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The Words Of Watergate
AN ANNIVERSARY LOOK BACK AT THE BIGGEST PRESIDENTIAL SCANDAL EVER, THROUGH THE CHANGES IT WROUGHT IN THE LANGUAGE
October 1997 | Volume 48, Issue 6
The “cancer” was growing because more people had to perjure themselves as the Watergate investigation widened and because of the demands of E. Howard Hunt for hush money (or “humanitarian relief”). By March 1973 the Watergate burglars had extracted more than two hundred thousand dollars from the Nixon campaign organization for bail money, living expenses, and lawyers’ fees. The payments had helped maintain the fabric of the cover-up. Despite sharp questioning by Judge Sirica, who clearly didn’t believe that the men were acting on their own, the trial of the Watergate burglars had ended on January 30 without implicating any higher-ups. (Liddy and McCord were convicted; Hunt and the four Miamians pleaded guilty.)
Now Hunt was demanding another $122,000 for personal expenses and legal bills. Unless he got it, Dean told the President, Hunt threatened to “bring John Ehrlichman down to his knees and put him in jail” by exposing all the “seamy things” he had done for Ehrlichman. Dean could see no end to the extortion. He told Nixon that the cost of keeping Hunt and the others quiet might amount to a million dollars over the next two years—and that he didn’t know where to get the money. But the President assured him: “You could get a million dollars. And you could get it in cash. I, I know where it could be gotten. … It’s not easy, but it could be done.” Nixon went on to say that “the Hunt problem … ought to be handled” in order “to buy time.” That same evening, Mitchell’s chief assistant on the re-election committee, Frederick C. LaRue, arranged to have $75,000 delivered to Hunt’s lawyer.
Dean asked what Ehrlichman meant by “deep-six.” Ehrlichman said: “You drive across the river at night, don’t you? … just toss the briefcase into the river.”
Except for Nixon, everyone just named went to jail.
To obstruct justice .
The softer language was important psychologically to the conspirators. As John Dean explained in a 1975 New York Times article: “If Bob Haldeman or John Ehrlichman or even Richard Nixon had said to me, ‘John, I want you to do a little crime for me. I want you to obstruct justice,’ I would have told him he was crazy. … No one thought about the Watergate cover-up in those terms—at first, anyway. Rather it was ‘containing’ Watergate.… No one was motivated to get involved in a criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice—but under the law that is what occurred.”
The preferred pronunciation of CREP, acronym for Committee to Re-Elect the President .
The variant was popularized before the 1972 election—and well before the committee’s creepier activities were revealed to the world. Credit for it belongs not to a Democrat, as one might be forgiven for suspecting, but to Sen. Robert Dole, chairman of the Republican National Committee. He disliked the way the young know-it-alls on the re-election committee were ignoring the established party apparatus.
To destroy evidence, specifically by tossing it into a body of water .
After E. Howard Hunt’s name was connected to the Watergate break-in, the safe in his office in the White House basement was drilled open and its contents turned over to John Dean. The safe contained, among other things, a revolver; bugging equipment; a psychological profile of Dr. Daniel J. Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers ; a State Department cable that had been faked to make it appear that President John F. Kennedy had ordered the murder of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam; and a dossier on Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Dean asked the President’s chief domestic affairs adviser, John Ehrlichman, what he should do with these “sensitive materials.” Ehrlichman, according to Dean’s testimony to the Senate Watergate committee, suggested that he shred the documents and “deep-six” the attaché case containing the electronic gear.
Dean continued: “I asked him what he meant by ‘deep-six.’ He leaned back in his chair and said: ‘You drive across the [Potomac] river at night, don’t you? Well, when you cross over the river on your way home, just toss the briefcase into the river.’”
But Dean had qualms about destroying evidence. Instead he put the documents in a sealed envelope and gave it to Gray, acting director of the FBI. This way, if asked, he could say honestly that he had turned the evidence over to the FBI. At the same time, he counted on Gray to be a good soldier and not let the material become public. Gray did not disappoint. He took the files home and burned them at the end of 1972 with trash left over from Christmas.
Deep-six is old naval slang for a watery grave or for the act of jettisoning something from a ship.
An anonymous source; specifically, the highly placed governmental individual who provided information that helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post unravel key strands of the Watergate scandal .