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How the Watergate scandal broke to the world: A visual timeline

When Americans woke up on June 17, 1972, they knew President Richard M. Nixon was cruising to a likely reelection. He had withstood the embarrassing leak of the Pentagon Papers the year before, which revealed a darker picture of U.S. involvement in Vietnam than the public had previously seen.

But they did not know that since then, the White House had formed a covert team that carried out unethical and illegal spying and sabotage against Democratic candidates.

And they did not know that, while most Americans slept, that team had bungled a burglary, or that the eventual coverup would bring about the end of Nixon’s presidency.

Here is how the Watergate story was revealed, connection by connection, leading all the way to the president.

Frank A.

Sturgis

Virgilio R.

Gonzalez

Eugenio R.

Martinez

Alfred C.

Baldwin III

Bernard

L. Barker

James W.

McCord Jr.

NIXON ADMINISTRATION

CRP

L. Patrick

Gray III

E. Howard

Hunt Jr.

John Mitchell

G.Gordon

Liddy

H.R. “Bob”

Haldeman

Charles W.

Colson

Gordon C.

Strachan

John D.

Ehrlichman

Hugh W.

Sloan Jr.

Kenneth H.

Dahlberg

Dwight L

Chapin

Egil “Bud”

Krogh Jr.

John W.

Dean III

David R.

Young

Maurice Stans

Jeb Stuart

Magruder

Richard G.

Kleindienst

Donald H.

Segretti

Sentenced

to prison

Herbert W.

Kalmbach

President

Richard M. Nixon

Frank A.

Sturgis

Virgilio R.

Gonzalez

Eugenio R.

Martinez

Alfred C.

Baldwin III

Bernard

L. Barker

James W.

McCord Jr.

NIXON ADMINISTRATION

CRP

E. Howard

Hunt Jr.

L. Patrick

Gray III

John Mitchell

G. Gordon

Liddy

H.R. “Bob”

Haldeman

Charles W.

Colson

Hugh W.

Sloan Jr.

John D.

Ehrlichman

Gordon C.

Strachan

Kenneth H.

Dahlberg

Egil “Bud”

Krogh Jr.

Dwight L

Chapin

John W.

Dean III

Maurice Stans

David R. Young

Jeb Stuart

Magruder

Richard G.

Kleindienst

Donald H.

Segretti

Sentenced

to prison

Herbert W.

Kalmbach

President

Richard M. Nixon

Frank A.

Sturgis

Burglar

Virgilio R.

Gonzalez

Burglar

Eugenio R.

Martinez

Burglar

Sentenced

to prison

Alfred C.

Baldwin III

Lookout

Bernard

L. Barker

Burglar

James W.

McCord Jr.

Burglar

NIXON ADMINISTRATION

CRP

Hugh W.

Sloan Jr.

Campaign

treasurer

John Mitchell

Campaign director,

former attorney

general

E. Howard

Hunt Jr.

Consultant

Charles W.

Colson

Special counsel

Kenneth H.

Dahlberg

Midwest finance

chairman

H.R. “Bob”

Haldeman

White House

chief of staff

John D.

Ehrlichman

Nixon adviser,

domestic affairs

G. Gordon Liddy

Finance counsel

Jeb Stuart

Magruder

Deputy

Campaign

director

Egil “Bud”

Krogh Jr.

Ehrlichman aide

Gordon C.

Strachan

Haldeman aide

Maurice Stans

Finance chairman

Dwight L

Chapin

Haldeman aide

Donald H. Segretti

Attorney

David R. Young

Ehrlichman aide

John W.

Dean III

White House

Counsel

Richard G.

Kleindienst

Attorney general

Herbert W.

Kalmbach

Nixon’s personal

attorney

L. Patrick Gray III

Acting FBI

director

President Richard M. Nixon

1972

June 17

A strange break-in at DNC headquarters

About 12:30 a.m., security guard Frank Wills notices masking tape holding a door latch open between the parking garage and a stairwell at D.C.’s Watergate hotel and office complex. He removes it but returns to find the lock taped again and calls the police. They arrest five intruders on the sixth floor, inside the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.

The burglars are carrying sophisticated bugging and communication devices, keys to Room 214 and $2,300 in crisp $100 bills. During the hubbub, police notice a man watching from a room at the hotel across the street.

Four of the burglars are Cuban American and live in Miami: Bernard L. Barker, Eugenio R. Martinez, Frank A. Sturgis and Virgilio R. Gonzalez. In their first court appearance later that day, they state their profession as “anti-communists.” The fifth, James W. McCord Jr., says he is a security consultant who had recently retired from government service.

When the judge asks where, he whispers, “CIA.”

The coverup — and the investigation — would soon begin.

June 18

A burglar is tied to the Nixon campaign

An Associated Press story identifies McCord as the security coordinator for the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CRP), Nixon’s campaign organization.

John Mitchell, the former U.S. attorney general who had resigned earlier in the year to run Nixon’s reelection campaign, tries to distance the campaign from McCord. “This man and the other people were not operating on our behalf or with our consent,” Mitchell says in a statement. “There is no place in our campaign, or in the electoral process, for this type of activity.”

June 20

More links point toward the White House

When law enforcement officers search Room 214 of the Watergate after the burglary, they find address books belonging to burglars Barker and Martinez. In them is contact information for a former CIA agent and mysterious White House consultant named E. Howard Hunt Jr.

Promised that his information would be used only on “deep background,” a top FBI official involved in the investigation, W. Mark Felt, assures Washington Post Metro reporter Bob Woodward that he is correct in connecting the burglars and Hunt. It is among the many bits of context and confirmation from the shadowy source who would come to be known as “Deep Throat.” Felt’s identity would remain secret until 2005.

Soon, it would be revealed that the “George” listed in one of the address books referred to CRP finance counsel and former FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy.

July 1

Mitchell and CRP treasurer resign

Mitchell announces his resignation from the Nixon campaign. A couple of weeks later, CRP Treasurer Hugh W. Sloan Jr. resigns, too. ​​“I just couldn’t go to work every day in good conscience,” he would explain in 1992, “when I knew, one, that there was an involvement, and, two, that there were people trying to cover it up.”

He soon becomes a fruitful source of information for investigators and for Woodward and fellow Post reporter Carl Bernstein.

Aug. 1

Burglar’s money came from campaign

Just days after the break-in, Dade County, Fla., chief investigator Martin F. Dardis had traced most of the $100 bills found on the burglars to Barker’s account at a Miami bank. He had also learned that Barker had deposited five large checks into that account in April. One was a $25,000 cashier’s check made out to Minneapolis industrialist Kenneth H. Dahlberg, a Nixon fundraiser and the CRP’s finance chairman for the Midwest.

Dardis tells this to Bernstein, and the Aug. 1 story linking the burglary to the campaign becomes a huge break in the quickly expanding Watergate story.

When asked by Woodward, Dahlberg says he gave the check to CRP Finance Chairman Maurice Stans, Nixon’s chief fundraiser, and doesn’t know how it got into Barker’s account.

Sept. 15

Burglars are indicted; a cash stash is revealed

The five burglars are indicted on federal charges, as are Hunt and Liddy, who organized the botched operation.

Shortly afterward, The Post reports that a fund of $350,000 in cash was kept in Stans’s safe, in part as an intelligence-gathering fund, and that Liddy had been paid from it.

Sept. 29

Mitchell controlled the stash

Beginning while he was attorney general in spring of 1971, Mitchell controlled disbursements from the secret fund that was used to gather intel on the Democrats.

“Four persons other than Mitchell were later authorized to approve payments from the secret fund,” Woodward and Bernstein write, citing unnamed sources.

Two of the four were Stans and Jeb Stuart Magruder, who is now the deputy campaign director.

When Bernstein calls Mitchell for comment before the story runs, Mitchell responds, referring to the Post’s publisher, Katharine Graham: “Katie Graham’s gonna get her t-- caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.”

It is published, along with his response — but not the t-word.

Oct. 5

The lookout tells his story

The Los Angeles Times publishes an interview with former FBI security expert Alfred C. Baldwin III, the lookout whom police had seen watching the Watergate from a nearby hotel. A desk clerk at that hotel had recognized McCord’s picture, putting the FBI on a trail that led to Baldwin, who had fled to Connecticut.

Baldwin says he was hired and supervised by McCord. After the break-in, the CRP “cut him loose,” according to his lawyer, and by the end of June, Baldwin was cooperating with investigators in exchange for immunity from prosecution — making him the only member of the burglary team not charged with a crime. His testimony had provided enough evidence to indict the five burglars, Hunt and Liddy.

Oct. 10

A coverup is uncovered

Citing FBI and Justice Department files, Woodward and Bernstein report that the break-in was part of an extensive campaign of spying and sabotage against Democratic candidates carried out by top Nixon aides and the CRP — and confirm to the world that a coverup was underway.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in Nixon campaign contributions were set aside to finance the espionage. Some of it went to Donald H. Segretti, a former Treasury lawyer turned political spy who infiltrated and disrupted Democratic campaigns. He was hired and handled by two close aides of White House Chief of Staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman: Dwight L. Chapin, who was also Nixon’s appointments secretary, and Gordon C. Strachan. Segretti also coordinated with Hunt.

The FBI would find that Segretti received about $35,000 from Herbert W. Kalmbach, the president’s personal attorney.

Nov. 7

Nixon is reelected

Nixon trounces Democrat George McGovern in a landslide, winning more than 60 percent of the vote and taking every state but Massachusetts. (McGovern also won the District of Columbia.)

1973

January

Burglars plead guilty but name no higher-ups

The burglars’ case goes to federal court. Hunt pleads guilty but claims he knows of no one higher in the Nixon administration who was involved in the plot. The four Miami men also plead guilty.

Liddy and McCord opt to go to trial, and the jury quickly convicts them. According to testimony, Liddy was given about $332,000 in campaign funds, purportedly to carry out a number of intelligence-gathering duties assigned by Magruder.

Former CRP treasurer Sloan would testify that Mitchell and others approved payments to Liddy and that Magruder urged him to commit perjury.

Feb. 7

The Senate begins to investigate

The Senate unanimously votes to establish a committee to look into the growing Watergate scandal.

March 23-29

Burglar implicates White House counsel

Between his conviction and sentencing, burglar McCord, who faces a sentence of up to 45 years and hopes for leniency, sends a letter to the presiding judge, John Sirica, who reads it in open court.

“There was political pressure applied to the defendants to plead guilty and remain silent,” McCord writes. He says that people testifying under oath perjured themselves during the trial and that the break-in was approved by higher-ups.

The letter doesn’t name names, but McCord does days later in talks with investigators and testimony before the Senate committee. The Los Angeles Times reports that McCord implicated Magruder and said that White House counsel John W. Dean III, the man Nixon tasked with leading the White House’s investigation into the bugging, knew about the scheme all along.

As the White House’s point man in the investigation, Dean received regular updates early on from Henry E. Petersen, who was leading the investigation for the Justice Department, and acting FBI director and Nixon loyalist L. Patrick Gray III.

McCord also tells the committee that Liddy told him Mitchell approved the break-in and bugging.

April 19

Magruder links Mitchell and Dean to burglary, hush money

Once McCord begins to talk, others feel the ship sinking beneath them.

Magruder tells federal prosecutors that Mitchell and Dean not only approved and helped plan the bugging but also conspired to buy the silence of the seven people convicted in the break-in, according to Woodward and Bernstein.

The New York Times reports that Dean is ready to implicate others if he is indicted, serving notice that he doesn’t plan to become a scapegoat.

April 27

L.A. judge reveals ‘Plumbers’ origin, previous break-in

The next explosive news comes from the Los Angeles courtroom where former Defense Department analyst Daniel Ellsberg is on trial for leaking the Pentagon Papers, and it explains the burglary team’s origin story.

The judge in Ellsberg’s trial, W. Matthew Byrne Jr., announces that Watergate prosecutors told him that Hunt and Liddy had conducted another burglary the year before the Watergate break-in, hoping to find information that would discredit Ellsberg.

Out spill revelations about how Nixon’s rage over the leak of the Pentagon Papers led to the birth of the “Plumbers,” a special unit that operated out of the Executive Office Building basement and was charged with plugging leaks in the administration. Charles W. Colson, who was officially the special counsel to the president and unofficially the White House “hatchet man” and “dirty tricks artist,” directed the Plumbers.

He recruited his former Brown University classmate Hunt, and Hunt teamed up with Liddy. The Plumbers were supervised by Egil “Bud” Krogh Jr. and David R. Young, aides to Nixon’s domestic affairs adviser, John D. Ehrlichman. Young regularly provided Ehrlichman with updates.

On Sept. 3, 1971, Hunt, Liddy and a handful of anti-Castro Cuban Americans under the auspices of the Plumbers staged a burglary at the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Lewis Fielding, hoping to find dirt they could use to smear Ellsberg. Ehrlichman authorized the break-in and arranged for CIA assistance, including a spy camera and fake IDs.

The break-in yielded nothing useful, but many of the perpetrators would reunite at the Watergate the next year, including burglars Barker and Martinez.

In light of the extensive White House plot to discredit him, charges against Ellsberg are dropped.

The same day the judge exposes the break-in at Fielding’s office, acting FBI director Gray resigns after the disclosure that he destroyed files containing evidence of political sabotage that came from Hunt’s safe. He says Dean and Ehrlichman persuaded him to destroy the papers, telling him the material was not related to Watergate.

April 29

Haldeman, Ehrlichman led the coverup

Bernstein and Woodward report that the Watergate coverup was masterminded by Haldeman and Ehrlichman, citing “at least two high-level White House officials,” and that Dean intends to testify that he gave the pair regular reports on the progress of the coverup.

Haldeman and Ehrlichman immediately resign, along with Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst, who took office five days before the Watergate burglary, and Haldeman aide Strachan. Nixon fires Dean.

The president addresses the housecleaning the next day in a televised message to the nation, saying, “There can be no whitewash at the White House.” He appoints Defense Secretary Elliot L. Richardson to replace Kleindienst and to uncover “the whole truth” about the Watergate scandal. He denies his own involvement.

May 17

Hearings begin and a special prosecutor is announced

The Senate committee investigating the break-in and coverup begins televised hearings. The next day, attorney general-designate Richardson names his choice for special prosecutor: former U.S. solicitor general Archibald Cox.

June 3

Reports: Dean will implicate Nixon

The New York Times and Washington Post report Dean will testify that Nixon participated in the Watergate coverup. Dean told Senate investigators and federal prosecutors that he discussed aspects of the coverup with Nixon or in Nixon’s presence at least 35 times between January and April, and that the president had approved hundreds of thousands of dollars in hush money and discussed raising much more.

In public hearings at the end of the month, Dean would indeed publicly accuse the president.

July 16

Nixon aide: There are tapes

Junior White House aide Alexander P. Butterfield, Nixon’s former appointments secretary, drops an astounding fact during televised testimony: Nixon had a secret White House recording system that had routinely taped his conversations since the spring of 1971.

July 23

The battle for tapes begins

Cox subpoenas the tapes of nine presidential meetings. Nixon refuses to turn them over, citing executive privilege, and sets up a constitutional confrontation. In August, Sirica would rule that the president has to turn over the tapes; the White House would appeal. On Oct. 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals upholds Sirica’s ruling.

Oct. 20

Nixon axes AGs, Cox in the ‘Saturday Night Massacre’

When Cox refuses to accept White House summaries of the tapes in place of the full tapes, Nixon orders Cox fired and abolishes the office of the special prosecutor, in what would be known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.” It took a while for him to find someone to carry it out. He initially asked his attorney general, Richardson, who refused and resigned. Richardson’s deputy, William D. Ruckelshaus, refused as well, and Nixon fired him. Finally, Solicitor General Robert Bork agreed to fire Cox, a decision that would haunt him in his unsuccessful effort to be confirmed to the Supreme Court in 1987.

The administration, bowing to public pressure, later releases tapes of seven of the meetings Cox requested. Recordings of the two other meetings don’t exist, Nixon’s lawyers say.

On Nov. 1, a new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, would be appointed and would resume and expand the battle for the tapes.

Nov. 17

Nixon: ‘I’m not a crook’

In an hour-long question-and-answer session with Associated Press editors, Nixon declares, “I’m not a crook.”

The president says White House tape recordings will prove that he had no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in, that he never offered executive clemency for the Watergate burglars, and that he didn’t know about a coverup until March 21, 1973.

Nov. 20

A key tape with an 18-minute gap

White House lawyers disclose to Sirica that one of the tapes has a gap of more than 18 minutes in the middle of a long conversation between Nixon and Haldeman three days after the Watergate break-in. It was the first tape Nixon’s personal secretary, Rose Mary Woods, tackled when she began transcribing tapes in September.

1974

March 1

Grand jury: Nixon is ‘unindicted co-conspirator’

A grand jury indicts Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and others involved in the coverup. Nixon is named an unindicted co-conspirator, but that part is kept sealed.

April 30

Evidence, spin in a flood of transcripts

At 10 a.m., the White House releases a short memo summarizing 1,254 pages of edited transcripts of Nixon’s tapes that it plans to release to the House Judiciary Committee.

The summary concludes, “Not once does it appear that the President of the United States was engaged in a criminal plot to obstruct justice.”

The actual edited transcripts, released at 3 p.m., are, as Post reporter Haynes Johnson writes, “open to other interpretations.”

In various conversations, from September 1972 through April 1973, the president discussed raising blackmail money and the merits of offering clemency or parole to those convicted, and he urged the adoption of a “national security” defense for potential White House defendants.

July 24

Tape proves Nixon knew

The Supreme Court rules unanimously that Nixon has to turn over 64 additional tapes to Jaworski, and one of them is soon dubbed the “smoking gun” tape.

The recording is of a conversation between Nixon and Haldeman six days after the break-in. In it, the president approves a plan to have the CIA block the budding investigation by telling the FBI that tracing the money could jeopardize a national security operation.

It proves the president knew about the Watergate break-in far sooner than he claimed and actively participated in the coverup.

After the revelation, Nixon’s support in Congress largely evaporates, and on July 27, the House Judiciary Committee passes the first of three articles of impeachment.

Aug. 8

Nixon resigns

Nixon announces his resignation during a televised address to the country. At noon the next day, Vice President Gerald Ford takes the oath of office to succeed him.

A month later, Ford pardons Nixon. By the end of the Watergate saga, dozens of people associated with the Nixon administration and campaign either plead guilty or are convicted of crimes related to the burglaries or the coverup. Nineteen were sentenced to prison, including some of Nixon’s closest aides.

About this story

Among those sentenced to prison are three CRP staff members who aren’t shown above: Mitchell aide Frederick C. LaRue, Scheduling Director Herbert L. Porter and attorney Robert C. Mardian. Mardian’s sentence was overturned on appeal.

Unless otherwise noted, timeline information is from Washington Post reporting and two books about the Watergate scandal by Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, “All the President’s Men” and “The Final Days.”

Images of newspaper stories are from original print editions of The Washington Post from 1972 to 1974. Headshot images are by The Washington Post, Associated Press, and the National Archives and Records Administration.

Editing by Chiqui Esteban and Aaron Wiener. Copy editing by Melissa Ngo.