How Watergate ruined a local congressman
45 years ago, one local congressman was ruined by a national scandal involving truth, lies and loyalty.
The story of Watergate shook the 1970’s when the Washington Post first broke the news.
On June 17, 1972, several people broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Office Complex in Washington, D.C.
“Instead of a 2 bit burglary, it becomes a major political scandal and a stack of felonies,” said Patrick Furlong, Professor Emeritus of History at IUSB.
It was a political scandal then President Richard Nixon attempted to cover up.
“If the people involved at the top had told the truth from the start it wouldn’t have been a big deal,” said Furlong.
More than four decades later historians are still marveling at what many call the political crime of the century.
Indiana’s second district congressman at the time, Earl Landgrebe, was the last supporter of President Nixon.
Forty years removed, historians believe the once-unmemorable congressman left legacy successors to his seat will never forget.
“If you are a good party member, you’d say, ‘of course my president is not a crook, I will back him,’” said Furlong. “Langrebe’s problem is he kept on talking, saying ‘no matter what evidence comes forward I’m still backing my president.’”
Landgrebe’s emphatic statement of white house support killed the politician’s career at the Capitol.
“What happens when your president is proven to be a crook? You look polite word, stupid,” said Furlong.
Historians, in hindsight, say the political move to make at the time was clear.
Instead the fairly new congressman went rogue and continued to back the President until the end.
In 1974, two years after the break-in and multiple investigations into the President later, Landgrebe refused to rescind his endorsement of the Nixon.
On August 7, 1974 he made statements to reporters like, “don’t confuse me with the facts, I’ve got a closed mind,” and “I will not vote for impeachment.”
“Most of the Republicans of course were running for cover when he said, “I’m for Nixon even if he was the smoking gun,” said Furlong.
A day later, Nixon resigned.
His resignation came the same day Landgrebe’s statements were printed in newspapers.
11 years later, Landgrebe would break his silence to our reporting partners at the Elkhart Truth.
He said his support for Nixon proved his loyalty to Republicans but also destroyed his future in the party.
“He wasn’t important enough for it to have done damage to the party,” said Furlong. “It was personal damage to him.”
In 1974 he was up for reelection against Floyd Fithian, an opponent he beat two years before.
This time, he lost in a landslide, securing only 38 percent of the vote.
It was a clear message from his constituents and a learning lesson for his successors.
“When you make a mistake, if you’re in that position, in public, it could have far more serious consequences,” said Furlong.
After Langrebe’s fall, the second district seat was controlled by democrats for two decades.
Langrebe returned to a life of normalcy, opening a freight and hauling company in Valparaiso until he passed away in 1986.