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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Woodward and Berstein say it was worse that we thought: The Nixon White House is guilty of major crimes against America and the Constitution


Nixon was the first and only U.S. president to resign. | AP
Nixon was the first and only U.S. president to resign. | AP

Attacks on President Obama, demonizing of President Bush's war fever, moralizing about President Clinton impeachment for private sexual acts all find their roots in the erosion of our respect as a society of presidency. One man is the well documented root of declining respect for the office and the men (or someday women) while hold the nation's top elected office. Republican president Richard Nixon was responsible for break-ins, thefts, manipulation of elections, intimidation of the media and the illeagal actions of  his staff. Nixon, the only president to resign in office, never faced trial as he was fully pardoned by his Vice President turned President, Gerald Ford.

Nixon was worse than we thought

Countless answers have been offered in the 40 years since June 17, 1972, when a team of burglars wearing business suits and rubber gloves was arrested at 2:30 a.m. at the headquarters of the Democratic Party in the Watergate office building in Washington. Four days afterward, the Nixon White House offered its answer: “Certain elements may try to stretch this beyond what it was,” press secretary Ronald Ziegler scoffed, dismissing the incident as a “third-rate burglary.”


View four decades worth of Washington Post stories and multimedia on the scandal and its fallout.

History proved that it was anything but. Two years later, Richard Nixon would become the first and only U.S. president to resign, his role in the criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice — the Watergate coverup — definitively established.

Another answer has since persisted, often unchallenged: the notion that the coverup was worse than the crime. This idea minimizes the scale and reach of Nixon’s criminal actions.

Ervin’s answer to his own question hints at the magnitude of Watergate: “To destroy, insofar as the presidential election of 1972 was concerned, the integrity of the process by which the President of the United States is nominated and elected.” Yet Watergate was far more than that. At its most virulent, Watergate was a brazen and daring assault, led by Nixon himself, against the heart of American democracy: the Constitution, our system of free elections, the rule of law.

Today, much more than when we first covered this story as young Washington Post reporters, an abundant record provides unambiguous answers and evidence about Watergate and its meaning. This record has expanded continuously over the decades with the transcription of hundreds of hours of Nixon’s secret tapes, adding detail and context to the hearings in the Senate and House of Representatives; the trials and guilty pleas of some 40 Nixon aides and associates who went to jail; and the memoirs of Nixon and his deputies. Such documentation makes it possible to trace the president’s personal dominance over a massive campaign of political espionage, sabotage and other illegal activities against his real or perceived opponents.

In the course of his five-and-a-half-year presidency, beginning in 1969, Nixon launched and managed five successive and overlapping wars — against the anti-Vietnam War movement, the news media, the Democrats, the justice system and, finally, against history itself. All reflected a mind-set and a pattern of behavior that were uniquely and pervasively Nixon’s: a willingness to disregard the law for political advantage, and a quest for dirt and secrets about his opponents as an organizing principle of his presidency.
Long before the Watergate break-in, gumshoeing, burglary, wiretapping and political sabotage had become a way of life in the Nixon White House. -more-


Click here to read more of this story in today's Washington Post, and for access to archieve reports and material from other reporters on the upcoming anniversary of Watergate. See also the links below for video, photos and.features.

Investigative journalism is at risk

Investigative journalism is at risk
Watergate’s legacy is endangered in the chaotic digital reconstruction of journalism in the United States.

Nixon: ‘I am not a crook’

Nixon: ‘I am not a crook’
VIDEO | In a question-and-answer session with AP editors on Nov. 17, 1973, President Nixon declared "I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got."

The 40th anniversary of Watergate

The 40th anniversary of Watergate
Woodward, Bernstein and other Watergate figures will speak at a Washington Post Live forum Monday, June 11. Watch at washingtonpost.com/watergate at 6:15 p.m. ET.

Watergate: A trip through history

Watergate: A trip through history
FULL COVERAGE | View four decades worth of Washington Post stories and multimedia on the scandal and its fallout.

Watergate: 40 years later

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