The Watergate Scandal: Timeline and Background

Though the public only first caught wind of this scandal after the June 17th, 1972 Watergate break-in, the controversy was years in the making. Groups close to the White House used illegal means to assure their president, Richard Nixon, would get elected to a second term. And the Watergate burglary was a chance to spy on the Democratic Party. It wasn’t long before a trail led straight to key people in the Republican Party, and the cover-up began. Intrepid reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, with help from their anonymous source Deep Throat, helped unravel the mess, and eventually the Watergate Scandal forced the first and only resignation of a U.S. president. In this video, WatchMojo.com learns more about the Watergate Scandal.
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History of the Watergate Scandal


This was one of the biggest political scandals in American history. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’ll be learning more about the Watergate Scandal.

The Leaked Pentagon Papers


In mid-1971, the Pentagon Papers were leaked. That report proved that administrations from Truman to Johnson had intentionally expanded their Vietnam War efforts – in contrast to what the public was told.

White House Plumbers


The Nixon administration then panicked and formed a covert group to halt leaks. Nixon advisor John Ehrlichman assembled the White House Plumbers, and included former CIA agent E. Howard Hunt and former FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy.

Nixon’s Enemies List


Soon, the president’s political rivals were recorded on Nixon’s Enemies List. Politicians, journalists and even Hollywood actors Nixon feared could stop his reelection were included, and were harassed by the administration with tax audits, legal action and more.

Committee for the Re-Election of the President


Prior to the 1972 election, the Republicans created a Committee for the Re-Election of the President, or CRP. John Mitchell stepped down as Attorney General to chair that committee.

Illegal Means


The CRP used questionable and illegal means to achieve their goal. For example, Mitchell kept a slush fund to subsidize information gathering on the Democrats. Ultimately, a plan was approved to bug and steal information from the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel.

Watergate Break-In


On June 17th, 1972, during the second of these break-ins, the burglars were arrested. The FBI quickly linked those arrested with Hunt. Because of his connection to the Plumbers, Nixon ordered his Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman to instruct the CIA to block further FBI investigation into the finances behind the Watergate break-in. The cover-up began.

A Paper Trail to the CRP


The Nixon administration then officially denied involvement in the burglary. However, more clues emerged that conflicted with this: aside from the Hunt connection, one of the burglars was a Republican Party aide, and a paper trail led to the CRP.

Woodward, Bernstein and Deep Throat


On June 20th, Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein reported on the Hunt connection, with confirmation from their anonymous source Deep Throat. This team was instrumental in unraveling the Watergate case, and in implicating the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, and the White House. In 2005, Deep Throat was revealed as former FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt.

Nixon’s Reelection


By September 1972, the burglars, Hunt and Liddy were indicted by a grand jury. Despite connections to the scandal, Nixon was decisively reelected that November.

The Scandal Explodes


The burglars pleaded guilty before Hunt and Liddy went to trial in early ’73. The scandal soon exploded when many of the administration’s important figures were implicated.

Top Aides Lose Jobs


In April, four top Nixon aides lost their jobs due to their involvement in the cover-up: Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, and White House lawyer John Dean.

Official Investigations


Official investigations began in mid-1973, led by Senator Sam Ervin and Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. They proved the connection between the burglary and the White House and CRP.

Valuable Witnesses


Dean became a valuable witness when he divulged Nixon knew about the cover-up. In July, Nixon assistant Alexander Butterfield explosively revealed the existence of Nixon-installed recording devices throughout the White House.

“I’m Not A Crook”


Those tapes were subpoenaed; however, Nixon refused to release them citing executive privilege. To save himself, Nixon dismissed the Attorney General, his deputy and Cox in the “Saturday Night Massacre.” Public outcry followed, and Nixon responded with one of his most-quoted speeches in November ‘73.

Watergate Seven Indicted


By March, the Watergate Seven were indicted. Many spent time in prison, and though Nixon was named he remained unindicted.

The Smoking Gun


The Watergate tapes were finally released in July 1974. An 18-minute erased section proved controversial. Of the exposed facts, it was found that some involved in the break-in had received hush money. Most importantly, the “smoking gun” tape undeniably proved Nixon knew about the cover-up since mid-1972. Nixon was forced to step down or face impeachment.

Nixon Resigns


On August 8th, 1974, Nixon resigned, and was replaced by Gerald Ford. Exactly one month later, Ford officially pardoned him.

Effects and Legacy


This controversy resulted in multiple arrests, the creation of new laws, renewed interest in investigative journalism and the first resignation of a U.S. president. The Watergate Scandal undoubtedly changed American politics forever.
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