On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters (DNC) at the Watergate Complex in Washington DC. A highly publicized scandal ensued. It completely changed the nation’s political landscape and how the American people viewed the government.
It tarnished the careers of many politicians and put a dark stain on Richard Nixon’s presidency, forcing him to resign.
These facts about Watergate will shed light on what led to the event and the aftermath that ensued. There are also some fun and random historical facts about Watergate, like how it popularized a particular green desert in the 70s and was featured in one of the most iconic movies of all time.
57 Facts About Watergate
Let’s get into the most interesting facts about Watergate. Some of the information you find out about the scandal might surprise you.
The Watergate scandal is named after the building where the burglary took place. It’s part of the Watergate Complex, an office-apartment-hotel complex that consists of six buildings in Washington DC’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood.
To facilitate the break-in at the DNC headquarters, tape was put over the door latches in the basement of the building and the stairwell of the Watergate complex. It was left by one of the burglars, James McCord.
Watergate security guard, Frank Wills, was making his rounds on June 17th when he noticed the tape covering one of the door latch bolts. It was preventing the door from latching shut.
Thinking it had been placed there by workers earlier, he removed the tape and continued with his rounds. When he returned to the door later in his shift, he saw that the tape had re-appeared back on the same door.
This alarmed Wills enough to call the cops and alert them of a potential burglary in the building.
Frank Wills, who was 24 years old at the time of the Watergate scandal, was deemed a hero for his role in foiling the break-in. However, Wills struggled in the aftermath with his newfound celebrity status. He left his job working as a private security guard at the Watergate building and struggled to find a steady job after.
What the burglars were attempting to find or uncover during the Watergate break-in remains a mystery. Some say they were looking for evidence linking the DNC with Cuban fundraising. Some say they were targeting the chair of the DNC for financial secrets.
We don’t know the exact reason for the break-in and attempted bugging of the Watergate office and probably never will.
Five men were arrested for the break-in at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in Washington DC.
- James W. McCord was a former FBI and CIA agent. He was the security coordinator for the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP). He was fired from both of these positions the day after the burglary.
- Virgilio R. Gonzales was a refugee from Cuba. When he arrived in the US, he became active in the anti-Castro movement. He lived in Miami, Florida, where he was a locksmith.
- Frank A. Sturgis served in several branches of the United States military and worked as an undercover operative for the CIA. He was also involved in anti-Castro activities.
- Eugenio Rolando Martínez Careaga worked for the CIA. He was a Cuban exile who later went on to earn his US citizenship. He was a prominent member of the anti-Castro movement.
- Bernard L. Barker was a realtor from Miami, Florida, and a Central Intelligence Agency operative. He was also believed to have been involved in the Bay of Pigs incident in 1962.
The five burglars of Watergate were charged with the same crime, which was attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other communications.
Each of the five men charged with breaking into the DNC headquarters in Washington DC pled guilty.
The five men involved in the Watergate break-in served time in prison for their role in the burglary. Their sentences ranged from 4 to 15 months.
On May 28, 1972, the DNC headquarters were successfully broken into. This plan was orchestrated by the chief operative in the White House Special Investigations Unit, Gordon Liddy. Nothing was taken, but the telephones of staffers were bugged.
The five burglars were usually collectively referred to as “Cubans” in the press. However, only three of them were Cuban exiles, one was a Cuban American, and one (James W. McCord) was from Oklahoma.
The Watergate Seven was used to refer to two different groups of people in the scandal. The first were the five burglaries, plus Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt.
The second use of Watergate Seven was used to reference President Nixon’s seven advisors and aides who were indicted by a grand jury concerning the affair. They were John Mitchell, H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Charles Colson, Gordon C. Strachan, Robert Mardian, and Kenneth Parkinson.
The “Saturday Night Massacre” occurred on October 20, 1973. In an unprecedented show of executive power, President Nixon instructed his Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson refused the order and resigned instead.
Nixon then ordered his Deputy Attorney General, William Ruckelshaus, to fire Cox. He also refused and resigned. Nixon then tasked the third-most-senior official at the Justice Department, Solicitor General Robert Bork, with the order. Bork carried out the order.
The “Saturday Night Massacre” was seen as one of the most controversial events of the Watergate scandal. The President’s actions were very damaging to his reputation. Protests ensued, and the news coverage was harsh on Nixon.
The event marked a turning point in how the public viewed the scandal. Polls began to show that most Americans now favored a Nixon impeachment.
The Watergate scandal saw 69 government officials charged with crimes for their role in the affair. Of this number, 48 were found guilty.
American intelligence officer and author Howard Hunt helped plot the Watergate break-in. He was charged and convicted of conspiracy, burglary, and wiretapping. He was sentenced to 33 months in jail.
Gordon Liddy was the chief operative in the White House Special Investigations Unit under President Nixon. He was convicted of conspiracy, burglary, and illegal wiretapping for his role in the Watergate saga. He was given a hefty prison sentence of four and a half years in jail.
John Mitchell was the 67th Attorney General serving under President Nixon; he was also the chairman of his presidential campaigns. He was found guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury and served 19 months in jail.
With the Watergate scandal resulting in so many serious convections, the public view of government, especially the legal profession, was heavily tarnished. This was especially true in Washington DC, where the scandal took place.
Richard Nixon himself never ordered the Watergate complex to be broken into. It was Nixon’s Attorney General and the chair of the Committee to Re-elect the President, John Mitchell, who devised the planned break-in.
Nixon heavily denied his administration’s involvement in the Watergate scandal. The public believed him — at first. He was able to win re-election in 1972, beating the Democratic candidate, George McGovern. Nixon won re-election by one of the biggest margins in US history.
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were two young reporters working for the Washington Post when the Watergate affair began. They broke some of the most critical stories in the scandal to the public.
The men worked with a secret informant, known as “Deep Throat,” who had inside information on the matter. Woodward, Bernstein, and “Deep Throat” played a pivotal role in unraveling the scandal.
Although Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are the two journalists given the most credit for relaying the news of Watergate to the American public, they weren’t the first to break the case.
Police reporter Alfred Lewis filed the first Washington Post Watergate report on June 18, 1972. The first Bernstein and Woodward article came out on June 19, 1972.
For their role in informing the American public about the Watergate scandal, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein became celebrities.
The duo’s fame was catapulted in 1974 when they wrote the best-selling book “All the President’s Men.” This nonfiction novel was made into a movie two years later.
It might go without saying that the White House was not a fan of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The White House attempted to frame their reporting as an obsession of the liberal newspaper seeking a vendetta against the President.
American newspapers that aligned themselves with Nixon scarcely mentioned Watergate at all.
Besides the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Newsday kept the public regularly informed about the scandal.
Deep Throat was the pseudonym of a secret informant who supplied Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein with information about the scandal in 1972.
Deep Throat leaked vital details about Nixon’s involvement. This information helped bring to light the misconduct of the Nixon administration to the American public.
In 2005, Woodward and Bernstein both stated that former FBI Associate Director Mark Felt was Deep Throat.
Some iconic quotes came out of the Watergate scandal. Among them was a statement made by President Richard Nixon’s press secretary Ron Zeigler. At a press conference, he told a reporter he wouldn’t comment on a “third-rate burglary.”
He also commented against reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, accusing them of “shabby journalism” and “character assassination.”
Although Nixon never ordered the break-in at Watergate, he was involved in the cover-up. Just days after the scandal took place, he ordered hundreds of thousands of dollars to be sent to the burglars in “hush money.”
Nixon and his aides also devised a plan to instruct the CIA to hinder the FBI’s investigation of the crime. This was a clear abuse of presidential power and an intentional obstruction of justice. It was considered more of a serious crime than the burglary itself.
There was a serious lack of evidence linking the President directly to the Watergate break-in, and many other people in Nixon’s circle were already taking the fall for the scandal. He probably would not have faced any consequences for his role if it wasn’t for his own paranoia.
Nixon was very over-suspicious while in office; he constantly thought his rivals were spying on him. He began bugging his own office.
Known as the “Smoking Gun” tape, Nixon had recorded himself talking with White House Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldeman. The men were heard formulating a plan to interfere with the FBI’s investigation of the Watergate break-in. This tape ultimately showed that Nixon was involved in a Watergate coverup.
The Watergate Hearings began in May of 1973. They were nationally televised.
During the Watergate hearings, it was revealed that Nixon had been secretly recording all of his conversations in the White House. Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox subpoenaed Nixon for the tapes.
After months of delay, Nixon finally agreed to provide summaries of the recordings. Cox rejected the outlines, and Nixon subsequently fired him.
President Nixon’s Deputy Assistant, Alexander Butterfield, publicly disclosed the White House’s secret taping system.
After months of refusal, Nixon was subpoenaed by the Supreme Court to turn over 42 tapes of recorded White House conversations.
In one of the 1972 secret recordings of a conversation between Nixon and H.R. Haldeman, it was discovered that one of the tapes had an 18.5-minute gap. When questions arose about the missing audio, Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, testified that she had erased a portion of the recording by mistake while taking another phone call.
Experts cast serious doubt on whether it would be possible for Rose Mary Woods to have been able to record over the tape, given the technology she had at her disposal at the time.
In 1974 the House Judiciary Committee recommended that three Articles of Impeachment be brought to the House of Representatives against President Nixon.
The first impeachable offense stated that the President had obstructed justice by attempting to hinder the Watergate investigation. The second article stated that the President abused his power by using federal agencies to attack his political enemies and private citizens. The third stated that the President refused to cooperate with the committee’s official investigation.
With impeachment proceedings heavily underway for his involvement in the Watergate affair, Nixon resigned. He held a televised address to the nation on August 8, 1974, stating his intention to become the first US President to resign. The next day, August 9, Nixon submitted a letter of resignation to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Nixon and his wife Pat Nixon left the White House for the last time on August 9, 1974. Before Nixon boarded the Marine One helicopter, he turned around and flashed his famous V-sign salute.
The Justice Department seriously considered bringing forth charges against Nixon after he resigned from office. Memos show that the department struggled with Article I, Section 3, Clause 7 of the Constitution, which states that a person removed from office by impeachment and conviction can still be held liable for punishment.
However, Nixon was pardoned about a month later, which ended the debate.
Just minutes after Nixon’s resignation, the Vice President serving under him, Gerald Ford, was sworn into office. He became the 38th President of the United States.
When Gerald Ford took office, he became the first Vice President to assume office under the terms of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment.
On September 8, 1974, US President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon. It granted him full and unconditional pardoning for any crimes that Nixon might have committed while serving as President.
Gerald Ford served as US President from 1974 to 1977. He did not win re-election, partly because of his unpopular pardon of Nixon.
Other than Richard Nixon, only one other person was pardoned for their role in the Watergate Scandal. One of the five burglarers, Eugenio Rolando Martínez Careaga, was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 for his role in the Watergate scandal.
In 1977, Nixon agreed to participate in a series of television interviews. British broadcaster David Frost conducted them. Nixon and his staff believed the interview would give him an opportunity to restore his reputation with the public.
Nixon famously defended his role in the Watergate scandal during the Frost interviews. One of the most memorable lines to come out of the discussion was when Nixon famously said to Frost, “when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
The first episode of the series drew 45 million viewers. This was the largest TV audience for a political interview in history, and this record still stands to this day.
A Gallup poll was conducted after the interviews to gauge public opinion of Nixon. It showed that 69% of the public believed Nixon was still attempting to cover up his role in the scandal. 72% still believed Nixon was guilty of obstruction of justice, and 75% thought he deserved no future role in politics.
After Nixon resigned from the presidency, he retired with his wife to their estate in California. He wrote several books, including a memoir.
Nixon asserted his innocence up until he died in 1994. He said the only thing he regretted was not acting more “decisively” in dealing with the matter.
The Watergate Cake is just another bizarre thing to come out of the scandal. No one knows exactly who created the cake, but some say its name might have to do with the fact that it’s full of nuts and covered up with icing.
The recipe consists of boxed white cake mix, pistachio pudding, lemon-lime flavored carbonated beverage (like 7UP), coconut, and chopped pecans.
There’s also a side dish dessert salad known as Watergate Salad. It consists of pistachio pudding, canned pineapple, crushed pecans, whipped cream, and marshmallows.
The origin of the sweet salad isn’t known either, but it’s rumored that a sous-chef at the Watergate Hotel concocted the recipe. The dish became popular during the mid-1970s, immediately after the scandal, and when instant gelatin had just been invented.
It has also been called “Pistachio Delight” and “Shut the Gate” salad.
Watergate set a precedent for scandals having “gate” attached to them. People began to take any scandal, no matter how small, and add on “gate” to the end.
When Janet Jackson had a wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl halftime show, it was known as Nipplegate. When Ariana Grande got caught licking donuts, it was known as Donutgate. And the list goes on.
One of the first and most famous movies made about Watergate was “All the President’s Men,” which premiered in 1976. It starred Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, who played Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
In 2008, the movie Frost/Nixon was made. This historical drama was nominated for five Oscars. The film focused on the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, especially the interviews between David Frost and Richard Nixon.
The Watergate scandal is brought up in the 1994 film “Forrest Gump.” In the movie, Forrest meets with President Nixon, who offers to put him up in the Watergate hotel. Forrest takes the offer.
While staying there, he’s woken up in the middle of the night by men shining flashlights around the building across from his room. He mistakes it for a power outage and calls Watergate security guard Frank Wills.
This informs Wills about the break-in, inadvertently kicking off the Watergate scandal. The next scene shows Nixon addressing the American people when he resigns from office.