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Essay/Term paper: The watergate crisis

Essay, term paper, research paper:  American History

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Richard Nixon's presidency is one of the most examined,

analyzed and discussed, yet least understood, of all the

American administrations in history (Genovese 1). While

many factors still remain to be discovered, and many

mysteries are left to be resolved, we need to do the best that

we can to make sense of this secretive president of our past

and his era. He is the one American figure about whom very

few people don't have strong feelings for. Nixon is loved and

hated, honored and mocked (Genovese 2).

The term 'Watergate', labeled by Congress in 1974, stands for

not only the burglary, but also for the numerous instances of

officially sanctioned criminal activity and abuses of power as

well as the obstruction of justice that preceded the actual

break-in (Kutler 9). Watergate involved the political behavior of

the President and his men, beginning during Nixon's first term

and extending to his resignation. Some of the criminal

behavior was a result of the disastrous events of the 1960's.

These events include the civil rights movement, the controlling

of cities and most importantly, the Vietnam War (Kutler 9). In

H. R. Haldeman's book The Ends of Power, he quotes, 'I

firmly believe that without the Vietnam War, there would've

been no Watergate' (Haldeman 79). He goes on to say that

the Vietnam War destroyed Nixon as completely as it ruined


Originating in Kennedy's term, Vietnam grew to be even more

of a disaster after his assassination. The tidal wave of

problems crashed abruptly on Johnson, who consequently

made them worse. The American society was dividing.

Furious protests made Johnson portray a scapegoat for the

nation's anxieties (Kutler 10). Then Nixon stepped into the

picture in the presidential elections of 1968. He was

successful with 43.6 percent over Humprey's 42.7 percent

and Wallace's 13.5 percent (Genovese 6). He promised that

he would "bring us together". The riots grew and the divisions


The day it all began was a Sunday, May 28, 1972. The

contrasts that were taking place on this day were

extraordinary. President Richard Nixon was in Moscow,

nearing the climax of the first-ever summit to be held between

American and Soviet Presidents (Emery 3). Five thousand

miles away, in Washington, D.C., it was a different story.

There was also a first-time event happening in our nation's

capital, but it was not something to be proud of. The first of

several illegal break-ins into the Democratic National

Committee (DNC) headquarters in the Watergate Complex

was in effect (Emery 3).

In Moscow, Nixon was planning a television speech to

present to the Russian people, a speech that would be

considered one of his best. It was an inspiring speech that

would remove the fear that he believed restrained the

Americans and the Soviets from better relationships in the

past. Meanwhile, in Washington, the President's election staff

was overcome with a different fear. Despite Nixon's high

standing position for being reelected, his CREEP staff

(Committee to Reelect the President) was afraid that they

might not have as much 'dirt' on Nixon's opponents as they

had on Nixon. The President laid upon his staff the

determination to do whatever possible to win the election

(Emery 4).

With this approval, Nixon's staff, headed by G. Gordon Liddy,

began planning more ways of attaining information from the

DNC. What they named the 'Plumbers unit' was established

as a special task force for the President. The Plumbers'

purpose was to keep any secret information from being

discovered by reporters. In one situation, wearing CIA

provided disguises, they illegally broke into Dr. Field's office,

a psychiatrist, for information on a patient, Daniel Ellsberg,

who had given private Pentagon papers to the New York

Times (Hargrove 25). It turned out that the doctor had already

been visited by the FBI and, taking precaution, removed the


The White House also came up with an adversary list. Every

President from Washington to Johnson has had his list of

disapprovals, but Nixon's was much more efficient and

threatening (White 152). The list originated on Charles

Colson's desk, a White House mentor, and then was

circulated by John W. Dean III through the members of the

underground. John Dean was the White House attorney at the

time. The list's total came to over three hundred names, the

prime list to twenty, in no specific order (White 152).

On June 17th, after several break-ins, police arrested five

burglars found in the offices of Larry O'Brien, the Democratic

National Chairman, at the Watergate complex. President

Nixon, immediately after hearing of the break-in, appointed a

top aide, John Ehrlichman, to uncover everything he could

about the break-in and denied any involvement (Kilian 119).

Among those arrested were Gordon Liddy, Howard Hunt, a

spy for the CIA, and James W. McCord, a CIA agent who was

hired by Nixon to be a security coordinator for his reelection

committee. Liddy, Hunt and the burglars all pleaded not guilty

and were released on bond. The police also turned up $4,500

in brand new one-hundred dollar bills, bugging equipment,

small tear-gas guns, cameras, rolls of unexposed film,

burglary tools and walkie-talkies. The motive of the burglary

was obviously to spy on Democratic headquarters and the

burglars were apparently getting paid for the duty (Hargrove

8). After this incident, Liddy, who put together the plan that

eventually became Watergate, told Dean that he was willing

to be shot if it would help matters (Kilian 119). Nixon then

fired Liddy from his job with the reelection committee.

The next advancement in the case was on August 1st, 1972.

On this day, the Washington Post revealed that a $25,000

check had been deposited into the bank account of one of the

burglars. It also contributed to President Nixon's reelection

campaign. In the following eight months, over $400,000 in

cash was paid under the table to the burglars (Ben-Veniste

53). The people involved in these payments used code names

such as "the writer", the money was "the script", and the

other burglars were "the players". They communicated only

by pay phone and left the money for the burglars or their

lawyers in "dead drops" on top of pay phones or in luggage

lockers at National Airports. The burglars and lawyers kept

demanding money until the point where there was none left.

John Dean then received Haldeman's, Nixon's chief of staff,

permission to use a secret $350,000 White House fund. The

hush money was continually paid until the evening of March

21st, 1973, when the last amount of $75,000 was handed over.

Meanwhile, in the White House, on November 7, 1972,

President Nixon had been reelected, winning in a landslide

against Democrat Senator George McGovern. In every state

in the Union, except for one, Nixon had prevailed (White 169).

He had swept the nation, everyone from Catholics to

Protestants, and farmers to businessmen. Nixon could

invision a world of change at his fingertips - in housing, in tax

structure, in welfare and in race-relations. He wanted to

achieve what he had already achieved in foreign affairs, but he

knew it would be difficult.

On January 8, 1973 the trial of the Watergate burglars opened

in the courtroom of the District Judge John J. Sirica (Kilian

120). Howard Hunt, right off the bat, pleaded guilty and four of

the five burglars followed his lead. The jury found Liddy and

James McCord, a CIA agent, guilty of conspiracy, illegal

wiretapping and burglary. They were the only two that did not

plead guilty. McCord later stated that he had been pressured

to plead guilty and to remain silent about others involved

(Hargrove 17).

Judge Sirica was dissatisfied with the findings. He felt that

there was much more going on than was being told. The

Senate's feeling was mutual and voted to create a Senate

Select Committee to investigate the affair. They chose

Democratic Senator Sam Ervin to head the committee and

immediately began diligently working on the case.

In the meantime, Judge Sirica received an envelope from

James McCord. The envelope contained two letters. The first

was a duplicate of a letter that McCord had sent to the New

York Times denying an article linking him to the 'strong arm

tactics' that they had published the day prior. The second

letter was addressed to the Judge himself. At the finish of the

message, McCord wrote:

"Be that as it may, in the interest of restoring faith in

the criminal justice system which faith had been

severely damaged in this case I will state the

following to you at this time which I hope may be a

help to you in meting out justice in this case."

"1. There was political pressure applied to the

defendants to plead guilty and remain silent.

"2. Perjury occurred during the trial of matters highly

material to the very structure, orientation and impact

of the government's case and to the motivation of

and the intent of the defendants.

"3. Others involved in Watergate were not identified

in the trial when they could've been by those


"4. The Watergate operation was not a CIA

operation. I know for a fact that it was not.

"5. Some statements were unfortunately made by a

witness witch left the Court with the impression that

he was stating untruths or withholding facts of his

knowledge when in fact only honest errors were


"6. My motivations were different than those of

others involved but were not limited to or simply

those offered in my defense during the trial. This is

not the fault of my attorneys but of the circumstances

under which we had to prepare my defense.

"The statements are true and correct to the best of

my knowledge and belief (Sirica 96)."

This letter indicated that McCord was willing

to break the silence that had frustrated

millions of people since the crime itself.

James McCord also indicated within the

letter that the cover up was so extensive that

he didn't even trust the FBI or the

prosecutors (Sirica 97).

The only doubt that Judge Sirica had was

about the statement implying that the CIA

had no part in the scandal. McCord had

been a CIA employee for nineteen years and

was fiercely dedicated to his job. In

December of 1972 he had threatened the

White House that if they continued to blame

the CIA "every tree in the forest will fall. It will

be a scorched desert." Judge Sirica doubted

that he would ever admit the CIA's

involvement even if they had taken part

(Sirica 98).

Deeper into the trial, the Court learned that

the FBI investigation had all along been

carefully limited and monitored by the White

House. They also learned that some of the

officials in Nixon's campaign had lied before

the jury.

As the trial progressed, on July 16, 1973, a

White House aide, Alexander Butterfield,

revealed that President Nixon had all of the

White House conversations tape-recorded

since 1970 (Kilian 121). The Senate

Investigation Committee and Special

Prosecutor Archibald Cox immediately wrote

letters requesting to hear the tapes.

President Nixon initially refused to present

them but then was forced by Judge Sirica to

hand them over. The tapes, when eventually

given to the White House, contained an

eighteen minute, fifteen second gap that was

recorded three days after the Watergate

break in. The White House, under pressure

to release the tapes, copied down the

conversations on the recordings and

released the transcripts publicly (Kilian 123).

The House Judiciary Committee told the

President that the transcripts were not

enough but he still refused to turn them over.

In return, they approved three articles of

impeachment that accused the President of

abuse of power, obstructing justice in the

Watergate case and defying subpoenas for

the Watergate tapes.

On July 30, 1974 the President turned over

eleven of the sixty-four conversations to

Judge Sirica, and on August 2nd he

submitted thirteen more. Knowing that his

status was quickly deteriorating, President

Nixon made three transcripts of

conversations that he had had with H.R.

Haldemen on June 23,1972, public. The

conversations showed that Nixon tried to get

the CIA to restrain the FBI from investigating

the scandal (Kilian 23). On August 8, 1974

President Nixon resigned from office.

The next day at 12:03 p.m. Gerald Ford was

formally sworn in as President by chief

justice Warren Burger. Ford stated, "Our

long, national nightmare is over, Our

Constitution works. Our great republic is a

government of laws and not of men. Here,

the people rule (Kilian 110)."

The Watergate Scandal caused national

turmoil. Americans, as well as other

countries, lost faith in the United States and

its leaders. Nevertheless, the affair proved

that the American government works.

Watergate revealed Nixon at his worst. He

had many great accomplishments during his

presidency and set many great examples.

Unfortunately, none were part of Watergate

(Hargrove 31).


Works Cited

Ben-Veniste, Richard, and George Frampton, Jr. Stonewall: The

Real Story of the

Watergate Prosecution. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977.

Emery, Fred. Watergate. New York: Times Books, 1994.

Genovese, Michael A. The Nixon Presidency: Power and Politics in

Turbulent Times. London: Greenwood Press, 1990.

Haldeman, H.R. The Ends of Power. New York: Times Books, 1978.

Hargrove, Jim. The Story of Watergate. Chicago: Children's Press,


Kilian, Pamela. What was Watergate? New York: St. Martin's Press,


Kutler, Stanley I. The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of

Richard Nixon. New York:

Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.

Sirica, John J. To Set the Record Straight. New York: W.W. Norton

& Company,

White, Theodore H. Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon.

New York: Atheneum

Publishers, 1975. 

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