Anyone who is considered to be a “revisionist” when it comes to Watergate is mightily frowned upon. The story has become too neat a package to have it messed with. However, if we are going to continue to have these celebrations and introduce young people to what we believe to be the “lessons of Watergate,” a little perspective is in order. Otherwise we’ll miss some of the real lessons –lessons that are much older than Watergate, even much older than our country, and that are just as relevant today.
That is how Fred Thompson concludes his piece on the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in.
Watergate is more about the frailties of man and his tendency to abuse power than it is about the unique evil of a small group of people at one time in history …
Before John Dean left the reservation, he called upon William Sullivan, a retired former aide to J. Edgar Hoover, for a little historical perspective — in other words, to provide Nixon with some defense for his “national-security” wiretaps.
Sullivan wrote a memo for Dean outlining FBI activities on behalf of earlier presidents. I obtained the memo, and my staff interviewed Sullivan and other top former Hoover aides who had personal knowledge of the subject. It seems that FDR used the FBI to look into the background of those who opposed his Lend-Lease legislation, including a telephone tap on one person. He and Mrs. Roosevelt pressed for limitations on certain investigations of their friends, as well as for monitoring the activities of his political opponents.
President Johnson had the FBI place a physical surveillance on a prominent friend of Nixon’s in 1968 for reasons of “national security.” Members of Goldwater’s staff were similarly kept under surveillance in 1964. Johnson also requested that the FBI check all outgoing telephone calls made by vice-presidential candidate Spiro Agnew on November 2, 1968, while he was in Albuquerque.