Watergate Scandal


Watergate was a designation of a major U.S. scandal that began with the
burglary and wiretapping of the Democratic party\'s headquarters, later engulfed
President Richard M. Nixon and many of his supporters in a variety of illegal
acts and culminated in the first resignation of a U.S. president.
The burglary was committed on June 17, 1972, by five men who were caught
in the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate apartment
and office complex in Washington D.C. Their arrest eventually uncovered a White
House-sponsered plan of espionage against political opponents and a trail of
complicity that led to many of the highest officials in the land, including
former U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell, White House Counsel John Dean, White
House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, White House Special Assistant on Domestic
Affairs John Ehrlichman, and President Nixon himself. On April 30, 1973, nearly
a year after the burglary and arrest and following a grand jury investigation of
the burglary, Nixon accepted the resignation of Haldeman and Ehrlichman and
announced the dismissal of Dean U.S. Attorney General Richard Kleindienst
resigned as well. The new attorney general, Elliot Richardson, appointed a
special prosecutor, Harvard Law School profesor Archibald Cox, to conduct a
full-scale investigation of the Watergate break-in. In May of 1973, the Senate
Select Committee on Presidential Activities opened hearings, with Senator Sam
Ervin of North Carolina as chairman. A series of startling revelations followed.
Dean testified that Mitchell had ordered the break-in and that a major attempt
was under way to hide White House involvement. He claimed that the president had
authorized payments to the burglars to keep them quiet. The Nixon
administration immediately denied this assertion.
The testimony of White House aide Alexander Butterfield unlocked the
entire investigation pertaining to White House tapes. On July 16, 1973,
Butterfield told the committee, on nationwide television, that Nixon had ordered
a taping system installed in the White House to automatically record all
conversations; what the president said and when he said it could be verified.
Cox immediately subpoened eight revelant tapes to confirm Dean\'s testimony.
Nixon refused to release the tapes, claiming they were vital to the national
security. U.S. District Court Judge Johm Sirica ruled that Nixon must give the
tapes to Cox, and an appeals court upheld the decision. Yet, Nixon held firm.
He refused to turn over the tapes and, on Saturday, October 20, 1973, ordered
Richardson to dismiss Cox. Richardson refused and resigned instead, as did
Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus. Finally, the solicitor general
discharged Cox.
A storm of public protest resulted fron this “Saturday night massacre.”
In response, Nixon appointed another special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, a Texas
lawyer, and gave the tapes to Sirica. Some subpoenaed conversations were
missing, and one tape had a mysterious gap of 18 minutes. Experts determined
that the gap was the result of five separate erasures. In March 1974, a grand
jury indicted Mitchell, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and four other White House
officials for their part in the Watergate cover-up and named Nixon as an “
unindicted co-conspirator.” The following month Jaworski requested and Nixon
released written transcripts of 42 more tapes. The conversations revealed an
overwhelming concern with punishing opponents and thwarting the Watergate
investigation. In May 1974, Jaworski requested 64 more tapes as evidence in the
criminal cases against the indicted officials. Nixon refused; on July 24, the
Supreme Court voted 8-0 that Nixon must turn over the tapes. On July 29-30,
1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment,
charging Nixon with misusing his power in order to violate the constitutional
rights of U.S. citizens, obstructing justice in the Watergate affair, and
defying Judiciary Committee subpoenas.
Soon after the Watergate scandal came to light, investigators uncovered
a related group of illegal activities: Since 1971, a White House group called
the “plumbers” had been doing whatever was necessary to stop leaks to the press.
A grand jury indicted Ehrlichman, White House Special Counsel Charles Colson,
and others for organizing a break-in and burglary in 1971 of a phsychiatrist\'s
office to obtain damaging material against Daniel Ellsberg, who had publicized
classified documents called the Pentagon Papers. Investigators also discovered
that the Nixon administration had solicited large sums of money in illegal
campaign contributions--used to finance political espionage and to pay more than
$500,000 to the Watergate burglers--and that certain administration officials
had systematically lied about their involvement in the break-in and cover-up.
In addition, White House aids testified that in 1972, they had false documents
to make it appear that President John F. Kennedy had been involved in the 1963
assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam, and had written false and
slanderous