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(1972–74) Political scandal involving illegal activities by Pres. Richard Nixon's administration. In June 1972 five burglars were arrested after breaking into the Democratic Party's national headquarters at the Watergate Hotel complex in Washington, D.C. Within a few days of their arrest at the Watergate, charges of burglary and wiretapping were brought against the five and two others, including a former White House aide and G. Gordon Liddy, general counsel for the Committee to Reelect the President. Nixon and his aides steadfastly denied that anyone in the administration had been involved, despite persistent press reports to the contrary, and in November 1972 Nixon was easily reelected. In January 1973 the trial of the burglars was held before Judge John Sirica; five pleaded guilty and two were convicted by a jury. Sirica's direct questioning of witnesses revealed details of a cover-up by H.R. Haldeman, John D. Ehrlichman, and John W. Dean. They and Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst resigned in April. The new attorney general, Elliot L. Richardson (1920–98), appointed Archibald Cox (1912–2004) as special prosecutor. A Senate committee under Samuel Ervin held televised hearings in which the existence of tapes of conversations in the president's office was disclosed. Cox and Ervin subpoenaed the tapes, but Nixon refused to relinquish them and ordered Cox fired (Oct. 20, 1973). Richardson resigned in protest, and the public outcry eventually forced Nixon to surrender the tapes (December 8), which revealed clear signs of his involvement in the cover-up. In July 1974 the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives passed three articles of impeachment against Nixon. On August 5 Nixon supplied three tapes that clearly implicated him in the cover-up. Though Nixon continued to insist that he had not committed any offenses, he resigned on Aug. 8, 1974. He was pardoned a month later by his successor, Gerald Ford.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Watergate scandal, visit Britannica.com.
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