Today’s post comes from Alyssa Manfredi at the National Archives History Office.
George Gordon Liddy played an infamous role in the Watergate scandal. He and a team were behind the attempted break-in to the Democratic National Convention office, which inadvertently led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon. Liddy became one of the few people ever to be convicted of criminal contempt of Congress.
Liddy served in the United States Army during the Korean War and was soon hired by J. Edgar Hoover at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). During his time with the FBI, he was called “reckless” by his fellow agents. This was because he was once arrested during a covert operation and allegedly ordered a background check on his fiancée before they were married.
Under President Nixon, Liddy was moved around to several administrative positions before serving on the Committee to Reelect the President (CRP, or mockingly known as CREEP). The team comprised Liddy, former CIA officer E. Howard Hunt, Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell, Nixon advisers John Ehrlichman and Charles Colson, and Special Assistant to the National Security Council David Young.
The name the committee received as “plumbers” came from a clever exchange between Young and a family member when asked what he was doing at the White House (“I am helping the President stop some leaks,” “like a plumber!”)
After Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, the CREEP team was assembled to collect damaging personal information on Ellsberg. Liddy and Hunt recruited CIA operatives Bernard Barker, Eugenio Martínez, and Frank Sturgis; locksmith Virgilio Gonzalez; and former CIA officer and FBI agent James McCord to carry out their orders. They broke into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in Los Angeles, but the team returned empty-handed.
The team later broke into the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC. The five men were caught and arrested by the DC police department. Upon arrest, Howard Hunt’s contact information was found in two of the men’s address books, and the connection to White House became apparent.
Nixon subsequently denied the connection between the Watergate break-in and any connection with the White House. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein began to investigate the break-in, the cover-up by the White House, and the money trail left behind. The evidence against the President’s involvement in the Watergate scandal led to Nixon’s resignation from office.
Liddy refused to cooperate with prosecutors and was charged with conspiracy, burglary, and illegal wiretapping. He was sentenced to serve 20 years in prison; his partner in crime Hunt was sentenced to 35; and the team of five burglars were sentenced to 40 years. By his own claim, Liddy sang the Nazi Party anthem (the Horst Wessel Song) on his way into prison. President Jimmy Carter commuted Liddy’s sentence, and he was released on parole after serving four and a half years.
After prison, Liddy hosted a radio talk show from 1993 until 2012. He also published his autobiography Will, gave lectures, appeared on television shows like Miami Vice, and even had a board game named after him. Liddy died on March 30, 2021, at age 90.