March 1, 1974: a grand jury in Washington DC indicted the former aides of President Richard M. Nixon, who became known as the “Watergate Seven”: H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, John Mitchell, Charles Colson, Gordon C. Strachan, Robert Mardian, and Kenneth Parkinson, for conspiring to hinder the Watergate investigation. The grand jury secretly named Nixon as an unindicted co-conspirator. Leon Jaworski, the special prosecutor, dissuaded them from indicting Nixon, arguing that a President can only be indicted after he leaves office. John Dean, Jeb Stuart Magruder, and other figures had already pleaded guilty. On April 5, Dwight Chapin, former Nixon appointments secretary, was convicted of lying to the grand jury. Two days later, the same grand jury indicted Ed Reinecke, the Republican Lieutenant Governor of California, on three charges of perjury before the Senate committee.
For you kids that may not know, The Watergate Scandal was a major political scandal during the early 1970s. It all began with a bungled break-in by five men at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington DC on June 17, 1972, and Nixon’s administration’s subsequent attempt to cover up its involvement. After the five burglars were caught and the conspiracy was discovered, because of the excellent dogged work of a few journalists, Watergate was investigated by the United States Congress, but Nixon’s administration resisted its probes, which led to a constitutional crisis.
Watergate has become an all-encompassing term for an array of clandestine, illegal activities undertaken by members of the Nixon administration. Those activities included such dirty tricks as bugging the offices of political opponents and people of whom Nixon or his officials were suspicious. Nixon and his close aides also ordered investigations of activist groups and political figures, using the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as political weapons.
The Watergate scandal led to the discovery of abuses of power by members of the Nixon administration, the commencement of an impeachment process against the president, and at last, Nixon’s resignation. The scandal also resulted in the indictment of 69 people, with trials resulting in 48 being found guilty, including many top Nixon officials.
Even with Nixon’s resignation, criminal prosecution was still a possibility both on the federal and state level. Nixon was succeeded by Vice President Gerald Ford as President, and in September 1974, he issued a full and unconditional pardon of Nixon, eliminating prosecution for any crimes committed as president. In a televised broadcast to the nation, Ford explained that he felt the pardon was in the best interest of the country. He said of Nixon:
… it is an American tragedy in which we all have played a part. It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must.
Nixon proclaimed his innocence until his death in 1994. He said:
I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate, particularly when it reached the stage of judicial proceedings and grew from a political scandal into a national tragedy.