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, here’s 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 Re-Elect the President (or CREEP — really) broke into the Democratic Party’s 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 McCord’s 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 Nixon’s 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.

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