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Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal Richard Milhous Nixon Highly experienced politician (Republican) Served in House and Senate before becoming Eisenhower’s VP Lost to John F. Kennedy in VERY CLOSE 1960 election Elected President in 1968 with backing of the “silent majority” Wins re-election in land-slide (1972) WATERGATE Watergate refers to the forced entry of members of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee The Watergate Scandal represents the larger issue of abuses of executive authority Watergate Burglary Five men break into Watergate Complex trying to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972 The Burglars One man, James McCord is employed by the RNC and CREEP G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, both White House employees, communicated with burglars All men were indicted The Cover-Up Nixon administration begins to destroy documents In order to prevent an FBI investigation, Nixon argues that an investigation would interfere with “national-security concerns.” As guilty verdicts are handed down on the burglars, they threaten to turn on their employers unless they receive “hush” money Nixon authorizes $75,000 for E. Howard Hunt Nixon publicly declared no one from his administration is involved in Watergate break-in Cover-Up (cont.) In light of allegations of burglars, a special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, is appointed and a special Senate Committee is created to investigate the break-in Why? What is this an example of? In July 1973, former advisor Alexander Butterfield informed Committee that Nixon had taped all Oval Office conversations since 1971 Nixon disobeyed a subpoena from Cox to turn over the tapes citing “executive privilege.” Executive privilege: legal theory that at president has the right to withhold information or documents from other branches of government for fear that it would threaten separation of powers Cover-Up (cont.) “Saturday Night Massacre” - Oct. 20, 1973 Nixon orders his attorney general and deputy attorney general to fire Archibald Cox. Both resign instead. Action seen by public as an obstruction of justice "...in all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice. And I think, too, that I can say that in my years of public life that I've welcomed this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their President's a crook. Well, I'm not a crook! I've earned everything I've got.” - Nixon Archibald Cox Cover-Up (cont.) Nixon turns over subpoenaed tapes but they contain a crucial 18-minute gap Congress is irritated at lack of disclosure The “Smoking Gun” More tapes were subpoenaed but Nixon refused to hand them over citing executive privilege U.S. v. Nixon - Supreme Court rules unanimously that Nixon must turn over tapes. He does. This is the end for Nixon “Smoking-Gun” tape Conversation between Nixon and one of his advisors discussing how to thwart the FBI investigation Resignation Rather than face inevitable impeachment, Nixon becomes the first president to resign on August 9, 1974 Gerald Ford pardons Nixon one month later, giving him immunity from prosecution Did Ford do the right thing? “My conscience tells me clearly and certainly that I cannot prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed. My conscience tells me that only I, as President, have the constitutional power to firmly shut and seal this book.” Why did Nixon do it? Paranoia Close election of 1960 had left an imprint on Nixon’s mind Enemies list - media, Democrats, and even some Republicans were out to get him Given that Nixon crushed McGovern in 1972 - won 49 states, the break-in appears foolish Some even argue Nixon was mentally ill Uncovering Watergate Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward - Washington Post journalists Contacted by an insider - “Deep Throat” - who fed them information “Deep Throat” was recently revealed as W. Mark Felt, the FBI’s #2 man He resented Nixon’s interference with the FBI’s investigation of the break-in Nixon’s Abuses of Power Nixon’s actions as President caused historians to coin a new term to describe the 20th century president: the imperial presidency Imperial presidency: a president who has exceeded his constitutional authority and is drifting towards dictatorship. What had Nixon done to warrant the label “imperial president?” Political favors to powerful business groups in exchange for campaign contributions (milk price supports) Misuse of public funds (government money to renovate home) Deception over Vietnam and bombing of Cambodia (ie. Pentagon Papers) Illegal domestic political surveillance and espionage (ie. Watergate complex) Using resources of executive branch to harass/discredit political enemies (ie. Ellsberg) The Pentagon Papers 7,000 page, classified document dealing Vietnam War (contains dirty secrets!) Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon analyst, leaks documents to New York Times (June 1971) Government temporarily blocks publication but is overruled by Supreme Court in New York Times v. United States Nixon’s Role in Pentagon Papers Papers revealed government deception regarding war in Vietnam Nixon dispatches a “plumbers” unit to seal leaks within administration (Sept. 1971) Break into office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in effort to discredit Ellsberg Daniel Ellsberg Legacy of Watergate Big Ideas: The “end” of the imperial presidency – no one is above the law! Proves that the system of checks and balances works!
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