KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – John G. Stewart and his wife, Nancy, were sleeping in the wee hours of June 17, 1972, when the phone rang. It was 2:30 am on Saturday, not an ideal start to the weekend.
Surprised and more than a little upset, John picked up the receiver. On the other line was one of his secretaries: five men had been arrested inside his office – his current office, where his desk and chair were located – at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee where he was director. communications. She was on the phone with the police.
And that’s how it started. Stewart was the second person to learn what would become the Watergate scandal.
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Stewart, who died Wednesday at the age of 86 after a long illness, was a longtime Democratic member and advocate for social justice. He was also a longtime executive with the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Stewart’s confidence shaken
Stewart recounted the night he learned of the robbery in a Knox News op-ed in 2017. He linked the Watergate robbery and subsequent Nixon cover-up to what were then the first stages of the involvement of the Russia in the election of President Donald Trump in 2016.
Prior to taking the post at the DNC, Stewart was deeply involved in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as Senior Assistant to Senator Hubert Humphrey. He grew up in a time when America was taking decisive and bold action and his faith in government was high.
Watergate, he thought, was a deep black mark on the country.
John’s son, Tennessee State Representative Mike Stewart in D-Nashville was 7 when his father became a fascinating note in history. That night and the months that followed took their toll.
“At the time, I think he believed that Watergate really damaged the country because it diminished Americans’ loyalty to government institutions… it accelerated the decline of the federal government’s faith,” said Mike at Knox News.
John believed in honesty in politics. You could be competitive, but you played by the rules. This is where John sensed that Nixon and Trump were going astray.
“The point is, my father disagreed with Trump’s policies, but he also disagreed with (Republican President Dwight D.) Eisenhower’s policies. But he never thought that President Eisenhower had ever engaged in behavior beyond his control. Nixon and Trump, he said, had both engaged in a cover-up.
Deep throat revealed
John was not surprised when, in 2005, Mark Felt revealed he was the secret source known as the Deep Throat for the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who widely reported on the break-in and of the Watergate concealment. The couple won the Pulitzer Prize for their reporting.
Felt, then deputy director of the FBI, was on John’s shortlist as a possible source.
“I don’t think he would say it was his only guess, but (Felt) was one of a few people who could’ve been Deep Throat and he wasn’t surprised,” Mike said.