The smoking gun had been fired on July 23, 1972, during an oval office conversation between President Richard M. Nixon and H. R. Haldeman, the flat-topped former Eagle Scout Mr. Nixon had chosen for White House chief of staff. The two men were discussing the bungled burglary of the Democratic National Committee two months earlier, a scandal that had come to be known as Watergate, after the name of the Washington, D.C., complex that housed the D.N.C. offices. People were now asking a lot of questions, especially at NBC News, which had just broadcast a special report on the Cuban-born burglars who had been hired by Nixon’s operatives to conduct the black bag job.
That gave the president an idea. He directed Mr. Haldeman to tell the Federal Bureau of Investigation to halt its investigation of the Watergate matter because it might lead to the release of classified information about the Bay of Pigs, the botched invasion of Cuba, which had been orchestrated by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1961. Mr. Nixon knew, of course, that this was a lie; but in the midst of the Cold War, with Communism apparently thriving less than 90 miles from Florida, Cubans made convenient political scapegoats.
So Mr. Nixon pulled the trigger: “Say: ‘Look, the problem is that this will open the whole Bay of Pigs thing, and the President just feels that,’ without going into the details...don’t, don’t lie to them to the extent to say there is no involvement.... Call the FBI in and say ‘that we wish for the country, don’t go any further into this case,’ period!” The rest, as they say, is history. The Oval Office tapes that secretly recorded all this were subpoenaed and eventually released to the public; and Mr. Nixon was sent packing 40 years ago this summer.
After all these years of research and revelation—years in which we even learned the identity of the mysterious Deep Throat—it’s hard to believe that there is still an untold story about the Watergate affair. Yet here it is.
In this issue, Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., tells the tale of three Jesuits and their connections to the greatest political crime of the century. It’s fascinating, not least because these three men, who as Jesuits went through the same basic academic training and spiritual formation, could not have been more different from one another.
While President Nixon and Mr. Haldeman were concocting their Cuban scheme, John McLaughlin, S.J., was commuting back and forth between his White House office—where he had taken charge of the moral defense of the president—and his apartment in, of all places, the Watergate.
At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, meanwhile, Congressman Robert Drinan, S.J., was actively opposing the president’s policies and would eventually vote for his impeachment.
And at the height of the scandal, Frank Haig, S.J., provided quiet counsel to his brother, Gen. Alexander Haig, who just happened to be Mr. Haldeman’s replacement as White House chief of staff. Not, perhaps, since the days when Jesuits served as the chief confessors to the crowned heads of Europe had a group of Jesuits been so close to the center of political intrigue. The more things change....
Forty years after Watergate, as Tim Padgett also reports in this issue, Cuba is still on the political—and now papal—agenda. As we look back to that eventful summer of 1974 and as we look ahead to the future of the U.S./Cuba relationship, we would do well to remember these words of wisdom: “Others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.” The author, Richard M. Nixon, was speaking from experience.