Richard M. Nixon and The Watergate Scandal
The Watergate scandal originated from a burglary which occurred on June 17, 1972 (Genovese xxii). Five men were arrested by the police for breaking into and entering the Democratic National Committee headquarters located at the Watergate office and apartment complex (“Watergate”). The suspects were identified as Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzales, Eugenio Martinez, James McCord, and Frank Sturgis; the police had collected from them cameras and equipment used for spying (Genovese xxii). In the beginning, the burglary did not attract much attention from the media. Media interest in the crime only started due to the persistence of Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (“Watergate”).
The White House press secretary once called the Watergate break-in as a “third rate burglary attempt” (Genovese xxii). However, Bernstein and Woodward soon discovered that the incident was much more than a simple crime (“Story”). They found out that the government was involved in the break-in. In fact, a few days after the arrest of the suspects, the White House tried to stop the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from looking into the burglary (Genovese xxii). The president himself, Richard M. Nixon, and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, attempted a cover-up and planned to halt the FBI investigation regarding the matter. Meanwhile, Bernstein and Woodward collaborated on several revelatory reports about the burglary. In their first story, they reported that McCord was part of the reelection committee of the president (“Story”). After a few weeks, they also broke the story that former White House employees were accomplices to the crime. E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, former CIA agent and former FBI agent respectively, were responsible for guiding the burglars with the use of walkie-talkies (“Story”).
The revelations from Bernstein, Woodward, and the Washington Post continued. (“Story”). It was reported that a check for Nixon’s reelection campaign was deposited to the bank account of one of the burglars. The said check was confirmed to have been given to Maurice Stans, the president’s main fund raiser for the reelection campaign. On October 10, 1972, the Washington Post reported that the Watergate burglary was actually part of the Nixon administration’s efforts of political espionage and sabotage (Genovese xxiii). These illegal activities were done for the president’s reelection and were supervised by White House personnel. For instance, Attorney General John Mitchell managed a secret fund used to finance all efforts to collect information about the Democrats (“Story”). In all the stories, the Washington Post depended on a confidential source identified only as “Deep Throat,” an official from the FBI. This source proved to be essential in verifying reports about the Watergate controversy. It was not until 2005 that the identity of the “Deep Throat” was revealed; the source was Mark Felt (“Story”).
The Watergate controversy allowed room for some changes. John Sirica, the federal judge who handled the burglary trial, became involved in the investigation itself by demanding information from the accused (“Story”). Liddy, Hunt, McCord, and the others were convicted for the burglary. Meanwhile, the media closed in on the involvement of other White House officials to the controversy. On April 1973, Haldeman, House Special Assistant on Domestic Affairs John Ehrlichman, and U.S. Attorney General Richard Kleindienst all resigned (“Watergate”). President Nixon also fired White House Counsel John Dean. Elliot Richardson became the new Attorney General; he installed Professor Archibald Cox from Harvard Law School to head the Watergate burglary investigation (“Watergate”).
The investigations on the Watergate burglary revealed more anomalies in the Nixon administration. North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin headed the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Activities and presided over the hearings (“Watergate”). Eventually, the Watergate scandal involved more illegal activities. Hunt and Liddy were discovered to have broken into the office of Daniel Ellsberg, a psychiatrist who used to work for the Defense Department (“Story”). Ellsberg was the source of the Pentagon papers sent to the New York Times, and the burglars sought to fight information that would disfavor him (“Story”).
However, the most shocking revelation from the Watergate scandal hearings came from Alexander Butterfield. On July 1973, the White House aide told the committee about Nixon and his taping system (“Story”). Nixon had all conversations in the White House recorded. Cox demanded a subpoena for the tapes, but Nixon refused to hand them over. While the White House did agree to give the written versions of the conversations in the tapes, Cox refused to accept it. As a result, Nixon demanded that Attorney General Richardson dismiss Cox. Instead, Richardson resigned himself, along with Deputy Attorney General Williams Ruckleshaus. It was the acting Attorney General Robert Bork who fired Cox, replaced by Leon Jaworski. The series of firings became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre” (Genovese xxvi). Eventually, Nixon was forced to give the tapes. The situation turned for the worse when one of the tapes had an erasure which lasted almost 20 minutes, and the White House could not justify the erasure (“Story”).
The Watergate scandal proved to be detrimental to the Nixon administration. During the duration of the investigations, the credibility and popularity of President Nixon significantly decreased (“Watergate”). On May 9, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee started the hearings on the president’s impeachment (Genovese xxvii). Rather than face impeachment, Richard M. Nixon resigned from the office on August 9, 1974 (Genovese xxvii).
The Watergate scandal caused the public to be extremely distrustful of the presidency and the government (“Watergate”). The change in the attitude of the electorate was apparent in the 1974 congressional elections, where there was a significant drop in voter turnout (McLeod, Brown, and Becker 181). It was even said that the impact of the scandal not only altered the political attitude of adults, but also influenced the political attitude of children and adolescents (Hershey and Hill 703).
Genovese, Michael. The Watergate Crisis. California: Greenwood Publishing, 1997.
Hershey, Marjorie Randon, and David B. Hill. “Watergate and Preadults’ Attitudes Toward the President.” American Journal of Political Science 19.4 (1975): 703–726.
McLeod, Jack M., Jane D. Brown, and Lee B. Becker. “Watergate and the 1974 Elections.” The Public Opinion Quarterly 41.2 (1977): 181–95.
“The Watergate Story.” The Washington Post. 2009. 24 June 2009. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/watergate/>.
“Watergate.” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. 2009. 24 June 2009 <http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761553070/Watergate.html>.