The background to the Watergate scandal was the hotly contested presidential election of 1972.
Richard Nixon was fighting for re-election while the US was still embroiled in the Vietnam War, and his team was convinced they needed an aggressive campaign to win.
In May 1972, members of Nixon’s Presidential Re-election Committee (derisively referred to as CREEP) broke into the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington DC.
They stole classified files and tapped the phones.
But these bugs didn’t work and a month later, burglars went back to the building but were spotted by security.
Police caught them red-handed with equipment to install a new microphone in the office.
It was initially unclear whether the burglars had any connection to Nixon, but suspicions were raised when a phone number for the president’s reelection commission was found in their possession.
In August, Nixon held a press conference in which he denied that his staff were involved in the break-in.
Pictured: President Richard Nixon speaking in 1973, a year before he stepped down
A few months later, the American people handed him a landslide election victory.
It would later turn out that the president had ensured that hundreds of thousands of ‘hush money’ would be paid to the burglars.
More serious was a plan devised with his advisers to tell the CIA to block the FBI’s investigation. This was abuse of power and obstruction of justice.
Seven people were charged for their role in the Watergate scandal, five pleaded guilty while the other two were convicted in January 1973.
By this time, a number of people were deeply suspicious that a more serious conspiracy was at work, including Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
Some of the accused began to crack, and an anonymous source, who Woodward and Bernstein dubbed Deep Throat, provided explosive information.
Some of Nixon’s top White House officials told a grand jury about the president’s crimes, and it was revealed that Nixon was secretly recording every conversation in the Oval Office.
Prosecutors went after those tapes, and Nixon was ultimately unable to prevent them from going public.
Nixon fired independent special counsel Archibald Cox when he refused to stop demanding the tapes.
Several other members of the Justice Department resigned, and in October 1973, the resignations became known as the Saturday Night Massacre.
By 1974, Nixon had agreed to hand over some tapes, and the cover-up was quickly unraveled.
In March, a grand jury appointed by the special counsel indicted seven former Nixon employees. The jury called Nixon an “unindicted co-conspirator.”
In July, Nixon was ordered by the Supreme Court to surrender all of his Oval Office recordings.
The House Judiciary Committee voted to indict the president for obstruction of justice, abuse of power and criminal cover-up.
Finally, on August 5, Nixon bowed and released the tapes to provide unequivocal evidence that he was directly involved with Watergate.
Nixon, facing some impeachment, resigned three days later.
Six weeks later, Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in and pardoned for Nixon.
But other White House staffers weren’t so lucky, including former FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy who devised the plot. He served four and a half years behind bars.
Attorney General John Mitchell served 19 months, Chief of Staff HR Haldeman was sent to prison for the same time, while the President’s Assistant to the Interior, John Ehrlichman, was jailed for 18 months.