G. Gordon Liddy: the most colorful character in Watergate
Liddy’s superiors wisely rejected his plan, but they gave the green light for an illegal raid on the offices of Lewis Fielding, a California psychiatrist who had provided clinical services to Daniel Ellsberg, the government contractor who leaked the documents. from the Pentagon to the New York Times. (Nixon later said he was not sure whether he personally ordered the operation, which was unquestionably illegal. “I can’t rule it out,” he admitted.)
At the president’s request, Liddy also prepared an elaborate plan to fire a firebomb against the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank that the president said may be in possession of documents that could embarrass the former. President Lyndon B. Johnson. The ploy, which involved sending a bogus team of firefighters to open the institution’s safe, ultimately turned out to be too far-fetched and was called off.
When the Plumbers dissolved in 1971, Liddy became general counsel on the committee to re-elect the president, although his title was ill-chosen. Responsible for overseeing intelligence-gathering activities, Liddy spent more time breaking the law than managing the committee’s compliance with it. In January 1972, he presented details of a political espionage program to Attorney General John Mitchell, who was weeks away from resigning his government post to run for re-election for president. Codenamed Gemstone, Liddy’s proposal included illegal wiretapping and break-ins, as well as kidnapping and assaulting political opponents and a blackmail and trust scheme involving prostitutes. “Not quite what I had in mind,” Mitchell replied.
When Liddy returned eight days later with a reduced plan – $ 500,000 instead of the original budget of $ 1 million; no prostitutes or kidnappings – Nixon’s White House lawyer John Dean was still uncomfortable. It later emerged during the Senate hearings that Dean ended the conversation, noting, “I don’t think this kind of conversation should take place in the Attorney General’s office.” Gemstone never made it past the concept stage, but later that spring, Mitchell ordered Liddy to wiretap the offices of the Democratic National Committee, triggering the chain of events known as Watergate.
Liddy organized the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters on June 17 and, along with Howard Hunt, a former CIA agent and fellow plumber, coordinated the activities of the five Watergate burglars from a nearby hotel room. For his role in the crime, Liddy spent over four years in prison, but he enjoyed several second acts, each arguably more important in the development of modern conservatism than his odd role in the Nixon administration. He wrote a memoir, “Will,” which sold over a million copies, and went on to become a well-paid celebrity on the lecture circuit, sometimes appearing alongside famed music enthusiast Timothy Leary. LSD, in a series called “Nice Scary Guy vs. Scary Nice Guy.
In 1992, Liddy started a subscription radio talk show that became the cornerstone of the emerging conservative media ecosystem. His reinvention as a right-wing media provocateur presaged the emergence of conservative shock jocks like Rush Limbaugh and Oliver North, the rise of partisan media like Fox News and Newsmax, and the rise of unapologetically aggressive conservative politics.
Liddy, who has also appeared in several films and served as a guest judge for a boxing match between Mr. T and Roddy Piper, probably believed most of what he said. But he was a showman to the end – a disproportionate figure who both benefited from the conservative political awakening and influenced his leadership. Still, it seems safe to say he was an original. There will be a lot of imitators, but there was only one G. Gordon Liddy.