Born: November 30, 1930;

Died: March 30, 2021.

IT was Monday, June 19, 1972. A break-in in the early hours of Saturday morning at the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate complex in Washington had been discovered. Carried out with the aim of bugging the offices, it was an accident waiting to happen.

Five men, led by a former CIA agent, James McCord, had been arrested at the scene and had already appeared in court, charged with felonious burglary and with possession of implements of crime.

The burglary – actually the second one at the DNC offices in the space of a few weeks – had been put together by G. Gordon Liddy, a former FBI agent, and E. Howard Hunt, a former CIA agent; they had monitored the operation from a Watergate hotel room, but had fled.

Now, on that Monday morning, Liddy, anxious and dishevelled, spoke to John Dean, Counsel to President Nixon, and told him that the five men had to be freed from the “hell-hole” of their prison. Dean made it clear there was nothing he could do.

Then – in Dean’s telling – Liddy blurted out that the incident was his fault and that he would take full responsibility. He added: “And if somebody wants to shoot me ... on a street corner, I’m prepared to have that done. You just let me know where and when, and I’ll be there”.

“Well, ah, Gordon”, Dean replied, “I don’t think we’re really there!”

The Washington Post took less than 48 hours, however, to establish that what Republicans had dismissed as a “third-rate burglary” had, in fact, ties to the White House and its efforts to secure a second presidential term for Nixon.

The cover-up of the Watergate burglary steadily unravelled to the point where, in August 1974, Nixon resigned in disgrace– the first Commander-in-Chief to do so. (The Glasgow Herald headline, all in capitals, read, ‘Watergate at last destroys Nixon’).

Forty Nixon aides and associates went to jail for their roles in the scandal. Liddy himself refused to co-operate with prosecutors or with Congress (“my father didn’t raise a snitch or a rat”, he would later explain), and in March 1973 he was sentenced to six-t0-20 years for conspiracy, burglary and illegal wiretapping.

His sentence was commuted by President Carter in 1977, who felt the sentence was out of proportion to those given to other Watergate criminals, and he was freed after 52 months in prison.

Liddy, who has died, aged 90, of complications from Parkinson’s disease, was described by Nixon’s most recent biographer, John A. Farrell, as “a right-wing zealot, with a fixation for Nazi regalia and a kinky kind of Nietzschean philosophy ... He built his resistance to pain by holding his hand over a flame until the mutilated flesh needed surgery.

“He boasted of the men he had beaten, or threatened to kill, and declared himself free from ordinary moral or legal restraints”.

Born in Brooklyn in 1930, George Gordon Battle Liddy, a lawyer’s son, was raised as a strict Catholic in parochial schools – he said the nuns “introduced me to authority. First, God. And then: the flag”.

After Fordham University he spent two years in the army before returning to Fordham to study law. He joined J Edgar Hoover’s FBI in 1957, serving there until 1962. A book on the FBI by Tim Weiner says Liddy rose to the rank of supervisor in headquarters, where he had learned the “dark arts” of the Bureau’s counterintelligence programme.

He worked for his father’s law firm then became an assistant District Attorney, where he made his name with some high-profile drugs busts.

He made an unsuccessful primary challenge to a sitting Republican congressman, and later took charge of the Nixon presidential campaign in the mid-Hudson Valley in 1968. Nixon won, and Liddy was rewarded with a job as a special assistant to the Secretary of the Treasury in the administration.

In time, he began working alongside Hunt in the Plumbers, a small, secretive team that investigated leaks to the media.

In September 1971 Liddy and and Hunt were involved in a break-in at the office of a psychiatrist who was seeing the defence analyst Daniel Ellsberg.

Ellsberg had seriously embarrassed the Nixon White House by leaking the top-secret Pentagon Papers, about the history of US involvement in Vietnam, but the burglars found no incriminating information that could be used to smear him.

As a strategist for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP, but more often referred to as CREEP), Liddy devised numerous plans for intelligence activities against the Democrats. The more outlandish proposals, such as establishing honey-pot schemes to blackmail prominent Democrats, were not approved; his plans were eventually scaled back to the bugging of the DNC offices at Watergate.

After his release from prison, in debt and unable to practice law, he turned to writing. He wrote a number of books before, in 1980, publishing his memoir, Will, which covered his involvement in Watergate. It became a bestseller.

He had a number of bad-guy roles in such TV series as Miami Vice and MacGyver, and in films. “I played only villains, and that way, as Mrs Liddy says, I don’t have to act. I just go there and play myself”, he said.

He became a regular on the college-lecture circuit, sometimes with the LSD guru Timothy Leary. In 1992 he became host of a Washington-based radio talk show that would eventually be syndicated to more than 225 stations. He retired in 2012 but continued to remain active.

In interviews, he said had no regrets about the crime and that he would do it again if asked. Unrepentant to the end, he relished his Watergate notoriety: his car had a licence-plate that read H20GATE.