The Watergate Scandal

In 1972, the Republican Party again nominated Richard Nixon as their candidate for President. In June of that year, five burglars were caught in the Democratic Party campaign headquarters in Washington, D.C. The headquarters were in a group of buildings named Watergate. The burglars had broken in to copy documents and wiretap the telephones.

Reporters Hint at a White House Scandal

News stories began to appear about a possible scandal. They said that people in the White House might have helped plan and pay for the burglary. The FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) began to investigate. It found evidence that two other people were connected with the burglary. One of them was a lawyer for the President's campaign committee. That was the group of Republicans who were planning Nixon's campaign for re-election.

President Nixon announced that the White House had also made an investigation. It showed no one in the White House had been involved in the break-in. In November, Nixon was re-elected as President.

A Cover-up Is Revealed

Early in 1973, the seven people connected with the burglary went on trial. All were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms. Then one of them revealed that witnesses had lied in court. He also said that certain White House officials had told the burglars to plead guilty so that the trial would end quickly. People began to suspect that the White House was trying to cover up the truth about the break-in. But President Nixon said he knew nothing about the break-in or a cover-up.

Congress Holds Investigation Hearings

Congress set up a special committee to investigate the break-in. Witnesses testified that important White House officials had ordered or approved the break-in.

Then John Dean testified that he had helped cover up the facts about the break-in. He had been the Presidential Counsel, or President's lawyer. Dean also testified that the President had known about the cover-up and had ordered it to continue.

The committee also learned that the President had tape-recorded conversations he had held in his office. The committee asked for some of the tapes, but the President refused to give them up.

Vice-President Agnew Resigns

In 1973, another scandal troubled the Nixon administration. Government investigators charged Vice-President Spiro Agnew with filing false tax returns and accepting bribes. In October 1973, Agnew resigned. Gerald Ford became Vice-President.

President Nixon Resigns

The Supreme Court ruled that the President had to give up his tapes. The committee found that some tapes were missing. And part of one important tape had been erased. But enough remained to show that the President probably was part of a cover-up. A special House committee drew up articles of impeachment, or charges against the President. They charged that the President had obstructed justice (kept the courts from finding the truth), had misused his powers, and had kept evidence from Congress.

Before the House of Representatives could vote on impeachment, the President resigned. On August 9, 1974, Gerald Ford became the new President.