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For many people, the first word that comes to mind when they think about the Nixon administration is Watergate, the political scandal the scarred the sacredness of the White House during the 1970’s. Was Watergate necessary, and did he need to be so paranoid about others? Did Nixon have a choice in resigning? Watergate was an unnecessary event that led to Richard Nixon’s downfall.
“On June 17, 1972, five men, including CIA agent James McCord were arrested in the burglary of the Democratic party headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington, D.C.” “The Post Investigates.” Later that year, the Federal Grand Jury indicted these five men for their involvement in the Watergate burglary. Less than two months later, Richard Nixon was reelected President in an unprecedented landslide over George McGovern, the Democratic candidate. At the end of January the following year, James McCord and Gordon Liddy were convicted of illegally wiretapping the Democrats Watergate apartments, (“The Watergate Decade”).
Prior to the indictments, the story of the burglary intrigued two Washington Post reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. Bernstein and Woodward learned through a security aide, that James McCord, an employee on the payroll of Nixon’s reelection committee, was among those arrested.
Within a few weeks, Woodward and Bernstein reported that the Grand Jury investigating the burglary had sought testimony from two men who had worked in the Nixon White House, former CIA officer E. Howard Hunt and former FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy. Both men would ultimately be indicted for guiding the burglars, via walkie-talkies, from the hotel room opposite the Watergate building. (“The Post Investigates”)
Later on, Bernstein found out that former Secretary of Commerce Maurice Stans deposited $25,000 of Nixon’s reelection campaign funds into a bank account for one of the burglars. This was the first time information actually linked Nixon to the crime. As Bernstein and Woodward pursued the story further, they deeply relied on Mark Felt, a high level FBI official who sought over the FBI files on the Break in as a confidential source. Felt’s access to these reports allowed him to confirm or deny what sources were telling Bernstein and Woodward, and he could also let them know what leads to pursue. This man came to be known as “Deep Throat,” the reliable source who has been personified as a hero for his help in making the Nixon scandal public.
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By April 1973, the Watergate scandal had spread far beyond the original burglary, and, by that summer of 1973, Watergate had become a full-blown national scandal.
It was revealed that Watergate burglars, Hunt and Liddy, had broken into the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, the former Defense Department analyst who gave the top-secret Pentagon papers to the New York Times. Seeking information to discredit Ellsberg, they found nothing and left undetected.” John Dean, a white house lawyer was the first person to break the news of the Nixon White House. (“Dean Alleges Nixon Knew of Cover-up Plans,”)
“The most sensational revelation came in July 1973, when white House aide Alexander Butterfield told the committee that Nixon had a secret taping system that recorded his phone conversations in the Oval Office” (“The Government Acts.”) Nixon refused to release the tapes, and the White House stating “executive privilege” refused to comply with subpoenas to release the tapes. Executive Privilege is “the doctrine that the president, as chief executive, is entitled to candid and confidential advice from aides” (“The Government Acts.”) This brought on a major constitutional struggle between a President and a Senate committee and Prosecutor who was determined to get the tapes. After countless meetings, however, Nixon agreed to release written summaries of the taped conversations. Attorney General Richardson was ordered to fire Archibald Cox, a federal prosecutor. In an attempt to avoid a full-blown trial and possibly have to hand over the complete tapes all together. “ Richardson decided to resign instead of carrying out the order, as did Nixon’s top deputy Williams Ruckelshaus” (“The Watergate Decade.”) Solicitor General Robert Bork became the acting Attorney General and fired Cox. “These firings were dubbed ‘the Saturday Night Massacre,’ and ignited a firestorm in Washington, with people calling for impeachment,” (“The Government Acts.”)
Nixon’s reputation, which already being questioned, was soon damaged even further. “On November 20, 1973, one of his lawyers informed a federal judge that one of the key tapes sought by investigators contained an 18-minute erasure that White House official had trouble explaining,” (The Government Acts). This put a huge crack in Nixon’s defense. Since the tapes would most likely prove or disprove the accusations against him, the existence of such a large gap of material from the tape surely suggests something harmful to Nixon’s case was during that time.
On Wednesday, March 21, 1973, prior to the “Saturday Night Massacre,” President Nixon had a conversation with John Dean discussing the Watergate break in. Dean recapped what happened so Nixon could be well informed when making his decisions. Dean referred to the issue as a “cancer on the presidency:
Dean: January of '72. (Background noises) Like, "You come over to Mitchell's office and sit in on a meeting where Liddy is going to lay his plan out." (Referring to Liddy’s discussion with Dean about Liddy’s plan for the Watergate break in) I said, "Well, I don't really know as I'm the man, but if you want me there I'll be happy to." (Clears throat) So, I came over and Liddy laid out a million dollar plan that was the most incredible thing I have ever laid my eyes on. (The “million dollar plan” being the plan for the Watergate break-in.) All in codes, and involved black bag operations, kidnapping, providing prostitutes, uh, to weaken the opposition, bugging, uh, mugging teams. It was just an incredible thing. (Transcript)
Dean continues on discussing what happened further:
Dean to the President: To get something, to get some information and they took that as a signal—Magruder took that as a signal to probably go to Mitchell and say, "They're pushing us like crazy for this from the White House." And so Mitchell probably puffed on his pipe and said, "Go ahead." And never really reflected on what it was all about. So, they had some plan that obviously had, I gather, different targets they were going to go after. (Referring to Watergate and the office of Psychiatrist Daniel Ellsberg.) They were going to infiltrate, and bug, and do all this sort of thing to a lot of these targets. This is knowledge I have after the fact. (Coughs) And, apparently, they, uh, they, they had, they had after they had initially broken in and bugged the Democratic National Committee, they were getting information. The information was coming over here to Strachan. Some of it was given to Haldeman. Uh, there is no doubt about it. (Transcript)
When this and other tapes, some with titles like “Smoking Gun,” and “ Dean Resignation,” were released, Nixon’s defense crumbled. His aides began to leave him and he finally submitted to the subpoena by federal prosecutors to hand over the tapes from the Oval Office. An aide suggested to Nixon that either he should consider resigning or he would more than likely face impeachment. Nixon decided to resign his position as Commander in Chief on August 8, 1974:
I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.
To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.
Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office. (Richard Nixon’s Resignation)
Richard Nixon was a dishonest, corrupt, deceitful president who abused his power to complete his goals. Nixon used campaign funds to hire men to spy on the Democrats in order to succeed in the upcoming election. Yet, as the election came and passed, it showed that Nixon had not needed to commit such an act. Nixon won the 1972 election with 62% of the overall votes with 45,767,218 votes to McGovern’s meager 28,357,668 votes, (“The Watergate Decade.”) As the arduous process of the Watergate scandal moved forward, it became increasingly clearer that Nixon was linked to the crime. By the time the transcripts of the tapes were released, Nixon most likely knew that he surely would face impeachment. Obviously, even in the heat of the Watergate scandal rising, Nixon was still able to win the election with ease, but what defeated Nixon more than anything, and surely would have been the proof that pushed impeachment, were the taped conversations in the Oval Office. With this undisputable evidence, Nixon’s defense crumbled. Nixon was a nervous man, one who did not trust many people, who taped conversations just in case he would need them some day. Nixon became too paranoid about the people around him and, therefore, put into motion the circumstances that led to his resignation.
Nixon clearly did not need to undertake the Watergate break in, nor did he need to tape conversations in the Oval Office, which led to his ultimate departure from the White House. After all that happened, Nixon was left with only one road, and that road led to a resignation.