THE denials, the evasions, the secretiveness and, yes, the lies—all had failed. The Watergate case was breaking wide open. A ten-month campaign by some of the highest past and present officials of the Nixon Administration to cover up their involvement was crumbling. Stripped of its protective shrouds, the scandal was rapidly emerging as probably the most pervasive instance of top-level misconduct in the nation's history.
Incredibly, a former Attorney General was cited repeatedly by White House and Justice Department sources as almost certain to be indicted by a federal grand jury. So, too, was Nixon's chief legal counsel, as well as the second-ranking official in his successful re-election campaign and several former White House aides. A second former Cabinet member and campaign fund raiser seemed only a shade less likely to be indicted. There was a very real possibility that some of these and other officials might be convicted of crimes and sent to jail. For several, at least, the may well include conspiracy to wiretap, perjury, obstructing justice and financial misconduct.
The nation's capital was thrown into an apprehensive mood of intrigue and suspense. The suspect officials hired attorneys to defend them, held furtive conferences with federal prosecutors and shuttled in and out of a Washington grand jury room, dodging newsmen. In the White House, handsome young presidential aides, selected for their team loyalty and their vaunted proficiency in public relations, turned bitterly on each other, contacting newsmen in order to leak their suspicions about their colleagues. No one could be certain that his office neighbor might not be in the headlines next morning.
At the epicenter stood a somber and shaken Richard Nixon, facing one of his gravest crises. Forced by events to concede that his earlier blanket denials of White House involvement had been wrong, he finally dropped the pretense of being untouched by it all. Either he had been inexcusably remiss in not pressing an earlier, deeper investigation of the matter, or he had been amazingly naive in trusting his aides' protestations of innocence—despite repeated evidence in news reports to the contrary—or he had been a willing party to their deception. Either way, he could not escape heavy responsibility. Despite his plans for returning "power to the people," a major thrust of his Administration has been to centralize the vast responsibilities of the Executive Branch to an unprecedented degree into the hands of a relatively small circle of these overly trusted White House aides.
The spreading scandal created for the nation a crisis of confidence in its Government. An overwhelming majority of Americans re-elected Nixon in large part because he spoke so often of the need to regain respect for law, sternly administered and applied with equal severity to all. He assailed soft judges and Supreme Court decisions that enable criminals to go free on technicalities. Now his closest official associates are suspected of not only violating federal laws but also trying to subvert the judicial system to conceal their wrongdoing. One high Administration official was moved to an exaggerated lament: "I don't know why any citizen should ever again believe anything a Government official says."
The overall pattern of collusion