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The Watergate Hotel may be more than a thousand miles from Minnesota, but Twin Cities attorney Marshall Tanick has been crisscrossing the metro area this summer, delivering presentations on the state’s connections to the infamous episode in American political history that helped unseat a sitting U.S. president.
Succeeding Richard Nixon, who resigned in 1974 before he could be impeached by Congress, was Gerald Ford, whose presidency was followed by that of Jimmy Carter, whose vice president was Minnesota’s own Walter Mondale. Some might draw a line from Nixon’s foibles to Mondale’s ascension to the White House, but Tanick, who is based in both St. Paul and Minneapolis, has researched even more historical links to the Watergate affair.
The scandal opened early on the morning of June 17, 1972, when five men broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. Alerted by a security guard, metro police arrested the burglars, who carried high-end surveillance and electronic equipment, but it would take the dogged reporting of two Washington Post journalists — Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein — and a congressional investigation to link them to Nixon.
Tanick said in some respects, Minnesota was “ground zero” for the Watergate scandal.
Kenneth Dahlberg, founder of Dahlberg Electronics, a subsidiary of what is now the hearing aids manufacturer Miracle-Ear, served in the Minnesota Air National Guard and was born in St. Paul. A check made out to Dahlberg was a key part of connecting the Watergate scandal to Nixon’s re-election campaign, although Dahlberg himself was not accused of any wrongdoing. Dahlberg had been the Midwest finance chairman for the Committee to Re-elect the President — which came to be known as CREEP — during Nixon’s 1972 campaign. Finding Dahlberg’s check was a turning point in the investigation because it led to the discovery of Watergate’s money-laundering scheme.
“That’s the check that broke Watergate,” Tanick said. “Woodward and Bernstein found out about it and that was the opening wedge of Watergate. Before then, it was seen as a third-rate burglary, a nothing-burger.”
It was later learned that Dahlberg’s check came from the chief executive officer of Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., Dwayne Andreas. Andreas was born in Worthington, Minn.
Another connection can be found with former Minnesota Congressman Clark MacGregor, who died about a decade ago. After serving as a Republican representative from Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District from 1961 to 1971, MacGregor worked as a senior assistant to Nixon and was national chairman of CREEP during the 1972 election.
The financial chairman for CREEP was Maurice Stans, a Shakopee native.
Charles Colson, a top Nixon aide, would later go on to head the nonprofit Prison Fellowship, which has done a lot of work in Minnesota around prison reform. On March 1, 1974, he was indicted for conspiring to cover up the Watergate burglaries.
Tanick said even 50 years after the fact, Watergate still reverberates in the political consciousness. In a recent issue of Minnesota Lawyer, he noted that some of the reforms stemming from the Watergate break-in include changes in Minnesota laws governing political campaigns, privacy, employment, government accountability and the conduct of lawyers.
“The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, otherwise known as the state’s Freedom of Information Act, was enacted a year later,” he said. “The state whistleblower law — Minnesota jumped on the bandwagon rather late, it wasn’t until 1987 — but it came about because of a stream of state whistleblower laws that were enacted in the wake of Watergate.”
Tanick will host a public presentation on his research at noon Sept. 13 at the Minnesota State Law Library at the Minnesota Judicial Center in St. Paul.
Other presentations are scheduled at noon Monday before a Brandeis University alumni club; 10 a.m. July 5 before a St. Louis Park seniors group; 8 a.m. Aug. 24 before the Edina Ham and Eggs Club; and 10 a.m. Aug. 24 before a Golden Valley seniors group.