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Watergate Scandal Notes

WATERGATE SCANDAL
Early in the morning of June 17, 1972, several burglars were arrested inside the office of
the Democratic National Committee (DNC), located in the Watergate building in
Washington, D.C. This was no ordinary robbery: The prowlers were connected to
President Richard Nixons reelection campaign, and they had been caught while
attempting to wiretap phones and steal secret documents. While historians are not sure
whether Nixon knew about the Watergate espionage operation before it happened, he
took steps to cover it up afterwards, raising hush money for the burglars, trying to stop
the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from investigating the crime, destroying
evidence and firing uncooperative staff members. In August 1974, after his role in the
Watergate conspiracy had finally come to light, the president resigned. His successor,
Gerald Ford, immediately pardoned Nixon for all the crimes he committed or may have
committed while in office. Although Nixon was never prosecuted, the Watergate scandal
changed American politics forever, leading many Americans to question their leadership
and think more critically about the presidency.

o
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CONTENTS
Watergate: The Break-In
Watergate: The Cover-Up
WATERGATE: THE BREAK-IN
The origins of the Watergate break-in lay in the hostile politics of the 1960s. By 1972,
when Republican President Richard Nixon (1913-1994) was running for reelection, the
United States was embroiled in the Vietnam War (1955-1975) and deeply divided
internally. In such a harsh political climate, a forceful presidential campaign seemed
essential to the president and some of his key advisers. Their aggressive tactics
included what turned out to be illegal espionage. In May 1972, as evidence would later
show, members of Nixons Committee to Re-Elect the President (known derisively as

CREEP) broke into the Democratic National Committees Watergate headquarters, stole
copies of top-secret documents and bugged the offices phones.
DID YOU KNOW?
Young Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein deserve a good
deal of the credit for uncovering the details of the Watergate scandal. Their reporting
won them a Pulitzer Prize and was the basis for their best-selling book All the
Presidents Men. Much of their information came from an anonymous whistleblower
they called Deep Throat, who in 2005 was revealed to be W. Mark Felt, a former
associate director of the FBI.
The wiretaps failed to work properly, however, so on June 17 the group returned to the
Watergate building. As the prowlers were preparing to break into the office with a new
microphone, a security guard noticed that they had taped the buildings locks. The guard
called the police, who arrived just in time to catch the spies red-handed.
It was not immediately clear that the burglars were connected to the president, though
suspicions were raised when detectives found copies of the reelection committees
White House phone number among the burglars belongings. In August, Nixon gave a
speech in which he swore that his White House staff was not involved in the break-in.
Most voters believed him, and in November the president was reelected in a landslide.
WATERGATE: THE COVER-UP
It later came to light that Nixon was not being truthful. A few days after the break-in, for
instance, he arranged to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in hush money to
the burglars. Then, he and his aides hatched a plan to instruct the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA) to impede the FBIs investigation of the crime. This was a more serious
crime than the break-in: It was an abuse of presidential power and a deliberate
obstruction of justice. Meanwhile, seven conspirators were indicted on charges related
to the Watergate affair. At the urging of Nixons aides, five pleaded guilty and avoided
trial; the other two were convicted in January 1973.

By that time, a growing handful of peopleincluding Washington Post reporters Bob


Woodward and Carl Bernstein, trial judge John J. Sirica and members of a Senate
investigating committeehad begun to suspect that there was a larger scheme afoot. At
the same time, some of the conspirators began to crack under the pressure of the coverup. Some of Nixons aides, including White House counsel John Dean, testified before a
grand jury about the presidents crimes; they also testified that Nixon had secretly taped
every conversation that took place in the Oval Office. If prosecutors could get their
hands on those tapes, they would have proof of the presidents guilt.
Nixon struggled to protect the tapes during the summer and fall of 1973. His lawyers
argued that the presidents executive privilege allowed him to keep the tapes to himself,
but Sirica, the Senate committee and an independent special prosecutor named
Archibald Cox were all determined to obtain them. When Cox refused to stop
demanding the tapes, Nixon ordered that he be fired, leading several Justice
Department officials to resign in protest. (These events, which took place on October 20,
1973, are known as the Saturday Night Massacre.) Eventually, Nixon agreed to
surrender somebut not allof the tapes.
Early in 1974, the cover-up began to fall apart. On March 1, a grand jury appointed by a
new special prosecutor indicted seven of Nixons former aides on various charges
related to the Watergate affair. The jury, unsure if they could indict a sitting president,
called Nixon an unindicted co-conspirator.
In July, the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to turn over the tapes. While the president
dragged his feet, the House of Representatives voted to impeach him for obstruction of
justice, abuse of power, criminal cover-up and several violations of the Constitution.
Finally, on August 5, Nixon released the tapes, which provided undeniable evidence of
his complicity in the Watergate crimes. In the face of certain impeachment by the
Senate, the president resigned on August 8.
Six weeks after the new president Gerald Ford (1913-2006) was sworn in, he pardoned
Nixon for any crimes he had committed while in office. Some of Nixons aides were not
so lucky: They were convicted of very serious offenses and sent to federal prison. Nixon

himself never admitted to any criminal wrongdoing, though he did acknowledge using
poor judgment. His abuse of presidential power had a negative effect on American
political life, creating an atmosphere of cynicism and distrust. While many Americans
had been deeply dismayed by the outcomes of the Vietnam War, Watergate added
further disappointment in a national climate already soured by the difficulties and losses
of the past decade.
Article Details:

Watergate Scandal

Author
History.com Staff
Website Name
History.com
Year Published
2009
Title
Watergate Scandal
URL
http://www.history.com/topics/watergate
Access Date
August 05, 2016
Publisher
A+E Networks
This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only.
2016, A&E Television Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Before the summer of 1972, the word "Watergate" meant nothing more than an office and luxurious
apartment complex in Washington, D.C. As a result of a "third-rate burglary" on June 17 of that
year, it came to be associated with the greatest political scandal of that century and would change
the lives of the many people involved especially President Richard M. Nixon.
While doing his rounds at the Watergate Hotel in the early morning of June 17, 1972, security
guard Frank Wills found a door, located between the basement stairwell and the parking garage,
that was being prevented from latching by a piece of tape. He removed the tape and continued his
rounds. Returning to the same spot later, he discovered that someone had re-taped the door. His
curiosity now aroused, he called the police. Around 2:30 a.m., after the police arrived, five men,
wearing business suits and latex gloves, were arrested in the offices of the Democratic National
Committee. The men had been repairing wiretapping equipment and, according to some, taking
pictures of documentation.
The five burglars were later identified as Bernard
Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, Frank
Sturgis, and James W. McCord Jr. Bob Woodward of
the Washington Post was present at their
arraignment and overheard McCord mention "CIA" in
connection with his occupation. Another of the
arrested men identified his occupation as "anticommunist." Intrigued, Woodward investigated
further. It was later established that McCord was
responsible for security for the Committee to ReElect the President (CRP), i.e. to re-elect
Republican Richard M. Nixon. Another link to the
White House came to light when the phone number
for E. Howard Hunt, a former White House employee, was found in Barker's notebook.
It later appeared that Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, who was a member of the Plumbers" and
therefore connected with the White House, had been stationed nearby and were in communication
with the burglars. The White Houses Special Investigation Unit, nicknamed the Plumbers," had
been established by John Ehrlichman to prevent information leaks from the White House and were
also involved in various activities perpetrated against Democrats and antiwar protestors. Their
most famous mission was the break-in at the home of former Pentagon employee Daniel Ellsberg,
where they unsuccessfully attempted to prevent further leaks of confidential information,
thePentagon Papers). Four of the burglars had CIA connections and had been involved in the Bay
of Pigs Invasion.
Almost immediately, a cover-up was undertaken by persons associated with the president and his
campaign. Jeb Magruder and others destroyed documents and lied to investigators. The acting
director of the FBI, L. Patrick Gray, received and destroyed documents from Ehrlichman, who was
a top aide to the president, and from White House council John Dean III. After learning from White
House Chief of Staff Robert Haldeman on June 23, 1972, that his former attorney general John
Mitchell, who was now running the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), might be
involved; President Nixon instructed Haldeman to head off a possible FBI investigation. Nixon

argued that the investigation might interfere with a CIA operation. Dean and others later tried to get
the CIA to go along with the plan. On July 1, Mitchell resigned from the CREEP. He cited "personal
reasons."
Woodward teamed up with Carl Bernstein to report on the Watergate scandal throughout the
summer. Woodward and Bernstein received information from someone with inside knowledge of
the White House, a source known as "Deep Throat."* According to Woodward, Deep Throat only
confirmed information that Woodward had already received from other inside sources. ThePost's
interest in the case was not shared much by other newspapers. Although thePost continued to
investigate, little more came to light during the balance of the campaign. On August 19, Nixon
declared that no one then employed in his administration was involved in Watergate. On
September 15, indictments were handed down on the five men arrested on June 26, plus Liddy
and Hunt.
On November 7, 1972, Nixon was re-elected president in
one of the most resounding landslide victories in American
political history, losing only Massachusetts and the District
of Columbia to Senator ^George McGovern. Information
obtained from the Democratic National Committee offices
was allegedly used to aid Nixon in his re-election
campaign.
In January 1973, two months after Nixon's re-election, the
seven indicted men were tried before Judge John Sirica in
the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. Five pleaded
guilty, and McCord and Liddy were convicted of
conspiracy, burglary, and illegal wiretapping. Meanwhile,
suspicions grew that the break-in was part of a broad program of political espionage. The U.S.
Senate voted to conduct an investigation. The grand jury continued to hear witnesses.
During hearings on Grays nomination to be made permanent director of the FBI, he revealed that
he had given FBI Watergate files to Dean. His testimony suggested that other top White House
aides were involved in clandestine activities. On March 21, Dean wrote to Nixon and warned him
that Watergate had become a "cancer growing on the presidency." He said that Hunt had issued a
thinly veiled threat to tell about the Plumbers' activities unless he received hush money. That night,
$75,000 was passed to Hunt. Nixon later stated publicly that he had begun a new investigation of
Watergate on March 21, but on March 22 he told Mitchell, "I want you all to stonewall it, let them
plead the Fifth Amendment; cover-up or anything else, if it'll save it; save the plan."
In a letter to Judge Sirica received on March 23, McCord charged that witnesses had committed
perjury at the trial and that the defendants had been pressured to plead guilty and remain silent.
Hoping to avoid a severe sentence, McCord cooperated with investigators and implicated Dean
and Magruder in the break-in. Dean and Magruder then abandoned the cover-up and implicated
other White House and CRP officials. Investigators were told that Mitchell had approved the breakin, that transcripts of conversations taped at the DNC were given to aide Gordon C. Strachan for
delivery to Haldeman, and that Ehrlichman had ordered the destruction of documents. On April 30,
Nixon announced the resignations of Haldeman and Ehrlichman, and the firing of Dean. Attorney
General Richard Kleindienst resigned rather than prosecute men he knew. Nixon and Elliot
Richardson, the new attorney general, approved the creation of a special prosecutor's office,
headed by Archibald Cox of the Harvard Law School.

The Senate's Select Committee on Presidential Campaign


Activities, under the chairmanship of Senator Sam Ervin of North
Carolina, opened public hearings in May. In the end, 40
government officials were indicted. Dean's testimony linked Nixon
and his re-election fundraising committee to the cover-up.
Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Mitchell denied wrongdoing and
defended the president.
On July 16, 1973, Alexander Butterfield, a former White House
official, testified to the Ervin Committee that Nixon had taped his
own conversations in the White House for a period of time that
included the alleged Watergate cover-up. Cox subpoenaed a
number of tapes that he felt were essential to the investigation.
Nixon refused to release them. Judge Sirica directed Nixon to let
him hear the tapes. Nixon appealed the order, arguing that a
president was immune from judicial orders enforcing subpoenas
and that under the concept of executive privilege only he could
decide which communications could be disclosed.
When the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld Sirica, Nixon countered with a suggestion that Senator
John Stennis of Mississippi listen to the tapes and verify an edited version that Nixon would submit
to the grand jury and to the Senate committee. Cox rejected this proposal along with Nixon's order
that he make no further attempts to obtain tapes. Nixon told Attorney General Richardson to fire
Cox. Richardson, having assured Congress that the prosecutor would be free to pursue the
investigation, resigned instead. Nixon gave the same order to Deputy Attorney General William
Ruckelshaus, who also refused. Nixon fired him. His Solicitor General Robert Bork then fired Cox.
The actions of October 20, which became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre," launched the
first serious moves to impeach Nixon.
Nixon at last agreed to give the tapes to Sirica, and he appointed Leon Jaworski, a Texas attorney,
to succeed Cox. Nixon guaranteed that Jaworski would be free of White House control. However,
problems with the tapes got worse. According to the White House, two subpoenaed conversations
had never been taped and another contained an 18-minute gap. On December 7, 1973, Rose Mary
Woods, Nixon's loyal secretary, claimed it was an accident. Six court-appointed electronics experts
said that at least five separate erasures had caused the gap. Suspicions grew that evidence had
been deliberately destroyed.
Evidence against Nixon, given to Judge Sirica by the grand jury, was turned over to the House
Judiciary Committee, which had begun its impeachment investigation. The committee subpoenaed
42 more tapes in April 1974. On April 30, Nixon released edited transcripts but not the actual
recordings of 46 conversations. Legal experts disagreed on whether the transcripts established
that Nixon was a part of the conspiracy. What was clearly shown was Nixon's vulgar speech habits,
and the phrase "expletive deleted" entered common use.
Meanwhile, Jaworski asked Sirica to subpoena 64 tapes and documents. Nixon refused the
subpoena, claiming executive privilege, and Jaworski took the issue to theU.S. Supreme Court. In
an 8-to-0 decision on July 24, with William Rehnquist abstaining, the court rejected Nixon's claim
and ordered him to obey the subpoena. Nixon did so.
When the president's lawyer, James St. Clair, learned that one of the 64 tapes was made on the
June 23, 1972, conversation with Haldeman in which Nixon sought to thwart the FBI investigation,
he insisted that Nixon publish it. Nixon did so on August 5, 1974.
Having opened its impeachment hearings on May 9, the House committee had already considered
five possible articles of impeachment and over a period of several days in late July, approved three
of them. Barbara Jordan discussed the ramifications of the impeachment process:

Itiswrong,Isuggest,itisamisreadingofthe
Constitutionforanymemberheretoassertthatfora
membertovoteforanarticleofimpeachmentmeans
thatthatmembermustbeconvincedthatthePresident
shouldberemovedfromoffice.TheConstitutiondoesn't
saythat.Thepowersrelatingtoimpeachmentarean
essentialcheckinthehandsofthebodyofthe
legislatureagainstandupontheencroachmentsofthe
executive.Thedivisionbetweenthetwobranchesofthe
legislature,theHouseandtheSenate,assigningtothe
onetherighttoaccuseandtotheothertherightto
judge,theframersofthisConstitutionwereveryastute.
Theydidnotmaketheaccusersandthejudgersand
thejudgesthesameperson.
Nixons strongest supporters in Congress had said they
wouldn't vote to impeach without a "smoking gun" but the June
23 tape was it. Nixon's support in Congress virtually
disappeared. Facing certain impeachment and removal from
office, Nixon resigned on August 8 in a nationally televised
address, effective at noon August 9. During the address from
the Oval Office, he said, "By taking this action, I hope that I will
have hastened the start of the process of healing which is so
desperately needed in America."
His successor, Gerald Ford, decided that the nation needed to move beyond Watergate and so on
September 8, he pardoned Nixon for any crimes he might have committed during his term as
president. On March 1, 1974, a grand jury had indicted seven former White House aides
Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, leading aid Charles Colson, Gordon C. Strachan, Robert Mardian,
and Kenneth Parkinson for obstructing the Watergate investigation. Nixon had been named an
unindicted co-conspirator, and Dean and Magruder, along with lesser figures in the scandal, had
already pleaded guilty. Colson later pleaded guilty to charges concerning the Ellsberg case and
cover-up charges against him were dropped as were all charges against Strachan. The remaining
five went on trial in October 1974, and on January 1, 1975, all but Parkinson were found guilty. In
1976, a court of appeals ordered a new trial for Mardian, and eventually all charges against him
were dropped. Ehrlichman went to prison in 1976, Mitchell and Haldeman in 1977.

President Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal


President Richard Nixon's involvement in the infamous Watergate scandal is a
controversial issue, even today. Nixon's role in Watergate has been under discussion
and clouded in suspicious for years. In a nutshell, heres what happened in the greatest
presidential scandal in U.S. history:

On June 17, 1972, McCord and four other men working for the Committee to ReElect the President (or CREEP really) broke into the Democratic Partys
headquarters in the Watergate, a hotel-office building in Washington, D.C. They got
caught going through files and trying to plant listening devices. Five days later,
Nixon denied any knowledge of it or that his administration played any role in it.

The burglars went to trial in 1973 and either pled guilty or were convicted. Before
sentencing, McCord wrote a letter to Judge John Sirica, contending that high
Republican and White House officials knew about the break-in and had paid the
defendants to keep quiet or lie during the trial.

Investigation of McCords charges spread to a special Senate committee. John


Dean, a White House lawyer, told the committee McCord was telling the truth and
that Nixon had known of the effort to cover up White House involvement.

Eventually, all sorts of damaging stuff began to surface, including evidence that
key documents linking Nixon to the cover-up of the break-in had been destroyed,
that the Nixon reelection committee had run a dirty tricks campaign against the
Democrats, and that the administration had illegally wiretapped the phones of
enemies, such as journalists who had been critical of Nixon.

In March 1974, former Attorney. General John Mitchell and six top Nixon aides
were indicted by a federal grand jury for trying to block the investigation. They were
eventually convicted.

While Nixon continued to deny any involvement, it was revealed he routinely


made secret tapes of conversations in his office. Nixon refused to turn over the
tapes at first, and when he did agree (after firing a special prosecutor he had

appointed to look into the mess and seeing his new attorney general resign in
protest), it turned out some of them were missing or had been destroyed. (They
were also full of profanity, which greatly surprised people who had an entirely
different perception of Nixon.)

In the summer of 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of


impeachment against the president for obstructing justice.

The tapes clearly showed Nixon had been part of the cover-up. On August 8, 1974, he
submitted a one-sentence letter of resignation, and then went on television and said, I
have always tried to do what is best for the nation. He was the first and, so far, only
U.S. president to quit the job.
The Watergate scandal rocked the nation, which was already reeling from the Vietnam
disaster, economic troubles, assassinations, and all the social unrest of the preceding
15 years. It fell to Nixons successor, Vice President Gerald R. Ford, to try to bring back
a sense of order and stability to the nation. And no one had voted for him to do it.