Watergate

Watergate Affair, the worst political
scandal in U.S. history. It led to the resignation of a
president, Richard M. NIXON, after he became implicated
in an attempt to cover up the scandal. Narrowly,
“Watergate affair” referred to the break-in and electronic
bugging in 1972 of the DEMOCRATIC National
Committee (DNC) headquarters in the Watergate
apartment and office building complex in Washington, D.C.

Broadly, the term was also applied to several related
scandals. More than 30 Nixon administration officials,
campaign officials, and financial contributors pleaded guilty
or were found guilty of breaking the law. Nixon, facing
possible indictment after his resignation, received from his
successor, Gerald FORD, a full pardon “for all offenses”
which he “has committed or may have committed.”
Americans were deeply troubled by the scandal. Attempts
by REPUBLICAN officials to discredit Democratic leaders
and disrupt their campaign threatened the political process.

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Electronic surveillance presented a threat to civil liberties.

Abuse of “national security” and “executive privilege” to
thwart the investigation suggested that those concepts
needed more precise definitions. The misuse of large
campaign donations suggested the need for further reform
legislation. The willingness of Nixon and his aides to use the
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Internal Revenue
Service (IRS), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
in unlawful or unethical ways against their enemies was a
reckless exploitation of the bureacracy. National Security
The antecedents of Watergate were steps taken by Nixon
from 1969 to 1971 allegedly in the cause of national
security. To uncover the sources of leaked news about
such matters as the bombing of Cambodia, Nixon
authorized, without court approval, the wiretapping of the
phones of government officials and newspapermen. But
some of the men whose phones were wiretapped had no
involvement with security matters, and taps on two men
continued after they had joined the staff of Sen. Edmund
Muskie (D-Me.), who was seeking the Democratic
presidential nomination. In 1971, Nixon approved an
intelligence operation that contemplated burglaries and the
opening of mail to detect security leaks. The author of the
plan, Tom Huston, acknowledged that part of his plan was
“clearly illegal.” Nixon revoked the operation after a protest
by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Also in 1971, Nixon
created the Special Investigations Unit — known as the
“plumbers” to plug news leaks. In September, agents of the
unit broke into the office of Dr. Lewis Fielding, the
psychiatrist of Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, who had given copies of
the Pentagon Papers, a secret account of U.S. involvement
in Indochina, to newspapers. After Nixon learned of the
break-in, he and his top aides agreed to say that the
break-in had been carried out for national-security reasons.

But in 1974, Charles Colson, a former special counsel to
the president, who had pleaded guilty to obstructing justice,
admitted that the agents wanted to find derogatory
information about Ellsberg before Ellsberg’s espionage trial.

Colson said that “on numerous occasions” Nixon had urged
him to disseminate such information. Egil Krogh, Jr., head
of the plumbers unit, pleaded guilty to violating Dr.

Fielding’s civil rights, saying that he could not in conscience
assert national security as a defense. Colson and Krogh
were imprisoned. Two other persons, including John
Ehrlichman, former chief domestic adviser to Nixon, were
convicted of conspiring to deprive Dr. Fielding of his civil
rights. Ehrlichman, who had approved a “covert entry” into
Dr. Fielding’s office, also was imprisoned. The Watergate
Break-in In 1971, H. R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff,
was notified by an assistant, Gordon Strachan, that U.S.

Attorney General John Mitchell and John Dean, counsel to
the president, had discussed the need to develop a
“political intelligence capability” at the Committee for the
Re-election of the President (CRP). Some of the personnel
and tactics identified with the activities described above
became associated with efforts aimed at the Democrats.

Early in 1972, Mitchell — both before and after he
assumed his new position as director of CRP — discussed
political espionage plans with Dean; Jeb Magruder, deputy
director of CRP; and G. Gordon Liddy, counsel to the
Finance Committee to Re-elect the President. Magruder
later testified that on March 30, 1972, Mitchell approved a
proposal by Liddy that included the Watergate break-in.

Mitchell vehemently denied this. Long after the scandal was
revealed, investigators could not determine: (1) who gave
the ultimate order to break into Watergate (2)what the
conspirators hoped to find there. In any event, at 2:30 G on
June 17, 1972, police arrested five men at the DNC
headquarters. The men were adjusting electronic equipment
that they had installed in May. One of those arrested was
James McCord, security coordinator for CRP. Cover-up
Magruder later admitted that he and others began
immediately to cover up WHITE and CRP involvement in
the break-in. He and others destroyed incriminating
documents and testified falsely to official investigators. L.

Patrick Gray later resigned as acting director of the FBI
after admitting that he had destroyed documents given him
by Ehrlichman and Dean. On June 23, 1972, Nixon
learned from Haldeman of Mitchell’s possible link with the
operation. Nixon instructed Haldeman to stop an FBI
inquiry into the source of money used by the wiretappers,
using the excuse that the investigation would endanger CIA
operations. Dean and others subsequently sought to induce
CIA officials to cooperate with this plan. On July 1,
Mitchell left CRP, citing personal reasons.


Category: History

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