Shelby: Forty years ago today, people all across the country were glued to their television sets to watch the start of congressional hearings in Washington. It was the beginning of the senate’s formal investigation into the Watergate scandal, a controversy that forever changed politics in Washington and ended President Richard Nixon’s career.
So, here is a pop quiz question for you.
The Watergate scandal began with what event? Was it:
A. An election
B. A break-in
C. A speech
D. A resignation
You have got ten seconds to think it through.
Time is up! The right answer is “B.” The Watergate scandal began with a break-in. That break-in took place at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters located in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington, D.C. It all went down on June 17, 1972, when five men working on the committee to re-elect Republican President Richard Nixon were arrested for breaking into, and illegally wiretapping, the offices of their competitors, the Democrats. Caught with high-end electronic surveillance equipment, the five men were charged with second-degree burglary. But their arrests were far from the end of the scandal.
President Richard Nixon: People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I am not a crook.
Shelby: President Nixon repeatedly denied any involvement or wrongdoing.
President Richard Nixon: I neither took part in, nor knew about, any of the subsequent cover-up activities.
Shelby: But two young Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, kept digging and eventually helped expose important evidence.
Bob Woodward: Transactions, dirty tricks, cover-ups, hush money and so forth.
Carl Bernstein: What we found is that his White House became, to a remarkable extent, a criminal enterprise such as we’ve never had in our history.
Shelby: Despite the newspaper’s investigation, many Americans refused to believe the president was directly involved in Watergate and President Nixon was re-elected in 1972. But the president’s popularity didn’t last long. And in May of 1973, the senate began televising hearings on the Watergate affair.
TV: There are at least seven more witnesses to be heard.
Shelby: Testimony during the hearings showed evidence of Nixon’s ties to the Watergate break-in. His own audiotapes captured him talking about paying to cover up the investigation.
President Richard Nixon: You can get a million dollars, and you could get it in cash. I know where it could be gotten.
Woodward: That’s what began, kind of, the unraveling of Watergate, and the unraveling of ‘who was Richard Nixon?’
Shelby: Dozens of Nixon’s aides were eventually fined or imprisoned for their involvement in the Watergate scandal. As for Nixon, Congress was preparing to impeach him, but on August 8th, 1974, President Nixon resigned, making him the first and only U.S. president to ever step down. His vice president, Gerald Ford, took over as president and pardoned Nixon for any of his involvement in Watergate. Nixon never thanked him.
- What made the Watergate scandal unique?
- Why do you think voters re-elected President Nixon, even after reports came out that connected him to the scandal?