All the President’s Men
Despite the arrests and early revelations, President Nixon won reelection, but soon after he began his second term, the Watergate conspiracy rapidly unraveled. As each of the “president’s men” gave testimony to federal authorities, the conspiracy tightened around Nixon’s inner circle. In February 1973, the Senate created an investigative committee headed by North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin, Jr. As the Army-McCarthy Hearings had done two decades earlier, so the Watergate Hearings riveted Americans to their television sets. After each key disclosure, the president announced the resignation of an important aide, including John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman, his closest advisors. Nixon’s counsel, John W. Dean III, was dismissed. Patiently, persistently, and with the cunning of a country lawyer educated at Harvard, the drawling Ervin elicited testimony revealing crimes far beyond Watergate:
that Mitchell controlled secret monies used to finance a campaign of forged letters and false news items intended to damage the Democratic party
that major U.S. corporations had made illegal campaign contributions amounting to millions
that Hunt and Liddy had in 1971 burglarized the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in order to discredit The Pentagon Papers whistle blower
that a plan existed to physically assault Ellsberg
that Nixon had promised the Watergate burglars clemency and even bribes in return for silence
that L. Patrick Gray, Nixon’s nominee to replace the recently deceased J. Edgar Hoover as head of the FBI, turned over FBI records on Watergate to White House counsel John Dean
that two Nixon cabinet members, Mitchell and Maurice Stans, took bribes from shady financier John Vesco
that illegal wiretap tapes were in the White House safe of Nixon advisor John Ehrlichman
that Nixon directed the CIA to instruct the FBI not to investigate Watergate
that Nixon used $ 10 million in government funds to improve his personal homes
that during 1969-70, the U.S. had secretly bombed Cambodia without the knowledge (let alone consent) of Congress
In the midst of all this turmoil, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew was indicted for bribes he had taken as Maryland governor. He resigned as vice president in October 1973 and was replaced by Congressman Gerald Ford of Michigan. Finally, it was revealed that President Nixon had covertly taped White House conversations; the tapes were subpoenaed, but the president claimed “executive privilege” and withheld them. Nixon ordered Elliot L. Richardson (who had replaced the disgraced John Mitchell as attorney general) to fire special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. On October 20, 1973, Richardson refused and resigned in protest; his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, likewise refused and was fired. The duty to discharge Cox fell to Nixon’s solicitor general, Robert H. Bork, and this “Saturday night massacre” served only to suggest that Nixon had much to hide.
At length, the president released transcripts of some of the White House tapes (containing 18 1/2 minutes of suspicious gaps), and on July 27-30, the House Judiciary Committee recommended that Nixon be impeached on three charges: obstruction of justice, abuse of presidential powers, and attempting to impede the impeachment process by defying committee subpoenas. Nixon released the remaining tapes on August 5, 1974, which revealed that he bad taken steps to block the FBI’s inquiry into the Watergate burglary. On August 9, 1974, Richard Milhous Nixon became the first president in U.S. history to resign from office.