A Secret Plot, Charts and an Easel: Remembering a Bizarre Snafu During Watergate Scandal

In his book Watergate: A New History, writer Garrett M. Graff details how Gordon Liddy attempted to gain support for his wild ideas

G. Gordon Liddy
G. Gordon Liddy. Photo: Louis MONIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

G. Gordon Liddy is well known for masterminding the plot to infiltrate the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., in June 1972. The scandal would lead to his 1973 conviction and sentencing for conspiracy, burglary and illegally wiretapping — and it was a bizarre snafu that was ultimately his undoing.

In his book Watergate: A New History recently excerpted by Politico — writer Garrett M. Graff details how Liddy attempted to gain support for his wild ideas with a presentation in which he showcased charts and graphics. To display the charts, he asked around for an easel — a detail that would later come back to haunt him.

Graff writes how, in a meeting with then Attorney General John Mitchell, Liddy then detailed his plots, replete with spy planes, illegal break-ins, and blackmail.

Mitchell didn't condemn the plots, but he also didn't offer his approval, noting that the budget Liddy sought ($1 million) was out of the question. He did offer a few words of advice, however, telling Liddy: "Burn those charts. Do it personally," as the meeting adjourned.

Undeterred, Liddy hatched more ideas, including one to assassinate a newspaper columnist who had reported about Nixon campaign finances. Most of those either never materialized or were shot down. Though as Graff writes, Liddy did eventually receive approval to carry out "an ill-defined set of imaginative schemes" — and a budget of $250,000 to do it.

The first part of that plan involved the Watergate complex.

The rest, as they say, is history.

On June 17, 1972, five men were caught rummaging through the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the early morning.

But what at first glance appeared to be a routine burglary was anything but — and, as intrepid Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward would later uncover, the crime involved the president of the United States.

In March 1973, one of the Watergate burglars alleged a full-blown cover-up that began at the top of the White House and Senate investigators began taking a closer look.

Soon enough, they found appointment logs for the dates in which Liddy unveiled his plans. And then they heard about the easel. One White House aide told investigators he specifically remembered Liddy walking around with a package of charts, and then scrambling to find an easel on which to display them.

Liddy's easel, it turned out, would ultimately be part of what led to his undoing — and the object that tied his hairbrained schemes with the upper echelons of U.S. government.

By July 30, 1974, articles of impeachment had been drawn against President Richard Nixon. 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.

As the break-in's chief tactician and least cooperative witness, Liddy served the longest sentence, spending over four years in prison and 100 days in solitary confinement for his role in the scandal.

Liddy would later pay off $346,000 in legal debts with lectures, debates, a best-selling autobiography and two spy novels. He remained 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."

Liddy died last March in Mt. Vernon, Virginia, after suffering from "a variety of ailments," his son Thomas Liddy confirmed to CNN at the time.

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