The Watergate burglars: Barker, McCord, Sturgis, Martinez, and Gonzalez. Photograph of McCord by Wally McNamee/Corbis; Others courtesy of Bettmann/Corbis/AP Images.

The Watergate burglars: Barker, McCord, Sturgis, Martinez, and Gonzalez. Photograph of McCord by Wally McNamee/Corbis; Others courtesy of Bettmann/Corbis/AP Images.

Last week, I wrote about an anniversary of the Watergate break-in. But then it I began to wonder about those Watergate burglars and their sense of humor. After all, they picked June 17, 1972, for their felonies.

In case you missed it, that’s the same date as the auspicious arrival of the Statue of Liberty into New York Harbor. Below is a painting of the French steamer Isère, laden with the Statue of Liberty, reaching the New York port safely on June 17, 1885. More photos of the French gift are here.

The Statue of Liberty Arrives in New York Harbor, Reception of the Isère, June 20, 1885

The Statue of Liberty Arrives in New York Harbor, Reception of the Isère, June 20, 1885

Regular cut-ups, those crooks were. How perfect the irony if they selected a day that commemorated liberty for their own nefarious actions, which undermined American values.

Meantime, here’s a great story about how those Watergate burglars got caught. True? Not? I leave you to your own judgments.

And from head to foot, here are some great photos of the Statue of Liberty before it was assembled into a whole. Click to enlarge them.

John Dean was Time Magazine's cover subject more than once. (And the answer: No, Nixon could not survive Dean's testimony.)

John Dean was Time Magazine’s cover subject more than once. (And the answer: No, Nixon could not survive Dean’s testimony.)

Just like politically motivated burglars in 1972, a sad American anniversary furtively passed me by yesterday—for it was on June 17 in that year that “five men, one of whom says he used to work for the CIA, are arrested at 2:30 a.m. trying to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate hotel and office complex.” (A full timeline of related events and stories, via the Washington Post, is here.)

The break-in at the Watergate and the subsequent executive branch cover-up caused turmoil from coast to coast and eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. (But also a pardon by President Gerald Ford for his secretive predecessor, an event that entirely ruined my 12-year-old birthday on September 8, 1974. I related my own experience of that pardon here.)

If you’d like to hear from someone who was intimately involved with that remarkable moment in American history, head over to San Diego in July, where the State Bar’s CLE By the Sea will feature speaker John Dean, who served as White House Counsel for President Richard Nixon for a thousand days from 1970 until 1973. (He has had other life achievements, but this is the resume line we regularly recall.)

I have never been to CLE By the Sea (I’m as surprised as you are), but this is a speaker who makes me want to break my perfect streak.

You can read more about Dean and his program here.

The pen Gerald Ford used to sign his pardon of Richard Nixon, Sept. 8, 1962. (Wikimedia Commons)

The pen Gerald Ford used to sign his pardon of Richard Nixon, Sept. 8, 1974. (Wikimedia Commons)

When many Americans, including me, think back on the infamy that emerged from the Oval Office, we also recall a few people who stepped up and spoke truth or otherwise acquitted themselves well.

Many people distinguished themselves by doing their jobs well or even going above and beyond the call of duty. Among them were Judge John Sirica, Sen. Sam Ervin, special prosecutor Archibald Cox, Attorney General Elliot Richardson, and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus. (And let’s not forget the Washington Post’s own publisher Katharine Graham and reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.)

Political memories linger, and a campaign button in 1976 reminded voters of Ford's first big presidential decision.

Political memories linger, and a campaign button in 1976 reminded voters of Ford’s first big presidential decision.

Other people initially found themselves in a place that appeared ethically challenged or perhaps even illegal. And within that tawdry chapter of U.S. history, a subset of those decided to speak up and try to make things right.

John Dean was one of those people. As I’ve related before, my household and tens of thousands of others were riveted to Senate hearings at which John Dean played a historic role. We gazed in wonder at the laundry list of allegations emanating from the highest reaches of our government. It was hard not to marvel at the resolve Dean exhibited as he offered the Senate an accounting of the administration’s excesses. Others testified, but none riveted the attention as did John Dean.

John Dean when he was a young government lawyer.

John Dean when he was a young government lawyer.

In San Diego in July, Dean and his co-presenter James David Robenalt will offer insights for attorneys who may confront trouble in their own entities. As a description opens:

“As lawyer for the organization, what are the duties and obligations if a report up to the highest authority within an organization has failed and crime or fraud continue? Rule 1.13 of the Code of Professional Conduct (the ‘Model Rules’) provides that the lawyer may ‘report out’ what the lawyer knows, regardless of the duty of confidentiality imposed by Rule 1.6. And the lawyer’s duties become even more complicated if the lawyer has participated, knowingly or not, in the wrongdoing that gives rise to the reporting obligation. How then does the lawyer extricate himself or herself? When is resignation enough? When does a lawyer need to engage in a ‘noisy’ withdrawal?”

Here’s hoping you get the chance to gain some ethics education just steps from the beaches of Coronado. The complete program and a link to register are here.

Soon, a plaque may be all that remains of the garage where Watergate secrets were shared.

Soon, a plaque may be all that remains of the garage where Watergate secrets were shared.

We hear pretty often that we Americans don’t know nothin’ ‘bout history. That may sound curmudgeonly, but a news story this week reminded me how true that can be.

Just two years ago, almost to the month, I wrote about a new historic marker erected outside the parking garage where the Watergate leaker passed information on to a Washington Post reporter. (I got kind of lecture-y in that blog post; the anniversary of Ford’s pardon of Nixon can do that to me.)

It may not be the Gettysburg battlefield, but the garage where “Deep Throat” Mark Felt and journo Bob Woodward stood seems pretty evocative to me.

Well, two years later, it seems even Deep Throat’s garage is not safe from the wrecking ball.

You should read here how that “Watergate garage” is to be razed. The developer has said he may find a place for the plaque. Touching.

Well, it’s Change of Venue Friday, so I’d rather not leave you on a historic preservation #fail. Instead, enjoy the great voice of Sam Cooke, singing “Wonderful World” (where he says a little about history).

OK, I am willing to admit that I take the whole Watergate scandal rather personally. But for me and many others, Watergate was a watershed. And for some of us, it hit pretty close to home.

As the surreal nature of 1973 devolved into the constitutional crisis of 1974, I was but a wee lad in upstate New York. When the news of a mundane break-in came in the newspapers (young people, ask the old people what those were), no one in my family (and few in the news media) had an inkling that it would eventually bring down a presidency.

Whenever the Watergate hearings were televised, they were on in my house. And so powerful was the testimony and so compelling the questioners, it occurred to a young me that it would be honorable to be a United States Senator (thanks a lot, Sam Ervin). It took fully three more decades to understand the folly of that estimation.

But by the time the hearings had done their work and shown the Nixon presidency to be the hollow criminal enterprise that it was, the summer of 1974 was over, and we all awaited what we thought would be the inevitable.

Until my 12th birthday on September 8. On that fateful day, President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor of all crimes. It was over—but so incomplete.

“He can’t do that!” I insisted to my dad, who stared, ashen, at the TV.

I look happy, but a constitutional crisis gnawed at a nation.

“Well, yes, yes, I think he can,” gulped a man who had spent the summer telling his sons that we were witnessing the wheels of democracy working toward a just conclusion.

The rest of that birthday holds no memories for me. The TV was blissfully turned off, and the house, myself included, sank into a lethargy of mourning. For at least one 12-year-old, President Ford had exercised his first and last decision of any import, and it was cast in infamy.

Looking back, of course, I can see I was a dramatic young man. But it’s hard to shake the notion that a nation’s cynicism was poured in lead by Nixon and hardened in a steaming bath by Ford.

And that’s why this week’s little news item about a DC parking garage cheered me, just a little.

At long last, a historic marker has been erected outside the garage where Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward met with FBI deputy director Mark Felt (code-named “Deep Throat” by a Post editor who could be pretty dramatic himself). There, amid the screech of tires and the odor of gasoline, Felt provided valuable information about the obstruction of the FBI’s Watergate investigation. That information, and what the Post did with it, underscored the belief that we are a nation of laws, and not of men.

As the nearly interminable 18-month presidential campaign rouses itself into an extended exercise in obstreperous obscurity and oppressive obloquy, I would invite each of the candidates to stop by the garage. Pause between the dog-walkers and the valet-parkers. Block out the taxi honks, and read the sign.

And then ask yourself if you aspire to the greatness that two men demonstrated in a dark, dank garage. Ask whether you care enough about a country and its institutions that you would take real risks to expose the crimes and misdemeanors of the nation’s most powerful people. Ask whether you would pursue justice doggedly and with a conviction that a democratic people deserve nothing less.

And then—and only then—return to the campaign trail.

Here’s what a former disillusioned Cub Scout thinks: A visit like that would have to make every one of the candidates more qualified for the job of President.

Hell, it’s worth a shot.