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On June 17, 1972, five intruders were arrested at Washington’s Watergate hotel and apartment complex inside the office of the Democratic National Committee. The indictment of the burglars and the subsequent investigation of the break-in unraveled a web of political spying and sabotage, bribery, and the illegal use of campaign funds. The disclosure of these activities, and the administration’s cover-up, resulted in the indictments of some 40 government officials and the resignation of the president (Westerfled 2).
Early that fateful Saturday morning, a security guard at the Watergate complex alerted police when he noticed a stairwell door lock had been taped in the open position. Three officers responded and it turned out the trespassers had come to adjust bugging equipment they had installed during a May break-in and to photograph the Democrats’ documents (Gold 75).
These five men were indicated in September 1972 on charges of burglary, conspiracy and wire-tapping. Four months later they were convicted and sentenced to prison terms by District Court Judge John Sirica (Gold 86). The judge was convinced that relevant details had not been unveiled during the trial and offered leniency in exchange for further information. As the interrogations dragged on, it became increasingly evident that the Watergate burglars were tied closely to the Central Intelligence Agency and the Committee to Re-Elect the President (Watergate 1).
During the hearings, the grand jury also gave Judge Sirica a sealed report believed to deal with Nixon’s role in the cover-up, with the recommendation that it be forwarded to the House Judiciary Committee for inclusion in its investigation. The grand jury’s account of the alleged conspiracy followed the damaging testimony offered to the Senate Watergate committee in 1973 by several witnesses, especially former White House counsel John Dean, who had pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and was cooperating with the prosecution. Dean had told the Watergate committee that on March 13, 1973, the president had told him it would be no problem to raise the $1 million that it might cost to buy the silence of the Watergate defendants (Trial 1). Dean also revealed that his meetings with Nixon had probably been recorded.
It was at this time that the infamous Deep Throat contacted Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. Woodward, along with his partner Carl Bernstein, described their source as holding an extremely sensitive position in the executive branch, and as one “who could be contacted only on very important occasions.”
To this day, Bernstein has kept his promise to maintain the anonymity of his agent (Deep 1).
President Nixon s downfall began with his appointment of Archibald Cox as special prosecutor. Soon after Dean s revelations about the recordings, Judge Sirica ordered the White House to hand over the recordings which had been subpoenaed by Cox. Nixon ordered Cox not to subpoena any more tapes, although Cox said he would do so. Cox also told him that if he refused he would find Nixon in contempt of the court. The president retaliated by ordering the firing of Cox. The public was outraged, and Nixon was forced to appoint another prosecutor. Contrary to the chief s wishes, Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski continued to subpoena the tapes (Watergate 1).
The tapes that were eventually handed over exposed the attempted cover up involving the White House. The technical analysts who were charged with the listening of the tapes discovered an 18-minute gap in a conversation between Nixon and a top CIA official, and further investigation revealed the tapes had been tampered with. The nation lost even more faith in their president.
Jaworski subpoenaed the rest of the tapes, and the White House also supplied a typed manuscript. The contents of the 18-minute gap where exposed: Nixon had tried to cease the FBI s investigation of Watergate. The Senate Watergate Committee moved for impeachment in a vote of 27-11, enabling three articles of impeachment on the basis that the president had violated his oath to hold up the law (Watergate 1).
Rather than face impeachment, Nixon decided to resign on the coaxing of his advisors. His resignation went into effect at noon, August 9, 1974.
The Watergate Scandal had a huge effect on society in general. Some commentators attribute the increased level of cynicism about politics to the Watergate affair. The media became more confident and aggressive, establishing investigative reporter units. A new wave of Democratic congressmen was elected in 1976 and there are dramatic changes in the composition of committee chairmanships. Many of Nixon’s subordinates are jailed, some discover religion, and others write books. Finally, political scandals are termed “–gate”.
Deep Throat Suspects
Gold, Gerald. Watergate hearings.
New York: Bantam books, 1978.
Westerfled, Scott. Watergate.
Englewood Cliffs: Silber Burdett, 1991.
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