The History of CREEP and Its Role in the Watergate Scandal

Black and white picture of Richard Nixon raising arms up and making "peace" signs with his hands
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CREEP was the unofficial abbreviation derisively applied to the Committee for the Re-Election of the President, a fundraising organization within the administration of President Richard Nixon. Officially abbreviated to CRP, the committee was first organized in late 1970 and opened its Washington, D.C. office in the spring of 1971.

Besides its infamous role in the 1972 Watergate scandal, the CRP was found to have employed money laundering and illegal slush funds in its re-election activities on behalf of President Nixon.

Purposes and Players of the CREEP Organization

During the investigation of the Watergate break-in, it was shown that the CRP had illegally used $500,000 in campaign funds to pay the legal expenses of the five Watergate burglars in return for their promise to protect President Nixon, initially by remaining silent, and by giving false testimony in court—committing perjury—after their eventual indictment.

Some key members of CREEP (CRP) included:

  • John N. Mitchell - Campaign Director
  • Jeb Stuart Magruder - Deputy Campaign Manager
  • Maurice Stans - Finance Chairman
  • Kenneth H. Dahlberg - Midwest Finance Chairman
  • Fred LaRue - Political Operative
  • Donald Segretti - Political Operative
  • James W. McCord - Security Coordinator
  • E. Howard Hunt - Campaign Consultant
  • G. Gordon Liddy - Campaign Member and Finance Counsel

Along with the burglars themselves, CRP officials G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, John N. Mitchell, and other Nixon administration figures were imprisoned over the Watergate break-in and their efforts to cover it up.

The CRP was also found to have had ties to the White House Plumbers. Organized on July 24, 1971, the Plumbers was a covert team officially called the White House Special Investigations Unit assigned to prevent leaks of information harmful to President Nixon, such as the Pentagon Papers, to the press.

Besides bringing shame on the office of the President of the United States, the illegal acts of the CRP helped turn a burglary into a political scandal that would bring down an incumbent president and fuel a general mistrust of the federal government that had already begun festering as protests against continued U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War took place.  

Rose Mary's Baby

When the Watergate affair happened, there was no law requiring a political campaign to disclose the names of its individual donors. As a result, the amount of money and identities of individuals donating that money to CRP was a tightly-held secret. In addition, corporations were secretly and illegally donating money to the campaign. Theodore Roosevelt had previously enforced a prohibition of corporate campaign donations through the Tillman Act of 1907, which is still in effect today

President Nixon's secretary, Rose Mary Woods, kept the list of donors in a locked drawer. Her list famously became known as “Rose Mary's Baby,” a reference to the popular 1968 horror movie titled Rosemary's Baby.

This list was not revealed until Fred Wertheimer, a campaign finance reform supporter, forced it into the open through a successful lawsuit. Today, the Rose Mary’s Baby list can be seen at the National Archives where it is held with other Watergate-related material released in 2009.

Dirty Tricks and CRP

In the Watergate Scandal, political operative Donald Segretti was in charge of the many "dirty tricks" carried out by the CRP. These acts included the break-in at Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office, the investigation of reporter Daniel Schorr, and plans by Liddy to have newspaper columnist Jack Anderson killed.

Daniel Ellsberg had been behind the leak of the Pentagon Papers published by the New York Times. According to Egil Krogh in a 2007 op-ed piece in the New York Times, he and others were charged with the task of carrying out a covert operation that would uncover the state of Ellsberg's mental health, in order to discredit him. Specifically, they were told to steal notes about Ellsberg from Dr. Lewis Fielding's office. According to Krogh, members of the unsuccessful break-in believed that it was done in the name of national security.

Anderson was also a target because he exposed classified documents that proved Nixon was secretly selling arms to Pakistan in their war against India in 1971. For reasons of this nature, Anderson had long been a thorn in Nixon's side, and the plot to discredit him was widely known after the Watergate scandal erupted. However, the plot to possibly assassinate him was not verified until Hunt confessed on his deathbed.

Nixon Resigns

In July 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered President Nixon to turn over secretly recorded White House audiotapes—the Watergate Tapes—containing Nixon’s conversations dealing with the Watergate break-in planning and cover-up.

When Nixon first refused to turn over the tapes, the House of Representatives voted to impeach him for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, criminal cover-up, and several other violations of the Constitution.

At last, on August 5, 1974, President Nixon released the tapes that undeniably proved his complicity in the Watergate break-in and cover-up. In the face of almost certain impeachment by Congress, Nixon resigned in disgrace on August 8 and left office the following day.

Just days after he was sworn in as president, Vice President Gerald Ford—who had no desire to run for president himself—granted Nixon a presidential pardon for any crimes he had committed while in office.