Sunday, April 29, 2012

Watergate redux

Ron Rosenbaum thinks he has evidence that Nixon personally ordered the Watergate breakin. I'm not so sure that he does, but his article touches on two of the four great remaining questions about Watergate: two of which everybody else has, and two of which I have because I think the answers to the other two are obvious, while mine seem neglected.

The two questions that everybody else has are:
1. Why did the burglars break in to DNC headquarters? What were they looking for there? If they wanted to spy on the Democratic campaign, why not break into McGovern headquarters instead?
2. Why didn't Nixon destroy the tapes while he still could?

The answer to question 1 is multi-fold.
1. When Liddy's plan was hatched, it was still quite uncertain who the Democratic nominee would be. So that part had to wait.
2. They did try to plant bugs in McGovern headquarters. But they couldn't get in because the security was too good. (And they were bumblers.)
3. There were plenty of good reasons to spy on the DNC. Seeing whether Larry O'Brien had information on the Hughes loans, Rosenbaum's theory, was one - and Nixon himself need not have been the only person on his side worried about that, which is why proof of that motive doesn't say whether Nixon was involved. General Republican distrust and hatred of O'Brien was another - again, that could be Nixon, or others, or both. Most likely, I'd think, given the Nixonites' typical delusions, would be the chance to peer into the DNC's fundraising and look for anything embarrassing, like ties to Castro (which motive is how the Cubans were recruited). This all works as one prong of a dirty tricks scheme; we're misled about its importance to the perpetrators because this was the only prong which got very far.
4. They went into the DNC specifically because Magruder told them to. And there's the rub: who ordered Magruder?

As for question 2, that depends on a psychological understanding of Nixon: how obsessed he was with preserving the history of his presidency (which is why he set up the taping system in the first place), the self-wounding a destruction of the entire archive would have imposed on him (and the impracticality of doing it), and the self-deception that led him to see his misdeeds and even his profanity as merely proofs of his toughness.
Also, it appears that Nixon did try to destroy the tapes selectively. The 18 1/2 minute gap was, despite Rosemary Woods falling on her sword for the boss, no accident. And the other missing conversations? Were they really never recorded, or were they destroyed?

My questions, on the other hand, are:
3. Who approved Gemstone?
4. What on earth made Nixon think he could get away with firing Cox?

Gemstone was the code name of Liddy's dirty tricks plan, the one of which the Watergate breakin was one prong. Liddy presented it to Mitchell (and Magruder) twice, each time being sent back to prepare something cheaper. He wasn't present at the third meeting. Magruder says Mitchell approved it, and he got back to Liddy saying so. Mitchell always insisted he did not. Was Mitchell lying? Probably, but it's not entirely clear. Rosenbaum thinks Nixon ordered Mitchell to approve it. To my way of thinking, that matters a lot in regard to Nixon's guilt, but it doesn't affect the basic question of veracity between Mitchell and Magruder.

As for question 4, I can grasp Nixon's reasoning in regard to question 2, but this one defeats me. He seems to have really thought that if he called a halt to the investigation, the whole problem would just go away. In this, he reminds me of nothing more than certain psychopathic criminals in Donald Westlake novels, who if they have a problem with a person proceed to kill that person, certain that that will cancel the problem. Then they're so bewildered by all the fuss that stirs up.

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