He never backed down, showed fear, or talked … and above all, he remained unrepentant, until his death on Tuesday.
G. Gordon Liddy, the tough-guy Watergate operative who went to prison rather than testify and later turned his Nixon-era infamy into a successful television and talk show career, has died at age 90, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Liddy’s family said in a statement that he died Tuesday morning at his daughter’s home in Mount Vernon, Virginia. It did not give a cause of death. His son, James, said that the cause was not related to Covid-19, and that he had been dealing with Parkinson’s disease.
While others swept up in the Watergate scandal offered contrition or squirmed in the glare of televised congressional hearings, Liddy seemed to wear the crime like a badge of courage, saying he only regretted that the mission to break into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters had been a failure, LA Times reported.
After getting out of jail, he would around Washington in a Volvo with license plates reading H2OGATE, openly discussed the botched burglary on talk radio and late-night TV, took villainous television roles that seemed to trade on his soiled reputation and mocked his fellow Watergate operatives as bumblers.
“I was serving the president of the United States and I would do a Watergate again — but with a much better crew,” he said.
Tight-lipped, Liddy refused to testify at either the Watergate hearings or at his own criminal trial, accepting his fate and a 20-year prison term. “My father didn’t raise a snitch or a rat,” he explained to the LA Times in 2001.
Meanwhile, President Nixon resigned in 1974 in the face of an almost-certain impeachment and conviction.
Twenty-five people went to prison as a result of the botched break-in, including the mysterious E. Howard Hunt, who had links to the Kennedy assassination in 1963. Hunt, a former CIA officer, died in 2007.
Liddy would spend four years and four months in prison, including more than 100 days in solitary confinement.
Convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping, his sentence was commuted by President Carter and he was freed after 52 months in prison.
He became a sought-after public speaker, a far-right radio talk show host who called himself the “G Man” — “This is Radio Free D.C., and I’m G. Gordon Liddy” — and a prolific writer. He also fit comfortably into the skin of TV villains, playing a recurring bad guy role on “Miami Vice” and similar characters on “MacGyver” and “Airwolf.”
“I played only villains, and that way, as Mrs. Liddy says, I don’t have to act. I just go there and play myself,” he told Playboy magazine in a 1995 interview, LA Times reported.
He was born George Gordon Liddy in Hoboken, N.J., on Nov. 30, 1930.
He recalled an overwhelming sense of fear and dread as a child — the hulking dirigibles that flew silently over his house, the rats that skittered along the electrical lines, the nuns who would berate him at school. He claimed that the first reassuring voice he heard was that of Hitler.
Hitler’s sheer animal confidence and power of will entranced me,” he recalled in a 2004 interview. “He sent an electric current through my body.”
Liddy would often cite the nearly sadistic tests and challenges he claimed he put himself through to toughen his will, some straining the boundaries of credibility: standing in front on an ongoing train and jumping from the tracks at the last minute or climbing a tree during an electrical storm to see if he would be struck.
He joined the Marines but never fulfilled his dream to fight in the Korean War. Instead he went to law school, became an FBI agent and then a prosecutor, LA Times reported.
When he ran for a New York congressional seat, one of his favorite campaign ploys was to peel off his jacket before he spoke, revealing the shoulder holster he was fond of wearing.
He lost the campaign and joined the Treasury Department, where he was remembered as a troublesome employee and ultimately let go, LA Times reported.
That led Liddy to the White House and a clandestine unit known as “the plumbers,” whose first assignment was to discredit former defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who had leaked the so-called Pentagon Papers, leaving President Nixon smarting.
Hoping to find something that would undermine Ellsberg’s credibility, Liddy and the others broke into the office of a Beverly Hills psychiatrist who had been treating Ellsberg. They came away empty-handed, though undetected.
From the start, Liddy seemed eager to do what was needed to get Nixon reelected, LA Times reported.
In “Will,” his 1991 autobiography, Liddy explains that in meetings with the plumbers he came up with an assortment of potential plans to bolster the president — break-ins, wire-tap jobs, counter-demonstrations and even a scheme he called “Sapphire,” in which escorts would be hired to lure powerful Democrats to a rented houseboat in Miami Beach where their intimate conversations and actions could be recorded.
Liddy said that as he shared his plans with Nixon’s associates, the idea that quickly gained traction was to break into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate in Washington and tap the phones, review files and photograph revealing documents, LA Times reported.
The first burglary was a success, but when the team returned to adjust microphones and add additional listening devices, it all unraveled.
A security guard noticed that someone had put tape over a self-locking door at the office and residential complex, and five people were arrested at the scene, LA Times reported
Liddy, who had kept his distance from the actual dirty work, was later indicted as the mastermind of the scheme.
When his sentence was commuted and he became a free man, Liddy repackaged himself as a showman.
He did radio and he did television, he spoke on college campuses with LSD guru Timothy Leary, and he pitched corporate chiefs on the value of hiring the commando-style security team Hurricane Force he planned to form.
Brash, pointed, funny and brimming with stories — some believable, others less so, he earned up to $12,000 an appearance.
“I broke the law,” he told the crowd during a speech at George Washington University. “I took a risk and lost.”
Sources: Los Angeles Times, NBC News, Global News