A Watergate Tapeby Roy Hoopes
This is a novel told in a positive, upbeat tone, about a journalist who becomes enmeshed in politics and murder in Washington DC at the time of the Watergate investigations in 1973. There is actually a sinister undertone to the whole thing, but only in reSee more details below
This is a novel told in a positive, upbeat tone, about a journalist who becomes enmeshed in politics and murder in Washington DC at the time of the Watergate investigations in 1973. There is actually a sinister undertone to the whole thing, but only in re
“A fact-drenched style that lets real-life characters speak for themselves.”—Chicago Sun-Times
“The author has drawn on his prize-winning biography of James M. Cain to give his colorful characters and dark situations a depth that transcends the glib efforts of those who employ real people as mere walk-ons.”—Dallas Morning News
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Wednesday afternoon, May 2, 1973
It was easy enough now to pinpoint the date. All I had to do was check my copy of The End of the Presidency, a chronological account of the events leading up to the eventual resignation of Richard Nixon by the editors of The New York Times. President Nixon had just announced the resignations of Attorney General Richard Kleindienst and White House aides John Ehrlichman and H. R. Haldeman and John Dean. In a televised statement the president took responsibility for the Watergate break-in but denied any personal involvement in the incident, However, there “has been an effort to conceal the facts,” he said.
For those of you who don’t remember or were too young to be concerned by your parents continually talking about the three White House aides and “what did the president know and when did he know it?”, by then, all anybody in Washington, if not around the country, could talk about was what was going to happen next in Watergate. Every day the newspapers or the evening television news would report some new tidbit of information concerning the espionage tactics of the Nixon administration or the alleged wrongdoings of the president.
I had been resting my eyes when the telephone rang. It was just as well, because when I looked at the clock on the wall I noted it was almost 2:30 P.M. Time to be back to my typewriter.
“Hartley here,” I said, picking up the phone.
“Raymer? This is Tom—Tom Cranston. I know it’s been a long time, but I’ve got something important to tell you. You’d better take notes.”
“All right, Tom. I’m ready. What the hell’s going on?”
“I’m over here in Ocean City playing the White House game.”
“Did you see Herblock yesterday?”
“Yeah. Oh. Watergate!”
“That’s right.” What Tom was referring to was yesterday’s Herblock cartoon in The Washington Post. He had drawn a game board similar to Monopoly’s and superimposed on it a White House game with a Watergate theme. It had such squares as “Go Directly to Jail and Shut Up!”; “Investigate Yourself and Go Free”; “Go Back 5 Spaces and Shred Paper.” The stack of hundred-dollar bills sitting by the game had President Nixon on them, with the heavy growth of beard Herblock always gave him.
“Raymer, depending on what happens this evening, I may or may not be mailing you a little package.”
My first name is Raymond, but ever since college, when a friend who thought that was too formal and didn’t like Ray came up with Raymer, that is what most of my friends have called me. We had lost track of the Cranstons since their divorce and I had heard things were not going so well with him and that he was drinking a lot. But Tom sounded cold sober now and quite tense, as though he were in some kind of trouble. He said, “If the package arrives and you haven’t heard anything from me in a day or so, I want you to deliver the package to Bob Woodward at The Washington Post. Got that? Bob Woodward!”
Tom was working as staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Oil Reserves, which I was sure had nothing to do with Watergate. But Bob Woodward and The Washington Post did. Woodward and Bernstein had been leading the Post’s investigation. And Ron Ziegler had gone so far as to say that a Post story about White House aide Bob Haldeman having managed a “secret slush fund for political espionage” was “shoddy journalism.”
But the Post and Woodward and Bernstein had been vindicated, and I said to Tom, “I heard this morning that Ziegler apologized to the Post for his criticism of the paper. Has this package you may be mailing me got to do with Watergate or your Senate committee?”
“Raymer, believe me, I can’t take the time to go into it now. It’s very complicated and personal, too. But if you don’t hear from me, the person who can tell you all about it is named Beverly Turner. She’s the wife of Arthur Turner. You may not remember, but you met them at Rehoboth Beach when you and Dory visited us there. They’re neighbors. Got that? Beverly Turner.”
“Okay,” I said, “but I sure as hell would like to know what Ocean City has to do with Watergate. What are you doing over there?”
“Raymer, I can’t tell you now. All I can say is that I’ve learned what was really behind the Watergate break-in. There has been a bunch of guys working out of the White House; they’re called the plumbers because some of them had offices in the basement. During the campaign of ’72 they were wiretapping and breaking into offices trying to find out things that would help them during the campaign—who was responsible for leaks coming from the White House; especially who had leaked the Pentagon Papers about Vietnam to The New York Times. By the way, all this is strictly confidential.”
“Right,” I said.
“Could anybody be tapping your phone now,” Tom asked, “for any reason?”
“I can’t imagine why. I haven’t worked on anything sensitive for years.”
“Good. You might be in danger, as I am, if some of these people knew I had talked to you about this. Anyway,” Tom continued, “these guys were in the DNC headquarters to improve some wiretaps they had already installed, which weren’t giving them what they wanted.”
“Jesus! They must have been out of their minds. So why were they in there to begin with?”
“Because they’re stupid,” Tom said. “They were trying to get information on Larry O’Brien, the DNC chairman, linking him to Howard Hughes.”
“I can’t believe they’d risk what they did just for that.”
“But they did—and that’s all I can go into now. But there’s more. I think I know who was behind the whole thing and I know there’s a cover-up going on, which is going to put some of them in jail. With any luck, I should be back in Washington in a couple of days. We’ll have drinks and I’ll tell you all about it. Promise.” And he hung up.
Jeeeesus, I thought as I slowly put the phone back in the cradle. What the hell was that all about? I knew I was through working for the day, so I opened a beer, walked out on the deck, and sat in the warm May sun to try to decide what to do. We had known Tom Cranston for years. He and Elaine had come back to Washington in 1961 to take a job in the Kennedy administration, part of a large contingent of Californians who had worked for Governor Pat Brown and then come east to work for the Kennedy administration. They used to joke that the Californians in the Kennedy administration even outnumbered the Irish mafia from Massachusetts. Tom worked for a number of government agencies and finally ended up working for President Johnson in the White House in 1966.
It was unusual for a Kennedy man to work in the Johnson White House, but that’s the way Tom was. He impressed everyone with his integrity and his increasing devotion to one overwhelming objective—keeping Richard Nixon out of the White House in 1968. Tom quickly justified the Johnson people’s faith in him and he developed a number of projects important to the administration. As the 1968 campaign approached and Johnson announced that he intended to resign at the end of his term, Tom left the White House to work in the Humphrey campaign against Nixon. When Humphrey was defeated, Tom was out of work.
He was offered a job back in California as editorial page editor of The Los Angeles Tribune—a pretty good slot. But he elected to stay in Washington and take a job with the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. He also started to work on his book, A Democrat Looks at the Future, which was published in 1971. Tom not accepting the Tribune job surprised most people. He was one of the good guys who came to town because they believe in government and want to play some part in the events that shape their lives. Most people, I guess, are drawn to Washington by their natural instinct to be where the power is. But Cranston was one of those exceptions who give this town its soul. He really believed in the democratic process and putting the government to work for the people. And he wanted to make a contribution to society. His enthusiasm for what he was doing and his essential belief in the system were infectious. But, I had to admit, something had happened to him after the Humphrey defeat. And now he seemed to be in the middle of something involving Watergate, and in real trouble.
I tried to remember the Turners, vaguely recalling a quite attractive woman with two young kids and a husband who was in the construction business. It seemed to me that they lived in Towson, a suburb of Baltimore.
Then there was the question of whether I should tell Doreen about the call.
Not now, I decided. If I did, everyone in the neighborhood would know about it by tomorrow, even if—especially if—I told her it was confidential.
Before going out to dinner that night we watched the evening news. That evening CBS had follow-up stories about the resignations of Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Kleindienst, and Dean, and already there was speculation about what these men were going to do now—especially Dean. Were they going to try to plea-bargain and get immunity or a lighter sentence for telling everything they knew? Or were they going to fall on their sword for Richard Nixon?
“Not likely,” said Dory. “I bet they’re scrambling all over each other to see who can get a deal.”
“But I’ll be surprised if any of them get immunity,” I said. Dory agreed.
There was also the curious story of John Connally, the former Democratic governor of Texas who had been chairman of Democrats for Nixon during the campaign and Nixon’s first-term secretary of the treasury. Believe it or not, with what looked like some of the rats in the administration deserting or being pushed off the sinking ship, Connally was scrambling to get aboard. He had just announced that he was leaving the Democratic party and joining the Republicans!
Some analysts thought he was setting himself up for a run at the presidency on the Republican ticket in 1976, and nobody seemed surprised at his switch—considering his role in the 1972 campaign and his tour of duty in Nixon’s cabinet. Governor William Hobby of Texas joked that George Bush (chairman of the Republican National Committee) and Bob Strauss (DNC chairman) had just made a deal: John Lindsay (the mayor of New York who had switched to the Democrats in 1971) for Connally, with the Democrats getting a first-round draft choice and a senator to be named later.
For dinner we went over to our favorite Chinese restaurant in Bethesda. The conversation, of course, centered on Watergate, but suddenly, out of the blue, Dory said, “I wonder what Tom Cranston is doing now? He must be jumping with joy, seeing the Nixon gang leaving the White House in disgrace, with Richard Nixon probably not far behind them. Didn’t he take on a job with the Senate?”
“Yes, he did.”
“I wonder if he’s involved with the Ervin committee, which is getting ready to investigate the Watergate break-in. You know how much he hates Nixon. I bet he’s pulling in every blue chip he has to get a job with that committee.”
Doreen, with her usual intuition, had divined what was going on in my mind. And I didn’t see how I could not tell her about Tom’s phone call now. After what I felt was a very awkward pause, I said, “Doreen, there is something I guess I have to tell you. I got a very strange call from Tom Cranston this morning. At first I decided not to say anything about it to you—at least until after I knew what was going on. In fact, Tom himself asked me to keep it confidential and even said it would be dangerous for me if some people knew Tom had involved me in what he is doing.”
“He is working on something about Watergate, isn’t he?” Dory said.
“He is—and understand this has to be strictly confidential.”
“I don’t think he’s actually working for Senator Ervin. But he seems to have some information that he feels the committee could use, something that would be very damaging to a number of people.”
“And you can’t tell me what it is, can you?”
“No. In fact, I don’t know everything Tom has turned up. He promised to fill me in when he gets back from Ocean City, where he is now.”
“So what’s he doing in Ocean City?”
“He’s working on something.”
“So are you involved?” Dory asked.
“Not yet. But I might be. He seemed to be convinced that he is in some danger. And if something happens to him, he says, I might be receiving a package from him that I should get to Bob Woodward at The Washington Post as soon as possible.”
“Woodward, eh. That certainly means Watergate, doesn’t it?”
“It does, but let’s not speculate about it until we know more.”
At home, I stayed up for the late news, to see if there was anything about Tom. If something had happened to him it would be on the local news.
“You’re worried about Tom, aren’t you?” she said.
“Yes. And let’s hope he’s not on TV tonight.” He wasn’t.
When the news was over I was still wide awake so I started
to watch The Tonight Show. Johnny’s guest was Burt Reynolds, who was pushing his new movie Shamus. But Dory persuaded me to watch The Late Show, which was featuring The Left-Handed Gun, starring Paul Newman as Billy the Kid.
“I can guess why you want to watch this old western,” I said.
“Don’t worry, if Paul gets me excited, you’ll be the first to know.”
“I hope you can wake me up.”
I fell asleep before the first commercials came on.
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