Julie Couch

Last week, we followed the attempts of Richard Nixon and his aides Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Haig in their attempts to end United States Attorney George Beall’s investigation into Spiro Agnew’s activities while in office in Maryland. George Bush, National Republican Chair, even joined the act. 

After 45 years, the differing allegiances among those Republicans are still fascinating. Attorney General Elliott Richardson and Attorney Beall put the United States first. Meanwhile, George Bush’s only goal at that time was the Republican Party’s survival. Nixon and his aides appeared to be helping Nixon. 

In looking back at the 1972 Watergate break-in, the first and last thought is: What could these people have been thinking? Why did Nixon and company decide they needed to break into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Headquarters?

Let us return to a year preceding the break-in. According to a Miller Center website article, Nixon, Haldeman and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger discussed how to retrieve files about the Vietnam War from the Brookings Institution. This recorded conversation took place exactly a year before the break-in of June 17, 1972. Nixon interrupted Haldeman and Kissinger to say he wanted the files taken “on a thievery basis. G_ _ _ _ _ _ it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get ’em.” 

Nixon actually suggested “blowing the safe.” 

So if you’re also wondering what they could’ve been thinking to arrange the break-in of the DNC Headquarters, reading about the conversation a year before gives the idea that’s the way Nixon operated.

What continues to make the entire operation strange though is the election itself. Was there no one in that administration who could’ve asked Nixon about the risk of the burglaries at the DNC headquarters? 

When the burglary took place however, the Democrats hadn’t yet selected George McGovern as their nominee. Hubert Humphrey was the favorite of the party establishment Democrats. McGovern had been part of the McGovern-Fraser Commission that changed the rules for the nomination after the 1968 election. He won the Democratic nomination through grassroots support in the primaries although Humphrey had more votes in all the primary contests. 

In June of 1972, the overwhelming Nixon-Agnew victory couldn’t have yet been predicted.

According to the History website, the hostile political climate at that time brought about the decision for the break-in. The Committee to Re-Elect the President (sarcastically known as CREEP) decided they needed to use aggressive tactics including illegal espionage. They first staged a break-in at the DNC headquarters in May 1972. They stole copies of top-secret documents and bugged the office phones. 

In what now seems like a humorous turn of events, the wiretaps failed to work properly so CREEP decided they needed to repair the wiretaps. The break-in on June 17, 1972, was to install a new microphone on the wiretaps.

Can you picture these people discussing the need for a second break-in at the DNC in order to repair their work? That discussion could be made into a slapstick comedy. 

Their second break-in though wasn’t successful as the security guard Frank Wills (who played himself in the movie All the President’s Men), an observant young man of 24 years, noticed something wasn’t right when he checked in at midnight. After finding a door taped open, he called the police. The police arrived in time to catch the five burglars.

Although it wasn’t clear the burglars were connected to CREEP, by Monday nine Washington Post reporters had contributed to the story including Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Woodward and Bernstein had already identified James McCord as a “salaried security coordinator for President Nixon’s reelection committee.” 

The FBI had made an even more important discovery due to a country club bill left at the Watergate and information found in the address book of one of the burglars. The burglars had forgotten to take care of a few details before breaking into the DNC.

Stay tuned.

Returning to Stillwater, someone asked about whether I was going to write more about the pallbearers at Jake Katz’s funeral. When I first wrote about them, there were several I couldn’t identify. Thanks to Ruth Stites and Judy Ringwall, I’m getting closer. 

 It’s an interesting exercise to attempt to find out about people who have been deceased for many years. I’m guessing those who enjoy genealogy work are good at that task. 

Remember there were six pallbearers and 19 honorary pallbearers for the funeral held at First Presbyterian Church on July 5, 1968. Jake Katz could, no doubt, have been described as one of the most distinguished Stillwater citizens.

The six pallbearers were Morris Isenberg, Alfred Boswell, Bill Brooks, Thomas Berry, Jerry Miller and Paul Wise. 

Ruth Stites immediately named Alfred Boswell as the long-time Katz Department Store manager. After he died, Jerry Miller took his place as the store manager. Earlier, I identified Thomas Berry as an independent oil man who grew up along with his seven siblings in his family’s imposing two-story, brick homestead south of Stillwater. Berry’s sister Nellie and her husband Sam Myers built the striking red brick home at Ninth and Stanley. 

Both Paul Wise and Bill Brooks were affiliated with what was in 1968 called Stillwater National Bank. I will add I’m making a presumption that Bill Brooks is the William Edward (Bill) Brooks I identified. He was an officer at SNB who died at age 63 in 1993. His wife Martha Brooks taught art in Stillwater Middle School. 

I remember Paul Wise well as would anyone who has lived for many years in Stillwater. If there was a story in the News Press about a bank customer’s children, he had the article laminated and sent it to the customer with a nice note. Another interesting footnote about Paul Wise was that he and his wife Geneva lived in their white frame house on Monroe until they died although they were eventually surrounded by apartments and Greek houses. The house was near University and Monroe. 

Morris Isenberg is another one of those Jake Katz good deed stories. According to the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities – Stillwater, Oklahoma, in the 1920s Jake Katz brought over from Germany Morris Isenberg who was the son of Katz’s friends Salomon and Betty Isenberg. He immediately started working at Katz Department Store where he continued until he retired. He died at age 89 in 1983 and is buried at Fairlawn. 

Next Week: More about the other 19 pallbearers. 

Julie Couch is a longtime Stillwater resident.