‘White House Plumbers’ Ending, Explained: How Did The Watergate Scandal Reach Its Final Stage Of Controversy?


HBO’s political comedy-drama miniseries White House Plumbers plays out the final part of the Watergate scandal saga in its final episode 5. As the show presents the scandal from the perspective of the very men who had partaken in the illicit affair, episode 5 now presents the final turn of events that led to the resignation of President Nixon. The finale episode arguably had quite little to cover, as only the legal proceedings of the matter were now left to sort out, and White House Plumbers does a fairly decent job at rounding up the end.

Spoilers Alert

What Was The Watergate Break-in?

Briefly summing up the events shown in White House Plumbers, it all started with the coming together of two stubborn and egoistic right-wing conservative supporters, Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy. Along with their personal political opinions, both of these men had involvement with American intelligence as well, with Hunt being an ex-CIA agent and Liddy an ex-FBI personnel. Their first encounter with each other was at a meeting of the White House’s Special Intelligence Unit when confidential Department of Defense documents had been leaked by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Hunt and Liddy were brought in to spy on Ellsberg and discredit him, and although the two had made an absolute mess of it by breaking into his therapist’s office to steal his medical file, they were not held up along with the matter.

Hunt and Liddy were soon taken off SIU and instead made a part of the Committee to Re-Elect the President, with the presidential elections coming up. It was as part of this committee that Liddy and Hunt came up with extraordinarily absurd plans to spy on or discredit the Democratic Party and help the Republicans and President Nixon’s cause. While most of these plans were rejected by the superiors at the committee, namely John Dean and John Mitchell, one of the plans, codenamed Project Opal, was approved. This plan included breaking into the Democratic National Congress office in the Watergate building and planting surveillance bugs there to ensure that the Committee to Re-Elect the President could track the Democratic Party’s plans and make decisions accordingly. Along with the Watergate building, a second target was also made by Hunt and Liddy—George McGovern’s presidential campaign headquarters, as McGovern was Nixon’s direct competitor in the elections. However, this second plan failed terribly, and the men now focused only on the DNC office.

Despite being supremely brash and confident in their abilities, Hunt and Liddy knew they needed an entire team and so hired the help of three Cuban men who Hunt had worked with closely during the failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs. Along with these three, ex-CIA associate Frank Sturgis and head of security for the Committee, James McCord, also became members of the group. Together, the seven men attempted a series of failed break-ins at the DNC office at the Watergate building, with Hunt eventually growing frustrated at their failures. In the end, Hunt and Liddy decided to stay in a nearby hotel room while the rest of the five broke into the DNC office. But the break-in plan failed miserably, as a security guard was alerted and the police were called, resulting in the five intruders being immediately arrested.

Although Hunt and Liddy were not among these five men, it did not take long for the authorities to find a connection between them and the robbers. As it happened, Hunt had given one of the Cubans a personal envelope to post before the break-in, and this envelope, with Hunt’s name and address on it, was found by the police. The records of Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy having rented a hotel room very close to Watergate and the fact that they were in the room during the break-in also made it certain that they were involved. James McCord was even identified by multiple individuals as having been the bodyguard of John Mitchell, who was now the head of the Committee to Re-Elect the President. Surely enough, a link between the break-in at the DNC office and the CRP (as the committee is shortly called) was being investigated, despite the White House denying any link.

What Followed After Dorothy’s Death?

White House Plumbers also introduces the individual families of Hunt and Liddy in an attempt to make the characters more convincing and also because some of them were apparently directly linked with the scandal. Howard Hunt’s wife, Dorothy, was also an active asset of the CIA, and in fact, the two had met while on some intelligence mission overseas. When Dorothy got to know what her husband was up to, she was mightily upset, for she did not believe any of this unnecessary spying to be necessary. Dorothy had stated even before the elections that Nixon would easily win re-election, therefore making all of Hunt’s highly illegal acts unnecessary. Surely enough, Richard Nixon won the election comfortably even though the Watergate plan had failed, and Dorothy was now even more frustrated with her hot-headed, egoistic husband. It was she who then started fighting for Hunt’s cause against the White House, indirectly threatening that Hunt would reveal the real truth about the Committee to Re-Elect the President if the higher officials did not look out for him and his family. As the Senate investigation into the DNC office break-in began, John Dean and the other officials had enough to worry about, as they all would get incriminated if either Hunt or Liddy revealed the real truth, and so they started sending money to Hunt and McCord every month in exchange for their silence.

But the terms of this arrangement did not last too long, as the money from the White House started to become irregular after some time. Dorothy now tried to convince her husband that he should care more about the well-being of his family and himself than that of the government and president, who did not seem to care for him at all. Around the same time as their arraignment, in which Hunt and Liddy were released for the time being on bail, Dorothy convinced Hunt that he should write a book on the entire Watergate scandal from their perspective. Not only would this clear the opinion of the public about them, since most considered them petty burglars and not glorified patriots, but such a book would also earn them high profits. Surely Hunt would have to serve prison time as punishment, but at least his family would be covered during this time and also later on.

However, around this same time, Dorothy Hunt also suddenly passed away in an accidental plane crash, which raised a lot of suspicions as well. The plane she was on had apparently changed its course suddenly, and there were other strange matters as well, as Hunt himself reveals in White House Plumbers Episode 5. Before boarding the plane, Dorothy had bought hefty life insurance in her name, as if she knew something was about to happen to her life. Even after the crash, it was the FBI who reached the scene first, even before the firemen, which is a highly unusual occurrence. At Dorothy’s funeral, James McCord also comes and tells Howard of his suspicion that the woman had been killed by the FBI and, therefore, the government. Even if Howard is convinced of such a conspiracy, he does not really do anything about it, knowing well that nobody would believe him.

Soon the time comes when all seven men involved in the DNC office break-in are put up for a court trial. During this time also, Liddy calls up John Dean and tries to arrange for a minimal prison sentence, and the man even gets carried away and threatens Dean that he can still reveal everything about the Committee to Re-Elect the President. Like always, Gordon Liddy does not realize that he is neither a master negotiator or spy, as he believes himself to be, nor is he in a position to make threats anymore. During the trial, six of the seven continued to state that they had acted on their own personal accord, but James McCord now turned and revealed that he had more information about the break-in that he would like to share. As Hunt, Liddy, and the four others are sent to prison, McCord remains free and tells the world about James Dean and the CRP’s involvement in the Watergate break-in.

Why Does Howard Hunt Finally Reveal The Real Truth?

Even after being imprisoned, Howard Hunt considered it his duty not to reveal anything about the CRP’s involvement in the Watergate break-in and let any harm come in the way of President Nixon. Hunt had always been a dedicated Republican who saw most Democrats, especially George McGovern, as having leftist ideologies. Perhaps it was because of this that he chose to remain silent, even after those around him had started to turn. Along with his personal lawyer, William Bittman, Hunt asks to take a look at all the evidence that the prosecution during the court trial had secured against him. Hunt was sure that the cabinet he had inside his office at the White House contained information about the CRP and John Dean’s involvement with the Watergate scandal. However, as the evidence was laid out in front of him, Hunt realized that every piece of paper that tied the act to the higher officials had been removed from the cabinet and was, therefore, not part of the court trial evidence. Hunt was sure that John Dean had removed the papers to ensure he and the CRP would not be caught, and therefore this all meant that the higher officials were now trying to pin the whole blame on Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy.

However, this situation changed soon as well, when James Dean himself turned against his own superiors and started speaking to the investigation authorities. There came a time, after the revelations made by James McCord when it became quite evident that the White House was indeed involved with the crime. President Nixon now started to put all the blame on his White House Counsel, John Dean, saying that he himself was never aware of any such plans to bug the DNC office and that Dean must have been the one to order it. Very soon after, John Dean revealed to the Senate investigators that Nixon had recently called him to discuss the incident in his office, and based on how the whole event had played out, Dean was sure that Nixon was secretly taping the conversation so that Dean could be made to look like the real perpetrator. For this long, Dean had been doing everything he could to ensure that the matter could not be linked to him and would instead end with his subordinates, Hunt and Liddy. But now, seeing that his superior, Richard Nixon, was doing the same against him, John Dean decided to reveal everything to the investigators. Amidst all of this, Howard Hunt clearly gets the idea that nobody in the higher rungs of the government was concerned about him or his patriotic acts.

Along with this being a very strong motivation to make Hunt consider revealing the truth, he now also feels the pressure to do so in his personal life. After Dorothy’s death, Howard wanted to get rid of the records that his wife kept of the payments that were being made by the White House and how much each of the men was getting. This would, once again, tie the scandal to White House officials, and yet Howard did not want to destroy it as he would then have to lie about it in court later on. Instead, he indirectly asked his eldest daughter, Kevan, to do the same, as he had handed over the records to her. However, instead of blindly following his advice, Kevan had actually gone through the records and understood what it all meant. At present, as she comes to visit Howard after he has a stroke in prison, Kevan threatens her father to come clean to the investigators about the involvement of the White House, or else she will publicly release the records kept by Dorothy, which would immediately establish a connection between Nixon and Watergate.

It was for all these reasons that Howard Hunt finally decided to testify and reveal the real purpose behind the break-in at the Watergate DNC office, making it clear that President Nixon indeed had a role to play in the political scandal. Even by his personal beliefs and ideology, Hunt had reached a state of disillusionment, as a whistleblower like Daniel Ellsberg, whom he hated a lot, was now free only because of his and Liddy’s stupid actions. Hunt tries to convince Liddy to admit everything as well, but Gordon Liddy remains unfazed and undeterred as ever. As Liddy continues to stay in prison, Hunt is taken to Washington along with his lawyer, where he says it all to the investigators.

What Happened To Howard Hunt And Gordon Liddy In The End?

Because of his decision to help the Senate investigation in the end, Howard Hunt was transferred to the Federal Minimum Security prison in Allenwood, where he served a sentence of two and a half years. On the other side, Gordon Liddy continued to state that he had acted on his own accord and that the White House had nothing to do with his plans. Liddy remained in prison for a total of four and a half years before President Jimmy Carter spared him. During his time in prison, Liddy started working as the lawyer for some of the inmates. White House Plumbers maintains Liddy’s character as a Hitler fanboy till the very end, as the man is moved by the inmates’ support for him and even does the Nazi salute. James Dean, who had gotten away after his confessions, now earned huge profits and a great reputation through a book he published on the Watergate scandal. Sadly, this was exactly what Dorothy Hunt had asked her husband to do, and had Howard listened, he would have been in a similar situation. Instead, Howard Hunt had to hear of Richard Nixon’s resignation from the Presidency while in prison and is only remembered as a burglar who is assumed to have confessed to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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