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26 May 1972: The "Ameritas Dinner" and Alfred Baldwin

Ashton Gray

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I've excerpted the article below, "Ameritas dinner break-in attempt, 26 May 1972," from the excellent essay on the purported Watergate First Break-In, which I urge everyone interested in Watergate to read. As opinion only, I personally don't think any understanding of Watergate should even be attempted without a thorough familiarity with every detail of that entire essay.

Be that as it may, the fabulously flagrant contradictions in the testimony of the co-conspirators regarding that Memorial Day weekend alone are worthy of a book--which could supplant the endless parade of books (and so-called news "reports") that have failed simply to recognize the preposterous irreconcilability of the conflicting accounts, electing instead to try to "figure them out." As the bard said: "Oh, that way madness lies; let me shun that."

Since the whereabouts and activities of Alfred C. Baldwin on the evening of 26 May 1972 are discussed in the article below, and since he has been kind enough to expound on Watergate issues from his direct knowledge, I hope he will step in and help with an understanding of this event using the unique perspective he had, purportedly from room 419 of the Howard Johnson's motel, on that legendary night.

Here is the remarkable article, and my questions for Mr. Baldwin follow:

  • Ameritas dinner break-in attempt, 26 May 1972
    The Watergate co-conspirators testified that a dinner had been held in the Continental Room at the Watergate on the evening of Friday, 26 May 1972 for the purpose of a first attempt at breaking into the DNC headquarters that night through a corridor leading from the Continental Room to the elevators and staircase. They said the attempt had failed.
    Briefing for the Ameritas break-in attempt
    E. Howard Hunt stated that he flew to Miami prior to 22 May 1972 and briefed Bernard Barker about a planned break-in at the Watergate that would be conducted under the cover of a dinner in the Watergate's Continental Room. According to Hunt, Barker told Hunt about the existence of an inactive corporation Barker had formed "sometime before" called Ameritas that could be used to hold the dinner as a cover for the break-in. In sworn testimony, G. Gordon Liddy said "we created an organization called Ameritas" for the purpose of the break-in.
    Bernard Barker said in congressional hearings that although he had been briefed on the Ameritas dinner being held, the first time he was told that the dinner was a cover for a break-in attempt was on 22 May 1972 at the Mullen public relations firm in Washington, D.C., where E. Howard Hunt worked, after Barker had flown with his men to Washington to attend the dinner. Barker went on to testify that he then briefed the other men about the break-in.
    Virgilio Gonzalez, the locksmith recruited by Barker and Hunt for the break-in, said in congressional testimony that he heard nothing at all about a planned break-in until late on the night of the dinner, after the meal was over, and that Hunt told him then that that's what they were there for.
    Whereabouts of G. Gordon Liddy
    Liddy said in his autobiography that he was at the Ameritas dinner, providing details such as "polishing off McCord's meal," being bored by a film being shown, and finally leaving with the rest of the men (except for Hunt and Gonzalez) when told to leave the Continental Room by a guard at 10:30 p.m.
    In later sworn deposition, Liddy stated under oath that he "was not at that dinner," saying further: "I was present in the area but not at that dinner."
    The corridor door alarm
    In his autobiography, E. Howard Hunt said that before the day of the Ameritas dinner, he and James McCord had inspected the Continental Room when it was vacant and noted "a magnetic alarm" system on the door to the corridor, but that "McCord said he was familiar with the system and would be able to defeat it when the time came."
    In congressional testimony, Hunt said that he and Virgilio Gonzalez had "noticed there was...a magnetic alarm" only after he and Gonzalez became locked in the Continental Room late that night when the dinner was over.
    Liddy, in his autobiography, said McCord had "discovered that the alarm was not activated until 11 p.m.," and that was "the key" to their plan, because they "expected the DNC headquarters would be vacant well before 11 p.m," allowing them to get into the access corridor before the alarm was activated. According to Liddy, that plan was thwarted when a guard looked in at 10:30 and told them they would have to leave. Liddy says that he left the Continental Room dinner then with others (see "Whereabouts of G. Gordon Liddy," above).
    In deposition testimony under oath, Liddy said the alarm on the door to the corridor was supposed to be "disarmed by McCord" after it was activated at 11:00 p.m., "and that would be how we would get in." According to Liddy's sworn testimony, "everything went according to plan until it came time for Mr. McCord to disarm the alarm, and he was unable to do so."
    Whereabouts of James McCord
    G. Gordon Liddy said in his autobiography that James McCord "excused himself from the banquet, leaving us with one extra serving." E. Howard Hunt, in his autobiography, said that McCord never came to the dinner. In both accounts, McCord was not there to disarm the alarm.
    According to Liddy, McCord had two important assignments on the first break-in: "to place a tap on the telephone in the office of Lawrence O'Brien and to place a room monitoring device in the office of Lawrence O'Brien." By 26 May 1972, date of the Ameritas dinner, Liddy had given at least $69,000 in cash to McCord for the purchase of electronic equipment.
    Liddy says that on the night of the Ameritas dinner McCord was elsewhere, reporting by walkie-talkie whether the DNC headquarters was yet vacant. E. Howard Hunt says that McCord was "across the street"—room 419 at the Howard Johnson's motel. Hunt also has stated that McCord was in walkie-talkie communication with him later in the evening, after Hunt and Gonzalez hid in a closet of the Continental Room, and that McCord was reporting to Hunt on the status of the DNC headquarters in the Watergate.
    The only room at the Howard Johnson's across the street that McCord had occupancy of and access to on 26 May 1972 was room 419, on the fourth floor. The DNC offices in the Watergate were on the sixth floor. Liddy said in his autobiography: "McCord told me he had rented a room at the Howard Johnson's motel across the street from the Watergate, but it was on the fourth floor. To see into the DNC offices, he'd need one higher up, which he promised to get." McCord did get room 723 in the Howard Johnson's, on the seventh floor, but not until 29 May 1972, three days after the Ameritas dinner.
    Whereabouts of Alfred Baldwin
    Alfred Baldwin had been hired by James McCord, and on 26 May 1972 was the "monitor," or lookout, in room 419 of the Howard Johnson's. According to both Liddy and Hunt, one of only four walkie-talkies available that night had been allocated to Baldwin for use in room 419. Another walkie-talkie had been allocated to McCord, who, according to some of the conflicting accounts, also was in room 419 with Baldwin throughout the entire dinner.
    Whereabouts of E. Howard Hunt and Virgilio Gonzalez
    Liddy, Hunt, and Virgilio Gonzales have said that Hunt and Gonzalez stayed behind and hid when everyone was told to leave. Liddy says that was at 10:30 p.m. Hunt said in congressional testimony that it was at 11:00 p.m.
    In his autobiography Hunt said that everyone left earler, at 10:00 p.m., and that he and Gonzalez stayed behind then hoping to "proceed through the corridor before the alarm system was armed at eleven."
    In congressional testimony Hunt said one reason for having stayed behind at 11:00 with Gonzalez was to open the door to the corridor leading into the office building where DNC headquarters were, but said "we noticed there was an alarm, magnetic door alarm."
    Gonzalez testified under oath that after everyone had left, he emerged from the closet with Hunt and tried to open the corridor door—"the door going into the building." When he did, Gonzalez said he discovered "that it had the alarm connected," and told Hunt: "If we open that door, the alarm will go off."
    In his autobiography, Hunt wrote that "the entire banquet subterfuge had been wasted" because McCord had not "neutralized the corridor alarm system as promised."
    In congressional testimony, Hunt said another reason that he and Gonzalez, the locksmith, stayed behind when everyone else left at 11:00 was to re-open the locked main entry doors to the Continental Room. Hunt says in his autobiography that Gonzalez did attempt to pick the main Continental Room entrance doors, but that despite Gonzalez's "best efforts, the lock would not yield."
    Virgilio Gonzalez said in congressional testimony that he did not attempt to pick the lock on the main doors to the Continental Room at all because they were glass and "somebody could see me." According to Gonzalez, he never had a chance to pick that lock.
    All accounts say that Hunt and Gonzalez spent the night locked in the Continental Room.
    Photography equipment
    In his autobiography, E. Howard Hunt emphasized the importance of photography for the first break-in. Hunt had told Bernard Barker: "the idea is to photograph the list of contributors the Democrats are required to keep," saying, "the team's prime function...was photography," and that "the photography mission was paramount."
    Bernard Barker told Congressional investigators that his "only job" on the first break-in was to "search for documents to be photographed" by Eugenio Martínez.
    Hunt's own detailed account of the Ameritas dinner, where the break-in team was gathered for the purposes of getting access to the DNC offices after hours, does not mention the photography equipment. In a later account of a second failed attempt at the first break-in (see Second break-in attempt, night of 27–28 May 1972), Hunt describes the Cubans having "a suitcase" to carry the photo equipment and lights in, plus "a hatbox" to carry a Polaroid camera and film, but neither Hunt, nor any of the other participants who have described the Ameritas dinner, mention anything about the presence of photography equipment for the break-in being at the dinner.
    Summary of Ameritas Dinner
    Other than the testimony of the participants, there is no evidence to support or verify any of the accounts of the events before, during, or after the Ameritas dinner on the night of Friday, 26 May 1972.

I was so enamored of that last summary paragraph that for the first time in my life I've come up with a sig: "Fiction doesn't leave a paper trail."

However, since that Memorial Day weekend was so important to Mr. Baldwin that he had driven 6 hours back to D.C. from Connecticut that same day, 26 May 1972, in order to participate, my questions for Mr. Baldwin are these:

  • Were you in fact in room 419 at the Howard Johnson's motel throughout the purported "Ameritas Dinner" events conflictingly described above on the night of 26 May 1972? If so:
    1. Since a room on a higher floor than 419 was needed (and later gotten) in order to see into DNC headquarters, why were you in room 419 with a walkie-talkie?
    2. Was James McCord actually in room 419 with you throughout the "Ameritas Dinner"?
    3. McCord purportedly had one of only four available walkie-talkies with him that night and you purportedly had another one. Why were you tying up two walkie talkies in room 419?
    4. McCord purportedly was on his walkie-talkie giving reports to Hunt, locked in the Continental Room, about someone still working in DNC headquarters. Can you tell us how this was possible?
    5. I thought you were supposed to be the lookout. Why did McCord purportedly come over to room 419 and do your job while you apparently did nothing at all--while tying up a walkie-talkie?
    6. Why was McCord with you instead of over in the Continental Room to disarm the alarm, which, according to at least some of the conflicting accounts, he was supposed to do in order to get in at all?
    7. Assuming, arguendo, that through some magic the purported "break-in" attempt had been successful, how was McCord going to plant bugs in the DNC if he was over in room 419 when the rest got in?

  • If you were not in room 419 during the "Ameritas Dinner" that night, where were you and what were you doing, and why?

I'm sure you can see, Mr. Baldwin, why I need a good deal of help with this--as I think anyone would who has actually acquainted themselves with the "facts" gratuitously supplied by all the co-conspirator talking heads.

And, unfortunately, that's all anybody has to go on: verbal legends.

I realize that all you can do is add to the verbal tradition about the purported "first break-in" circus on that Memorial Day weekend, but I'm hoping that you, given your curiously invisible but important role, can somehow rescue it from appearing, as it does now, to be the biggest hoax ever maliciously perpetrated on the world.

I eagerly await your clarification.

Ashton Gray

Edited by Ashton Gray
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