Watergate, designation of a major U.S. political scandal that began with the burglary and
wiretapping of the Democratic party\'s campaign headquarters, later engulfed President Richard
M. Nixon and many of his supporters in a variety of illegal acts, and culminated in the first
resignation of a U.S. president.
The burglary was committed on June 17, 1972, by five men who were caught in the offices of
the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate apartment and office complex in
Washington, D.C. Their arrest eventually uncovered a White House-sponsored plan of
espionage against political opponents and a trail of complicity that led to many of the highest
officials in the land, including former U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell, White House
Counsel John Dean, White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman, White House Special
Assistant on Domestic Affairs John Ehrlichman, and President Nixon himself.
On April 30, 1973, nearly a year after the burglary and arrest and following a grand jury
investigation of the burglary, Nixon accepted the resignation of Haldeman and Ehrlichman and
announced the dismissal of Dean. U.S. Attorney General Richard Kleindienst resigned as well.
The new attorney general, Elliot Richardson, appointed a special prosecutor, Harvard Law
School professor Archibald Cox, to conduct a full-scale investigation of the Watergate
In May 1973 the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Activities opened hearings, with
Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina as chairman. A series of startling revelations followed.
Dean testified that Mitchell had ordered the break-in and that a major attempt was under way
to hide White House involvement. He claimed that the president had authorized payments to
the burglars to keep them quiet. The Nixon administration vehemently denied this assertion.

The White House Tapes
The testimony of White House aide Alexander Butterfield unlocked the entire investigation. On
July 16, 1973, Butterfield told the committee, on nationwide television, that Nixon had ordered
a taping system installed in the White House to automatically record all conversations; what
the president said and when he said it could be verified. Cox immediately subpoenaed eight
relevant tapes to confirm Dean\'s testimony. Nixon refused to release the tapes, claiming they
were vital to the national security. U.S. District Court Judge John Sirica ruled that Nixon must
give the tapes to Cox, and an appeals court upheld the decision.
Nixon held firm. He refused to turn over the tapes and, on Saturday, October 20, 1973,
ordered Richardson to dismiss Cox. Richardson refused and resigned instead, as did Deputy
Attorney General William Ruckelshaus. Finally, the solicitor general discharged Cox.
A storm of public protest resulted from this “Saturday night massacre.” In response, Nixon
appointed another special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, a Texas lawyer, and gave the tapes to
Sirica. Some subpoenaed conversations were missing, and one tape had a mysterious gap of
181 minutes. Experts determined that the gap was the result of five separate erasures.
In March 1974 a grand jury indicted Mitchell, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and four other White
House officials for their part in the Watergate cover-up and named Nixon as an “unindicted
co-conspirator.” The following month Jaworski requested and Nixon released written transcripts
of 42 more tapes. The conversations revealed an overwhelming concern with punishing
political opponents and thwarting the Watergate investigation.
In May 1974 Jaworski requested 64 more tapes as evidence in the criminal cases against the
indicted officials. Nixon refused; on July 24, the Supreme Court voted 8-0 that Nixon must turn
over the tapes.
On July 29-30, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment,
charging Nixon with misusing his power in order to violate the constitutional rights of U.S.
citizens, obstructing justice in the Watergate affair, and defying Judiciary Committee

Further Revelations
Soon after the Watergate scandal came to light, investigators uncovered a related group of
illegal activities: Since 1971 a White House group called the “plumbers” had been doing
whatever was necessary to stop leaks to the press. A grand jury indicted Ehrlichman, White
House Special Counsel Charles Colson, and others for organizing a break-in and burglary in
1971 of a psychiatrist\'s office to obtain damaging material against Daniel Ellsberg, who had
publicized classified documents called the Pentagon Papers.
Investigators also discovered that the Nixon administration had solicited large sums of money
in illegal campaign contributions—used to finance political espionage and to pay more than
$500,000 to the Watergate burglars—and that certain administration officials had
systematically lied about their involvement in the break-in and cover-up. In addition, White
House aides testified that in 1972 they had falsified documents to make it appear that
President John F. Kennedy had been involved in the 1963 assassination of President Ngo Dinh
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