The Watergate Scandal in the United States of America

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On June 17, 1972 five men were arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Complex in Washington, DC. This began the biggest political scandal in presidential history. At the same time, it also began a massive cover up that was attempted by Nixon and his aides, but eventually failed and only served to incriminate him. At first glance, it may be difficult to understand how a seemingly third-rate burglary could be connected all the way up to Nixon and his administration. There would be a great amount of evidence, speculation, and guilt surrounding Richard Nixon that eventually resulted in him being the first and only President to ever resign from office. It required much effort from the media and reporters Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein played a crucial role in solving the case. The Watergate Scandal tore apart The United States of America and resulted in tragedy for Richard Nixon and his administration while bringing triumph to Robert Woodward, Carl Bernstein, and other investigative reporters.

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The Watergate Scandal involved a lot of illegal activities that were meant to help President Richard Nixon win his re-election. The scandal included burglary, wiretapping, finance violations, and the use of government power to harm political enemies (Baughman). A major part of the scandal was also the cover-up and lies of all these illegal and inappropriate actions. Watergate, however, was not like previous political scandals because greed did not appear to play as an important factor. Instead, Watergate went after one of the chief figures of our country.

The Watergate Scandal received its title from the Watergate Complex in Washington D.C. This large office building was the home to the Democratic National Headquarters, and the site of the break-in that started this story. However, even before it occurred, President Nixon had begun illegal and suspicious activities. President Nixon created a special investigation unit to prevent the leaking of confidential documents that he did not want the public to see (Fritz). He did this after Defense Department papers were released into the public revolving around President Nixon’s concerns over criticism of his Vietnam War policies. The “Plumbers”, as they were nicknamed, were lead by two of Nixon’s top aides, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt (Morton). In order to prevent any information leaks, the “Plumbers” investigated the personal lives of Richard Nixon’s political opponents. The White House responded to these actions of the plumbers by saying that they were defending National Security.

The actual scandal began on June 17, 1972, with the initial arrest of five men for breaking into the Democratic Party’s National Headquarters located in the Watergate Complex in Washington D.C. These five men were part of the Committee to Re-Elect Richard Nixon. They were trying to repair a broken phone tap that they had installed roughly one month before. The five men were charged with burglary and wiretapping (Friedman). Over the next few months as time passed this minor break-in turned into a full blown political scandal.

The Washington Post had two highly regarded reporters who researched deep into the investigation. These two men were Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, and they were able to find that one of the suspects had an address book that matched name and phone number of a White House official who could have potentially been involved in the crime (Fritz). The two reporters suspected that the break-in had been ordered by high up White House officials that surrounded Nixon. In a press conference in August of 1972, President Nixon claimed that no one on the White House Staff was involved in this crime. The majority of the public population accepted Nixon’s word and dropped any questioning they may have had. But when the burglars were forced into trial four months later, this investigation turned into a political scandal.
When first questioned on the investigation in 1973, Richard Nixon denied all allegations that he or any White House official was linked to this crime. Later, evidence was discovered that connected a handful of White House officials to the break-in, and or the cover-up and concealment of the evidence. This information proved that White House officials had attempted reached out to the CIA about covering up the crime.

In April 1973, prosecutor Archibald Cox was appointed to handle this case. Presidential Council John W. Dean III became the chief witness against President Nixon and testified against him in the court of hearings. On trial, Dean admitted that he was apart of the scandal and that Nixon was well aware of the illegal activities being committed by his administration and council (Samuels). Dean also testified that Nixon had plans to manipulate the IRS and other government agencies to punish people who the White House had placed on what they referred to as an “enemies-lists (Melvin). Dean served four months in prison for his role in the Watergate Scandal, but opened a new door through his testimony.

Through a more intense investigation it was discovered by Alexander P. Butterfield, that President Nixon had made tape recordings of conversations with fellow officials in his administration. When asked to release the tapes President Nixon refused, claiming that he had a constitutional right to keep the tapes private. He was then ordered by the court to hand over the tapes without further negotiation. Nixon offered to provide summaries for all of the tapes, but his proposal was rejected and he was once again ordered to hand over all of the original tapes. Completely at crossroads by the court’s decision, he commanded his attorney general and his deputy attorney general to fire Cox. For their refusal to fire Cox, both Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus were relieved of their duties as well. This series of events by Richard Nixon was remembered as the “Saturday Night Massacre (Genovese). When Cox was fired, Leon Jaworski was appointed and selected to take his place.

The firing of Cox, in many ways, did not work to Richard Nixon’s advantage. In April of 1974, Jaworski ordered Nixon to release the tape recordings and various documents of over 64 White House conversations and proceedings. By the end of April, Nixon had given up 1,254 pages of transcripts and recordings from White House conversations. However, Jaworski was not pleased with this. He demanded that Nixon turn over the original tapes. With President Nixon refusing give the court the original tapes, Jaworski sued him and won the lawsuit. In July, The Supreme Court demanded Nixon to hand over all of the original tapes and “ruled that the President cannot withhold any evidence in a criminal case (Friedman).

With the tapes in possession, Jaworski began the Watergate trial. In March of 1974, seven of Nixon’s former members of his council and re-election committee were charged with conspiracy in the cover-up of the initial break-in. Among these seven men were, John D. Ehrlichman, H.R. Haldeman, and John N. Mitchell. They were all found guilty in court of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury. They were finally sentenced to 2 and a half to 8 years in prison. Their prison terms were later reduced to just 1 to 4 years at minimum. G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt were also indicted for their involvement as “plumbers” in this crime and for their involvement in attempting to cover up the scandal. They were sentenced to 1 to 4 years in prison as well (Samuels).

In July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee voted a landslide to impeach President Nixon. They used three articles of impeachment in their decision: obstruction of justice, abusing presidential powers, and illegally withholding evidence from the judiciary committee. On August 5, Nixon finally gave up the final three transcripts of the White House recordings. These final recordings were dated back to six days after the initial break-in. These conversations revealed that Nixon had ordered the FBI to give up on its investigation of the break-in. Nixon ordered them to wrap up the investigation because he feared that the FBI would discover the involvement of his administration. After the release of these final tapes, Nixon lost all of his support in Congress. With no support, and theoretically already impeached, President Nixon’s top aides advised him to resign. On August 9, 1974 President Richard M. Nixon wisely followed their advice, and resigned from the presidency to officially avoid impeachment. Vice President Gerald R. Ford replaced immediately. On September 8, 1974 President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon of all crimes that he had committed while serving as the President of the United States of America (Morton).

The resignation of the President, accounted to nearly forty people, and a nation in clear disgust were not the only results of the Watergate Scandal. Richard Nixon would become the first and only President to ever resign from office. In 1974 Congress approved reforms in the financing of political campaigns and certain criteria regarding it (Fritz). The reforms limited the amount of money that could be received by contributors and donors of various sorts and required detailed reporting of all contributions and spending fees. These new laws were adopted shortly after by state legislation as well.

The Watergate Scandal tore apart The United States of America and resulted in tragedy for Richard Nixon and his administration while bringing triumph to Robert Woodward, Carl Bernstein, and other investigative reporters. It is hard to imagine that the President of the United States could commit a criminal act to this extent while serving the country. Many citizens initially doubted that the burglary would be connected to Nixon and his administration. Various people played crucial roles in incriminating Nixon and proving his guilt. At the end of it all, American citizens were disgusted with Richard Nixon and simply could not believe what he had done. If it wasn’t for the efforts of investigative reporters such as Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Richard Nixon may have never been caught, changing the course of history for our nation.

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The Watergate Scandal In The United States of America. (2019, Jul 30). Retrieved November 30, 2022 , from

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