As indicated in this space last month, Aug. 8 marked the 45th anniversary of the resignation of President Richard Nixon at the height of the Watergate scandal that had been developing over the previous 26 months. It stemmed from the break-in of the Democratic national headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. by operatives of the president’s entourage known as the Committee to Re-elect the President Committee (referred to as CREEP).
While a number of Watergate events were still to occur, including Nixon’s pardon by his successor and the ensuing trial and conviction of the administration’s puppet masters of the Watergate burglary, Nixon’s resignation represented the zenith or nadir of the Watergate era. Although most of the events took place in and around the nation’s capitol, its tentacles extended to some of our backyards in Minnesota.
Those links are worth a dig as we acknowledge the 45th anniversary of the Watergate denouement.
Minnesota money men
The Twin Cities and its suburbs were not only where the Watergate extended, but in some respects, whence Watergate started and where it ended.
Bob Woodward and his colleague, Charles C. Bernstein, broke the Watergate scandal in the pages of the Washington Post bit by bit, over the course of several of years. While looking for leads in June 1972, Woodward went to Florida to check out a story about a $25,000 check that had ended up in a bank account controlled by one of the Watergate burglars. The check came from Kenneth Dahlberg, a Twin Citian, who happened to be the Midwest finance chair for CREEP.
Dahlberg, who died in 2011, was a decorated World War II hero. He had started a post-war company known as Miracle Ear, successfully selling the first modern version of hearing aids. The company still exists today under different ownership. It was located, for a time, in Golden Valley, hence the name Dahlberg Drive, near the intersection of Highways 100 and 55, near Theodore Wirth Parkway.
Dahlberg was reticent to discuss the matter with the investigating duo, but these enterprising young journalists ultimately found that CREEP’s perfidy was attributed to many other of the “President’s Men” (there were few women involved in Watergate) and brought him down.
Dahlberg also headed finances for the Minnesota District 3 Congressman Clark McGregor, who represented most of the western part of Hennepin County throughout the 1960s. McGregor tried to step up to the Senate, losing a race in 1970 to former senator and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, making a political comeback after his narrow defeat by Nixon in the 1968 presidential race.
McGregor himself played a role in the Watergate drama. He was the head of CREEP beginning in the summer of 1972, succeeding former attorney general John Mitchell immediately after the Watergate burglary. McGregor, a 55-year-old Minneapolis-born lawyer, served as a spokesman for the committee during the early days of Watergate. Many of his statements turned out to be misleading or outright falsehoods, and he only lasted for about six months. However, he landed on his feet, riding out Nixon’s landslide re-election, avoiding criminal culpability, and becoming a Washington, D.C. doyenne until his death in 2003.
Another Minnesota money man involved in Watergate was Maurice Stans, a Shakopee native and secretary of commerce in the Nixon administration. Besides his cabinet role, he was a chief money raiser for the Nixon team, which led him into trouble. He was tried for bribery, along with Treasury Secretary John Connelly, but they both were acquitted by a jury preceding the Watergate courtroom capers.
Speaking of courtroom cases, there were a couple of them here, dealing with Watergate-related matters. The special counsel, who investigated the Watergate matter, brought two criminal charges in Minnesota against prominent figures in the business community. In U.S. v. Andreas, the head of the powerful grain company Archer Daniels Midland was charged with campaign finance violations in connection with contributions made to CREEP. The mogul was acquitted in a non-jury trial before a visiting jurist from Iowa. The case stemmed from illegal donations made to the CREEP campaign, which the judge deemed not improper because they were made as loans that were repaid to the donors.
The Watergate Counsel also failed in another financial criminal charge against Maplewood-based 3M for allegedly improper campaign donations made by the company to the coffers of Humphrey, Nixon’s 1968 presidential adversary. U.S. District Court Judge Donald Alsop in St. Paul dismissed the case because the company had previously entered into an arrangement with the government dismissing other charges, which were extended to encompass the indictment.
At the time of these cases, Watergate was winding down. From start to finish, Minnesota experienced seemingly random and isolated, yet implacable ties to the Watergate scandal.