The Watergate Scandal
The Watergate Affair, is the worst political scandal in U.S. history. It led to the resignation of the president, Richard M. Nixon, after he became implicated in an attempt to cover up the scandal. ?The Watergate Affair? refers to the break-in and electronic bugging
in 1972, of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate apartment, and office building complex in Washington D.C. The term was applied to several related scandals. More than thirty administration officials, campaign officials, and financial contributors pleaded guilty or were found guilty of breaking the law. Nixon faced possible indictment after his resignation, received from his successor, Gerald Ford, a full pardon for all of his offenses he may or had committed (Branford 2).
In 1971, Nixon created the Special Investigation Unit, know as the ?plumbers?, their job was to plug all new leaks. Later that year, his agents broke into the office of Dr. Lewis Feilding, and 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 advisors decided to say that the break-in had been carried out for naitonal security reasons(Watergate 3). Later in 1971, H.R. Haldeman, Nixon?s chief of staff, was notified by an assistant, Gordon Stachan, that the 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 Reelection of the President(CRP). Some of the personnel and tactics identified with the activities became associated with efforts aimed at the Democrats. In early 1972, Mitchell assumed a new position as director of the CRP and discussed political espionage plans with Dean. Mitchell also provided the proposal to break-in to the Watergate(Branford 3). 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 the men arrested was James McCord, security coordinator for the CRP(Watergate 3). Ehrlichman was ordered to destroy incriminating documents and tapes. Then L. Patrick Gray resigned as acting director of the FBI, later admitting he had destroyed documents given to him by Ehrlichman and Dean. On June 23, 1972, Nixon learned about Mitchell?s possible link with the operation, and Nixon instructed the FBI to stop the inquiry into the source of money used by the men who tapped the building. He said that ?the investigation would endanger the CIA operations.? Dean and the others subsequently sought to induce CIA officials to cooperate with this plan. On July 1, Mitchell left the CRP, citing personal reasons. On August 29, Nixon declared that no one in the administration, then employed, was involved in the Watergate. Although money found in the possession of the wire tappers was traced to the CRP, such evidence was insufficient to implicate high officials. On September 15, only the five men first arrested, plus Liddy and E. Howard Hunt , one of the plumbers, were indicted (Carson 2).
In January 1973, two months after Nixon?s reelection, the seven indicted men were tried before Judge John Sirica in the U.S. district court in Washington D.C. Five pleaded guilty, and McCord and Liddy were convicted of conspiracy, burglary, and illegal wiretapping. Meanwhile, suspicions grew that the break-in was part of the broad program of political espionage. The U.S. Senate voted to conduct an investigation, and the Grand Jury, continued to hear witnesses. During hearings of his nomination to be permanent director of the FBI, Gray revealed that he had given FBI Watergate files to Dean. His testimony suggested that other top White House aides were involved in the clandestine activities. In March and April, Nixon met often with top aides to plan responses to the Gray revelations and to prepare for the investigations. On March 23, Judge Sirica read a letter from McCord charging that witnesses had committed perjury at the trial and that the defendants had been pressured to plead guilty for them to remain silent. McCord, hoping to avoid a severe sentence, cooperated with investigators and implicated Dean and Magruder, in the break-in.
Investigators were also told that Mitchell had approved the break-in, and that transcripts of conversations, taped at the DNC, were given to Strachan for delivery to Haldeman, and Ehrilchman had ordered them to be destroyed. On April 30, Nixon announced the resignation of Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Dean. Attorney General Richard Kleindienst resigned rather that prosecute men he knew. Nixon and Elliot Richardson, the new attorney general, approved the creation of a special prosecutors office, headed by Archibald Cox of the Harvard Law School. The Senate?s Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, under the chairmanship of Senator Sam Ervin, opened public hearings in May. Dean?s testimony linked Nixon to the cover-up. Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Mitchell denied wrongdoing and defended the president. The testimony revealed the president and his aides as isolated and as hostile toward and fearful of scores of enemies(Watergate 4).
Alexander Butterfield, a former White House official, testified in July 1973 that Nixon had taped conversations in his office. Nixon refused to release them. Judge Sirica directed Nixon to let him hear the tapes. Nixon appealed the order, arguing that a president was immune from judicial orders enforcing subpoenas and that under the concept of executive privilege only he could decide which communications could be disclosed. The U.S. court of appeals upheld Sirica, but Nixon then proposed that Senator John Stennis, a Democrat form Mississippi listen to the tapes to verify an edited version that Nixon would submit to the Grand Jury and to the Senate. One tape contained an 18 minute gap, that gave confusing testimony on how the gap might have occurred. Electronic experts found that someone must have deliberately destroyed evidence.
On March 1, 1974 seven former aides to the president; Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, Colson, Strachan, Robert Mardian, and Kenneth Parkinson, were indicted for conspiring to hinder the Watergate investigation. Colson pleaded guilty, and Strachan?s charges were dropped. The remaining five went on to trial in October 1974 and January 1, 1975, all but Parkinson were found guilty. In late July the House committee approved three articles of impeachment(Carson 2).
Shortly thereafter James St. Clair, the president?s lawyer, learned that one of the 64 tapes that Nixon had been compelled to surrender was the June 23, 1972, conversation with Haldeman in which Nixon sought to thwart the FBI investigation. He insisted that Nixon publish the tape. Nixon did so, and his support in congress virtually disappeared. Facing certain impeachment and removal from office, Nixon resigned, effective at noon August 9, 1974(Watergate 4).