y believe this out of cynicism but other more trusting observers will only believe this if they have proof. Many of these trusting observers finally received the proof they needed to be convinced that politics are corrupt. On June 17, 1972 during the presidential campaign, Washington, D.C. police arrested seven burglars at the Watergate Hotel who were involved in a political scandal which would dramatically influence politics for years to come. The Watergate Scandal has caused a cloud of distrust to hover over politics and has been the direct cause of several political reforms which were consequences resulting from violations of certain constitutional laws.
The Watergate Scandal manifested on June 17, 1972, when seven employees of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) were arrested breaking into the Democratic National Committees headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. (Watergate Scandal 1) Immediately following their arrest many observers thought that these employees of CREEP were breaking into the Democratic National Committees headquarters for the first time. In fact CREEP employees had broken into the Democratic National Committees headquarters six times between August 21, 1971 and June 17, 1972. During their sixth break-in on June 17, they were caught. (Secret Agenda) At approximately 2:30 in the morning on this date, they were caught by police in the Watergate Hotel. Police seized a walkie talkie, 40 rolls of unexposed film, two 35 millimeter cameras, lock picks, pen-sized tear gas guns, and bugging devices. (Gold 75). The burglars and two of their accomplices, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, were indicted in September of 1972. They were charged with burglary, wire-tapping, and conspiracy. They were subsequently convicted of these charges four months later. (Watergate 1). Judge John Sirica, who convicted these men, was lenient on their sentencing because he felt there was not enough hard evidence and details. He did not feel that the evidence revealed were pertinent enough to the specific charges. Judge Sirica proffered the leniency in an effort to extract more information from the defendants. As a result of this information, it become increasingly evident that the burglars were closely related to the Central Intelligence Agency and the Committee for the Re-Election of the President. Shortly thereafter some of Nixons aides began cooperating with federal prosecutors. (Watergate 1). Immediately following the initial Watergate crisis a defection of aides in the Committee for the Re-Election of the President became evident. (Watergate 1). The Democratic National Committee break-in, defection of CREEP aides, and the additional trial information led the investigators who were looking into the case to the belief that someone in a high position in the executive branch of the government had to be involved. The information and evidence implicated the President of the United States. This growing suspicion led to an intensification of the federal investigation and forced the President to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate the possibility of involvement of higher officials in the government hierarchy. Archibald Cox was sworn in as the Special Prosecutor in May of 1973. (Watergate Scandal 1). Shortly thereafter, John W. Dean III told Cox and the Ervin Committee that the President had known of the cover-up and deliberately denied any knowledge of the break-in. Later, a former White House staff member, Alexander Butterfield, claimed that Nixon had secretly tape-recorded all of the conversations that occurred in his executive offices. Once Special Prosecutor Cox discovered this, he and the Ervin Committee tried to relinquish these tapes from the control of President Nixon. Nixon cited Executive Privilege and refused to hand over the tapes. Nixon then ordered the Attorney General to fire Cox even though the President himself had appointed him. Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson refused. The Attorney General stated that he knew it was illegal for the President to remove a properly appointed Special Prosecutor during the course of an investigation. Richardson then resigned from office. The next in the chain of command, William Ruckelshaus, also refused to fire Cox and resigned from office. Finally, Nixon convinced his Solicitor General, Robert H. Bork, to fire Cox. This event occurred on October 20, 1973 and was heralded by the media as “The Saturday Night Massacre.” (Water Scandal 1). On November 1, 1973 a new Special Prosecutor was hired to replace Cox. The newly appointed Special Prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, also pressured the President for the tapes of his office conversations. Jaworski felt sure they held information that would help to bring the facts about the scandal and the Presidents involvement to light. Jaworski knew that if he pressured the President for the tapes he was in danger of losing his job. He persisted in his struggle to obtain the tapes. On March 1, 1974, the federal grand jury indicted seven men. Of the seven of the accused conspirators were White House staffers, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, and White House special counsel Charles Colson. They were indicted on a charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice. (Watergate Scandal 2). President Nixon finally released edited transcripts of the conversations in the Oval Office. Judge Sirica was not satisfied with this gesture by the President and ordered that the edited gaps in the transcripts be filled and that Nixon release the remainder of the tapes and their transcripts. Nixon refused to release the remaining tapes forcing Judge Sirica to send the case to the Supreme Court. By a vote of 8 to 0, the Supreme Court ruled that Nixon must release the tapes. The Court ruled that Nixon could only withhold information that was associated with National Security and the tapes involved a criminal affair and therefore had to be released to the court. (Watergate Scandal 2). Following the release of these tapes, on July 27-30 of 1973, the Judiciary Committee recommended that Nixon be impeached. The Committee recommended impeachment on three charges: obstruction of justice, abuse of Presidential power, and attempting to impede the impeachment process by defying Committee subpoenas. (Watergate Scandal 1).
President Nixon, realizing that he could be impeached, resigned. Nixon felt he must resign or face impeachment because he had lost all of the Senates support with the release of three more tapes on August 5, 1974. These tapes proved that Nixon had been involved with the break-ins from the very beginning and was deliberate in attempts to cover up the crimes. On August 9, 1974 Nixon presented his resignation to the American people on national television. (Hartman 3).
Several political reforms resulted from the Watergate Scandal. An important area of subsequent reform was political campaign finance regulations. During the investigations, John Dean stated that he had discussed with Nixon the cover-up many times during meetings at the White House. Dean claimed that in one of these meetings, Nixon suggested that 1 million dollars should be raised in order to silence the burglars. The money would come from the campaign finances inside the Republican Party. (Gold 266-308). Campaign finance reform came about as a direct result of these allegations during the Watergate investigations. The campaign-finance reform limited the amount of money that could be contributed to candidates ultimately limiting the amount of money at their disposal for illegal purposes. But, these reforms did not close up the loophole allowing for “soft money” contributions. These are payments to political parties for organization, voter turnout, and lately for issue advocacy. (Germond 1). Another political reform of the Watergate era is the office of Special Prosecutor, now called the Office of Independent Counsel. While this office is needed to ferret out corruption in the higher levels of the government, it oversees too many positions in the government and costs too much to execute its functions. The offices responsibility should be modified to cover only the Presidents actions. (Germond 2). Even with these reforms, Watergate still caused a cloud of distrust to hover over Presidential politics. The press and the media coverage of the scandal have created a sense of cynicism and distrust in the American people with the national government and its agencies. (Germond 2).
In conclusion, the Watergate Scandal had a significant impact on our present American society and political system. There were many illegal activities involved with Watergate such as the abuse of Presidential powers and the illegal use of campaign finances. These activities have brought about reforms in todays government. The coupling of the Watergate crisis and its associated outrageous abuse of campaign funds has caused an evolution in the American political system. The federal government now has the authority to monitor the activities of political candidates campaign financing and is also charged with the responsibility of monitoring government officials who often think they are above the rule of constitutional law.
Germond, Jack W. and Jules Witcover. “Looking Back, 25 Years on, at the
Watergate Scandal.” http//www.sunspot.net/columnists/data/
germond/06169/germond.html. March 1998.
Gold, Gerald Ed. Watergate Hearings. New York: Bantam Books
Publishing Inc., 1993.
Hartman, Brian. “Watergate: 25 Years Later.” http://www.abcnews.com/
sections/us/watergate/watergate_overview.html. April 1998.
Hougan, Jim. Secret Agenda. New York: Random House Publishing, Inc.,
“The Watergate Scandal.” http://taxgate.com/docs/watergate_scandal.htm.