The Watergate Scandal was a series of crimes committed by the President Nixon and his staff members who were found to of spied on and harassed political opponents, accepted illegal campaign contributions, and covered up their own misdeeds. On June 17, 1972, The Washington Post published a small story. In which the reporters stated that five men had been arrested breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.
These bumbling fools had made two attempts prior; the first time they were halted in their efforts due to what they thought was an alarm, their second attempt the next day led them to no better conclusion, when they were confronted by a locked door, which they were unable to open. Finally on the third day (Sunday) having sent the locksmith back to Miami on a day round trip, they got the door wrenched open and went in. (Emery, 05). The democratic headquarters were located in a Washington, D. C. building complex called Watergate. These burglars were carrying equipment to wiretap telephones and take pictures of documents.
The Washington Post had two reporters who researched deep into the story. Their names were Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, they discovered that one of the suspects had an address book with the name and phone number of a White House official who could have been involved in the crime (Woodward). The reporters suspected that other White House officials had ordered the break-in. During a press conference in August of 1972, president Nixon said that nobody on the White House staff was involved in the crime. Most of the public accepted Nixon’s word and dropped the questioning. But when the burglars went to trial four months later.
The story changed rapidly from a small disturbance to a national scandal, which ended only when Richard Nixon was forced from office. The Watergate investigation eventually exposed a long series of illegal activities in the Nixon administration. Nixon and his staff were found to have spied on and harassed political opponents, embezzled campaign contributions and tried to cover-up their illegal acts. For years Nixon was carrying on the crimes and they were not noticed until 1972. 1969 was the date in which the Watergate scandal really began. It all started when Nixon had the White House staff make up a list called the “enemies list”.
Nixon had enemies, which include about 300 liberal politicians, journalists and actors. Most of these people made a public speech against the Vietnam War. Nixon’s aids formed a tax audit on these enemies (Feinberg, 75). He also had agents find out personal information that would harm them politically. Nixon was always worried about government employees revealing secret information to the newspapers or other media sources. The presidents agents helped him by wiretapping phone lines that belonged to reporters in order to find out any revealing material.
Nixon was so worried about internal espionage that during the Cambodia bombing he felt he had to wiretap his own staff members. In June of 1971, The New York Times formed work that was published about the history of the Vietnam War; these were known as the Pentagon Papers. The classified information pointed towards some policies that may have been responsible for causing the Vietnam War. Daniel Ellsberg, a former employee, gave some classified documents to the Washington post. Nixon was infuriated by their publishes. Nixon then tried to twist Ellsberg’s actions into a form of treason, but Nixon did not want to take Ellsberg to court.
Instead he made a secret group of CIA agents that went by the code name “plumbers” this is a name made up because they cover up leaks(Schudson, p. 18), that could hurt the White House, such as the pentagon papers. While they were searching for incriminating evidence the Plumbers stumbled across Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office. Although they discovered nothing wrong they were not content to leaving Ellsberg alone and it is believed that they had initiated a plan to try and further discredit Ellsbergs reputation (Watergate, Cover-up). One of Nixons biggest worries was about having enough votes for the election in 1972.
Nixon was concerned that Edmund Muskie of Maine would win because he was the strongest Democratic candidate. Hoping to wipe out Edmund from the competition, the Plumbers began to play a bunch of so called dirty tricks (Schudson, 26). They issued false statements in Muskie’s name and told the press false rumors about him, so that the plumbers could publish it to the public. Worst of all, they sent a letter to the New Hampshire newspaper stating that Muskie was making mean remarks about French Canadian ancestry. All of these slurs enabled Nixon to gain further ground on Muskie in the elections.
Despite Nixons efforts the Democratic nomination went to George McGovern, a liberal senator from South Dakota. His supporters included many people who backed the civil rights, anti-war and environmental movements of the 1960s. McGovern had fought to make the nomination process more open and democratic. Congress had at that time passed the 23rd amendment of the Constitution allowing eighteen-year-Olds to vote. As a result, the 1972 Democratic Convention was the first to include large numbers of woman, minorities and a younger crowd among the delegates. McGovern’s campaign ran into trouble early.
The press revealed that his running mate Thomas Eagleton had once received psychiatric treatment. First McGovern stood by Eagleton, and then he abandoned him choosing a different running mate. In addition, many Democratic voters were attached to Nixon because of his conservative positions on the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, Nixon’s campaign sailed smoothly along, aided by millions of dollars in funds, Nixons campaign officials collected much of the money illegally. Major corporations were told to contribute at least 100,000 dollars each. The collectors made it clear that the donations could easily buy the parties favor with the White House.
Many large corporations went along. As shipbuilding tycoon George Steinbrenner said; “it was a shakedown, a plain old-fashioned shakedown”(Watergate, the secret story). The final blow to McGovern’s chances for presidency came just days before the election, when Kissinger announced that peace was at hand in Vietnam. McGovern had made his political reputation as a critic of the Vietnam War, and the announcement took the wind out of his sails. Nixon tallied an enormous victory. He received over 60 percent of the popular vote and won every state except Massachusetts (Kutler, 43). Congress however remained under Democratic control.
In January of 1973, two months after Nixon had won the presidential election, the misdeeds of Watergate began to surface. The Watergate burglars went on trial in a Washington D. C. courtroom. James McCord, one of the burglars, gave shocking evidence. McCord testified that people in higher office had paid “hush money” to the burglars who were involved in Watergate (Emery, 276). McCord a former CIA agent who had led the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, McCord worked for the Nixon re-election campaign. With the hush money they were supposed to conceal the White Houses involvement in Watergate.
After the prosecuting attorney investigated he quickly found out that the attorney General, John Mitchell, approved the break-in. Even thought John Mitchell was one of the most trusted advisors, Nixon denied knowledge about the break-in and cover-up of Watergate. The public soon found out that Nixon was not telling the truth. The public also found out that Nixon had ordered his aids to block any information to the investigators. The White House also tried to stop flow of the investigations, because they were afraid that it would uncover very important secrets about the White Houses involvement.
Nixon would not appear at the congressional committee, complaining that if he were to testify it would violate the separation of powers, which is stated in the constitution. Although the constitution does define that their must be a separation of powers, it does not state that the president is not able to testify in front of a congressional committee. Nixons unwillingness to testify made people feel that Nixon was abusing his executive privileges just to cover-up his crimes. When Nixon had no possible way of protecting the White House staff, he fired them.
Such as when he fired two of his aids, H. R Haldeman and John Ehrlichwan, because they were on the line of being charged for their crimes, but they were still convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury (Muzzio, 9). In may of 1973, the press broadcasted the hearings on television to millions of people, the public felt that it was their civic duty to watch over Nixons trial. An official told the court that Nixon had tape-recorded all the conversations he had made to his Plumbers(Watergate, Impeachment).
Nixon had hoped that these tapes would one day be used by historians to document the triumph of his term; instead they would play a key element in his downfall and proved to be very prudent in showing that Nixon was guilty. Nixon refused to release the tapes, claiming the executive privilege gave him the right to keep his record private. Nixons unwillingness to forfeit the tapes caused him to go to court, before it was decided, Vice President Agnew was charged with income tax evasion. He was also charged for accepting bribes in exchanging for political favors. Agnew resigned because of the charges in October of 1973.
He made a deal with the prosecuting attorney and pleaded guilty for tax evasion and all of the other charges were dropped (Emery, 382-83). This scandal was not connected to Watergate, but it put a lot of stress on Nixon. Nixon nominated Gerald Ford in place of Agnew (Kutler, 577). A couple of days after Agnew resignation, the federal court ordered Nixon hand over the tapes. Nixon refused once again so judge Cox tried to make him. Nixon tried to persuade his lawyer to find a loophole, which would disqualify Cox as an impartial interpreter. Cox was an idle to Richardson, because he was his professor in law school.
Richardson refused Nixon’s order and resigned. President Nixon then ordered the deputy Attorney General to fire Cox. This massive event was known as the Saturday Night Massacre (Watergate, Massacre). Many people of the nation felt that Nixon’s blocking of the judicial process was proof of his guiltiness. People mailed Congress thousands of telegrams asking for them to begin the impeachment process against president Nixon. President Nixon had still proclaimed his innocence. At a press conference in November, Nixon made his famous quote, ” I am not a crook” (Emery, 415).
He avoided questions and extremely agitated. The Internal Revenue Services also discovered something that could harm Nixon. They noticed that in 1970 and 71′ Nixon had only paid $800 in taxes when he earned over $500,000. The nation found out that he also used public money to fix-up his houses in Florida and California. Nixon kept on refusing to release his Watergate tapes. Then, on April 1974, he gave out the transcripts of the tapes. He edited the transcripts and tried to cover up the crimes, but it did not work and ended up giving Nixon a bad reputation (Muzzio, 125).
The Committee voted to bring impeachment charges in July against Nixon. The first charge said that the president knowingly covered-up the crimes of Watergate. The second charge stated that he used Government Agencies to violate the Constitution of the U. S. , the third asserted that he would be impeached because of the withholding of evidence from Congress and interfering with the impeachment process. Shortly after the house committee voted to impeach President Nixon, the case went to the entire House for a final say.
Nixon at this point still counted on the public to back him up; he relied on the few that still doubted his involvement in Watergate. Nixon at this point had to follow through with the orders to hand over the tapes. Nixon for a long time claimed that he had no idea of the Watergate scandal until John Dean told him on March 21, 1973. The tapes showed that Nixon was a true liar, and not only knew about it, but ordered it. Because of this Nixon met with a group of republican leaders and they tried to convince him to resign from office. He did just that on August 9, 1974, Nixon broadcasted that he was resigning to the nation.
This meant that President Richard Nixon was the first president of the United States to resign from office. The nation was shocked by this whole scandal because of the way Nixon had lied to the public and abused his own powers. This led most of the public never to trust a president as they did before, because of the massive secrecy in the Government. As a nation the country did survive the trauma, and due to the recantation of Nixon and his vice president Agnew the country was left in the careful hands of Gerald Ford who served honorably until the end of his presidential term.