On June 17, 1972, four men were arrested at the National Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, DC. It appeared to be a routine burglary, but subsequent investigations revealed that the men who broke into Democratic offices were actually agents hired by the Committee for the Re-election of President Richard Nixon.
The Washington Post assigned two reporters to investigate, and over a long period of time they were able to get evidence tying President Nixon and some of his top aides to the break-in and subsequent attempts at cover-up.
The men breaking into Democratic Headquarters were planting listening devices designed to pick up information on their opponents’ campaign strategies. Even though it appeared that Nixon’s prospects for a second term were excellent, the decision to conduct this illegal surveillance was made by members of the re-election committee. It was a risky, stupid decision made by men who had been involved in previous illegal activities on behalf of the White House. Specifically, several of the “burglars” had been active in the “plumbers”, a clandestine group organized to carry out Nixon’s order to stop the leaks of classified information from the White House and major government agencies. They had not hesitated to break the law in pursuit of that goal, and they were ready to do it again to ensure re-election of the President.
President Nixon may not have been aware of the planned break-in before it happened, but once he learned that it had been done on his behalf he was determined to give the offenders every possible assistance. This included payment of hush-money, prevarication, alteration of official records, etc. Nixon was an intelligent man and capable executive, but he was somewhat paranoid about his political opponents. He also seemed to think that all was fair in war and politics. His actions doomed his Presidency.
Eventually, over the course of many months, the real truth was revealed. This led to Congressional investigations and the almost certainty of Presidential impeachment. Faced with this prospect, President Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974.
Watergate initiated a dark period in the history of the American republic.
Public confidence in the honesty of government officials was severely eroded, and, the Watergate episode along with the Vietnam War created deep fissures between our major political parties. We continue to pay a price for the folly of Watergate.