The Watergate scandal, originally named after the famous Watergate office building where five members of President Nixon’s administration broke into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters, has grown to refer to many of the Nixon administration’s illegal acts in the early 1970s. The following investigation uncovered that Nixon had been wiretapping and illegally recording conversations, and Nixon resigned when he faced almost certain impeachment.
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were two journalists who investigated and published stories on the Watergate scandal. Their reporting for The Washington Post ultimately contributed to Nixon’s downfall at a time when many other news organizations were ignoring his ties to the illicit activities surrounding his administration.
Helen Thomas remembers asking the out-spoken Martha Mitchell, wife of Attorney General John Mitchell, about the issues of the day when Mitchell gave Thomas an unexpected answer that received attention from her unsuspecting male colleagues.
Mike Wallace remembers his unexpected friendship with former Vice President Richard Nixon on the way to his 1968 election as president and his decision to become a "60 Minutes" correspondent instead of possibly joining the Nixon administration.
Seymour Hersh says that after Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein wrote the book "All The Presidents Men" about how they broke the Watergate scandal, part of any big investigative story became how reporters got the story.
- White House Plumbers
July 24, 1971In response to the leak of the secret Department of Defense history of the Vietnam War known as the “Pentagon Papers,” President Nixon authorizes the creation of a special investigative unit that would come to be known as the White House Plumbers. Nixon tells White House chief domestic adviser John Ehrlichman, “If we can't get anyone in this damn government to do something about leaks, then by God we'll do it ourselves. I want you to set up a little group right here in the White House. Have them get off their tails and find out what’s going on and figure out how to stop it.”1
- Hunt Memo
July 28, 1971One of the Plumbers, E. Howard Hunt, a former CIA agent, writes a memo to Charles Colson, special counsel to the president, detailing plans for the “neutralization” of Daniel Ellsberg, the RAND Corporation analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers. The memo says, “I am proposing a skeletal operations plan aimed at building a file on Ellsberg that will contain all available overt, covert, and derogatory information. This basic tool is essential to determining how to destroy his public image and credibility.”2
- Ellsberg Psychiatrist Break-In
September 3, 1971G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, both on the White House payroll, and others break in to the office of Lewis Fielding, Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, in Los Angeles. The burglary is approved by Ehrlichman — only, he writes, “if done under your assurance that it is not traceable.3” The incident is suspected to be one of many break-ins conducted by the Plumbers in the ensuing months.45
- Watergate Break-In
May 28, 1972After a number of attempts, White House operatives succeed in breaking into Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel complex in Washington. The burglars photograph materials lying on desks and fit electronic eavesdropping devices on the phones of the head of the DNC, Larry O’Brien.6
- Burglars Caught
June 17, 1972After the photographed documents reveal nothing significant and a number of the eavesdropping devices stop working, another attempt is made to break into the DNC office. A security guard notices the suspicious activity, however, and five men are arrested by D.C. police. They are taken into custody wearing business suits and rubber surgical gloves and carrying sophisticated spy equipment and thousands of dollars’ worth of $100 bills with sequential serial numbers.78
- Woodward & Bernstein
June 19, 1972Two young Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, report that one of the burglars, James McCord Jr., is the security coordinator for President Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President.9 Within hours of the June 17 break-in, the Post assigns 11 editors and reporters to the story, and the newspaper remains at the journalistic forefront of the Watergate coverage. City editor Barry Sussman eventually becomes the special Watergate editor overseeing day-to-day coverage. Woodward and Bernstein investigate the scandal relentlessly, during which time Woodward meets with and receives tips from “Deep Throat,” a source whose identity he promises to keep secret.
- White House Ties
June 20, 1972Woodward reports that one of the burglars has E. Howard Hunt’s name in his address book, along with checks signed by Hunt, who is identified as a consultant to Colson. It is the first published connection between those arrested at the Watergate and the White House.10
- Cover-Up Begins
June 23, 1972In a taped Oval Office conversation, President Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, discuss the Watergate break-in and plan to instruct CIA Director Richard Helms to tell the acting director of the FBI, L. Patrick Gray, that any further investigation will get in the way of CIA operations. When the recording is publicly released three years later, it is dubbed the “smoking gun tape” and leads to the president’s resignation.11
- Burglar Received Check
August 1, 1972Woodward and Bernstein report that a $25,000 check apparently intended as a donation to Nixon’s re-election campaign was deposited in the bank account of a real-estate firm owned by Bernard L. Barker, one of the suspected Watergate burglars.12
- ‘Massive Campaign’
October 10, 1972The Washington Post reports that the during the FBI’s investigation of the Watergate scandal it found evidence of a “massive campaign” of spying and sabotage against Democrats. Hundreds of thousands of dollars had been spent investigating and trying to discredit major Democratic candidates. According to the newspaper, “ ‘Intelligence work’ is normal during a campaign and is said to be carried out by both political parties. But federal investigators said what they uncovered being done by the Nixon forces is unprecedented in scope and intensity.”13
- Cronkite on Watergate
October 27, 1972“The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite” devotes two segments to the Watergate scandal, making the story nationally known. CBS asked for the original documents used by The Washington Post and had to be convinced that at that time there were none; it was all based on original reporting. Instead of documents, CBS used shots of Washington Post front pages. As executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee later wrote about the two television segments in his autobiography, “When the pieces finally ran (fourteen minutes on October 27 and eight minutes for the next night) they had a powerful impact everywhere — on the Post, on the politicians (if not the voters), and on newsrooms outside Washington. Somehow the Great White Father, Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America, had blessed the story by spending so much time on it. …We were thrilled. No new ground was broken, but the broadcasts validated the Post’s stories in the public’s mind and gave us an immense morale boost.”14
- Nixon Re-elected
November 7, 1972Nixon is re-elected in one of the largest landslides in U.S. history.
- Burglars’ Trial Begins
January 10, 1973Opening arguments begin in the trial of the seven men accused of involvement in the Watergate burglary: Liddy, Hunt, Barker, McCord, Frank Sturgis, Eugenio Martinez and Virgilio Gonzalez. The trial is presided over by U.S. District Judge John Sirica, an Eisenhower appointee. Though the defense tries to portray the burglars as having worked alone and completely independently —led only by Liddy with no White House involvement — Judge Sirica is extremely skeptical. Five of the defendants — Hunt, Barker, Sturgis, Martinez and Gonzales — plead guilty and refuse to answer any of Judge Sirica’s questions about what motivated the break-in.15
- Burglars Found Guilty
January 30, 1973The remaining defendants, Liddy and McCord, are found guilty. Judge Sirica is dissatisfied with the many questions about the break-in still left unanswered and expresses his hope that the special Senate Committee investigating Watergate will be able to “get to the bottom of what happened in this case.”16
- FBI Gives Up Files
February 28, 1973During confirmation hearings for his appointment as director of the FBI, L. Patrick Gray reveals that he had turned over FBI files on Watergate to White House counsel John Dean and that Dean had sat in on the FBI’s questioning of witnesses, even though Dean and other officials were considered suspects in the investigation.17
- White House Pressure
March 23, 1973At a sentencing hearing, Judge Sirica reveals a letter sent to him by James McCord. The letter states that the defendants were all pressured by the administration to plead guilty and that the burglary had not been an independent operation — other people knew of the plan:
“I will state the following to you at this time, which I hope may be of help to you in meting out justice in this case: 1. There was political pressure applied to the defendants to plead guilty and remain silent. 2. Perjury occurred during the trial in matters highly material to the very structure, orientation, and impact of the government’s case, and to the motivation and intent of the defendants. 3. Others involved in the Watergate operation were not identified during the trial, when they could have been by those testifying. 4. The Watergate operation was not a CIA operation. The Cubans may have been misled by others into believing that it was a CIA operation. I know for a fact that it was not.”18
- Aides Resign
April 30, 1973Amid the escalating scandal, three of President Nixon’s top aides, Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, resign, and Dean is fired. In his first public Watergate speech, Nixon appears aloof from the scandal, promising the American people he will accept full responsibility for the Watergate affair but denying any prior knowledge.19
- Watergate Hearings Begin
May 17, 1973The Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, known as the Watergate Committee and headed by Sen. Sam Ervin, a Democrat from North Carolina, begins hearings ,20 which are broadcast by all three TV networks and watched by a huge portion of the American population.21
- Special Prosecutor Appointed
May 19, 1973Attorney General Elliot Richardson appoints former solicitor general Archibald Cox as the Justice Department’s independent special prosecutor to investigate the Watergate scandal.
- Dean Discussions
June 3, 1973The Washington Post reports that John Dean has told investigators that he often discussed the Watergate cover-up with President Nixon or in the president’s presence, citing at least 35 separate occasions. “Dean has told investigators that Mr. Nixon had prior knowledge of payments used to buy the silence of the Watergate conspirators and of offers of executive clemency extended in his name, the sources said.”22
- Dean Testifies
June 25, 1973Dean testifies before the Senate Watergate Committee. In all, the committee calls more than 150 witnesses over 319 hours of hearings.
- White House Tapes
July 13, 1973Former White House aide Alexander Butterfield reveals that President Nixon has routinely taped thousands of hours of his own conversations on four of his personal telephones, in the Oval Office, the cabinet room of the White House, and in the Executive Office Building.23
- Saturday Night Massacre
October 20, 1973In response to special prosecutor Archibald Cox’s subpoena of the taped conversations recorded in the Oval Office, Nixon orders Attorney General Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refuses and resigns in protest. The deputy attorney general, William Ruckelshaus, is then ordered to fire Cox. He, too, refuses and resigns. Solicitor General Robert H. Bork by law becomes attorney general and carries out President Nixon’s instructions to fire Cox. The president also abolishes the office of special prosecutor. This series of events becomes known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”24
- Impeachment Calls
October 21, 1973Members of Congress and the public begin calling for impeachment proceedings against President Nixon, and resolutions to that effect are introduced in the House of Representatives.25
- New Prosecutor
November 1, 1973Nixon is forced by public outcry to allow the appointment of another special prosecutor, and Bork chooses Leon Jaworski.
- ‘Not a Crook’
November 18, 1973In a televised question-and-answer session with Associated Press managing editors, President Nixon maintains his innocence, declaring: “I am not a crook.”26
- Tape Erased
November 21, 1973The White House discloses to Judge Sirica that an 18-minute segment of a subpoenaed tape, a recording of a discussion between President Nixon and H.R. Haldeman, has been erased.27
- Secretary Claims Responsibility
November 26, 1973The president’s personal secretary, Rose Mary Woods, testifies that she must have been responsible for at least a portion of the 18-minute gap when she had accidentally pushed the record button while pressing down on the recorder’s foot pedal for a few minutes. When asked to demonstrate how the mistake was made, Woods has to use a very awkward stretching position, raising skepticism about her story.28
- Impeachment Moves Forward
February 6, 1974The House of Representatives, in a 410 to 4 vote, instructs the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Peter W. Rodino Jr., a Democrat from New Jersey, to investigate whether sufficient grounds exist to impeach the president.29
- Nixon Gives Transcripts
April 29, 1974President Nixon refuses to turn over tapes that had been subpoenaed by the Judiciary Committee but hands over more than 1,200 pages of written, edited transcripts.30 No transcripts are provided for 11 of the subpoenaed tapes.31
- Court Forces Release of Tapes
July 24, 1974The Supreme Court rules that President Nixon cannot use executive privilege to refuse to give the special prosecutor copies of the taped discussions that took place in the White House.32 Nixon is compelled to hand over the tapes, including the June 23, 1972, “smoking gun tape.”
- First Article Approved
July 27, 1974The House Judiciary Committee, referring to the Watergate break-in and other illegal activities, and to Nixon’s actions to hide his involvement in those activities, approves the first article of impeachment, charging the president with obstruction of justice.33
- Second Article Approved
July 29, 1974The House Judiciary Committee, referring to Nixon’s unauthorized use of the FBI, Internal Revenue Service, Secret Service, illegal wiretapping and use of a special investigative unit, approves the second article of impeachment, charging the president with abuse of power.34
- Third Article Approved
July 30, 1974The House Judiciary Committee, referring to the president’s refusal to comply with the committee’s subpoenas, approves the third article of impeachment, charging the president with contempt of Congress.35
- GOP Meeting
August 7, 1974Nixon meets with several Republican leaders, including Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, a former GOP presidential nominee, at the White House. Goldwater informs the president that fewer than two dozen senators say they will vote against impeachment, and that only four of those senators expressed a firm commitment that they would vote no. Nixon replies, “I’ve got a very difficult decision to make, but I want you to know I’m going to make it for the best interests of the country.”36
- Nixon Resigns
August 8, 1974Facing almost certain impeachment and removal from office, Richard Nixon becomes the first U.S. president to resign.
- Ford Sworn In
August 9, 1974Gerald R. Ford, who became vice president when Spiro T. Agnew pleaded no contest to failing to report income (bribes) and resigned in 1973, is sworn in as president.
- Nixon Pardoned
September 8, 1974President Ford issues Proclamation 4311 granting Richard Nixon a full pardon for any crimes he may have committed during his presidency. The highly controversial pardon is considered to have contributed to Ford’s loss to Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election.
- Grand Jury Testimony
June 23, 1975Nixon begins testifying before a federal grand jury looking into Watergate-era crimes. In a transcript of the 11-hour testimony released to the public 36 years later, Nixon is shown to be evasive and hostile toward the prosecution. He reveals no information about the 18-minute segment of tape that had been inexplicably erased. “It's a virtuoso performance,” historian Stanley Kutler says after the unsealing of the testimony in 2011. “How about $10 for every time he says, ‘I don’t recall?’ ”37
- ‘President’s Men’
April 4, 1976The movie “All The President’s Men” is released, based on the book of the same name by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, describing their investigation of the Watergate scandal.
- ‘Final Days’
May 3, 1976A follow-up book by Woodward and Bernstein, “The Final Days,” is published. It tops The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list for nearly four months.
- Source Revealed
May 31, 2005More than 30 years after Watergate, Vanity Fair identifies former FBI Associate Director W. Mark Felt as Woodward’s Deep Throat source. The Post confirms the report.3839
- ‘Secret Man’
July 6, 2005Bob Woodward’s “The Secret Man” is published, describing his relationship with his source, Mark Felt.40
- Bernstein, Carl, and Woodward, Bob. All the President’s Men. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974.
- Bradlee, Ben. A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.
- Emery, Fred. Watergate: The Corruption of American Politics and the Fall of Richard Nixon. New York: Touchstone, 1994.
- Ervin Jr., Sam J. The Whole Truth: The Watergate Conspiracy. New York: Random House, 1980.
- Feldstein, Mark. Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson and the Rise of Washington’s Scandal Culture. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010.
- Felt, Mark. The FBI Pyramid: From the Inside. New York: Putnam, 1979.
- Graham, Katharine. Personal History. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2002.
- Haldeman, H.R. The Ends of Power. New York: New York Times Books, 1978.
- Haldeman, H.R. The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House. New York: Berkley Books, 1994.
- Hougan, Jim. Secret Agenda: Watergate, Deep Throat, and the CIA. New York: Random House, 1984.
- Jaworski, Leon. The Right and the Power: The Prosecution of Watergate. New York: Reader’s Digest Press, 1976.
- Kutler, Stanley I. The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990.
- Kutler, Stanley I. Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes. New York: Touchstone, 1997.
- Liebovich, Louis W. Richard Nixon, Watergate, and the Press: A Historical Retrospective. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2003.
- Lukas, J. Anthony. Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years. New York: Viking Press, 1973.
- Nixon, Richard. RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.
- Olson, Keith W. Watergate: The Presidential Scandal That Shook America. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003.
- The Senate Watergate Report. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1974.
- Shepard, Alicia C. Woodward and Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2007.
- Sirica, John J. To Set the Record Straight: The Break-in, the Tapes, the Conspirators, the Pardon. New York: W.W. Norton, 1979.
- Sussman, Barry. The Great Cover-Up: Nixon and the Scandal of Watergate. Arlington, VA: Seven Locks Press, 1992.
- Ungar, Sanford J. The Papers & the Papers: An Account of the Legal and Political Battle Over the Pentagon Papers. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.
- White, Theodore H. Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon. New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1976.
- Woodward, Bob. The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.
- Woodward, Bob, and Carl Bernstein. The Final Days. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976.
- The White House Transcripts. New York: Viking Press, 1973.
FILMS AND DOCUMENTARIES
- All The President’s Men. Dir. Alan J. Pakula. Based on book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. Warner, 1976.^
- Watergate Plus 30: Shadow of History. Exec. Prod. Richard Clemmow and John Lindsay. PBS, 2003.*
- BBC/Discovery Channel: Watergate. Prod. Brian Lapping. BBC/Discovery Channel, 1994.*
- watergate.info - The Scandal That Destroyed President Richard Nixon
- washingtonpost.com - The Watergate Story
- *Emmy Award winner
- ^Academy Award winner
- 1 Black, Conrad. Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full. PublicAffairs, New York 2007: 724.
- 2 Emery, Fred. Watergate: The Corruption of American Politics and the Fall of Richard Nixon. New York: Touchstone, 1995.
- 3 Emery, 60-61.
- 4 Weiner, Tim. “In Tapes, Nixon Muses About Break-Ins at Foreign Embassies.” New York Times 26 Feb. 1999.
- 5 Associated Press. “Tapes Said to Reveal Nixon Break-In Order.” Los Angeles Times 21 Nov. 1996.
- 6 Andrew, Christopher. For the President’s Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.
- 7 Sussman, Barry. The Great Cover-up: Nixon and the Scandal of Watergate. Arlington, VA: Seven Locks Press, 1992: xi.
- 8 Lewis, Alfred E. “5 Held in Plot to Bug Democrats’ Office Here.” Washington Post 18 June 1972: A1.
- 9 Woodward, Bob, and Carl Bernstein. “GOP Security Aide Among Five Arrested in Bugging Affair.”Washington Post 19 June 1972: A1.
- 10 Woodward, Bob, and E.J. Bachinski. “White House Consultant Tied to Bugging Figure.” Washington Post 20 June 1972: A1.
- 11 Hart Strober, Deborah, and Gerald S. Strober. The Nixon Presidency: An Oral History of the Era. New York: HarperCollins, 1994: 350.
- 12 Bernstein, Carl, and Bob Woodward. “Bug Suspect Got Campaign Funds.” Washington Post 1 Aug. 1972: A1.
- 13 Bernstein, Carl, and Bob Woodward. “FBI Finds Nixon Aides Sabotaged Democrats.” Washington Post 10 Oct. 1972: A1.
- 14 Bradlee, Ben. A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995: 341-342.
- 15 Sussman, 137.
- 16 Sussman, 139.
- 17 Genovese, Michael A. The Watergate Crisis. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999: 35.
- 18 “James McCord’s Letter to Judge Sirica (1973).”
- 19 Johnson, Haynes, and Laurence Stern. "3 Top Nixon Aides, Kleindienst Out; President Accepts Full Responsibility; Richardson Will Conduct New Probe." Washington Post 1 May 1973: A1.
- 20 “Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (The Watergate Committee),” U.S. Senate Historical Office, Washington, D.C.
- 21 Garay, Ronald. “Watergate.” The Museum of Broadcast Communications.
- 22 Bernstein, Carl, and Bob Woodward. “Dean Alleges Nixon Knew of Cover-up Plan.” Washington Post3 June 1973: A1.
- 23 Meyer, Lawrence. “President Taped Talks, Phone Calls; Lawyer Ties Ehrlichman to Payments.”Washington Post 17 July 1973: A1.
- 24 Drew, Elizabeth. Richard M. Nixon. New York: Times Books, 2007: 119.
- 25 Witcover, Jules. “Pressure for Impeachment Mounting.” Washington Post 21 Oct. 1973: A1.
- 26 Kilpatrick, Carroll. “Nixon Tells Editors, ‘I’m Not a Crook’” Washington Post 18 Nov. 1973: A1.
- 27 Lardner Jr., George. “Another Tape Found Faulty, Sirica Is Told.” Washington Post 22 Nov. 1973: A1.
- 28 “The Crisis: The Secretary and the Tapes Tangle.” Time 10 Dec. 1973.
- 29 Sussman, 278.
- 30 Herbers, John. “Nixon Will Give Edited Tape Transcripts on Watergate to House and the Public; Notes Ambiguities, Insists He Is Innocent.” New York Times 30 Apr. 1974: A1.
- 31 Sussman, 280.
- 32 “Watergate: Nixon’s Date With the Supreme Court.” Time 10 June 1974.
- 33 Lyons, Richard, and William Chapman. “Judiciary Committee Approves Article to Impeach President Nixon, 27 to 11.” Washington Post 28 July 1974: A1.
- 34 Sussman, 294.
- 35 Ibid.
- 36 Woodward, Bob, and Carl Bernstein. The Final Days. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976: 415.
- 37 Associated Press. “Nixon shed no light on tape gap to grand jury.” USAToday 10 Nov. 2011: n.pag. USAToday.com. Web. 14 Feb. 2012.
- 38 O’Connor, John D. “‘I’m the Guy They Called Deep Throat.’” Vanity Fair July 2005.
- 39 Von Drehle, David. “FBI's No. 2 Was ‘Deep Throat’.” Washington Post 1 June 2005: A1.
- 40 Woodward, Bob. The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.