The Watergate Scandal

When President Richard Nixon resigned on the 8th day of August 1974, his Vice President Gerald Ford took over as the President of the United States via a televised address to the nation. He officially vacated office the following morning, and still remains the only president of the United out of the 44 that have occupied the Oval Office to resign. This was after it became evident that there were enough numbers in the Senate to impeach him, in addition to it being a foregone case within the House of Representatives (Anderson et al, 2006, p.20). The resignation of the President led to the dropping of the impeachment charges that both the House of Representatives and The Senate had initiated against him.

In as much as Nixon resigned, he did not accept any responsibility for The Watergate Scandal up to the time of his demise in 1994. However, he reckoned that he would have done better in its handling before it metamorphosed from being political scandal to a national tragedy that served to undermine the institution of the presidency. His resignation greatly impacted on the American Political landscape especially with regard to the financing of electoral campaigns. Additionally, many Political commentators opine that President Ford lost the 1976 election to his challenger Jimmy Carter due to the unconditional pardon that he granted to Nixon (Anderson et al, 2006, p.42).

The possibility of the presence of a White House taping system was brought to the fore before Sam Erin’s chaired Senate select committee to investigate the Watergate scandal. The televised hearings of the committee that spanned from May to August came up with this damning revelation that forced Nixon to resign. Alex Butterfield, who was a White House assistant, reluctantly revealed before the committee that the White House had a wiretapping system. It was revealed that this system automatically put to record all the happenings in the critical chambers of the White House, including the president’s official office and the cabinet room.

This revelation marked the beginning of a protracted battle to retrieve the tapes, which had several high profile casualties including the president. The senate committee, in addition to the special prosecutor Archibald Cox, demanded that the tapes be availed by the highest office in the land. The president, however, declined to avail the tapes on grounds of executive privileges that are granted to the office of the presidency. He went ahead to direct the Special Prosecutor to drop those demands. Cox declined to drop the request for the tapes, making Nixon direct Attorney General Richardson to replace him. The Attorney General declined to follow the president’s directive. Nixon went ahead to compound his predicament by demanding the resignation Richardson.

The eventual dismissal of the special prosecutor by Solicitor General Robert Bork, who had been appointed as an acting departmental head, served to tilt public opinion against the president.  The subsequent appointment of Leon Jawaroski was, however, only a reprieve for Nixon as he was eventually ordered to release tapes and their transcripts.

The release of the tapes, however, ushered in the mystery of the “18 ½ minutes of silence.” The review of the tapes led to a revelation that 18.5 minutes of a crucial tape were missing. The long serving presidential secretary, Rose Mary Woods, claimed that she had deleted it by mistake while creating its transcript. Her explanation was that while she was running the transcript, she received a phone call, but forgot to take her foot off the pedal that ran the transcription machine. The validity of this explanation was, however, questioned after her reenactment of the incidence during the hearing of the case.

President Richard Nixon’s role in the Watergate scandal was extremely prominent both directly and indirectly. The fact that members of his inner circle and those of the committee for his re-election were directly implicated and convicted serves to strengthen this assertion. Additionally, his resignation after his position became untenable was an indirect admission though he denied any involvement. The critical 18 ½ minutes of silence created by his long serving personal secretary served to directly implicate him.

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