The Significance of Watergate
Although the term Watergate is now an umbrella phrase for any political scandal stemming from the presidency of Richard Nixon, the original Watergate scandal led to a full scale domestic crisis with lasting implications.
A break in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Party in the Watergate building triggered a full-fledged investigation which uncovered cover-ups, conspiracies and illegal activities straight from the white house. The scandal eventually led President Richard Nixon to step down, revealing that he lied to the US public about his level of involvement in the burglary. The far-reaching impacts of the crisis was so strong, that today almost any nation embroiled in a specific political scandal adds “gate” as a suffix.
In the early hours of June 1972, police were called to the Watergate complex in Washington DC to investigate a potential break-in at the home of the Democratic National Party. Here, five men were arrested for burglary, and found with various surveillance equipment and bugging devices.
While investigating the would-be burglars, the subsequent FBI investigation led to address books, which linked them to former CIA agent Howard Hunt. At the time, Hunt was a leading member of the CRP – a committee tasked with the reelection of Nixon. Activities of the committee included wiretapping, harassment and money laundering. It was later discovered that Hunt and another member of the committee were in a hotel across the street with walkie talkies, guiding the burglars around the building.
Even though he was directly linked to the campaign, Nixon denied the involvement of the White House. His administration pressured the CIA to end the inquiry into the matter by the FBI. Two reporters from the Washington Post were important in providing evidence that directly linked the break-in to the Nixon administration. An anonymous FBI official linked to the case tipped the reporters to “follow the money.”
Following the Money Behind Watergate
Taking the informant’s advice, the Washington Post uncovered a $25,000 check made out to one of the burglars directly from the CRP campaign. Although Nixon was reelected, the journalists Woodward and Bernstein continued to try linking the break-in to the White House.
During the investigation, a former CIA agent accused officials in the White House of pressuring him to give false testimony to cover up the White House involvement in the issue. Fearing being used as a scapegoat, Nixon’s legal counsel agreed to cooperate with investigators. After this, two of the President’s most trusted aides resigned, and Nixon finally accepted responsibility for the break-in, despite denying personal involvement.
In 1973, the Senate committee on presidential activities broadcast televised hearings of the Watergate case. Various witness testimony linked the connection between the White House and illicit activities of the CRP. During the hearings, a former white house official revealed that all conversations in the Oval Office were being recorded since 1971. The Watergate Scandal marked what is arguably one of the biggest controversies in American presidencies, forcing President Nixon’s resignation.