Watergate at 41
This is the week 41 years ago when the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach then president Richard Nixon on a charge of obstruction of justice.
Republican operatives planned and executed a scheme to break into the Democratic National Headquarters in Washington, DC, in order to tap phones.
The June 1972 burglary was foiled and arrests were made, sealing Nixon’s fate for his role in an attempted cover-up of his misdeeds and involvement.
The first big break was immediate — the FBI noticed White House “plumber” E. Howard Hunt’s name in address books of two of the burglars.
Then, it emerged that one of the burglars was a republican aide and the burglars had a check for $25K from the RNC.
Like many addicted to position and power, Nixon thought he could stop a leak which had well breached his own flood control abilities.
He tried to use the CIA to stop the FBI and, of course, used his legal team until that exploded in his face in the form of John Dean. who began to cooperate with authorities.
Historians credit Dean with determining that Oval Office conversations were being taped, leading to Nixon’s downfall.
One of the most remembered events is the Saturday night massacre when Nixon decided to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox who was looking into the break-in.
Neither Elliot Richardson, Attorney General or his deputy, William Ruckelshaus would fire Cox, so Nixon fired them.
Robert Bork eventually did the dirty work.
Cleaning Out the Bunker
A little more than a year after the break-in, Nixon fired John Ehrlichman and Bob Haldeman, his closest aides, in order to protect himself.
Nixon also fired his lawyer John Dean and asked for the resignation of Attorney General Richard Kleindienst.
Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Dean went to prison.
Nixon had surrounded himself with compliant “yes men” who yielded to his paranoid behavior.
They falsely believed that they could control both the flow of information and other institutions of power.
In the end, they were wrong.
The triumph of Watergate is the role of a free press, in this case the Washington Post and the New York Times, in relentlessly exposing corruption and hypocrisy in the halls of power.