White House Plumbers: The wild true story behind the new mini-series

Woody Harrelson and Justin Theroux star in the new series from Veep’s showrunner

Justin Theroux and Woody Harrelson in White House Plumbers. (Phil Caruso/HBO)
Justin Theroux and Woody Harrelson in White House Plumbers. (Phil Caruso/HBO)

Sky Atlantic’s White House Plumbers takes a satirical and comic look at one of the darkest moments in American politics.

No, not Trump. Think earlier. In this new five-part miniseries, stars Woody Harrelson and Justin Theroux lead an ensemble cast that takes us deep inside the clandestine activities of Richard Nixon’s White House. They play a couple of not-so-hot top-secret operatives charged with ensuring that ‘Tricky Dick’ gets re-elected for another term as President by any means necessary.

However, thanks to a series of fumbled espionage missions, these White House Plumbers — so-called because they’re hired to stop government leaks — inadvertently directly lead to Nixon’s resignation alongside a cabinet full of government arrests.

Read more: White House Plumbers review: Hare-brained Watergate farce is a must-watch moral fable

With Veep showrunner David Mandel in the director’s chair, the show looks set to splice bumbling comedy with a dramatic dose of real-life political history while co-starring the likes of Star Wars’ Domhnall Gleeson, Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s Kiernan Shipka and more.

Its trailer proudly boasts that no character names were changed to protect the innocent, largely because so many people involved were convicted of actual crimes — and when you delve into the real story behind HBO’s latest, you find it’s just as wild as any work of fiction.

When is White House Plumbers released?

The first episode of White House Plumbers will air at 9pm on Sky Atlantic tonight (Tuesday, 30 May). Watch the official trailer below.

How is White House Plumbers linked to the Pentagon Papers?

At the centre of the story surrounding the real-life White House Plumbers is a trail that leads all the way back to the Pentagon Papers. The release of these controversial documents ultimately set political operatives E. Howard Hunt, played by Harrelson in the show and G. Gordon Liddy, played by Theroux, into motion and eventually led to President Richard Nixon’s removal from The White House and multiple arrests.

The papers were also the focus of Steven Spielberg’s 2017 thriller The Post, a film that chronicled how the risky revelation of these documents shed damning new light on the Vietnam War that, up until that point, had not been made public.

Alexis Valdes, Kim Coates, Nelson Ascensio, Toby Huss, Justin Theroux, Yul Vazquez, Tony Plana and Woody Harrelson in White House Plumbers. (Phil Caruso/HBO)
The mini-series takes us inside the clandestine activities of Nixon’s White House. (Phil Caruso/HBO)

These elements included coastal raids and marine attacks that clearly indicated that the scope of the war in Vietnam was much larger and more deadly than then-President Lyndon B. Johnson had admitted and in turn proved that his administration had lied to both Congress and the public.

Eventually, these were released to the media by Daniel Ellsberg, a US military analyst-turned-whistleblower who had worked on the papers themselves before leaking them to The New York Times where they made front-page coverage in 1971.

Read more: Behind the scenes of HBO’s new Watergate show White House Plumbers

Upon hearing of the impending leak, current republican President Nixon was not wholly worried as the information contained within was mainly damning to his Democratic former Head of State.

However, after his advisor Henry Kissinger suggested that not acting set a bad prescient, Nixon tried to convince The New York Times not to publish but to no avail and before long, Ellsberg had sent additional information to other outlets like The Washington Post.

Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg's 2017 Pentagon Papers thriller The Post.
Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg's 2017 Pentagon Papers thriller The Post. (20th Century Fox)

Eventually, Ellsberg was brought to trial for his whistleblowing activities but his charges were later dismissed after it was discovered that Nixon had charged a secret group known as the White House Plumbers to dig up dirt on him which had involved illegal activities.

Who were the White House Plumbers?

The White House Plumbers were a secret unit set up within Richard Nixon’s White House just days after the Pentagon Papers were released in 1971. Their goal was to stop any further information leaks from reaching the mainstream media — a goal which earned them their pipe-themed nickname.

American Intelligence Officer Hunt and FBI agent Liddy were two ‘Plumbers’ tasked with finding incriminating information that would help to discredit Ellsberg and his leaks. This later resulted in the duo breaking into his psychiatrist's office in Los Angeles but they were unable to find anything of use.

E. Howard Hunt Jr., convicted Watergate conspirator and member of the “plumbers” assigned to stop leaks to reporters, in January 1973.
E. Howard Hunt Jr., convicted Watergate conspirator and member of the “plumbers” assigned to stop leaks to reporters, in January 1973. (AP Photo)

Liddy was also involved in the ‘Committee to re-elect the President’ and later recruited Hunt and a few other individuals to carry out illegal intelligence gathering at the Watergate Office Building which was the scene of the highly-publicised Watergate scandal.

Here, their goal was to break into the Democratic National Committee headquarters to gain access to their campaign documents and instal surveillance equipment such as phone wiretaps.

However, after a security guard noticed tape stuck to the locks of doors within the Democratic National Committee building to keep them open he became suspicious and called the police, resulting in Hunt and Liddy’s eventual arrest three months later.

As a result of the activities of the White House Plumbers, Nixon’s illegal surveillance plans devised to try and secure re-election were outed and in an ironic turn of events, Liddy, an individual linked to the 'Committee to re-elect the President’ led directly to his resignation.

White House Plumbers starts on Sky Atlantic on Tuesday, 30 May.