Watergate As A Constitutional Crisis Essay Research

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Watergate As A Constitutional Crisis Essay, Research Paper During the night of June 17, 1972, five burglars broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate office complex in Washington, DC. Investigation into the break-in exposed a trail of abuses that led to the highest levels of the Nixon administration and ultimately to the President himself. President Nixon resigned from office under threat of impeachment on August 9, 1974. The break-in and the resignation form the boundaries of the events we know as the Watergate affair. For 2 years public revelations of wrongdoing inside the White House convulsed the nation in a series of confrontations that pitted the President against the media, executive agencies, the Congress, and the Supreme Court. The

Watergate affair was a national trauma–a constitutional crisis that tested and affirmed the rule of law. With the onset of the 1972 presidential election campaign, Nixon’s focus shifted to his Democratic Party opponents. He ordered surveillance of Senator Edward Kennedy, an IRS audit of Democratic Party Chairman Larry O’Brien and others on his list of political enemies, as well as “dirty tricks” operations against virtually every Democratic presidential hopeful. Two members of the White House “plumbers,” former CIA agents E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, transferred to the staff of the Committee to Re-elect the President, where they devised and carried out a plan to install a listening device in O’Brien’s office. When the bug failed to operate properly, Hunt

ordered the CRP’s security chief, another ex-CIA agent named James McCord, to reenter the Watergate complex and install a new device. McCord and four accomplices, all Cuban exiles and veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion, were arrested after a security guard called the Washington police. Hunt’s name and White House phone number were found on one of the men, and Hunt and Liddy were soon arrested and charged as well. The cover-up began as soon as the White House learned of the arrests. Nixon was concerned that Hunt and Liddy would expose the White House “plumbers” and that the resulting scandal might jeopardize his reelection campaign. Nixon’s two top aides, Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, swung into action to limit the damage and make sure that the Watergate burglars

said nothing about the higher-level officials who had ordered the break-in or their own involvement in other acts of political espionage and provocation. There were two tracks in the cover-up: direct White House interference with the investigating agencies, and cash payoffs to the Watergate burglars to insure their silence. At Nixon’s orders, Haldeman and Ehrlichman met with CIA officials and urged them to tell the FBI that its investigation of the break-in had to be curtailed because it was impinging on ongoing CIA operations. The June 23, 1972 meeting in which Nixon first discussed using the CIA to block the FBI probe became known as the “smoking gun” conversation, and release of the tape-recording of this meeting led directly to Nixon’s resignation on August 8, 1974.

White House Counsel John Dean handled relations with the Watergate burglars. He sat in on all the police interrogations and supervised their defense strategy to insure that their trials would be postponed until after the election. At a key meeting on September 15, 1972, he reviewed his portion of the cover-up with Nixon, including both obstruction of the police investigation and efforts to derail several congressional probes. Supported by cash payments from the White House which covered both their legal costs and living expenses, five of the Watergate burglars pled guilty while refusing to testify about any other instances of political espionage or any higher-level involvement in the break-in. The two others, McCord and Liddy, were convicted after a brief trial. The effort to