With IRS scandals, overreaching for intelligence gathering and wiretapping of reporters’ phones, it is interesting to note that today marks an infamous date in American history.
Forty-one years ago, June 17, 1972, burglars were caught breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate office building in Washington, D.C. That was the beginning of a two-year nightmare that ended on Aug. 9, 1974, when the 37th president of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, resigned in disgrace.
The arrests at Watergate started an investigation that eventually revealed a dirty-tricks team that took its orders from Nixon administration officials. Cash found on the burglars was connected to the Committee to Re-Elect the President, a fundraising group for Nixon’s 1972 campaign.
The “plumbers,” as the burglars were called within the administration, had previously broken into the offices of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. Ellsberg was a Defense Department official who had leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press. The plumbers had also broken into Watergate before the night they were caught.
The attempts to cover up the relationship of the Watergate burglars to the campaign resulted in the indictments of aides to the president and, finally, to the impeachment of Nixon himself.
Facing almost certain conviction in the Senate, Nixon resigned. Days later he received a full pardon by his successor, Gerald R. Ford.
Heroes were born in the Watergate story. Two young reporters for The Washington Post – Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein – doggedly pursued leads to tie the re-election committee to the burglary and other dirty tricks. As they followed each thread, they discovered a presidential enemies list and a huge slush fund that was financing the silence of the accused burglars.
Their paper faced almost daily charges from the White House that the story was politically motivated.
It was a scary period in our nation’s history. An administration was involved in sustained criminal activity.
In the end, though, our constitutional system worked and a disgraced ex-president learned that no one is above the law.
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