Eyewitness Reports in History Watergate Scandal Part 2

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

Watergate

On May 17, 1973, six months after Nixon had been returned to office in a landslide victory, the Senate Watergate committee began televised hearings.

The nation heard Dean charge that the President knew of cover-up activities-and approved them--as early as Sept. 15, 1972. Nixon denied it.

Then the whole case took an unexpected turn. On July 16, 1973, Alexander P. Butterfield, federal aviation administrator and former White House aide, testified that White House conversations had been taped since 1971.

Dean had told the committee that criminal activities had taken place in the Oval Office. Now Butterfield had told them where the evidence might be found.

Nixon marshaled the considerable forces at his disposal and battled to keep the tapes to himself. Finally, on Oct. 20, 1973, he ordered Cox to "cease and desist" in his efforts to obtain the tapes. Cox refused. Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire him. Richardson refused and resigned. Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus refused and resigned. Nixon then appointed Solicitor General Robert Bork acting attorney general, and Bork fired Cox.

This "Saturday Night Massacre" shattered Nixon's support, not only in Congress but across the nation, and the first rumblings of impeachment began to be heard.

Finally, yielding to a rising crescendo of demands from all quarters, on Nov. 1, 1973, Nixon named a new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, and under further pressure, on Apr. 30, 1974, released an edited transcript of some of the tapes.

The tapes were fatal. No longer was it Democrats or felons slinging mud at the office of the President; it was the President himself, with all his "expletives deleted."

The tapes revealed the startling contrast between the public Nixon and the private Nixon. On Apr. 17, 1973, the public Nixon had said, "I condemn any attempts to cover up in this case, no matter who is involved." Less than a month earlier, the private Nixon had said, "I want you all to stonewall it, let them plead the Fifth Amendment, cover up, or anything else."

Most damning of all was what was not there--an 18 1/2-minute gap in a tape of a Nixon-Haldeman meeting on June 20, 1972. Nixon's longtime personal secretary, Rose Mary Woods, gamely claimed responsibility for part of the "accidental" erasure, but experts said the gap was the result of five to nine manual manipulations.

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