Watergate scandal


Watergate scandal
(1972–74) Political scandal involving illegal activities by Pres.

Richard Nixon's administration. In June 1972 five burglars were arrested after breaking into the Democratic Party's national headquarters at the Watergate Hotel complex in Washington, D.C. Within a few days of their arrest at the Watergate, charges of burglary and wiretapping were brought against the five and two others, including a former White House aide and G. Gordon Liddy, general counsel for the Committee to Reelect the President. Nixon and his aides steadfastly denied that anyone in the administration had been involved, despite persistent press reports to the contrary, and in November 1972 Nixon was easily reelected. In January 1973 the trial of the burglars was held before Judge John Sirica; five pleaded guilty and two were convicted by a jury. Sirica's direct questioning of witnesses revealed details of a cover-up by H.R. Haldeman, John D. Ehrlichman, and John W. Dean. They and Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst resigned in April. The new attorney general, Elliot L. Richardson (1920–98), appointed Archibald Cox (b. 1912) as special prosecutor. A Senate committee under Samuel Ervin held televised hearings in which the existence of tapes of conversations in the president's office was disclosed. Cox and Ervin subpoenaed the tapes, but Nixon refused to relinquish them and ordered Cox fired (Oct. 20, 1973). Richardson resigned in protest, and the public outcry eventually forced Nixon to surrender the tapes (December 8), which revealed clear signs of his involvement in the cover-up. In July 1974 the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives passed three articles of impeachment against Nixon. On August 5 Nixon supplied three tapes that clearly implicated him in the cover-up. Though Nixon continued to insist that he had not committed any offenses, he resigned on Aug. 8, 1974. He was pardoned a month later by his successor, Gerald Ford.

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▪ United States history
      (1972–75), U.S. political scandal surrounding the revelation of illegal activities on the part of the incumbent Republican administration of President Richard M. Nixon (Nixon, Richard M.) during and after the 1972 presidential election campaign.

      The matter was first brought to public attention by the arrest of five men who, on June 17, 1972, broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate, an office–apartment–hotel complex in Washington, D.C. Within a few days of their arrest at the Watergate, charges of burglary and wiretapping were brought against the five and against E. Howard Hunt, Jr., a former White House aide, and G. Gordon Liddy, general counsel for the Committee for the Re-election of the President. All seven were tried before Judge John J. Sirica (Sirica, John), chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, in January 1973.

      During the months between their arrest and their trial, President Nixon and his aides had denied that anyone in the administration had been involved, despite persistent press reports to the contrary, especially in The Washington Post (Washington Post, The). As the scandal slowly unraveled, Post reporters Bob Woodward (Woodward, Bob) and Carl Bernstein received leaked information from a source that was nicknamed “Deep Throat”; after decades of conjecture, the identity of the source was revealed in 2005 as W. Mark Felt, who was, at the time of the leak, deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

      Of the seven, five pleaded guilty and two were convicted by a jury. At sentencing on March 23, 1973, Sirica read a letter from one of the defendants, James W. McCord, Jr., which charged that the White House had been conducting a cover-up to conceal its connection with the break-in. McCord also charged that the seven defendants had been pressured by the White House to plead guilty and remain silent. And, according to McCord, witnesses had perjured themselves during the trial. Before the reconvened grand jury, Jeb Stuart Magruder (assistant to the reelection committee director, former Attorney General John N. Mitchell (Mitchell, John)) changed his earlier testimony (i.e., that the break-in had not been approved by the committee) and said he had perjured himself at the instigation of Mitchell and John W. Dean III (Dean, John Wesley, III), counsel to the president.

 With the White House now clearly implicated, President Nixon on April 17, 1973, announced that he had begun a new investigation. White House press secretary Ronald L. Ziegler said that all previous statements issued by the executive branch regarding Watergate were “inoperative.” On April 30 Nixon stated publicly that he took responsibility for the actions of staff members implicated in the case, and he accepted the resignations of advisers H.R. Haldeman (Haldeman, H.R.), John Ehrlichman (Ehrlichman, John D.), and Dean and of Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst. Nixon, however, denied any personal knowledge of either the campaign of political espionage or the attempts to conceal any wrongdoing.

      The same day Elliot L. Richardson was appointed attorney general to replace Kleindienst. Richardson then selected Harvard law professor Archibald Cox as special Watergate prosecutor. But in May the focus of the investigation shifted to the Senate, where the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (established in February 1973 under the chairmanship of Senator Sam J. Ervin, Jr. (Ervin, Samuel J., Jr.), Democrat from North Carolina) began televised public hearings.

      The Ervin Committee elicited testimony establishing the culpability of White House and campaign committee personnel. Dean, however, was the only witness to accuse President Nixon of direct involvement in the cover-up. On July 16, 1973, Alexander P. Butterfield, formerly of the White House staff, disclosed that conversations in the president's offices had secretly been recorded on tape.

      Both Cox and the Ervin Committee promptly (July 23) subpoenaed the tapes. Nixon refused on the grounds of executive privilege and national security. When Judge Sirica ordered Nixon to turn over the tapes and that order was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals in October, Nixon offered instead to provide written summaries of the tapes in question in return for an agreement that no further presidential documents would be sought.

      Cox rejected the proposal, and on October 20 the president ordered Attorney General Richardson to fire the special prosecutor. Both Richardson and William D. Ruckelshaus, deputy attorney general, resigned rather than carry out the order, and Cox was finally dismissed by a compliant solicitor general, Robert Bork.

 A storm of public protest pressured Nixon into releasing the tapes on December 8, but of the nine tapes specified in Sirica's order, only seven were delivered (the White House claimed the other two had never existed); and one of the seven contained a gap that, according to a later report by a panel of experts, could not have been made accidentally. (See Richard M. Nixon, on releasing the Watergate tapes.—>)

      By the beginning of 1974, several former White House aides were either under indictment or had pleaded guilty to charges stemming from Watergate. The term itself had come to denote not merely the original break-in but also more or less related allegations of misconduct, including the purchase of governmental favours with campaign contributions, “dirty tricks” in the 1972 campaign, and an extralegal intelligence unit set up in the White House. This unit was alleged to have burglarized a psychiatrist's office to obtain the records of Daniel Ellsberg, a former employee of the Department of Defense, who had released the classified Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War.

      The combined weight of these charges led to the initiation of a formal impeachment inquiry by the House Judiciary Committee in May 1974. On May 20 Judge Sirica ordered Nixon to turn over additional tapes to Cox's successor as special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski (Jaworski, Leon). On July 24 the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Nixon must provide transcripts of the tapes.

 Between July 27 and 30 the House Judiciary Committee passed three articles of impeachment. On August 5 the President supplied transcripts of three tapes that clearly implicated him in the cover-up. With these revelations, Nixon's last support in Congress evaporated. He announced his resignation on August 8, stating that he “no longer had a strong enough political base” with which to govern. He left office at 11:35 AM the following day, August 9.

      In 1975 Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Mitchell were convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury; they were sentenced to prison. Former President Nixon was spared any further punishment when his successor, Gerald R. Ford (Ford, Gerald R.), granted him an unconditional pardon on September 8, 1974.

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Universalium. 2010.

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