President Richard M Nixon Essay Research Paper

President Richard M. Nixon Essay, Research Paper

Watergate, designation of a major U.S. political scandal that began with the burglary

and wiretapping of the Democratic party’s campaign headquarters, later engulfed

President Richard M. Nixon and many of his supporters in a variety of illegal acts, and

culminated in the first resignation of a U.S. president.

The burglary was committed on June 17, 1972, by five men who were caught in the

offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate apartment and office

complex in Washington, D.C. Their arrest eventually uncovered a White

House-sponsored plan of espionage against political opponents and a trail of complicity

that led to many of the highest officials in the land, including former U.S. Attorney

General John Mitchell, White House Counsel John Dean, White House Chief of Staff H.

R. Haldeman, White House Special Assistant on Domestic Affairs John Ehrlichman, and

President Nixon himself.

On April 30, 1973, nearly a year after the burglary and arrest and following a grand jury

investigation of the burglary, Nixon accepted the resignation of Haldeman and

Ehrlichman and announced the dismissal of Dean. U.S. Attorney General Richard

Kleindienst resigned as well. The new attorney general, Elliot Richardson, appointed a

special prosecutor, Harvard Law School professor Archibald Cox, to conduct a full-scale

investigation of the Watergate break-in.

In May 1973 the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Activities opened hearings,

with Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina as chairman. A series of startling revelations

followed. Dean testified that Mitchell had ordered the break-in and that a major attempt

was under way to hide White House involvement. He claimed that the president had

authorized payments to the burglars to keep them quiet. The Nixon administration

vehemently denied this assertion.

The White House Tapes

The testimony of White House aide Alexander Butterfield unlocked the entire

investigation. On July 16, 1973, Butterfield told the committee, on nationwide

television, that Nixon had ordered a taping system installed in the White House to

automatically record all conversations; what the president said and when he said it

could be verified. Cox immediately subpoenaed eight relevant tapes to confirm Dean’s

testimony. Nixon refused to release the tapes, claiming they were vital to the national

security. U.S. District Court Judge John Sirica ruled that Nixon must give the tapes to

Cox, and an appeals court upheld the decision.

Nixon held firm. He refused to turn over the tapes and, on Saturday, October 20, 1973,

ordered Richardson to dismiss Cox. Richardson refused and resigned instead, as did

Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus. Finally, the solicitor general discharged


A storm of public protest resulted from this Saturday night massacre. In response,

Nixon appointed another special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, a Texas lawyer, and gave

the tapes to Sirica. Some subpoenaed conversations were missing, and one tape had a

mysterious gap of 181 minutes. Experts determined that the gap was the result of five

separate erasures.

In March 1974 a grand jury indicted Mitchell, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and four other

White House officials for their part in the Watergate cover-up and named Nixon as an

unindicted co-conspirator. The following month Jaworski requested and Nixon

released written transcripts of 42 more tapes. The conversations revealed an

overwhelming concern with punishing political opponents and thwarting the Watergate


In May 1974 Jaworski requested 64 more tapes as evidence in the criminal cases

against the indicted officials. Nixon refused; on July 24, the Supreme Court voted 8-0

that Nixon must turn over the tapes.

On July 29-30, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of

impeachment, charging Nixon with misusing his power in order to violate the

constitutional rights of U.S. citizens, obstructing justice in the Watergate affair, and

defying Judiciary Committee subpoenas.

Further Revelations

Soon after the Watergate scandal came to light, investigators uncovered a related group

of illegal activities: Since 1971 a White House group called the plumbers had been

doing whatever was necessary to stop leaks to the press. A grand jury indicted

Ehrlichman, White House Special Counsel Charles Colson, and others for organizing a

break-in and burglary in 1971 of a psychiatrist’s office to obtain damaging material

against Daniel Ellsberg, who had publicized classified documents called the Pentagon


Investigators also discovered that the Nixon administration had solicited large sums of

money in illegal campaign contributions used to finance political espionage and to pay

more than $500,000 to the Watergate burglars and that certain administration

officials had systematically lied about their involvement in the break-in and cover-up. In

addition, White House aides testified that in 1972 they had falsified documents to make

it appear that President John F. Kennedy had been involved in the 1963 assassination

of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam, and had written false and slanderous

documents accusing Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of moral improprieties.

Nixon’s Resignation

Throughout this period of revelations, Nixon’s support in Congress and popularity

nationwide steadily eroded. On August 5, 1974, three tapes revealed that Nixon had, on

June 23, 1972, ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigation to stop investigating the

Watergate break-in. The tapes also showed that Nixon himself had helped to direct the

cover-up of the administration’s involvement in the affair.

Rather than face almost certain impeachment, Nixon resigned on August 9, the first

U.S. president to do so. A month later his successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned him for all

crimes he might have committed while in office; Nixon was then immune from federal


The Watergate scandal severely shook the faith of the American people in the

presidency and turned out to be a supreme test for the U.S. Constitution. Throughout

the ordeal, however, the constitutional system of checks and balances worked to

prevent abuses, as the Founding Fathers had intended. Watergate showed that in a

nation of laws no one is above the law, not even the president.


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