Wiretapping of the Democratic Party's headquarters
E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, who led the Watergate break-in team, were stationed in a Watergate Hotel room while the burglary was underway. A lookout was posted across the street at the Howard Johnson Hotel. Bruce Givner
was a 21-year old intern working at the DNC's 6th floor offices in the Watergate Hotel Complex when his prolonged stay on that floor precluded the burglars from entering the offices to correct their earlier wiretap work. During the break-in, Hunt and Liddy would remain in contact with each other and with the burglars by radio. These Chapstick tubes outfitted with tiny microphones were later discovered in Hunt's White House office safe.
Transistor radio used in the Watergate break-in
Walkie-talkie used in Watergate break-in
A DNC filing cabinet from the Watergate office building, damaged by the burglars
On January 27, 1972, G. Gordon Liddy, Finance Counsel for the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CRP) and former aide to John Ehrlichman, presented a campaign intelligence plan to CRP's Acting Chairman Jeb Stuart Magruder, Attorney General John Mitchell, and Presidential Counsel John Dean that involved extensive illegal activities against the Democratic Party. According to Dean, this marked "the opening scene of the worst political scandal of the twentieth century and the beginning of the end of the Nixon presidency".
Mitchell viewed the plan as unrealistic. Two months later, Mitchell approved a reduced version of the plan, including burgling the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate Complex in Washington, D.C.—ostensibly to photograph campaign documents and install listening devices in telephones. Liddy was nominally in charge of the operation, but has since insisted that he was duped by both Dean and at least two of his subordinates, which included former CIA officers E. Howard Hunt and James McCord, the latter of whom was serving as then-CRP Security Coordinator after John Mitchell had by then resigned as Attorney General to become the CRP chairman.
In May, McCord assigned former FBI agent Alfred C. Baldwin III to carry out the wiretapping and monitor the telephone conversations afterward. McCord testified that he selected Baldwin's name from a registry published by the FBI's Society of Former Special Agents to work for the Committee to re-elect President Nixon. Baldwin first served as bodyguard to Martha Mitchell—John Mitchell's wife, who was living in Washington. Baldwin accompanied Martha Mitchell to Chicago. Martha did not like Baldwin and described him as the "gauchest character [she'd] ever met". The Committee replaced Baldwin with another security man.
On May 11, McCord arranged for Baldwin, whom investigative reporter Jim Hougan described as "somehow special and perhaps well known to McCord", to stay at the Howard Johnson's motel across the street from the Watergate complex. Room 419 was booked in the name of McCord's company. At behest of G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, McCord and his team of burglars prepared for their first Watergate break-in, which began on May 28.
Two phones inside the DNC headquarters' offices were said to have been wiretapped. One was Robert Spencer Oliver's phone. At the time, Oliver was working as the executive director of the Association of State Democratic Chairmen. The other phone belonged to DNC chairman Larry O'Brien. The FBI found no evidence that O'Brien's phone was bugged; however, it was determined that an effective listening device was installed in Oliver's phone. While successful with installing the listening devices, the Committee agents soon determined that they needed repairs. They plotted a second "burglary" in order to take care of the situation.
Sometime after midnight on Saturday, June 17, 1972, Watergate Complex security guard Frank Wills noticed tape covering the latches on some of the complex's doors leading from the underground parking garage to several offices, which allowed the doors to close but stay unlocked . He removed the tape, believing it was nothing . When he returned a short time later and discovered that someone had retaped the locks, he called the police . Responding to the call was an unmarked car with three plainclothes officers working the overnight "bum squad"—dressed as hippies and on the lookout for drug deals and other street crimes . The burglars' sentry across the street, Alfred Baldwin, was distracted watching TV and failed to observe the arrival of the police car in front of the hotel . Neither did he see the plainclothes officers investigating the DNC's sixth floor suite of 29 offices. By the time Baldwin finally noticed unusual activity on the sixth floor and radioed the burglars, it was already too late. The police apprehended five men, later identified as Virgilio Gonzalez, Bernard Barker, James McCord, Eugenio Martínez, and Frank Sturgis. They were charged with attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other communications. The Washington Post reported that "police found lock-picks and door jimmies, almost $2,300 in cash, most of it in $100 bills with the serial numbers in sequence....a short wave receiver that could pick up police calls, 40 rolls of unexposed film, two 35 millimeter cameras and three pen-sized tear gas guns".
The following morning, Sunday, June 18, G. Gordon Liddy called Jeb Magruder in Los Angeles and informed him that "the four men arrested with McCord were Cuban freedom fighters, whom Howard Hunt recruited". Initially, Nixon's organization and the White House quickly went to work to cover up the crime and any evidence that might have damaged the president and his reelection.
Three months later, on September 15, a grand jury indicted the five office burglars, as well as Hunt and Liddy, for conspiracy, burglary, and violation of federal wiretapping laws. The burglars were tried by a jury, with Judge John Sirica officiating, and pled guilty or were convicted on January 30, 1973.