Some have changed, and some haven’t; two decades later, life moves on for Watergate’s players
At first it looked like a routine burglary: five men caught rummaging through the offices of the Democratic National Committee on an early spring morning.
In the end, of course, nothing about that June 17, 1972, drama at the Watergate office and apartment complex was routine. Spurred largely by the tenacious reporting of Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the Senate launched televised hearings May 17, 1973, to investigate the break-in, the ensuing cover-up at the While House and elsewhere and the question that President Richard Nixon could not make go away, “What did he know and when did he know it?” By July 30, 1974, articles of impeachment had been drawn against the President. Twenty-two men, including some of the highest figures in government, eventually went to jail, and on Aug. 9, 1974, Nixon himself resigned in disgrace.
Next Wednesday is the 20th anniversary of the break-in. In the pages that follow, we look at what has happened to some of the key players in the hypnotic national drama that came to be known simply as Watergate.
The pair known as Woodstein: shared praise, separate paths
“We were kids, and young and persistent,” says Bob Woodward, now 49, looking back to when he and Carl Bernstein, 48, helped turn Watergate into front-page news. In the end, their investigation led to a 1973 Pulitzer Prize for The Washington Post, two best-selling books (All the President’s Men and The Final Days, over which they had a year-long falling-out) and a movie starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.
Woodward went on to make millions as the author or coauthor of four more books, including controversial works on John Belushi (Wired) and on CIA chief William Casey (Veil). He continues to work at the Post, these days as an assistant managing editor, and is married to his third wife, Post reporter Elsa Walsh.
Bernstein, by contrast, seems to have become caught up in the world of celebrity. Tagged with a reputation for hard drinking and womanizing (ex-wife Nora Ephron, with whom he had two kids, pilloried him in her roman à clef Heartburn), he struggled through four years with ABC, squandered $3 million and once had to borrow $16,000 from ex-partner Woodward. In 1989 his book Loyalties, an account of his childhood with leftist parents in the Joe McCarthy era, was published to mixed reviews. He served a brief stint with TIME and now lives alone in Manhattan, where he is writing a novel. “I’m very lucky,” he says, sounding settled at last. “I’ve had an extraordinary life if you think about it.”
New careers for three of the President’s now prosperous men
As Richard Nixon’s chief of staff. H.R. Haldeman, 65, ruled the White House with a persona as bristling as his buzz cut. After serving 18 months in prison for his role in the cover-up, he built a lucrative career as a hotel and office developer and now owns a chain of Sizzler steak houses in Florida. The Brush, as he was known during his White House stint, and Jo, his wife of 43 years, live on a lush estate in Santa Barbara, Calif. Ever the Nixon loyalist, he said in 1990: “History will ultimately record him as a truly great President.”
John Ehrlichman, 67, best remembered for his pit bull demeanor before the Senate Watergate Committee, separated from his second wife, Christy, last fall and moved from Santa Fe to Atlanta. Emerging penniless from his 18 months in prison, Nixon’s former domestic affairs adviser carved out a successful career as a novelist, writing three political thrillers. Now an environmental consultant to an international engineering firm, he is trying to win reinstatement as a lawyer.
As the buttoned-down, clean-cut counsel to the President, John Dean, 53, dominated the Senate hearings for more than five hours with testimony directly implicating Richard Nixon in the cover-up. After serving four months in prison, he went on the lecture circuit and wrote a successful 1976 memoir Blind Ambition, later made into a TV mini-series. Recently he and wife Maureen, 46, have lowered their profiles. In January they filed a $150 million libel suit against G. Gordon Liddy as well as the authors and publishers of the 1991 book Silent Coup for allegations that Dean masterminded the break-in and its cover-up and that Mo was tied to a D.C. call-girl ring. Together the couple now run a Beverly Hills investment-banking firm.
Burglars and the guard who got them find less than glory
Virgilio Gonzalez, 67, was one of three Cuban exiles working for ex-CIA agent E. Howard Hunt in the break-in. Despite 15 months in prison, the now retired Miami locksmith says, “The only thing I regret is the resignation of Mr. Nixon.”
The only burglar to be granted a presidential pardon, E. Rolando Martinez, 68, has held the same job—as a sales manager at a Chevrolet dealership in Miami—since he finished his 15-month prison term in 1974, A former CIA operative, Martinez says, “The whole thing for me was just another mission.”
Frank Sturgis, 67, completed his 14-month jail term in January 1974 and remains active with a militant Cuban exile group in Miami plotting the overthrow of Fidel Castro.
Frank Wills, the building guard responsible for the burglars’ capture (he called police after spotting a piece of tape they had put over a door latch), now regrets the whole affair. At first he received a flurry of speaking invitations and even played himself in the 1976 movie All the President’s Men, but then “it sort of died out,” he says. Convicted in 1983 of shoplifting a $12 pair of sneakers, he later became an assistant to comedian turned diet guru Dick Gregory. Now 45 and unemployed, he lives in North Augusta, S.C., caring for his ailing mother.
The spy who never talked; the bagman who paid for silence
As the break-in’s chief tactician—and least cooperative Watergate witness—G. Gordon Liddy served the longest sentence, nearly 4½ years. He paid off $346,000 in legal debts with lectures, debates, a best-selling autobiography, Will, and two spy novels. Now 61, Liddy hosts his own radio call-in show in Fairfax, Va. Unrepentant, he notes proudly the custom plates on his black Volvo read H20 GATE: “This way I can drive around Washington and say ‘f—you’ to all the liberals without saying a word.”
Anthony Ulasewiez, 73, was the Runyon-esque gumshoe who regaled the Watergate Committee with tales of carrying hush money from the White House to the burglars in brown paper bags. “Things came out sounding so preposterous, everyone was burstin’ out laughin’,” he recalls of the hearings. “I couldn’t hear myself think.” During his bagman days, the former New York City cop made so many clandestine calls from pay phones that he resorted to wearing a coin changer on his belt to keep his pockets from tearing. Never jailed, he now lives with his wife, Mary, on their farm in Day, N.Y., and raises roosters that he has named after Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Sirica and other Watergate figures.
Brought low by Watergate, two Nixon aides find a higher calling
Special counsel Charles W. Colson, 60, who once boasted that he would walk over his grandmother to help Richard Nixon, is now the $59,900-a-year head of his Prison Fellowship, a Christian ministry with 40,000 volunteers in 48 stales who advise prisoners. A self-described “nominal Episcopalian” before Watergate, he became a born-again Christian in 1973 shortly before starting a seven-month prison term for obstruction of justice. Now living with his second wife, Patty, 61, on the west coast of Florida, he hosts his own daily religious radio show, has authored nine inspirational books (including Born Again, a 3 million—seller) and gives all his royalties to charity. Compared with his White House days, says Colson, “life now is incomparably more rewarding.”
Boyishly handsome with a cherubic face, Jeb Stuart Magruder was the deputy director of Nixon’s re-election campaign in 1972. After completing “seven months, eight days and 12 hours” in prison for perjury in the cover-up, he entered the Princeton Theological Seminary in 1978 and now heads the 1,100-member First Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Ky. Four years ago Magruder bumped into his old boss for the first time since their Watergate days at the funeral of Ohio State University’s legendary coach Woody Hayes. “Can you imagine he never mentioned anything?” he says of Nixon. “Not even ‘Gee, it’s too bad things didn’t work out.’ Isn’t that something?”
A Congressman gave up his seat; a lawyer buckles up for more
Peter W. Rodino Jr. chaired the 22-member House Judiciary Committee whose decision to bring impeachment to a House vote prompted Nixon’s resignation. Now 83, he has seen the ex-President only once since then. In 1983, while on a USAir flight from his home state of New Jersey to Washington, Rodino was told that his customary seat, 2B, was taken. “I thought to myself, ‘Who could it be?’ ” says the ex-Congressman, who retired in 1988 and is now a law professor at Seton Hall University. “As I sat down, I noticed the back of a head sitting in 2B. It was unmistakably Richard Nixon. I thought, ‘Well, Nixon just doesn’t forget. I was responsible for taking his seat, and now he’s got mine.’ ”
Sam Dash, the Watergate Committee’s tenacious chief counsel, remains active as a D.C. attorney and Georgetown University law professor. Now 67, he will conclude another high-profile investigation this summer—this time as special counsel to the Puerto Rican Senate examining charges that Puerto Rican police murdered two revolutionaries and then tried to cover up the crime. As for Watergate, “the lesson of history is that people forget. My students come up to me at the beginning of class and say, ‘My parents said you had something to do with Watergate,’ and I have to explain, first of all, that I was not one of the burglars.”
Nixon got his due, say an ex-Senator and a onetime star witness
Lowell Weicker, 61, the freshman Republican Senator with the towering 6’6″ frame and booming voice, became the most intimidating inquisitor on the Senate Watergate Committee. Now Governor of Connecticut—elected as an independent, not as a Republican—his view of Nixon hasn’t softened over the years. “I view him now as I viewed him then: a totally unprincipled individual with not a shred of idealism and absolutely no respect for the American people.”
On the morning of July 16, 1973, a little known former White House aide was sitting in a barber’s chair near the White House watching the Watergate hearings on TV when the phone rang. An aide to Sen. Sam Ervin said the Senator wanted Alexander Butterfield to reveal that afternoon what only a select few knew: that Richard Nixon taped all conversations in the Oval Office. Now 66 and head of a San Diego-based management consultant firm, Butterfield says he never regretted making that bombshell revelation. “I don’t share the opinion of those who say Nixon got a bad shake,” he says. “He did certain things, and he should have paid for them, rather than his aides.”
And don’t forget…
John J. Sirica, 88, the federal district judge who sentenced 12 of the Watergate defendants to jail and ordered Nixon to release his White House tapes, retired from the bench in 1984 after heart problems and lives quietly with Lucille, his wife of 40 years, in northwest Washington….
Rose Mary Woods, 74, Nixon’s longtime personal secretary, whom many blamed for the infamous 18½-minute gap on a key White House tape, still lives at the Watergate apartments and remains close to the Nixon family….
Archibald Cox, 80, the bow-tied special prosecutor whose insistence that he hear all relevant White House tapes led to his firing in the so-called Saturday Night Massacre, is now a visiting law professor at Boston University. “Under similar circumstances,” says Cox, “I would do it all again. But I’m not likely to be asked.”…
Fred Thompson, 49, former minority counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee, combined an acting career with his private Nashville law practice. His most prominent role: the airport manager in Die Hard 2…
E. Howard Hunt, 73, the veteran CIA agent who, with Liddy, helped lead the burglary, lives in Miami and has just written his 74th book, Body Count….
Richard M. Nixon, 79 and the grandfather of three, has written more than a dozen books of his own (his latest: Seize the Moment) and continues his efforts to cast himself in the role of elder statesman as an adviser to Presidents Reagan and Bush. He lives in Saddle River, N.J., with wife Pal, 80, who is frail after two strokes….
Gerald Ford, 79, has cut back his post-presidential career of $15,000 speeches, board directorships and celebrity-golf tournaments and lives with wife Betty, 74, in Rancho Mirage, Calif. “I remain convinced that pardoning Nixon was the right thing to do,” he told PEOPLE.
Watergate committee chairman Sam (“I’m just a country lawyer”) Ervin (D.-N.C.) retired from the Senate in 1974 and died of respiratory failure 11 years later at 88; John Mitchell, Nixon’s irascible Attorney General and fund-raiser who served 19 months in prison for his role in the cover-up, died a broken man in 1988 at 75; Leon Jaworski, 77, the wily Texan who finally succeeded Archibald Cox as special prosecutor and successfully subpoenaed Nixon for the tapes, died of a heart attack in 1982.
With reporting from PEOPLE bureaus