The four men involved fired their attorney and changed their pleas to "guilty." (Bernstein and Woodward, p.233). The judge clearly did not believe that they had not been bribed or that they did not know the source of the money they received. (Bernstein and Woodward, p. 233-235).
Even though there is still a considerable amount of mystery regarding Watergate and the surrounding events, what is certain is the impact that the Watergate scandal had on the face of American politics. All presidencies following Nixon's have been tainted by the lingering impact of Watergate. The direct result of Nixon's actions was that "presidents not only would be subject to doubt and second guessing, they would be suspected of outright criminality. Nixon's tapes of his office and telephone conversations left an irrefutable historical record that the president abused government power for political purposes, obstructed justice, and ordered his aides to do so as well." (Woodward, p.i). In fact, the presidents who followed him may not have understood the depth of the American distrust towards the presidency and politicians, which resulted from the Watergate scandal.
Ford's appearance of unethical behavior began while he was still Vice-President and actually played a role in the perception of dishonesty and unethical behavior surrounding Watergate. One of Nixon's men, Alexander Haig, spoke to Ford about Nixon's options for resignation and pardon. Haig explicitly suggested that Nixon would step down and give Ford the presidency in return for Ford's agreement to pardon him. (Woodward, p.7).
Ford's advisor Robert Hartmann was horrified that Ford even engaged in such a conversation, much less that Ford seemed to be considering pardoning Nixon. (Woodward, p. 8). Hartmann believed that Ford's presidency would be tainted by the mere suggestion that Nixon's resignation was motivated by a promise of a pardon from Ford. (Woodward, p. 8). Of course, Hartmann was correct. While public opinion of Ford's pardon of Nixon has changed somewhat, the fact is that the pardon cost him almost all of his political credibility during his presidency. It certainly cost him his re-election as president. This taint was there despite that fact that it does not appear that Ford ever agreed to pardon Nixon if he resigned, and that his decision to pardon Nixon was not otherwise improperly motivated.
Of course, Ford's presidency was only the first one to suffer the taint of Nixon's exposed illegal dealing. Jimmy Carter, a man renowned for his ethical beliefs, also felt the impact of Watergate. In fact, when Carter began campaigning in 1975, he was an unknown entity for much of the country, so much so that not a single person came to his first official meet and greet. (Woodward, p. 41). Carter began test-marketing campaign concepts. The one that resounded with the American people was his promise of honesty. In fact, Carter's campaign was built on him being the anti-Nixon, a non-lawyer, not a D.C. insider, and he vowed to remain close to the people. (Woodward, p.42). His campaign was not built solely on the scandal of Watergate, but on all political scandals, and he vowed to reveal government corruption when he was the President. When the first big scandal of his presidency hit, Carter had a conversation with Bob Woodward and the editor of the Washington Post, and, though he asked them for notice of when they would publish the story, did not ask them not to publish the story. (Woodward, p. 46-48). However, when they did publish the story, Carter tried to make them seem irresponsible for having done so, going so far as to suggest that they threatened the prospect of peace in the Middle East by doing so. (Woodward, p. 50).
Unlike his predecessors, Reagan managed to avoid any major scandals during his first term in office. It was not until two years into his second term that Reagan ran into scandal. Reagan's very public policy was that he did not negotiate with terrorists....
However, the arms-for-hostages controversy revealed that the United States had been selling arms to Iran, in return for Iran using its influence with Hezbollah to secure the release of two American hostages. In addition to contradicting his public statements, the deal was probably illegal; a U.S. law specifically banned the sale of arms to Iran because of Iran's support of terrorists. (Woodward, p.98). In addition, the President was supposed to notify the Congress of any covert CIA activities. The activities certainly appeared dishonest, and the Reagan administration also attempted to cover them up, reminding Americans of the Watergate scandal. This scandal also impacted then Vice-President George Bush, because it was clear that he knew the details of the transaction, and any statements he made denying such knowledge would be viewed as lies. Moreover, Reagan would not make any statements about the controversy, because his astrologer had advised him to avoid doing so. (Woodward, p. 103). When he finally did speak, Reagan absolutely denied trading arms for hostages and lied about the number of arms that had been shipped to Iran. The public responded negatively. Only 14% of Americans believed Reagan. (Woodward, p. 105). Despite his dismay over his decline in popularity, instead of seeking to stop any illegal activity, Reagan became more invested in the arms-for-hostages negotiations, and sought to stop any leaks from his office. (Woodward, p. 111). Then, something happened to shake Reagan's confidence in his program: Colonel Oliver North had arranged for the arms to be sold at a higher price and diverted the extra funds to pay to fund the Contras. The arms-for-hostages scandal had escalated into the Iran-Contra scandal. In response, both the House and the Senate set up investigatory committees, and people spoke of impeaching Reagan. Furthermore, the nature of reporting had changed. "Adversaries seemed to be after the presidency itself." (Woodward, p. 113). Reagan survived the scandal, and did so in a way that did not prevent his Vice President, George Bush, from winning his bid for the presidency. However, the taint of Watergate was clear. Primed for scandal and secrecy, both the public and the press were not content to believe the administration's statements.
President Bush was touched by the Watergate scandal in two ways. First, he was the Chairman of the Republican National Committee during Watergate, and he took a very public beating as he tried to defend Nixon in the wake of the Watergate revelations. (Woodward, p. 176). However, he owed much of his political clout to Nixon, who appointed him to the United Nations after he was defeated by Lloyd Benson in a run for the Senate. However, when Bush first became president, he immediately tasted the new wariness that Congress had for the office of the President. Congress rejected his nomination of Tower as a member of Bush's cabinet, probably based on allegations that Tower had an alcohol abuse problem. "It was the first time in 30 years that the Senate had rejected outright a president's cabinet choice." (Woodward, p. 177). It was also one of the first times that a personal habit like drinking had become a national political issue, and this increased scrutiny was largely attributable to Congress being tired of administration errors causing political embarrassment.
Of course, President Clinton may have felt the impact of the anti-government sentiment more than any other sitting President. He was not the first sitting U.S. President to have an extra-marital affair, nor was he the only world-leader at the time to be engaged in extra-marital relations. However, the Watergate scandal, followed by the public controversies during the following administrations, had made it acceptable for the public, the press, and Congress to challenge the President. Most significantly, with the Senate's refusal to confirm Tower as a member of Bush's cabinet, Congress had sent a message that they were going to use personal weaknesses in the political arena. Therefore, when Clinton did what almost all married men who are caught having affairs do- lied about it- he set the stage for an absolute political circus and was impeached for having a sexual relationship. Prior to Nixon, it would have been ludicrous to suggest that a president would be impeached for his private life. John Kennedy had actually engaged in sexual relationship with a spy, Ellen Rometsch, and not faced any public scrutiny for his behavior. (Hamilton, p. 532). However, Clinton's consensual affair with a harmless intern had far-different results. Although he was ultimately acquitted of any legal wrongdoing, the Lewinsky scandal resulted in an enormous waste of taxpayer resources.
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