Technically, President Nixon (Republican) was not impeached. The reason is because he resigned from office on August 9, 1974. His decision to resign happened after the House Judiciary Committee voted on, and passed, three articles of impeachment, but before the U.S. House of Representatives could hold a vote.
It is the outcome of the House vote on articles of impeachment that determine whether or not a President has been impeached. The Senate then holds a trial. The outcome of the Senate trial does not erase that a president has been impeached. Perhaps Nixon resigned in an effort to avoid going down in history as an impeached president.
Watergate.info put together a brief chronology of Watergate. The name comes from the Watergate Hotel, which experienced a break-in. My best guess is that Watergate is what started the practice of naming the political scandals that came after it with the word “gate”.
It is possible for people to stay at The Watergate Hotel today. It first opened in 1965, with a design that was shocking to the conservative community of Washington D.C. The hotel’s website states: “Its glamorous reputation was eclipsed with political scandal on June 17, 1972, when five intruders were caught in the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, leading to Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency.”
On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested for breaking into the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate hotel and office complex. the five buglers were charged with attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other communications.
One of the men was James W. McCord, who was a security coordinator for the Republican National Committee (RNC). He was also part of the Committee for the Re-election of the President, which has the unfortunate acronym of CREEP. McCord was also a former FBI and CIA agent.
Bernard L. Barker was a realtor from Miami, Florida. He also was a former CIA operative. Eugenio R. Martinez worked for Barker’s real estate firm. He had CIA connections and was an anti-Castro Cuban exile
Virgilio R. Gonzales was a locksmith was a refugee from Cuba (after Castro’s takeover of the country.) Frank A. Sturgis also had CIA connections and involvement in anti-Castro activities.
A security guard named Frank Willis happened to be on duty when the break-in was happening. He called the police at 1:47 in the morning. If it wasn’t for him, the buglers may not have been caught.
Much of the investigative reporting about Watergate was done by The Washington Post. It was the source that was accessible to the general public. The majority of the journalism was done by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, along with a mysterious informant who was called Deep Throat.
On June 19, 1972, The Washington Post reported that John Mitchell, a former attorney general and the current head of Nixon’s reelection campaign, was among the buglers. Mitchell denied it.
On August 1, 1972, The Washington Post reported that a $25,000 cashiers check, which was apparently supposed to go to the Nixon campaign, ended up in the bank account of a Watergate bugler.
On September 15, 1972, G. Gordon Liddy was the counsel to the Finance Committee to Re-elect the president, and former FBI agent, former Treasury official, and former member of the White House staff was indicted by a Grand Jury. During the investigation, G. Gordon Liddy refused to answer questions. He was fired from his job.
E. Howard Hunt, a former White House consultant and former CIA employee was also indicted. He had worked in declassifying the Pentagon Papers. The Pentagon Papers were commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1967. Watergate.info describes them as “the Defense Department’s secret history of the Vietnam War.”
On October 10, 1972, The Washington Post reported that FBI agents had established that the Watergate break-in stemmed from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of the Nixon reelection effort.
Despite all of this, on November 11, 1972, President Richard Nixon (Republican) was reelected in one of the largest landslide victories in American political history. He took more than 60 percent of the vote, and beat Senator George McGovern of South Dakota (Democrat).
Nixon’s second term started off badly, and things did not improve from there. On January 30, 1973, Former Nixon aides G. Gordon Liddy and James W. McCord Jr. ware convicted of conspiracy, burglary, and wiretapping in the Watergate incident.
On April 30, 1973, Nixon announced that White House aides John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman have resigned. White House counsel John Deal is fired. Attorney General Richard Kleindienst also resigned. Later that night, Nixon delivered his first prime-time address to the nation on Watergate. In the speech, Nixon stressed his innocence.
On May 17, 1973, Senator Sam Ervin opens the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities. The purpose of the committee is to investigate the Watergate incident. Archibald Cox is selected to as the Justice Department’s special prosecutor for Watergate.
On June 3, 1973, The Washington Post reported that John Dean told Watergate investigators that he discussed the Watergate cover-up with President Nixon at least 35 times.
On July 13, 1973, The Washington Post reported that Watergate prosecutors found a memo addressed to John Ehrlichman that described the plans to burglarize the office of the Pentagon Papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.
On July 13, 1973, Alexander Butterfield, former presidential appointments secretary, met with Senate investigators. Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of a secret taping system within the White House.
On July 16, 1973, Alexander Butterfield testified before the Senate Committee in a live, televised, broadcast. He revealed that since 1971, Nixon had recorded all conversations and telephone calls in his offices.
Two days later, on July 18, 1973, President Nixon reportedly ordered the White House taping system disconnected.
On July 23, 1973, President Nixon refused to turn over the presidential tape recordings to the Senate Watergate committee or the special prosecutor. According to History.com, the tapes were believed to include evidence that Nixon and his aides had attempted to cover up their involvement in the Watergate break-in and other illegal activities. Various subpoenas ordered Nixon to turn over the tapes. Nixon filed appeals in response.
On June 25, 1973, John Dean testified in front of the Senate Select Committee about Nixon’s involvement with the Watergate cover-up.
On August 15, 1973, the Senate Select Committee wrapped up its hearings. Nixon delivered a second prime-time address to the nation about Watergate. It started with:
Now that most of the major witnesses in the Watergate phase of the Senate committee hearings on campaign practices have been heard, the time has come for me to speak out about the charges made and to provide a perspective on the issue for the American people.
Here are a few more key paragraphs from the speech:
…The investigation began as an effort to discover the facts about the break-in and bugging of the Democratic National Headquarters and other campaign abuses.
But as the weeks have gone by, it has become clear that both the hearings themselves and some of the commentaries on them have become increasingly absorbed in an effort to implicate the President personally in the illegal activities that took place.
Because the abuses occurred during my Administration, and in the campaign for my reelection, I accept full responsibility for them. I regret that these events took place, and I do not question the right of a Senate committee to investigate charges made against the President to the extent that this is relevant to legislative duties.
However, it is my constitutional responsibility to defend the integrity of this great office against false charges. I also believe that it is important to address the overriding question of what we as a nation can learn from this experience and what we should now do. I intend to discuss both subjects tonight…
Later in the speech, Nixon attempted to explain why he was not going to release the tapes.
…Each day, a President of the United States is required to make difficult decisions on grave issues. It is absolutely necessary, if the President is to be able to do his job as the country expects, that he be able to talk openly and candidly with his advisers about issues and individuals. This kind of frank discussion is only possible when those who take part in it know that what they say is in the strictest confidence…
…This need for confidence is not confined to Government officials. The law has long recognized that there are kinds of conversations that are entitled to be kept confidential, even at the cost of doing without critical evidence in a legal proceeding. This rule applies, for example, to conversations between a lawyer and a client, between a priest an a penitent, and between a husband and wife. In each case, it is thought so important that the parties be able to talk freely to each other that for hundreds of years the law has said these conversations are “privileged” and that their disclosures cannot be compelled in a court.
It is even more important that the confidentiality of conversations between a President and his advisors be protected. This is no mere luxury, to be dispensed with whenever a particular issue raises sufficient uproar. It is absolutely essential to the conduct of the Presidency, in this and all future Administrations.
If I were to make public these tapes, containing as they do blunt and candid remarks on many different subjects, the confidentiality of the Office of the President would always be suspect from now on. It would make no difference whether it was to serve the interests of a court, of a Senate committee, or the President himself – the same damage would be done to the principle, and that damage would be irreparable.
Persons talking with the President would never again be sure that recordings or notes of what they said would not suddenly be made public. No one would want to advance tentative ideas that might later seem unsound. No diplomat would want to speak candidly in those sensitive negotiations which could bring peace or avoid war. No Senator or Congressman would want to talk frankly about the Congressional horsetrading that might get a vital bill passed. No one would want to speak bluntly about public figures here and abroad.
That is why I shall continue to oppose efforts which would set a precedent. that would cripple all future Presidents by inhibiting conversations between them and those they look to for advice..
On October 10, 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the events that led to his resignation began in the summer of 1973 when Spiro Agnew was investigated in connection with accusations of extortion, bribery, and income-tax violations relating chiefly to his tenure as governor of Maryland.
Spiro Agnew fought the charges. He argued that the allegations were false, and that a sitting Vice President could not be indicted. He stated the only way he could be removed from office would be via impeachment.
The Solicitor General released a brief that made it clear that a sitting Vice President could be indicted. Spiro Agnew vowed not to resign.
The Nixon administration, concerned about the danger of Nixon being impeached as a result of the Watergate scandal, sought to remove Spiro Agnew from the Presidential Line of Succession. Encyclopedia Britannica states that secret plea bargaining took place between Spiro Agnew’s lawyers and a federal judge. This led to the resignation of Spiro Agnew.
On October 19, 1973, President Nixon attempted to avoid handing over the tapes to special prosecutor of the Watergate Scandal Archibald Cox. Nixon suggested that U.S. Senator John Stennis (Democrat) would summarize the tapes for investigators. Special prosecutor Archibald Cox refused this offer on October 20, 1973.
On October 20, 1973: The “Saturday Night Massacre” occurred. President Nixon fired Archibald Cox and abolished the office of the special prosecutor. Attorney General Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus resigned. Pressure for impeachment mounted in Congress.
On November 17, 1973, President Nixon declared, “I’m not a crook,” during a televised press conference in Florida. The press conference took place at The Contemporary Resort, one of two resorts that were located on Disney property when Walt Disney World opened in 1971.
The Washington Post published an article about Nixon’s press conference on November 18, 1973. Here are some paragraphs from that article:
Declaring that “I am not a crook,” President Nixon vigorously defended his record in the Watergate case tonight and said he had never profited from his public service.
“I have earned every cent. And in all my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice,” Mr. Nixon said.
“People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook. I’ve earned everything I’ve got.”
In an hour-long televised question-and-answer session with 400 Associated Press managing editors, Mr. Nixon was tense and sometimes misspoke, But he maintained his innocence in the Watergate case and promised to supply more details on his personal finances and more evidence from tapes and presidential documents…
…The President acknowledged that he had “made a mistake” in not more closely supervising campaign activities. In a question on what he may do after he leaves office, he quipped it depends on when he left..
…Summing up, he declared that the White House tape recordings would prove that he had no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in, that he never offered executive clemency for the Watergate burglars, and in fact turned it down when it was suggested, and had no prior knowledge until March 21, 1973, of proposals that blackmail money be paid a convicted Watergate conspirator.
Regarding the June 20, 1972 brief telephone conversation with former Attorney General John N. Mitchell, Mr. Nixon said no tape was made because the call was from the family quarters of the White House. He said he called to cheer up Mitchell because Mitchell was chagrined because he had not properly controlled those under him — in the re-election campaign, which he once headed, and the burglary was embarrassing the administration.
Mr. Nixon said he was greatly disappointed that the tapes of the Mitchell conversation and the April 15, 1973, conversation with former counsel John W. Dean III did not exist.
He was told first on Sept. 29 or 30 of this year that the tapes in question might not exist, the President said. After a search, it was determined on Oct. 26 that they did not exist, he said.
He said he dictated a report on the Mitchell conversation, which does not exist, and has notes on the Dean conversation which he has turned over to U.S. District Court Judge John J. Sirica.
His own taping system was “a little Sony with lapel mikes” at his desk, and it was not as good as the system President Johnson had, Mr. Nixon said.
But the tapes can be heard, he said, and will prove that he was not involved in the Watergate cover-up, he insisted..
On November 21, 1973, White House counsel J. Fred Buzhardt revealed the existence of an 18 and a half minute gap on the tape of the Nixon Haldeman conversation on June 20, 1972. The White House was unable to explain the gap. Later, Nixon’s secretary Rose Mary Woods claimed she accidentally erased the material.
The end of Nixon’s presidency happened in 1974. Investigations into Watergate, and the tape recordings, continued.
On March 1, 1974, Indictments were handed down on the “Watergate Seven”. This included John Mitchell, H.R. Haldeman, and John Ehrlichman. The Grand Jury also named President Nixon as an “unindicted co-conspirator.”
On April 30, 1974, The White House released more than 1,200 pages of edited transcripts of the Nixon tapes to the House Judiciary Committee, but the Committee insisted that the tapes themselves must be turned over to them.
On May 9, 1974, The House Judiciary Committee started impeachment proceedings against President Nixon.
On July 24, 1973, The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that President Nixon must turn over the tape recordings of 64 White House conversations, rejecting Nixon’s claims of executive privilege.
Between July 27, and July 30, of 1974, three articles of impeachment were debated and approved by the House Judiciary Committee against President Nixon. The articles were: Obstruction of Justice, Misuse of Power, and Contempt of Congress. The impeachment was sent to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Constitution.com has details about articles of impeachment that the House Judiciary Committee voted on. These articles were never voted on in the full House of Representatives.
Article I: Obstruction of Justice
In his conduct of the office of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States, and to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice, in that:
On June 17, 1972, and prior thereto, agents of the Committee for the Re-election of the President committed unlawful entry of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, District of Columbia, for the purpose of securing political intelligence. Subsequent thereto, Richard M. Nixon, using the powers of his high office, engaged personally and through his close subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or plan designed to delay, impede, and obstruct the investigation of such illegal entry; to cover up, conceal and protect those responsible, and to conceal the existence and scope of other unlawful covert activities.
The House Judiciary Committee adopted this article of impeachment with a vote of 27-11, on Saturday, July 27, 1974.
Article 2: Abuse of Power
Using the power of the offices of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of the President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in disregard of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, impairing the due and proper administration of justice and the conduct of lawful inquiries, or contravening the laws governing agencies of the executive branch and the purposes of these agencies.
What does this mean? It includes some of the following actions done either by Nixon himself, or by his subordinates:
- Tried to obtain from the Internal Revenue Service confidential information contained in the income tax returns for purposes not authorized by law, and to cause a violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.
- Misuse of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secret Service, and other executive personnel by directing or authorizing them to conduct or continue electronic surveillance or other investigations for purposes unrelated to national security, enforcement of laws, or any other lawful function of his office; and he did direct concealment of certain records made by the FBI of electronic surveillance.
- Authorized and permitted to be maintained a secret investigative unit within the office of President, financed in part by money derived from campaign contributions, which unlawfully utilize the resources of the Central Intelligence Agency, engaged in covert and unlawful activities, and attempted to prejudice the constitutional right to a fair trial.
- Attempting to cover up the unlawful entry into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate hotel and office complex, and the break-in into the offices of Dr. Lewis Fielding, and the electronic surveillance of private citizens, and the campaign financing practices of the Committee to Re-elect the President.
- Misused executive power by interfering with the agencies of the executive branch, including the FBI, the Criminal Division, and the Office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force, of the Department of Justice, and the CIA.
The House Judiciary Committee adopted this article of impeachment with a vote of 28-10.
Article 3: Contempt of Congress
In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, contrary to his oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives on April 11, 1974, May 15, 1974, May 30, 1974, and June 24, 1974, and willfully disobeyed such subpoenas…
…In refusing to produce these papers and things Richard M. Nixon, substituting his judgement as to what materials were necessary for the inquiry, interposed the powers of the Presidency against the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives, thereby assuming to himself functions and judgements necessary to the exercise of the sole power of impeachment vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives…
The House Judiciary Committee adopted this article of impeachment with a vote of 21-17.
Before the U.S. House of Representatives could vote on any of the three articles of impeachment that were voted on by the House Judiciary Committee, Nixon resigned from office. He resigned on August 8, 1974.
PBS News Hour has a transcript of President Nixon’s Resignation Speech. It was televised. Here are some key paragraphs from it:
This is the 37th time I have spoken to you from this office, where so many decisions have been made that shaped the history of this Nation. Each time I have done so to discuss with you some matter that I believe affected the national interest.
In all the decisions I have made in my public life, I have always tried to do what was best for the Nation. Throughout the long and difficult period of Watergate, I have felt it was my duty to persevere, to make every possible effort to complete the term of office for which you elected me.
In the past few days, however, it has become evident that I no longer have a strong enough political base in the Congress to justify continuing that effort. As long as there was such a base, I felt strongly that it was necessary to see the constitutional process through to its conclusion, that to do so otherwise would be unfaithful to the spirit of that deliberately difficult process and a dangerously destabilizing precedent for the future.
But with the disappearance of that base, I now believe that the constitutional purpose has been served, and there is no longer a need for the process to be prolonged.
I would have preferred to carry through to finish whatever the personal agony it would have involved, and my family unanimously urged me to do so. But the interest of the Nation must always come before any personal considerations.
From the discussions I have had with Congressional and other leaders, I have concluded that because of the Watergate matter I might not have the support of the Congress that I would consider necessary to back the very difficult decisions and carry out the duties of this office in the way the interests of the Nation would require.
I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interests of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.
To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace and prosperity without inflation at home.
Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office…
The Pew Research Center reported on August 8, 2014, that the televised Watergate hearings that started in May of 1973 commanded a large national audience. According to Gallup, 71% watched the hearings live. As many as 21% reported watching 10 hours or more of the proceedings. Nixon’s popularity took a severe hit, and his ratings fell as low as 31% as a result of the televised hearings, according to a Gallup early August survey.
The Pew Research Center’s article noted that in August of 1974, after the House Judiciary Committee’s recommendation that Nixon should be impeached, and after the Supreme Court’s decision that he surrender his audio tapes, did a clear majority of people agree that the president should be removed from office. It was a total of 57% of people.
In September of 1974, a 58% majority of people said Nixon should be tried for possible criminal charges. The people took the view that he “should not be let off the hook easily, if found guilty”. A total of 53% of people thought that President Ford should not pardon Nixon, if he was found guilty.
The (Almost) Impeachment of President Richard Nixon is a post written by Jen Thorpe on Book of Jen and is not allowed to be copied to other sites.
If you enjoyed this blog post please consider supporting me on Ko-fi. Thank you!