An Overview of the Watergate Scandal Sample

Posted on: 23rd April 2020


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The Watergate scandal plagued the administration of President Richard Nixon in the 1970s. The Scandal occurred after five men broke into the Democratic National Committee offices in Washington DC. President Richard Nixon ordered the cover-up after the break-in. Olson and Max report that shortly after the five burglars were arrested and the conspiracy was revealed, the scandal was investigated by the Congress (25). In response, Richard Nixon resisted the probes of the United States Congress thereby culminating into a constitutional crisis. The Watergate scandal revealed the dirty tricks that the Nixon administration used to obtain sensitive information by bugging the offices of rival politicians. 

The administration of Richard Nixon also ordered an investigation of political figures and activist groups. President Richard Nixon used different government agencies and departments to cover up the scandal. The Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Central Intelligence Agency were all involved in the scandal after being given directives by the president. Investigations after the scandal revealed that there were several fits of abuse of power by members of the Richard Nixon administration. Fremon clarifies that impeachment procedures were instituted against the president thereby leading to Richard Nixon's resignation (34). The Scandal implicated 69 people in the administration even as 48 were found to be guilty. Olson and Max reveal that investigations established a connection between Richard Nixon's campaign and the slush fund used by the committee for the reelection of the president (39). Former staff members of the Nixon administration were summoned by the Senate Watergate committee. The investigations revealed that Richard Nixon installed a tape recording system in his opponents’ offices to record confidential conversations for his personal benefit.

Events Leading To the Watergate Scandal

Wiretapping of Democratic Party offices was the first ethical violation that officials in the Richard Nixon administration committed. Five burglars under the instructions of senior Nixon administration officials broke into the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate Complex in Washington DC. The burglars broke into the office and photographed campaign documents in addition to putting listening devices to capture telephone conversations. Olson and Max (67) report the telephones of one of the executive directors of the Democratic National headquarters were bugged.

Shortly after breaking into the offices to install wiretaps, the burglars were sent back to repair malfunctioning bugs. This led to the arrest of the five burglars who were charged with the interception of telephone communication. The problem began when the Nixon administration started engaging in activities to cover up their crimes to dispose of evidence that could have been damaging to the re-election of the president. Fremon reports that after the arrest of the grand jury, five office burglars were convicted for the violation of wiretapping federal laws, burglary offenses, and involvement in the conspiracy to commit a crime (94).

Cover-Up In the Watergate Scandal

Ethical issues for the Nixon administration started when officials initiated a cover-up. After the burglars were arrested, the Federal Bureau of Investigation discovered that there was an interconnection between the burglars and the officials of the Nixon administration. Fremon explains that the Nixon administration ordered the Central Intelligence Agency to block the investigation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (123). Fremon illustrates that in August 1972, investigative agencies revealed that some of the campaign donations given to the committee to re-elect the president had been deposited in the burglar’s accounts (63). The money was used to finance the wiretapping team expenses. 

In effect, the checks by the donors demonstrated that there was a direct connection to the committee to re-elect the president and the burglars. Olson and Max (68) explain that the action to divert funds from the committee to re-elect the president was illegal. Since the payments to the burglar were directly related to the president’s re-election committee, the presiding judge in the burglar’s case concluded that there was a conspiracy between the burglars and high-ranking government officials. Shepard states that on October 10, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a statement indicating that the Nixon reelection committee orchestrated the Watergate break-in (39). In spite of the actions to Sabotage the Democratic Party campaign, President Richard Nixon was re-elected in a historical work that resulted in a landslide victory.

The media played a central role in establishing the relationship between the burglars and the Nixon administration. Information provided by the New York Times, The Time Magazine, and the Washington Post increased the scandal’s publicity as reporters revealed information and detailed that there were attempts by the presidency to cover up the break-in. Olson and Max record that the media also exposed that the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of investigation, and the White House were directly involved in a cover-up (54). At the time, the media expressed distrust with the Nixon administration due to the lack of transparency in the Vietnam War period. Top administration officials within the Nixon government were bent on planning retaliation against media houses which were considered to be hostile. 

  Investigations into the involvement of the Nixon administration in the Watergate break-in were broadened. President Richard Nixon was involved in the creation of a conspiracy to cover up his involvement in the scandal. One of the burglars wrote a letter to Judge Sirica, stating that he had committed perjury. The defendant explained that he was coerced to remain silent by officials within the Nixon administration. Olson contends that the scandal started affecting the Nixon White House causing the president to ask for the resignation of the attorney general (32). The White House counsel was also fired when the president discovered that he might be having implicating information against him. 

Shortly after the resignation of two senior White House aides, the Senate launched committee hearings to investigate the Watergate scandal. The interviews were aired live on the three major networks within the United States. One of the investigations which were conducted by the senate revealed that President Nixon had installed listening devices in the Oval Office to record all conversations. Olson elucidates that the testimony received in the Senate also made it clear that there were recording devices in the cabinet room as well as in President Nixon's private office (21). On discovering that there were listening devices in the Oval Office, a subpoena was released by the special prosecutor demanding that the white house hands over the tapes. President Richard Nixon refused to release the transcripts arguing that he had the executive privilege.

Investigations of the Scandal

After the special prosecutor was fired for refusing to withdraw the subpoena issued to the president, public anxiety increased as it became apparent that President Richard Nixon was involved in the Watergate cover-up. A grand jury in Washington DC convicted several officials in the Nixon administration for conspiracy to cover up the Watergate investigation. Wittekind and Michael rationalize that Richard Nixon was named as a co-conspirator by the grand jury (27). Transcripts of conversations in the Oval Office were released in 1974 even as information pertinent to national security was adapted from the tapes. The transcripts also increase the level of public skepticism as different political stakeholders made calls for resignation. Many supporters of the president felt that his presidency was not tenable due to his involvement in the scandal (Olson 89). The media also argued that the issued transcripts contained crude material, which revealed that Richard Nixon had shown contempt for the institutions and the people of the United States. Most of the leaders in the Republican Party also contended that there was a need for Richard Nixon to step down due to the vindictive tone and the coarse language used in the conversation recorded in the released transcripts.

In the United States vs. Nixon case, issues surrounding the release of tapes were presented before the United States Supreme Court. The court made a unanimous decision stating that executive privilege over the tapes was a void ground for the president to ignore the issued subpoena. In effect, the court order compelled the president to release all the subpoenaed tapes to the special prosecutor. Following the court order, the president complied with the directives and released the recordings. Olson asserts that the tapes contained implicating information as it revealed that the president had been directly involved in the obstruction of Justice (98). Some of the elements that came out in the conversation were that the president was willing to make financial payments to cover up the conspiracy after the Watergate scandal (Chandler 34). Following the release of the tapes, the Congress decided to debate an impeachment motion as they argued that the suggested blackmail payments were tantamount to obstruction of Justice.

The Aftermath of the Watergate Scandal

In the wake of the investigations after the scandal, the House of Representatives approved the proposal by the judicial committee authority to begin impeachment proceedings against the president. In July 1974, the committee voted overwhelmingly to recommend impeachment against the president on the grounds of obstruction of justice. Sussman reiterates that the reasons provided for impeachment were the abuse of power and the contempt of Congress (19). President Nixon was accused of organizing meetings in the Oval Office to discuss how they should stop the Federal Bureau of Investigation from proceeding with their investigations. Chandler illustrates that the reason for the cover-up was to ensure that the involvement of the administration was exposed (95). The tapes also revealed that President Nixon had approved the plan to instruct the FBI not to investigate the scandal further. The tape that was released showed that President Richard Nixon had been involved in a cover-up from the initial stages.

Following revelations of the implicating evidence, the congressmen who voted against the impeachment of President Richard Nixon reneged stating that they would support the impeachment article. Most of the congressmen opined that Richard Nixon had committed actions that were equivalent to obstruction of Justice (Sussman 39). Many of the congressmen felt that Richard Nixon's position was equivalent to a cover-up of criminal activities and the misuse of federal agencies. In the wake of these revelations, some members of Congress visited the president in the White House revealing to him that the House of Representatives and the congressman would support impeachment against him. Chandler asserts that the information provided to the president compelled him to resign as he discovered that he did not have any chance of surviving the impeachment motion (24). Since public opinion was low at the time, President Richard Nixon decided to resign by issuing a televised address and announcing his resignation. 

President Gerald Ford who was a vice president at the time assumed the office of the president upon Richard Nixon's resignation. Congress decided to halt impeachment proceedings through the prospects of criminal investigations being conducted at the state and federal levels were rife. In 1974, President Gerald Ford gave an unconditional pardon of Richard Nixon. The presidential pardon protected the former president from the conviction of crimes that he may have committed during his presidency. Sussman explicates that Gerald Ford explained that his decision was effected to bring healing and unity to the nation (40).  In the course of his lifetime, President Richard Nixon never accepted that he had been engaged in any wrongdoing as he justified that his decisions had been taken for the best interest of the country.

  Many of the officials involved in the Watergate scandal were lawyers thereby denting the image of the legal profession. In effect, the Watergate scandal resulted in a situation where several close aides to the former president were convicted. The American Bar Association decided to pass a Model Code of Professional Responsibility to govern the conduct of Lawyers. Chandler claims that the proposed moral rules have been adopted by more than 49 States and is currently being considered in the state of California (66). Requirements by the association recommended that law schools introduce a course for professional responsibility.

The conduct of Richard Nixon affected the Republican Party and had an impact on the house and senate elections of November 1974. Congress also introduced laws to scrutinize campaign-finance in addition to presenting the Ethics and Government Act and the Freedom of Information Act. Congress also proposed that other income disclosures be implemented such as the release of income tax forms. Chandler makes the case that Gerald Ford’s decision to pardon Richard Nixon affected his popularity levels thereby leading to his election defeat (78). The Scandal also had adverse effects on Richard Nixon's reputation as he is mostly remembered for the Watergate scandal.

International Reactions in the Wake of the Watergate Scandal

 The Watergate scandal attracted international reactions as leaders from all over the world commented on Richard Nixon's involvement. The Australian Prime Minister in 1975 criticized the Watergate scandal. The Chinese leader was however decisive arguing that the scandal did not affect the relationship between China and the United States. Fremon observes that the Prime Minister in Singapore issued a statement stating that the Watergate scandal had left the United States in a weakened position to give economic or political leadership (53). The Soviet Union declined to comment on the issue stating that the presidency of Richard Nixon was not affected by the Watergate scandal. 

Ethical Implications of the Watergate Scandal

The Watergate scandal demonstrated that it was possible for ethical violations to be perpetrated by public leaders in the United States. The Scandal also drew attention to the surveillance activities used by civil servants. In the wake of the scandal, it was evident that it was important for ethical directions to be upheld by public leaders and media representatives (Johnson 705). The incident revealed how attorneys, politicians, and media houses could violate ethical lines for their interests. The Watergate scandal also demonstrated how political scandals could damage public trust (Crawford 9). Due to the severity of the scandal, stakeholders in the political sector called for a higher level of accountability for municipal leaders. Critics were astounded that several lawyers were involved in the scandal as they failed to question the legal implications of the decisions that they were involved in.

The Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1966 and enacted in 1974. Amendments were made to the original statute to ensure that only classified information could be withheld on the grounds of national Security (Crawford 4). The Freedom of Information Act was also passed as an ethical response to the abuse of power. The law was also designed to give judges the ability to determine whether the information was classified or whether it could be released to the public. Johnson elucidates that the amendment also created timelines for responses to requests for public records by creating sanctions for information that was wrongly withheld (708). In effect, the changes were necessary for making clarifications and allowing requested parties to obtain the required information.

 At the time, the chief justice observed that there were ethical implications of the Watergate scandal. The recommendations that were made by the legal fraternity was that the public affairs needed to be open to public scrutiny at every level of government. The Federal Advisory Committee Act was also passed to provide rules to initiate processes that would be used to provide advisory services for public leadership. Nyhan demonstrates that the Federal Treasury Committee Act was also meant to ensure that members of the public had an insight into government workings (443). The Sunshine Act was also introduced by the government to hold meetings in public places to allow for a higher level of accountability.

  Similarly, the Inspector General Act was passed in 1978 to uphold integrity and accountability within the executive branch of government. Offices of Inspector generals were created at federal levels. The law that was adopted at the time gave powers to the officers to investigate and audit agency programs. Johnson elucidates that it was also required that the office of the inspector general report the results of their investigations to Congress to make recommendations to promote efficiency and effectiveness within the government (708). The Inspector-General Act that was passed was also intended to create a culture of competence and integrity as well as the transformation of government reforms.

The passage of the Civil Service Reform Act in 1978 was also deemed necessary to reform the civilian workforce of the government. Nyhan claims that the introduction of the Act made it clear that the performance of government workers needed to be charged based on merit (440). The Civil Service Reform Act established the office of personnel management, the merit system protection board, and the federal labor relations authority. Established agencies were central in implementing the administration and the regulation of different civil services. Mesas et al. assert that the act also created an elaborate process for personnel actions such as a demotion and firing to ensure that a performance-based system is used in grading public servants (7). Strengthened protections were also introduced for whistleblowers as they were provided with the open space to reveal government actions which were characteristic of a breach of ethics. 


The Watergate scandal that started with break-ins in the Democratic National Committee offices escalated due to the cover-up perpetrated by President Richard Nixon. The action of the president to cover up the crime was unpopular thereby resulting in his resignation. The scandal caused Americans to question the policies adopted by their public leaders. The involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency to obstruct the investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation revealed how public leaders could abuse government agencies. In effect, the judiciary committee and the Congress decided that it was necessary to pass a motion of impeachment against the president since he had demonstrated abuse of Presidential powers and obstruction of Justice. 

The media was also instrumental in revealing the scandal, as Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward who were Washington reporters were involved in exposing the scandal. Vice President Gerald Ford who took over as the president of the United States after the resignation of Richard Nixon decided to pardon the former president. In the wake of the Watergate scandal, several ethical guidelines were passed to prevent a recurrence of the scandal. The abuse of Presidential power by Richard Nixon created an atmosphere of distrust against public politicians. The legal profession was also affected in the wake of the Watergate scandal as it was revealed that multiple lawyers were involved in the cover-up. As a consequence, the association introduced moral guidelines to be used in the profession and to be taught in law schools.

Works Cited

Chandler, Julia. Richard Nixon. New York: Britannica Educational Publishing in association with Rosen Educational Services, 2016. 

Crawford, Nyron N. "Of suspicious minds: Race, scandal, and the DC mayoralty." Journal of Urban Affairs (2018): 1-21.

Fremon, David K. Watergate Scandal in United States History. Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. Enslow Publishers, Inc, 2014. 

Johnson, Jamie M. "Beyond a politics of recrimination: Scandal, ethics and the rehabilitation of violence." European journal of international relations 23.3 (2017): 703-726.

Mesas, Víctor Hugo, et al. "Modeling verdict outcomes using social network measures: the Watergate and caviar network cases." PloS one 11.1 (2016): e0147248.

Nyhan, Brendan. "Scandal potential: How political context and news congestion affect the president's vulnerability to media scandal." British Journal of Political Science 45.2 (2015): 435-466.

Olson, Keith W, and Max Holland. Watergate: The Presidential Scandal That Shook America. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2016. 

Olson, Keith W. Watergate: The Presidential Scandal That Shook America with a New Afterword by Max Holland. University Press of Kansas, 2016. 

Shepard, Geoffrey C. The Real Watergate Scandal: Collusion, Conspiracy, and the Plot That Brought Nixon Down. Washington, DC: Regency Publishing, 2015.

Sussman, Barry. The Great Coverup: Nixon and the Scandal of Watergate. Place of publication not identified: Diego. Catapulter Books, 2010.

Wittekind, Erika, and Michael J. Gerhardt. The United States V. Nixon: The Watergate Scandal and Limits to Us Presidential Power. Minneapolis, MN: ABDO Pub, 2013.

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