When Judge John Sirica gaveled the trial of the Watergate seven to order on January 8, 1973, federal investigators had already discovered a covert slush fund used to underwrite nefarious activities against Democrats. The money and the men on trial could be linked to the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP) at whose head sat the former Attorney General of the United States, and President Nixon’s former law partner, John Mitchell. At the trial, E. Howard Hunt, who had planned the break-in, and four of the burglars pleaded guilty. G. Gordon Liddy, who helped in the planning, and James McCord, the other burglar, refused to cooperate, were convicted of various charges, and sentenced to prison.
Shortly after the trial, the United States Senate formed the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, chaired by Senator Sam Ervin (D-NC). Meanwhile, James McCord, contemplating a long prison term, had a change of heart and wrote a letter to Judge Sirica. In it, he claimed that high White House officials had pressured the defendants to plead guilty. The five who pleaded had perjured themselves at the urging of “higher-ups.” With the letter’s release, the saga moved decidedly from being a police story to a political story. It slipped beyond Washington’s beltway and captured national attention.
That January, Time magazine named President Nixon and his national security advisor Henry Kissinger “Men of the Year” for their diplomatic achievements with China. A year later Time would bestow that honor on Judge Sirica.