R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. In his speech, President Nixon said of the Watergate break-in that he was "appalled... and... shocked to learn that employees of the Re-Election Committee were apparently among those guilty." He then claimed that "there had been an effort to conceal the facts both from the public, from you, and from me." In his speech he said though he had been told about the personnel involved, he had not taken any action because he didn't want to do anything that would reflect badly on innocent people and that he wanted to be fair. "But I knew that in the final analysis, the integrity of this office -- public faith in the integrity of this office -- would have to take priority over all personal considerations." He then announced the resignations of H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst and the firing of White House Counsel John Dean, which he couched as a resignation. He also claimed that he had not commanded the re-election campaign of the prior year from his office in the White House. He ended his speech with an emotional plea to the American people for their prayers to help him in everything he did "throughout the days of my Presidency...." He had counted them the night before: 1,361 days were supposed to remain in his term of office.
On May 18, 1973, the Senate Watergate hearings began, being nationally televised, with former solicitor general Archibald Cox as the Justice Department's special prosecutor for Watergate. John Dean appeared, saying he had personally discussed the cover-up with the President 35 times. A memo to Ehrlichman was found that described in detail how to burglarize the Watergate offices of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. The former presidential appointments secretary, Alexander Butterfield, testified that since 1971 Nixon had recorded every conversation and telephone call that occurred in the Oval Office.
Nixon promptly stopped recording and had the system disconnected in the White House. He also refused to turn over the tape recordings mentioned to the Senate Watergate committee or the special prosecutor.
On October 20 Nixon fired another round of White House employees, while another resigned. This was called the "Saturday Night Massacre." Those gone were Archibald Cox, Attorney General Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus. A month later he declared "I'm not a crook," and maintained his innocence.
Some tapes were reviewed and a long gap was found in one of them at a crucial time. In December, the Chief of Staff Alexander Haig said "some sinister force" had erased the segment.
By January of 1974 the sentiment of the general public had turned against Nixon and there were numerous calls for him to resign. The Congress began to seriously consider impeaching Nixon. Time Magazine named Watergate Judge John Sirica as Man of the Year.
The House of Representatives, in February, voted to authorize the House Judiciary Committee to investigate whether there were grounds for impeachment, and on March 1 Nixon was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the indictment against the seven former presidential aides. After subpoenaed White House tapes were delivered in the form of 1200 pages of edited transcripts, impeachment hearings began, in May, before the House Judiciary Committee. The Supreme Court ordered Nixon to make the actual tapes available in a case entitled United States v. Nixon. Nixon claimed executive privilege and the Supreme Court overruled the claim. The tapes were finally delivered and listened to.
On July 27, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee passed the first of three articles of impeachment, charging obstruction of justice. Twelve days later Richard Nixon became the first President of the United States to resign, leaving Vice President Gerald R. Ford to assume the presidency. Ford later pardoned Nixon of all charges related to the Watergate case.
Ford may have been pardoned Nixon, but the public never did and never forgot how he had lied to everyone. The repercussions of the scandal had far-reaching and long-lasting results. There were precedents set that succeeding presidents would have to adhere to. The Republican Party was set back so much that in November of 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter became 39th President, defeating Ford. A cynicism about politics arose on a level that had not been seen before Nixon's time.
The news media became extremely aggressive and confident. As a result of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's methods, teams of "investigative" reporters were developed for every major newspaper around the world. An informant nicknamed "Deep Throat" created a new household word.
A whole new group of Democratic congressmen were elected in 1976 and drastic changes were made in the composition of committee chairmanships.
Nixon's subordinates were jailed, found religion and wrote books because of the scandal. Nixon tried to salvage his reputation by writing books and traveling the world as a diplomat. He died on April 22, 1994 at the age of 81. Hundreds of books, movies and TV shows were produced concerning Nixon and the scandal. The Nixon family condemned the movie "Nixon." More White House tapes were released in 1996 and 1997, reinforcing the guilt of former President Nixon.
The scandal rocked the nation and entertained the rest of the world. It was a story of a crooked politician that all could relate to. It touched the lives of every American and demonstrated to the world that a nation could, under the American democratic political system, call the highest official in the land to account for his actions and then pay the price of his misdeeds without blood being spilled. Any political scandal is now called a "____-gate."
Bernstein, Carl and Woodward, Bob. All the President's Men. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
Carter, Jimmy. Our Endangered Values. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.
Dean, John. Conservatives Without Conscience. New York: Viking, 2006.