Watergate conspirator’s death kept quiet for 2 years
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.