Watergate Watergate, designation of a major U.S. political scandal that began with the burglary and wiretapping of the Democratic party’s campaign 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-sponsored 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 professor Archibald Cox, to conduct a full-scale investigation of the Watergate break-in. In May 1973 the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Activities opened hearings, with Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina as chairman.

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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 vehemently denied this assertion. The White House Tapes The testimony of White House aide Alexander Butterfield unlocked the entire investigation. 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 subpoenaed eight relevant 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 John Sirica ruled that Nixon must give the tapes to Cox, and an appeals court upheld the decision. 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 from 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 181 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 political 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. Further Revelations 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 psychiatrist’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 contributionsused to finance political espionage and to pay more than $500,000 to the Watergate burglarsand that certain administration officials had systematically lied about their involvement in the break-in and cover-up.

In addition, White House aides testified that in 1972 they had falsified documents to make it appear that President John F. Kennedy had been involved in the 1963 assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam, and had written false and slanderous documents accusing Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of moral improprieties. Nixon’s Resignation Throughout this period of revelations, Nixon’s support in Congress and popularity nationwide steadily eroded. On August 5, 1974, three tapes revealed that Nixon had, on June 23, 1972, ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigation to stop investigating the Watergate break-in.

The tapes also showed that Nixon himself had helped to direct the cover-up of the administration’s involvement in the affair. Rather than face almost certain impeachment, Nixon resigned on August 9, the first U.S. president to do so. A month later his successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned him for all crimes he might have committed while in office; Nixon was then immune from federal prosecution. The Watergate scandal severely shook the faith of the American people in the presidency and turned out to be a supreme test for the U.S. Constitution. Throughout the ordeal, however, the constitutional system of checks and balances worked to prevent abuses, as the Founding Fathers had intended.

Watergate showed that in a nation of laws no one is above the law, not even the president.


“The Watergate Complex is a series of modern buildings with balconies that looks like
filed down Shark’s Teeth” (Gold, 1). Located on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.

it contains many hotel rooms and offices. What happened in the complex on June 17,
1972 early in the morning became a very historical event for our nation that no one will
The “Watergate Scandal and constitutional crisis that began on June 17, 1972 with the
arrest of five burglars who broke into the Democratic National Committee (DMC)
headquarters at the Watergate office building in Washington D.C. It ended with the
registration of President Richard M. Nixon on August 9, 1974. (Watergate)
At approximately 2:30 in the morning of June 17, 1972 five men were arrested at the
Watergate Complex. The police seized a walkie talkie, 40 rolls of unexposed film, two 35
millimeter cameras, lock picks, pensized teargas guns, and bugging devices. (Gold, 75)
These five men and two co-plotters were indicated in September 1972 on charges of
burglary, conspiracy and wire tapping. Four months later they were convicted and
sentenced to prison terms by District Court Judge John J. Sercia was convinced that
relevant details had not been unveiled during the trial and offered leniency in
exchanged for further information. As it became increasingly evident that the
Watergate burglars were tied closely to the Central Intelligence Agency and the
Committee to re-elect the president. (Watergate)
Four of these men, that were arrested on the morning of June 17, 1972, came from
Miami, Florida. They were Bernard L. Barker, Frank A. Sturgis, Virgillio R. Gonzalez, and
Eugenio R. Martinez. The other man was from Rockville, Maryland named James W.

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McCord, Jr. The two co-plotters were G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt.

The senate established and investigative committee headed by Senate Sam Ervin, Jr.,
to look into the growing scandal. As they were investigating, they related that the
famous break-in was far more involved than what everyone had expected. (Watergate)
The White Houses involvement of that morning first became evident when James
McCord wrote a letter to Judge Sirca. In this letter McCord explained that he wanted to
disclose the details of Watergate. He made it apparent that he would not speak to a
Justice department official of an FBI agent. Although his letter did unveil details, it
made server chargers. McCord justified that “Political pressure” (Westerfled 36) had
generated many defendants to plead guilty and remain silent. He also claimed that
there had been whiteness at the trail who had committed perjury in order to protect
the people who headed the brake-in. McCord declared that he, his family, and his friend
may be in danger if he spoke out. (Westerfled 36-37)
The Senate Watergate Committee saw their chance to unravel the mystery of this
scandal. The offered James McCord a chance to speak publicly. In his first meeting with
representatives of this committee he named two more people that he claimed were
involved in the burglary and cover-up. Theses two men were John Dean and Jeb
Margruder. Margruder was the second-in-charge of the CRP and Dean was a White
House aid. After hearing these substantial accusations the Senate Watergate
Committee promptly subpoenaed John Dean and Jeb Margruder. (Westerfled 37-38).

After the next session with James McCord he took the whiteness stand and explained
how Liddy had promised him an executive pardon if he would plead guilty. This began to
question the a White House involvement since only the president could present such a
Jeb Margruder was the next witness to testify. He admitted his own perjury to the
Grand Jury and verified what McCord had said. While on the stand he also revealed
another name to add to the list of those involved, John Mitchell. (Gold, 246-247)
The next witness scheduled to appear was John Dean. In Dean’s testimony he exposed
that the Watergate burglary had been only a part of a greater abuse of power. He said
that for four years the White House had used the powers of the presidency to attack
political enemies. They spied on and harassed anyone who did not agree with Nixon’s
policies. If a reporter wrote stories criticizing the White House they would be singled
out for tax investigations. The White House also kept an “Enemies List” (Westerfled 43)
of people that the presidents men wanted revenge on. After being fired, dean kept
official documents that supported his statements. (Westerfled 43-44; Gold 309-330)
John Dean said, is his opening statements, that he had discussed the cover-up with
president Nixon in several meetings. At the first meeting, in September 1972, he told
the president how he and other members of the White House had handled the cover-up
so far. Dean claimed that in another important meeting with Nixon, on March 21, 1973,
the president agreed $1 million should be raised to silence the burgalers. However Dean
said that he dealt with the president mostly through H.R. Haldman and John Ehrlichman.

Dean faced the committee for four days of Questioning, after his opening statement.

During these four days the republicans focused on what happened in these meetings
between Dean and the president, which was the only evidence the president. The
question that Senator baker asked and was being wondered throughout the nation was,
what did the president know and when did he know it? (Westerfled, 43)
The Nixon administration tackled Dean’s reports of the two meetings. They claimed that
the March 21, 1973 meeting was the first Nixon had heard of the cover-ups. The White
House’s version was they the president had rejected the burglars’ blackmail. (Hearings
For the first time in this intriguing scandal the president himself had been accused. This
was the greatest blow the Nixon White House had sustained. “polls showed that 70
percent of TV viewers believed Deans version of the event” (Westerfled, 43). But who
was to be believed? It was John Deans Word against Richard Nixon’s. (Gold 669-670;
The committee then made a shocking discovery, only a few weeks after Deans
testimony. As the committee was managing a routine aid, they asked him how the
White House administration came up with their version of what happened in the meeting
s of Dena and Nixon. His response was that the meetings had probably been recorded
Alexander Butterflied explained that the White House had been equipped with a
recording system. They were installed in his two offices, the Oval Room “The taping
device was spring load to a voice actuation situation.” (Gold 436)
In Alexander Butterfields testimony he said that the recording system was installed to
help preserve all documents. The only people who knew of these recording devices
were the president, Haledman, Kigbe, Butterfield, and the secret service people. (Gold
Now the committee had stumbled across exactly what they were looking for, a way to
prove the presidents innocence of guilt. The tapes of the meeting s between Dean and
Nixon were lying some where in the White House. These tapes would show which of
these men were lying and if the president of the united States had been involved in a
criminal conspiracy. Although when the senate asked him for the tapes the President
On July 17, 1973 the Senate Committee went directly to the president about their
request. Congress wanted the tapes of all the important meetings. President Nixon
refused. The Committee decided to subpoena the tapes that afternoon. (Westerfled
On the same day, July 17, 1973, special Prosecutor Archibald Cox had also subpoenaed
the tapes. He declared that they were significant for the grand jury’s criminal
investigation. This was the first time anyone had ever subpoenaed the president of the
United States, and Nixon has two subpoenas in one day. Although the White House
claimed that neither Congress nor the special prosecutor had the right to demand
evidence from the executive branch and refused to obey. (Westerfled 45)
This started a powerful struggle. The Senate Committee wondered if they could find
the president in contempt of congress which would be a serious legal charge. But they
didn’t know who would be a serious legal charge. But they didn’t know who would arrest
him since the president controlled the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the Armed
Forces. The committee had to think quick and come up with another way to get the
tapes. Cox and the grand jury was going to sue for the tapes in federal court. The
committee decided to follow the special prosecutor’s lead. (Westerfled 43)
Both lawsuits went to Judge John Sirca, the same judge who presided the trials of the
Watergate burglars. Judge Sirca charged the president to turn over the tapes to the
special prosecutor. When the White House Appealed the decision the case went to the
Federal Court of appeals. (Westerfled 43)
Another scandal in the White House shocked the nation. The Department of Justice
announced that they had been investigating Vice President Spiro T. Anew for taking
large bribes in return for government contracts. He then resigned from office October
On October 15, 1973 the court of appeals sustained Judge Sirca’s ruling and demanded
that the president give the subpoenaed tapes to the Special Prosecutor, Archibald Cox.

Nixon ordered Cox not to subpoena any more tapes, although Cox said he would do so.

Cox also told him that if he refused he would find him in contempt of the court.

Nixon was beyond furious. Cox was a employee of the executive branch and questioning
the authority of the president. Nixon ordered Richardson’s deputy attorney general
William D. Ruckelshavs to fire Cox. He also refused and was fired. The third-ranking
Justice Department official, Solicitor General Robert H. Bork, was now acting as
Attorney General. He agreed to fire Cox. This event was called the “Saturday
The nation raged in anger. So Nixon agreed to hand the tapes over to Sirca’s court and
appoint a new Special Prosecutor. The new prosecutor was Leon Jaworski. Jaworski
was a very well known lawyer and accepted the offer on the one condition that Nixon
could not fire him. (Westerfled 48-49)
As the presidents lawyers were going over the tapes preparing them for the special
prosecutor they made an alarming discovery. During a conversation between Nixon and
Haldman there was an 18-minute gap. This made the nation lose even more faith in
On April 11, 1974 Special Prosecutor Jaworski demanded the White House turn over 69
more tapes. Once again the Supreme Court ruled that Nixon had to supply the
subpoenaed tapes. (Westerfled 51-54)
“On July 27-30, the House Judiciary Committee, whose public hearings had disclosed
evidence of illegal White house activities, recommended that Nixon be impeached on
three charges: obstruction of Justice, abuse of presidential power, and trying to impede
the impeachment process by defying committee subpoenas.” (Watergate) Millions of
people watched the committee vote on television. There were twenty-seven votes for
the impeachment and only eleven against it. He was accused of misuse of his authority
and also violating the constitutional rights of citizens by ordering the FBI and Secret
Services to spy on American citizens. The last thing he was charged with was refusing
to obey congress’s subpoenas. Nixon had broken his oath to up hold the law.

With the impeachment vote against him, Nixon would have to stand trial before the
U.S. senate. Two-thirds of the senate would have to vote for impeaching the
president. Nixon would be removed from office. (Westerfled 46)
On August 5, 1974 the White House released an overdue transcript of the tapes. The
recording was from June 23, 1972, only a week after the break-in. This tape told how
Nixon ordered Haldeman to tell the CIA to cease the FBI”s investigation of Watergate.

These tapes made it clear that Nixon was involved in the cover-up from the beginning.

At nine o’clock August 8, 1974 Nixon made his last speech as president Richard M.

Nixon. He only admitted loosing the support he had from Congress. He said “I have
never been a quitter, to leave office before my term is complete is abhorrent to ever
instinct in my body. But, as president, I must put the interest of America first. America
needs a full-time president and a full-time Congress. Therefore, In shall resign the
presidency effective at noon tomorrow.” (Westerfled 57)
The next morning Nixon addressed a tearful White House staff. He then boarded a
helicopter and began his journey home to San Clemente, California. (Westerfled 57)
At noon the Vice President, Gerald R. Ford, was inaugurated. He became the
thirty-seventh president of the United States. He told the American people in his first
speech “Our long national nightmare is over.” (Westerfled 57)
Gold, Gerald ed. Watergate hearings. New York: Bantam books, 1978.

Westerfled, Scott. Watergate. Englewood Cliffs: Silber Burdett, 1991.

“Watergate”. Grolier Electronic Publishing. 1992.

The New grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Danbury, CT: Grolier Electronic Publising
Microsoft Encarta. Microsoft Corporation: Funk & Wagnalls Corporation, 1993.



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