FEW citizens of the world, living anywhere within reach of a
radio or television set, can forget the momentous events of the
summer of 1974, just 20 years ago.
In Washington, the House Judiciary Committee, which this
reporter was then covering for the Monitor, was edging closer to a
formal vote recommending impeachment of President Richard Nixon for
the coverup of the break-in at the Watergate offices of the
Democratic National Committee. On Aug. 9, Nixon, accompanied by
Vice President Gerald Ford took his final walk out to a helicopter
that was to transport the 37th president away from Washington and
almost certain impeachment.
Nixon's flight from high office was to have major repercussions
throughout the American political system. Congressional inquiries
into Watergate led the way to investigations into abuses by United
States spy agencies, and spurred enactment of laws tightening
covert and US military operations abroad.
The subsequent pardoning of Nixon by President Ford helped lead
to the election of Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976 and the shifting
of the Republican Party away from its moderate wing, the branch
that had elected most Republican presidents in this century,
including Nixon. Instead of a politically moderate successor to
Nixon, the GOP instead turned to its conservative faction and
tapped Ronald Reagan in 1980, ushering in an era of economic
laissez faire at home and foreign intervention (in the Caribbean,
Latin America, and Middle East) abroad.
Joan Hoff, in "Nixon Reconsidered," and Fred Emery, in
"Watergate: The Corruption of American Politics and the Fall of
Richard Nixon," have performed yeomen work in reconstructing the
dark Watergate period of the early 1970s, as well as attempting to
put both Nixon and Watergate into clearer focus. Neither book can
be called revisionist, since both authors accept the Watergate
burglary as an attack on American political liberties and values.
But both books add valuable insights into the legacy of Richard
Nixon and the meaning of Watergate.
While no definitive evidence has yet surfaced proving that Nixon
knew of the Watergate burglary before it happened, there is, writes
Emery, a former executive editor of the Times of London,
circumstantial evidence. A White House "talking paper" dated
April 4, 1972, 2-1/2 months before the burglary, describes a
meeting between H.R. Haldeman, Nixon's chief of staff, and Attorney
General John Mitchell, Nixon's political manager in the 1972
presidential campaign. The paper discusses approval of an
intelligence operation that might have involved the Watergate