THE OTHER DAY on the Hill, Sen. Lowell Weicker told a story that shows how lucky we were to ever find out about the Watergate affair. Had it not been for a car that ran out of gas at a most propitious moment, the whole affair might still be hidden behind the "cone of silence" at the White House.
It seems that Alfred Baldwin was stationed in the Howard Johnson's motel across from the Watergate on the night of June 17, 1972. His assignment was to watch the building closely and warn the bunglars inside--via walkie-talkie--if he saw any policemen approaching.
On that same night, a guard inside the Watergate saw some doors taped open just after he had closed them. He became suspicious and called the police. A District of Columbia police cruiser was sent to the scene. On the way to the Watergate, it ran out of gas. In its place, an unmarked car was sent to check out the complaint. Poor Mr. Baldwin in the motel saw nothing.
But the plainclothes policemen did. They drew their guns and approached the offices of the Democratic National Committee. Now Baldwin saw them.
He radioed the burglars and asked them if they were wandering around outside the offices with their guns drawn. "No," came the cryptic reply. And the burglars were caught.
The links to the truth have been tenuous throughout the whole Watergate affair. Were it not for Judge John Sirica, the whole matter might have been limited to the conviction of the seven original culprits. But, under pressure, promise and threat from Sirica, McCord finally came through with that rare and precious thing--the truth.
ALEXANDER BUTTERFIELD vaulted to national prominence last week when he revealed another White House secret. This secret--the fact that Nixon had all of his conversations surreptitiously taped--might never have come out had it not been for a particular question by the investigating staff of the Watergate committee.
Fortunately for those few of us who are interested in knowing the truth, it takes a number of men to deceive and conceal--but only one has to slip for the secret to be revealed. And those who have "slipped" in one way or another have provided the nation with an exciting spectacle over the past few weeks.
Jeb Stuart Magruder was one of the first to testify. He confessed his sins to the committee and then proceeded to offer an astonishing justification for those sins. He was, he said, so frustrated by the spectacle of radical lawbreakers that he felt justified in breaking the law as they had done.
This explanation is unfounded on two accounts. For one thing, radical lawbreakers such as William Sloane Coffin (cited specifically by Magruder) conducted their illegal activities openly and fearlessly. Their actions were public actions designed to enlighten and awaken the American people--not to deceive and mislead them. More importantly, however, Coffin's lawbreaking was an act of conscience. He--and others--felt morally compelled, by a belief in God or in the value of human life, to disobey the laws of our nation. They put God, or conscience, above country.
Jeb Magruder put Richard M. Nixon above country. For Magruder, the re-election of the President was more important than obedience to the laws of the land.
THIS ADORATION of the President was not limited to Magruder alone. John N. Mitchell, testifying in his arrogant splendor, also expounded a doctrine of Nixon worship. Mitchell said that the President would have revealed the facts if he had known them and thus would have ruined his chances for re-election. If one overlooks the fact that both of the assumptions implicit in that statement are shaky ones at best, one sees a statement of a loyalty so lofty that it transcends all laws until it falls back on itself of its own weight, destroying both its bearer and its object.
Mitchell seems fully aware that that is just what is happening to him right now. But he is still unwilling to see that excess in loyalty can be as dangerous as excess almost anywhere else. Hurt at being raked over the coals for a loyalty which he considered a virtue, Mitchell unmistakably played the martyr at the hearings. He left his pipe behind--casting it aside like an enraged Ahab, ready to face the world without the aid of comfort. And he left Martha behind, so he could appear, alone and forlorn, as a man oppressed.
John Dean also took pains to present the right image to the country. He toned down his shock of blond hair and purchased a pair of horn-rimmed glasses to replace his modish unrimmed pair. All this so he could look the part of a responsible, sincere young man.
Such goings-on make it obvious that these men have learned well from a President who uses pancake makeup to cover up his five o'clock shadow. But pancake makeup failed to do the trick in the Watergate affair.
FIRST ONE patch of stubble was seen, then another and yet another until the President had developed an awful case of the nubs. Some of the exposed bristles are much more ghastly than that patch of black known as the Watergate affair.
There is the fact that President Nixon spent taxpayers' money for landscaping to beautify--and not to make secure--his San Clemente estate.
There is the fact that the President spent taxpayers' money to pay Bob Haldeman when Haldeman was not working for the government, but was, in fact, working only for the campaign to re-elect the President.
There is the fact that the President improperly offered Ellsberg trial judge Matt Byrne the position of FBI director--an apparent bribe aimed at getting a verdict against Mr. Ellsberg.
There is the fact that the President approved a plan for domestic surveillance which included blatantly illegal activities and which so offended J. Edgar Hoover that Hoover refused to proceed with the plan unless the President gave written permission for FBI agents to break the law in order to carry out the plan.
There is the fact that the President unethically--and perhaps illegally--taped all of his conversations over a period of many months.
There is the fact that the President has carried out bombing raids in Cambodia without informing the American people and, later, without the constitutionally required approval of Congress.
The abuse of authority by the Watergate burglars pales in comparison with the President's abuse of the written laws and Constitution of the United States of America.
It is interesting to note that Sen. Thomas Dodd of Connecticut was censured from the Senate and died of grief because he misused about $4,000 in government funds. Richard M. Nixon shows no signs of remorse about having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of government monies for private purposes.
ANDREW JOHNSON was impeached on the grounds that he failed to follow proper procedure in appointing his Cabinet. Richard M. Nixon allowed L. Patrick Gray to serve--apparently illegally--as "interim" FBI director for almost a year. His new chief aide, Gen. Alexander Haig, is now serving at the White House while allegedly illegally retaining his military commission so that he can accumulate enough military service to qualify for a general's pension.
In spite of all these apparent infractions, Congressmen and Senators have been very careful about impeachment talk. Only a few, like Bella Abzug (D-NY) and John E. Moss (D-Calif.) have openly discussed the possibility of impeachment proceedings. Most are waiting for public opinion to swing against the President and in favor of impeachment before they will participate in such talk. And the Democrats are saying that any impeachment proceedings will have to start with the Republicans.
Recent polls indicate that Nixon's popularity rating is low and going lower. But it is still not as low as Johnson and Truman were during war crises. And surprisingly few Americans favor impeachment proceedings. There is a mystique about the Presidency that retains its grip on the American people in spite of the misdeeds of the man in power.
The misdeeds of Richard M. Nixon make his the sorriest record of any President in American history. His is not a Presidency of incompetent, unwitting error--Nixon is too smart for that. His is a Presidency of total disregard for law and order and human rights--and Watergate is only a tiny part of the dismal story.
[This is the second of a two-part series.]