June 17, 1972. Nine o'clock Saturday morning. Early for the telephone. Woodward fumbled for the receiver and snapped awake. The city editor of the Washington Post was on the line. Five men had been arrested earlier that morning in a burglary at Democratic headquarters, carrying photographic equipment and electronic gear. Could he come in?
Woodward had worked for the Post for only nine months and was always looking for a good Saturday assignment, but this didn't sound like one. A burglary at the local Democratic headquarters was too much like most of what he had been doing — investigative pieces on unsanitary restaurants and small-time police corruption. Woodward had hoped he had broken out of that; he had just finished a series of stories on the attempted assassination of Alabama Governor George Wallace. Now, it seemed, he was back in the same old slot.
Woodward left his one-room apartment in downtown Washington and walked the six blocks to the Post. The newspaper's mammoth newsroom — over 150 feet square with rows of brightly colored desks set on an acre of sound-absorbing carpet — is usually quiet on Saturday morning. Saturday is a day for long lunches, catching up on work, reading the Sunday supplements. As Woodward stopped to pick up his mail and telephone messages at the front of the newsroom, he noticed unusual activity around the city desk. He checked in with the city editor and learned with surprise that the burglars had not broken into the small local Democratic Party office but the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate office-apartment-hotel complex.
It was an odd place to find the Democrats. The opulent Watergate, on the banks of the Potomac in downtown Washington, was as Republican as the Union League Club. Its tenants included the former Attorney General of the United States John N. Mitchell, now director of the Committee for the Re-election of the President; the former Secretary of Commerce Maurice H. Stans, finance chairman of the President's campaign; the Republican national chairman, Senator Robert Dole of Kansas; President Nixon's secretary, Rose Mary Woods; and Anna Chennault, who was the widow of Flying Tiger ace Claire Chennault and a celebrated Republican hostess; plus many other prominent figures of the Nixon administration.
The futuristic complex, with its serpent's-teeth concrete balustrades and equally menacing prices ($100,000 for many of its two-bedroom cooperative apartments), had become the symbol of the ruling class in Richard Nixon's Washington. Two years earlier, it had been the target of 1000 anti-Nixon demonstrators who had shouted "Pigs," "Fascists" and "Sieg Heil" as they tried to storm the citadel of Republican power. They had run into a solid wall of riot-equipped Washington policemen who had pushed them back onto the campus of George Washington University with tear gas and billy clubs. From their balconies, anxious tenants of the Watergate had watched the confrontation, and some had cheered and toasted when the protesters were driven back and the westerly winds off the Potomac chased the tear gas away from the fortress. Among those who had been knocked to the ground was Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein. The policeman who had sent him sprawling had probably not seen the press cards hanging from his neck, and had perhaps focused on his longish hair.
As Woodward began making phone calls, he noticed that Bernstein, one of the paper's two Virginia political reporters, was working on the burglary story, too.
Oh God, not Bernstein, Woodward thought, recalling several office tales about Bernstein's ability to push his way into a good story and get his byline on it.
That morning, Bernstein had Xeroxed copies of notes from reporters at the scene and informed the city editor that he would make some more checks. The city editor had shrugged his acceptance, and Bernstein had begun a series of phone calls to everybody at the Watergate he could reach — desk clerks, bellmen, maids in the housekeeping department, waiters in the restaurant.
Bernstein looked across the newsroom. There was a pillar between his desk and Woodward's, about 25 feet away. He stepped back several paces. It appeared that Woodward was also working on the story. That figured, Bernstein thought. Bob Woodward was a prima donna who played heavily at office politics. Yale. A veteran of the Navy officer corps. Lawns, greensward, staterooms and grass tennis courts, Bernstein guessed, but probably not enough pavement for him to be good at investigative reporting. Bernstein knew that Woodward couldn't write very well. One office rumor had it that English was not Woodward's native language.
Bernstein was a college dropout. He had started as a copy boy at the Washington Star when he was 16, become a full-time reporter at 19, and had worked at the Post since 1966. He occasionally did investigative series, had covered the courts and city hall, and liked to do long, discursive pieces about the capital's people and neighborhoods.
Woodward knew that Bernstein occasionally wrote about rock music for the Post. That figured. When he learned that Bernstein sometimes reviewed classical music, he choked that down with difficulty. Bernstein looked like one of those counterculture journalists that Woodward despised. Bernstein thought that Woodward's rapid rise at the Post had less to do with his ability than his Establishment credentials.
They had never worked on a story together. Woodward was 29, Bernstein 28.
The first details of the story had been phoned from inside the Watergate by Alfred E. Lewis, a veteran of 35 years of police reporting for the Post. Lewis was something of a legend in Washington journalism — half cop, half reporter, a man who often dressed in a blue regulation Metropolitan Police sweater buttoned at the bottom over a brass Star-of-David buckle. In 35 years, Lewis had never really "written" a story; he phoned the details in to a rewrite man, and for years the Washington Post did not even have a typewriter at police headquarters.
The five men arrested at 2:30 A.M. had been dressed in business suits and all had worn Playtex rubber surgical gloves. Police had seized a walkie-talkie, 40 rolls of unexposed film, two 35-millimeter cameras, lock picks, pen-size tear-gas guns, and bugging devices that apparently were capable of picking up both telephone and room conversations.
"One of the men had $814, one $800, one $215, one $234, one $230," Lewis had dictated. "Most of it was in $100 bills, in sequence....They seemed to know their way around; at least one of them must have been familiar with the layout. They had rooms on the second and third floors of the hotel? The men ate lobster in the restaurant there, all at the same table that night. One wore a suit bought in Raleigh's. Somebody got a look at the breast pocket."
Woodward learned from Lewis that the suspects were going to appear in court that afternoon for a preliminary hearing? He decided to go.
Woodward had been to the courthouse before. The heating procedure was an institutionalized fixture of the local court's turnstile system of justice: A quick appearance before a judge who set bond for accused pimps, prostitutes, muggers — and, on this day, the five men who had been arrested at the Watergate.
A group of attorneys — known as the "Fifth Street Lawyers" because of the location of the courthouse and their storefront offices — were hanging around the corridors as usual, waiting for appointments as government-paid counsel to indigent defendants. Two of the regulars — a tall, thin attorney in a frayed sharkskin suit and an obese, middle-aged lawyer who had once been disciplined for soliciting cases in the basement cellblock — were muttering their distress. They had been tentatively appointed to represent the five accused Watergate burglars and had then been informed that the men had retained their own counsel, which is unusual.
Woodward went inside the courtroom. One person stood out. In a middle row sat a young man with fashionably long hair and an expensive suit with slightly flared lapels, his chin high, his eyes searching the room as if he were in unfamiliar surroundings.
Woodward sat down next to him and asked if he was in court because of the Watergate arrests.
"Perhaps," the man said. "I'm not the attorney of record. I'm acting as an individual."
He said his name was Douglas Caddy and he introduced a small, anemic-looking man next to him as the attorney of record, Joseph Rafferty, Jr. Rafferty appeared to have been routed out of bed; he was unshaven and squinted as if the light hurt his eyes. The two lawyers wandered in and out of the courtroom. Woodward finally cornered Rafferty in a hallway and got the names and addresses of the five suspects. Four of them were from Miami, three of them Cuban-Americans.
Caddy didn't want to talk. "Please don't take it personally," he told Woodward. "It would be a mistake to do that. I just don't have anything to say."
Woodward asked Caddy about his clients.
"They are not my clients," he said.
But you are a lawyer? Woodward asked.
"I'm not going to talk to you."
Caddy walked back into the courtroom. Woodward followed.
"Please, I have nothing to say."
Would the five men be able to post bond? Woodward asked.
After politely refusing to answer several more times, Caddy replied quickly that the men were all employed and had families — factors that would be taken into consideration by the judge in setting bond. He walked back into the corridor.
Woodward followed: Just tell me about yourself, how you got into the case.
"I'm not in the case."
Why are you here?
"Look," Caddy said, "I met one of the defendants, Bernard Barker, at a social occasion.
"In D.C. It was cocktails at the Army-Navy Club. We had a sympathetic conversation...that's all I'm going to say.
"How did you get into the case?
Caddy pivoted and walked back in. After half an hour, he went out again.
Woodward asked how he got into the case.
This time Caddy said he'd gotten a call shortly after 3:00 A.M. from Barker's wife. "She said her husband had told her to call me if he hadn't called her by three, that it might mean he was in trouble."
Caddy said he was probably the only attorney Barker knew in Washington, and brushed off more questions, adding that he had probably said too much.
At 3:30 P.M., the five suspects, still dressed in dark business suits but stripped of their belts and ties, were led into the courtroom by a marshal. They seated themselves silently in a row and stared blankly toward the bench, kneading their hands. They looked nervous, respectful and tough.
Earl Silbert, the government prosecutor, rose as their case was called by the clerk. Slight, intent and owlish with his horn-rimmed glasses, he was known as "Earl the Pearl" to Fifth Streeters familiar with his fondness for dramatic courtroom gestures and flowery speech. He argued that the five men should not be released on bond. They had given false names, had not cooperated with the police, possessed "$2300 in cold cash, and had a tendency to travel abroad." They had been arrested in a "professional burglary" with a "clandestine" purpose. Silbert drew out the word "clandestine."
Judge James A. Belsen asked the men their professions. One spoke up, answering that they were "anti-communists," and the others nodded their agreement. The Judge, accustomed to hearing unconventional job descriptions, nonetheless appeared perplexed. The tallest of the suspects, who had given his name as James W. McCord, Jr., was asked to step forward. He was balding, with a large, flat nose, a square jaw, perfect teeth and a benign expression that seemed incongruous with his hard-edged features.
The Judge asked his occupation.
"Security consultant," he replied.
The Judge asked where.
McCord, in a soft drawl, said that he had recently retired from government service. Woodward moved to the front row and leaned forward.
"Where in government?" asked the Judge.
"CIA," McCord whispered.
The Judge flinched slightly.
Holy shit, Woodward said half aloud, the CIA.
He got a cab back to the office and reported McCord's statement. Eight reporters were involved in putting together the story under the byline of Alfred E. Lewis. As the 6:30 P.M. deadline approached, Howard Simons, the Post's managing editor, came into the city editor's office at the south side of the newsroom. "That's a hell of a story," he told the city editor, Barry Sussman, and ordered it onto Sunday's front page.
The first paragraph of the story read: "Five men, one of whom said he is a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, were arrested at 2:30 A.M. yesterday in what authorities described as an elaborate plot to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee here."
A federal grand jury investigation had already been announced, but even so it was Simons' opinion that there still were too many unknown factors about the break-in to make it the lead story. "It could be crazy Cubans," he said.
Indeed, the thought that the break-in might somehow be the work of the Republicans seemed implausible. On June 17, 1972, less than a month before the Democratic convention, the President stood ahead of all announced Democratic candidates in the polls by no less than 19 points. Richard Nixon's vision of an emerging Republican majority that would dominate the last quarter of the century, much as the Democrats had dominated two previous generations, appeared possible. The Democratic Party was in disarray as a brutal primary season approached its end. Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, considered by the White House and Democratic Party professionals alike to be Nixon's weakest opponent, was emerging as the clear favorite to win the Democrats' nomination for President.
The story noted: "There was no immediate explanation as to why the five suspects would want to bug the Democratic National Committee offices, or whether or not they were working for any other individuals or organizations."
Bernstein had written another story for the Sunday paper on the suspects. Four were from Miami: Bernard L. Barker, Frank A. Sturgis, Virgilio R. Gonzalez and Eugenio R. Martinez. He had called a Miami Herald reporter and obtained a long list of Cuban exile leaders. A Post reporter had been sent from the President's press party in Key Biscayne to make checks in Miami's Cuban community. All four of the Miami suspects had been involved in anti-Castro activities and were also said to have CIA connections. ("I've never known if he works for the CIA or not," Mrs. Barker told Bernstein. "The men never tell the women anything about that.") Sturgis, an American soldier-of-fortune and the only non-Cuban among them, had been recruiting militant Cubans to demonstrate at the Democratic national convention, according to several persons. One Cuban leader told Bernstein that Sturgis and others whom he described as "former CIA types" intended to use paid provocateurs to fight anti-war demonstrators in the streets during the national political conventions.
Woodward left the office about eight o'clock that Saturday night. He knew he should have stayed later to track down James McCord. He had not even checked the local telephone directory to see if there was a James McCord listed in Washington or its suburbs.
The national staff of the Washington Post rarely covers police stories. So, at Sussman's request, both Bernstein and Woodward returned to the office the next morning, a bright Sunday, June 18, to follow up. An item moving on the Associated Press wire made it embarrassingly clear why McCord had deserved further checking. According to campaign spending reports filed with the government, James McCord was the security coordinator of the Committee for the Reelection of the President (CRP).
The two reporters stood in the middle of the newsroom and looked at each other. What the hell do you think it means? Woodward asked. Bernstein didn't know.
In Los Angeles, John Mitchell, the former U.S. Attorney General and the President's campaign manager, issued a statement: "The person involved is the proprietor of a private security agency who was employed by our committee months ago to assist with the installation of our security system. He has, as we understand it, a number of business clients and interests, and we have no knowledge of these relationships. We want to emphasize that this man and the other people involved were not operating on either our behalf or with our consent. There is no place in our campaign or in the electoral process for this type of activity, and we will not permit or condone it."
In Washington, the Democratic national chairman, Lawrence F. O'Brien, said the break-in "raised the ugliest question about the integrity of the political process that I have encountered in a quarter-century of political activity. No mere statement of innocence by Mr. Nixon's campaign manager, John Mitchell, will dispel these questions."
The wire services, which had carried the Mitchell and O'Brien statements, could be relied upon to gather official pronouncements from the national politicians. The reporters turned their attention to the burglars.
The telephone book listed the private security consulting agency run by McCord. There was no answer. They checked the local "crisscross" directories which list phone numbers by street addresses. There was no answer at either McCord's home or his business. The address of McCord Associates, 414 Hungerford Drive, Rockville, Maryland, is a large office building, and the cross-reference directory for Rockville lists the tenants. The reporters divided the names and began calling them at home. One attorney recalled that a teenage girl who had worked part-time for him the previous summer knew McCord, or perhaps it was the girl's father who knew him. The attorney could only remember vaguely the girl's last name — Westall or something like that. They contacted five persons with similar last names before Woodward finally reached Harlan A. Westrell, who said he knew McCord.
Westrell, who obviously had not read the papers, wondered why Woodward wanted to know about McCord. Woodward said simply that he was seeking information for a possible story. Westrell seemed flattered and provided some information about McCord, his friends and his background. He gave Woodward some other names to call.
Gradually, a spare profile of McCord began to emerge: a native of the Texas Panhandle; deeply religious, active in the First Baptist Church of Washington; father of an Air Force Academy cadet and a retarded daughter; ex-FBI agent; military reservist; former chief of physical security for the CIA; teacher of a security course at Montgomery Junior College; a family man; extremely conscientious; quiet; reliable. John Mitchell's description of McCord notwithstanding, those who knew him agreed that he worked full-time for the President's re-election committee.
Several persons referred to McCord's integrity, his "rocklike" character, but there was something else. Westrell and three others described McCord as the consummate "government man" — reluctant to act on his own initiative, respectful of the chain of command, unquestioning in following orders.
Woodward typed out the first three paragraphs of a story identifying one of the Watergate burglars as a salaried security coordinator of the President's re-election committee and handed it to an editor on the city desk. A minute later, Bernstein was looking over the editor's shoulder, Woodward noticed. Then Bernstein was walking back to his desk with the first page of the story; soon he was typing. Woodward finished the second page and passed it to the editor. Bernstein had soon relieved him of it and was back at his typewriter. Woodward decided to walk over and find out what was happening.
Bernstein was rewriting the story. Woodward read the rewritten version. It was better.
That night, Woodward drove to McCord's home, a large two-story brick house, classically suburban, set in a cul-de-sac not far from Route 70-S, the main highway through Rockville. The lights were on, but no one answered the door.
After midnight, Woodward received a call at home from Eugene Bachinski, the Post's regular night police reporter. The night police beat is generally considered the worst assignment at the paper. The hours are bad — from about 6:30 P.M. to 2:30 A.M. But Bachinski-tall, goateed and quiet — seemed to like his job, or at least he seemed to like the cops. He had come to know many of them quite well, saw a few socially and moved easily on his nightly rounds through the various squads at police headquarters: homicide, vice (grandly called the Morals Division), traffic, intelligence, sex, fraud, robbery — the catalogue of city life as viewed by the policeman.
Bachinski had something from one of his police sources. Two address books, belonging to two of the Miami men arrested inside the Watergate, contained the name and phone number of a Howard E. Hunt, with the small notations "W. House" and "W.H." Woodward sat down in a hard chair by his phone and checked the telephone directory. He found a listing for E. Howard Hunt, Jr., in Potomac, Maryland, the affluent horse-country suburb in Montgomery County. No answer.
At the office next morning, Woodward made a list of the leads. One of McCord's neighbors had said that he had seen McCord in an Air Force officer's uniform, and another had said that McCord was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve. Half a dozen calls to the Pentagon later, a personnel officer told him that James McCord was a lieutenant colonel in a special Washington-based reserve unit attached to the Office of Emergency Preparedness. The officer read him the unit roster, which contained only 15 names. Woodward started calling. On the fourth try, Philip Jones, an enlisted man, mentioned casually that the unit's assignment was to draw up lists of radicals and to help develop contingency plans for censorship of the news media and U.S. mail in time of war.
Woodward placed a call to a James Grimm, whose name and Miami telephone number Bachinski had said was in the address book of Eugenio Martinez. Mr. Grimm identified himself as a housing officer for the University of Miami, and said that Martinez had contacted him about two weeks earlier to ask if the university could find accommodations for about 3000 Young Republicans during the GOP national convention in August. Woodward called CRP, the Republican National Committee headquarters and several party officials who were working on convention planning in Washington and Miami. All said they had never heard of Martinez or of plans to use the university for housing Young Republicans.
But the first priority on that Monday was Hunt. The Miami suspects' belongings were listed in a confidential police inventory that Bachinski had obtained. There were "two pieces of yellow-lined paper, one addressed to 'Dear Friend Mr. Howard,' and another to 'Dear Mr. H.H.,'" and an unmailed envelope containing Hunt's personal check for $6.36 made out to the Lakewood Country Club in Rockville, along with a bill for the same amount.
Woodward called an old friend and sometimes source who worked for the federal government and did not like to be called at his office. His friend said hurriedly that the break-in case was going to "heat up," but he couldn't explain and hung up.
It was approaching 3:00 P.M., the hour when the Post's editors list in a "news budget" the stories they expect for the next day's paper. Woodward, who had been assigned to write Tuesday's Watergate story, picked up the telephone and dialed 456-1414 — the White House. He asked for Howard Hunt. The switchboard operator rang an extension. There was no answer. Woodward was about to hang up when the operator came back on the line. "There is one other place he might be," she said. "In Mr. Colson's office."
"Mr. Hunt is not here now," Colson's secretary told Woodward, and gave him the number of a Washington public-relations firm, Robert R. Mullen and Company, where she said Hunt worked as a writer.
Woodward walked across to the national desk at the east end of the newsroom and asked one of the assistant national editors, J. D. Alexander, who Colson was. Alexander, a heavy-set man in his mid-thirties with a thick beard, laughed. Charles W. Colson, special counsel to the President of the United States, was the White House "hatchet man," he said.
Woodward called the White House back and asked a clerk in the personnel office if Howard Hunt was on the payroll. She said she would check the records. A few moments later, she told Woodward that Howard Hunt was a consultant working for Colson.
Woodward called the Mullen public-relations firm and asked for Howard Hunt.
"Howard Hunt here," the voice said.
Woodward identified himself.
"Yes? What is it?" Hunt sounded impatient.
Woodward asked Hunt why his name and phone number were in the address books of two of the men arrested at the Watergate.
"Good God!" Howard Hunt said. Then he quickly added, "In view that the matter is under adjudication, I have no comment," and slammed down the phone.
Woodward thought he had a story. Still, anyone's name and phone number could be in an address book. The country-club bill seemed to be additional evidence of Hunt's connection with the burglars. But what connection? A story headlined "White House Consultant Linked to Bugging Suspects" could be a grievous mistake, misleading, unfair to Hunt.
Woodward called Ken W. Clawson, the deputy director of White House communications, who had been a Post reporter until the previous January. He told Clawson what was in the address books and police inventory, then asked what Hunt's duties at the White House were. Clawson said that he would check.
An hour later, Clawson called back to say that Hunt had worked as a White House consultant on declassification of the Pentagon Papers and, more recently, on a narcotics intelligence project. Hunt had last been paid as a consultant on March 29, he said, and had not done any work for the White House since.
"I've looked into the matter very thoroughly, and I am convinced that neither Mr. Colson nor anyone else at the White House had any knowledge of, or participation in, this deplorable incident at the Democratic National Committee," Clawson said.
The comment was unsolicited.
Woodward phoned Robert F. Bennett, president of the Mullen public-relations firm, and asked about Hunt. Bennett, the son of Republican Senator Wallace F. Bennett of Utah, said, "I guess it's no secret that Howard was with the CIA."
It had been a secret to Woodward. He called the CIA, where a spokesman said that Hunt had been with the agency from 1949 to 1970.
Woodward didn't know what to think. He placed another call to his government friend and asked for advice. His friend sounded nervous. On an off-the-record basis he told Woodward that the FBI regarded Hunt as a prime suspect in the Watergate investigation for many reasons aside from the address-book entries and the unmailed check. Woodward was bound not to use the information in a story because it was off the record. But his friend assured him that there would be nothing unfair about a story which reported the address-book and country-club connections. That assurance could not be used in print either.
Barry Sussman, the city editor, was intrigued. He dug into the Post library's clippings on Colson and found a February 1971 story in which an anonymous source described Colson as one of the "original back room boys...the brokers, the guys who fix things when they break down and do the dirty work when it's necessary." Woodward's story about Hunt, which identified him as a consultant who had worked in the White House for Colson, included the quotation and noted that it came from a profile written by "Ken W. Clawson, a current White House aide who until recently was a [Washington Post] reporter."
The story was headlined "White House Consultant Linked to Bugging Suspects."
That morning at the Florida White House in Key Biscayne, presidential press secretary Ronald L. Ziegler briefly answered a question about the break-in at the Watergate by observing: "Certain elements may try to stretch this beyond what it is." Ziegler described the incident as "a third-rate burglary attempt" not worthy of further White House comment.
The next day, Democratic Party chairman O'Brien filed a $1 million civil damage suit against the Committee for the Re-election of the President. Citing the "potential involvement" of Colson in the break-in, O'Brien charged that the facts were "developing a clear line to the White House" and added: "We learned of this bugging attempt only because it was bungled. How many other attempts have there been and just who was involved? I believe we are about to witness the ultimate test of this administration that so piously committed itself to a new era of law and order just four years ago."
Copyright © 1974 by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward