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The Nixon Administration, Watergate
pardoned Nixon, Watergate investigation, Watergate break-in, Carl Bernstein, presidential authority
On June 17, 1972, with a presidential campaign in progress, police officers in Washington, D.C., arrested five men caught breaking into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, located in a residence complex called the Watergate. The incident initially attracted little attention, but two Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, began investigating the break-in. From their articles and from Senate hearings, Americans learned that the president, his aides, and campaign officials had conspired to sabotage Nixon’s political foes. Nixon initially denied involvement in the scheme. But a series of special prosecutors, whom the president was forced to appoint, investigated the scandal. They soon determined that Nixon and his aides tried to cover up the president’s link with the Watergate break-in and to obstruct the Watergate investigation.
In July 1974 the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to produce tape recordings that he made of conversations in the White House. The transcripts contained evidence that Nixon had broken the law and knew about the cover-up. At the end of the month, the House Judiciary Committee adopted three articles of impeachment that charged Nixon with abusing power, obstructing justice, and defying Judiciary Committee subpoenas. Before the House could vote on Nixon’s impeachment, the president resigned, on August 9, 1974. Vice President Gerald Ford assumed the presidency and pardoned Nixon in September.
Watergate undermined presidential authority and made citizens fear excessive state power, such as Nixon’s secret bombings of Cambodia and his wiretapping of public officials and journalists. Nixon’s resignation ended an era of turmoil and animosity. Two presidents in succession, elected by vast majorities, had left office either diminished, in Johnson’s case, or disgraced, in Nixon’s case. The Vietnam War eroded the nation's self-confidence and left a legacy of skepticism. Watergate further enlarged citizens’ suspicions of government. In the next few elections, voters sought heads of state untainted by overexposure to power in Washington, D.C.
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