The Watergate scandal began early in the morning of June 17, 1972, when several burglars were arrested in the office of the Democratic National Committee, located in the Watergate complex of buildings in Washington, D.C. This was no ordinary robbery: The prowlers were connected to President Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign, and they had been caught wiretapping phones and stealing documents.
Nixon took aggressive steps to cover up the crime afterwards, and in August 1974, after his role in the conspiracy was revealed, Nixon resigned. The Watergate scandal changed American politics forever, leading many Americans to question their leaders and think more critically about the presidency.
THE WATERGATE BREAK-IN
The origins of the Watergate break-in lay in the hostile political climate of the time. By 1972, when Republican President Richard M. Nixon was running for reelection, the United States was embroiled in the Vietnam War, and the country was deeply divided.
A forceful presidential campaign therefore seemed essential to the president and some of his key advisers. Their aggressive tactics included what turned out to be illegal espionage. In May 1972, as evidence would later show, members of Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (known derisively as CREEP) broke into the Democratic National Committee’s Watergate headquarters, stole copies of top-secret documents and bugged the office’s phones.
Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein deserve a great deal of the credit for uncovering the details of the Watergate scandal. Their reporting won them a Pulitzer Prize and was the basis for their best-selling book “All the President’s Men.” Much of their information came from an anonymous whistleblower they called Deep Throat, who in 2005 was revealed to be W. Mark Felt, a former associate director of the FBI.
The wiretaps failed to work properly, however, so on June 17 a group of five men returned to the Watergate building. As the prowlers were preparing to break into the office with a new microphone, a security guard noticed someone had taped over several of the building’s door locks. The guard called the police, who arrived just in time to catch the spies red-handed.
It was not immediately clear that the burglars were connected to the president, though suspicions were raised when detectives found copies of the reelection committee’s White House phone number among the burglars’ belongings.
In August, Nixon gave a speech in which he swore that his White House staff was not involved in the break-in. Most voters believed him, and in November 1972 the president was reelected in a landslide victory.