On August 8, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon announced that he would be the first president in American history to resign the presidency. He addressed the public in a televised speech from the Oval Office in which he said, “I hope that I have hastened the start of the process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.” This statement of resignation came after the president realized he would likely be impeached for his role in the Watergate scandal.
In June 1972, five men broke into the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate complex and installed illegal wiretaps. These five, who included the security chief of Nixon’s reelection campaign, were arrested. Shortly after, two White House staff members were also implicated in the crime. Immediately, Americans began to speculate about the president’s involvement in the conspiracy.
During the latter part of 1972, two Washington Post reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, released leaks from an anonymous source, Deep Throat, later revealed to be FBI deputy director, Mark Felt. Their articles accused President Nixon of knowledge of and involvement in the Watergate wiretapping and that it was a small part of a major conspiracy by the Nixon campaign to spy on and sabotage the campaigns of the democratic candidates for president. Though their source and evidence were compelling, they didn’t stop Nixon from winning the election in a landslide.
At the beginning of 1973, Congress established a committee to investigate the 1972 presidential campaign for any signs of malfeasance. These televised hearings, much like the January 6 hearings, drew the attention of the entire country. A major break in the case came when White House legal aide, John Dean, testified that President Nixon had been aware of the Watergate cover-up. It was at this point that the prosecutor and his team uncovered many instances of political espionage by the Nixon campaign. They also became aware of recordings of conversations between Nixon and his staff that contained sensitive information. When they requested the tapes be turned over to them, Nixon offered to send summaries, but the prosecutor was not having that.
Following this, Nixon ordered the Attorney General to fire the special prosecutor assigned to the Watergate case. The Attorney General and his deputy refused to do so, choosing to resign instead. The act, later ruled illegal, was eventually carried out. This is referred to as the Saturday Night Massacre, and it caused the public’s confidence in the president to plummet. By 1974, three articles of impeachment were adopted against the president, including hindrance of the impeachment process, abuse of presidential powers, and obstruction of justice. At the beginning of August 1974, the Watergate tapes were finally released. A few days later, Nixon announced his resignation.
Vice President Gerald Ford became president and pardoned Richard Nixon of all his crimes. Though he was pardoned, the Watergate Scandal has gone down in history. Nixon remains the only president to have resigned his office.
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