Eyewitness Reports in History Watergate Scandal Part 1

An eyewitness account of the Watergate Scandal an important event in United States history involving Richard Nixon.


When: June 17, 1972, to Aug. 8, 1974

How: In 1787, Benjamin Franklin, having failed to convince his colleagues at the Constitutional Convention that the new government should have an executive committee rather than a president, wrote that the adopted government "is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism as other forms have done before...."

Franklin had underestimated the government he helped formulate. It toughest test began at 2:00 A.M. on June 17, 1972, when five bumbling burglars from the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP) were caught while trying to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate hotel/office/apartment complex in Washington, D.C.

It seemed such a little thing at the time, but the capture of the men led by James W. McCord, Jr., was just the first pebble rolling down the hill that would start the avalanche that would sweep Richard Nixon from the presidency.

Papers and cash found on the burglars led investigators to E. Howard Hunt, Jr., a White House consultant, and G. Gordon Liddy, CRP aide and mastermind of the burglary. Soon investigators and the news media began asking pointed questions in high places.

Presidential Press Secretary Ron Ziegler dismissed the break-in as a "third-rate" burglars, now joined by Hunt and Liddy, was conducted under the glare of national publicity in the district courtroom of Chief Judge John J. Sirica. While admitting to the specific acts, all seven defendants denied any intent of wrongdoing and would not implicate higher-ups. When the trial was over, Sirica said he was "not satisfied" that the full Watergate story had been told.

Neither were a lot of other people. In February the Senate set up a seven-member select committee to investigate 1972 presidential campaign activities.

Then on Mar. 23, Sirica dropped a bombshell. The solid wall of silence which had held the case to these seven men had been breached. McCord had already written Sirica from jail, telling of pressures on him and on the other defendants to remain silent, of overtures of executive clemency, of perjury which had occurred during the trial, and of others involved.

Prominent among the others involved was John N. Mitchell, former attorney general, former chairman of CRP, and a personal friend of Nixon's. Mitchell, McCord said, had authorized the break-in.

Another major break came when John W. Dean III, counsel to the President, spotted the hand-writing on the wall and took a wealth of information to the U.S. attorneys in hopes of bargaining for immunity.

Then H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, Nixon's chief of staff, and John D. Ehrlichman, Nixon's assistant for domestic affairs, became linked as the principal actors in the scheme to obstruct justice. Mounting charges and public opinion forced Nixon to ask for their resignations in late April, 1973.

But it was not enough. Under Senate pressure, Nixon appointed Archibald Cox to head a special prosecution unit with wide-ranging powers to investigate all aspects of the case.

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