The start of the Watergate scandal began with a break-in in June 1972 into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters post, which initiated an investigation which in turn led to revelations about the times of abuse of power by the Nixon Administration.
It was no less than an extraordinary robbery when a few burglars were arrested on the morning of June 17, 1972, in the office of the DNC, located in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. The prowlers were caught stealing documents and wiretapping phones during the then-President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign.
Dating back to the time when this happened, the United States was in a state of distress. Embroiled in the Vietnam War, the country was deeply divided and it led the way for a hostile political climate. A well-strategized aggressive presidential campaign was hence, the necessity. Not long enough was it found out that some of these aggressive tactics included illegal espionage. In May 1972, some members of the Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President illegally broke into the Democratic National Committee’s Watergate headquarters and stole some very confidential, top-secret documents and concealed a miniature microphone to eavesdrop. Despite their efforts to bug the office’s phone, the wiretaps failed to work in the manner the Nixon’s Committee wanted them to and so began the fall of the then-President.
To alter the wiretaps, a group of five burglars broke into the Watergate building again. As they were about to break into the office with a new microphone to set it up to help the Nixon’s Committee eavesdrop, luckily enough, a security guard noticed that someone had had a hand with some of the building’s door locks. The guard immediately called the police who, to everyone’s surprise, arrived just in time to catch the prowlers red-handed. It was obviously not immediately proved that they were all a part of the bigger conspiracy by the re-election committee.
Despite taking immediate remedial actions to cover it up, reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein from the Washington Post brought to light what he was desperately trying to hide in the infamous and the seemingly fortunate night of the Watergate Scandal. Most of their information came from the anonymous, “Deep Throat” who was revealed to be W. Mark Felt, a former associate director of the FBI, in 2005.
During the break-in, Felt was second-in-command at the FBI. However, after being suspicious of the conspiracy and sure that the White House is uncooperative and would guard Nixon’s secret, Felt leaked the information to the Washington reporters. Nixon and the White House claimed their report to be a witch-hunt. Still, it helped in escalating the investigations.
Although questions were put up when the detectives found out that among the burglars’ belongings were also some copies of the re-election committee’s White House phone number but all the doubts were apparently made clear when Nixon, in an August 1972 speech, swore that his White House staff was not at all involved in the scandal. The predictable proved to be the reality and Nixon was re-elected as the President in a landslide victory, to no-one’s surprise.
In his effort to obstruct justice, Nixon arranged huge sums of “hush money” for the burglars. He also planned to direct the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA, to impede the investigation of the crime by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was more than about just breaking-in. It was about the misuse of the power of the president, of someone who was elected by the people for themselves based on the trust and the credibility he had established. It was about a deliberate obstruction of justice.
Out of the seven conspirators who were indicted during the initial investigation, five pleaded guilty at the desire of Nixon’s aides, and the other two were convicted in January 1973. At the same time, some members of a Senate investigating committee, the Washington Post reporters, and a trial judge John J. Sirica had begun suspecting of a possibility of the bigger conspiracy beyond the veil put up by Nixon.
Meanwhile, some of the conspirators were cracked under the pressure. One of them, the White House counsel, John Deal, confessed before the grand jury about what all had been happening. Other aides confessed that Nixon had tapes of every conversation that had happened in the Oval Office. If only the prosecutors could get those tapes, the case would have been solved. Obviously, it was not that easy. Even though Nixon managed to juggle the tapes by himself through most of 1973, Judge Sirica, the Senate committee, and an independent special prosecutor named Archibald Cox were all in to grab those. When none of them, especially Cox, gave up on the tapes, Nixon released an order to fire him on October 20, 1973. This in turn led several other officials of the Judiciary to resign as a mark of protest.
Telegrams were sent to Washington by more than 50,000 concerned citizens. Around 21 members of Congress introduced resolutions calling for Nixon’s impeachment. This episode of the Watergate scandal came to be known as the “Saturday Night Massacre”. In early 1974, history began to unravel. The efforts to hinder and delay the investigation were brought out in public. On March 1, a grand jury appointed a new special prosecutor, indicted seven of the former Nixon’s aides. Unsure of indicting a sitting president, they called Nixon an “unindicted co-conspirator”.
Finally, in July, Nixon was ordered to release the tapes by the Supreme Court and the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of impeaching Nixon. Notwithstanding, it was not before August 5 that Nixon released the tapes. This provided an inevitable, undeniable, and true evidence of his involvement in the scandal. On August 8, when on the face of Nixon was an almost certain impeachment, he resigned and left the office the next day. Even though Nixon never admitted to doing anything wrong or illegal, he chose to acknowledge it as a matter of his poor judgment. But some of his not-so-lucky aides were sent to the Federal Prison.
Turned out that the efforts of Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, and W. Mark Felt did not go in vain. It was this scandal and their reporting on the same that won them a Pulitzer Prize and was the basis for their best-selling book “All the President’s Men.”
This scandal added to the atmosphere of cynicism and distrust among the people with regard to the political environment.