Watergate scandal slow to emerge in 1972 race

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a weekly series examining the events of 40 years ago that led to Mitchell native George McGovern’s Democratic presidential nomination and run for the White House.

The Daily Republic

Watergate has gone down in history as America’s most infamous political scandal.

It cost President Richard Nixon most of his second term when he was forced to resign on Aug. 8, 1974.

But 40 years ago this week, the Watergate scandal, which erupted in June 1972, was just starting to make news, as young Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein kept digging up stories of the strange behavior of the Nixon campaign, his key advisers and the president himself.

In the end, the burglaries at Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., became the signature event in a series of criminal actions by Nixon and his aides, many of whom went to prison.

Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern tried to make it a major issue in the campaign, but for most people, it was a minor story in the weeks following the initial reports.

A headline on the front page of the Sept. 13, 1972, Daily Republic showed the story was gaining some national exposure. “Money Linked to Break-in Said Part of Secret Nixon Contributions,” it stated.

The Associated Press story reported that $100,000 was “stuffed into a suitcase and rushed to Washington” after a Republican fundraiser in Texas. Some of the money may have come from Mexico, and if it was from non-Americans living there, it was an illegal campaign contribution, the story stated.

The money was part of $700,000 in possibly illegal funds used by the Nixon campaign, according to the AP. It added to the “bizarre developments” in the Watergate story, the story stated.

A jail mug shot of Watergate burglar Bernard L. Barker accompanied the story.

On Sept. 17, a Page 1 story reported that seven men had been indicted in the Watergate break-in. They were G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt (his name was erroneously reported as “E. Edward”), James W. McCord Jr., all who had worked either for the Nixon White House or his campaign committee, as well as four Florida men: Barker, Eugenio Martinez, Frank A. Sturgis and Virgilio R. Gonzalez.

The story ended with a comment from an investigator that these indictments would signal the end of the story.

McGovern brought up the money smuggling during speeches he made across the eastern U.S. on Sept. 22. He noted Nixon was in Texas making appearances and giving speeches.

“I don’t know what this second visit’s about unless he’s going to come back with another suitcase full of money,” McGovern said.