G. Gordon Liddy, the unrepentant Watergate burglar who oversaw the burglary operation that brought down Richard Nixon's presidency, died yesterday at age 90.
In my newest book, "Shaking Hands with History," I have a chapter reflecting on the many players I met who were involved in the Watergate scandal, and the stories that they shared with me about their roles. Below is an excerpt of this chapter (now updated) that tells of my encounter with the "G-Man," G. Gordon Liddy:
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I was a freshman congressman in 1997 when a Washington producer for a radio talk show called and invited me for an in-studio interview with the host, G. Gordon Liddy, the former head of the Nixon White House's so-called "Plumbers Unit"—a group of political operatives tasked with investigating enemies and plugging press leaks. Would I be willing to appear?
I arrived at the WJFK studio a few minutes before my segment began. While waiting in the control room I watched Liddy at the microphone excoriating liberals, squishy Republicans, and any number of my colleagues he deemed cowardly for voting for various government expansions. During a commercial break, the producer escorted me into the broadcast booth and introduced me to Liddy. He welcomed me, asked an assistant to get me coffee, and then he directed me to put on the pair of nearby headphones. The director threw him the cue and we went live on the air.
We did a couple of segments covering various current issues, none of which I remember now. When my interview ended, I took off my headphones as he broke for news and a round of commercials. While off the air he thanked me for coming, and as we said goodbye I told him, "I know that there are a lot of G-Man fans [Liddy's radio nickname], but I think these make me the original." Then I handed him two old letters that he wrote to me from his prison cell when I was a teenager in the 1970s. As he read them, his face registered shock.
"I sent these to you?"
Yes, I told him. I felt his sentence unfair and I wrote and told him so. I also offered to send him magazines or cigarettes if he needed them. Liddy had written me those two letters from prison thanking me for my kindnesses to a prisoner.
Putting down the letters, he exclaimed, "I just can't believe this," and then he asked me to put back on the headphones. He held me over for another few segments while he read the letters to his audience, and then he had me recount the circumstances of our correspondence. He seemed genuinely moved by the letters, and his gratitude overflowed.
When our interview ended finally, the show broke for a final commercial. He embraced me, shook my hand enthusiastically, and told me, "You always have a home at this station. I'm here for you—no matter what."
"Gordon, given the mysterious legends that surround you, I am very glad to have you for me instead of against me."
Still gripping my hand, he leaned in close and locked his dark, intense eyes on mine. "You can count on it, my friend. I'm here for you for anything."
A few weeks after our interview, he sent me two signed photos taken of us. My favorite was the one on which he wrote, "When Jim Rogan speaks the G-Man listens!" I called and thanked him for his thoughtfulness. During our conversation, I got in a Watergate question that I had wanted to ask during our interview, but the opportunity never arose: with the burglary in progress, how did he learn that the jig was up?
"When McCord and the Cubans [the other four burglars] went in, I was in a nearby hotel monitoring the operation," he told me. "I stayed in communication with both the burglars inside the DNC offices and with the lookouts watching for police from across the street.
"At one point my lookout asked me if any of our Cubans were dressed like hippies. I told him no. 'Well,' he said, 'there are guys in the building dressed like hippies and they're carrying guns. They're moving upstairs to the offices.' That's when I knew that undercover police had arrived and that we had been compromised. I tried to radio the Cubans to tell them to abort the operation and get the hell out of there, but they had turned down their radios and couldn't hear my warnings. After a few tense minutes, I heard the voice of one of the Cubans over my radio. He whispered, 'They got us.'
"When Baldwin [Alfred C. Baldwin III, a lookout] radioed to me that police were converging around the building, I took as much of our electronics gear out of my command post that I could carry. The next day I went to my office at the Committee to Reelect the President and shredded everything, including a stack of consecutively serial-numbered $100 bills."
I asked how much it worried him that an accomplice might implicate him in the crime once the police arrested the burglars and foiled the operation. He replied, "Late that night, when I finally got home, my wife was in bed asleep. She awakened and asked me what kind of day I had. I told her, 'Not so good,' and that I might be going to jail." When I asked how she reacted to the stunning news, he laughed and said, "You know, I really don't remember. After I told her that, I climbed into bed, and I went right to sleep."
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Aside from his two decades as a syndicated radio talk show host, G. Gordon Liddy's post-prison career included best-selling author, popular lecture circuit habitué, television and motion picture actor, and founder of a counter-surveillance firm. I appeared on his radio show a couple of times more, with the last time in 2012. During that final interview, he sounded old and tired, and his edginess was gone. Retiring soon afterward, he died of natural causes at age 90 on March 30, 2021.