The Watergate Scandal

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What is meant by an “overt act” in the context of Watergate?

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The idea of “overt acts” is important to the Watergate scandal because overt acts can be used to prove that a conspiracy has taken place.

In the Watergate case, there was a conspiracy to commit various crimes.  According to the law, it is not necessary for people to actually commit a crime in order for them to be convicted of conspiracy.  However, it is easier to convict them if they have committed one or more “overt acts” in furtherance of the conspiracy.  These are acts that show that the conspirators have started to execute the plan that they have conspired to create.  The acts do not need to be illegal in and of themselves, but they need to show that someone is starting to act based on the plan the conspirators have made.

Therefore, when the grand jury indicted the Watergate conspirators, they included a list of overt acts that the conspirators allegedly committed.  This list included 45 different acts.  The term “overt acts,” then, is relevant to the Watergate scandal because overt acts can be used as evidence of conspiracy and many of the Watergate defendants were convicted of that crime.

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Identify an overt act in the Watergate scandal.

Outside of the break- in to the Democratic Headquarters itself as an overt act intrinsic to the scandal, I would say that one of the most important overt acts would be the commissioning of the break- in from inside the White House.  The fact that the burglars were acting on the advice of Mitchell, who was heading up the President's Re-Election Campaign, helps to make clear that there was a direct and overt connection between operatives in the White House to the break- in itself.  This is overt in that the connection was not something that needed to be manipulated and explained.  It was evident that there was overt and clear linking between the White House and the burglars.  They were not acting independent of the Executive Branch.  Rather, they were acting as an extension of it.  I think that this is overt in nature.  The actions of the White House authorizing, encouraging, and perhaps even devising the break- in has to be seen as an overt act.  It was consistent with the Nixon belief that politics was war and opponents were adversaries that had to be dealt with in the harshest of terms.  In this, an overt act that authorized or approved the break- in has to be recognized.

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