Editors Note: We're blogging through We Didn't Start the Fire by Billy Joel.
Watergate was a politically-motivated break-in of the Watergate complex, and the fall-out following it. The evening of May 28, 1972, former CIA officer and current CRP (Committee to Re-Elect the President) member James McCord and a team of burglars successfully installed wiretapping devices in the phones of the Democratic National Committee’s offices in the Watergate Complex, entering and exiting without being detected.
However, the committee soon decided that the devices needed repairing. The team was recalled, and another break-in was planned. This time, the team was discovered and arrested.
Less than a day after the arrest, the name and number of E. Howard Hunter, top CIA officer, was found in two of the burglars’ address books. One of the burglars was discovered to have a $25,000 check from the re-election campaign. As the trail of money was followed, it was discovered that the CRP had funded the break-in. Even with this scandal starting to bubble, president Nixon was re-elected in a landslide in November 1972.
The press, however, was not going to let this go. Washington Post reporters discovered that knowledge of the break-in and its origin led deep into all branches of the government. Nixon’s bookkeeper revealed misuse of funds and destruction of records. An anonymous sources, nicknamed “Deep Throat”, revealed a lot of further information around the break-in.
Even after the burglars were sentenced in 1973, the scandal just kept snowballing. President Nixon finally began attempting to cover-up the cover-up. He began taping conversations about Watergate. If any of his aids learned about it, he began asking for their resignations.
The Senate voted to establish a committee to investigate the situation in February 1973. The hearings lasted for over 2 /12 months - all of which was televised. In one important interview, a White House assistant was asked if there was any sort of recording system in the White House. The assistant reluctantly answered yes - a system that automatically recorded everything in the Oval Office and Cabinet Room. Special prosecutor Archibald Cox and the committee instantly subpoenaed the tapes, but Nixon refused to release them and ordered the committee to drop the subpoena - which was refused.
Nixon then ordered Cox fired. The first two people who he ordered refused and resigned. Nixon finally found someone who would fire Cox. This immediately created an uproar, and Nixon was forced to address the issue in public, saying “I’m not a crook”. Shortly after, more than 11 former aids were convicted of crimes around Watergate.
Finally, some of the transcripts were released. Vulgarity was censored out, and any of the tapes publicly released had secure topics censored as well. However, many people said all of the tapes should have been released in their entirety. the contents of the tapes were a bit disturbing. The tapes seemed to show Nixon in a very bad light, with the vulgarity and all around tones he spoke in.
The tapes revealed quite a bit about the Watergate break-in, including how much the President knew about it. Conversations topics included hush money payouts and discussions of obstructions of justice. It was also discovered that quite a bit of tape had been erased.
Impeachment of Nixon began on February 6, 1974. Three articles of impeachment were drawn up - obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. A final tape was released on August 5, 1974, revealing cover-up plans, payouts, and threats.
This tape led to Nixon’s resignation on August 8. He was replaced by Gerald R. Ford, who, in a very unpopular move, fully pardoned Nixon. Nixon continued to proclaim his innocence until his death.