The Watergate scandal was a major political scandal that happened in the United States between 1972 and 1974. It began with a break-in at the headquarters of Democratic National Committee at the office complex called Watergate – hence the name, in Washington, D.C. on June 17, 1972.
The burglary and subsequent attempts of the Nixon administration to cover-up its involvement in the affair eventually led to articles of impeachment against President Nixon and ultimately his resignation on August 8, 1974 – the first and only resignation of a U.S. president to date.
The story of Watergate arose from all the economic troubles, assassinations, social unrest of the 1960s and lately the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1970. When President Nixon was running for the re-election in 1972, the States was embroiled in the lengthy, bloody and unpopular Vietnam War (1955-1975) and deeply divided internally. Under such harsh political climate, a forceful presidential campaign was thought to help the president have an easier election than in 1968. Many “dirty-tricks”, therefore, were employed during his campaign including harassing the opponent and bugging in their office.
Watergate Scandal Summary
The Watergate scandal began in mid-1972 following a break-in at the Watergate Hotel Complex on June 17 of five burglars, one of them was working for President Nixon’s Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP – also known derogatorily as CREEP among Nixon’s political opponents). Both the White House and CRP immediately denied any connection to the event. An elaborate cover-up was already under way.
In October, the FBI discovered that there was a systematic and illegal spying and sabotage and that the break-in was just part of a larger campaign conducted on behalf of CRP leaderships against the Democrats. Although those revelations could not prevent Nixon from being re-elected with a landslide victory in November 1972, a political storm was brewing up.
Woodward, Bernstein & “Deep Throat”
Initial investigations of the incident was strongly influenced by the media whose coverage highlighted the connection between the burglary and the CRP. The most notable coverage came from two young Washington Post Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, together with their secret informant Deep Throat, suggesting that the break-in and subsequent attempts to cover it up had a close connection with the Justice Department, the CIA, the FBI and even the White House.
In the meanwhile, some conspirators cracked . Following some of Nixon’s aides testimony including former White House Counsel John Dean’s, it emerged that Nixon had secretly taped every conversation that took place in the Oval Office. The shocking disclosure sparked a quest for the tapes by both the Senate Watergate Committee and Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.
Saturday Night Massacre
Nixon, however, refused to hand over the tapes, claiming it was president’s “executive privilege” to keep them to himself. When Cox insisted on demanding the tapes, Nixon ordered to have Cox removed, leading to a flurry of high-profile Justice Department resignations in protest over the weekend, which was notoriously known as the Saturday Night Massacre. Eventually, the Nixon administration released some of the tapes under subpoena. One of which contained 18 and 1/2 minutes of silence that could not be explained by the White House.
On March 1 1974, the so-called “Watergate Seven” including former Attorney General John Mitchell and Nixon’s six other top former aides were indicted on diverse charges related to the Watergate affair while Nixon was called “unindicted co-conspirator” by a grand jury.
“Smoking Gun” tape
It was not until July when the Supreme Court unanimously ordered that the tapes must be handed over that Nixon realised he had backed himself into a corner. Nixon voluntarily released the tapes on August 5. One of them would become known as the “Smoking Gun” tape which served as an indisputable evidence that Nixon had took part in the cover-up from the beginning. Facing certain impeachment the Senate , Nixon became the first American President to ever resign on August 8. He was succeeded by Gerald Ford who would later pardon Nixon for all the crimes he “committed or may have committed” while in office.
Effects on the Home Front
The Watergate scandal rocked the States and changed its politics forever. 69 government officials were charged in which 47 were found guilty of criminal offences. The scandal greatly tarnished the public image of legal profession and led to a number of governmental reforms. In 1983, a new system of professional ethics called the Model Rules of Professional Conduct came into use. Public cynicism and distrust of the government which had already started due to the dissatisfaction from the Vietnam War rose even more drammatically. Americans began to question their leadership more than ever before.
The scandal also left a huge impact on the country’s consciousness that many political scandals have been often labelled with the suffix -gate. The phrase ‘follow the money’ has also become a common lexicon in criminal dealings as it would generally lead to the culprit.
& the Vietnam War
Meanwhile, South Vietnam lost its guarantor of the Paris Peace Accords. Nixon’s resignation was such a serious blow for South Vietnamese government who had already endured a 50% aid reduction due to the increasing political difficulties in the U.S. during 1973-1974. The Congress who had forbidden any further U.S. intervention in Indochina in July 1974 continued to reject additional $300 million aid request of President Ford in March 1975 even when South Vietnam was on the verge of collapsing.
Apparently, the Watergate Scandal had indirectly contributed heavily to the rapid collapse of South Vietnam in early 1975 and the eventual fall of the country on April 30.