WASHINGTON — Court records detailing the personal histories and statements of four men involved in the Watergate break-in are now open to the public, 40 years after they were filed under seal.
The National Archives and Records Administration released 75 pages of documents Monday in response to a judge’s ruling ordering the documents unsealed. The judge had previously ordered the release of hundreds of pages of documents in the criminal case involving the burglars. Those pages were released in November, but additional pages were released Monday along with some previously redacted information.
All the documents relate to the case of U.S. v. Liddy, which involved the five men arrested during the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate building in Washington. The case also included the two men who orchestrated the operation, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt.
The newly released documents include reports prepared in 1973 after interviews with four of the five burglars: Bernard Barker, Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, and Eugenio Martinez. The pre-sentence reports, which are routinely prepared before defendants are sentenced, include psychological evaluations and details of the burglars’ family and criminal histories.
The reports also contain descriptions of how the men, all of them with ties to Cuba, said they were recruited for the break-in and what they were told to do. The men said in interviews they were told to look for evidence that Fidel Castro’s communist government in Cuba was funding Democratic political campaigns. The men also said uniformly that they believed what they were doing was an “officially sanctioned government operation” and one “being done in the name of national security.”
The newly unsealed portions of previously released documents, meanwhile, identify individuals overheard on a wiretap illegally placed at the Watergate office during a break-in in May 1972. The names of people overheard on the wiretap include DNC official R. Spencer Oliver and his secretary Ida Maxine Wells. That’s not surprising given that it is well known that their phone was tapped. Their co-workers Robert Allen and Barbara Kennedy, a secretary, were also overheard. The content of the conversations remains sealed. The burglars were ultimately arrested during a subsequent break-in on June 17, 1972.
The records’ release is the result of a 2009 petition to U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth by Luke Nichter of Texas A&M University-Central Texas in Killeen. Nichter, who also runs a website cataloging secret recordings made by President Richard Nixon in the White House, has said the records will help historians fill in gaps in knowledge about the Watergate incident and lead to a fuller picture of the break-in that ultimately led President Richard Nixon to resign from office.