The Watergate Scandal

The Watergate scandal is one of the most influential political scandals in American history. It directly led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon and resulted in many Americans developing a more cynical attitude in regards to politicians and American politics in general.

The scandal stemmed from the Nixon administration's attempts to cover up its involvement in the June 17, 1972 failed break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Washington, D.C. Watergate Office Building. Five burglars were caught and arrested for the break-in. Investigative reporters and members of the Justice Department connected the cash found on them at the time to Nixon's re-election campaign committee.

Further investigations, along with revelations during the trials of the burglars, led the House of Representatives to grant its judiciary committee additional investigation authority to probe into the scandal and the Senate to create a special investigative committee. The Senate Watergate hearings were broadcast nationwide by and aroused further public interest. Witnesses testified that President Nixon had approved plans to cover up involvement in the break-in, and that there was a voice-activated taping system in the Oval Office. Throughout the investigation, the administration resisted attempts to further the investigation, which led to a constitutional crisis.

Several major revelations and egregious presidential action against the investigation later in 1973 prompted the House to commence an impeachment process against Nixon. The Supreme Court ordered Nixon to release Oval Office tape recordings to government investigators. The tapes revealed that Nixon had conspired to cover up activities that took place after the break-in and had attempted to use federal officials to deflect the investigation.

The House Judiciary Committee then approved articles of impeachment against Nixon for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. With his complicity in the cover-up made public and his political support completely eroded, Nixon resigned from office on August 9, 1974. It is believed that, had he not done so, he would have been impeached by the House and removed from office by a trial in the Senate. He is the only U.S. president to have resigned from office. On September 8, 1974, Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned him.

There were 69 people indicted and 48 people—many of them top Nixon administration officials—convicted throughout the scandal. Eventually an array of clandestine and often illegal activities undertaken by members of the Nixon administration were revealed, including bugging the offices of political opponents and people of whom Nixon or his officials were suspicious; ordering investigations of activist groups and political figures; and using the FBI, CIA, and IRS as political weapons.