Geoff Shepard has written an important book, The Real Watergate Scandal: Collusion, Conspiracy, and the Plot that Brought Nixon Down. It will probably go a long way to restore President Nixon’s and his administration’s reputation.
My father, were he still alive, would like that very much.
I come at this entire Watergate topic from a personal observation. I was just a kid when I saw Nixon resign on TV on August 8, 1974. I can still recall my father muttering something like, “Looks like those SOBs finally got him.” Those SOBs were the news media and the three-ring circus they created and the left generally, or the Democrats.
My father could see that no one was getting a fair trial (except presumably the burglars). How could their silly antics in the re-election of Nixon, who won in an historic landslide, 49-1, go all the way to the president unless there were leaps in logic and the law? My father was a very intelligent working-class man, but he knew nothing of the details of the legalities.
So in a small way, I offer this review in honor of him. If Shepard is right, and the evidence is strong that he is, then my father was also right.
Part I covers Chapters 1-3 and the basic Watergate background, introducing the historical context, Nixon’s 1972 landslide victory, the Democrat resentment of a humiliating defeat, the main players, and basic legal concepts.
In Part II, covering his Chapter 4, titled “Collusion,” Shepard outlines at least thirteen secret meetings between judges and Watergate prosecutors, without the defendants’ attorneys. He helpfully provides a summary table of the meetings in Chapter 1, but he goes farther and describes other meetings in this chapter.
In Part III, covering his Chapter 5, titled “Staffing the Nixon Impeachment,” Shepard quotes Leon Jaworski, the second special prosecutor who replaced Archibald Cox, as saying in the context of indicting the president: “The President must be reached at all cost” (p. 79).
So much for due process and even a pretense of objectivity.
In Part IV, Chapters 6-9, Shepard needs to prove the violations of the following elements of due process, which he easily does.
(1) A public trial with the right to confront and cross-examine one’s accusers.
“The trials themselves were media circuses, like show trials of political prisoners in a banana republic. At last one of the principal accusers was not even present in court to be confronted or cross-examined” (p. 42).
This element is proven here and there in the book, particularly pp. 92-98 and 185-89.
(2) A public trial presided over by a fair and impartial judge (Chapter 6).
Here Shepard lays out the evidence that “Chief Judge Sirica, who appointed himself to preside over both Watergate trials, acted as an arm of the prosecution, held a series of highly improper secret meetings with parties whose interests were adverse to the defendants, and defrauded the jury with his temporary sentencing of the government’s principal accusatory witness” (p. 42).
Chapter 6 is one of the longest chapters.
Judge Sirica rightly comes under the closest scrutiny and the severest criticism.
For example, he denied exculpatory evidence to the defendants; he allowed fake prison terms to witnesses who helped the prosecution (the fake terms gave the misleading impression of nonbias from Sirica); he allowed the jury to be tainted and biased. If he had not done those things, “it is quite possible the jury would have concluded that the prosecutors had not proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt” (p. 234).
Without him, Nixon probably would not have had to resign, and his close team (not the campaign team) would have been found not guilty.
(3) A public trial with government’s case presented by nonpartisan prosecution, subject to uniformly applied rules of conduct (Chapter 7).
This chapter is also very long and is filled with evidence that the prosecution was biased and broke the rules of conduct.
“The defendants faced an extraordinarily hostile and unaccountable prosecution. The Watergate Special Prosecution Force (WSPF) was staffed almost exclusively by partisan Democrats. It operated without oversight and was unconstrained by the rules and procedures applicable to all other prosecutions brought by the Department of Justice, including the rules and constraints imposed by the Manual for U.S. Attorneys” (p. 42).
(4) Public trial whose verdict is decided by an untainted and unbiased jury of one’s peers (Chapter 8).
“The District of Columbia’s voter pool from which the Watergate juries were drawn was hopelessly tainted by the ubiquitous and adverse pretrial publicity that accompanied the unfolding of the Watergate scandal and was intensely biased politically, consistently delivering 80 percent of its votes to the Democrat Party” (p. 42).
(5) The right to a fair and impartial appellate review (Chapter 9).
“The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which heard all appeals from Judge Sirica’s two Watergate trials, was corrupted by a secret ex parte meeting between its chief justice and the original special prosecutor” (pp. 42-43).
In the 1968 campaign, Nixon talked about combating liberal judges and implementing policies after he won the presidency. Certain judges sitting on one influential court in particular were out to get him for that.
David Bazelon, a highly influential judge on the D.C. Court of appeals, stacked the bench with liberal and partisan judges, whom he was able to convince not to overturn Judge Sirica’s bizarre rulings (pp. 202-05). Any fair-minded judges were simply out-voted.
Now we can two key questions.
What about the “smoking gun” tape? It turns out that it was historically insignificant. Even Nixon and his defense team didn’t put it in context. It appears that he’s shutting down the FBI’s entire Watergate investigation, which is an obstruction of justice. That’s when Nixon realized that impeachment would follow, so he resigned.
The context, however, shows the following:
To keep certain large campaign contributions by key Democrats from becoming public, the CRP [Committee to Re-Elect the President] converted those contributions into cash. Weeks later, this same cash ended up in the pockets of the Watergate burglars, even though the two events were not connected in any way. The White House effort to get the CIA to ask the FBI to not interview the two persons who had been conduits for the Democrat donors was motivated solely by the desire to keep their identities from becoming public. (p. 37)
So there was no obstruction of justice of the Watergate investigation – just a desire to help Democrats.
What about Nixon’s 1972 landslide victory and the political motivation behind Watergate? Shepard offers this insight:
One of the most striking historical twists of Watergate is that the effort to bring Nixon down was led by people from only two political jurisdictions that had voted against his re-election: the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. (p. 237)
From Massachusetts: Sen. Edward Kennedy; Elliot Richardson; Tip O’Neill, who was the chief behind-the-scenes advocate for impeachment; Archibald Cox; and his Harvard cohort who dominated the WSPF and turned it into a hundred-man inquisition against the Nixon presidency.
In D.C.: all the judges and jurors.
I wouldn’t call it an historical twist. There are too many “coincidences” converging against the president and his team.
Finally, in Part V, covering Chapter 10, Shepard asks, “So What?” Why worry about Watergate today? Nixon and the others were guilty, and that’s the end of it. But Nixon and his team were “guilty” only if you ignore all the counter-evidence that Shepard brings out so effectively.
Another one of the so-whats is that since Judge Sirica did not allow a fair trial, Shepard suggests that the descendants should petition the original trial court, the federal district court for the District of Columbia, for a writ of error coram nobis, “a writ for a judgment that rests on an error of fact which was not know at the time of the judgment and which, if known, would have prevented judgment” (p. 234).
In layman’s terms, they should reopen the books and look into errors of fact and violations of due process, to restore Nixon’s reputation and that of his team. It would be expensive, Shepard forewarns, but worth it.
Apart from any legal reopening of the case, does any court TV channel wish to take up the challenge and incorporate Shepard’s new evidence of flagrant misconduct and gross and widespread denial of due process, with a bipartisan team of legal analysts?
Here’s my personal takeaway from Shepard’s book: my father was right after all. Those “SOBs” (his words) brought down Nixon through shady and illegal methods and the complicity of the news media.
This article first appeared at American Thinker on September 17, 2015. It has been updated and expanded here.