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Watergate Scandal: Everything You Need to Know

Updated on June 18, 2017

A Scandal That Rocked the USA

The Watergate Scandal happened in the United States of America in the 1970s. This famous political scandal led to the resignation of the then President Richard Nixon.

Watergate Scandal started with a burglary at an office complex in Washington DC in June 1972. This dark stain on the White House shows how long it takes to bring down a corrupt president

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Watergate Scandal Started With a Burglary

Five burglars were taken into custody for attempting to break into the Democratic National Committee's headquarters, thanks to security guard Frank Wills. All the five: Bernard Baker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, Frank Sturgis and James W. McCord were charged with burglary and wiretapping. The office complex was called the Watergate.

One of the burglars was described by the Miami sources as an adventurer who had at one time transported arms to the Sierra Maestra when Fidel Castro was there fighting President Fulgencio Batista. The Watergate Scandal attracted the attention of the entire world.

There was no immediate explanation as to why the five suspects would want to bug the Democratic National Committee offices or whether or not they were working for any other individuals or organizations.

— Washington Post, while reporting the news of the burglary

Richard Nixon

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Wikimedia Commons | Source

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward Investigated the Scandal

Two young Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward played a major role in exposing the connection the burglars had with the President's office.

Reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward Became Legendary for Linking the Crime to the President's Men

They reported that burglar James McCord was on the payroll of President Nixon's reelection committee. Another burglar was found to have a check of $25000 which was supposed to have gone to Nixon's reelection campaign.

The Legends Reflecting On Watergate Scandal

Forty years after the greatest scandal of the American presidency, Washington Journal remains fresh and riveting, instructive and evocative.

— Tom Brokaw, American television journalist and author

President's Office Tried to Prevent FBI From Investigating the Burglary

The President's office even tried to prevent FBI from investigating the burglary. Officers working in CIA and FBI were involved in guiding the burglars via walkie-talkies from their hotel room to the Watergate building. Attorney General John Mitchell had controlled a secret fund that was used to pay for a campaign to gather information on Democrats. President Nixon's aides had run a campaign of political spying and sabotage to ensure his reelection. The burglars had bugged the telephones in the Democratic National Headquarters.

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President Nixon Fired Archibald Cox

As the scandal unfolded, Richard Nixon won the Presidential election with a huge margin. But in 1973, the Senate opened up hearings on the Watergate burglary.

Succumbing to pressure, Richard Nixon appointed Archibald Cox as special prosecutor to the case. In June 1973, John Dean, a former White House staff member admitted that he had discussions with the President on how to cover up the scandal.

By July, it was revealed in the Senate hearings that Richard Nixon had a recording system working in the Oval Office with which he had recorded all conversations.

Cox requested Nixon to hand over the tapes. Nixon refused and approached the Attorney General to get Cox fired. When he refused to do so, Nixon fired him. He somehow managed to get Cox fired. However, Nixon was compelled to appoint Leon Jaworski as replacement.

"I am not a crook"

On November 17, 1973, President Richard Nixon infamously denied any involvement in the Watergate scandal with his now timeless defense.

Infamous Denial by President Richard Nixon

Nixon Lost His Argument in the Supreme Court

Pressure continued on Richard Nixon to hand over the tapes, but he refused. The case went up to the Supreme Court. There, Nixon lost his argument. He was ordered to hand over the tapes. When he refused, he was impeached by the House of Representatives. Richard Nixon had to resign in August, 1974, but he was spared from further punishment when his successor Gerald R. Ford granted him an unconditional pardon on September 8th, 1974.

Gerald Ford

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Watergate Scandal Tarnished the Image of the Republican Party

This most unfortunate political scandal tarnished the image of the Republican Party. It also led to the rewriting of the Freedom of Information act 1976. Watergate Scandal is a black mark in the history of the United States of America.

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward Warned President Donald Trump Against Undermining the Country's Free Press

Veteran journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward spoke at length at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in May 2017. Bernstein emphasised the importance of strong reporting. The duo warned President Trump against undermining the nation's free press.

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Watergate Scandal Movie

Watergate Scandal Timeline

Date
Event
November 1968
Nixon becomes president
July 23 1970
Nixon approves a plan to expand domestic intelligence-gathering by secret service agencies.
July 25 1970
Nixon rescinds the above approval
June 13, 1971
The New York Times starts publishing the Defense Department’s secret history of the Vietnam War.
September 9, 1971
The White House “plumbers” unit burglarizes a psychiatrist’s office to find files on Daniel Ellsberg, the former defense analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers.
June 17, 1972
Five men are arrested trying to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate hotel and office complex.
June 19, 1972
A GOP security aide is among the Watergate thieves, The Washington Post reports. John Mitchell, head of the Nixon reelection campaign, denies any link to the operation.
August 1, 1972
A $25,000 cashier’s check wound up in the bank account of a Watergate thief.
September 29, 1972
While serving as attorney general, John Mitchell controlled a secret Republican fund used to finance widespread intelligence-gathering operations against the Democrats, The Post reports.
October 10, 1972
FBI agents establish that the Watergate break-in stems from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of the Nixon reelection effort, The Post reports.
November 11, 1972
Nixon is reelected.
January 30, 1973
Two former Nixon aides are convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping in the Watergate incident. Five other men plead guilty.
April 30, 1973
Nixon’s two top White House staffers, and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst resign over the scandal. White House counsel John Dean is fired.
May 18, 1973
The Senate Watergate committee begins its hearings. Attorney General-designate Elliot Richardson taps former solicitor general Archibald Cox as the Justice Department’s special prosecutor for Watergate.
June 3, 1973
John Dean tells Watergate investigators that he discussed the Watergate cover-up with President Nixon at least 35 times, The Post reports.
June 13, 1973
Watergate prosecutors find a memo addressed to John Ehrlichman describing in detail the plans to burglarize the office of Pentagon Papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, The Post reports.
July 13, 1973
Former presidential appointments secretary Alexander Butterfield reveals in congressional testimony that since 1971 Nixon had recorded all conversations and telephone calls in his offices
July 18, 1973
Nixon reportedly orders the disconnection White House taping system.
July 23, 1973
Nixon refuses to turn over the presidential tape recordings to the Senate Watergate committee or the special prosecutor.
October 20, 1973
Nixon fires Archibald Cox and abolishes the office of the special prosecutor. Attorney General Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus resign. Pressure for impeachment mounts in Congress.
November 17, 1973
Nixon declares, “I’m not a crook.” Says he's innocent.
December 7, 1973
The White House can’t explain an 18 1/2 -minute gap in one of the subpoenaed tapes. Chief of staff Alexander Haig says one theory is that “some sinister force” erased the segment.
April 30, 1974
The White House releases more than 1,200 pages of edited transcripts of the Nixon tapes to the House Judiciary Committee, but the committee insists that the tapes themselves must be turned over.
July 24, 1974
The Supreme Court rules unanimously that Nixon must turn over the tape recordings of 64 White House conversations, rejecting the president’s claims of executive privilege.
July 27, 1974
House Judiciary Committee passes the first of three articles of impeachment, charging obstruction of justice.
August 8, 1974
Richard Nixon becomes the first U.S. president to resign. Vice President Gerald R. Ford assumes the country’s highest office. He will later pardon Nixon of all charges related to the Watergate case.

Summary

  • Watergate Scandal occurred in the US in the 1970s.
  • This scandal led to the resignation of President Nixon.
  • Young Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward played a major role in exposing the scandal.
  • President Gerald R. Ford granted Nixon an unconditional pardon on September 8th, 1974.
  • The scandal led to the rewriting of the Freedom of Information Act.

Authored by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, journalists who investigated the Watergate scandal for The Washington Post, the book All the President's Men chronicles the investigative reporting of the journalists.

Maybe the single greatest reporting effort of all time.

— Gene Roberts, former managing editor of The New York Times

5 Scandalous Presidents of the US

Sl No
Name
1
Richard Nixon
2
Ronald Reagan
3
Bill Clinton
4
Thomas Jefferson
5
James Garfield

The political lesson of Watergate is this: Never again must America allow an arrogant, elite guard of political adolescents to by-pass the regular party organization and dictate the terms of a national election.

— Gerald R. Ford

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    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 3 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Excellent article. One interesting fact also is that Gerald Ford was our only president who was not elected to that office or the vice presidency.

    • srirad0675 profile image
      Author

      Srikanth R 3 months ago

      True! Thank you for this value addition Kathleen. :-)

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