Laying the Dust

Final Report

by the Watergate Special Prosecution Force
US Government Printing Office, 277 pp., $2.65

Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon; drawing by David Levine

After twenty-eight months of investigations, the full-time labors of some 174 staff members, and at a cost of at least $7.7 million, the Watergate Special Prosecution Force has at last come forth with a summary report, as is required under its charter, which provides the public with what is supposed to be the first full statement of all the criminal acts associated with the complexus of Watergate. The Final Report is an outrageously shoddy document, lacking in any sense of public obligation, deceptive, inept, and incomplete, and it has about it the noisome character of its infamous predecessor, the Warren Report.

Like the Warren Report, the Watergate Report is the product of presumably honest but limited and timid men, whose allegiance is not to uncovering the truth but to laying the dust. Like the Warren Report, it seems permeated with the notion that the system must retain public confidence, that it must be seen to be infinitely self-perfecting, capable of absorbing aberrations like assassinations and Watergate crimes without fundamental damage or change. Like the Warren Report, it is the work of investigators who seem to wear protective blinders, allowing themselves only the narrowest of perspectives and even within that examining only the minimum of leads, the smallest number of suspects. And like the Warren Report, it has initially been greeted by the public and the press with no serious questioning.

The first cause for outrage over this report is its brevity—a mere 277 pages, only a small number of which deal with matters of substance. (The Warren Report offered us 888 pages, giving at least the pretense of completeness.) Fully a third of those pages are given over to lengthy and for the most part superfluous descriptions of “relations” with other groups (Congress, the White House, the press, etc.), and another third are devoted to the usual bureaucratic filler required in such reports (chronology, formal documents, organizational history, etc.). In the remaining third are included a lengthy, defensive apology for the obvious inadequacies of the report and a perfunctory section on “observations and recommendations,” leaving only forty-eight pages for describing the main work of the prosecutor: the investigations, the charges, and the dispositions of the Watergate cases. This skimpy account scarcely deserves to be called a report in any sense of that term, and certainly not in the sense that Congress had in mind when it first approved the special prosecutor.

But the report’s inadequacy is not simply one of length. Where we seek answers we are offered evasions; where we look for a recounting of facts and a historical record we are given prosecutorial pussyfooting. Take this example, typical of many, addressed to the dozens of charges made about Bebe Rebozo’s financial finagling on Nixon’s behalf:

Between April and December 1974, the [IRS] agents and Assistant Special Prosecutors analyzed thousands of pages of records received from more than 240…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.