"Watergate" was the name of a hotel-apartment complex in Washington, District of Columbia. In 1972, offices in the complex were being rented by the national Democratic Party for use during the 1972 presidential campaign.
Five men were arrested on June 17, 1972 as they were caught in the act of breaking into the Democratic offices. As the investigation of the incident proceeded, names and telephone numbers of important members of the Committe for the Re-election of the President (CRP), organized by the Republican Party to support the re-election of Republican President Richard Nixon, were discovered in the records of some of the arrested men.
Indictments against the five caught at the Watergate and against G. Gordon Liddy, general counsel for CRP, and former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent E. Howard Hunt were issued on September 17. President Nixon, through his Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman, ordered the CIA to obstruct the investigation of the break-in by refusing to provide tape-recordings of conversations between President Nixon and members of his staff that might have held evidence to support or refute the possibility of a conspiracy.
One of the five men caught at the Watergate, James McCord, wrote a letter read at the sentencing of all seven men in 1973 which alleged that
their trial had been fixed through pressures to plead guilty and that the burglary had been approved by the highest Nixon advisers.
Presidential Counsel John Dean also provided information charging that there had been "cover-up" based on orders from very high offices, to the Senate Select Committee investigating the incident.
The Senate Committee investigators requested the tape recordings made of phone calls to and from the Oval Office, which President Nixon refused to release based on national security and executive privilege issues.
Eventually, edited transcripts of the tape recordings and, finally, the actual tapes were released to the Committee after the Supreme Court ruled President Nixon had no right to conceal them. The tapes provided conclusive evidence that President Nixon had been aware of the development of the plan for the burglary, despite his repeated claims of ignorance and innocence, and that officials of his administration had actively participated in planning the act and endeavoring to hide evidence.
Acts to impeach President Nixon due to his breach of honesty were drawn up and submitted to the House of Representatives. Before the Senate could vote on acceptance of the acts, however, President Nixon resigned from the office of President of the United States on August 8, 1974. He admitted no guilt but conceded that he was no longer in a position to be able to act as president.
Throughout the long and difficult period of Watergate, I have felt it was my duty to persevere, to make every possible effort to complete the term of office to which you elected me. In the past few days, however, it has become evident to me that I no longer have a strong enough political base in the Congress to justify continuing that effort...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.
Watergate is a complex of apartment and office buildings in Washington, D.C. In July 1972, five men were caught breaking into the Democratic Party's national headquarters at the Watergate. Among them was James McCord Jr. (1918– ), the security coordinator of the Committee for the Re-election of the President (CRP), an organization working to get Republican President Richard Nixon (1913–1994) elected to a second term in office.
All five men who were caught in the break-in were indicted (required to stand trial) on charges of burglary and wire-tapping, as were CRP aide G. Gordon Liddy (1930– ) and White House consultant E. Howard Hunt Jr. (1918– ). They pleaded guilty to the charges; McCord and Liddy were tried and found guilty. However, when the election was held in November, Nixon won in a landslide victory over Democratic candidate George McGovern (1922– ).
Early in Nixon's second term, which began in 1973, the Watergate affair became a political scandal when McCord wrote a letter to District Court Judge John Sirica (1904–1992), charging a massive cover-up in the Watergate break-in. A special Senate committee began televised investigations into the affair. Eventually about forty people, including high-level government officials, were charged with crimes. Their offenses included burglary, sabotage (destructive or obstructive action), wiretapping of citizens' telephone conversations, violating campaign finance laws by accepting contributions in exchange for political favors, and using government agencies to harm political opponents.
Among those prosecuted were John Dean (1938– ), former White House counsel, and Attorney General John Mitchell (1913–1988). It was revealed that members of the Nixon administration had known about the Watergate burglary. It was also discovered that the president had taped conversations in the Oval Office (the president's office in the White House). When Dean and Mitchell were convicted, the public lost confidence in Nixon. In July 1974 the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives (the lower house of Congress) was preparing articles of impeachment (charges of misconduct in office) against Nixon. The impeachment proceedings reached the Senate, but Nixon chose to resign on August 9, 1974, and Vice President Gerald R. Ford (1913– ) became president. Nixon was the first and, so far, the only U.S. president to resign from office.
Further Information: Fremon, David R. The Watergate Scandal. Berkley, N.J.: Enslow Publishers, 1997; National Archives and Records Administration. Nixon and Watergate. [Online] Available http://www.nara.gov/exhall/originals/nixon.html, October 26, 2000; "Watergate." WashingtonPost.com. [Online] Available http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/watergate/front.htm, October 26, 2000.