Despite the enormous impact of the Watergate scandal, the actual purpose of the break-in of the DNC offices has never been conclusively established. Some hypotheses suggest that the burglars were after specific information. The likeliest of these hypotheses suggests that the target of the break-in was the offices of Larry O’Brien, the Chairman of the DNC. In 1968, O’Brien was appointed by Vice President Hubert Humphrey to serve as the national director of Humphrey’s presidential campaign and, separately, by Howard Hughes, to serve as Hughes’ public-policy lobbyist in Washington. O’Brien was elected national chairman of the DNC in 1968 and 1970. In late 1971, the President’s brother, Donald Nixon, was collecting intelligence for his brother at the time and was asking Meier about Larry O’Brien. In 1956, Donald Nixon had borrowed $205,000 from Howard Hughes and never repaid the loan. The fact of the loan surfaced during the 1960 presidential election campaign embarrassing Richard Nixon and became a real political liability. According to author Donald M. Bartlett, Richard Nixon would do whatever was necessary to prevent another Hughes-Nixon family embarrassment. From 1968 to 1970, Hughes withdrew nearly half a million dollars from the Texas National Bank of Commerce for contributions to both Democrats and Republicans, including presidential candidates Humphrey and Nixon. Hughes wanted Donald Nixon and Meier involved but Richard Nixon was opposed to their involvement.
Meier told Donald that he was sure the Democrats would win the election because they had considerable information on Richard Nixon’s illicit dealings with Howard Hughes that had never been released, and that Larry O’Brien had the information. O’Brien, who had received $25,000 from Hughes, didn’t actually have any documents but Meier claims to have wanted Richard Nixon to think he did. It is only a question of conjecture then that Donald called his brother Richard and told him that Meier gave the Democrats all the Hughes information that could destroy him and that O’Brien had the proof. The fact is Larry O’Brien, elected Democratic Party Chairman, was also a lobbyist for Howard Hughes in a Democratic controlled Congress and the possibility of his finding out about Hughes’ illegal contributions to the Nixon campaign was too much of a danger for Nixon to ignore and O’Brien’s office at Watergate became a target of Nixon’s intelligence in the political campaign. This hypothesis has been proposed as a motivation for the break-in.
Numerous hypotheses have persisted in claiming deeper significance to the Watergate scandal than that commonly acknowledged by media and historians:
- In the book The Ends of Power, Nixon’s chief of staff H. R. Haldeman claimed that the term “Bay of Pigs”, mentioned by Nixon in a tape-recorded White House conversation as the reason the CIA should put a stop to the Watergate investigations, was used by Nixon as a coded reference to a CIA plot to assassinate Fidel Castro during the John F. Kennedy administration. The CIA had not disclosed this plot to the Warren Commission, the commission investigating the Kennedy assassination, despite the fact that it would attribute a motive to Castro in the assassination. Any such revelation would also expose CIA/Mafia connections that could lead to unwanted scrutiny of suspected CIA/Mafia participants in the assassination of the president. Furthermore, Nixon’s awareness as vice-president of the Bay of Pigs plan and his own ties to the underworld and unsavory intelligence operations might come to light. A theoretical connection between the Kennedy assassination and the Watergate tapes was later referred to in the film Nixon, directed by Oliver Stone.
- Silent Coup, is a bestselling 1992 book written by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin in which they contend that former Nixon White House counsel John Dean orchestrated the 1972 Watergate burglary at Democratic National Committee headquarters to protect his future wife, Maureen Biner, by removing information linking her to a call-girl (prostitute) ring that worked for the DNC. The authors also argued that Alexander Haig was not Deep Throat but was a key source for Bob Woodward, who as a Naval officer had briefed Haig at the White House in 1969 and 1970. Time magazine considered but decided not to publish an article that made similar claims. Dean sued the publisher of the book resulting in a 9-year legal battle. As of October 2011 Dean was writing a book where transcripts of previously unheard tapes will be published and put in context.
James F. Neal who prosecuted the Watergate 7 did not believe Nixon had ordered the break in because of Nixon’s surprised reaction when he was told about it. He cited the June 23, 1972, conversation when Nixon asked Haldeman, “Who was the asshole that did it?”