Who paid the Watergate burglars

45 years of Watergate : Richard Nixon's dirty tricks

It is the early morning of June 17, 1972, a Saturday. Night watchman Frank Mills makes his rounds of the sprawling Watergate complex on the Potomac River in Washington. The 24-year-old has a quiet job, because Watergate with its luxury hotel, offices and apartments is considered safe and harmless. But this day changes everything. Mills discovers that someone put tape over some door locks to prevent the doors from closing when they slammed. He tears the tape off, but finds on his next round that it has been renewed. Mills calls the police who catch five intruders red-handed at the opposition Democrats' headquarters in the building: The Watergate scandal has begun.

Up to date again

Ever since Mills saw the tape and dialed the telephone number of the responsible Second Police District in Washington, the name “Watergate” has stood for scandal, cover-up attempts and corruption in the highest government circles. The “gate” from Watergate has long been attached to other terms when it comes to naming a new political affair that is to be swept under the carpet by an official. Hardly any other event has changed the relationship between Americans and the government as profoundly as Watergate.

With the Russia scandal over Donald Trump, the affair from then 45 years is now highly topical again. "Trumpgate" is also about the allegation of illegal influence by the government, for example through the alleged request of the president to the FBI to stop the investigation against his former advisor Michael Flynn. The press always brings new revelations as light, citing insiders from the authorities' apparatus.

"Trumpgate" is just getting started

"Trumpgate" still has no heroes like Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the reporters for the Washington Post who were instrumental in uncovering the Watergate scandal and who appeared in the Hollywood film "The Untouchables" with Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford in the main roles were immortalized. But “Trumpgate” is only just getting started.

The scandal with Trump is already developing much faster than with Nixon in 1972. A few months after the break-in in Watergate, the then president won the election with a landslide victory and only had to resign in 1974 under the pressure of the accusations in order to forestall his impeachment by Congress. Trump is already talking about impeachment after a few months in the White House. According to media reports, special investigator Robert Mueller also has the president himself in his sights.

In the original scandal 45 years ago, police discovered that at least one of the burglars arrested, former CIA agent James McCord, had been paid by Nixon's Republicans. The president wanted to get rid of the scandal quickly and urged the Americans to turn to important political issues again - sometimes with words similar to those of Donald Trump today.

The reactions came too late

This appeal was ignored by Nixon back then as it is now by Trump. The public and the press demanded information about who had sent the intruders to Watergate to steal documents from the Democratic headquarters and install eavesdropping devices there. Nixon himself probably didn't know anything about it: "Which asshole ordered that?", He is supposed to have asked when he found out about the break-in.

Although the Nixon administration did everything it could to cover up the scandal, new details continued to emerge, such as a Republican black box to fund illegal attacks on the Democrats and a wiretapping system to record conversations in the Oval Office. Close Nixon employees spread falsehoods and were later convicted. Trump doesn't want to say whether everything is still being recorded in the Oval Office.

In October 1973, nearly a year and a half after the Watergate break-in, Nixon fired then Attorney General Elliott Richardson and his deputy William Ruckelshaus for refusing to fire Watergate Special Counsel Archibald Cox. Nixon eventually found another officer who put Cox on the street. "I'm not a crook," Nixon said nonetheless. At "Trumpgate" there are now initial demands from supporters of the president to dismiss special investigator Mueller.

But at least with Nixon, all reactions of the president and his team came too late. The release of the recordings from the Oval Office, ultimately ordered by the Constitutional Court, sealed Nixon's fate. The political death knell was a conversation published in August 1974 from the days immediately after the Watergate break-in. It emerged that at the beginning of the scandal, Nixon spoke to his advisors about putting a stop to the investigations by the FBI. It was clear that Nixon had lied to the nation. Up until then, the President had given assurances that he had only learned of the involvement of close advisers in the scandal in March 1973 - nine months after the break-in. A lie. On August 8, 1974, Nixon resigned.

Fresh start for the hotel

While the Watergate scandal became legendary in the years that followed, the hotel complex on the banks of the Potomac continued to decline. The Watergate stood empty for three years before the buildings were bought by New York investor couple Jacques and Rakel Cohen for $ 45 million in 2010. The Cohens put more than $ 120 million into the renovation before the hotel reopened in 2015.

The new Watergate plays with its past. The design is based on the 1960s and 1970s, the heyday of the hotel. References to the famous scandal that made Watergate famous around the world are also included. “Stolen from the Watergate Hotel,” it says on the pencils of the luxury hostel. Magnetic cards for the hotel rooms carry a note for the guests: "Burglary unnecessary".

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