The resignation of Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) as President of the United States on August 9, 1974, remains one of America’s darkest political moments. The revelation of the break-ins at the Democratic National Committee office in the Watergate complex and the subsequent attempted cover up, riveted American citizens and resulted in the downfall of a political icon. Through the years, myths and disinformation about the Watergate scandal have been propagated causing an aura of mystique over a crime of monumental proportions. I picked up this investigative account by Fred Emery to learn what really happened on June 17, 1972 and the process behind the scenes that led to Nixon’s resignation. And what I found is a book that dives deep into the Watergate scandal to show the reader what really happened from start to finish.
The story about Watergate, as we learn in the book, begins far in advance of the actual break-in and was rooted in retribution, paranoia, arrogance and greed. It shook the foundation of American politics and caused many to question their own Commander-in-Chief. Throughout the book, we are introduced to a steady stream of characters whose names became permanently etched in history due to their involvement in the Watergate affair. Many of them will be familiar to most readers but others forgotten over time. In the story at hand, they are resurrected with their deeds and mis-deeds on full display. The plot, crime and cover-up formed a complex nexus of covert activity that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Emery does a masterful job of putting the pieces together in a narrative that is easy to follow but deeply engaging. And throughout the book, there were times where I could not believe what I was reading.
It is well-known that Nixon recorded nearly all of his conversations in the oval office. The very tapes which he created would later be used to force his resignation and result in the indictments and convictions of several co-conspirators, several of whom will be known to those familiar with the secrets of the CIA and the administration of John F. Kennedy, who by this time had been deceased for nine years. Nixon’s obsession with Kennedy is deeply disturbing and raises more questions than answers. And as to why Nixon would record himself discussing the cover up of a crime is a secret he took with him to his grave. The tapes become the crux of the book as the battle between the White House and John Sirica evolves into clash of the titans. Incredibly, for all of the hours that are on the tapes that were released, there are thousands of minutes that have been hidden from the public. And perhaps it will never be known what they contain.
As the walls around Nixon began to collapse, attention shifted to John Dean (1938- ), who served as Nixon’s White House Counsel. He plays a prominent role in the story and the unavoidable fallout was largely the result of his decisions to cooperated with investigators. But as we see in the book, Dean was not the only person who realized what was at stake and decided to change their tune. Inadvertent comments, disgruntled operatives and eagle-eyed investigators combined to slowly peel the lid of the scandal turning Nixon’s fears into nightmares. And while Dean was in fact, largely responsible for the downfall of Nixon, there are many parts of the story that are either forgotten or ignored. In fact, the importance of Alexander Butterfield (1926-) cannot be overstated. He and Dean were just two members of a group of individuals who would eventually provide investigators with the facts that they needed to open Pandora’s box. And what they found changed the course of American political history. Nixon was eventually pardoned by his successor Gerald Ford, on September 8, 1974 but the damage had been done and he would live with the cloud of Watergate over his head until his death. His action and decisions remain somewhat mystifying and there are still many unanswered questions that will probably never be answered. And among all of them, the one that continues to stand out is what did the President know and when did he know it?
For anyone wishing to learn about the Watergate scandal and the sad ending of a President’s time in office, this is a great place to start. Highly recommended.
Dorothy, “An Amoral and Dangerous Woman”: The Murder of E. Howard Hunt’s Wife – Watergate’s Darkest Secret
On January 23, 2007, E. Howard Hunt died in Miami, Florida at the age of 88. Hunt is best remembered for his conviction as a result of his role in the Watergate scandal that helped end the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. Hunt was also a prime suspect in the murder of John F. Kennedy. His son St. John, spoke with his father prior to his death and their discussion is referred to as his deathbed confession about what he knew about the events in Dallas, Texas. In the years following his death, truths about his role in the Central Intelligence Agency and the events in Dallas disproving his claim to be just a ‘bench warmer” in the crime. Next to Hunt throughout the Watergate crisis was his first wife Dorothy who perished when United Flight 553 crashed on December 8, 1972 as it approached Chicago Midway Airport to make its landing. The NTSB attributed the crash to pilot error but researchers have long suspected sabotage in the crash and have alluded to a long number of disturbing facts surrounding the crash. On the surface, it seems to be just a tragic accident that killed a housewife en route to visit acquaintances. But upon deeper examination of the crash and her life as revealed by her son in this book, the real story of the life of Dorothy Hunt is nearly as intriguing as that of her husband.
St. John Hunt has made himself known in JFK assassination circles. His prior book. Bond of Secrecy: My Life with CIA Spy and Watergate Conspirator E. Howard Hunt, looks into the life of his father and the effects of his profession on their family. Here, the focus is on his mother and her untimely demise. No stranger to the world of covert operations, Dorothy also has a past with intelligence work, having been station in Europe on more than one occasion. Her marriage to the blossoming operative Hunt, was a bond between two intelligence assets deeply involved the back channels of Washington and tied to a president facing a dark fate.
The early parts of their lives reads like a great novel; two young adults, meet, fall in love, start a family and move from one country to the next as their father is reassigned from one post to another. Enter Watergate and the scandal that turned their lives upside down. It is at this point in the book that the rug is pulled right out from under our feet and the dark side of Richard Nixon and Washington politics is revealed. Those old enough to remember Watergate will not be surprised in what is contained in this book. In fact, the book is not a complete source on the investigation as St. John himself points out. This is purely what he saw his parents go through as his father faced criminal prosecution and the impact his mother’s dad had on his life and those of his siblings. What is evidently clear from taped conversations at the Nixon White House and St. John’s account, is that his father’s legal defense was being paid for by Nixon and the money was also intended to keep Hunt quiet. Following her death, Hunt ended up being convicted and served thirty-three months in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal.
The lives of St. John and his siblings would never be the same again. Fallout from Watergate and the loss of their mother caused splits between siblings as each struggled to put their lives back together and come to terms with what they had been through. I do not believe they will ever get over what happened but have learned to cope with it on a daily basis. It is clear that St. John, the first son of the family had a special bond with his mother. The heartache and grief he experienced is evident in the pages of this book. And through his words, her memory continues to live on.
At the conclusion of the book, there is a section on the crash itself and the investigation by Sherman Skolnick (1930-2006), a noted conspiracy theorist and activist who challenged the NTSB’s position of pilot error. This part of the book is an added bonus and reveals a ton of incredible and troubling information about the crash. And what was once believed to be an open and shut case is revealed to be far more complicated and sinister. While it is not inconclusively proven that Dorothy Hunt died as a result of homicide, there are dozens of deeply disturbing facts about the incident that should have raised the eyebrows of anyone investigating the crime. And next to 9/11, it is the only case I can think of where the FBI preempted an investigation by the NTSB, removing key evidence from the scene while preventing emergency personnel from completing their assigned tasks. The complete story of what really happened that day may never be known but what we do know is that many strange things were occurring that had nothing to do with pilot error.
JFK Assassination researchers may be looking for a smoking gun but it will not be found here. In fact, not much about Dallas is discussed. In St. John’s defense, that was not the purpose of the book. His intention was to bring his mother’s story to light which he succeeds in doing. And although he did get some factual information wrong, the story is still a good read about a family caught up in one of the greatest crimes in American political history.