.. tant John Erlichman, and the president’s lawyer John Dean. They were to say that the burglary was part of a CIA operative, vital to national security. On June 23, 1972, President Nixon authorized the cover-up, but the CIA refused to cooperate. So the Nixon administration successfully applied political pressure to delay several trials and investigations of the burglary until early 1973.
Nixon ordered his aides to block any information to investigators. Magruder and others destroyed incriminating documents and testified falsely to official investigators. L. Patrick Gray, acting director of the FBI, destroyed documents given to him by Ehrlichman and Dean. Collapse of the Cover-up In January of 1973 seven indicted men were tried before Judge John Sirica in the United States District Court in Washington, D.C. Four of the men arrested the night of the burglary plead guilty along with Howard Hunt.
James McCord and Gordon Liddy were convicted of conspiracy, burglary, and illegal wiretapping. The United States Senate then voted to conduct an investigation of political espionage. During hearings on his nomination to be permanent director of the FBI, L. Patrick Gray revealed that he had given FBI Watergate files to John Dean. His testimony suggested that other top White House aides were involved in confidential activities.
In March and April Nixon met with top aides to plan responses to the Gray announcements and to prepare for investigations. Howard Hunt issued a threat to tell about the plumbers’ activities unless he received hush money. $75,000 was advanced to Hunt that night. White House involvement in the Watergate burglary did not become evident until James McCord wrote a letter to Judge Sirica. In this letter McCord explained that he wanted to disclose the details of Watergate.
The letter made charges that witnesses had committed perjury at the trial and that defendants were pressured to plead guilty and remain silent. McCord implicated Dean and Magruder in the break-in. They accused other White House and CRP officials in return. Investigators were told that Mitchell approved the break-in. They also learned that transcripts of conversations taped at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters were given to Gordon Strachan, staff assistant to Haldeman, for delivery to Haldeman. Erlichman ordered the destruction of documents.
On April 30, Ehrlichman, Haldeman, and Dean resigned. The White House Tapes Alexander Butterfield, a former White House official, testified in July 1973 that Nixon had taped conversations in his office. Special Prosecutor Alexander Cox immediately subpoenaed tapes relevant to the investigation. Nixon refused to release them. Judge Sirica directed Nixon to let him hear the tapes. Nixon appealed the order, arguing that a president was excused from judicial orders enforcing subpoenas and that under the concept of executive privilege only he could decide which communications could be disclosed. The U.S.
court of appeals upheld Sirica’s decision, but Nixon then proposed that Senator John Stennis (Democrat from Mississippi) listen to the tapes and verify an edited version that Nixon would submit to the grand jury and to the Senate committee. Cox rejected this proposal and Nixon’s order that he make no further attempts to obtain tapes. Attorney General Richardson, having assured Congress that the prosecutor would be free to pursue the investigation, resigned rather than obey Nixon’s order to fire Cox. On October 20, Nixon dismissed both Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus and Cox. This Saturday night massacre ignited a rush of criticism, and triggered serious moves to impeach Nixon.
Nixon then agreed to give the tapes to Sirica, and he appointed Leon Jaworski, a Texas attorney, to succeed Cox. Nixon guaranteed that Jaworski would be free of White House control. One shocking disclosure followed another. The White House said that two of the subpoenaed conversations had never been taped. One tape contained an eighteen minute gap.
White House officials and Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, gave confusing testimony on how the gap might have occurred. Six court appointed electronics experts said that at least five separate erasures had caused the gap. Many people concluded that someone had deliberately destroyed evidence. On March 1, 1974, seven former aides of the president Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, Colson, Strachan, Robert Mardian, and Kenneth Parkinson were indicted for conspiring to botch the Watergate investigation. Colson later pleaded guilty to charges concerning the Ellsberg case and was dismissed of the cover-up charges.
Charges against Strachan were dropped. The remaining five went on trial and all but Parkinson were found guilty. Evidence against Nixon, given to Judge Sirica by the grand jury, was turned over by the judge to the House Judiciary Committee, which had begun its impeachment investigation. When the committee subpoenaed forty-two more tapes, Nixon agreed to release publicly and to the committee the edited transcripts of forty-six conversations. Jaworski asked Sirica to subpoena sixty-four tapes and documents. Nixon refused to honor the subpoena, and Jaworski took the issue to the U.S.
Supreme Court. The Court rejected Nixon’s claim that he had absolute authority to withhold material from the prosecutor, and ordered him to obey the subpoena. Nixon finally did. On July 29 and 30 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment. The first one said that the president knowingly covered-up the crimes of Watergate.
The second said that he used Government Agencies to violate the Constitution of the United States. The third asserted that he would be impeached because of the withholding of evidence from Congress. Nixon’s Resignation Nixon’s support in Congress and popularity nationwide steadily eroded. On August 5, 1974, three tapes revealed that Nixon had ordered the FBI to stop investigation of the Watergate break-in. The tapes also showed that Nixon himself had helped to direct the cover-up of the administration’s involvement in the affair.
Rather than face almost certain impeachment, Nixon resigned on August 9, the first United States president to do so. A month later his successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned him for all crimes he might have committed while in office; Nixon was then immune from federal prosecution. Conclusion Many Americans expressed relief and exhilaration that the national nightmare was over. Many were relieved to be rid of Richard Nixon, who had lost virtually all the wide popularity that had won him his landslide reelection victory only two years before. And many were also exhilarated that the system had worked. But the wave of good feeling could not obscure the deeper and more lasting damage of the Watergate crisis.
The Watergate burglary and the scandals associated with the burglary were about more than Nixon’s fall from power. Watergate was a symptom of the times, an age of war and deep national division. Watergate was about the constitutional balance of power, the limits of power, and the abuse of power. Watergate was about a seamy side of politics that before the scandal most Americans scarcely imagined existed. Watergate was about ambition overriding good judgement and fair play; but it was also about a political culture and political system that often rewarded just such ambition.
Watergate was contradictory, controversial, and ultimately, compelling. Bibliography BIBLIOGRAPHY Bernstein, Carl, and Bob Woodward. All the President’s Men. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974. Dean, John Wesley. Blind Ambition: The White House Years.
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976. Encyclopedia Americana, Danbury: Grolier, 1999. Online. Available: http://www.grolier.com/presidents/ea/side/watergat e.html. December 6, 1998.
Higgins, George V. The Friends of Richard Nixon. Toronto: Little, Brown and Company, 1974. Liddy, G. Gordon.
Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980. Meyer, Lawerence. Last Two Guilty in Watergate Plot.
The Washington Post (1973): A1. Online. Available: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/long term/watergate/articles/013173-2.htm. December 3, 1998. Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia.
CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1998. Watergate. World Book Encyclopedia, 1985. Vol. 21, p.114-115.