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Watergate: The Mafia Metaphor | The Nation

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Watergate: The Mafia Metaphor

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Ron Ziegler may have called it a third-rate burglary, but the men who broke in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters all had a connection to the president's re-election campaign.

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Ronald Ziegler's characterization of the raid on the Democratic National Committee's headquarters as a "third-rate burglary attempt" was no doubt meant to be humorous. The five men arrested in the darkened offices in the middle of the night were not burglars; they were either free-lance intelligence entrepreneurs or agents employed by persons not yet identified. They had $6,000 in their possession and the bills had not been taken from the safe in the office; as everyone knows, the Committee is broke. The five men had ransacked part of the office. They had an expensive kit of intelligence paraphernalia in their possession: microphones, transmitters, cameras, lock picks, rubber surgical gloves, walkie-talkie radios, and a Minox "spy" camera and other equipment for copying documents. Two ceiling panels had been removed near Lawrence O'Brien's office. The five "burglars" gave false names when booked but were soon identified. All five have former connections with the CIA. One, James McCord, was employed as "security coordinator" for the Committee to Re-Elect the President and had also been employed by the Republican National Committee. The name of Howard Hunt was found on some papers in the possession of one of the men arrested. Hunt, who worked for the CIA from 1949 to 1970, has been an occasional $100-a-day consultant in the office of Charles W. Colson, special counsel to the President, whose office has the reputation of being the "department of dirty tricks" in the White House setup. Hunt had last worked for Colson as recently as March 29. He is regularly employed by Robert R. Mullen & Company, a Washington public relations firm which has been active in setting up various fake name committees to raise campaign funds for Richard M. Nixon. The walkie-talkie equipment found in the possession of those arrested had been leased by the Committee to Re-Elect the President and on May 7 McCord had been granted a temporary permit to use radio transmitters and trans-receivers by the FCC—rather odd behavior for a "burglar." Of course McCord was promptly discharged by the Republicans and pro forma denials of any knowledge or authorization of his actions have been issued by the White House and by John Mitchell. Colson, like Hunt, has not been available for questioning. More important, a tight lid was promptly clamped on the whole affair— Kleindienst was confirmed just in time—and the known facts have mostly been leaked to the press. It will be interesting to see how thorough and prompt the pending investigation will be.

Whatever the motive for the "breaking and entering," it was not burglary, third-rate or otherwise. The known facts that have leaked out warrant Lawrence O'Brien's statement that there is "developing a clear line to the White House." The attitude of Nixon, Mitchell and Kleindienst to wire tapping and bugging for "domestic security" suggests that they would be quite capable of making use of intelligence material improperly obtained by such methods. Of course they would never, never authorize such methods nor would they care to know too much about them in advance. Nervous and upset as Martha Mitchell was when interviewed at the Westchester Country Club, she may well have had a symbolic perception of the truth when she complained of "those dirty things" the politicians do and of the "cops and robbers game" that certain Washington politicians play. She had reason to complain for she has been rather roughly treated of late, what with those guards supplied by the Committee to Re-Elect the President snatching a phone from her hands in Newport Beach, Calif., and sticking a needle into her behind—as she put it. The word Mafia may, of course, no longer be used in a way that implies a smear against persons of Italian descent, but it is an apt metaphor all the same and may properly be applied to antics of the kind that took place in the Democratic Committee headquarters at the Watergate building.

As might be expected, O'Brien's efforts to force a prompt and thorough investigation were undercut by Sen. Mike Mansfield, who is supposed to function as the Democratic leader in the Senate but seldom does. Even as Mr. O'Brien was pointing to the clear line leading to the White House, Mansfield issued a blanket exoneration of the Republican high command. His confidence may ultimately be justified but he did not have the facts when he spoke; indeed an investigation had not then been ordered. He might, therefore, have waited until the real nature of the raid was established. Similarly, Mansfield was delighted to co-sponsor a resolution submitted by the White House which tied in approval for the offensive weapons agreement with approval of the new arms "modernization" program. This he did almost at the precise moment when Senator Fulbright had finished drafting a resolution which merely indicated approval of the agreement without reference to any additional arms authorizations. When asked about the discrepancy, Mansfield blandly said that he had not read the White House resolution before he agreed to sponsor it. Both actions are in the pattern of Mansfield's chronic predisposition to go along with any special request from the White House.

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