1972 June 17

Watergate Break-in, Arrests; The Famous Scandal Begins


Five men with ties to the President Richard Nixon Administration were arrested while conducting a burglary of the Democratic Party Headquarters at the Watergate Complex in Washington, DC, shortly after midnight on this day. They were arrested because of careless mistakes that roused the suspicion of security guard Frank Willis, who called the police. Meanwhile, across the street in a hotel room were E. Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy, the masterminds of the burglary who had closer ties with the Nixon administration. The arrests marked the beginning of what became known as the Watergate Scandal and which ended with the resignation of Richard Nixon as President on August 9, 1974.

Investigation of the original Watergate burglary by reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein for the Washington Post, Congress, and a special prosecutor, uncovered a wide range of abuses of power by the Nixon administration, some of which were unrelated to the burglary. The origins of the break-in are generally traced back to the GEMSTONE plan that was presented to Attorney General John Mitchell on January 27, 1972. The original plan was scaled down, and it led to an unsuccessful burglary attempt of Democratic Party Headquarters in late May 1972. There were also reportedly other burglary attempts in May 1972.

Some historians trace President Nixon’s abuse of power to the wiretaps he ordered placed on National Security Council staff members, sparked by a New York Times article on May 9, 1969, in an effort to trace the source of embarrassing leaks to the news media. The abuses also included the creation of the so-called “Plumbers” unit in the White House. The Plumbers  burglarized the offices of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in Los Angeles, on September 9, 1971, in an attempt to find embarrassing material on Ellsberg, who had leaked the Pentagon Papers to the Times.  See June 13, 1971, for the beginnings of the famous Pentagon Papers case.

Read: Stanley Kutler, The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon (1990)

Read the account by the reporters who broke the Watergate scandal: Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, All the President’s Men (1974)

Read the Senate Watergate Committee report: https://www.maryferrell.org/mffweb/archive/viewer/showDoc.do?docId=144965

35 Years later; watch Woodward, Bernstein and Robert Redford reflect on All the President’s Men: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVrGZSxpBEA

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