Watergate ‘mastermind’ G. Gordon Liddy dies at 90

G. Gordon Liddy, a Nixon aide perhaps best known for his central role in the scandalous 1972 break-in at the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate complex, has passed away at the age of 90. 

Liddy’s death was confirmed by his son, Thomas, to the Washington Post on Tuesday, noting that he passed away at his daughter’s home in Virginia. While he did not offer a specific cause, he said the death was not related to Covid-19.

Born in Brooklyn in 1930, Liddy had a multifaceted career, working at various times as an FBI agent, a congressional hopeful, a film and television actor, a radio talk show host, and a senior ‘fixer’ in the Richard Nixon administration.

Joining the FBI in 1957 as a field agent, Liddy became the youngest bureau supervisor at the FBI’s Washington, DC headquarters at 29, where he served during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. He left the bureau in 1962 to practice law, after which he briefly served as a prosecutor and unsuccessfully ran for Congress in New York. 

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By 1968, Liddy was running Richard Nixon’s New York election campaign and was awarded a job in his administration after his victory a year later. He held several positions in government before he landed on the White House Special Investigations Unit, better known today as the “White House Plumbers.” 

The unit was tasked with combating embarrassing leaks – hence the name – in particular the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret military study of the Vietnam war that revealed several US administrations had deemed the conflict unwinnable, but continued fighting it regardless. The papers became front-page news after they were leaked to the New York Times in 1972 by Rand Corp analyst Daniel Ellsberg.

While the Plumbers disbanded after a botched break-in at the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, the unit’s ‘dirty tricks’ continued under Nixon’s re-election campaign, where Liddy would organize the Watergate job alongside former CIA operative E. Howard Hunt.

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The break-in unfolded in June 1972, when five burglars were caught and arrested at the Watergate complex as they attempted to grab internal Democratic files and wiretap phones. Liddy and Hunt were later identified as co-conspirators in the operation thanks, in part, to reporting by the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

The Watergate break-in and subsequent attempts to cover up the operation would generate several interlocking scandals for Nixon, who ultimately resigned in 1974 while under threat of impeachment. 

Liddy refused to cooperate with prosecutors after his role in the break-in was uncovered, and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges of conspiracy, burglary and illegal wiretapping in 1973. President Jimmy Carter commuted his sentence some four years later, however, securing his release after 52 months behind bars. He would go on to publish an autobiography and several other non-fiction works after his stint in prison, and later entered the world of acting, appearing on the ‘Miami Vice’ television series as William Maynard, a dodgy ex-intelligence operative modeled on Liddy’s real-life persona.

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