When the Watergate movie All the President’s Men came to Canberra in 1977, I rushed to the cinema. Half an hour into this engrossing drama, a middle-aged man in the row in front of me turned around and cursed me, “Thanks to you, I can’t see any more of this and I’m going home.” I was upset by his outburst, but in my high tension, I’d been heedlessly kicking the back of his seat.
I’m sure all the Press Gallery tribe were equally engrossed. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (“Woodstein” for short) and the Washington Post broke the mould and won glory with their investigative journalism. They demonstrated the White House’s guilt for the Watergate burglary and forced the first-ever resignation of a US President, namely the Republican’s Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon. Forty or so members of his fiefdom were convicted. Journos ever since, including myself, have fantasised about ourselves making history and millions with exposures of high-ranking evil-doers.
There were actually two burglaries of the Democrat National Committee (DNC) offices in Watergate within three weeks in mid-1972. The first involved some successful phone-bugging; the bungled second burglary was mainly to photograph a large volume of documents. Security guards caught the five-man team red-handed. A sixth burglar lurking nearby escaped detection, never to be officially identified but now named as CIA contractor Lou Russell.
That was all half a century ago. The Woodstein burglary narrative was full of contradictions and non-sequiturs – especially given that Nixon enjoyed landslide popularity (he carried 49 states out of 50 a few months later) and any Democrat strategies were not worth knowing. But people became too excited to care as the Nixon cover-up drama took priority. The prosecution and conviction of the burglars involved guilty pleas and few revelations emerged.
Over the decades various mystery elements were solved. But only now has most of the real Watergate story been put together, via lawyer John O’Connor’s The Mysteries of Watergate – what really happened, published last month. (Post Hill Press, $A31.75, 425pp).
O’Connor is no lightweight. He was a federal prosecutor from 1974-80 and in recent decades counsel for Mark Felt (1913-2008), the Post’s “Deep Throat” who led the Watergate investigation as FBI deputy director. O’Connor was the first to publicly identify Felt, in a Vanity Fair article in 2005. Felt allowed O’Connor to tell his Watergate story because otherwise Felt’s legacy post-death could be trashed and distorted by the Post’s ungrateful Woodstein duo. Felt knew too much about Woodstein’s agendas and Watergate realities.
O’Connor published Felt’s revelations as A G-Man’s Life in 2006, but O’Connor claims sales were sabotaged by his own publisher in league with the Post, and the book’s disclosures made no impact on Woodstein’s sainthood. Here’s O’Connor’s conclusions in his new book, after Woodstein again declined to cooperate by providing their own rejoinders:
♦ The falsities, distortions and cover-ups by the Democrat-loving Post and its reporters were as bad or worse than anything Nixon was accused of.
♦ The burglaries were done not by a White House team but by a CIA team for its own purposes, after the perpetrators got some low-level sign-offs by White House dupes about “national security” concerns, and financing from a White House fund for Nixon campaigning. Only one out of six burglars, James McCord, was from the White House and he was probably current CIA claiming to be ex-CIA.
♦ The CIA burglars’ target was not to get hold of Democrat electoral strategies to benefit Nixon’s White House, as they had claimed to Nixon officials. There was no Democrat election campaign at that time, and the burglars ignored the office of the Democrat’s director Larry O’Brien. Instead they bugged the phones of a minor Democrat functionary, Spencer Oliver Jr, who was seldom in his office and didn’t even work for the DNC. His phones were actually being used by a secretary to match up randy Democrat visitors from out of town with high-class hookers mostly run by a “lush blonde” pal of the wife of a White House counsel.
♦ The Washington Post was (then as now) founded and run for the benefit of the Democrat Party, and its Watergate burglary reporting aimed to hide from the public the Democrats’ sordid call-girl centre operations.
♦ The CIA team wanted the “explicitly intimate” calls and trysts for potential blackmail, also for CIA people’s own prurient enjoyment, and possibly to thwart the team leader’s rival contender for a cushy job running public relations firm Mullen & Co. as a disguised CIA front.
♦ Since long-standing CIA operations against domestic US citizens were illegal (domestic surveillance was the FBI’s role), the CIA hoped the burglary authorisations and cash extracted from White House dupes could retrospectively authorise a raft of past CIA criminal surveillance of US citizens.
♦ The CIA was obsessed with sex behaviours, both to compromise and blackmail US citizens and keep tabs on what foreign agencies were doing. The CIA’s dossier or what it called its “fag file” on US homosexuals ran to 300,000 names, and it had voluminous tapes of people’s activities in brothels.
♦ When the burglars (minus one) were caught, the CIA was keen for Woodstein to focus on the White House, not themselves. CIA records show that James Bennett, head of the CIA-front global PR firm Mullen & Co, made a deal with Woodward soon after the burglary that he would feed Woodward stories and “a suitably grateful” Woodward would then “protect” Mullen and its CIA ownership. Keep in mind that the chief burglar, Howard Hunt, was a full-time Mullen executive while holding down a part-time job in Nixon’s White House as a supposedly “retired” CIA man to do “sensitive assignments”. The author says that Bennett provided Woodward with only a few lame stories and Woodward and the Post protected the Mullen firm for reasons of their own.
♦ The CIA’s problem was that Mark Felt’s FBI, resenting the CIA’s grab for power and influence and manifold illegalities, was doing its own investigating of the burglaries, by all accounts an honest and professional FBI effort. Felt kept leaking to Woodstein (and some other journos) to prevent Democrat-friendly media and agencies from sweeping the real stories under the carpet.
♦ Six years later, The Washington Post cheered on the authorities who falsely convicted Felt of federal procedural crimes, causing Felt’s wife such shame that she filched his service revolver and shot herself. Felt was later exonerated.
At the height of the Watergate drama, as documented by Woodstein and in the movie, “Deep Throat” aka Mark Felt, in high anxiety, warned them that “Everyone’s life is in danger”. Woodstein implied it was themselves at risk, but made no attempt to clarify any detail for readers. This omission made them seem heroic and enabled them once again to avoid pinpointing the CIA’s gangster-like roles in Watergate.
The reality, as O’Connor documents, was that the CIA was ready and willing to assassinate witnesses (not reporters) capable of testifying to courts about how the CIA ran the burglaries and other domestic illegalities. Don’t think that’s far-fetched – it’s on the record that the CIA had discussed with a White House dupe how to assassinate muckraking columnist Jack Anderson who had twigged the CIA involvement (the CIA cited the mooted assassination as “Operation Mudhen”). In the event, the CIA terrified Anderson into silence by ostentatiously tailing and surveilling him.
One of two key potential witnesses against the CIA, the sixth burglar Lou Russell, died of poisoning in circumstances parallel to the planned assassination of Anderson, and just one day after Deep Throat warned Woodstein of CIA assassination tactics. Russell had another CIA role taping prostitutes at work, and post-burglary he was getting hush money payments from the White House. He’d been subpoenaed to testify shortly to a Senate committee, and died claiming someone has switched poison for his heart medicine.
The method the CIA suggested to the White House dupes about Jack Anderson was called “aspirin roulette”, or the planting of a poison pill within the victim’s normal medication pills. Russell’s friend, Detective John Leon, a Washington wire-tapping expert, was scheduled to tell all at a press conference on July 9, 1973 about CIA and Democrat wiretapping. He also never made it, dying suddenly of a heart attack just before his press appearance.
Dorothy Hunt, the wife of the CIA burglary team leader Howard Hunt, and herself an undercover agent, was carrying $US10,000 in a briefcase – a small fortune – in alleged hush money to a source in Chicago. She died on December 8, 1972, when the United airliner crashed en route with 43 fatalities among among 61 passengers. It was a few weeks before her scheduled appearance to testify. O’Connor makes no claim that the CIA aided the crash (it was officially ruled as pilot error), but does note that CIA and FBI sleuths were strikingly quick to the search at the crash scene.
By this time I’m sure you’re wanting to know where and how O’Connor got all his evidence. The book reads like a prosecutor’s summing up of his case to a jury, with the evidence to follow. In this case, he has already provided documentation and footnoting in a 2019 volume Postgate: How the Washington Post Betrayed Deep Throat, Covered Up Watergate, and Began Today’s Partisan Advocacy Journalism.
The new book is for lay readers, myself included, who would find the encyclopaedic details indigestible. I’ve taken a quick look at the first, documented, version. Only experts and Watergate aficionados would vouch for sure — the story is as convoluted as the Kennedy assassination — but the tale he weaves from on-the-record material alone is perfectly plausible. For anyone indignant that Woodstein and the Post are shown in such poor light, just check their cheerleading of Russiagate and the Post’s pre-election coverage of Hunter Biden’s laptop, involving public lies and silence about the truths.
As O’Connor notes, in the pre-internet 1970s, documents like new Congressional and official reports on Watergate were not readily accessible by the public and readers relied on the press to honestly summarise them. O’Connor tests the Post’s good faith by checking back on how honestly they reported those emerging reports, and he gives them a ‘fail’ grade. In other words, the Post’s failures of omission and commission were not accidents but strategically motivated.
For example, the Post declined to report that one of the burglars, Eugenio Martinez, had a desk key on him and fought guards to conceal it. It turned out to be the key to a drawer in the office used as a switchboard for call-girl appointments. Woodstein’s claim was that they were au fait with the important Watergate details – so how did they miss this “key” detail? And when the Republican minority report on Watergate came out in 1973, exposing top-tier secrets, why did the Post ignore them and focus only on its boring, mundane passages?
It’s also noteworthy that O’Connor as a senior lawyer is not attacking the Democrat establishment and media per se and says the rightist press is no better when doing “investigative” reports. Rightists, he says, merely have fewer writers and outlets. His beef is about today’s “investigative” journalism ethos, where mere reporters take on the role of prosecutor, judge and jury to deny their targets any form of natural justice – and deny their readers access to whatever facts undermine the reporter’s case. (The ABC’s persecution of Cardinal Pell is a case in point). He even instances a Post editorial claiming that Watergate court cases, where claims are properly tested, are inferior to what the press dishes up: “Courts are a capricious venue for arguments about history”. Unlike its reporters, the Post would claim.
Tony Thomas’ latest essay collection “Foot Soldier in the Culture Wars” ($29.95) is available from publisher ConnorCourt
 The Post was founded in 1877 as the official organ of the Democrat Party. In 2013 it was bought from the Graham family by Geoff Bezos for a derisory $US250m. Bezos, worth about $US135b, is the world’s second-richest person.
 Specifically, warrantless break-ins for evidence against the Weather Underground group which had done 50 or so bombings of government buildings. Felt’s defence was, correctly, that national security concerns overrode Bill of Rights provisions. The Felt case led to the FISA precautionary system which unhappily was then abused by the FBI to surveil President Trump in the Russiagate hoax organised by the Democrat Party.
 Post Hill Press, $US37.90
 The Baker report exposed CIA internal admissions that its agent handler Lee Pennington had gone to one CIA burglar’s home, McCord’s, on the night McCord was arrested, and helped Mrs McCord burn documents proving McCord’s CIA status. CIA insiders had laughed about the fire causing smoke damage to the lounge-room ceiling.