On June 17th 1972 five men were arrested after breaking into the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex These five men were eventually linked to many high-ranking White House officials, members of the Committee to Re-elect the President and even to President Richard M. Nixon himself. To this day it has not been determined what these five men were doing in this office however the investigations after this break in turned up enough evidence to force the President of the United States to resign and to shake the whole nation.
Larry O’Brien was the Democrat’s most professional political craftsman and he was also a formidable competitor. On the early morning June 17th 1972 James McCord, a former CIA agent and 4 other Cuban Americans were discovered breaking into his office. At the time of the arrest these five men were in possession of wire tapping materials, which they were going to use to tap O’Brien’s phone. Also found in possession of the burglars were a walkie-talkie, which indicated that more then just these five men were involved. Further investigating by the FBI reveled that the burglars had two outside accomplices.
They were former FBI agent Gordon Liddy and former CIA agent Howard Hunt. (Pakula) McCord, Liddy and Hunt were all Plumbers. The Plumbers was a task force put together by President Nixon in his first term of presidency. The Plumber job was to stop all government information leaks to the press. (Stone) All seven of the men were indicted and convicted for their crimes by Judge John J Sirica. Judge Sirica stated that he believed that more then seven men were involved in this break in.
This burglary was first linked to the White House through Howard Hunt. Hunt’s white house phone number was discovered in the address books of two of the arrester burglars. Hunt worked for Charles Colson. Colson was special counsel to President Nixon. When President Nixon learned of this connection he immediately ordered a cover up. President Nixon arranged for payments to be made to Howard Hunt and the other burglars to keep them quiet. The money that the President was using to pay these people to keep quit was coming from and illegal campaign slush fund. (Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000)
In July of 1972 James McCord wrote a letters to the CIA reveling that high-ranking members of the Committee to Re-elect the President or CRP were involved in the burglary and the cover-up. In one of these letters McCord wrote, “I have evidence of involvement of (attorney general John) Mitchell and others sufficient to convince a jury, the Congress, and the press.” (Doyle, p305)
On April 30th 1973 President Nixon announces the resignations of his aids John Dean, John Erlichman, H. R. Haldeman, and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. The President then appointed Elliot Richardson to replace Kleindienst as Attorney General of the United States. This is important because Richardson’s first move as Attorney General was to appoint Archibald Cox as special Watergate prosecutor. (Doyle, 37,38)
In May of 1973 the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Activities opened senate hearings. These hearing brought about some shocking testimony from former Whitehouse counsel John Dean. He testified that the break in on the night of June 17th 1972 was ordered by John Mitchell and that the cover up for this break in was order and carried out by President Nixon. The knock out punch came in the testimony of Alexander Butterfield. Butterfield disclosed to the senate that President Nixon had installed a tape recording system in the Whitehouse.
Using this taping system Nixon had recorded over four thousand hours of tape since its installation in 1971. Archibald Cox immediately subpoenaed eight of those tapes to confirm Dean’s testimony. Nixon refused to turn over these tapes to Cox and the Senate citing “executive privilege.” Nixon claimed that these tapes were vital to the nation’s security. U.S. District Court Judge John J. Sirica ruled that Nixon must give the tapes to Cox, and appeals court upheld his decision. (Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000)
Nixon stood behind his decision and refused to turn over the tapes. Instead he ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refuses to fire Cox and resigns. After Richardson resigns the job of firing Cox then went to Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus who also resigned rather then firing Cox. Finally Nixon got what he wanted when Solicitor-General Robert Bork dismisses Cox. This day October 20th 1973 became know as “The Saturday Night Massacre.” (Doyle, 186-202)
After intense pressure and protest Nixon names Leon Jaworski to take over Archibald Cox’s post as special Watergate prosecutor and turns over the tapes to Judge Sirica. Some of these tapes were missing subpoenaed conversations. One of the tapes he turned over has a mysterious eighteen and one half minute gap that is left blank. Electronic experts report that the gap is the result of at least five separate erasures. Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, denies deliberately erasing the tape. (Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000)
The American people our surprised by the foul language that president Nixon uses while in the oval office of the Whitehouse. From these tapes comes the expression “expletive deleted”. Pressure begins to build for Nixon to resign and congress begins to seriously consider impeachment. Nixon says at a press conference “I’m not a crook.” And privately states that he “will not resign as president of the United States” (Stone). In the early months of 1974 a Grand Jury indicts John Mitchell, H. R. Haldeman, John Erlichman and four other Whitehouse officials for their part in the Watergate cover-up. The Jury also named Nixon as an “unindicted co-conspirer.”
In April of 1974 the House Judicatory Committee subpoenaed forty-two more tapes of white house conversations. Nixon released edited transcripts of these conversations. The committee rejected Nixon’s offer stating that it did not comply with its subpoena, and that they wanted the tapes. Sirica acting on request from special prosecutor Jaworski subpoenaed sixty-four more presidential conversations to use as evidence against indicted officials. Nixon refuse and Jaworski appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court voted 8-0 in the favor of the United States in the case of the United States v Nixon. (Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000)
The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee votes (27-11) to recommend that President Nixon be impeached on three charges:
- Misusing his power in order to violate the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens.
- Obstructing justice in the Watergate affair.
- Defying Judiciary Committee subpoenas.
On August 5th 1974 President Richard Nixon releases three more tapes that show that he order the FBI to stop it’s investigation into the Watergate burglary and provide proof that he ordered the cover up of the that burglary on June 23rd 1972, six days after the break in. The tapes also show that he knew of the involvement of Whitehouse officials. These tapes eventually became known as the “smoking gun.” The eleven members of the Judiciary Committee who voted against impeachment state that they will change their votes. It now becomes clear that Nixon will be impeached and convicted in the senate.
On August 9th 1974 President Richard M. Nixon becomes the first president ever to resign from office. Nixon resignation makes way for Gerald Ford to become the 38th president of the United States. Almost a month after Nixon resigns; President Ford grants him a “full, free and absolute pardon.”
Before 1970 Watergate meant nothing to the people of the United States. Now Watergate is a term that means: political burglary, bribery, extortion, wiretapping, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, tax fraud, illegal use of the C.I.A., illegal use of the F.B.I., illegal campaign contributions, use of public money for private purposes and abuse of power.
Watergate is a dark time in this countries history. And president Nixon’s name will always be associated with scandal and not the good things he did for this country. In the end Watergate proves that our system of checks and balances works and that nobody can get around the law, not even the most powerful man in the country, the president.
- “All the Presidents Men”, directed by Alan J. Pakula, Warner Brothers, 1976.
- Doyle, James Not Above the Law; The Battles of Watergate Prosecutes Cox and Jaworski, William Morrow and Company Inc., New York, 1977.
- “Howard, Hunt,” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000 http://encarta.msn.com.
- “Liddy G. Gordon,” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000 http://encarta.msn.com.
- “Nixon”, Directed by Oliver Stone, Hollywood Pictures Home Video, 1996.
- “Nixon, Richard M.,” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000 http://encarta.msn.com.
- “Watergate,” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000 http://encarta.msn.com.
- Bernstein, Carl and Woodward, Robert, All the Presidents Men, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1974.
- Wicker, Tom, One of Us; Richard Nixon and the American Dream, Random House, New York, 1991.