WASHINGTON – So, 30 years after the break-in that brought down Richard Nixon, what is the legacy of Watergate?
"What we should learn is not to put our trust and faith in men who are corruptible," said Charles Colson, who as a presidential aide ventured that "I would run over my grandmother to re-elect Nixon."
That lesson wasn't learned, however, Colson said Sunday, noting that Congress has just overturned post-Watergate restrictions on political money raising. "Those reforms didn't work," Colson said on Fox News Sunday, because "human nature doesn't change."
Colson and other Watergate figures reminisced on Sunday's television talk shows about the 1970s scandal that began with an early morning June 17, 1972, break-in of an office in the elegant Washington building and ended more than two years later with the resignation of the 37th president.
John Dean, the Nixon aide whose "cancer on the presidency" warning to Nixon was the first sign of slippage in the presidential advisers' code of silence, said that when he broke ranks, "I realized my days were numbered, because I could no longer serve as the desk officer of the cover-up and be giving him that kind of advice."
"I don't think initially he wanted to make me a scapegoat. He wanted to sort of protect himself through me," Dean said on CBS' Face the Nation.
It was only later, Dean said, that Nixon decided that "everybody was expendable but himself." Fired as a traitor by Nixon, Dean gave damning testimony to the Senate Watergate Committee.
Appearing on the same program, Nixon biographer Richard Reeves said the president's penchant for going it alone and the secrecy necessary to do that led to his downfall.
"I think he got himself into it because he was literally running a coup d'etat against his own government," said Reeves, author of President Nixon: Alone in the White House.
"Nixon felt hampered by the checks and balances our Founding Fathers didn't feel hampered by, and he tried systematically to eliminate the other factors: Congress, the press, the courts, the bureaucracy," Reeves said. "And to get that kind of surprise, he needed an extraordinary amount of secrecy. The only way to protect the secrecy was lies."
On NBC's Meet the Press, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the reporters whose dogged intrusions into the Nixon presidency's darkened closets won The Washington Post a Pulitzer Prize, spoke of the lessons for journalists that grew out of their work. Again, Bernstein said, the lessons are largely ignored after three decades.
"The lessons have to do with being careful, with using multiple sources, to putting information into context, to not being swayed by gossip, by sensationalism, by manufactured controversy," said Bernstein, who has left daily journalism and now writes books. "All of which I think have come to dominate our journalistic agenda much more in the past 30 years."
On the eve of the publication of Unmasking Deep Throat, a book by Dean that he said has reduced to "about a thimbleful" the names of people who might be Woodward and Bernstein's famed anonymous source, the writers held to their 30-year silence.
Asked about a project by university students in Illinois that had eliminated all but seven Nixon White House aides as possibilities, and the students' unanimous guess that Deep Throat was commentator Pat Buchanan, Woodward said: "You're going to get a kind of deep silence from us on this subject."
"It's about keeping our word for 30 years," he said. Woodward said their source's identity would be revealed after his death or until he releases him and Bernstein from their confidentiality pledge.