The Watergate Affair

The Watergate affair was the most significant scandal in United States governmental history. Watergate is defined as a scandal involving abuse of power by public officials, violation of the public trust, and attempted obstruction of justice. The Watergate scandal is named after the building complex in Washington D.C., which was the site of the illegal activities that took place in 1972. In this essay I will explain what Watergate was, a few of the key players (many too numerous to mention), and the end result of the people involved.

Watergate all started on June 17, 1972 when five men attempted to break in to the Democratic national headquarters in Washington’s Watergate complex. The men were arrested after police were notified from a security guard, and were in possession of cameras and electronic surveillance equipment. They were suspected of attempting to tap the telephones there in order to gain the upper-hand information of the Democratic campaign. The men were tried and convicted in a federal court, but the judge, John Sirica suspected the major cover-up of a possible national conspiracy. Sirica later received a letter from one of the burglars, James McCord which stated that there was definitely a cover-up. This letter led to a nationwide eruption and the trust and tolerance for politicians greatly declined.

The five burglars were sent to jail in January of 1973. White House counsel John Dean attempted to buy the men’s silence with 400,000 dollars of “hush” money and the possibility of presidential pardons. Instead the burglars began to talk and the Nixon administration was being pushed against a wall. A separate committee was started to investigate and John Dean began to sweat. Dean told Nixon that (in my revised words) “We’re in deep crap”. Nixon sensed that his high officials were going to break at any moment so he fired Dean, chief domestic advisor John Ehrlichman, and White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman.

Televised hearings later followed and the whole dirt was brought out. John Dean, the former White House counsel, stated in court that members of the Nixon administration, notably Attorney General John Mitchell, had known of the burglary. The hearings also revealed the Nixon has previously taped conversations in the Oval Office, and when the special prosecutor Archibald Cox requested these tapes, Nixon fired him. Cox made great strides in uncovering major evidence of a political espionage by the Nixon administration. He uncovered evidence of bribery for corporate contributions to Nixon in return for political favors, and illegal wiretapping of citizens. The uncovering of the corporate contributions led to the passing of the Election Reform Act which limits a candidate to spending 20 million dollars on a bid for election or re-election. It also regulated the amount an individual may contribute to campaign funds to 1,000 dollars.

During the investigation, the testimony of White House aide Alexander Butterfield really created a light for the prosecution. Butterfield told the committee that Nixon had ordered that a taping system to be installed in the White House to record all conversations. These are the events that led to Coxs dismissal. After Butterfield’s testimony, Cox demanded eight relevant tapes in which Nixon refused to hand over. His excuse was that the tapes were vital to national security. (The only thing they were vital to was the skin on his rear end) Nixon then told Attorney General Elliot Richardson to dismiss Cox, but Richardson refused and resigned, as did Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus. Cox’s successor, Leon Jaworski was appointed by Nixon and was given the tapes, and Jaworski gave the tapes to Judge Sirica. Some of the tapes were missing and one of the tapes had a mysterious 18½ minute gap. The gap was part of five separate erasures.

Although the tapes, the break-in, and the cover up were a large part of the Watergate affair, they were not all of it. During Nixon’s term the government was very secretive and this was a result of Nixon’s ways. Before all of the break-in stories, there were other issues questioning Nixon’s morals. In 1969 there was an article in the New York Times talking about a secret bombing of Cambodia. So illegally the FBI taped conversations secretly of some National Security Council members, in which the source was never found.