Watergate

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Watergate

President Richard Nixon answers questions about the Watergate scandal.

David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

Two decades before the Clinton scandal, another U.S. president was caught in a web of lies, and the controversy had devastating effects on the country as a whole.

In the summer before President Richard Nixon's successful re-election to a second term, five men were caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters, housed in the Watergate Hotel. As details emerged over the next year, it became clear that officials close to Nixon gave the orders to the burglars, perhaps to plant wiretaps on the phones there. The question soon became about whether Nixon knew of, covered up or even ordered the break-in.

In response to mounting suspicions, Nixon denied allegations that he knew anything. In front of 400 Associated Press editors, famously proclaimed, "I am not a crook." He was talking about whether he had ever profited from public service, but that one quote came to represent his entire political career.

It was a lie that came back to haunt him. When it was revealed that private White House conversations about the matter were recorded, the investigative committee subpoenaed the tapes. Nixon's refusal on the basis of "executive privilege" brought the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that he had to relinquish the tapes.

The tapes were exactly the smoking gun needed to implicate Nixon in the cover-up of the scandal. They revealed that he obviously knew more about the matter than he claimed. Upon the initiation of impeachment proceedings, Nixon gave up and resigned from office. The scandal left a lasting scar on the American political scene and helped usher Washington outsider Jimmy Carter into the presidency a few years later.

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