The Watergate Scandal: A Timeline

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/watergate-scandal-timeline-nixon

We look at the milestones of a scandal that rocked the nation.

January 1969

Richard Nixon is inaugurated as the 37 President of the United States.

February 1971

Richard Nixon orders the installation of a secret taping system that records all conversations in the Oval Office, his Executive Office Building office, and his Camp David office and on selected telephones in these locations.

June 13, 1971

The New York Times begins publishing the Pentagon Papers, the Defense Department’s secret history of the Vietnam War. The Washington Post will begin publishing the papers later in the week.

The Pentagon Papers (TV-PG; 3:50) 1971

Nixon and his staff recruit a team of ex-FBI and CIA operatives, later referred to as “the Plumbers” to investigate the leaked publication of the Pentagon Papers. On September 9, the “plumbers” break into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, in an unsuccessful attempt to steal psychiatric records to smear Daniel Ellsberg, the defense analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press.

January 1972

One of the “plumbers,” G. Gordon Liddy, is transferred to the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP), where he obtains approval from Attorney General John Mitchell for a wide-ranging plan of espionage against the Democratic Party.

May 28, 1972

Liddy’s team breaks into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. for the first time, bugging the telephones of staffers.

The Watergate Complex is an office-apartment-hotel building in the neighborhood of Foggy Bottom, Washington, DC., overlooking the Potomac River.June 17, 1972

Five men are arrested after breaking into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters. Among the items found in their possession were bugging devices, thousands of dollars in cash and rolls of film. Days later, the White House denied involvement in the break-in.

June 17, 1972

A young Washington Post crime reporter, Bob Woodward, is sent to the arraignment of the burglars. Another young Post reporter, Carl Bernstein, volunteers to make some phone calls to learn more about the burglary.

June 20, 1972

Bob Woodward has his first of several meetings with the source and informant known as “Deep Throat,” whose identity, W. Mark Felt, the associate director of the FBI, was only revealed three decades later.

August 1, 1972

An article in The Washington Post reports that a check for $25,000 earmarked for Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign was deposited into the bank account of one of the men arrested for the Watergate break-in. Over the course of nearly two years, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein continue to file stories about the Watergate scandal, relying on many sources.

Bob Woodward (left) and Carl Bernstein in the Washington Post newsroom, 1973.August 30, 1972

Nixon announces that John Dean has completed an internal investigation into the Watergate break-in, and has found no evidence of White House involvement.

September 29, 1972

The Washington Post reports that while serving as Attorney General, John Mitchell had controlled a secret fund to finance intelligence gathering against Democrats. When Carl Bernstein calls Mitchell for comment, Mitchell threatens both Bernstein and Katharine Graham, the publisher of the Post. The Post prints the threat.

October 10, 1972

Woodward and Bernstein report that the FBI had made connections between Nixon aides and the Watergate break-in.

October 1972

Articles by Woodward and Bernstein describe the existence of a major “dirty tricks” campaign conducted against Democratic Presidential candidate Edmund Muskie, orchestrated by Donald Segretti and others paid by CREEP and Nixon’s private attorney.

November 7, 1972

Nixon is elected to a second term in office after defeating Democratic candidate George McGovern.

January 8, 1973

The Watergate break-in trial begins.

Nixon Officials Caught in Watergate Scandal (TV-14; 0:38) January 30, 1973

Former Nixon aide and FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord, an ex-CIA agent and former security director of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), are convicted for their roles in the break-in at the Watergate complex. They are found guilty of conspiracy, bugging DNC headquarters, and burglary. Four others, including E. Howard Hunt, had already plead guilty. Judge John J. Sirica threatens the convicted burglars with long prison sentences unless they talk.

March 21, 1973

In a White House meeting, White House Counsel John Dean tells Nixon, “We have a cancer—within—close to the Presidency, that’s growing.” He and Nixon discuss how to pay the Watergate bribers as much as $1 million in cash to continue the cover-up.

March 23, 1973

Watergate burglar James McCord’s letter confessing the existence of a wider conspiracy is read in open court by Judge Sirica. The Watergate cover-up starts to unravel.

April 6, 1973

Dean begins cooperating with Watergate prosecutors.

John Dean testifying for the second day before the Senate Watergate Committee, saying he was sure that President Nixon not only knew about the Watergate cover-up as early as last fall, but also helped try to keep the scandal quiet.April 9, 1973

The New York Times reports that McCord told the Senate Watergate Committee that a Republican group, the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) had made cash payoffs to the Watergate burglars.

April 27, 1973

Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray resigns after admitting that he destroyed documents given to him by John Dean days after the Watergate break-in.

April 30, 1973

The Watergate scandal intensifies as Nixon announces that White House aides John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman have resigned. White House counsel John Dean is fired. (In October that year, Dean would plead guilty to obstruction of justice.) Attorney General Richard Kleindienst resigns. Later that night, Nixon delivers his first primetime address to the nation on Watergate, stressing his innocence.

May 17, 1973

Senator Sam Ervin opens the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities into the Watergate incident.

May 18, 1973

The first nationally televised hearings of the Senate Select Committee begin. Attorney General-designate Elliot Richardson appoints law professor and former U.S. Solicitor General Archibald Cox as special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation.

June 3, 1973

The Washington Post reports that Dean told Watergate prosecutors that he discussed the cover-up with Nixon at least 35 times. On June 25, Dean testifies before the Senate Select Committee about Nixon’s involvement.

Pieces of police evidence around the Watergate scandal. To the left are arrest photo enlargements of the 4 Cubans from Miami who committed the crime: Valdez Martinez, Virgilio Gonzalez, Bernard Barker, and Frank Sturgis.June 13, 1973

Prosecutors discover a memo to John Ehrlichman regarding plans for the Plumbers’ break-in of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.

July 13, 1973

Alexander Butterfield, former presidential appointments secretary, meets with Senate investigators, where he reveals the existence of an extensive, secret taping system in the White House. On July 16, he testifies before the Senate Committee in a live broadcast, revealing that since 1971 Nixon had recorded all conversations and telephone calls in his offices.

July 18, 1973

Nixon reportedly orders the White House taping system disconnected.

July to October 1973 

President Nixon refuses to turn over recordings of his White House conversations to the Senate investigation and to Cox. The tapes are believed to include evidence that Nixon and his aides had attempted to cover up their involvement in the Watergate break-in and other illegal activities. Nixon files appeals in response to various subpoenas ordering him to turn over the tapes.

August 15, 1973

The same day the Senate Select Committee wraps up its hearings, Nixon delivers a second primetime address to the nation on Watergate, saying “It has become clear that both the hearings themselves and some of the commentaries on them have become increasingly absorbed in an effort to implicate the President personally in the illegal activities that took place.” He reminded the American people that he had already taken “full responsibility” for the “abuses that occurred during my administration.”

Nixon Withholds Watergate Recordings (TV-PG; 3:51) October 10, 1973

Vice President Spiro Agnew resigns, amidst bribery and income-tax evasion charges, unrelated to the Watergate break-in. Two days later, Nixon nominates Michigan Congressman Gerald Ford as vice president. Ford is sworn in in December.

October 19, 1973

Nixon attempts a legal maneuver to avoid handing over the tapes to Cox by suggesting U.S. Sen. John Stennis to summarize the tapes for investigators. Cox will refuse the offer the next day.

October 20, 1973

Nixon orders the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox in what becomes known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.” Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resign rather than carry out these orders. Solicitor General Robert Bork fires Cox. Several days later, Leon Jaworski is appointed as the second special prosecutor.

November 17, 1973

During a televised press conference in Florida, Nixon famously declares, “I’m not a crook,” and continues to profess his innocence.

Nixon: “I am Not a Crook” (TV-14; 1:28) November 21, 1973

White House Watergate counsel J. Fred Buzhardt reveals the existence of an 18 ½ minute gap on the tape of Nixon-Haldeman conversation on June 20, 1972. The White House is unable to explain the gap, although Nixon’s secretary Rose Mary Woods, will later claim she accidentally erased the material.

March 1, 1974

Indictments are handed down for the “Watergate Seven,” including John Mitchell, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. The grand jury names Nixon as an “unindicted co-conspirator.”

April 30, 1974

Transcripts of more than 1,200 pages of edited transcripts of the Nixon tapes are released by The White House.

May 9, 1974

House Judiciary Committee starts impeachment proceedings against Nixon.

July 24, 1974

The Supreme Court rules that Nixon must surrender dozens of original tape recordings of conversations to Jaworski.

Transcripts of the Watergate tapes arriving on Capitol Hill to be turned over to the House Judiciary Committee.July 27-30, 1974

Three articles of impeachment are debated and approved by the House Judiciary Committee against Nixon—obstruction of justice, misuse of power and contempt of Congress. The impeachment was sent to the floor of the House for a full vote but the vote was never carried out.

August 5, 1974

Nixon releases transcripts of three conversations with Haldeman on June 23, 1972. Known as the “smoking gun,” the transcripts reveal Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate cover-up.

August 8, 1974

President Nixon resigns. In a nationally televised speech, the president says, “I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as president, I must put the interest of America first…Therefore, I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.”

President Nixon as he boards the White House helicopter after resigning the presidency.August 9, 1974

Nixon signs his letter of resignation. Vice President Gerald Ford becomes president.

September 8, 1974

Nixon is pardoned by President Gerald Ford for any offenses he might have committed against the United States while president.

January 1975

Former chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, former domestic policy advisor John Ehrlichman, and former attorney general and Nixon campaign manager John Mitchell are tried and convicted of conspiracy charges arising from Watergate. In total, 41 people will receive criminal convictions related to the Watergate scandal.