Fifty years ago, a security guard was making his rounds at the Watergate Complex in Washington DC when he noticed a piece of tape on a basement door.
This piece of evidence, left behind by ex-FBI agent James McCord, led to the arrest of five men who broke into the Democratic National Convention office in the Watergate complex, and ultimately the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
McCord, Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez and Frank Sturgis had all broken into the complex that night to bug the DNC office and take photos of classified election documents.
On the night of the burglary that put the men in jail, night watchman Frank Willis noticed a piece of tape on the basement door in the parking garage that was preventing the door from locking.
At first he thought nothing of it and walked away.
“There didn’t seem anything unusual about the tape at first,” Wills said in a 1973 interview with ABC News.
He removed it and continued on his normal patrol route through the complex.
However, as he began his next round, he noticed that the tape was back on the latch even after he removed it.
“I was a bit suspicious at the time,” he says.
McCord had taped the latch so the door couldn’t be locked while he and the four other men were in the building.
The break-in was an operation orchestrated by the Nixon administration to gather details about Nixon’s Democratic opponents.
When Willis saw the piece of tape again at 2 a.m., he called the police.
Two plainclothes police officers, John Barrett and Paul Leeper, arrived at the scene in unmarked vehicles.
“I had this old funky golf cap, I think I had something like a t-shirt underneath,” Leeper told ABC News.
“If a uniform car had answered that call, it could have been a whole different ball game,” added Barrett.
When they entered the building, they found a crime scene.
“The desk was ransacked and disheveled and a mess,” Barrett said. “As it turned out, probably every room in the DNC was like that, and we later found out they were always mixed up.”
Although the burglars had a guard to warn them of the police presence, he was distracted when Barrett and Leeper entered.
“He was watching a show called ‘Attack of the Puppet People,'” Barrett said. “He was glued to the TV … so he looked back and saw lights come on [in] the DNC.”
If the officers had come in uniform and in cars with sirens, the guards would probably have spotted them and warned McCord and the others to flee.
Barrett and Leeper eventually stumbled upon five men in suits in the office.
“McCord said to me twice, ‘Are you with the police?’ And I was like, ‘Why is he asking such a stupid question? Of course we’re the police,'” Leeper said.
“I don’t think I’ve ever locked up another burglar who was wearing a suit and tie and was middle-aged.”
“There were wiretapping devices…tear gas pens, many, many rolls of film…locksmith tools…thousands of dollars in hundred-dollar bills that were ordered one after the other,” Barrett said.
Barker, Sturgis, Gonzalez, and Martinez all pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, burglary, and wiretapping on January 15, 1973.
Liddy and McCord were convicted on January 30, 1973 of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping.
McCord served just four months in prison and received a commutation sentence for implicated others in the Watergate scandal.
He published a book about the scandal, A Piece of Tape – The Watergate Story: Fact and Fiction, in 1974.
He died in 2017 at the age of 93.
After the burglary, Nixon denied having knowledge of the incident or being involved in orchestrating it.
Two months later, however, two Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, began releasing information from a confidential source implicating Nixon in the break-in.
In January 1973, the Watergate trial began. During the course of the trial, Nixon became implicated based on testimonies and other leaked tapes and documents.
In July 1974, the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to turn over to him recordings of telephone conversations related to the Watergate burglary.
That same month, the court began impeachment proceedings against Nixon.
However, in August, Nixon resigned.
“I’ve never been a quitter. Leaving office before the end of my term is against every instinct in my body,” he said in his resignation speech.
“But as President, I must put America’s interests first.”
https://www.the-sun.com/news/5583347/watergate-burglars-arrested-after-james-mccord-left-clue/ Watergate burglars were arrested 50 years ago today after ex-FBI agent James McCord left a key tip that alerted security agencies