Is there any consensus among scholars what exactly Nixon wanted removed from the Watergate offices?


Is there any consensus among scholars what exactly Nixon wanted removed from the Watergate offices? Was it related to Vietnam or an affair?

I look forward to your feedback.

The usual conclusion is that they weren’t particularly intending to steal anything. The (presumed) plan is that they were trying to install bugs.

For what it’s worth I think (others may correct me) that it’s generally accepted that the Watergate break in was not due to Nixon picking up the phone and saying “I want such and such done”. Instead it’s thought that people below Nixon ordered it done because they knew they type of information that was wanted and because Nixon had fostered an environment where a bit of breaking and entering was par for the course.

What Nixon certainly did do, amongst other things, was subvert the justice system in an attempt to stop the prosecution of the burglars.

Also FWIW there’s a piece here which suggests various motivations for why the two people bugged were the ones chosen for the bugs. The first, Democratic National Chairman Larry O’Brien, seems like a no-brainer. The second, R. Spencer Oliver, a 34-year-old Democratic operative who was executive director of the Association of State Democratic Chairmen, is a bit less obvious. The article goes into various reasons why O’Brien might have been bugged.

Howard Hughes.

Hughes had [del]bribed[/del] given money to Nixon. Nixon was concerned that O’Brien had learned about this and was it was going to be used against him.

The order to bug O’Brien originated from Nixon.

Note that prior to the 1960 election, Hughes had “given” Nixon’s brother Donald a big wad of cash and Nixon thought that had cost him the election. So he didn’t want to see history repeat itself. (OTOH, Nixon could have avoided the whole thing by not taking any secret cash from anybody. Turned out he didn’t need it anyway. The problem with being a good poker player: you get greedy.)

(BTW, good old Bebe Rebozo was mixed up in this too.)


I’m not sure what has led you to believe that document removal was a major objective of the Watergate burglars. Document removal was at most a tertiary goal.

The primary goal was to install wiretaps; the secondary goal was to photograph incriminating documents. Wholesale document removal would have tipped the DNC off that their office had been burglarized.

James McCord did have a few insignificant documents on his person at the time of the arrest, apparently including an innocuous letter to O’Brien and applications for college press credentials at the Democratic National Convention. So there was apparently some relatively trivial document removal taking place.

The testimony of those who authorized, planned, and executed the Watergate burglaries (there was an earlier one on May 28, 1972) is incomplete and contradictory on certain points. No definitive statement of what they hoped to find is possible. (This makes sense; if they knew for certain what they were going to find, why bother with the burglary?) Jeb Stuart Magruder and H.R. Haldeman said that the primary purpose was to investigate the Hughes-O’Brien connection. Gordon Liddy said that the goal was to “find out what O’Brien had of a derogatory nature on us, not to get stuff on him”. The burglars themselves thought that they were looking for evidence of Cuban and radical campaign contributions to the Democratic Party.

As noted, in addition to O’Brien, the burglars bugged Spencer Oliver, the DNC state liaison. Oliver opposed McGovern, who would not formally secure the Democratic nomination until the convention in July. It appears that the Nixon campaign wanted to know what Oliver was doing so that they could sabotage him, since they wanted to run against McGovern. There is some evidence that the Oliver tap was successful and provided that information that helped to elect additional McGovern Democrats at the Democratic state convention in Texas.

  1. Already done.

  2. This is common in these sort of situations. Tell the low end people that the purpose of the job is something that pings their personal beliefs. There’s no reason to tell them the truth, it might cause trouble down the line. And a lie consistent with their main political issue helps them get over any reservations about doing illegal stuff. In short, never trust what the low end folk tell you was the reason.

Note that CREEP dirty trick players sent out fake letters on official looking stationary. So having copies of O’Brien’s letterhead and such would have always been welcome.

Note that the dirty trick stuff was actually amazingly successful. They wanted to run against McGovern, they got McGovern.

It seems to me that for any voter for a party candidate should ask themselves: “Who does the other side want to run against? That person? He/she’s out.”

That strategy did not work well for the Dems in 2016. They certainly believed that Trump would be the weakest candidate.

IIRC it was a case of the dog that caught the car, once they had Trump to run against the Hillary campaign had no real plan of how to deal with him. They just assumed the sheer thought of Trump in the White House would turn Republicans off completely.

Note that your cite does not state that.

The best that can be definitively stated is that if the account is true, it may have come from Nixon.