Don’t cry for Bob Bennett, the amiable elderly gent rejected by apoplectic delegates at the state Republican convention. If you didn’t know his history, you might have felt sorry for the weepy geezer sent packing after three uneventful terms in the U.S. Senate. But what goes around comes around, and there is poetic justice in his demise. He was involved nearly 40 years ago in a scheme aimed at controlling an election, and it was an uncontrolled election that brought him down.
Scarcely a man or woman is still alive who remembers the distinguished senator’s involvement in the midnight shenanigans at the Watergate during the first Nixon Administration. The potted histories of the Watergate story make passing reference to Bennett’s “brush” with the scandal. For those acquainted with the events—and if you want the juicy details, take a look at J. Anthony Lucas’s Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years or The Senate Watergate Report edited by Daniel Schorr—Bennett, code-named “Long Bob” by the CIA, was not so much brushed by the scandal as totally immersed in its sludge, like up to his neck.
Just to whet your appetite, here are a few passages from The Senate Watergate Report: “On July 10, 1972, Bennett reported detailed knowledge of the Watergate incident to his CIA case officer.
“Bennett and [G. Gordon] Liddy set up dummy committees as a conduit for [Howard] Hughes campaign contributions. ... Bennett served as a point of contact between Hunt and Liddy during the two weeks following the Watergate break-in.”
For most living citizens of these United States, the Watergate break-in is so lost in the mists of time that you might as well be talking about the Punic Wars. Nevertheless, our own Bob Bennett, now afflicted with age and as exciting as a hammock, once upon a time had his very own CIA case officer! Agent Long Bob! He was palling around with the dangerously erratic loon, G. Gordon Liddy! He owned Robert R. Mullen and Company, a so-called public relations firm that was in reality a front for the CIA! He employed Watergate mastermind E. Howard Hunt, who gave him a cost estimate for bugging Clifford Irving, notorious for his phony biography of Howard Hughes!
You can’t make this stuff up. There’s a lot more, including Agent Long Bob’s involvement with the wacky Dita Beard, which included sending E. Howard Hunt, disguised in a red beard, out to a Denver hospital to persuade the ailing Ms. Beard to retract a charge that ITT had bribed the Nixon administration to drop anti-trust charges.
That someone as bland and harmless as our Senator Bennett, our Agent Long Bob, would be up to his neck in the wacky world of espionage is the stuff of fiction and calls to mind the nondescript character of John le Carré’s George Smiley. But Agent Long Bob’s compatriots were the spooks who couldn’t shoot straight, operatives so incompetent that they couldn’t manage a simple break-in.
So inept were the Nixon operatives, nicknamed the Plumbers, that conspiracy theorists soon jumped into the fray to make sense of the Watergate operation, charging that it was all a set-up by the CIA to bring down Nixon. In the harebrained conspiracy scenario, Hunt becomes a double agent doing dirty work to discredit Nixon.
What is not a harebrained conspiracy theory, however, is the supposition surrounding Agent Long Bob’s known role as a principal source for Woodward and Bernstein, whose investigative reporting led to Nixon’s ouster from the Oval Office. For 30 years or so, Agent Long Bob was even the leading candidate for Deep Throat, until Mark Felt of the FBI fessed up. But if he wasn’t Deep Throat, Bennett played a key part in unraveling the scandal.
What was in it for him? Why would he turn confidential informant and spill the beans? The supposition is that Agent Long Bob was feeding info to get Woodward and Bernstein off the CIA’s trail. Long Bob was protecting his bosses, at least according to Chuck Colson, one of the Nixon operatives who went to prison. Colson, among others, thinks Bennett skated on Watergate.
In 1989, Bennett wrote a book called Gaining Control: Your Key to Freedom and Success, the premise of which was how to control the process of choosing so that you could “control all aspects of your life.” But, as we saw at the recent Republican state convention, you can’t always control the process of choosing.