Watergate Scandal


The Watergate Scandal involved a number of illegal activities that were designed to help President Richard Nixon win re-election. The scandal involved burglary, wiretapping, campaign financing violations, and the use of government agencies to harm political opponents. A major part of the scandal was also the cover-up of all these illegal actions. “Watergate, however, differed from most previous political scandals because personal greed apparently did not play an important role. Instead Watergate attacked one of the chief features of Democracy – free and open elections” (Worldbook 1).
The Watergate Scandal got its name from the Watergate Complex in Washington D.C. This large office building was the home of the Democratic National Headquarters, and the site of the break-in that began the largest scandal in American Politics. However, even before the break-in, President Nixon had begun illegal operations.
President Nixon had created a special investigation unit to prevent the leaking of confidential documents to the public. He did this after a number of Defense Department papers were released to the public concerning President Nixon’s paranoia over the public’s criticism of his Vietnam War policies (Owens 1).
The “Plumbers”, as they were nicknamed, were headed by two of Nixon’s top aides, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt. In order to prevent all information leaks, the “Plumbers” investigated the private lives of Nixon’s political enemies and critics. The White House rationalized the actions of the plumbers by saying that they were protecting National Security.
The actual Watergate Scandal began on June 17, 1972, with the arrest of five men for breaking into the Democratic Party’s National Headquarters located in the Watergate Complex in Washington D.C. The five men were part of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP). They were attempting to fix a broken phone tap that they had installed about a month before. The five men were charged with burglary and wiretapping. Throughout the next few months this minor break-in turned into a full blown political scandal.
When first questioned about the situation in early 1973, Nixon denied all allegations that either he or any White House official was linked to the break-in. Later that year evidence was uncovered that linked several White House officials to the break-in, and or the cover-up and concealment of the evidence. This information indicated that White House officials had attempted to involve the CIA and FBI in the cover-up (Worldbook 2).
In April of 1973, special prosecutor Archibald Cox was appointed to handle the case. Presidential Council John W. Dean III became the chief witness against President Nixon in the court hearings. In the trial Dean admitted that he was a major part of the scandal and that Nixon did in fact know of the illegal activities being committed by his administration. Dean also testified that Nixon’s Administration had planned to use the IRS and other government agencies to punish people who the White House had placed on so called “enemies-lists” (Worldbook 2). Dean served four months in prison for his part in the Watergate Scandal, but through his testimony a new door was opened into the scandal.
Through further investigation it was discovered by Alexander P. Butterfield, that President Nixon had made tape recordings of conversations with White House officials. When asked to release the tapes Nixon refused, saying that he had a constitutional right to keep the tapes confidential. He was later ordered by the court to hand over the tapes. Nixon offered to provide summaries of all the tapes, but his idea was rejected and he was again ordered to hand over the original tapes. Infuriated by the court’s decision, he ordered his attorney general and his deputy attorney general to fire Cox. For their refusal to dismiss Cox, both Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus were fired as well. This series of dismissals by Nixon became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre” (Associated Press 2). When Cox was fired, Leon Jaworski was appointed to take his place.
The firing of Cox, however, did not work to Nixon’s advantage. In April of 1974, Jaworski ordered Nixon to release the tape recordings and documents of 64 White House conversations. By the end of April, Nixon had released 1,254 pages of transcripts from White House conversations (Worldbook 3). However, Jaworski was not satisfied. He wanted the