“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said famous philosopher George Santayana. He’s right – history is important. While you might not be a huge history buff, it’s essential to have some knowledge on some of the most significant events of our time. This week, we’ll go over the history of Watergate. I’m sure you’ve probably heard of it, but here’s a breakdown of what went down back in the early 1970s.
When President Nixon was re-elected after a landslide first win, the country was pretty much divided by the Vietnam War. On June 17th, 1972, a few burglars were arrested inside the office of the Democratic National Committee, which was located in the Watergate building in Washington, D.C. The criminals were linked to President Nixon’s re-election campaign, and were in the midst of trying to steal documents and wiretap phones at the time of their arrest.
Nixon responded by acted questionably. Trying to cover up the scandal, he was destroying evidence, being uncooperative with the FBI, firing staff members, and even offering “hush money” to the burglars (hundreds of thousands of dollars!)
A large number of people, most notably Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and trial judge John J. Sirica, had begun to suspect that there was a larger scheme afoot. Some of his conspirators began to crack under the pressure of the cover-up, admitting that Nixon had secretly taped every conversation that took place in the Oval Office.
Nixon agreed to only release some of these tapes. In July, the Supreme Court ordered that he released all of them. While the president dragged his feet, the House of Representatives voted to impeach him for several violations of the Constitution, as well as obstruction of justice and abuse of power. His role in the scandal came to light in 1974, when one of the tapes that’s become known as the ‘smoking gun’ tape revealed that Nixon had participated in the Watergate cover-up as far back as 1972 . Soon after, Nixon resigned from office. This was a big deal – if the President could keep secrets and be suspicious behind the back of the country, who could we trust?
Nixon wasn’t impeached (there have only been two Presidents so far who were – Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton), but he did choose to resign. After Nixon’s resignation, Gerald Ford was sworn in. Six weeks into his term, he pardoned Nixon for any wrongdoings he might have made. Some of Nixon’s aides, however, were sent to prison.
Despite being the farthest thing possible from a documentary, one of the absolute best movies I’ve seen about Watergate is one that didn’t do too well in the box office – Dick, starring Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams. The two, as teenagers, stumble across a few aides shredding documents at the White House during a class trip, and upon people thinking they might “know too much”, Nixon asks to speak with them. He hires them as Professional Dog Walkers to his dog, Checkers, to keep an eye on them and make sure they didn’t squeal.
While it might be hard to “recreate” Watergate, it sure was an important event in political history. And the mystery behind it is, while Nixon apologized for his lack of judgment on the coverup, he never really admitted to any role in the original break-ins.