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Robert Strauss’s Watergate Secret

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Watergate Burglars Caught

On June 14, back in Washington, the Gemstone team began planning a return to the DNC's Watergate office to install new eavesdropping equipment. Liddy, famous for his tough-guy reputation, was under pressure from higher-ups to get more information, E. Howard Hunt, another ex-CIA officer and a key Watergate figure, said later.

When Hunt suggested to Liddy that targeting the Miami hotels to be used during the upcoming Democratic National Convention made more sense, Liddy checked with his "principals" and reported that they were adamant about sending the team back into the Watergate.

One person in the White House who was demanding continued vigilance over the Democrats was Richard Nixon. Though it's never been established that Nixon had prior knowledge about the Watergate break-in itself, the President was continuing to demand that his political operatives keep collecting whatever information they could about the Democrats.

"That business of the McGovern watch, it just has to be -- it has to be now around the clock," Nixon told presidential aide Charles Colson on June 13, according to a White House taped conversation. "You never know what you're going to find."

Facing demands from the "principals," Hunt contacted the Cuban-Americans in Miami on June 14. The burglars reassembled in Washington two days later. For this entry, James McCord taped six or eight doors between the corridors and the stairwells on the upper floors and three more in the sub-basement. But McCord applied the tape horizontally instead of vertically, leaving pieces of tape showing when the doors were closed.

Around midnight, security guard Frank Wills came on duty. An African-American high school dropout, Wills was new to the job. About 45 minutes after starting work, he began his first round of checking the building. He discovered a piece of tape over a door latch at the garage level. Thinking that the tape was probably left behind by a building engineer earlier in the day, Wills removed it and went about his business.

A few minutes after Wills passed by, Gonzalez, one of the Cuban-American burglars, reached the now-locked door. He managed to open it by picking the lock. He then re-taped the latch so others could follow him in. The team then moved to the sixth floor, entered the DNC offices and got to work installing additional equipment.

Shortly before 2 a.m., Wills was making his second round of checks at the building when he spotted the re-taped door. His suspicions aroused, the security man called the Washington Metropolitan Police. A dispatcher reached a nearby plainclothes unit, which pulled up in front of the Watergate.

After telling Wills to wait in the lobby, the police officers began a search of the building, starting with the eighth floor and working their way down to the sixth. The hapless burglars tried to hide behind desks in the DNC's office, but the police officers spotted them and called out, "Hold it!" McCord and four other burglars surrendered. Hunt, Liddy and other members of the Gemstone crew -- still across the street at the Howard Johnson's -- hurriedly stashed their equipment and papers into suitcases and fled.

Hearing the News

Oliver was at his father's cottage on North Carolina's Outer Banks when the news broke that five burglars had been caught inside the Democratic national headquarters in Washington.

"I heard about it on the television news," Oliver said. "I thought that was strange, why would anybody break into the Democratic National Committee? I mean we don't have any money; the convention's coming up and everybody's moved to Miami; the delegates have been picked and the primaries are over. So why would anybody be in there? I didn't think anything of it."

After returning to Washington, Oliver -- like other Democratic staffers -- was asked some routine questions by the police and the FBI, but the whole episode remained a mystery. "People were buzzing about it, talking about it, but people thought it was just crazy that anyone would have gone in there," Oliver recalled.

In July 1972, along with other Democratic officials, Oliver went to the national convention in Miami, where McGovern barely managed to secure a majority of delegates to win the nomination. After the victory, McGovern loyalists were installed at the DNC in the Watergate offices. Jean Westwood replaced Larry O'Brien as national chairman and focused on unifying the party, which remained deeply divided between the McGovernites and party regulars.

"One of the problems we had was how do you get the state party people to work with the McGovern people," said Oliver, who was one of the officials trying to mend the schism. At a meeting of the Democratic executive committee in early September at the Watergate, Oliver was to give a report about cooperation on voter registration between the McGovern campaign and state party organizations.

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http://www.consortiumnews.com

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at more...)
 

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