the blog of DC Drinking Liberally

August 10, 2005

I Take on Barry Sussman


At Nieman Watchdog, Barry Sussman insists that Throat/Felt’s role was minor, as was the essential crime of Watergate:

Looked at in this light, the Watergate break-in was just a routine raid by White House thugs who thought they were above the law and who couldn’t distinguish tough politics from crime. The FBI, including Mark Felt, also was deep into illegal activities, infiltrating antiwar groups and at times prodding them to actions, including bombings, that they might not have committed on their own. In 1980, Felt was convicted for his role.

About as bad as anything else was the cover-up. It’s not known whether Nixon was aware of the break-in in advance, but it is clear that he personally directed the cover-up with its hush money payments, fake White House investigations, protestations of innocence, inveigling of the CIA and FBI into compliance (at least for a while), and assistance from members of both political parties on Capitol Hill to block inquiries.

As it happens, I’m reading All The President’s Men at the moment. Which leaves the reader with a much different impression. First of all, Deep Throat is mentioned about every 5 to 10 pages. His role was often confirming Woodward’s theories, occasionally being a second source. But it’s Woodward’s midnight encounters with Felt in an isolated garage that form the dramatic backbone of the book. Now Sussman’s impression may have been different from Woodward and Bernstein, but Sussman is being overly dismissive.

The other thing, and again it may just be Woodward, Bernstein, and Sussman weren’t on the same page, if that’s the expression, but the bit about “the Watergate break-in was just a routine raid by White House thugs” sharply disagrees with All the President’s Men. The break in was what got prosecuted, but the bigger issue was that CReeP had an organization of at least 50 people whose mission it was to subvert the electoral process. A lot of what CReeP engaged wasn’t illegal, but if the pattern of activities had been known, the public would have been outraged.

As an example, it was the job of one CReePer to hire rabble-rousers to disrupt Democratic rallies. The job of another to pose as a Democratic organizer and routinely change meeting times and places. The job of another to order unwanted pizzas, flowers, and caterers and send them to rallies, COD. The people on Nixon’s enemies were wire-tapped- that probably was illegal- but for whatever reason, the prosecution focused on the Watergate break-in.

This is more than just a historical question, of course. The investigation of L’affaire de Rove may lead us to understand Bush/Nixon parallels.

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