The Watergate scandal was a political scandal that occurred in the United States in the 1970s as a result of the June 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and the Nixon administration's attempted cover-up of its involvement.
It was hard to avoid being struck by the passage of time, especially for those of us who passed through the portals of The Washington Post. Ben Bradlee, his gait somewhat slowed, sat near the front as William Weld, the congressional Watergate investigator who later became Massachusetts governor, called him the true hero of Watergate. Katharine Graham’s voice was heard only on a promotional video, while her son, Don, the company’s chief executive, watched with rapt interest from the aisle.
Former White House counsel John Dean described the moment when burglar G. Gordon Liddy “confesses the whole thing to me”—not just the involvement in Watergate but an attempt to bust into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. The cavernous room was transported back to the days of men in suits with rubber gloves and wads of cash. Dean and another panelist, Egil “Bud” Krogh, went to jail in the coverup.
By now, of course, Watergate has become part of our folklore: Five men wearing business suits and surgical gloves arrested in the middle of the night with illegal bugging devices at the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate building in Washington, D.C. The burglars turned out to be part of a wide-ranging political espionage and sabotage operation run by President Nixon's top aides, one that triggered a massive White House cover-up directed by the president himself. After that cover-up unraveled, more than 70 people, including cabinet members and White House assistants, were convicted of criminal abuses of power; only a pardon by his presidential successor spared Nixon himself from becoming the first chief executive in history to be indicted for felonies committed in the Oval Office. In the words of Stanley Kutler, the scandal's leading historian, Watergate "consumed and convulsed the nation and tested the constitutional and political system as it had not been tested since the Civil War."
A number of fine books have been written about Watergate, such as Sam Ervin's The Whole Truth, or Barry Sussmans's The Great Coverup. The problem is that most including these two, are out of print. I decided to go with Jonathan Schell's excellent The Time of Illusion, which provides a thoughtful and comprehensive account of the period leading up to and including the coverup, and a powerful thesis--that the Watergate scandal was a result of the government's efforts to suppress opposition to the war in Vietnam.
At first, few people took the Watergate burglary seriously, and it had no impact on the presidential election of 1972. Yet by 1974 the scandal caused President Richard Nixon to resign his office rather than face impeachment. Twenty-one individuals associated with the Nixon administration and the Committee to Reelect the President eventually went to jail for Watergate-related crimes, including John Dean and H.R. Haldeman. The press, the special prosecutor, and the courts all played significant roles in uncovering the evidence of illegal activities that caused the president to resign, but it was a special committee of the United States Senate that focused attention most sharply on the people and events surrounding Watergate and helped the public understand what happened.
Watergate is now an all-encompassing term used to refer to:
obstruction of justice
destruction of evidence
illegal use of government agencies such as the CIA and the FBI
illegal campaign contributions
use of public money for private purposes
The House Judiciary Committee pursued its constitutional mandate and drew up five articles of impeachment, three of which they approved in the summer of 1974. When the President was forced by the Supreme Court in August 1974 to surrender tape recordings that revealed his knowledge of the cover-up, even his staunchest supporters in the House admitted that they would have to vote in favor of impeachment. On August 9, 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency and became citizen Richard Nixon.
Nicknamed "Maximum John" for his tough sentences, John Joseph Sirica rose to national prominence while presiding over the Watergate trials. Chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Sirica had earned a reputation for being unpredictable on the bench. Suspecting publicly that the defendants in the first Watergate trials weren't fully truthful, Sirica took an investigative approach, questioning witnesses and irking critics who said he overstepped his bounds.
An investigation led by Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward found evidence that White House aides had helped finance sabotage and espionage operations against 1972 Democratic presidential hopefuls. Additional evidence was revealed that tied top White House aides, including Domestic Council Chief John Ehrlichman and White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, to plans for the burglary and concealment of evidence that implicated members of the Nixon administration
Early in 1972, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, two of Nixon’s aide, concocted an elaborate scheme to wire tap the phones of several Democrats and hinder their plans. Mitchell refused to approve the plan twice, saying that it was too expensive and risky. He finally approved a modified version of the plan in which the telephones of the Democratic National Committee, including the telephone of its chairman, Lawrence O’Brien, would be wiretapped
On November 7, 1972, President Richard Nixon, a Republican, won a landside re-election to a second term. Two years later, he resigned—the first president in history to do so. Nixon resigned because of “Watergate”—a scandal that began with a bungled burglary and ended with criminal charges against his closest aides and demands for his impeachment.
Early in 1972, Nixon’s aides were working hard to make sure he won the election in November. The Committee to Reelect the President (CRP)—headed by John Mitchell, who had just resigned from his post as attorney general—was raising huge amounts of money and working on plans to undermine the Democratic candidate. One of those plans, proposed by CRP’s special counsel, Gordon Liddy, was to break into the Democratic Party headquarters. John Mitchell agreed to give Liddy $250,000 from CRP’s money, and Liddy, with his partner Howard Hunt, began planning the burglary.