Lifestyle & Culture

Weekend Reading: The Watergate

The Watergate complex in Washington consists of the Watergate Hotel, two office buildings and three coop apartment buildings. Even regular, albeit comfortably well off, individuals live in the complex. But that, of course, is not what we think of when we hear the name Watergate, is it? Which is the reason Joseph Rodota’s new book, The Watergate, published last month by William Morrow, is subtitled Inside America’s Most Infamous Address. Get a first glimpse at the historic goings-on in our excerpt, and plan to go hear the author speak at the National Building Museum in Washington on Monday, March 26, at 6:30pm. 

AT NATIONAL AIRPORTjust ten minutes and three traffic lights from the Watergate, Martha and John Mitchell boarded a Gulfstream II jet provided to them by Gulf Oil. Martha’s personal secretary, Lea Jablonsky, and the Mitchells’ eleven-year-old daughter, Marty, joined them on the flight to California. Marty looked forward to visiting Disneyland. Martha looked forward to getting a few days’ rest at the beach.

At noon, following a quick stop at the South Korean embassy to meet with Ambassador Kim Dong Jo, Anna Chennault met Ray Cline for lunch. Their friendship went back decades to her days as a reporter in China, before the Communists seized power. Cline, the former CIA station chief in Taipei, now directed intelligence gathering for the State Department.

Back at the Watergate, women gathered to swim, sunbathe and gossip at one of the three outdoor swimming pools. Each “regular” had her favorite spot. “If it only had a tennis court and a movie theatre,” said Mrs. Herbert Saltzman, who lived next door to Senator and Mrs. Javits in Watergate West, “I don’t think I’d ever have occasion to leave the place.”

Author Joseph Rodota. / Photo by Keller Johnson.

The Mitchells and their entourage arrived in Los Angeles and were whisked off to the Beverly Hills Hotel. It had been a long flight. After a room-service dinner, John retired early and Martha stayed up and had a few drinks.

Four men, using assumed names, arrived at National Airport and took a taxi to the Watergate Hotel. They checked into suites 214 and 314. At 8:30 p.m., they dined on lobster tails at the hotel restaurant.

At 10:50, a man signed the logbook in the lobby of the Watergate Office Building and took the elevator to the eighth floor, where the Federal Reserve kept an office. He taped open the stairwell locks on the eighth floor before continuing down to the sixth floor, taping its door as well as the doors on the B-2 and B-3 levels, and those leading to the underground garage.

On the sixth floor of the Watergate Office Building, in the offices of the Democratic National Committee, Bruce Givner, a  twenty-one-year-old summer intern from UCLA, was making use of the committee’s free long-distance telephone. He called friends and family back home in Lorain, Ohio, pausing only to step onto the balcony and relieve himself in one of the potted plants. He was observed by a man stationed in Room 723 of the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge, across the street, who passed word to the men in Room 314 of the Watergate Hotel that the DNC suite was still occupied.

At 11:51, Frank Wills returned to the Watergate Office Building to begin his midnight to 8:00 a.m. shift. He made his rounds and discovered tape on the door locks at levels B-2 and B-3. He removed the tape, returned to his desk in the lobby and documented his discovery in his logbook. He called the answering service for GSS, the private security firm for which he worked, and left a message for his supervisor to call him.

Shortly after one in the morning, on Saturday, June 17, 1972, five men took the elevator from the second and third floors of the Watergate Hotel down to the underground garage and made their way to the Watergate Office Building.

Within a few hours, the Watergate—and the nation—would never be the same.

—Joseph Rodota

Excerpted from The Watergate: America’s Most Infamous Address, by Joseph Rodota. Copyright © 2018 by Joseph Rodota. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.


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