| Former FBI associate director W. Mark Felt with his daughter Joan at their home in Santa Rosa, California. (AP)
Washington, June 1: 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 one-time CIA agent who had recently worked in the Nixon administration, and
G. Gordon Liddy, a former FBI agent who was on the payroll of the Committee for the Re-election of the President Richard M. Nixon’s campaign organisation.
Nixon dismissed the break-in as “that pipsqueak Watergate” and John N. Mitchell, the re-election chairman, denied any link. But over the next two years, the burglary grew into one of the biggest scandals and constitutional crises in modern US history.
Ultimately, Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment, and more than 30 government and Republican campaign officials were convicted of charges including perjury, burglary 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 re-election 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 cheque 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 burglarised 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 January 30, 1973, Liddy and James W. McCord Jr., a former CIA employee and chief of security for Nixon’s re-election 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.
Nixon’s firing of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox on October 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, Nixon announced his resignation on August 8, 1974.