Just when you thought there was not another Watergate book to read comes, well, one more that is gaining great reviews. As with this New York Times review written by the much-respected Douglas Brinkley.
As a Nixon history buff, this topic still resonates and fascinates me.
“While Nixon’s predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, thrived amid disorder, Nixon maintained a clean desk and kept his circle of advisers small. “Just one dinky little phone to keep in touch with his people,” a flabbergasted Johnson scoffed after dining with Nixon. “That’s all — just three buttons and they all go to Germans!” — those being the chief of staff, Haldeman; the domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman; and the national security adviser, Henry Kissinger. Reporters variously referred to this team as the German Shepherds, the Berlin Wall, the Fourth Reich and “the King’s Krauts.”
With granular detail, Graff writes about the white-collar criminals, hatchet men and rogues who populated the outer circles of Nixon’s covert operations. The deputy campaign manager, Jeb Magruder, arguably comes off the worst, “an empty vessel of a man, all too ready to fulfill others’ ambitions, taskings and visions.” Though competent enough to help devise Nixon’s winning 1972 re-election slogan, “Now More Than Ever,” he displayed a carelessness that saw him nonchalantly introducing Liddy to Washington reporters as CREEP’s “man in charge of dirty tricks.” This caused Liddy to beg the White House counsel, John Dean, to fire the preppy loudmouth. “Magruder’s an asshole, John,” Liddy pleaded, “and he’s going to blow my cover.” Magruder stayed on, then flipped to federal prosecutors in exchange for reduced charges.
The heroes of “Watergate” are predictable: Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post. Charting their trajectory from the arraignment of the Watergate burglars on June 17, 1972, until Vanity Fair revealed the identity of Deep Throat in 2005, Graff celebrates their tenacity while also documenting dramatic embellishments in their best-selling memoir “All the President’s Men.”
Watergate studies can be a rabbit hole of hard-to-decipher tapes and half-baked theories. As a former Politico Magazine editor, Graff chafes at hunches and internet misinformation. Therefore, it’s notable that he suggests the C.I.A. might have set up the voice-activated system that sank Nixon’s ship. The mysterious figure of Alexander Butterfield looms large in this regard. According to Graff, Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s secretary, believed that Butterfield, who installed the White House taping system, was a C.I.A. operative. “I have to agree,” Haldeman is quoted as saying. “She may have a point.”