May 1: Watergate

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Texas representative Barbara Jordan of the House Judiciary Committee, 1973

Without a doubt, the most serious political scandal in American history was Watergate, a complicated affair involving abuse of power for political gain. Begin with the Kutler reading (Wars of Watergate) from the Sourcebook, and I've also thrown together this timeline, with some links, for those more interested in the affair. Out moot court for tonight, the extraordnarily complex case of Buckley v. Valeo, was a challenge to one of the key post-Watergate laws: campaign finance reform. It addressed the question of whether the government could limit campaign contributions and campaign spending.

Background to Watergate:

May 28, 1972 Electronic surveillance ("bugging") equipment is installed at Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate building.
June 17, 1972 Five men are arrested while attempting to repair the surveillance equipment at Democratic National Committee headquarters.
August 30, 1972 President Nixon announces that John Dean has completed an investigation into the Watergate buggings and that no one from the White House is involved.
September 15, 1972 Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, E. Howard Hunt, G. Gordon Liddy, Eugenio Martinez, James W. McCord, Jr., and Frank Sturgis are indicted for their roles in the June break-in.
January 8, 1973 Watergate break-in trial opens. Hunt pleads guilty (January 11); Barker, Sturgis, Martinez, and Gonzalez plead guilty (January 15); Liddy and McCord are convicted on all counts of break-in indictment (January 30).
February 7, 1973 U.S. Senate creates Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities.
April 17, 1973 President Nixon announces that members of the White House staff will appear before the Senate committee and promises major new developments in investigation and real progress toward finding truth.
April 23, 1973 White House issues statement denying President had prior knowledge of Watergate affair.
April 30, 1973 White House staff members H. R. Haldeman, John D. Ehrlichman, and John Dean resign.
May 17, 1973 Senate committee begins public hearings.
May 25, 1973 Archibald Cox sworn in as Special Prosecutor.
July 7, 1973 President Nixon informs Senate committee that he will not appear to testify nor grant access to presidential files.
July 16, 1973 Alexander Butterfield informs Senate committee of the presence of a White House taping system.
July 23, 1973 Senate Committee and Special Prosecutor Cox subpoena White House tapes and documents to investigate cover-up.
July 25, 1973 President Nixon refuses to comply with Cox subpoena.
August 9, 1973 Senate committee files suit against President Nixon for failure to comply with subpoena.
October 19, 1973 President Nixon offers Stennis a compromise on the tapes; that is, Senator John Stennis (D-Miss.)--a man notoriously hard of hearing--would review tapes and present the Special Prosecutor with summaries.
October 20, 1973 Archibald Cox refuses to accept the Stennis compromise. President Nixon orders Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox, but Richardson refuses and resigns in protest. Acting Attorney General Robert Bork fires Cox. These events come to be known as the "Saturday Night Massacre."
October 23, 1973 President Nixon agrees to hand over tapes to comply with subpoena.
November 1, 1973 Leon Jaworski named Special Prosecutor.
November 21, 1973 Senate Committee announces discovery of 18 minute gap on tape of Nixon-Haldeman conversation of June 20,1972.
February 6, 1974 House of Representatives authorizes House Judiciary Committee to investigate whether grounds exist for impeachment of President Nixon.
April 16, 1974 Special Prosecutor issues subpoena for 64 White House tapes.
April 30, 1974 President Nixon submits tape transcripts to House Judiciary Committee.
July 24, 1974 Supreme Court unanimously upholds Special Prosecutor's subpoena for tapes for Watergate trial.
July 27-30, 1974 House Judiciary Committee adopts articles I, II, and III of impeachment resolution charging President with obstruction of investigation of Watergate break-in, misuse of powers and violation of his oath of office, and failure to comply with House subpoenas.
August 9, 1974 President Nixon resigns.
September 8, 1974 President Gerald Ford pardons Nixon.

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The above photo features former White House counselor John Dean testifying before Sam Ervin's Watergate Committee hearings. No coverage of Watergate could be complete without an examination of the congressional investigation of Watergate, an event that--alongside the involvement in Vietnam--would transform the culture of Congress and the nature of the relationship between the executive and legislative branches.  To obtain a sense of how Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee approached the issue, take a look at the remarks of Barbara Jordan, the African-American congresswoman from Texas. Other notable figures on the panel included Robert Drinan, the former dean of Boston College Law School and the first priest to serve in the U.S. Congress, and the chair of the committee, New Jersey's Peter Rodino, while in the Senate, the hearings were dominated by the Judiciary Committee's chair, Sam Ervin.

Perhaps the critical element in Nixon's downfall was the revelation by presidential aide Alexander Butterfield that Nixon had secretly recorded all Oval Office conversations between mid-1971 and mid-1973.   Nixon, who early in the crisis had proclaimed, "I am not a crook," fought hard to prevent the release of the tapes, claiming "executive privilege," only to be rebuffed by a unanimous Supreme Court in U.S. v. Nixon. Since the tapes contained evidence of the President obstructing justice, it soon became clear why the President had not wanted to tapes made public; click here to listen to some of the tapes.  Soon after the decision, Nixon resigned.  His successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned him; Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski, in this memorandum written the day of the resignation, agreed. Do you?

Watergate transformed American political culture. Among other things, it led to the passage of a host of initiatives designed to improve government ethics, including:

 


Federal Campaign Act Amendments (1974 and later), which established limitations on campaign contributions, a public financing system for presidential elections, and an independent agency to administer and enforce the election laws.
Congressional Ethics Code (1977 and later), which set standards of conduct and limited congressional outside earned income, honoraria fees, and gifts.
Ethics in Government Act (1978) which required financial disclosure by high government officials in all three branches of the federal government, restricted contacts between former high level executive branch employees and their former agencies, and established a government office to monitor compliance with the law.
Special Prosecutor Provision of the Ethics in Government Act (1978 and later), which established a mechanism for appointing independent counsel to investigate and prosecute wrongdoing by high government officials.
Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (1977), which prohibited American companies from bribing foreign officials, politicians, or political parties.
Freedom of Information Act Amendments (1974 and later), which strengthened the Freedom of Information Act, increasing public access to government papers.
The Government in the Sunshine Act (1976), which mandated opening meetings of all multi-member government agencies to the public.
House and Senate Open Meeting Rules (1973 and 1975, respectively), which opened all congressional committee meetings to the public absent a recorded vote to close them.
FBI Domestic Security Investigation Guidelines (1976 and later), which restricted political intelligence-gathering activities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (1978), which regulated electronic surveillance conducted within the United States for foreign intelligence purposes.
Intelligence Authorization Act (1980), which required the Executive Branch to keep the House and Senate Intelligence Committees "fully and currently informed" of all U.S. intelligence activities.