Many incumbent presidents seeking a second term in office form re-election committees, staffed primarily by trusted aides and influential political party members. In 1971, such a committee to re-elect the president was formed to help raise funds for Richard Nixon's 1972 campaign. Officially, this committee was known as the CRP, but eventually would earn the more sinister sounding acronym CREEP.
The committee to re-elect the president was led by a former attorney general named John Mitchell, whose wife Martha would figure prominently in the events leading up to the Watergate scandal. Mitchell was assisted by several of Nixon's closest advisors, including John Dean and Jeb Magruder. CREEP's primary mission was to raise as much money as possible for the upcoming Nixon campaign and use it to pay the expenses of political operatives hired to obtain intelligence on Democratic party activities.
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Before campaign reform laws went into effect, organizations such as the committee to re-elect the president could essentially raise as much money as they wanted and spend it anyway they liked without financial disclosure. When several political operatives tried to break into the offices of Daniel Ellsberg, an outspoken critic of the Nixon administration, it was CREEP that picked up the bill, for example.
Other prominent members of CREEP included G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, Charles "Chuck" Colson, and a very young political intern named Karl Rove. Many of these men were considered to be top secret "bag men" who carried out the illicit orders of Nixon and other top administrators. The money to carry out these operations would be laundered through CREEP, then paid out to the operatives in untraceable cash. On the surface, CREEP would appear to be exactly what it claimed; a legal committee to re-elect the president.
The inner workings of CREEP were exposed when five of its operatives were arrested after breaking into the offices of the Democratic party at an office complex known as Watergate. These burglars, or "plumbers," had many of their legal expenses paid out of laundered CREEP funds originally earmarked for the Nixon campaign. This money trail would later become a major part of the Watergate investigations.
Once the Watergate scandal broke nationwide, various members of CREEP were charged with crimes ranging from obstruction of justice to conspiracy. Many were sentenced to prison for their participation or tacit knowledge of the black bag operations, but others were either fully exonerated or were given minimal sentences in exchange for their cooperation with federal prosecutors.
Ironically, the committee to re-elect the president did indeed get Richard Nixon re-elected to a second term. In fact, the national vote was considered a landslide. Because the details of the Watergate break-in and other illegal operations had not become public in 1972, Nixon was still considered a popular president at the time of the election. Following the Watergate scandal, however, Nixon's popularity sank to an all-time low and he resigned from the office before impeachment proceedings could begin.
Several former members of CREEP resumed active political careers after the fall of Nixon's administration, while others became motivational speakers and authors. Perhaps the most recognized former member of Nixon's CREEP is the controversial political campaign strategist and advisor Karl Rove, who continues to use many of the same techniques and strategies first developed during Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign.