglary at the DNC was John Dean's desire to determine whether the Democrats possessed information embarrassing to Dean, and that the burglars, without Liddy's knowledge at the time, must have been seeking a compromising photograph of Dean's fiancée. (In contrast, E. Howard Hunt and Bernard Barker have said under oath that the participants had been instructed to photograph documents on Democratic donors and financial records.)
There is no verifiable evidence of any motive for a first burglary at the Watergate complex.
G. Gordon Liddy, 24 years after the events in question, has sworn under oath that the first he ever heard about an entry into the Watergate was "in late April" 1972, when he was called to Jeb Magruder's office and orally asked in private if he could "get into the Watergate."
Concerning that late April 1972 meeting with Magruder, the following exchange occurred according to a sworn deposition of G. Gordon Liddy from 1996:
Q: Mr. Liddy, up until the time you received the order to enter the Watergate from Mr. Magruder, had the notion of an illegal entry into the Watergate been raised before?
Liddy: No. Had not.
This testimony is contradicted by the accounts of both James McCord and Howard Hunt and by Liddy’s own memoir from 1980 in which he says that even before the meeting with Magruder in late April, 1972, he himself had “targeted the DNC headquarters [at the Watergate] for later, when and if it became the headquarters of the successful Democratic candidate at their convention”. In answering Magruder’s question whether he could “get into the Watergate,” Liddy said, according to his own memoir that “Yes. It's a high-security building, but we can do it. It's a bit early, though.” [Will, p. 219]. Howard Hunt writes in his memoir that during a meeting in which he was introduced to James McCord by Liddy, there was “a brief discussion of Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office building, and I inferred that DNC headquarters might be an eventual electronic target.” [Undercover, p. 210] During his Ervin Committee appearance, Hunt said that the first he heard about plans to burglarize the DNC was "one afternoon" in April 1972 at "about the time he [Liddy] introduced me to Mr. McCord." According to Hunt, Liddy told him that they were "going to hit [...] the DNC headquarters," but did not identify any superior from whom the supposed order came [Hunt testimony, SSC 9, p. 3792] James McCord writes in his memoir that he met Hunt in Liddy’s presence in Hunt’s offices at the Mullen Company on April 12 1972, and that Hunt said on this occasion “that a survey of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters would be made shortly.” According to McCord, he, Hunt and Liddy agreed “to go together and look over the DNC office building a couple of evenings later after the close of business.” [Piece of Tape, p. 18] E. Howard Hunt has sworn under oath that "In April 1972, Mr. Liddy told me that we would be undertaking the Watergate operation...."
That the plan to burglarize the DNC and to bug the phones of its Chairman Larry O'Brien had originated before mid-April 1972 is strongly confirmed by a letter dated April 15 1972, and addressed to legendary muckraking journalist Jack Anderson. The letter came from the New York publisher of the local Manhattan Tribune, William Haddad. Haddad, who was close to the Democratic Party, informed Anderson that he had learned from a New York private detective--later identified as A.J. Woolston-Smith who had provided Haddad with relevant information since December 1971--that agents working for the Republicans were planning to wiretap phones in the DNC at the Watergate, especially the phone of Chairman O’Brien. According to Haddad, the operation was supposed to be carried out by the so-called “November Group, Inc.,” a New York City-based working group of leading PR people from the Big Apple that had been founded by G. Gordon Liddy a couple of months earlier to work out a strategy for promoting Nixon’s re-election on behalf of CREEP. Woolston-Smith’s information came from the November Group itself with either Liddy or--as Anderson claims in his memoir--James McCord (who was responsible for “security” of the November Group and had earlier searched its offices for bugs) being the ultimate source. Anderson checked the story as told by Haddad on April 15 - that is including the false details about the November Group itself carrying out the spying operation. As the journalist narrates in his memoir, he found nothing suspicious about Liddy's New York enterprise and therefore, “[t]o my everlasting regret, I dismissed the tip.” Even before April 1972, that is in a letter dated March 23 1972, Haddad had written to his friend Larry O'Brien that he had information about the Republican Party planning to use “sophisticated surveillance techniques” against the Democrats in the election year, but at that point did yet say (or know) nothing about the DNC or O'Brien himself being specific targets of this surveillance.
Liddy’s several accounts place the latest date for genesis of a Watergate entry plan at approximately Tuesday, April 25, 1972 or during that work week. But the versions of James McCord and Howard Hunt and the circumstantial evidence of Haddad's letter to Anderson suggest that a Watergate operation had been discussed between Liddy, Hunt and McCord already in the first half of April, 1972.
In early 1972 Liddy presented for approval two versions of a plan drawn up by Liddy and E. Howard Hunt for political intelligence activities. The plans were presented in closed-door meetings in the office of Attorney General John Mitchell, with Mitchell, John Dean, and Jeb Magruder present at both Liddy presentations. These plans in their various incarnations have become known as "GEMSTONE."
G. Gordon Liddy, 24 years after the events in question, has stated under oath that entry into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at Watergate was never part of any plan he presented for approval. But James McCord testified before Congress in 1973 that in early discussions with Liddy on Liddy's plan in January or February 1972, he provided input on the potential costs and need of manpower for electronic surveillance of specific targets. In the course of these discussions, as McCord later remembered, Liddy asked among other things for the number of pieces of equipment necessary "to transmit and receive transmissions from the Democratic National Committee headquarters." According to McCord, the three specific targets of potential electronic surveillance that he and Liddy discussed in January or February 1972 were the DNC at the Watergate, the headquarters of George McGovern, and the "convention site" for the Democratic National Convention in Miami.
Liddy has sworn under oath that Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate was not a proposed target for any "surreptitious entry" or electronic surveillance in the 4 February 1972 proposal (or in any other proposal he ever submitted). John Mitchell swore under oath that no specific targets were discussed in the 4 February 1972 meeting. John Dean and Jeb Magruder swore under oath that specific targets were discussed, but their independent accounts disagree or are uncertain on what those specific targets were.
Both Magruder and Dean have testified that the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami was one of the targets discussed—having been named as Democratic National Convention (not "Committee") headquarters at the time. Both said they thought Democratic National Committee chairman Larry O'Brien had been brought up as a target, but it is unclear as to location—Miami or D.C. Both said they thought that Democratic National Committee headquarters had been brought up, but John Dean was unclear about where that referred to, indicating possible confusion between "Democratic National Convention," "Democratic National Committee," and the location of Committee chairman, Larry O'Brien—who was actively participating in the planning and set-up of the Democratic National Convention in Miami then, traveling "back and forth" between there and D.C.
At all relevant times offhand use of the initials "DNC" could have stood for either "Democratic National Committee"—which was headquartered in the Watergate in Washington, D.C.—or for "Democratic National Convention"—which was being planned and organized in Miami, Florida, with the Fontainebleau Hotel having been named as its location.
The extreme dates for the origin of any operation related to Watergate are Friday, 4 February 1972 (Magruder testimony) and approximately Tuesday, 25 April 1972 (Liddy testimony), a period of 81 days.
Magruder alone has stated that a first burglary at the Watergate was part of this plan memo.
John Mitchell swore under oath, and until he died, that there was no mention of Watergate in the memo, and that he never approved any Liddy plan memo at all.
Fred LaRue testified that Mitchell only said, "Well, we don't have to do anything on this right now." Fred LaRue also testified that while the memo Magruder had brought to the meeting referred to "electronic surveillance," LaRue could not recall any specific targets being named.
Liddy was not at the Key Biscayne meeting, but was in Washington, D.C. at the time. He has sworn under oath that he never put the Watergate as a target in any plan he submitted for approval.
Magruder—the sole source of assertion that Watergate was in the memo—has changed his own testimony about the Key Biscayne meeting several times. Under oath, Magruder said that John Mitchell approved the memo concerning a "Liddy plan" on his own. More recently, Magruder told PBS that he overheard Nixon himself on the phone to John Mitchell on 30 March 1972 ordering approval of a "Liddy plan" to break into DNC headquarters and plant wiretaps.
The Key Biscayne memo does not survive. The earlier Liddy plans do not survive. However, there is strong circumstantial evidence that Mitchell had indeed signed off a condensed Liddy/Gemstone plan for political espionage: While still in Key Biscayne, Magruder, on March 31, phoned Gordon Strachan, an aide to Nixon's Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman and told him among other things (as both of them later testified) about Mitchell's approval for a downgraded Liddy plan. Based on this vocal information, Strachan prepared a "Political Matters Memorandum" for Haldeman, in which this fact was also mentioned. While this document does not survive, most likely because it was destroyed during the Watergate cover-up (but Strachan later testified about its content), another memo from Strachan for Haldeman tackling the same issue in fact has come down to us. In a "Talking Paper," dated April 4 1972 and prepared for an upcoming meeting of Haldeman with Mitchell on the same day, Strachan wrote as second item on the list: "Gordon Liddy’s intelligence operation proposal ($300) has been approved. Now you may want to cover with Mitchell who will be privy to the information. [...] Now that Liddy will begin receiving this political intelligence information, you may want to cover with Mitchell, who should be charged with the responsibility of translating the intelligence into an appropriate political response." Although both Haldeman and Mitchell later denied having discussed this intelligence operation on the occasion of their meeting on April 4 1972, the strong circumstantial evidence suggests that they did exactly this. In the words of Watergate historian Fred Emery: "Had Mitchell truly disapproved of Liddy's Plan or even deferred a decision, he would surely have countermanded what was about to happen. The record shows he had an opportunity to do so but did not. For almost immediately Mitchell was asked to authorize Liddy's suddenly large requests for money [at CREEP]. Instead of saying 'What the hell is that for?' Mitchell assented."
Magruder has sworn under oath that Watergate entry was an idea that originated from Liddy and Hunt, that it was included in the February 4, 1972 plan that Liddy presented to Mitchell, Magruder, and Dean, and that it was included in the Key Biscayne memo, March 30, 1972.
There are no documents and no evidence in existence that can prove or counter either conflicting claim.
Bernard Barker said in congressional hearings that although he had been briefed on the Ameritas dinner being held, the first time he was told that the dinner was a cover for a burglary attempt was on 22 May 1972 at the Mullen public relations firm in Washington, D.C., where E. Howard Hunt worked, after Barker had flown with his men to Washington to attend the dinner. Barker went on to testify that he then briefed the other men about the burglary.
Virgilio González, the locksmith recruited by Barker and Hunt for the burglary, said in congressional testimony that he heard nothing at all about a planned burglary until late on the night of the dinner, after the meal was over, and that Hunt told him then that that's what they were there for.
In congressional testimony, Hunt said that he and Virgilio Gonzalez had "noticed there was...a magnetic alarm" only after he and Gonzalez became locked in the Continental Room late that night when the dinner was over.
Liddy, in his autobiography, said McCord had "discovered that the alarm was not activated until 11 p.m.," and that was "the key" to their plan, because they "expected the DNC headquarters would be vacant well before 11 p.m," allowing them to get into the access corridor before the alarm was activated. According to Liddy, that plan was thwarted when a guard looked in at 10:30 and told them they would have to leave. Liddy says that he left the Continental Room dinner then with others (see "Whereabouts of G. Gordon Liddy," above).
In deposition testimony under oath, Liddy said the alarm on the door to the corridor was supposed to be "disarmed by McCord" after it was activated at 11:00 p.m., "and that would be how we would get in." According to Liddy's sworn testimony, "everything went according to plan until it came time for Mr. McCord to disarm the alarm, and he was unable to do so."
According to Liddy, McCord had two important assignments on the first burglary: "to place a tap on the telephone in the office of Lawrence O'Brien and to place a room monitoring device in the office of Lawrence O'Brien." By 26 May 1972, date of the Ameritas dinner, Liddy had given at least $69,000 in cash to McCord for the purchase of electronic equipment.
Liddy says that on the night of the Ameritas dinner McCord was elsewhere, reporting by walkie-talkie whether the DNC headquarters was yet vacant. E. Howard Hunt says that McCord was "across the street"—room 419 at the Howard Johnson's motel. Hunt also has stated that McCord was in walkie-talkie communication with him later in the evening, after Hunt and Gonzalez hid in a closet of the Continental Room, and that McCord was reporting to Hunt on the status of the DNC headquarters in the Watergate.
The only room at the Howard Johnson's across the street that McCord had occupancy of and access to on 26 May 1972 was room 419, on the fourth floor. The DNC offices in the Watergate were on the sixth floor. Liddy said in his autobiography: "McCord told me he had rented a room at the Howard Johnson's motel across the street from the Watergate, but it was on the fourth floor. To see into the DNC offices, he'd need one higher up, which he promised to get." McCord did get room 723 in the Howard Johnson's, on the seventh floor, but not until 29 May 1972, three days after the Ameritas dinner.
In his autobiography Hunt said that everyone left earlier, at 10:00 p.m., and that he and Gonzalez stayed behind then hoping to "proceed through the corridor before the alarm system was armed at eleven."
In congressional testimony Hunt said one reason for having stayed behind at 11:00 with Gonzalez was to open the door to the corridor leading into the office building where DNC headquarters were, but said "we noticed there was an alarm, magnetic door alarm."
Gonzalez testified under oath that after everyone had left, he emerged from the closet with Hunt and tried to open the corridor door—"the door going into the building." When he did, Gonzalez said he discovered "that it had the alarm connected," and told Hunt: "If we open that door, the alarm will go off."
In his autobiography, Hunt wrote that "the entire banquet subterfuge had been wasted" because McCord had not "neutralized the corridor alarm system as promised."
In congressional testimony, Hunt said another reason that he and Gonzalez, the locksmith, stayed behind when everyone else left at 11:00 was to re-open the locked main entry doors to the Continental Room. Hunt says in his autobiography that Gonzalez did attempt to pick the main Continental Room entrance doors, but that despite Gonzalez's "best efforts, the lock would not yield."
Virgilio Gonzalez said in congressional testimony that he did not attempt to pick the lock on the main doors to the Continental Room at all because they were glass and "somebody could see me." According to Gonzalez, he never had a chance to pick that lock.
All accounts say that Hunt and Gonzalez spent the night locked in the Continental Room.
Bernard Barker told Congressional investigators that his "only job" on the first burglary was to "search for documents to be photographed" by Eugenio Martínez.
Hunt's own detailed account of the Ameritas dinner, where the burglary team was gathered for the purposes of getting access to the DNC offices after hours, does not mention the photography equipment. In a later account of a second failed attempt at the first burglary (see Second burglary attempt, night of 27–28 May 1972), Hunt describes the Cubans having "a suitcase" to carry the photo equipment and lights in, plus "a hatbox" to carry a Polaroid camera and film, but neither Hunt, nor any of the other participants who have described the Ameritas dinner, mention anything about the presence of photography equipment for the burglary being at the dinner.
Baldwin is detailed in his account, making reference to McCord having been looking for a "yellow Volkswagen" with a "boy" in it—Thomas Gregory, one of Hunt's operatives working on the inside at McGovern headquarters—before they pulled up next to "a light colored car" from which Liddy emerged. According to Baldwin, Liddy got into the car with McCord and Baldwin. Baldwin says that after riding around for over a half an hour in discussion about the prospects of getting into McGovern headquarters, Liddy said, "We'll abort the mission."
Baldwin also testified that he had been introduced by McCord to G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt only hours earlier, during the afternoon of 26 May 1972, prior to the Ameritas dinner, in room 419 of the Howard Johnson's motel.
G. Gordon Liddy swore in deposition testimony, and wrote in his autobiography, that he did not meet Alfred Baldwin at all until four days later, on 31 May 1972, in what Liddy described as the "observation post" room at the Howard Johnson's motel across Virginia Avenue from the Watergate.27 May 1972, continuing into the early morning hours of Sunday, 28 May 1972. The two most detailed accounts come from the co-commanders, Liddy and Hunt, whose accounts not only contradict each other, but expose other contradictions and omissions.
According to Hunt, on the evening of Saturday, 27 May 1972, he had Bernard Barker and Eugenio Martínez (a.k.a. Rolando) come to the room that Hunt and Liddy were staying in at the Watergate Hotel. Hunt says he had them set up the "lights and camera and photographing equipment," and simulate photographing documents while he watched them. He then briefed them again on the importance of photographing Democratic "account books, contributor lists, that sort of thing." They then packed the photography equipment and lights into a suitcase to carry with them in the new burglary attempt, along with a hatbox carrying a Polaroid camera and film [Undercover, p. 225].
No such photography dry-run is reported to have been done prior to the previous night's Ameritas dinner.
Both Hunt and Liddy say in their respective accounts that later on the evening of 27 May 1972, Barker, Martinez, Gonzales, and Frank Sturgis went to the garage-level entrance to the stairway, where McCord had "taped the locks," and there met up with McCord[Undercover, p. 225; Will, p. 231].
Hunt has said that there was a "guard change at eight o'clock," after which McCord had taped the locks. He then states that "a little after ten o'clock" word came from McCord—who was in room 419 of the Howard Johnson's—that the DNC headquarters were empty, so the Cubans "made ready to go." [Undercover, p. 225]
In Liddy's account, the failed burglary attempt happened around midnight. According to Liddy, there was not a "guard change" at eight o'clock, but "a building inspection." According to Liddy, they all were waiting for hours after that for word from McCord at the Howard Johnson's that the DNC headquarters were empty, which didn't come until "too close to the midnight shift change and building inspection" for Liddy's comfort, so they "waited until that was accomplished and sent in the team." [Will, p. 231]
Hunt and Liddy do agree that the Cubans met up with McCord at the garage-level entrance and climbed six flights of stairs to the DNC headquarters, where Gonzalez attempted for some time without success to pick the lock on the main door [Undercover, p. 225; Will, p. 231].
Gonzalez had been recruited for the job because he was a locksmith. On or about Tuesday, 23 May 1972, Gonzalez had been taken overtly up to the sixth floor of the Watergate by McCord to view the entrance to DNC headquarters, so Gonzalez had gotten to see the actual DNC lock four days before this second burglary attempt. Hunt states in his autobiography that on Wednesday, 24 May 1972, he had gone up "to the glass doors of DNC headquarters" and had "pressed a lump of plasteline against the door lock." With it, Hunt says he "made a plaster cast from which Virgilio Gonzalez was to be able to determine the kind of lock-picking devices he would need for the entry."
Plasteline is a non-hardening clay. Pressing plasteline into a lock generally results in a lock filled with plasteline, not an impression of the key for the lock. If Hunt did end up with something from which a plaster cast could have been made—which would have required the intermediate step of a rubber mold—he would have had a plaster casting of the key needed to unlock the door.
Given that Hunt says that he made the plasteline impression on Wednesday, 24 May 1972, the locksmith Virgilio Gonzalez would have had a model of the key to DNC headquarters for two days before the Ameritas dinner on the night of 26 May, and three days before the 27 May second attempt.
A different account of how the burglary team reached the DNC that night is provided by one of the Cubans, Eugenio Martínez. He says that the plan for the second burglary was to wait until the last lights went out at the DNC and then "to go through the front door" of the Watergate business building. According to Martinez "all seven of us in McCord's army" (without elaborating who these seven were) went to the Watergate complex around midnight, where McCord rang a bell and McCord told the policeman who let them in that they were going to the Federal Reserve office at the eighth floor. Although Martinez says that the excuse of "eight men" going to work at midnight "seemed funny" to him, they then signed the visitors' book, went up to the eighth floor by elevator and back down to the sixth by foot. Martinez also reports the failed attempt by Gonzalez to pick the lock.
While this was happening, Martinez goes on to tell, James McCord would now and then leave the group and walk up to the eighth floor. When Martinez went up there around 2 o'clock to report to him the problems they had in opening the door, he witnessed McCord talking with two guards. Although Martinez believed that the burglars had been caught, that was not the case; rather, "McCord knew the guards" and Martinez didn't ask any further questions [Martinez, Mission Impossible].
Hunt and Liddy provide different accounts of how they learned of the lockpicking failure:
Hunt says that he and Liddy had waited in their "command post" room at the Watergate Hotel (not room 419 of the Howard Johnson's), getting reports by walkie-talkie of the men's progress to DNC headquarters, then getting a report that Gonzalez was working on the lock. Hunt says that about an hour passed after that, when "Barker came on the air to report that Gonzalez was unable to pick the lock" because he "doesn't have the right tools." In Hunt's account, Liddy then ordered the men over walkie-talkie to leave the building and report back to the "command post." [Undercover, p. 225-6]
Liddy says that he and Hunt waited to "learn by radio" that the attempt had been successful, but that no radio report came. Instead, he says, the men merely showed back up at the "command post" in "about forty-five minutes," and that there, in person, Barker reported Gonzalez's failure to pick the lock. Liddy goes so far as to say that he was concerned enough about the lock having been damaged by Gonzalez that he, accompanied by "a couple of Cubans," took the risk of going up the elevator to the DNC headquarters himself and inspecting it while Hunt and the others waited in the "command post." Liddy says the lock had "marks of tampering," but they "weren't obvious," so he returned to the room at the Watergate Hotel [Will, p. 231-2].
Liddy goes on to say that he "overrode Hunt's objections and ordered Gonzalez to return to Miami the following morning for the correct tools." Hunt says that he, not Liddy, "excoriated" Barker and Gonzalez, and told Barker that he "wanted Villo [Gonzalez] to return to Miami in the morning, pick up whatever tools he might need and return by nightfall."
In congressional testimony, Hunt was asked if there had been a second unsuccessful burglary attempt after the Ameritas dinner. Hunt replied under oath:
"I recall something about that, but it seems to me that was more in the nature of a familiarization tour, that McCord took not more than one or two of the men up there and walked them down [sic] to the sixth floor to show them the actual door. Then they simply got back into the elevator. It was simply a familiarizing with the operational problem of the two glass doors that opened into the Democratic National headquarters."
Liddy said in sworn deposition: "There were two things they were to do. One was the telephone of Larry O'Brien, wiretap, and the other was a room monitoring device of Larry O'Brien's office."
Hunt said in his autobiography that "photography had been the priority mission," and that "the photography mission was paramount." Bernard Barker said in congressional testimony that his "only job" on the first burglary was to "search for documents to be photographed" by Eugenio Martínez, namely "documents that would involve contributions of a national and foreign nature to the Democratic campaign, especially to Senator McGovern, and also, possibly to Senator Kennedy," and in particular any contributions from "the foreign government that now exists on the island of Cuba."
Liddy said in his autobiography, also, that he had joined Hunt in the command post at the Watergate on 28 May 1972, and was there throughout, but when asked in sworn testimony where he was during the first burglary, Liddy said "it is not so clear to me exactly where I was at what time, but I was in the area."
According to Hunt, McCord came from "the Listening Post"—room 419 of the Howard Johnson's across the street—to report that there had been "little activity" in the Democratic headquarters that day. Hunt says, "the blinds had been conveniently raised, permitting observation from the Listening Post, and as matters stood, only one employee was in the sixth-floor offices" of the DNC. Liddy, though, has said that "to see into the DNC offices", a room was needed on a higher floor of the Howard Johnson's than room 419, and such a room was not rented by McCord until the following day, 29 May 1972, when records show that McCord rented room 723.
Still, Hunt says that McCord took two walkie-talkies and "left for the Listening Post to continue observing the sixth-floor target windows," and that shortly thereafter Hunt and Liddy were joined by Bernard Barker, Eugenio Martínez, Frank Sturgis, and Virgilio Gonzalez.
Liddy says that around 9:45 p.m. word came from McCord that the DNC offices were empty. At around 11:00 p.m. Liddy and Hunt say they then sent the four men who were with them to the Watergate garage area to meet McCord, who earlier had taped the locks.
In Hunt's account, the men climbed the stairs to the sixth floor, and within 15 minutes it was reported by Bernard Barker over the walkie-talkies that Gonzalez had successfully picked the lock on the main door of the DNC. "Shortly after midnight," says Hunt, Barker reported that the team was leaving the Watergate.
According to Liddy, when the men returned to the command post room, Barker had "two rolls of 36-exposure 35-mm film he'd expended on material from O'Brien's desk, along with Polaroid shots of the desk and office." Hunt says Barker reported having "found on Lawrence O'Brien's desk a pile of correspondence," which Barker and Martinez "had photographed while McCord worked elsewhere in the office suite."
In congressional testimony, under oath, Bernard Barker said that the men never were in Larry O'Brien's office at all during the 28 May 1972 first burglary, giving that as the reason in his testimony for the later burglary on 17 June 1972 during which the men were arrested.
James McCord said in congressional testimony that during the first burglary he had placed a bug on Larry O'Brien's phone.
There is some contradictory testimony by the Watergate co-conspirators concerning the questions what was photographed by the burglars during the first Watergate entry, where the photos were taken, which kind of equipment was used and how many cameras were taken into the DNC that night. On the other hand, there is strong agreement among the testimonies of the co-conspirators, of other people involved and of the employee of a Miami photo shop that photos of DNC documents were in fact taken on 35-mm films during a burglary at the Watergate office building on May 28/29, 1972, that the results of this photo shooting were later developed in a photo shop in Miami and that the prints of these photos were delivered to CREEP by G. Gordon Liddy.
G. Gordon Liddy has stated in his 1980 biography Will that two kinds of photos were taken during the first Watergate burglary: Shots of documents of “material from O’Brien’s desk” exposed on 35-mm film as well as “Polaroid shots of the desk and office before anything was touched so that it could all be returned to proper order before leaving.” [Will, p. 233]. Liddy has also stated in his 1980 biography and in sworn testimony in 1996 that on Monday, 29 May (Memorial Day) 1972, he delivered to Jeb Magruder the Polaroid photographs of the interior of the Watergate office of Democratic National Committee Chairman Lawrence O'Brien. Liddy says he told Magruder that the Polaroids had been taken by Bernard Barker on the night before, 28 May 1972, during a "successful entry" into the DNC offices at the Watergate [Will, p. 234]:
"On Monday morning, 29 May, I reported to Magruder the successful entry into Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate. For proof, I showed him Polaroid photographs of the interior of Larry O'Brien's office, taken by Bernard Barker."
No other person involved confirms Liddy’s version that Polaroid photos were taken at or of Larry O’Brien’s office or of his desk or at all during the first Watergate burglary and that these photos were handed over to Jeb Magruder on Monday, May 29 1972, the morning after the burglary. Magruder writes in his memoir that Liddy, on May 29 1972, in fact only informed him that documents had been photographed the night before in the DNC and that he, Magruder, told Liddy “to show me the results as soon as he had them.” [American Life, p. 209] According to Magruder, he received the “photographs of some documents from Larry O’Brien’s files” in “early June” [American Life, p. 209]. As Liddy tells us in his own memoir, when Magruder asked him whether the documents photographed during the first Watergate entry included material from locked file cabinets in the DNC, Liddy answered they didn’t “because our instructions had been to photograph whatever was available while the electronic installation was being accomplished, adding that the men had gone in with only one camera.” [Will, p. 236, emphasis added].
There is some dispute among the Watergate conspirators on whether the documents were taken from and/or the photographs made in the office of Chairman Larry O’Brien or elsewhere in the DNC. Bernard Barker testified in congressional hearings that he never was in Lawrence O'Brien's office during the first burglary, stating that the burglars never "came to the office of the Chairman" until the "second entry" on 17 June 1972, both were not present in the DNC in the night of the first Watergate entry), later in their memoirs described the photographed documents as showing “material from O’Brien’s desk” [Will, p.233] or “documents from Larry O’Brien’s files” [American Life, p. 209]. Howard Hunt writes in his memoir that Barker had reported to him after the burglary that “rather than commence searching the file cabinets as instructed, he had found on Larry O’Brien’s desk a pile of correspondence. This he and Martinez had photographed while McCord worked elsewhere in the office suite.” [Undercover, p. 228]. Barker himself has admitted that during this first Watergate burglary, he was searching the DNC for documents proofing the assumed financial contributions from Cuba or from leftist organizations to the DNC. Because he could find none, Barker says, he looked out for documents where specific names were mentioned or others where numbers were involved. Eugenio Martínez wrote in 1974 that, during the first Watergate burglary, Barker had handed these documents (which Martinez believed to be lists of contributors to the Democratic Party) to him and that it was he, Martinez, who had taken some 30 or 40 photos of them while James McCord “worked the phones”. This version is confirmed by James McCord, who explains in his memoir that while he "had been working on the electronic end of the operation, the Miami men had their photographic equipment out and were snapping photographs of a variety of documents which Barker and the others had been pouring over." [Piece of Tape, p. 25] According to Martinez, immediately after the successful entry into the DNC, he handed the two exposed films over to Howard Hunt.
As J. Anthony Lukas writes in his Watergate book Nightmare, Hunt flew to Miami on June 10 1972 (that is almost two weeks after the burglary), met there with Bernard Barker for lunch and handed the two rolls of film over to him. Hunt asked Barker to get the film developed. According to a Watergate article by burglar Eugenio Martínez, Barker in fact didn’t know that these films were the ones with the photos taken by Martinez during the Watergate burglary. During its Watergate investigation, the FBI established that Barker on the same day of June 10 1972, brought the two rolls of exposed films to a photo shop in Miami. As the son of the owner, Michael Richardson, later explained to the FBI, while developing the exactly 38 photos, he realized that the pictures were taken during a “cloak-and-dagger” activity and later told Barker so. The photos showed hands in surgical gloves holding documents mentioning for example the names of a member of the Kennedy family (either Bobby or Teddy) and of Hubert Humphrey as well as “more or less a file on this woman who headed up Humphrey’s campaign.” The photo specialist also remembered shots of interoffice memos and shorthand notes as well as documents showing the heading “Chairman Democratic National Committee.” Because the FBI was later unable to locate the rug seen in the background of the photos (described as a shag rug with a long nap by Richardson) in the DNC, Watergate researcher Jim Hougan has concluded that a “double cross had taken place” and that, without Barker’s knowledge, the exposed films had secretly been exchanged with others, either by McCord or by Hunt or by both of them. Less dramatically, J. Anthony Lukas writes that, because there was a shag rug in James McCord’s hotel room 419 at the Howard Johnson Motor Inn, this suggested that “the burglars had taken at least some of the documents back there to photograph.”According to Lukas [Nightmare, p. 201], Barker brought the shots (developed quickly on the same day for a 40$ surcharge) to Miami airport, handed them over to Hunt who brought them back to Washington. Liddy writes in his memoir that around June 11 1972, Hunt gave him the prints of the photos taken in the DNC and that he “put them, together with the second batch of edited logs [of McCord’s phone tap], into the usual two sealed envelopes for delivery to John Mitchell.” [Will, p. 238].
In the week after the Watergate arrests of June 17 1972, the FBI's early success in getting information from Richardson on photos shot during the first Watergate burglary of May 28/29, 1972 contributed to the general concern of President Nixon’s closest advisers that the Watergate investigation was going “in some directions we don’t want it to go.” As the transcript of the famous first "Smoking Gun” conversation of June 23 1972 (the publication of which in mid-summer 1974 almost immediately led to the first and only resignation of an American president), shows, Richard Nixon was informed that day in the Oval Office by his Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman that (one day) earlier “an informant came in off the street to the FBI in Miami, who was a photographer or has a friend who is a photographer who developed some films through this guy Barker, and the films had pictures of Democratic National Committee letter head documents and things.”
All in all, books and testimonies by Liddy, Hunt, Magruder, McCord, Barker, Martinez and photo shop employee Richardson support the conclusion that the House Judiciary Committee under Peter Rodino reached during its hearings on the impeachment of President Nixon in 1974: That during a burglary at the Watergate office building in the night of May 28/29, 1972, photos were taken of DNC documents and that the prints of these photographs were subsequently handed over to Jeb Stuart Magruder at CREEP [Judiciary Committee, book 1, p. 215 and 233].
McCord testified in congressional hearings that all instructions and priorities for the first burglary came to him from Liddy, and that in the first burglary the "priorities of the installation were first of all, Mr. O'Brien's offices..."
Liddy later testified in a sworn deposition that during the first burglary, McCord had been instructed to place only two electronic bugs: "to place a tap on the telephone in the office of Lawrence O'Brien and to place a room monitoring device in the office of Lawrence O'Brien. ...There were two things they were to do. One was the telephone of Larry O'Brien, wiretap, and the other was a room monitoring device of Larry O'Brien's office."
McCord stated under oath in congressional hearings that during the first burglary, acting on Liddy's instructions, he had placed one bug in a phone extension "that was identified as Mr. O'Brien's," and a second phone bug on "a telephone that belonged to Mr. Spencer Oliver" (Chairman of the Association of Democratic State Chairmen).
Liddy said in his autobiography that on 5 June 1972 he and McCord discussed problems with a "room monitoring device" that McCord had planted. According to Liddy, this conversation between him and McCord about how to fix problems with a "room monitoring" bug is what led to a second burglary.
McCord said in congressional testimony that the reason a second burglary was planned was that Liddy wanted a problem with one of the phone bugs fixed, and also wanted "another device installed...a room bug as opposed to a device on a telephone installed in Mr. O'Brien's office... ."
According to Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin in their book Silent Coup, just a day or two before the burglary on the night of 16–17 June 1972—where the burglars actually were caught with bugging devices in their possession—the telephone company swept the DNC phones for bugs and found none at all.
G. Gordon Liddy said that he was the recipient of all written records of the bugs, and said in sworn testimony: "I wasn't getting any tapes, nor was I getting transcriptions of anything. I was getting logs. ...And the stuff was just of no use at all."
James McCord was responsible for passing the written records from Alfred Baldwin—who was making the records using an electric typewriter—to Liddy. James McCord said in congressional testimony that the records he received were not just logs, as Liddy reported. McCord said the records had "a summary of what was said."
Alfred Baldwin was questioned under oath in congressional hearings about what he had typed up while monitoring the bugs:
Senator Ervin: The information you got while you were at the Howard Johnson [across] from the Democratic headquarters, what form was it in when you gave it to Mr. McCord?
Alfred Baldwin: The initial day, the first day that I recorded the conversations was on a yellow sheet. On Memorial Day...when he [McCord] returned to the room he brought an electric typewriter. He instructed me in the upper left-hand corner to print—or by typewriter...the date, the page, and then proceed down into the body and in chronological order put the time and then the contents of the conversation... .
Senator Ervin: And you typed a summary of the conversations you overheard?
Alfred Baldwin: Well, they weren't exactly a summary. I would say almost verbatim, Senator.
Sally Harmony was G. Gordon Liddy's secretary. She testified in Congress that she had typed up logs of telephone conversations G. Gordon Liddy had supplied to her, and that she typed them on special stationery Liddy also had supplied with the word "GEMSTONE" printed across the top in color.
G. Gordon Liddy later admitted in sworn testimony that what he had supplied to Ms. Harmony was actually his own dictation, which Liddy claims he did from what Baldwin had produced, saying, "On Monday, 5 June , I dictated from the typed logs to Sally Harmony...editing as I went along."
There is a record of room 419 in the Howard Johnson's motel having been rented by James McCord, but it had been rented 21 days earlier than the Memorial Day weekend, on 5 May 1972. Since McCord didn't rent room 723 until 29 May 1972, the day after the purported successful burglary of 28 May 1972, he and Baldwin would have to have moved the receiving equipment the co-conspirators say McCord earlier had installed in room 419 up to room 723 and reinstalled it there on the very day after the purported first burglary.
There is a record of the Continental Room having been used for an Ameritas dinner on the night of 26 May 1972, and witnesses to at least some of the Cuban team having been there, but there is no surviving record of who was actually in attendance.
The "command post" room in the Watergate hotel had been rented by a person or persons unknown using counterfeit ID that the CIA had created and supplied to E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy about ten months earlier, on 23 July 1971 and 20 August 1971 respectively.
There is no physical evidence to account for the whereabouts or activities of E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, James McCord, or Alfred Baldwin for Memorial Day weekend 1972, only their own testimony and anecdotal accounts.
Perhaps the best possible summary of the first burglary is provided by former FBI agent Anthony Ulasewicz. After leaving the FBI, Ulasewicz had worked for Jack Caulfield, whose "Operation Sandwedge" proposal of 1971 was the forerunner to the "GEMSTONE" plan of Liddy and Hunt. Ulasewicz wrote, "I assumed the break-in at the DNC had been orchestrated with an army in order to cover the real purpose of the effort." Others would argue that the neatest summary of the first Watergate burglary is still the conclusion reached by the Rodino Committee during its Presidential Impeachment investigation in 1972: "On or about May 27 1972 under the supervision of Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt, McCord, Barker, Martinez, Gonzalez, and Sturgis, broke into the DNC headquarters. McCord placed two monitoring devices on the telephones of DNC officials, one on the telephone of Chairman Lawrence O'Brien, and the second on the telephone of the executive director of Democratic state chairmen, R. Spencer Oliver, Jr. Barker selected documents relating to the DNC contributors, and these documents were then photographed." [Judiciary Committee, Book I, p. 215]
Frank Wills, Watergate hero, tells of hard times he faces. (former security guard at the Watergate building in Washington, D.C.)
Mar 08, 1993; Nearly 21 years after his discovery of the infamous Watergate building complex break-in, which led to the downfall of the...