Ted Kennedy Had a Chance to Hold Nixon Accountable. Why Didn’t He? > Dogecointool

Ted Kennedy Had a Chance to Hold Nixon Accountable. Why Didn’t He?

Watergate was a self-inflicted wound by Nixon. The Democratic convention was a catastrophe that summer — with scuffling between the New Left and vanquished party moderates, sophomoric liberal antics (there were votes to give Mao Zedong, Archie Bunker and Benjamin Spock the vice-presidential nomination) and a general lack of discipline that delayed McGovern’s acceptance speech until almost 3 a.m. “Only in Guam,” noted the campaign chronicler Theodore H. White, “was George McGovern speaking in prime time under the American flag.”

And then bad turned to worse, as the vice-presidential candidate — Senator Joseph Eagleton of Missouri — was compelled to resign from the ticket for not disclosing hospitalizations, electric shock sessions and other mental health treatments he had undergone.

Nixon’s own convention was superbly choreographed. He had browbeat the Federal Reserve into stoking the roaring economy. He was cutting a deal with the North Vietnamese that would doom the American ally, South Vietnam, in the long term but give Nixon something to boast about that fall. “Peace is at hand,” said his adviser, Henry Kissinger, in October.

Through all this, the Watergate coverup continued. With perjury and payoffs, Nixon and his aides cloaked the president’s involvement. At the Washington Post, two young reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, helped keep the story alive. Out of the public eye, the Post’s efforts were matched by one of Kennedy’s aides, the inestimable James Flug, that summer and fall.

Kennedy had found how his family’s mystique lured the best and brightest to Washington and to his staff, and Flug was a premier example. Brooklyn-born and tough, he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and then from Harvard Law School. Kennedy kept a loose rein on his staff, Flug told me before his death in 2020, and he was given freedom to roam. He excelled, said a fellow aide, in taking Ted Kennedy into political thickets, from which the senator had to hack his way out.

Watergate was the ultimate thicket. The vehicle was Kennedy’s little Judiciary subcommittee. In addition to a panel on refugees, and a Senate Labor subcommittee on health, he chaired an all-purpose toolbox with jurisdiction over the federal government’s administrative procedures and practices. Known as Ad Prac, its charter was basically anything that Ted Kennedy could convince the Judiciary chairman, James Eastland of Mississippi, to OK. “It was bottom-up work,” former staffer Thomas Susman said. Kennedy’s aides brought their groundwork to the boss. He then made the choice to join, or to skip, a scrap.

Flug was the Ad Prac counsel. By mid-August, he was well-versed in the Watergate scandal and plugged into the network of lawyers, government accountants and investigators who were building a case against the president’s men. “Flug was finding connections and weaving patterns that were just sort of mind-boggling,” Kennedy would recall, in an oral history for the University of Virginia.

Flug was one of the first congressional investigators to interview Alfred Baldwin, the Nixon hireling who monitored the Watergate wiretaps from a hotel across the street — and famously served as the lookout for the burglars on the night of the break-in. It is Baldwin who is immortalized in the opening scenes of the motion picture All the President’s Men, alerting his cohorts (“Base One to Unit One — we have some activity here…”) to the arrival of the police.

Flug warned Kennedy, in a long August memo, that Nixon’s men were succeeding, via perjury and other means, at covering up the ties between the burglars, who were about to be indicted and brought to trial, and the White House.

“The information in the indictments will probably not provide much real detail on the who, what or how of the plot,” Flug wrote. “The indictments will be better than nothing, (but) they will be of very limited utility in bringing out the whole story.”

Meanwhile, the Democrats had chosen McGovern. Kennedy gave a rousing speech at the convention but turned McGovern down when asked to be his running mate. Kennedy’s family was worried about his safety, and he instinctively recoiled from the inconsequential duties of the office. “I am not cut out that way,” he told the Boston Globe. “The vice presidency is good for some people. However, I don’t need that kind of exposure.”

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