The Watergate Crisis Essay, Research Paper
Richard Nixon’s presidency is one of the most examined,
analyzed and discussed, yet least understood, of all the
American administrations in history (Genovese 1). While
many factors still remain to be discovered, and many
mysteries are left to be resolved, we need to do the best that
we can to make sense of this secretive president of our past
and his era. He is the one American figure about whom very
few people don’t have strong feelings for. Nixon is loved and
hated, honored and mocked (Genovese 2).
The term ‘Watergate’, labeled by Congress in 1974, stands for
not only the burglary, but also for the numerous instances of
officially sanctioned criminal activity and abuses of power as
well as the obstruction of justice that preceded the actual
break-in (Kutler 9). Watergate involved the political behavior of
the President and his men, beginning during Nixon’s first term
and extending to his resignation. Some of the criminal
behavior was a result of the disastrous events of the 1960’s.
These events include the civil rights movement, the controlling
of cities and most importantly, the Vietnam War (Kutler 9). In
H. R. Haldeman’s book The Ends of Power, he quotes, ‘I
firmly believe that without the Vietnam War, there would’ve
been no Watergate’ (Haldeman 79). He goes on to say that
the Vietnam War destroyed Nixon as completely as it ruined
Originating in Kennedy’s term, Vietnam grew to be even more
of a disaster after his assassination. The tidal wave of
problems crashed abruptly on Johnson, who consequently
made them worse. The American society was dividing.
Furious protests made Johnson portray a scapegoat for the
nation’s anxieties (Kutler 10). Then Nixon stepped into the
picture in the presidential elections of 1968. He was
successful with 43.6 percent over Humprey’s 42.7 percent
and Wallace’s 13.5 percent (Genovese 6). He promised that
he would "bring us together". The riots grew and the divisions
The day it all began was a Sunday, May 28, 1972. The
contrasts that were taking place on this day were
extraordinary. President Richard Nixon was in Moscow,
nearing the climax of the first-ever summit to be held between
American and Soviet Presidents (Emery 3). Five thousand
miles away, in Washington, D.C., it was a different story.
There was also a first-time event happening in our nation’s
capital, but it was not something to be proud of. The first of
several illegal break-ins into the Democratic National
Committee (DNC) headquarters in the Watergate Complex
was in effect (Emery 3).
In Moscow, Nixon was planning a television speech to
present to the Russian people, a speech that would be
considered one of his best. It was an inspiring speech that
would remove the fear that he believed restrained the
Americans and the Soviets from better relationships in the
past. Meanwhile, in Washington, the President’s election staff
was overcome with a different fear. Despite Nixon’s high
standing position for being reelected, his CREEP staff
(Committee to Reelect the President) was afraid that they
might not have as much ‘dirt’ on Nixon’s opponents as they
had on Nixon. The President laid upon his staff the
determination to do whatever possible to win the election
With this approval, Nixon’s staff, headed by G. Gordon Liddy,
began planning more ways of attaining information from the
DNC. What they named the ‘Plumbers unit’ was established
as a special task force for the President. The Plumbers’
purpose was to keep any secret information from being
discovered by reporters. In one situation, wearing CIA
provided disguises, they illegally broke into Dr. Field’s office,
a psychiatrist, for information on a patient, Daniel Ellsberg,
who had given private Pentagon papers to the New York
Times (Hargrove 25). It turned out that the doctor had already
been visited by the FBI and, taking precaution, removed the
The White House also came up with an adversary list. Every
President from Washington to Johnson has had his list of
disapprovals, but Nixon’s was much more efficient and
threatening (White 152). The list originated on Charles
Colson’s desk, a White House mentor, and then was
circulated by John W. Dean III through the members of the
underground. John Dean was the White House attorney at the
time. The list’s total came to over three hundred names, the
prime list to twenty, in no specific order (White 152).
On June 17th, after several break-ins, police arrested five
burglars found in the offices of Larry O’Brien, the Democratic
National Chairman, at the Watergate complex. President
Nixon, immediately after hearing of the break-in, appointed a
top aide, John Ehrlichman, to uncover everything he could
about the break-in and denied any involvement (Kilian 119).
Among those arrested were Gordon Liddy, Howard Hunt, a
spy for the CIA, and James W. McCord, a CIA agent who was
hired by Nixon to be a security coordinator for his reelection
committee. Liddy, Hunt and the burglars all pleaded not guilty
and were released on bond. The police also turned up $4,500
in brand new one-hundred dollar bills, bugging equipment,
small tear-gas guns, cameras, rolls of unexposed film,
burglary tools and walkie-talkies. The motive of the burglary
was obviously to spy on Democratic headquarters and the
burglars were apparently getting paid for the duty (Hargrove
8). After this incident, Liddy, who put together the plan that
eventually became Watergate, told Dean that he was willing
to be shot if it would help matters (Kilian 119). Nixon then
fired Liddy from his job with the reelection committee.
The next advancement in the case was on August 1st, 1972.
On this day, the Washington Post revealed that a $25,000
check had been deposited into the bank account of one of the
burglars. It also contributed to President Nixon’s reelection
campaign. In the following eight months, over $400,000 in
cash was paid under the table to the burglars (Ben-Veniste
53). The people involved in these payments used code names
such as "the writer", the money was "the script", and the
other burglars were "the players". They communicated only
by pay phone and left the money for the burglars or their
lawyers in "dead drops" on top of pay phones or in luggage
lockers at National Airports. The burglars and lawyers kept
demanding money until the point where there was none left.
John Dean then received Haldeman’s, Nixon’s chief of staff,
permission to use a secret $350,000 White House fund. The
hush money was continually paid until the evening of March
21st, 1973, when the last amount of $75,000 was handed over.
Meanwhile, in the White House, on November 7, 1972,
President Nixon had been reelected, winning in a landslide
against Democrat Senator George McGovern. In every state
in the Union, except for one, Nixon had prevailed (White 169).
He had swept the nation, everyone from Catholics to
Protestants, and farmers to businessmen. Nixon could
invision a world of change at his fingertips – in housing, in tax
structure, in welfare and in race-relations. He wanted to
achieve what he had already achieved in foreign affairs, but he
knew it would be difficult.
On January 8, 1973 the trial of the Watergate burglars opened
in the courtroom of the District Judge John J. Sirica (Kilian
120). Howard Hunt, right off the bat, pleaded guilty and four of
the five burglars followed his lead. The jury found Liddy and
James McCord, a CIA agent, guilty of conspiracy, illegal
wiretapping and burglary. They were the only two that did not
plead guilty. McCord later stated that he had been pressured
to plead guilty and to remain silent about others involved
Judge Sirica was dissatisfied with the findings. He felt that
there was much more going on than was being told. The
Senate’s feeling was mutual and voted to create a Senate
Select Committee to investigate the affair. They chose
Democratic Senator Sam Ervin to head the committee and
immediately began diligently working on the case.
In the meantime, Judge Sirica received an envelope from
James McCord. The envelope contained two letters. The first
was a duplicate of a letter that McCord had sent to the New
York Times denying an article linking him to the ’strong arm
tactics’ that they had published the day prior. The second
letter was addressed to the Judge himself. At the finish of the
message, McCord wrote:
"Be that as it may, in the interest of restoring faith in
the criminal justice system which faith had been
severely damaged in this case I will state the
following to you at this time which I hope may be a
help to you in meting out justice in this case."
"1. There was political pressure applied to the
defendants to plead guilty and remain silent.
"2. Perjury occurred during the trial of matters highly
material to the very structure, orientation and impact
of the government’s case and to the motivation of
and the intent of the defendants.
"3. Others involved in Watergate were not identified
in the trial when they could’ve been by those
"4. The Watergate operation was not a CIA
operation. I know for a fact that it was not.
"5. Some statements were unfortunately made by a
witness witch left the Court with the impression that
he was stating untruths or withholding facts of his
knowledge when in fact only honest errors were
"6. My motivations were different than those of
others involved but were not limited to or simply
those offered in my defense during the trial. This is
not the fault of my attorneys but of the circumstances
under which we had to prepare my defense.
"The statements are true and correct to the best of
my knowledge and belief (Sirica 96)."
This letter indicated that McCord was willing
to break the silence that had frustrated
millions of people since the crime itself.
James McCord also indicated within the
letter that the cover up was so extensive that
he didn’t even trust the FBI or the
prosecutors (Sirica 97).
The only doubt that Judge Sirica had was
about the statement implying that the CIA
had no part in the scandal. McCord had
been a CIA employee for nineteen years and
was fiercely dedicated to his job. In
December of 1972 he had threatened the
White House that if they continued to blame
the CIA "every tree in the forest will fall. It will
be a scorched desert." Judge Sirica doubted
that he would ever admit the CIA’s
involvement even if they had taken part
Deeper into the trial, the Court learned that
the FBI investigation had all along been
carefully limited and monitored by the White
House. They also learned that some of the
officials in Nixon’s campaign had lied before
As the trial progressed, on July 16, 1973, a
White House aide, Alexander Butterfield,
revealed that President Nixon had all of the
White House conversations tape-recorded
since 1970 (Kilian 121). The Senate
Investigation Committee and Special
Prosecutor Archibald Cox immediately wrote
letters requesting to hear the tapes.
President Nixon initially refused to present
them but then was forced by Judge Sirica to
hand them over. The tapes, when eventually
given to the White House, contained an
eighteen minute, fifteen second gap that was
recorded three days after the Watergate
break in. The White House, under pressure
to release the tapes, copied down the
conversations on the recordings and
released the transcripts publicly (Kilian 123).
The House Judiciary Committee told the
President that the transcripts were not
enough but he still refused to turn them over.
In return, they approved three articles of
impeachment that accused the President of
abuse of power, obstructing justice in the
Watergate case and defying subpoenas for
the Watergate tapes.
On July 30, 1974 the President turned over
eleven of the sixty-four conversations to
Judge Sirica, and on August 2nd he
submitted thirteen more. Knowing that his
status was quickly deteriorating, President
Nixon made three transcripts of
conversations that he had had with H.R.
Haldemen on June 23,1972, public. The
conversations showed that Nixon tried to get
the CIA to restrain the FBI from investigating
the scandal (Kilian 23). On August 8, 1974
President Nixon resigned from office.
The next day at 12:03 p.m. Gerald Ford was
formally sworn in as President by chief
justice Warren Burger. Ford stated, "Our
long, national nightmare is over, Our
Constitution works. Our great republic is a
government of laws and not of men. Here,
the people rule (Kilian 110)."
The Watergate Scandal caused national
turmoil. Americans, as well as other
countries, lost faith in the United States and
its leaders. Nevertheless, the affair proved
that the American government works.
Watergate revealed Nixon at his worst. He
had many great accomplishments during his
presidency and set many great examples.
Unfortunately, none were part of Watergate
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Real Story of the
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Emery, Fred. Watergate. New York: Times Books, 1994.
Genovese, Michael A. The Nixon Presidency: Power and Politics in
Turbulent Times. London: Greenwood Press, 1990.
Haldeman, H.R. The Ends of Power. New York: Times Books, 1978.
Hargrove, Jim. The Story of Watergate. Chicago: Children’s Press,
Kilian, Pamela. What was Watergate? New York: St. Martin’s Press,
Kutler, Stanley I. The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of
Richard Nixon. New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.
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