Saturday, July 1, 2000 | 2:04 a.m.
IT ALL STARTED right here in the sleepy ol' town of Las Vegas.
A little known fact of Watergate is that the seeds for exposure of the scandal might have been sown right here at the SUN.
Watergate brought down the president of the United States, the first ever to resign that office, and it was all over such absolute trivia.
G. Gordon Liddy was in Las Vegas this week when he appeared as a roastee and speaker at a meeting of the Saints and Sinners.
Liddy, a member of the White House Plumbers and the driving force of the conspirators, related how he planned a breakin at the SUN to crack my safe and retrieve Howard Hughes' memoranda and documents which were supposedly in my custody.
On orders from then Attorney General John Mitchell, the conspirators wanted to know how much money Howard Hughes had funneled to President Richard Nixon in cash and what role Larry O'Brien had played in the Hughes organization. Larry ws the chairman of the national Democratic Party at the time and any plans or dirt they could dig up discrediting Democrats would be favorable to Nixon's re-election chances.
There was also some information on Edmund Muskie in my safe that held interest for the Committee to Re-elect the President.
I did have the information they sought as did Bob Maheu who was present at the Saints and Sinners roast and questioned Liddy on some aspects of Watergate. Maheu told him that if they wanted information, all they had to do was ask. I suppose my answer could have been the same. They didn't have to break into my safe.
Liddy told the Las Vegas audience that the plan for the breakin was aborted when the Hughes people failed to supply the support facilities. It included a plane for a getaway, fast cars to get them to the airport and plans for my office and safe.
If Liddy and Howard Hunt, his co-conspirator, did not break in, then the enigma continues. Someone did take a crack at the safe and came through a window. They must have been other bunglers because they cracked the cover but couldn't get in where the supposed loot was stashed.
I did receive a subpoena from the Senate of the United States commanding my appearance before the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, better known as the Ervin committee, to bring documents and testify.
I fully intended to comply and did meet with teams of investigators but under no circumstances would I furnish any documents, records or materials in my possession, custody and control.
What had been printed in the pages of the newspaper was available to them, but everything else which had not yet seen the light of day would be denied. That way unverified stories, guilt-by-association rumors, innuendos and plain malicious gossip are cast out on the waters to swim in the rumor mills that destroy character and create other evils that no amount of retractions or apologies can repair.
The records of a newspaper, including sources of material, have a higher protection or, at the least, the same sanctity as a congressional committee. We both derive our same powers, rights and privileges from the Constitution of the U.S.
In a democracy, the profession of journalism is vastly more important than that of politics. From Thomas Jefferson down to the present, such fact has been established beyond refutation.
Discussions at that time with committee counsel including Chief Counsel Sam Dash did disclose that the little ol' SUN stuck away in Las Vegas, far from the capital of the nation with its big city newspapers, was indeed the first to start making inquiries about improper and queer usage of campaign funds in the 1972 election. Two years before any other paper heard of questionable campaign practices, this reporter asked Nixon's press secretary, Herb Klein, at at presidential press conference in Portland, Ore., about a $100,000 campaign contribution from Howard Hughes to Nixon delivered to Bebe Rebozo in cash.
Sam Dash later wrote in his book that if it weren't for that question and the contents of my safe in Las Vegas, there never would have been a Watergate.
The Republic could survive the removal of a president and a vice-president at the same time because there is a line of succession set up in the Constitution. But the Republic can never survive without newspapers.
If nothing else, Watergate has proven that Thomas Jefferson was right.
Good ol' Tom said: The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.