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The Watergate Scandal

Updated: Jun 16, 2022

Forty eight years ago, early in the morning of June 17, 1972, there was a break-in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters that ultimately led to an investigation that revealed multiple abuses of power by the Nixon administration. These events became known as "The Watergate Scandal".

Several burglars were arrested in the office of the Democratic National Committee, located in the Watergate complex of buildings in Washington, D.C. This was no ordinary robbery: The prowlers were connected to President Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign, and they had been caught wiretapping phones and stealing documents. Here is a clip of the original report to come out on the burglary at the DNC.

Nixon took aggressive steps to cover up the crimes, but when Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein revealed his role in the conspiracy, Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974. The Watergate scandal changed American politics forever, leading many Americans to question their leaders and think more critically about the presidency. Here is a clip with more background including an interview or Woodward and Bernstein:

Several major revelations and egregious presidential action against the investigation later in 1973 prompted the House to commence an impeachment process against Nixon. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Nixon must release the Oval Office tapes to government investigators. The tapes revealed that Nixon had conspired to cover up activities that took place after the break-in and had attempted to use federal officials to deflect the investigation. The House judiciary committee then approved articles of impeachment against Nixon for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress..

Further investigations, along with revelations during subsequent trials of the burglars, led the U.S. House of Representatives to grant its judiciary committee additional investigation authority to probe into "certain matters within its jurisdiction", and the U.S. Senate to create a special investigative committee. The resultant Senate Watergate hearings commenced were broadcast "gavel-to-gavel" nationwide by PBS and aroused public interest. Witnesses testified that the president had approved plans to cover up administration involvement in the break-in, and that there was a voice-activated taping system in the Oval Office. Throughout the investigation, the administration resisted its probes, which led to a constitutional crisis. With his complicity in the cover-up made public and his political support completely eroded, Nixon resigned from office on August 9, 1974:

It is believed that, had he not done so, he would have been impeached by the House and removed from office by a trial in the Senate. He is the only U.S. president to have resigned from office. On September 8, 1974, Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned him. Here is Nixon's Farewell Speech at the White House:

There were 69 people indicted and 48 people—many of them top Nixon administration officials—were convicted. The metonym Watergate came to encompass an array of clandestine and often illegal activities undertaken by members of the Nixon administration, including bugging the offices of political opponents and people of whom Nixon or his officials were suspicious; ordering investigations of activist groups and political figures; and using the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Internal Revenue Service as political weapons. Here is a clip of Nixon flashing his famous "victory" signs as he leaves the White House for the last time:

The use of the suffix "-gate" after an identifying term has since become synonymous with public scandal, especially political scandal.

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