The Watergate Scandal: A Constitutional Crisis

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The Watergate Scandal: A Constitutional Crisis In June of 1972, a group of five burglars was caught breaking in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C., attempting to steal documents and bug the offices. Through investigations led by the Washington Post, the burglary was found to be connected to President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign. In the events that followed the investigation, Nixon would eventually resign as president. This investigation was made possible by the separation of powers and checks and balances created in the Constitution, which incriminated Nixon, and by the public rejection of the unofficial power of “executive privilege.” In addition, the First Amendment right to freedom of the press…show more content…
The crisis over political spying against the Democrats as part of Nixon’s re-election campaign raised several issues concerning the separation of powers, including the validity of the concept of “executive privilege.” These issues led to the creation of a Senate Watergate Committee, producing a legal battle between the branches of government. This battle focused on obtaining audio tapes with conversations from the Oval Office, recorded with hidden microphones Nixon had ordered installed in 1971. The Nixon administration had been pressured to appoint Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox charged with conducting the Watergate investigation for the government. Cox vowed to acquire the tapes, continuing his efforts even when the president ordered him to stop. This culminated in the “Saturday Night Massacre” on October 20, when Nixon attempted to fire Cox. Both Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned instead of carrying out the order, and Nixon was forced to rely on Solicitor General Robert Bork (Belknap). But even Nixon’s replacement for Cox, Leon Jaworski, eventually became convinced of the president’s guilt. As a part of the Supreme Court case United States v. Nixon, which began in 1974 and introduced a judicial check on the president, Jaworski attempted to subpoena the tapes. Nixon claimed absolute “executive privilege,” the concept that the president has the right to withhold information from Congress or the courts, claiming that the judiciary had no authority over them. (“Executive Privilege”). But the concept was rejected: the Court ordered certain tapes of White House conversations to be produced which would incriminate Nixon. Even when Nixon supplied an edited transcript of the conversations, it was not enough, and he

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