“You must pursue this investigation of Watergate even if it leads to the president. I’m innocent. You’ve got to believe I’m innocent. If you don’t, take my job.”
—Richard M. Nixon
The month of June marked the 50th anniversary of Watergate, a major political scandal that occurred in 1972 when Richard Nixon was president. I watched all of the news about the anniversary with interest – because during that time, I was working at the White House as a secretary for the speech writers. I was there, witnessing first-hand without even realizing it that history was being made!
The scandal began after a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., on June 17, 1972. What followed was a cover-up by persons who worked for or with the White House, and by President Nixon himself. On August 9, 1974, likely facing impeachment for his role in the cover-up, Nixon became the only U.S. president to resign the office.
At the time, I was the secretary for two of Nixon’s speech writers, Aram Bakshian and Ben Stein. I would often field telephone calls made by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to the Director of the Speechwriting Staff, David Gergen. Woodward and Bernstein did extensive investigation and reporting on Watergate and were best known for uncovering the scandal. I was always told to say that Gergen was unavailable – and I really did not know why.
In my early twenties at the time, I was very naive and never really understood the seriousness of the situation. I was often given envelopes to deliver to the President’s staff, some of whom were involved in the scandal. Written on the envelopes was the message “For your eyes only.”
Perhaps one of the biggest mysteries of Watergate was the identity of “Deep Throat”– the anonymous source who fed leaks to Woodward and Bernstein. One of my co-workers and I spent our lunch hours trying to figure out who it could possibly be. Thirty years later, the source’s identity was revealed to be the FBI Director, Mark Felts.
I enjoyed the movie “All the President’s Men,” a political drama-thriller about Watergate. The movie was based on the book written by Woodward and Bernstein, which gained recent attention because of Watergate’s 50th anniversary.
“Gas Lit”, a recent mini-series, also gained my attention recently. Starring Julia Roberts, the series highlights the Watergate scandal through the life of Martha Mitchell, the wife of Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell. She was said to have been the first person to sound the alarm on Nixon’s involvement in the scandal.
The day Nixon resigned is one I will never forget. Just prior to the official announcement, David Gergen took the entire speechwriting staff out to lunch and told us that Nixon would be resigning, that we no longer had jobs. At that point, I truly knew history was being made – the first U.S. president to resign.
As I was packing boxes and preparing to leave my office, Aram Bakshian informed me that Gerald Ford had asked him to remain on staff to help with a smooth transition. Bakshian asked me to stay, too … but that’s another story altogether.
As I grew older, I began to understand the significance of the Watergate scandal. In the words of Leon Jaworski: “From Watergate we learned what generations before us have known; our Constitution works. And during the Watergate years it was interpreted again so as to reaffirm that no one – absolutely no one – is above the law.”