Gordon Liddy has left the building. He died this week at age 90. Liddy was one of the central figures of the Watergate break-in. A former FBI agent and lawyer, sworn to uphold the law, he helped plan and execute the break-in at the Democratic headquarters in addition to other dirty tricks. Liddy would be convicted and spend time in prison for his Watergate involvement and he was unrepentant to the very end.
Liddy was one of the Watergate figures who prospered by his involvement, proving that for some, crime does pay. Watergate is almost 50 years in the rearview mirror now, and as I have written before, it remains a cautionary note in history that we have not learned from. Events of the past couple of years reinforce this observation. Watergate destroyed lives and careers, but worse than that, it exposed the nadir of politics and how corrupted some elected officials, including the President of the United States, were by power, millions of dollars in campaign money, and their own sense of being above the law. Does any of this sound familiar?
After Liddy got out of prison, he quickly rebuilt his life and found a willing group of supporters. He published his autobiography, Will, where he painted himself as a dashing defender of right and intrigued readers with his story of proving his will by holding his hand over an open flame. The singed flesh only made him more calloused. I read Will and was only impressed that he was so in love with himself and that so many people fell under his charm. His book was turned into a TV movie starring who else, Robert Conrad, the guy with the battery on his shoulder. “Go ahead, knock it off, I dare you.”
Liddy’s bravado was perfect for his next roles in life. He was a sometime actor and pitchman for products. He shaved his head and kept his mustache darkened to emphasize his cold, dark eyes. Liddy was also a conservative radio talk show personality for many years. Liddy not only made a lot of money, he felt emboldened by going to prison and that he had served the greater good.
Watergate was not some third-rate burglary. It was part of a larger effort to disregard the law to punish enemies and influence elections. Many of those involved either worked for the White House or for the Committee to Re-elect the President. Some were former FBI or CIA employees and a few were lawyers. The phrase “follow the money” is very pertinent. Campaign money was funneled to many and financed illegal operations. It was not just a burglary, it was an assault on our democracy and our values.
The key players
John N. Mitchell, Attorney General of the United States who resigned to become Director of Committee to Re-elect the President, convicted of perjury about his involvement in the Watergate break-in. Served 19 months of a one- to four-year sentence. Founded a consulting firm after prison. Contracted to write his memoirs, he took the money but never wrote a word. Died in 1988.
Richard Kleindienst, Attorney General, convicted of “refusing to answer questions” (contempt of court); given one month in jail. Went into private practice and later relocated to Arizona. He had his law license suspended for a year over another matter. He later professed regret that he was not more forthcoming when testifying about Watergate. His name was forever attached to Watergate and Nixon. He died in 2000.
Jeb Stuart Magruder, Deputy Director of Committee to Re-elect the President, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to the burglary, and was sentenced to 10 months to four years in prison, of which he served seven months before being paroled. Earned a Master’s degree in theology and turned his attention to church leadership. We wrote several books and revealed that he heard Nixon authorize the Watergate break-in. He died in 2014.
Frederick C. LaRue, Advisor to John Mitchell, convicted of obstruction of justice. He served four and a half months. LaRue was the bagman for the scandal, raising money to be delivered to the burglars and others involvement in the Watergate break-in. He also helped dispose of Watergate related documents. LaRue’s family had oil money. He died in 2004.
H. R. Haldeman, Chief of Staff for Nixon, convicted of conspiracy to the burglary, obstruction of justice, and perjury. Served 18 months in prison. Later became a business consultant and looked after his business interests and Sizzler franchises. Wrote his memoir and published his detailed diaries. Died in 1993.
John Ehrlichman, Counsel to Nixon, convicted of conspiracy to the burglary, obstruction of justice, and perjury. Served 18 months in prison. After his release, Ehrlichman moved to New Mexico where he wrote novels and his memoir. Died in 1999.
Egil Krogh, aide to John Ehrlichman, sentenced to six months for his part in the Daniel Ellsberg case. Headed the special investigations unit in Ehrlichman’s office. He authorized the Ellsberg break-in. He also coordinated the Elvis visit to the White House. His law license was revoked after his conviction, but he later petitioned for reinstatement and practiced law for many years. He died in 2020.
John W. Dean III, counsel to Nixon, convicted of obstruction of justice, later reduced to felony offenses and sentenced to time already served, which totaled four months. Became an investment banker and author of numerous books on Watergate, Nixon and politics. Still married to Mo.
Dwight L. Chapin, deputy assistant to Nixon, convicted of perjury. Served nine months in prison. Chapin worked for Nixon all the way back to the 1962 gubernatorial campaign. He worked in public relations after prison, before starting his own consulting company. He continued to work for Republican presidential candidates.
Maurice Stans, United States Secretary of Commerce who resigned to become Finance Chairman of Committee to Re-elect the President, convicted of multiple counts of illegal campaigning, fined $5,000 (in 1975 – $23,800 today). After revelations about fundraising activities, campaign finance laws were changed. Money he raised was given the Liddy to finance various operations including the Watergate break-in. He continued his career in finance after leaving government.
Herbert W. Kalmbach, personal attorney to Nixon, convicted of illegal campaigning. Served 191 days in prison and fined $10,000 (in 1974 – $51,800 today). He raised funds used to finance illegal operations. He was also implicated in illegal campaign contributions involving price supports for milk producers, and promising ambassadorships for large donors. He died in 2017.
Charles W. Colson, special counsel to Nixon, convicted of obstruction of justice. Served seven months in Federal Maxwell Prison. Colson was disbarred, but had already shifted his focus to his faith. He started the Prison Fellowship, an outreach organization and then Prison Fellowship International. He wrote books and became influential in conservative evangelical Christian issues. As years passed, Colson was welcomed back in the Republican community and given many honorary degrees for his evangelical work. He died in 2012.
Herbert L. Porter, aide to the Committee to Re-elect the President. Convicted of perjury. He pled guilty to lying to the FBI and served 25 days in a minimum security prison. He went into the family construction business after government. He wrote an article telling people not to feel sorry for him for his deed. He also said he wouldn’t trade his imprisonment for anything; he prospered from the humbling experience.
G. Gordon Liddy, Special Investigations Group, convicted of masterminding the burglary, original sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Served 4 1⁄2 years in federal prison.
E. Howard Hunt, security consultant, convicted of masterminding and overseeing the burglary, original sentence of up to 35 years in prison. Served 33 months in prison. Served in the CIA, was involved in orchestrating the failed Bay of Pigs and other international activities. Along with Liddy, were the main operatives in the dirty tricks campaign. He expected the government to shield him from criminal charges, and pressured the Committee to Re-elect the President to provide money for legal fees and family support. After prison, Hunt moved to Florida to start a new life. He had legal bills of a million dollars. He published many novels in his later years. Died in 2007.
James W. McCord Jr., convicted of six charges of burglary, conspiracy and wiretapping. Served two months in prison due to his cooperation with prosecutors. He worked for both the FBI and CIA, but was employed by the Committee to Re-elect the President while orchestrating and taking part in the Watergate break-in. He worked in private security after prison. He died in 2017.
Virgilio Gonzalez, convicted of burglary, original sentence of up to 40 years in prison. Served 13 months in prison. Originally from Cuba, he was involved in anti-Castro activities, eventually hooking up with Hunt. His locksmith skills were handy for the break-ins that were done, including the Watergate where he was arrested. After prison he changes careers and worked as a mechanic. He died in 2014.
Bernard Barker, convicted of burglary, original sentence of up to 40 years in prison. Served 18 months in prison. Born is Cuba, he had dual citizenship. Later, joined the secret police in Cuba, did work for both the FBI and CIA in Cuba. Participated in the break-ins of Ellsworth and Watergate. After prison worked for the City of Miami as a building inspector. He died in 2009.
Eugenio Martínez, convicted of burglary, original sentence of up to 40 years in prison. Served 15 months in prison. Also involved in anti-Castro activities, he was a paid asset of the CIA. Later he worked in real estate and was pardoned by Ronald Reagan. Martinez died in 2021.
Frank Sturgis, convicted of burglary, original sentence of up to 40 years in prison. Served 10 months in prison. Sturgis had a colorful career working for the U.S. Army in Europe after WWII. He later went to Cuba and Central America where he was involved in buying weapons. Later, he was involved in anti-Castro activities which brought him to the attention of Hunt. After prison, he was involved in a number of foreign conflicts and was named in several foreign assassinations. He died in 1993.
Donald Segretti, worked for the Committee to Re-elect the President specializing in dirty tricks of political sabotage including writing false materials to harm Democratic candidates. Pled guilty to illegal campaign activities and spent four months in prison. Practiced law after prison.
Alexander Butterfield, deputy chief of staff to Nixon, in charge of the secret taping system. Testified in the Senate Committee about the taping system. At the time he was director of the Federal Aviation Administration but was fired. Worked in the transportation industry and was the subject of a Bob Woodward book his experience in the Nixon White House.