For Serious Students of Watergate
There are hundreds of Watergate books, but few published to date can be said to be objective. The intensity of the scandal’s political nature prevents that – and new disclosures undermine previous analysis. Nor can there be said to be a single, all-inclusive version about the scandal.
What follows are the specific works the author found to be most helpful in filling out his own understanding of the Watergate scandal. They tend to be first-hand accounts by those actually involved.
Chronology of Public Disclosure:
Watergate: Chronology of a Crisis. (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1975). Beginning with the Ervin Committee’s formation, CQ issued a weekly compilation of Watergate’s public developments, which continued through the cover-up verdicts. It is a true chronology and an ideal source for researching the scandal’s unfolding in real time. It thoroughly answers the question, “What did the public know and when did it know it?” The master index is an invaluable resource.
The White House Tapes:
There are several sets of tape transcripts: those issued by the White House, by the House Judiciary Committee, and used at trial by the Special Prosecutor. The audio quality is so bad, particularly for meetings in the president’s hide-away office in the Old EOB, that versions differ significantly. Even today, there are no “official” transcripts and the National Archives maintains that the only authentic records are the recordings themselves.
Submission of Recorded Presidential Conversations to the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives by President Richard Nixon (Washington, DC: The White House, April 30, 1974). This is the infamous Blue Book, publicly released by the White House at the same time as transcripts of forty-six meetings and telephone calls were submitted to the House Judiciary Committee, along with a fifty page analysis prepared by J. Fred Buzhardt. This was among my principal projects and I prepared the final transcripts of virtually all of these conversations. This was the first transcript release, which became a cause célèbre. Duplicate volumes were issued by the Government Printing Office, Bantam Books and the New York Times as The White House Transcripts.
Transcripts of Eight Recorded Presidential Conversations (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, May-June 1974). These are the transcripts of eight conversations between President Nixon and John Dean that were prepared by the House Judiciary Committee.
Audio versions of these actual tape recordings can be accessed through a website maintained by Luke Nichter, a professor at Chapman University in Orange, CA, at: www.NixonTapes.org. By listening, one can get a real feel as to the audio quality and why various transcripts differ considerably. Nichter and Douglas Brinkley have authored two volumes on The Nixon Tapes (1971-72) and The Nixon Tapes (1973), although the transcribed tapes aren’t necessarily connected to Watergate.
The Real Horror Story
Senate Select Committee to Study Government Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities. Book II, The Growth of Domestic Intelligence: 1936 to 1976. Government Printing Office (1976). One of the Watergate reform initiatives, the Church Committee, chaired by Senator Frank Church (D-ID), investigated governmental invasions of privacy stretching back four decades. Their report, written by Democrats trying desperately to down play their own prior misdeeds, shows the hypocrisy of Nixon’s alleged abuses of power, as well as Ehrlichman’s prosecution for the Plumbers break-in.
Once labeled a “subversive” – whether a suspected German or Communist sympathizer, a civil rights agitator, a women’s libber, or an opponent of Vietnam War – basic rights to privacy could be violated without court authorization, in the name of national security. Here is a link to the electronic version: https://www.intelligence.senate.gov/pdfs94th/94755_II.pdf
The author’s analysis of the Committee’s sworn testimony concerning FBI conduct in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, as well as that testimony itself, is carried on the author’s website at this link.
The victors and their progeny have had a field day writing self-congratulatory books. They also contain the most tantalizing admissions against interest, if read with a jaundiced and knowledgeable eye. [Arranged by date of publication]
Bernstein, Carl and Bob Woodward. All the President’s Men. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974). Supposedly, Robert Redford approached these authors with the idea for a movie and urged them to do a book first about their roles as reporters. Interestingly, there is no indication in their book of where Deep Throat might be employed – as there certainly is in the movie version.
Sussman, Barry. The Great Cover-up: Nixon and the Scandal of Watergate. The First Complete Account from Break-in to Resignation. (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1974). Sussman was Woodward and Bernstein’s editor at the Post and played a huge role in the Post’s Watergate coverage, but was written out of All the President’s Men. Fame can be fickle.
Bernstein, Carl and Bob Woodward. The Final Days. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976). As became a later habit, the authors tend to favor and protect their sources and punish those who declined to cooperate. As such, their rendition of the collapse of the Nixon presidency is rather biased and surprisingly uninformed.
Dean, John. Blind Ambition. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976). As the lead prosecution witness, Dean has been classified with the victors. In later depositions, Dean disowned much of this book’s narrative, claimed not to have even reviewed the final text, and swore that much of the supposed dialogue was an invention of his ghost writer, Taylor Branch.
Dash, Samuel. Chief Counsel, Inside the Ervin Committee—The Untold Story of Watergate. (New York: Random House, 1976). Contains a lot of behind-the-scenes material on how the Committee investigations were conducted. In later interviews, Dash bragged about having orchestrated the hearings and supplying questions to individual Senators. In essence, the hearings were scripted for their TV audience.
Mollenhoff, Clark R. Game Plan for Disaster, an Ombudsman’s Report on the Nixon Years. (New York: Norton & Company, 1976). Mollenhoff was Ombudsman for ten months in the Nixon White House, but left in frustration, becoming Nixon’s fiercest journalistic critic. This is his dance on Nixon’s grave, but it also claims credit for convincing Judge Sirica, in a series of secret meetings, to use the Break-in Trial as his attempt to ferret out the truth behind the break-in.
All the President’s Men, The Movie. (Hollywood: Warner Bros., 1976). Unlike the book, the movie strongly (and erroneously) indicates that Deep Throat was a member of Nixon’s White House staff. This portrayal perpetrated a false narrative for over thirty years, until Deep Throat was outed in 2005.
Ben-Veniste, Richard and George Frampton, Jr. Stonewall: The Real Story of the Watergate Prosecution. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1977). The authors were members of the Watergate Task Force, who prosecuted defendants in the Cover-up Trial. Their first-hand descriptions raise a number of due process questions with regard to those prosecutions.
Doyle, James. Not Above the Law, The Battles of Watergate Prosecutors Cox and Jaworski. (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1977). Doyle was director of media relations for the Special Prosecutor. Not being a lawyer, he makes a number of interesting disclosures, especially regarding how they worked the media – and used the media to work Jaworski. The book also contains a very detailed description of Cox’s actions the culminated in the Saturday Night Massacre.
Jaworski, Leon. The Right and the Power, The Prosecutions of Watergate. New York: Reader’s Digest Press, 1977). Jaworski replaced Cox as Special Prosecutor. One suspects the revealing memos in his confidential Watergate file, which surfaced after being kept hidden for over forty years, were actually prepared in anticipation of writing this book.
Sirica, John J. To Set the Record Straight: The Break-in. The Tapes, The Conspirators, The Pardon. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1979). Judge Sirica presided over both the burglary and the cover-up trials. His early manuscript drafts are a part of his papers at the Library of Congress.
Ervin Jr, Sam. The Whole Truth, The Watergate Conspiracy. (New York: Random House, 1980). Ervin was the folksy chair of the Senate Watergate Committee, which bore his name, but was 84 when this book was published. One can question whether he did much of its actual drafting.
Mollenhoff, Clark R. Investigative Reporting. (New York: Macmillian Publishing Co., 1981). One can get a more complete picture of the role that Mollenhoff played in Watergate by combining this book’s disclosures with those from his prior book. It also is instructive to compare his chapter on Nixon with the preceding one on Lyndon Johnson. One wonders just who was the bigger crook.
Eisler, Kim Issac. A Justice for All, William J. Brennan and the Decisions that Transformed America. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993) This provides a biased, but interesting, insider view on Brennan’s influence on Judge Bazelon and on the writing of the Supreme Court opinion in the tapes case, US v Nixon.
Brian Lapping Associates. Watergate. Volume One: A Third-Rate Burglary; Volume Two: The Conspiracy Crumbles; Volume Three: The Fall of a President. Video series aired on The Discovery Channel and BBC (1994). Video series aired on The Discovery Channel and BBC (1994). Their interview of Dean’s lawyer, Charles Shaffer, reveals his brilliant tactics in preparing his client for the Ervin Committee hearings.
Merrill, William H. Watergate Prosecutor. (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2008). The author headed the Plumbers Task Force. This slim volume, published posthumously, gushes with patriotic observations but also contains a whole series of admissions against interest that show how due process was denied in Ehrlichman’s separate prosecution in the Plumbers trial.
Dean, John. The Nixon Defense, What He Knew and When He Knew It. (New York: Penguin Viking, 2014). This most recent of Dean’s Watergate books and contains intriguing dismissal of the 18½ Minute Gap as “historically insignificant” (Appendix A) and admits the “smoking gun” tape is really about protecting the identity of prominent Democrat donors, who had secretly contributed to Nixon’s re-election campaign (Footnote at pp. 55-56).
Wine-Banks, Jill. The Watergate Girl: My Fight for Truth and Justice Against a Criminal President (Henry Holt and Co., 2020). This is more the author’s autobiography about her successes in a man’s world. She apparently didn’t take the time to research events from almost fifty years ago, so some of her stories are simply wrong.
Graff, Garrett M. Watergate, A New History (Avid Reader Press, 2022). While the author was born in 1981 and has no first-hand involvement, his 800-page book is referenced here as a current compilation of Watergate’s conventional wisdom. He claims to have done no original research, but instead to have absorbed the work of a multitude of others.
Most of the major defendants, with the notable exception of John Mitchell, wrote their side of the Watergate story. In the intervening years, much of what they said has turned out to be true. [Arranged by date of publication]
Magruder, Jeb Stuart. An American Life, One Man’s Road to Watergate. (New York: Athenaeum, 1974). Since this book was published prior to the Cover-up Trial, it restricted Magruder’s ability to alter his recollection of events to conform to some aspects of the government’s case.
McCord, Jr, James W. A Piece of Tape, The Watergate Story: Fact and Fiction. (Rockville, MD: Washington Media Services, Ltd., 1974). McCord remains an enigma. His actions and motivations figure prominently in the series of doubter books described in the next section.
Colson, Charles W. Born Again. Chosen Books, 1976). Colson was a controversial Nixon political operative. He was only tangentially involved in Watergate, and yet was indicted in both the Plumbers and the cover-up cases. He may have been among the most wronged of the Watergate defendants. Prudently, he reached an early plea bargain and spared himself the terrors of actual trials.
Haldeman, H. R. with Joseph DiMona. The Ends of Power. (New York Times Books, 1978). Haldeman insisted to the end that he had done nothing more than serve his President as chief of staff. As one of the very few non-lawyers involved in Watergate, he may never have realized the risks from his efforts to defend the President politically.
Nixon, Richard M. The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. (Grosset & Dunlap, 1978). The former president’s section on Watergate comes as close as could be to an admission of deliberate inattention, if not of actual wrongdoing.
Stans, Maurice H. The Terrors of Justice. (Everest House, 1978). When the onslaught was over and the multitude of reported transgressions against him turned out to be baseless, Stans asked (rhetorically) where he should go to get his reputation back. These are his bitter recollections of the gauntlet to which he was subjected.
Liddy, G. Gordon. Will, the Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy. (St Martin’s Press, 1980). While the moving party in most of the wrongdoing, Liddy refused to break his silence, becoming known as the Ironman of Watergate, and serving the longest jail term of any defendant (over five years) before his sentence was commuted by President Carter. His retellings, while sinister in temperament, have not been disputed.
Ehrlichman, John. Witness to Power, The Nixon Years. (Simon & Schuster, 1982). Of the major Watergate defendants, Ehrlichman was the least involved and received the shabbiest treatment at the hands of the prosecutors. Although he was Nixon’s counsel, the taping system was kept secret from him, for which he never forgave Haldeman or the President.
Haig, Alexander M, Jr. Inner Circles, How America Changed the World. (Warner Books, 1992). Haig replaced Haldeman as Nixon’s chief of staff largely out of a sense of duty, but was overwhelmed by the political onslaught the scandal had become.
Haldeman, H. R. The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House. (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1994). The posthumous publication of his secret diaries was criticized as the ultimate act of disloyalty at the time, but they show a candor and lack of criminal intent with regard to his Watergate involvement.
Gray, III, L. Patrick, with Ed Gray. In Nixon’s Web: A Year in the Crosshairs of Watergate. (New York Times Books, 2008) This was also published posthumously, but shows how Gray was totally out of his element as Acting FBI Director, never realizing that his Deputy, Mark Felt, was secretly undermining him at every opportunity.
Bork, Robert H. Saving Justice, Watergate, the Saturday Night Massacre, and Other Adventures of a Solicitor General. (Encounter Books, 2013). Bork lost any chance of being confirmed for the Supreme Court when he agreed to stop the carnage at the Department of Justice by firing Archibald Cox. He acted out of the most patriotic of motives, but got Borked for his good deed.
This series of books raises doubts as to whether conventional wisdom regarding the Watergate scandal is factually correct, particularly the circumstances surrounding the original break-in. Interestingly, most were not written by Republican stalwarts, but by authors and journalists who identified disturbing discrepancies. [Arranged by date of publication]
Higgins, George V. The Friends of Richard Nixon. (Little, Brown and Company, 1975). Higgins is a former federal prosecutor, who first wrote about the complete lack of due process provided to defendants during the Watergate trials.
Thompson, Fred D. At That Point In Time, The Inside Story of the Senate Watergate Committee. (The New York Times Book Company, 1975). Thompson was minority counsel to the Ervin Committee. His book is replete with numerous stories of how Republican efforts to pursue alternative investigations were thwarted by the Democratic majority.
Hougan, Jim. Secret Agenda: Watergate, Deep Throat and the CIA. (Random House, 1984). Hougan did the early and seminal work on highlighting all of the discrepancies in the stories of how the break-in occurred and was investigated in such a strange manner.
Colodny, Leonard and R. Gettlin. Silent Coup: The Removal of a President. (St. Martin’s Press, 1991). Their book is really two separate stories: The first is how the military so distrusted Nixon and Kissinger that they set up a spy ring within the White House and may have conspired to facilitate Nixon’s downfall (the Yeoman Radford/Admiral Wallander Affair). The second, the Golden Boy section, focuses on John Dean and his disturbing role in instigating Watergate events. Colodny’s extensive research files, including taped interviews with dozens of key figures, recently have been donated to Texas A&M.
Zeifman, Jerry. Without Honor, The Impeachment of Richard Nixon and the Crimes of Camelot. (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1995). Zeifman, no fan of President Nixon, was the long-time majority counsel of the House Judiciary Committee. He describes how the Impeachment Inquiry staff was secretly directed by Kennedy supporters and how a study which showed President Nixon’s alleged abuses of power differed little from those lodged against prior Presidents stretching back to Thomas Jefferson was deliberately suppressed.
Rochvarg, Arnold. Watergate Victory; Mardian’s Appeal. (University Press of America, 1995). Rochvarg was a summer law clerk for the law firm handling Robert Mardian’s appeal from his conviction in the Cover-up Trial. His description of how they argued and won a reversal contains lots of good insights into the unfairness of Judge Sirica’s actions as trial judge.
Adler, Renata. Canaries in the Mineshaft, Essays on Politics and the Media. (St. Martin’s Press, 2001). Adler was a member of the Impeachment Inquiry staff, but is a contrarian and thus included in this section. Her first and last essays are of significant interest: “Searching for the Real Nixon Scandal”, published in The Atlantic in 1976, questions the work of the House Impeachment Inquiry (of which she was a part). “A Court of No Appeal”, published in Harper’s Magazine in 2000, harshly criticizes Judge Sirica and his conduct of the Watergate trials.
Rosen, James. The Strong Man; John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate. (Doubleday, 2008). Rosen spent seventeen years researching this book about John Mitchell and defending his role in the Watergate scandal.
Shepard, Geoff. The Secret Plot to Make Ted Kennedy President, Inside the Real Watergate Cover-up. (Penguin Sentinel, 2008) This is the author’s first Watergate book and details how the scandal was so successfully exploited for political gain by Democrats who had served in the Kennedy administration and longed for a return to power.
Colodny, Leonard and Tom Shachtman. The Forty Years War, the Rise and Fall of the Neocons, from Nixon to Obama. (HarperCollins Publishers, 2009). This is a sequel volume describing the continuing foreign affairs battles between the neocons and the realists.
Merritt, Robert, as told to Douglas Caddy. Watergate Exposed: How the President of the United States and the Watergate Burglars Were Set Up. (Trine Day LLC, 2011). The author claims to have been a police informant and in possession of inside information with regard to the circumstances surrounding the Watergate burglary arrests. is co-author was their initial counsel. Much of the book strains credulity, but if even ten percent of it is correct, it will dramatically affect views of the origins of the Watergate scandal.
Holland, Max. Leak, Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat. (University Press of Kansas, 2012). The author describes how Deputy FBI Director Mark Felt was not leaking to Bob Woodward out of any sense of patriotism, but in an effort to oust Pat Gray as Acting Director so that he could be named in his place. Holland argues that the credibility of his leaks should be evaluated in that context.
Himmelman, Jeff. Yours in Truth, a Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee. (Random House, 2012). In the course of researching a book about the Washington Post’s former executive editor, Himmelman came across evidence that documented Bernstein’s grand juror interview, an event denied for the prior four decades. His courage in revealing these long-held secrets was denounced by his former friends and colleagues.
Stanford, Phil. White House Call Girl. (Feral House, 2014). This is a sequel to Colodny’s Golden Boy section on John Dean. Stanford, an Oregon journalist, delightfully describes embarrassing associations of Dean and his wife and then documents his disclosures with the thoroughness of an academic paper.
Stone, Roger and Mike Colapietro. Nixon’s Secrets: The Rise, Fall and Untold Truth about the President, Watergate, and the Pardon. (Skyhorse Publishing, 2014). Stone, who worked at CRP and was close to Nixon in his later years, recaptures the good, the bad and the ugly about what we now know (or suspect) about Nixon and Watergate.
Shepard, Geoff. The Real Watergate Scandal, Collusion, Conspiracy and the Plot that Brought Nixon Down (Regnery, 2015). This is my second Watergate book, whose disclosures regarding the lack of due process provided to defendants in the Cover-up Trial, came mainly from Leon Jaworski’s newly uncovered papers at the National Archives.
Locker, Ray. Haig’s Coup: How Richard Nixon’s Closest Aide Forced Him from Office (Potomac Books, 2019). This is largely a continuation of Colodny’s obsession with the military spy ring that was operating in the Nixon White House – and his belief that Alexander Haig, who had been Deputy NSC Director in Nixon’s first term and Haldeman’s replacement as Nixon’s chief of staff in his second, had been a recipient of secretly copied NSC documents. Locker, however, goes much further and (unpersuasively) claims that virtually all adverse developments in Nixon’s second term – including Agnew’s removal, Nixon’s conduct of the Yom Kipper War, and his inept Watergate defense – were the direct result of Haig’s treachery
Shepard, Geoff. The Nixon Conspiracy, Watergate and the Plot to Remove the President (Bombardier Books, 2021). This, my third Watergate book is primarily based on revelations from the “Road Map”, prosecutors’ secret (but erroneous) accusations against President Nixon himself, which I got successfully unsealed in 2018.