FORMER WATERGATE INVESTIGATOR SAYS THE MOTIVE
FOR THE BREAK-IN WAS TO FIND OUT IF THE DEMOCRATS KNEW NIXON WAS BRIBED BY HOWARD HUGHES -- "60 MINUTES" SUNDAY
A former Watergate investigator says the primary motive for the 1972 burglary of the Democrats' headquarters that touched off the historic political scandal was to learn whether the party's chairman knew President Nixon had taken a bribe from Howard Hughes. The former investigator, Terry Lenzner, speaks to Lesley Stahl in his first television interview on this topic, in a report to be broadcast on 60 MINUTES, Sunday Feb. 27 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Lenzner reported this finding at the time, but it was purposely withheld from the report produced by the Senate Watergate Committee. "I don't remember any explanation [for the omission]...Yes [I was upset]," Lenzner tells Stahl. The information was not acted on and, like many allegations against Nixon, was forgotten and beside the point once the sitting president resigned his office. But Lenzner never forgot. "I don't know if it was a sole motive, but I am absolutely certain it was a significant part of the president's thinking that [finding out if the Democrats knew about the bribe] has to be done," says Lenzner.
An envelope with $50,000 in cash was delivered as an installment on the bribe to Charles "Bebe" Rebozo, a close friend of Nixon's. Congressional investigators believed the cash was to assure Hughes favorable treatment for his casino and airline businesses. The man who delivered it, Robert Maheu, who worked for Hughes for 17 years, thought it was a political contribution. "We delivered the envelope at [Rebozo's] home," says Maheu. Watergate investigators traced the payments to items purchased for Nixon's Florida residence next door to Rebozo's, including a putting green and a pool table.
Nixon had good reason to be worried that Democrats might be aware of the payment. Another one-time employee of Hughes, Larry O'Brien -- who worked with Maheu at the time of the payment -- had become the Democratic National Committee chairman. "The president was absolutely focused on Larry O'Brien when he became chairman," says Lenzner. "Nixon assumed [O'Brien ] knew about it. So he could be thinking, 'Gosh, I bet, you know, if O'Brien was tied into the Hughes organization maybe he knows about the things we did for Hughes on the casinos, on the airlines,'" Lenzner tells Stahl.
Even if the burglars weren't caught in O'Brien's office, they would have found nothing to support Nixon's worries. "I had no reason to tell Larry," says Maheu. "Why the hell would I tell Larry about this?" he asks. The idea that Nixon would be paranoid about such a payment was natural, says Maheu. "If I were the recipient of $100,000 in cash, the possibility that that may surface, it would bother me," he tells Stahl, who asks him, "And you think that led to Watergate?" "I think so," says Maheu.