It was a historic reunion, the guests told one another, held this weekend to mark the 45th anniversary of the 1972 Watergate break-in.
WASHINGTON — Under the glittering lights of a ballroom in a hotel whose name is synonymous with political scandal, they gathered for a reunion.
They arrived at the Watergate in summer suits and cocktail dresses, pinning on name tags with red, blue and white stripes to help nudge 45-year-old memories of the months spent investigating an episode that one White House official dismissed as a third-rate burglary — but that stretched to the Oval Office and brought down President Richard M. Nixon.
“You haven’t changed a bit,” said Elisabeth DeMarse, as she stood up to embrace a man outside the ballroom, kissing the top of his clasped hands. “I am so excited to see you.”
It was a historic reunion, the guests told one another, held this weekend to mark the 45th anniversary of the 1972 Watergate break-in. It was the largest gathering in recent memory of the remaining members and staff of the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Activities — known in Washington shorthand as the Watergate Committee — who came together to listen to a panel of the highest-ranking committee staff members discuss the investigation and share memories of their work.
“I think this is sort of an intersection between a social and historical meeting between people, to talk about a time when a lot of effort was made to get to the truth about what happened on the campaign,” said Gordon Freedman, who organized the event with Ms. DeMarse. “I just think Watergate is in the air.”
But during a formal discussion, veterans of the Senate inquiry into Watergate agreed that no comparison was to be made between their inquiry and the current work of a Justice Department special counsel and several panels of investigation on Capitol Hill. The current investigations are looking into whether anyone associated with the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to shape the outcome of last year’s election — perhaps including whether anyone in the current administration, including President Trump, may have attempted to obstruct that investigation.
As Lowell P. Weicker Jr., a former Republican senator from Connecticut and the last living member of the special Watergate committee, said, “To equate the two is wrong.”
“We don’t know what the Trump thing is about,” said David Dorsen, who served as the Watergate committee’s assistant chief counsel. “It’s just too early to tell.”
“It’s got all the makings, but as my wife likes to say, it’s not cooked enough,” added Rufus L. Edmisten, who served as deputy chief counsel to the committee, whose chairman was Senator Sam J. Ervin Jr., Democrat of North Carolina, and whose ranking Republican member was Senator Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee.
Ms. DeMarse, who had helped organize previous reunions, first imagined a simple cocktail party. But with Mr. Freedman’s encouragement, the pair worked to track down as many former committee staff members as possible — and the event snowballed into a more formal affair at the hotel where the break-in occurred, and inspired a website that will remain after the reunion’s conclusion, showcasing photos, testimonies and a chronology of their work.
“You just look back and you think, it’s still alive and relevant,” Ms. DeMarse said as she handed out “I stole this from the Watergate hotel” pens and shot glasses imprinted with the opening lines of the resolution that created the committee.
A panel moderated by Lesley Stahl of CBS News debated the motives and legacies of those entrenched in Watergate — Judge John J. Sirica, the presidential counsel John W. Dean III and Mr. Nixon among them — and mourned the loss of bipartisanship that they said was so crucial to the success of their investigation.
“It’s the first time in anyone’s memory that someone challenged the president,” Mr. Weicker told the audience. “We established the fact that the president is not above the law.”
Many of the committee staff members said regardless of any comparisons to present-day politics, the reunion was still significant to them.
“I feel privileged,” said David Erdman, who was 24 when he worked as a research assistant for the committee. “I feel again that I am a witness to history.”
On his suit, Mr. Erdman, 67, clipped a photocopy of his committee identification to one pocket, parallel to his reunion name tag and the faded “Nixon Knew” button he bought in 1973. He said he was surprised he was the only one who brought the ID, one of the last pieces of Watergate memorabilia he has left.
“Those stories were incredible, and some I haven’t heard before,” said his wife, Lynn. This was the first time in 33 years of marriage she had been able to join her husband at a committee reunion.
“It’s fascinating,” she said. “Just incredible.”
Professional staff members of other Hill panels active during the Watergate era, including Hillary Clinton, who was a staff member on the Senate Judiciary Committee during its separate work on impeachment, were not involved in this event.
After awards were presented to the panel and other high-ranking staff members of the committee for their service, the group drifted downstairs to the library, still exchanging memories and business cards to stay in touch. Over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, they marveled at their youth and their hair in a slide show of newly digitized photos that Mr. Freedman discovered in his home months before the reunion.
“There’s Dad; look at him smiling,” said Rachel Dash, 61, pointing to a photograph of her father, Samuel Dash, who served as the committee’s chief counsel. “Look how young he is.”
For Ms. Dash and her sister Judi the event was a chance to represent their father, who died in 2004, and reconnect with the people they remembered from Capitol Hill trips to deliver bagged lunches and dinner table conversations.
Mr. Edmisten, the former deputy chief counsel, recalled the first reunion he hosted, marking 10 years, in his office, and being there to recognize the 20th and 25th anniversaries of the break-in.
“I intend to be at the 50th,” he said as he left the room.