Not all conspiracy theories are bonkers. Watergate is one that actually turned out to be true. But is it possible that Watergate holds the key to another hotly debated conspiracy theory — the assassination of JFK?
Watergate is the reason we attach “–gate” to anything remotely scandalous. There was “Piggate” last year, when rumours spread that Prime Minister David Cameron had done naughty things with a pig when he was a student. “Nipplegate” saw Janet Jackson exposing her boob during the half-time show of the Superbowl in 2004. I remember Eastenders’ now famous love triangle between Sharon, Grant and Phil being dubbed “Sharongate”. We even use it our daily lives — a former boss of mine blew a gasket over my colleague’s failure to use a tray when carrying tea, which we dubbed “Traygate”.
The original “gate” is the conspiracy by the administration of President Richard Nixon to cover up the Watergate burglary. On 17th June 1972, five burglars in the process of wiretapping phones were arrested inside the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate building in Washington, D.C.. Initially the break-in was thought to be of minor importance, but two reporters for The Washington Post — Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein — suspected that there was more going on.
They eventually discovered that the burglars had ties to the Republican government, specifically to Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President. Nixon denied having anything to do with Watergate (giving his “I’m not a crook” speech above) and was subsequently re-elected. But an anonymous whistleblower dubbed “Deep Throat” then started feeding Woodward and Bernstein with inside information. Deep Throat revealed the details of a conspiracy within the White House to cover up the Watergate burglary, saying that it was masterminded by Nixon’s Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldeman. Deep Throat’s identity was finally revealed in 2005 — he was W. Mark Felt, a former associate director of the FBI.
Soon it was discovered that Nixon had raised “hush money” for the burglars and pressured them not to disclose their links to the government during their trials. Nixon had also tried to stop the FBI from investigating the crime, destroyed evidence and fired a number of uncooperative staff members. Though it wasn’t clear whether Nixon knew about the break-in before it happened, his complicity in the cover-up was undeniable and led to him standing down as president.
JFK: the true purpose of the break-in?
To this day nobody is 100% certain about the true purpose of the break-in. It’s generally agreed that the Republicans wanted to spy on the Democrats, hence why the burglars were wiretapping phones. But one of the convicted burglars, Frank Sturgis, disclosed a far more sinister motive. Sturgis has long been accused of being complicit in a plot to kill JFK, and in 1997 he told the San Francisco Chronicle:
“The reason we burglarised the Watergate was because Nixon was interested in stopping news leaking related to the photos of our role in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.”
It’s been theorised since that these photos might’ve shown JFK’s shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald, meeting with members of the government shortly before the assassination…
Intelligence officer Everette Howard Hunt is someone else that links Nixon to Kennedy. He was one of the architects of the Watergate burglary and, like Sturgis, has been accused of being complicit in a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy. In fact, Hunt confessed to it on his deathbed.
Most of the Watergate evidence against Nixon was in the form of White House tape recordings, containing conversations between Nixon and his aides about covering up the break-in. On one of the tapes, Nixon said this about Hunt:
“This fellow Hunt, he knows too damn much. It’s very bad, to have this fellow Hunt, ah, you know, ah, it’s, he, he knows too damn much and he was involved, we happen to know that. And if it gets out that the whole, this is all involved in the Cuban thing, that it’s a fiasco, and it’s going to make the FB, ah CIA look bad, it’s going to make Hunt look bad, and it’s likely to blow the whole Bay of Pigs thing which we think would be very unfortunate for the CIA and for the country at this time, and for American foreign policy, and he just better tough it and lay it on them.”
Nixon mentioned the Bay of Pigs several times in the tapes, each time hinting that Hunt could blow the lid off something. The Bay of Pigs was an infamously botched attempt by John F. Kennedy to overthrow the prime minister of Cuba, Fidel Castro. So what was Nixon referring to? What is the “Cuban thing” that Watergate is connected to?
One of the conspiracy theories surrounding JFK’s assassination is that he was murdered by anti-Castro Cuban groups working alongside the CIA, who blamed Kennedy for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Could this be what Nixon was alluding to?
In 2002, more evidence that Nixon had inside knowledge about JFK’s murder came to light in the form of a 1972 tape recording, made just before the Watergate burglary. On the tape, Nixon confessed to his two top aides that the Warren Commission pulled off “the greatest hoax that has ever been perpetuated”. The Warren Commission was the body that investigated JFK’s murder and concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone.
The answer may lie in the 18 ½ minute gap
18 ½ minutes of one of the crucial Watergate tape recordings is missing. The official line is that Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s personal secretary, accidentally deleted the recording. However, lots of commentators have questioned her explanation and argue that those 18 ½ minutes were deliberately erased. Why? Perhaps because Nixon disclosed more details about Kennedy’s death.
We’ll never know of course, but many people believe to this day that we haven’t heard the full and frank story of Watergate. And that Nixon went to his grave in 1994 with a lot more skeletons in his closet than we all thought…
Next week: a ghost caught on camera at Hampton Court Palace