Everyone has heard of the famous Watergate Scandal, an incident so shocking that it would leave its mark on history by making any future political scandal carry the “gate” adage (“Monicagate,” “Troopergate,” “Climategate,” etc.), but last summer Alfred C. Baldwin III, Watergate’s “Shadow Man,” paid SGRA a visit to share his insider’s view of what really happened that night, and tell us of many things that took place which have never fully been brought to light. Having one of the key players of such an iconic conspiracy visit our group for an open discussion was an exciting opportunity, and the story that Mr. Baldwin shared with us did not disappoint.
Mr. Baldwin is a man with a fascinating background and many experiences to discuss, not to mention a local connection as he was born and resides here in Connecticut. He served in the Marines before joining the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Tampa, FL, and then eventually resigned from the FBI and moved back to Connecticut. It was while living back in New Haven, CT, that he was recruited by James W. McCord, a former CIA agent who was then working for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). McCord would later go on to be one of the burglars arrested during that June 17 break-in. Baldwin was tasked with being the man in a hotel room across from Watergate listening in to the audio from the bugs planted in the DNC.
Most of what people know of the Watergate story comes from the investigative reporting of Washington Post journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward that was made into the book and movie “All The President’s Men.” But the web of conspiracy connected more events and people in the years prior to the famous break-in than were depicted in that one story. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Watergate is the fact that had it not been for an alert security guard working the late shift who called police to report some suspicious activity taking place, what we know about this moment in history may have been drastically different – and we may never have known at all.
At 1:47am on June 17, 1972, security guard Frank Wills called police to report a burglary in progress at the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood Washington, DC. When they arrived police arrested a group of five men who were in the process of placing listening devices so that rival Republicans could learn what was in store during Nixon’s re-election campaign. In room 419 of the Howard Johnson Hotel directly across the street from the Watergate Hotel, Mr. Baldwin was watching the entire incident take place. As the “Shadow Man” it was his job to warn Bernard Barker (one of the burglars) if the police were called, but Barker had turned off his walkie talkie so Baldwin could not reach him. The subsequent questioning of the men is what blew the lid on the Watergate Scandal.
What Baldwin shared with during his visit was that the chronology of events relating to the Watergate Scandal is much more extensive that most people understand. One of the most surprising facts of this is that the break-in which became so famous was in fact not the first one. In May of 1972 eavesdropping devices were planted in the DNC offices, however when some of them stopped working, a second break-in was needed to replace them. That second time was the June 17 incident. The DNC offices were also not the only, or the first, places that the group had planted devices in. The “plumbers group” (so-named because they were tasked with “plugging leaks” in the Nixon Administration) had conducted several other break-ins before.
As with so many conspiracies and scandals, those involved were quick to deny any connection, which would only prove to hurt their reputations even more when it was learned what involvement they actually had. In the case of the Watergate break-in, most of those who knew about it within in the Nixon Administration simply assumed that no one would ever trace it back to them, so little was done to cover it up. The FBI investigation of the break-in took months, and at the same time Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein were hot on the trail every moment. It wasn’t until October of 1972 that the FBI finally realized that the break-in at the Watergate Hotel had been authorized by the Nixon Administration, and indeed President Nixon himself.
Despite all of this, Nixon still overwhelmingly won his reelection, and for a while it seemed that the links would never reach to him. But by April of 1972 the scandal had rocked the foundations of the Administration, leading to the resignation of White House staffers H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman as well as Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, and in May of that year the Senate began to investigate how far the Watergate web reached. As evidence mounted, the scandal spread, and more people were found to be connected, things grew too great for Nixon to avoid. Finally, on August 8, 1974 Nixon became the first president to resign from office.
So as we mark the 40th anniversary of this famous political scandal it serves as a reminder to both researchers as well as the public to remember that things are never as they seem on the surface. And that even something which appears as uninteresting as a break-in at an office can turn out connect all the way to the highest office in the country, and bring down the very person who sits in that Oval Office.