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The Break-in that Brought Down a Presidency

June 11, 2018 | Authored by

“You must pursue this investigation of Watergate even if it leads to the president. I’m innocent. You’ve got to believe I’m innocent. If you don’t, take my job.” – Richard M. Nixon

The burglary on June 17, 1972, was unlike any other. Five men were caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate in Washington, DC. At first the burglary seemed to be random, but an investigation by the Washington Metropolitan (DC) Police Department, FBI, Congress, and media later revealed the burglars were connected to President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign. The men had been caught illegally wire-tapping phones and stealing top-secret documents.

In the early morning hours of June 17, 1972, a Watergate security guard noticed someone had taped over several of the building’s door locks. He called the Washington Metropolitan (DC) Police Department. Officers arrived on the scene to catch five men as they were trying to bug phones and steal documents. The burglars were carrying $3,500 in cash and high-end surveillance and electronic equipment. Detectives also found copies of a White House phone number belonging to the president’s re-election committee among the burglars’ possessions.

The FBI launched an investigation while the burglars were awaiting arraignment in federal district court. Their investigation coincided with a probe by two newspaper reporters from The Washington Post, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.

In a speech to the American public, President Nixon said that he and the White House staff were not involved in the break-in and he was re-elected in a landslide victory. It was later determined that the President had provided large sums of hush money to the burglars just a few days after the break-in. He and his aides then tried to get the CIA to stop the FBI’s investigation into the crime.

After attempting to cover up a White House connection to the break-in, a Senate committee began investigating President Nixon’s role in the Watergate scandal. The president stated that White House aides should not cooperate with the investigation because there should be a separation of powers between the White House and the Senate committee. A judge later ruled that a separation of powers defense could not be used to cover up a crime and ordered White House aides to testify. Those testimonies revealed President Nixon had tried to cover up the break-in and Congress prepared a three-part impeachment. Before the impeachment was carried out, President Nixon resigned, marking the first presidential resignation in American history.


Category: History's Blotter

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