The trial of the Watergate Seven (Barker, Gonzalez, Hunt, Liddy, Martinez, McCord and Sturgis) begins in Washington. It is presided over by Judge John Sirica.
Hunt pleads guilty.
Barker, Gonzalez, Martinez and Sturgis plead guilty.
Former Nixon aides G. Gordon Liddy and James W. McCord Jr. are convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping in the Watergate incident. Both had pleaded not guilty.
The Senate votes (77-0) to create the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities. The Committee is chaired by Senator Sam Ervin (Democrat, North Carolina). Ervin cultivated a folksy image as a country lawyer, but his supervision of this committee is crucial to the outcome. His deputy is Senator Howard Baker (Republican, Tennessee).
- Listen to Senator Sam Ervin describe himself as a ‘country lawyer’.
James W. McCord writes a letter to Judge John Sirica in which he claims that the defendants had pleaded guilty under duress. He says they committed perjury and that others are involved in the Watergate break-in. He claims that the burglars lied at the urging of John Dean, Counsel to the President, and John Mitchell, the Attorney-General. These allegations of a cover-up and obstruction of justice by the highest law officers in the land blew Watergate wide open.
John Dean, the White House Counsel, begins co-operating with the Watergate prosecutors.
Nixon announces that White House staff will appear before the Senate Committee. He promises “major new developments” in the investigation and says there has been real progress towards finding the truth.
An official statement from the White House claims Nixon had no prior knowledge of the Watergate affair.
Nixon asks John Dean to prepare a report about the Watergate affair. He sends Dean to Camp David to write the report.
- Listen to Dean’s recollections of the conversation with Nixon.
Nixon appears on national television and announces the dismissal of Dean and the resignations of Haldeman and Erlichman, describing them as two of his “closest advisers”. The Attorney-General, Richard Kleindienst, also resigns and is replaced by Elliot Richardson.
- Listen to Ehrlichman discuss his departure from the White House.
Nixon appoints General Alexander Haig as White House Chief of Staff, in place of Haldeman.
The Senate Watergate Committee begins public hearings.
The Senate Watergate committee begins its nationally televised hearings.
The former Solicitor-General, Archibald Cox, is sworn in as the Justice Department’s special prosecutor for Watergate. He was nominated by Attorney General-designate Elliot Richardson.
It is reported by the Washington Post that John Dean has told Watergate investigators that he discussed the Watergate cover-up with President Nixon at least 35 times.
Watergate prosecutors find a memo addressed to John Ehrlichman describing in detail the plans to burglarize the office of Pentagon Papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.
Testifying before the Senate Watergate Committee, Dean claims that Nixon was involved in the cover-up of the Watergate burglary within days in June 1972. In a seven-hour opening statement, he details a program of political espionage activites conducted by the White House in recent years.
- Listen to Dean discussing the climate in the White House.
- Listen to Dean outlining Nixon’s attitude to finding the money to pay-off the Watergate burglars.
- Listen to Dean’s famous reference to the ‘cancer growing on the presidency’.
Nixon tells the Senate Committee that he will not testify before it and will not grant access to Presidential documents, claiming Executive Privilege.
Alexander P. Butterfield, a former presidential appointments secretary, informs the Senate Committee of the White House taping system. He says that since 1971 Nixon has recorded all conversations and telephone calls in his office. A protracted legal battle begins between the White House, the Congress and the Special Prosecutor.
Nixon reportedly orders the White House taping system disconnected.
The Senate Committee and Archibald Cox demand that Nixon hand over a range of White House tapes and documents.
John Ehrlichman appears before the Senate Watergate Committee.
Nixon refuses to surrender any documents or tapes.
The Watergate Committee subpoenas several White House tapes.
The Senate Committee takes legal action against Nixon for failure to comply with the subpoena.
Nixon delivers a second Address to the Nation on Watergate. Nixon claimed executive privilege for the tapes and argued that he should not have to hand them over. Archibald Cox and the Senate Watergate committee request the Supreme Court instruct Nixon to surrender the tapes.
Judge Sirica orders Nixon to hand over 9 tapes for Sirica to review in private. This is the first of a number of court battles that Nixon is to lose.
Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew resigns after pleading no contest to a charge of income tax evasion. He was sentenced to three years of unsupervised probation and a $10,000 fine.
Nixon nominates Gerald Ford, Republican Minority leader in the House of Representatives, as vice-president. At the same time, the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld Judge Sirica’s ruling that Nixon should surrender tape recordings relevant to Watergate.
- Listen to Spiro Agnew attack the media.
Nixon offers a compromise to the Senate Watergate Committee, proposing that the Democratic Senator from Mississippi, John Stennis, be permitted to listen to the tapes and prepare summaries for Special Prosecutor Cox.
Cox rejects the Stennis compromise. In a series of events that became known as the Saturday Night Massacre:
Nixon orders his Attorney-General, Elliot Richardson, to fire Archibald Cox. Richardson refuses and resigns in protest.
Nixon orders the deputy Attorney-General, William Ruckelshaus, to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus refuses and is sacked.
Robert Bork, the Solicitor-General, now acting as Attorney-General, fires Cox. [In the 1980s, Bork becomes a controversial Reagan nominee to the Supreme Court. His nomination is rejected by the Senate.]
Under immense pressure, Nixon agrees to comply with the subpoena and releases some of the tapes.
Leon Jaworski is named as the new Watergate Special Prosecutor.
During a press conference, Nixon defends his actions, urges the nation to put Watergate behind it and says “I’m not a crook.”
- Listen to Nixon’s famous “I’m not a crook” statement.
- I’m not a crook – shorter version.
A gap of 18 and a half minutes is discovered on the tape of the conversation between Nixon and Haldeman on June 20, 1972. Electronics experts report that the gap is the result of at least 5 separate erasures. Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, denies deliberately erasing the tape.
White House Chief of Staff, Alexander Haig, says one theory is that “some sinister force” erased the 18 and a half minutes of tape.