Watergate affair, in U. S. history, series of scandals involving the administration of President Richard M. Nixon; more specifically, the burglarizing of the Democratic party national headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington, D. C. The Watergate affair signifies the web of political scandals that plagued President Richard Nixon from 1972 until his resignation in 1974.
The beginning of the Watergate scandal began in June 1971, when the Pentagon Papers were published. In September 1971, the "plumbers" unit was created to plug leaks in the administration. This resulted in the burglary of a psychiatrist's office to find files on Daniel Ells berg, the former defense analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers. On May 28, 1972, bugging equipment was installed at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate hotel and office complex in Washington, D. C.
This was the first of two burglaries to occur. On June 17, 1972, during the presidential campaign of that year, Washington, D. C. , police officers arrested seven employees of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) as they were breaking into the Democratic National Committee's headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex.
Five men were arrested during this break-in. Not only had Nixon, his aides, and his reelection campaign conspired to sabotage the president's Democratic challengers, but also they were now attempting to impede the investigation of the Watergate case. There was never any evidence that Nixon ordered the break-in or that he was aware of plans to burglarize the Democratic National Committee. But from the start, Nixon was involved in the cover-up of the incident. By the time of the Watergate break-in, "the money to finance such "pranks" was being illegally collected through the Committee to Re-elect the President and placed under the control of the White House staff" (Bailey, Cohen, Kennedy 973). The cover-up began to unravel as various people, including John Dean, legal counsel to the president, began to believe they were being set up as fall guys, and began to cooperate with prosecutors.
As a result, of John Dean's cooperation, Nixon dismissed him at the end of April. After Nixon's "I'm not a crook" speech, Dean testified to the Ervin Committee that "there had been a cover-up, and the Nixon had approved it" (Emery 170). Another devastating disclosure was that a Whit House aide told the committee that Nixon had "installed a taping system in the White House and that many of the conversations about Watergate had been recorded" (Bailey, Cohen, Kennedy 974). After a yearlong battle for Nixon to turn over the tapes, Archibald Cox took him to court in October 1973.
Nixon pleaded "executive privilege", and refused to turn over the tapes and ordered Cox fired. On February 6, 1974 the House of Representatives votes to authorize the House Judiciary Committee to investigate whether grounds exist for the impeachment of President Nixon. The hearings of Nixon's impeachment begin before the House Judiciary Committee on May 9, 1974. On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the president must surrender the tapes. No sooner were the tapes handed over than investigators learned that "sections of certain recordings were missing, including eighteen minutes of key conversation during which Nixon first mentioned the Watergate burglary" (Emery 410). A secretary tried to take the blame, but experts later concluded that missing segments had been intentionally deleted.
Three days later, the House Judiciary Committee dramatically voted to recommend three articles of impeachment. "The first being, obstruction of justice through the payment of "hush money" to witness and the withholding of evidence. The second being, abuse of power through using federal agencies to deprive citizens of their constitutional rights. The third being, defiance of Congress by withholding the tapes" (Fone r and Garrity 1). But before the House of Representatives could meet to vote on impeachment, Nixon handed over the complete set of White House tapes. On August 9, 1974, fully aware that the evidence on the tapes implicated him in the cover-up, Nixon resigned from office, being the president to ever do so.
With the aftermath of Watergate, Congress responded to the revelations with several pieces of legislation designed to curb executive power. The first was the War Powers Act of 1973. This requires the president to inform Congress within forty-eight hours if U. S. troops were being deployed in combat abroad and to withdraw troops after sixty das unless Congress specifically approved their stay. In an effort to correct abuses of campaign funds, Congress enacted legislation in 1974 that set new ceilings on political contributions and expenditures.
And in reaction to the Nixon claim of "executive privilege" as a means of withholding evidence, Congress strengthened the 1966 Freedom of Information Act to require "prompt responses to requests for information from government files and to place on government agencies the burden of proof for classifying information as secret" (Bailey, Cohen, Kennedy 978). Nixon's resignation pleased his critics but also initiated a prolonged crisis of confidence. A poll taken in 1974 asked people how much faith they had in the executive branch of government. Only 14 percent answered "a great deal" while 43 percent said "hardly any." Restoring credibility and respect thus became the primary challenge facing Nixon's successors. In addition to the governmental upheaval that resulted from the Watergate affair, the scandal provoked widespread loss of confidence in public officials and tended to foster a general suspicion of government agencies.