Water­gate con­spir­a­tor’s death kept quiet for 2 years

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - OBITUARIES - By Emily Langer, Har­ri­son Smith and Kate Mor­gan

WASH­ING­TON — James Mc­Cord, a re­tired CIA em­ployee who was con­victed as a con­spir­a­tor in the Water­gate bur­glary and later linked the 1972 break-in to the White House in rev­e­la­tions that helped end the pres­i­dency of Richard Nixon, died June 15, 2017, at his home in Dou­glassville, Pa. He was 93.

The cause was pan­cre­atic can­cer, ac­cord­ing to his death cer­tifi­cate ob­tained at the Berks County Reg­is­ter of Wills of­fice in Read­ing, Pa.

Mc­Cord’s death was first re­ported in “Dirty Tricks,” a 2018 history of the Water­gate in­ves­ti­ga­tion by film­maker Shane O’Sul­li­van. But the news did not ap­pear in lo­cal or na­tional me­dia at the time and only sur­faced on­line in March, when the web­site Kennedys and King pub­lished an obit­u­ary ref­er­enc­ing his gravesite.

Mc­Cord served in the CIA for 19 years, in­clud­ing as chief of the agency’s phys­i­cal se­cu­rity di­vi­sion, be­fore his sup­port­ing — and at times, sen­sa­tional — role in the events that pre­cip­i­tated the first res­ig­na­tion in history of a U.S. pres­i­dent.

He had re­tired from the spy agency and was em­ployed as head of se­cu­rity for the Com­mit­tee for the Re-Elec­tion of the Pres­i­dent, com­monly called CREEP, when he be­came en­tan­gled in a scheme to bur­glar­ize and bug the Demo­cratic na­tional head­quar­ters at the Water­gate build­ing in Wash­ing­ton.

Mc­Cord had once taught a col­lege course on how to pro­tect build­ings from in­tru­sions, and he helped lead the oper­a­tion. Pre­par­ing for the break-in, the con­spir­a­tors rigged door latches at the Water­gate com­plex with ad­he­sive tape to pre­vent the doors from lock­ing.

The tape caught the at­ten­tion of se­cu­rity guard Frank Wills, who alerted the po­lice to sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­ity in the build­ing. In the early morn­ing hours of June 17, 1972, plain­clothes of­fi­cers en­tered the Demo­cratic head­quar­ters and found five bur­glars clad in suits and sur­gi­cal gloves.

Those men — Mc­Cord, Bernard Barker, Frank Stur­gis, Eu­ge­nio Martinez and Vir­gilio Gon­za­lez — were car­ry­ing bug­ging de­vices, cam­eras, film and a walkie-talkie. Mc­Cord ini­tially used the alias Edward Martin but was quickly con­nected to the re-elec­tion com­mit­tee.

His ar­raign­ment, cov­ered by Wash­ing­ton Post re­porter Bob Wood­ward for one of the news­pa­per’s first ar­ti­cles about the events now col­lec­tively known as the Water­gate scan­dal, was mem­o­rably dra­ma­tized in the 1976 film “All the Pres­i­dent’s Men.”

In Septem­ber 1972, a fed­eral grand jury in­dicted Mc­Cord, the other bur­glars, and Nixon aides Howard Hunt and Gor­don Liddy on charges stem­ming from the bug­ging at­tempt. Hunt and four bur­glars pleaded guilty. Mc­Cord and Liddy were tried in Jan­uary 1973 and were con­victed of con­spir­acy, bur­glary and bug­ging.

John Sir­ica, the fed­eral judge who presided over the Water­gate cases, con­tro­ver­sially threat­ened de­fen­dants with stiff sen­tences if they did not as­sist in­ves­ti­ga­tors. Fac­ing a pos­si­ble 45 years in prison, Mc­Cord sub­mit­ted to Sir­ica a letter The Post later de­scribed as a “bomb­shell.”

“There was po­lit­i­cal pres­sure ap­plied to the de­fen­dants to plead guilty and re­main silent,” Mc­Cord wrote in the March 1973 doc­u­ment, de­liv­ered to the court af­ter his con­vic­tion and be­fore his sen­tenc­ing. “Per­jury oc­curred dur­ing the trial in mat­ters highly ma­te­rial to the very struc­ture, ori­en­ta­tion, and im­pact of the gov­ern­ment’s case, and to the mo­ti­va­tion and in­tent of the de­fen­dants.”

Nixon re­signed on Aug. 9, 1974. Mc­Cord served four months in prison.


James Mc­Cord, a key Water­gate fig­ure, once in­structed a col­lege course how to pro­tect build­ings from in­tru­sions.

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