Nixon and the Watergate Scandal

This photo depicts the Watergate Complex in Washington, D.C. Burglars, wanting to help President Nixon get a second term as America's president, during the 1972 national election, broke into a Watergate office used by the DNC (Democratic National Committee).

The burglars were working for CRP (short for the "Committee for the Re-Election of the President") which was frequently, and derogatorially, referenced as CREEP. Why did they break into the DNC's office?

It was all about looking for negative information which they could use against the Democrats in the upcoming election. Burglars had previously "bugged" the DNC office by planting wire-tapping devices. That surveillance equipment, however, needed fixing. During the middle of the night, five men went to the Watergate Complex to repair the equipment. 

At 1:47 AM—on the 17th of June, 1972—Frank Wills called the police. Frank was the Watergate security guard on duty that night. He had seen suspicious activity which led him to ask for help.


When the police arrived, five burglars were still inside the DNC office. They were arrested, but that was just the beginning.

It did not take long for anyone to realize who the burglars really were. They had close ties to the White House and to the re-election committee members.

The effort to harm the opposition failed, spectacularly, when the break-in became public and the perpetrators were charged with the crime.

The scandal worsened when a massive cover-up of the crime also became public, ensnaring one high-level White House official after another.

Key questions included these:  

  • Did President Nixon know about the break-in?
  • If so, did he authorize it?
  • If not, did he learn about it later?
  • If he learned about it later, was he involved in the effort to cover-up what had happened?

The President consistently said that he neither knew about the crime nor did he try to cover it up. However ... tape recordings, made by a recorder which the President often used during his Oval-Office discussions, revealed otherwise.

Nixon ultimately resigned when tapes, recorded by his own recorder, revealed:

  • What the President actually knew about the break-in;
  • What he did (or didn't do) about it; and
  • What he claimed (in public) compared to what he said (in private).

The end, for Nixon, came about when "The Smoking Gun" tape was found and released. Recorded on the 23rd of June, 1972, the tape recorded a conversation between the President and H.R. Haldeman (a key Nixon advisor).

The upshot of the discussion was an agreement, by the President and Haldeman, that the CIA would be directed to stop looking into what had actually happened during the break-in (and, more particularly, who was really involved):

  • The stated reason for the order to stop the investigation? It was a matter of national security.
  • The real reason for the order? The CIA was getting too close to realizing who was really involved.

When Nixon realized that the "Smoking Gun" tape had been discovered, he had to tell his family. It was not an easy discussion.

Realizing that he was "in the coffin," the President had no choice but to resign. We can watch him tell the story about the family's end of their White-House years.

The break-in/cover-up fiasco lives on in other ways. Whenever a new scandal erupts, and people give it a name ending in "gate," they are harkening back to the original political scandal known, simply, as "Watergate." 

One other point to make about the Watergate era. As it happens, President Nixon was right about one important thing. Long before the man known as "Deep Throat"—who fed classified information to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein—admitted his involvement, Nixon believed he knew who it was. 

Samuel W. Rushay, Jr., an archivist who closely examined the Nixon tapes, tells us about the President’s suspicions regarding the person who was leaking the information. In his article, “Listening to Nixon,” which is available at the National Archives, Rushay says this:

Until May 2005, when Felt [Mark Felt, the number-two man at the FBI in 1972] publicly revealed his identity as Deep Throat, little attention was paid to conversations on the Nixon tapes that revealed President Nixon's deep suspicions more than 30 years earlier that Felt was the source of Watergate leaks to various newspapers and magazines, including the Post and Time.

Nixon even gave Felt's boss, acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray, "a directive" to give Felt a lie-detector test. Nixon's chief of staff, Alexander Haig, reinforced the notion that Felt leaked to the press by telling the President that the white-haired man was known as the "White Rat" at the FBI.

A reexamination of the Nixon tapes after Felt's revelation of his Deep Throat identity makes it appear obvious that no one other than he could have been Deep Throat!

Who knew?

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jan 08, 2017

Updated Last Revision: Aug 22, 2018

Media Credits

Indutiomarus, a contributor to Wikimedia Commons, took this picture of the Watergate Complex—in Washington, D.C—while flying to Washington's Reagan National Airport on January 8, 2006. He has released the photo into the public domain.


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"Nixon and the Watergate Scandal" AwesomeStories.com. Jan 08, 2017. Jan 29, 2020.
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