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Watergate – 1973-1974

President and Mrs. Nixon on Aug. 9, 1974, as Nixon makes a farewell address to the White House staff. (AP)
The grandest scandal of modern times, Watergate led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon and the conviction of many White House aides – even two U.S. attorneys general – on various charges. The scandal began with the bugging of Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington's Watergate office-apartment complex by officials of the Committee to Reelect the President on June 17, 1972.

A cover-up of White House links to the burglary ensued, orchestrated by Nixon's closest staffers with the president's participation. The nation then endured two years of damaging revelations by Congress and the press – especially The Washington Post's team of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. After forced resignations and indictments galore and a tissue of presidential lies, Nixon's defenses collapsed with the Supreme Court-mandated release of the tapes of his White House meetings about Watergate. The tapes, made secretly by Nixon himself, contained a "smoking gun" – clear proof of Nixon's involvement in the cover-up.

Faced with near-certain impeachment in the House and conviction in the Senate, Nixon became the only president ever to resign, on August 9, 1974. In an unrelated scandal, Vice President Spiro Agnew had resigned his office earlier (in October 1973) after a bribery and corruption probe. Agnew's resignation was part of a plea bargain that included pleading no contest to a charge of income tax evasion.

Watergate transformed journalism in many ways, not least by elevating the practitioners of investigative reporting to hero status.

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© Copyright 1998 Larry J. Sabato

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