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Why is Robert Merritt telling his story now?

Douglas Caddy

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It is a natural question to ask. After all, it is 38 years after the Watergate scandal broke open.

So why the long delay?

There is no single answer. There are many. First and foremost is that Merritt would have been killed if he attempted to reveal the origins of Watergate while Washington, D.C. Police Detective Carl Shoffler, the officer who arrested the burglars, was alive. It is that simple. Shoffler, to whom Merritt confided his prior knowledge of the planned break-in at Watergate two weeks before it happened, also recognized his own life was on the line. As recounted by Jim Hougan in his 1984 best-seller, Secret Agenda: Watergate, Deep Throat and the CIA, Shoffler told Captain Edmund Chung, his former commanding officer at the National Security Agency’s Vint Hill Farm Station, that if he “ever told the whole story public, ‘his life wouldn’t be worth a nickel.’”

After the Watergate arrests and ensuing controversy, Shoffler went to great lengths on many occasions to impress upon Merritt the necessity to remain quiet. In the two years before Watergate Shoffler and the FBI had directed Merritt as a Confidential Informant to commit hundreds of crimes, all done in the name of “national security.” Shoffler threatened Merritt that on the basis these crimes alone the both of them could be prosecuted and imprisoned as would certain FBI officials and agents.

Another factor was Merritt’s open homosexuality. Watergate occurred only three years after the Stonewall riot, which marked the beginning of the Gay Movement. Homophobia still reigned supreme. Shoffler told Merritt that his homosexuality would be used to discredit him and to railroad him to incarceration. Indeed, as Merritt prepared to enter the building to testify in executive session before the Senate Watergate Committee, a Democrat committee staff member, Wayne Bishop, stopped and told him his credibility was zero because he was a homosexual and threatened that if he told what he knew about the origins of Watergate, he would be jailed immediately inside the U.S. Capitol Building.

Even the Republican in the White House, President Richard Nixon, whose presidency could have been saved had Merritt disclosed what he knew, railed at the time against homosexuals. As revealed in the new book by Mark Feldstein, Poisoning the Press, Nixon wanted to discredit or even prosecute newspaper columnist Jack Anderson so badly that he contemplated an investigation to see if Anderson was a homosexual even though Anderson was married and had nine children. Nixon Aide H.R. Haldeman is quoted on an Oval Office tape as asking, “Do we have anything on [Anderson aide Brit] Hume?....It’d be great if we could get him on a homosexual thing.”

“Is he married?” Nixon asked.

“He sure looks it,” responded Charles Colson, referring to Hume’s sexuality.

So the overt and widespread hatred of gays during this period was a key factor in Merritt’s decision to keep quiet. He only had to look at what happened to me to see what fate might lay waiting for him. In the first month of the Watergate case Chief Judge John Sirica falsely accused me of being “one of the principals” in the Watergate break-in crime. Sirica then held me, as attorney for the seven defendants, in contempt of court and ordered me jailed after I asserted the attorney-client privilege and Sixth Amendment right to counsel in behalf of my clients. Sirica’s vicious homophobia was matched only by the judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit who upheld his contempt citation of me in a gratuitously insulting decision. This untold segment of Watergate of how these prejudiced judges attempted to set me up because I was gay is told in my Epilogue in this book. They ultimately failed because there was not one scintilla of evidence that I was involved, which is why I was never indicted, named an unindicted conspirator, disciplined by the bar or even interviewed by the Senate Watergate Committee.

Despite the attempts to keep him quiet, Merritt on a number of occasions came close to disclosing what he knew about the prior knowledge by Shoffler and certain agents of the Intelligence Community of the planned break-in. This is covered in Chapter 6, “A Series of Missed Opportunities: How Watergate Might Have Turned Out Differently.” In each instance, for one justifiable reason or another, Merritt decided that the best strategy was to remain quiet.

From 1985 to 2000, Merritt was a “fugitive from justice” as he recounts in his story, even though during this period Shoffler continued to direct his activities from afar while the former worked closely as a Confidential Informant with law enforcement agencies in New York that were unaware of his wanted status. As a fugitive, Merritt’s goal was not to get caught. Telling publicly about what he knew about Watergate was out of the question.

It was only after 1996 when Shoffler died and 2000 when the Government dismissed the criminal case against him that Merritt could turn his attention again to disclosing the untold story of Watergate’s origins. He began to collect documents and information that would support his story, an effort that took years. Even so the FBI has steadfastly refused to release over 400 documents from its files on Merritt under the Freedom of Information Act that could contribute mightily to understanding what occurred.

In May 2008 Merritt contacted me to ask if I would help him write a book about what he knew. I agreed to do so. About the same time doctors who had been treating him for serious medical conditions told him that he had only three to four years to live. This knowledge spurred him to concentrate on getting his book finished. Even as I write this I have learned that Merritt’s doctors told him within the last week that at most he has three to four months to live due to advanced cancer of the spine. They set the outmost date as Valentine Day 2011.

So this book is being rushed into print in order that Merritt can publicly answer questions that might arise while he is still capable of doing so. In a sense his story is a ‘deathbed confession” as his only desire at this point in time is that the historical truth about Watergate be told fully and accurately.

Douglas Caddy


Houston, Texas September 19, 2010

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I'm particularly impressed with the way you highlight homophobia in this piece, Douglas . While I'm a bystander as far as Watergate goes, interested but not focused and grateful someone is...

re Homophobia. (or any antism stigmatism that is used against people (buddha ideas are that there are three basic ways to discredit someone who cannot be disgraced through discourse, being some moral impropriety, some monetary impropriety, or ultimately to exert extreme prejudice, for real or imagined reasons.) particularly sexism and racism.

These are methods used to control people and events and must not be a consideration. The pre judices are fostered and encouraged to divide humanity. Many are kept silent this way. Homophobia and sexism are particular ones. Perhaps less so in australia where we have a number of prominent homosexual political and public figures who do not suffer this as a stigma. The fight against homophobia,.as is sexism, is a fight for all of humanity.

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