On June 17th 1972 five men were arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters at the Watergate Office Complex in Washington, D.C.
The follow-up would lead to one of America’s biggest political scandals and the resignation of President Richard Nixon, the only US President to ever resign.
The US was due an election on November 7th 1972. The President Richard Nixon (Republican) was against George McGovern (Democrat).
Just after midnight on June 17th a security guard at the Watergate Building noticed tape had been placed over latches on the building, allowing the doors to close but not lock. He removed the tape.
An hour later he noticed the tape had been replaced. He called the police.
The police arrested 5 men inside the Democratic Headquarters office.
Within hours of the burglary the FBI discovered the name E. Howard Hunt in the address books of two of the burglars. Hunt was a former CIA officer.
Initial Links and Election
On June 19th the FBI announced one of the burglars was a security aide for the Republican Party. On August 1st the FBI found $25 ooo dollars of money for Nixon’s re-election in the bank account of one of the burglars. This linked the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (Nixon’s official campaign) to the break-in.
By October 10th the FBI had found links between all five burglars and the Nixon re-election bid, plus evidence that the US Attorney General had a fund for intelligence-gathering on the Democrats.
Nixon and the White House, however, denied any link to the break in. On November 7th Nixon won re-election in a landslide.
Although the FBI was investigating, the media began to dig deeper, in particular the Washington Post and the New York Times. The Washington Post, and their reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, would become important.
Woodward and Bernstein were given tips from an anonymous source called ‘Deep Throat’. Deep Throat passed the reporters information that linked the burglary and cover-up to the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, and the White House.
At first the White House said the reporters were on a witch-hunt, and many people believed the press was not to be trusted. However, as the FBI followed the leads most were found to be correct.
In 2005 ‘Deep Throat’ was revealed as William Mark Felt Snr., a former deputy director of the FBI.
The Watergate Tapes
On February 7th 1973 the senate voted 77-0 to allow a senate team to investigate.
By March 1973 the investigation had reached as high as Presidential Counsel John Dean. Whilst the White House continued to deny knowledge of the plans to break in, the burglars themselves were claiming purjury (lying in court) was occuring.
Dean and a few other high level officials decided to take the blame to save the presidency. On April 30th Nixon began to ‘clean house’, removing senior aides who were in danger of prosecution.
On July 13th White House assistant Alexander Butterfield admitted in a preliminary hearing that the White House recorded conversations in its offices. On July 16th, on live TV Butterfield admitted the White House recorded conversations.
The investigation asked for the tapes. Nixon refused, claiming Presidential priveleges. New Attorney General Archibald Cox insisted.
‘I’m not a crook’
Nixon began to seek people who could remove Cox. This was met with a poor reaction by both politicians around him – nobody wanted to be seen as Nixon’s henchman – and by the public. On November 17th 1973 Nixon went on TV and famously said ‘I’m not a crook’.
Nixon under investigation
On March 1st 1974 seven high-level officials were prosecuted. President Nixon was secretly listed as a co-conspirator. Over the following month other officials were prosecuted.
Nixon’s circle argued about whether to release the full tapes or edited versions. They decided to release edited versions, announcing it on April 29th 1974. But in July the US Supreme Court ordered that the full tapes be released.
The tapes revealed that Nixon had been involved in a cover-up, telling John Dean to pay blackmail money. However 18 1/2 minutes of recordings were missing. Originally Nixon’s personal secretary said she had done this by accident, but analysis found the deletion had occured over 5 different times.
In the first part of 1974 the house voted to impeach the President.
The ‘Smoking Gun’ Tape and the End of Nixon
On August 5th 1974 a final tape was released that sunk the President. Recorded days after the break-in it had Nixon discussing blocking the investigation by having the CIA call the FBI and create false claims of national security.
On August 8th Nixon resigned. Vice-President Gerald Ford took over and pardoned Nixon on September 8th 1974, but his name was tarnished.
The use of ‘…gate’ for any political scandal and cover-up is common now.