In politics, dirty tricks refers to unethical, duplicitous, slanderous, and sometimes illegal tactics employed by politicians (or their underlings) to win elections and/or destroy opponents.
Watergate and dirty tricks
The Watergate affair "dirty tricks" occurred before legislatition regarding the management of Campaign finance funds, usage, and reporting. The Nixon Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), a private non-governmental entity, had used funds from its coffers to pay for, and later coverup, "dirty tricks". As a result of later legislation, such activities are strictly regulated, though other private entities still may practice what has become commonly referred to as questionable or unethical "dirty tricks".
As Watergate unfolded in 1973 and 1974, voters were mesmerized by the endless series of shenanigans encapsulated in the term "dirty tricks". Rumors spread about initial Democratic frontrunner Senator Ed Muskie and his wife Jane, which undermined his candidacy and led to ill-considered emotional confrontations and his eventual withdrawal. The office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg who illegally leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times was burgled and G. Gordon Liddy, acting on White House Counsel John Dean's instructions, broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters located in the Watergate hotel. President Richard Nixon had no prior knowledge of the break-in, neither did Nixon authorize any plans burgle the Watergate hotel.
In the FBI's "Dirty Tricks" investigation, the FBI discovered,
- "activities that included forging letters and other literature which unfairly attacked some candidates, planting manufactured stories in the press, copying documents from campaign files, and recruiting people to ask embarssassing questions at candidites rallies or to picket such rallies on behalf of opposing candidates. WSPF also recieved and investigated allegations about possible "dirty tricks" by agents of Democratic candidates directed agaisnt Presidnet Nixon's campaign."
President Nixon ordered his aides to compile an "Enemies List" of his most prominent critics not to be invited to White House parties and State functions. John Dean presented the list to Johnnie M. Walters of the Internal Revenue Service so the IRS could harass the president's critics, though it should be noted the IRS did not comply , and in fact, audited Nixon himself . Walters tucked the list away for a year and then provided it to congressional investigators. 
Donald Segretti, who was employed by CREEP and coined the term, was convicted on misdemeanor charges for various "dirty tricks".
Livingston was a bar bouncer who worked on the Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign dressed as a chicken to stalk President George H.W. Bush and calling him names. After victory Livingstone headed up the White House Office of Personnel Security. Livingstone illegally requested and received from the FBI background files on former Reagan and Bush Sr. staffers.
Livingstone was the perfect patsy for what happened next. Big, stupid, partisan, willing to make a fool of himself and loyal to the end, Livingstone was nearly the embodiment of the perfect Clinton surrogate.
That the files were illegally procured there is no doubt. That a DNC operative illegally downloaded copies to a flashdrive there is no question. That the files contained half-truths and innuendos, similar to the abuse the country suffered only two years earlier in the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings there is a near certainty; that innocent lives and careers were affected for the coming decades is unquestionable. It was intended as the political equivalent of the Katyn massacre-a decapitation of the future leadership of the Republican party. Any White House staffers who served Presidents Reagan and Papa Bush who may think of running for Congress one day had to brace themselves for whatever lies and innuendo may be thrown at them publicly out of an FBI background check.
In the end of coarse, no one was ever held accountable for the abuse and lives destroyed. But all fingers inside the White House and outside pointed at the new First Lady Hillary Clinton who was rapidly getting a national reputation for the use of dirty tricksters, private investigators, and outright thugs to harass, discredit, intimidate, and blackmail her perceived political enemies or those who stood in the way of her raw ambition for power.
The Valerie Plame scandal
John Dean, referred to as the "master manipulator of the cover up" of the Watergate scandal by the FBI, who received immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony, was quoted on Salon.com 3 October 2003: as saying,
- "I thought I had seen political dirty tricks as foul as they could get, but I was wrong. In blowing the cover of CIA agent Valerie Plame to take political revenge on her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for telling the truth, Bush's people have out-Nixoned Nixon's people. And my former colleagues were not amateurs by any means.",
in regards to the Valerie Plame affair. Plame's CIA cover was blown as allegedly as political payback against her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, for an editorial he wrote in the New York Times criticizing the Bush Administration's claims about uranium exports from Niger.
- director of the White House's Office of Personnel Security