To see a relic of the greatest act of presidential malfeasance I’ve driven to a low-rise office park on Lee Highway on a humid weekday afternoon.
I’ve met Kevin Hooks at the Fairfax headquarters of Interprobe , his private detective agency. We shoot the breeze for a while in his cool, plush office. There’s a comfy sectional sofa facing a wall adorned with four flat-screen TVs. I venture: Is that where infidelities caught on video are played for clients? Yes, Kevin says, though divorce cases are only a small fraction of his business.
As interesting as that is — motels, stakeouts, long lenses — I’m not here for that. I want to see the safe. We rise and head to an office next door, where Kevin keeps his surveillance equipment. He punches a keypad — you can’t be too careful about security — opens the door, and there it is: a gray Mosler safe about the size of a washing machine.
Kevin swings open the heavy metal door. The safe is empty, save for an autographed publicity photo of G. Gordon Liddy.
“Liddy finally got in there,” Kevin jokes.
This safe was in the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972, when five burglars broke into the office. They had planned to plant bugs. It’s likely they wanted to see what useful goodies were in the safe, too. They were arrested, and their ties to the White House ended the political career of Richard Nixon.
So why is the safe here?
Kevin got it from his mentor, Nick Beltrante, one of the deans of the Washington private detective scene. I first heard about the safe in 2010, when I interviewed Nick about cheating spouses. He took me into the basement of his suburban Virginia home and showed it to me.
Here’s how Nick got it: He had been retained by the McGovern for President committee to do things like sweep rooms for bugs. The McGovern people had gotten the safe from the DNC and kept it in their office in the 1600 block of K Street NW.
“When McGovern lost the election, they closed down that office, at which time they were disposing of all of their assets,” Nick told me last week when I called to refresh my memory. “And no one asked for the safe. They offered it to me. I accepted it. It became my safe.”
Nick kept his guns and important papers in it. About five years ago, he gave it to Kevin, who once managed his office. Kevin got the Liddy photo when the conservative radio host — and convicted Watergate felon — worked down the street at WJFK.
“Nick brought me up in the business back in the mid-’80s,” Kevin says.
Nick was a former District police officer always hustling for business. Kevin was eager to learn, always dressed in a suit and tie, ready to be sent out on an assignment.
Nick will turn 88 on Wednesday, the 43rd anniversary of the Watergate break-in.
“Any political figure we ever did work for, he took down and showed them that safe,” Kevin says.
I wonder if they ever learned.
A bunch of crooks, that was the Nixon White House. Speaking of crooks, there’s one who works in downtown Washington. I wrote about him in 2011. He pretends to be a veteran desperate to get to the local VFW, where he will be reimbursed for a stay at a hostel while in town for a VA hospital appointment.
It’s all a fiction.
In March, a reader encountered him at 18th and H streets NW. “He’s so grateful and polite when you stop to listen to his request,” she wrote me in an e-mail. After spinning his sob story, he asked for $17. “Genius amount really, not too little or too much.”
She balked, and it was only when she got back to her desk and found my old column online that she realized he was trying to trick her.
Another reader wasn’t so lucky. She e-mailed me to say she had interacted with him last month at 15th and L streets NW. Moved by his story, she let him use her cellphone, gave him $80 and had an Uber car take him to his “hostel.”
Be skeptical. And, VFW man, it’s time to get a new scam.
The National Park Service is considering adding the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum to the stable of properties it oversees. The Park Service made the announcement last week after a two-year feasibility study
The 200-year-old Capitol Hill house was the home of suffragist Alice Paul and headquarters of the National Woman’s Party. It houses a women’s history library and collection but has been strapped for cash. Being brought into the Park Service fold could help ensure its future, with the Park Service providing historic maintenance expertise and the house’s staff continuing its women’s history programs, said Page Harrington, Sewall-Belmont’s executive director.
“That to me is the best iteration of a public/private partnership: Focus on what you can both do well,” Page said.
Page said the study has taken the past two years, and it may take just as long before any formal relationship is solidified.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.