As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.

History 111 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer

Watergate Chronology

Photograph of President Richard NixonWatergate political cartoon

1968 Richard Milhouse Nixon (Republican) was elected president on a pledge of ending the war.

1970 A White House Special Investigations Unit was established, known as the "Plumbers". This secret group investigated the private lives of Nixon's critics and political enemies. Nixon was reported to have a "hate list", containing the names of many Democrats, including James Reston, Jack Anderson, Jane Fonda, Barbra Streisand and Paul Newman.

1971 Voice-activated tape recorders were installed in the Oval Office.

1972 On May 28, bugging equipment Photograph of Watergate Complexwas installed at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington DC. This was the first Watergate burglary.

1973 On January 8, the first trial relating to the Watergate breakin began and was presided over by Judge John Sirica.

Photo of Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein1974 Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein published their investigative report of the Watergate scandal. In All the President's Men, they described their source as holding an extremely sensitive position in the executive branch, and as one "who could be contacted only on very important occasions." Dubbed "Deep Throat" after a popular porn film at the time, the source encouraged Woodward and Bernstein to "follow the money" and confirmed or denied reports from other sources.

2002 - In April, former White House Counsel John Dean announced that he would reveal the name of "Deep Throat" when releasing a book about the Watergate scandal in July, 2002.

2005 - In May, an article in Vanity Fair revealed that W. Mark Felt, the FBI's second ranking official during the Watergate years, was Deep Throat. In public statements following the disclosure of his identity, Felt's family called him an "American hero," stating that he leaked information about the Watergate scandal to the Washington Post for moral and patriotic reasons. Most commentators and historians familiar with the details of the Watergate history feel that Felt's contributions were vital in exposing the illegal actions and cover-ups of the Nixon White House.

Most important lesson to remember about Watergate:

  1. The Watergate break-in was no ordinary robbery: The prowlers were connected to President Richard Nixon's reelection campaign, and they were caught while attempting to wiretap phones and steal secret documents.
  2. While historians are not sure whether Nixon knew about the Watergate espionage operation before it happened, they are absolutely clear that he took steps to cover it up after it happened.
  3. Nixon's cover up activities included raising "hush money" for the burglars, trying to stop the FBI from investigating the crime, destroying evidence, lying to the American people, and firing uncooperative staff members.
  4. Congress recommended three articles of impeachment - obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress - but before Congress members could vote to impeach Nixon, he resigned in August 1974. His successor, Gerald Ford, immediately pardoned Nixon for all the crimes he "committed or may have committed" while in office.
  5. Although Nixon was never prosecuted, some of Nixon’s aides were not so lucky: 69 government officials were charged and 48 were found guilty of very serious offenses and sent to federal prison.
  6. The Watergate scandal changed American politics forever, leading many Americans to think more critically about the presidency. Nixon's abuse of presidential power had a negative effect on American political life, creating an atmosphere of cynicism and distrust. While many Americans had been deeply dismayed by the outcomes of the Vietnam War, Watergate added further disappointment in a national climate already soured by the difficulties and losses of the past decade.
  7. Nixon never admitted to any criminal wrongdoing, although he did acknowledge using poor judgment. This leads us to our final, and perhaps most important lesson - Watergate was about the arrogance of power and the age old knowledge that power corrupts. The president, his advisors, and those who worked for him were not just full of themselves, they also thought that the ends justified the means. Thus, they believed that they could get away with illegal wiretappings, break-ins, and targeting their political enemies because they controlled the levers of power.