What Watergate Was All About

Oct 9, 2009 - by Don Fulsom - 0 Comments

April 15, 2007

Howard Hughes in the 1940s with his new Boeing Army Pursuit Plane in Inglewood, California.

Howard Hughes in the 1940s with his new Boeing Army Pursuit Plane in Inglewood, California.

In the early years of the Nixon presidency, billionaire Howard Hughes bribed Nixon with $100,000 in cash. When Hughes's secret lobbyist Larry O'Brien became Democratic Party chairman, Nixon had O'Brien's phone at the Watergate tapped to find out if he knew about the bribe.

by Don Fulsom

"I am determined to elect a president of our choosing this year and one who will be deeply indebted, and who will recognize his indebtedness. Since I am willing to go beyond all limitations on this, I think we should be able to select a candidate and a party who knows the facts of political life … If we select Nixon, then he, I know for sure knows the facts of life." – Howard Hughes, early in the 1968 presidential campaign.

In the annals of disastrous U.S. political payoffs, nothing is ever likely to top Howard Hughes's $100,000 gift to President Richard Nixon. That's because Nixon's subsequent paranoia over the illegal contribution led, in large measure, to the Watergate burglary and its cover-up – which, of course, ultimately forced Nixon to evacuate the White House just steps ahead of his eviction in August 1974. One month later, a presidential pardon from his handpicked successor and loyal old friend, Gerald Ford, likely saved Nixon himself (some 40 Nixon administration officials were jailed for Watergate crimes) from spending any time behind bars.

In the early years of Nixon's presidency, power-hungry, episodically nutty billionaire Howard Hughes secretly bribed his favorite corrupt politician with $100,000 in cold cash. The money was skimmed from a Hughes gambling casino in Las Vegas – "siphoned like a sip of champagne from the Silver Slipper," according to a later account by columnist Jack Anderson.

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