White House Plumbers, HBO’s political comedy-drama show, had already shown us protagonists Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy getting their Project OPAL approved in episode 2 last week. As the two men are passionate and determined to prove their worth to the world and, in the process, help President Nixon get re-elected, their plan is to break into the DNC office at Watergate and plant surveillance bugs inside. This week’s episode 3 now presents the excruciatingly foolish attempts that the two men and their team make, as well as the series of reasons why they fail their mission every time.
Why Did The First Attempt Fail?
White House Plumbers Episode 3 drops us right into the heated moment when the first attempt to break into the DNC office at Watergate has already begun. Alfred Baldwin, a former FBI agent who is now seemingly equally jobless as Gordon Liddy, works as the watchdog for the whole plan as he keeps an eye on the DNC office from a nearby hotel room. On the other side, Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy drive by the office along with their entire team, which includes the three Cubans introduced in White House Plumbers episode 1, Frank Sturgis, an ex-army and ex-CIA agent, and James McCord, the head of security of the re-election committee. Because the Watergate building has a 24-hour guard at its front office, Hunt decides that it would be better for them to enter through the Watergate Hotel, which is internally connected to the office building. Once they have successfully entered the office building, their next job is to wait until the DNC office is empty, and Hunt has thought ahead of this wait as well. Enjoying the whole matter, he takes the team to a banquet room, which he has pre-booked until ten at night. As the men spend time with food, drinks, and general merrymaking, the moment of the covert operation also draws nearer.
The first attempt is actually divided into two parts, to be carried out by two separate teams, with Liddy and his group going over to George McGovern’s presidential campaign headquarters and Hunt and his trusted locksmith Villo breaking into the DNC office. Both of their targets are to plant recording devices and listen in on the Democratic Party’s plans, and both miserably fail because of rather unintelligent reasons. After taking multiple tries to shoot out the lights in front of the McGovern headquarters, Liddy and his team approach the building, which they will enter with the help of a worker Liddy has recruited to stay inside and open the door for them. However, this worker, a timid and nervous young man, soon appears in the alley outside the office, claiming that he had been found out by the janitor and had been forced out of the office. The man also nervously states that he cannot participate in such risky spy work and immediately leaves the scene. With no inside help, Liddy is unable to enter the office, and after this, the McGovern presidential campaign office appoints 24-hour security, making the place impossible to break into. Therefore, after this failed attempt, Liddy gives up hope for this place and instead focuses just on the DNC office at Watergate.
On the other side, Hunt and Villo stay back at the banquet room, waiting for Sturgis to confirm that the workers at the DNC office have left. As they keep drinking and waiting, a security guard at the Watergate building, Frank Wills, walks in and says that he has to lock the banquet up since it is already past ten. Hunt pretends to be packing up, and after some time, while he and Villo are inside the alcohol storage room, Wills returns and sees the banquet to be empty. Assuming that the guests have already left, he locks up the room and continues with his security job. Howard Hunt and Villo are simply unable to break into the DNC office that night because they are locked in the banquet room in the same building. After spending the night hiding inside the alcohol storage, the men are only able to leave the next morning when the cleaning lady leaves the door open. Extremely angry and embarrassed at themselves, Hunt and Liddy decide not to tell any of their superiors about this failed break-in attempt and instead plan straight ahead for the next night, when they will try again.
What Goes Wrong During The Second And Third Attempts?
The first attempt was really not a proper break-in attempt in the strictest sense, for the team supposed to get into the DNC office could not even get near it. The second attempt took them closer than that, though, and yet failed, as was shown in the very opening minutes of White House Plumbers episode 1. With their focus solely on the Watergate building now, the entire team rolls up to the place, and Liddy tells the security personnel that they have a meeting at the Federal Reserve Office. Although the guard does remark about how suspicious a meeting to be held at midnight was, he ultimately chooses to believe the men. Unbeknownst to him, Howard Hunt hilariously signs his name in the record as Fidel Castro, and the team makes their way up toward the DNC office. On their way, they do pass through the Federal Reserve Office, where James McCord takes his sweet time and is caught up by two police guards on the spot. Fortunately for him and the whole team, one of these men recognizes McCord right away, as the two used to work together in the past. As they casually catch up about their current lives, McCord very directly states that he is no longer John Mitchell’s bodyguard but is now directly working with the Committee to Re-Elect the President. While all this is going on, there are more worrisome and silly problems on the 6th floor DNC office. As it turns out, the veteran locksmith, Villo, has brought the wrong tools for the job, and he will have to fly back to Miami to get hold of them before the team can return and attempt a break-in for the third time.
Before their third night of covert operations, Howard Hunt briefs all of his team members at his own house, and Dorothy gets an overall idea of what her husband is up to. Dorothy had by now grown even more cautious and disliking towards Gordon Liddy, especially since the man pointed a real gun at the Hunt’s youngest son, who had pointed his toy gun at the ex-FBI officer. At the end of this reconnaissance party, when all the guests have left, Dorothy points out the sheer stupidity and risk involved in her husband’s plan to break into the Democratic Congress office. She further stresses how President Nixon was comfortably ahead in the approval ratings and how the President’s recent signing of the SALT treaty with the USSR would only improve his chances in the election. Therefore, in such a scenario, there was really no need for Hunt and his team to put all their necks in line only to ensure that Nixon would be re-elected, which he in any way will. However, he chooses not to listen to his wife’s advice, and like always, his responsibilities as a family man take a back seat when his professional commitments come calling. Even at the end of White House Plumbers Episode 3, Howard promises to accompany his wife and children to Paris but then cancels at the very last moment, only to continue with his break-in attempts.
The third attempt to enter the DNC office goes much smoother with a new plan of entry in place. James McCord disguises himself as a postal worker during the day and applies tape to the lock mechanism of a door in the parking lot at the back of the Watergate building. It is this door, which remains unlocked that the team uses to enter the building and then go up to the DNC office. Villo is prepared with all the right tools this time, and he finally succeeds in breaking the lock and letting the team enter the office. They plant surveillance bugs at every crucial spot that they can think of and then celebrate wildly back at their hotel. Soon after, John Dean and Jeb McGruder call Hunt and Liddy to the Committee headquarters, where they share some exciting news about what information they have gathered through the surveillance measures. But this entire matter soon turns satirical, as it is revealed that most of the bugs planted were not working at all, and therefore nothing could be heard through them. The only working bug was on the telephone of the secretary of Larry O’Brien, who was the current chair of the Democratic National Congress at the time, and call records from this phone were absolutely unrelated to politics.
Although Howard Hunt is convinced that their master plan is not going to work after this series of failures, Gordon Liddy still holds faith in their abilities. He encourages Hunt to give the matter another try, telling him improbably sweet stories about how the President himself will reward them and can even make Hunt the director of the CIA if the man demands so. Despite knowing that these are just empty words of motivation, Hunt himself is very determined to give it a try again, even though he is scared and nervous about the outcome. After all, this entire plan was driven by Hunt and Liddy’s own desire to prove themselves helpful, and ultimately Hunt agrees. But this time, they decide not to be directly involved and instead keep a check over the radio while the rest of their men physically break into the office.
What Happens During The Final Break-In Attempt?
Between the third failed attempt and the ultimate one, which can be seen as a sort of success, was another try, which again failed. This time around, Hunt and Liddy stayed back in a nearby hotel room, keeping in check with the rest of the five members via walkie-talkies as they drove up to the Watergate Building parking lot. The point of entry was supposed to be the same—the back door in the parking lot, which had been left taped unlocked by McCord earlier in the day. However, before the team arrived at the place, the security guard on duty, Frank Wills, had passed by the door and noticed the tape on the lock. Not thinking much of it, though, Wills had removed the tape and locked the door. By the time McCord and the others reach the place, they find the door locked and immediately return to the hotel room.
In the room, Hunt once again calls for the mission to be aborted since they have failed far too many times. But Liddy once again claims that they should keep trying, making it quite clear that the peculiar man would never give up on proving himself, no matter how stupid and unintelligent he would end up looking. The next night, the same plan is put into motion, as it is felt that the security guard finding the tape and locking the door was just an unlucky coincidence. On this occasion, the team of five men successfully enters the Watergate building and even stealthily breaks into the DNC office while Hunt and Liddy keep track in their hotel room. However, Frank Wills once again returns to the parking lot door and again finds the lock of the door covered with tape since McCord had forgotten to take it off this time. Alarmed by the same occurrence on two consecutive days, Wills calls up the police. Soon enough, the lookout, Alfred Baldwin, informs that three hippies had entered the DNC office and were even carrying guns. It becomes evident that these three men are actually police officers in disguise, and as can be expected, they soon find the five men hiding inside the DNC office. As Hunt and Liddy hurriedly escape the hotel room, the rest of their team is arrested by police from the Watergate building.
What is even more concerning for our protagonists is a matter that perhaps they have not even realized yet. Before the plan had been put into motion, Howard Hunt had given one of the Cubans an envelope, asking him to post it for Hunt on his way to the Watergate office. This envelope actually contained money that Hunt intended to send to his country club, finally deciding to settle the bill after many months of being overdue. But as usual with this team of misfits, the Cuban had forgotten to post the letter, and as he is arrested along with the four others, the police officers find the envelope on him and collect it as evidence.
What Can We Expect From Episode 4?
With the break-in at Watergate now finally covered, White House Plumbers will move on to the investigation part of the matter, as ties to Hunt and Liddy and the Committee to Re-Elect the President will soon be found by the police. The kind of impact that this will have on the two protagonists and the unraveling of such a high-level political scandal can be expected in the next episodes of White House Plumbers. The events will surely also have dire effects on the personal lives of Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy. To what extent the men will be held responsible, both in professional and personal aspects, will be something to watch in the upcoming episodes.