Nixon's Watergate Scandal


So what is Richard M. Nixon's Watergate Scandal?


    Watergate is a "popular name" for the 1972-1974 political scandal that started with an arrest of five burglars. These burglars broke into Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate office building in Washington, D.C. The burglars where directed by G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt. They were all indicted September of 1972 on charges of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping. After four months time they were convicted and sentenced Judge John J. Sirica. Sirica was convinced that major details had not been reveled in the trial and he offered leniency in exchange for detailed information. It soon became evident that the Watergate burglars were tied closely to the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  In very short order some of Nixon's aides began talking to federal prosecutors.

    The treason and defections of aides, like Jeb Magruder, assistant to director John N. Mitchell, implicated others close to Nixon. The Senate established in February of 1973 an investigative committee lead by Sen. Sam Ervin, Jr., to look into the "Watergate scandal". Nixon soon afterwards announced the resignations of John Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman and the dismissal of his counsel John W. Dean III.

    Public suspicion of Presidential "involvement" in the scandal resulted in longevity of the investigation. Spearheaded by Judge Sirica, the Washington Post, the Ervin committee and Archibald Cox, a special prosecutor. Dean told the Ervin committee sometime in June of 1973 that Nixon had known of a cover-up. Later, sometime in July that year, Alexander Butterfield stated his knowledge of Nixon's tape-recording of conversations in his offices. Cox and the Ervin committee then started outlandishly aggressive efforts to obtain these tapes. Nixon, who cited "Executive Privilege", refused to release the tapes. He then asked Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson to fire Cox. On Oct. 20, 1973 Elliot refused to obey the President and he resigned, protesting his request. Then deputy William Ruckelshaus, also refused the President and was fired by Nixon. Nixon's solicitor general, Robert H. Bork, acted upon the presidents request and immediately fired Cox . This became known as the "Saturday night massacre". It only served to increase public suspicions that Nixon had something to hide.

    Cox's replacement Leon Jaworski, just continued the pressure on the President for the tapes. Finally on March 1, 1974 a federal grand jury indicted Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, Charles Colson and three other men, for conspiracy to obstruct justice. At the same time, a House Judiciary Committee started investigating the Watergate affair and other "related matters".

    Nixon released on April 30th edited transcripts containing what was called "suspicious gaps" of related Oval Office conversations. Still not satisfied with the presidents reply, Judge Sirica subpoenaed even more tapes. When Nixon refused, the case moved to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled on July 24th against Nixon with an 8-0 vote. The Court conceded that a president could withhold national security material, however it insisted that "Watergate" was a criminal matter and did not qualify for protection.

    In late July of 1974, the House Judiciary Committee recommended that Nixon be Impeached on three charges: obstruction of justice, abuse of presidential powers, and trying to impede the impeachment process by defying their subpoenas. The committee rejected two other possible counts: Nixon's unauthorized bombing of Cambodia in 1969 and use of public funds to improve his private property, they cited little evidence to support these charges.

 On August 5, 1974 Nixon released three tapes to the public. One revealed that he had taken steps to slow the FBI's inquiry into the Watergate burglary. With House impeachment loaming and Senate conviction threatened, Nixon responded. Not wanting to divide a nation, Richard Nixon on Aug. 9, 1974 becoming the first U.S. President to do so.


Event summaries by J.P. Cohen

For Further Reading see our book list on Watergate.



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