A June 1 article misspelled the name of the security guard who discovered the Watergate break-in. His name was Frank Wills. (Published 6/12/2005)
It began with a bungled burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex early on the morning of June 17, 1972, and the arrest of five suspects. A security guard named Frank Willis had discovered tape-covered door latches in a Watergate stairwell and had called the police.
Two of the five suspects arrested possessed address books with the entries "W. House" and "W.H.," scribblings that quickly linked them to two shadowy figures: E. Howard Hunt, a onetime CIA agent who had recently worked in the Nixon administration White House, and G. Gordon Liddy, a former FBI agent who was on the payroll of the Committee for the Reelection of the President, Richard M. Nixon's campaign organization.
Nixon dismissed the break-in as "that pipsqueak Watergate" and John N. Mitchell, the reelection chairman, denied any link. But over the next two years, the burglary metastasized into one of the biggest scandals and constitutional crises in modern U.S. history.
Ultimately, Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment, and more than 30 government and Republican campaign officials were convicted of charges including perjury, burglary, wiretapping and obstruction of justice.
Nixon and his top aides attempted to cover up involvement in the break-in and in other political dirty tricks and intelligence-gathering operations that were employed in the 1972 reelection victory over Democratic challenger George McGovern. While the media and members of Congress ignored or played down the significance of the break-in, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, two young reporters on the metropolitan news staff of The Washington Post, doggedly pursued leads that led to the highest levels of government.
Woodward and Bernstein were greatly helped by "Deep Throat," a confidential source who was privy to the details of the FBI investigation. Yesterday, it was revealed that "Deep Throat" was W. Mark Felt, the FBI's acting associate director at the time. The Post published remarkable findings -- that a $25,000 cashier's check earmarked for the Nixon campaign wound up in the bank account of one of the burglars; that Mitchell, while serving as attorney general, controlled a secret fund for intelligence operations against the Democrats; and that John D. Ehrlichman, a top Nixon aide, supervised covert actions of a special unit known as the Plumbers that burglarized the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers.
Within months of Nixon's landslide victory, his administration and career began to unravel. On Jan. 30, 1973, Liddy and James W. McCord Jr., a former CIA employee and chief of security for Nixon's reelection campaign, were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping in the Watergate incident. White House Chief of Staff H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst resigned on April 30. The Senate Watergate committee began televised hearings in May. The following month, The Post reported that former White House counsel John W. Dean III told Watergate investigators he had discussed the cover-up with Nixon at least 35 times, and Alexander P. Butterfield, former presidential appointments secretary, testified to the Senate panel in July that Nixon secretly taped his conversations and telephone calls from 1971 on.
Nixon's firing of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox on Oct. 20 -- which triggered the resignation of Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson and his deputy -- and a unanimous Supreme Court ruling on July 24, 1974, telling Nixon to surrender 64 tape recordings, hastened the president's demise.
With the House bearing down on him and moving toward approval of three articles of impeachment, Nixon announced his resignation on Aug. 8, 1974.
-- Eric Pianin