The Watergate Scandal and the Resignation of President Richard Nixon
The Watergate Scandal and crisis that rocked the United States began on the early morning of June 17, 1972 with a small-scale burglary and it ended August 9, 1974 with the resignation of Republican President Richard Milhous Nixon. At approximately 2:30 in the morning of June 17, 1972, five burglars were discovered inside the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate office building in Washington DC. The burglars, who had been attempting to tap the headquarters’ phone were linked to Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP). Over the next few months, what had began as a minor break-in quickly escalated into a full-blown political scandal. It was the cover-up, not the actual break-in that led to Nixon’s downfall and the start of a period of distrust of the government by the American people.
Long before the Watergate break-in, the Nixon administration had been very careful, almost paranoid, about their public image, and did everything they could to avoid unfavorable publicity. In fact, paranoia was a characteristic of Nixon furthered by the public’s criticism of his policies regarding the Vietnam War. That atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion was fueled by the leaking of the Pentagon Papers, defense department documents concerning the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, which were leaked to the New York Times by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971. (Bernstein and Woodward 165) Shortly after the publication of the Pentagon Papers, Nixon established a White House special investigations unit to trace and stop any further leaks to the press. This special investigations unit was nicknamed the “Plumbers” and was headed by two of the Presidents men, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt. (Bernstein and Woodward 207) In an attempt to stop news leaks, the Plumbers investigated the private lives of Nixon’s enemies and critics. The White House rationalized any illegal actions by the Plumbers as protecting national security. However, the motivating factor for these illegal actions was actually to protect Nixon’s public image as well as his political survival.
In 1972, the Committee to Re-Elect the President was formed and Jeb Stuart Magruder became the Director. In December of 1972, Nixon appointed G. Gordon Liddy as general counsel to CREEP. The Committee played “dirty tricks” on Nixon’s opponents and in one instance, single-handedly ruined the Democratic frontrunner Edmund Muskie’s presidential campaign by making damaging charges again Muskie and his wife in 1971. (Bernstein and Woodward 114) Liddy was behind most of CREEP’s political tricks and illegal activities and in 1972 he proposed a huge intelligence operation against the Democrats, illegally funded by CREEP’s campaign funds. This operation included plans for a small-scale burglary of the Democratic National Headquarters, located in the Watergate office complex. Magruder, who had been given the...