Born in 1913 in California, Richard Nixon became the 37th president of the United States in 1968, after being governor of California in 1950, then vice-president at the side of Eisenhower. This republican president earned a big success at the beginning. He indeed managed to end the war in Vietnam with the agreements of Paris of 1973. He also improved the relations with the USSR and formally recognized the government of the People's Republic of China. In 1972, Richard Nixon decided to bid again for a second mandate, and was re-elected then splendidly. But a scandal terminated his career. It was indeed on the night of June 17th, 1972 that the Watergate affair began. This story, one of the biggest political scandals of the 20th century, offended profoundly the United States. So, why was this scandal so important? What did it mean in the context of the functioning of the American Institutions? First, what was the president blamed for? Then, what changes did it generate in the balance of power in the American institutions, such as the congress, the presidency, justice or an emerging fourth power, the press? The scandal of Watergate began with the arrest of five burglars, in the building of Watergate in Washington. It is there that the headquarters of the Democratic Party was based.
[...] The first procedure of impeachment was engaged against the president Andrew Johnson in 1868, but it is with the Watergate scandal that this process will take its full importance. In 1974, the House Judiciary committee decided to vote on three counts of indictment (originally six); obstruction to justice, abuse of power, and insult to Congress (when the president refused to turn over documents demanded for the inquiry.) With the Watergate scandal, even if the procedure remained uncompleted, the resignation of Nixon looked clearly like a dismissal. [...]
[...] The scandal of Watergate shocked the public opinion and shook the faith of the citizens in the person of the president. The defence of the freedom of the media, following this scandal, appeared then as a sacred cause, which it will became more and more difficult to control or restrict, even on the basis of national security. So, the media in the United States have found a new role in contributing in the functioning of the democratic system, namely, to question the way elected representatives execute their mandate, and to reflect the voice of the public opinion. [...]
[...] The president was viewed as dishonest in the eyes of his people, and it was a major fact in the Watergate scandal. The Watergate tapes, which were conversations between president Nixon and members of his staff at the White House played also an important role in the scandal of Watergate and profoundly shocked the population. Presidential behaviour about these matters appeared clearly as an abuse of power. Richard Nixon had indeed ordered the installation of a system of recording by secret services in February 1971. [...]
[...] This scandal again shook the confidence of the American people and led to the indictment of more than thirty members of staff at the White house. It underlined both political manipulation and corruption. Finally, the tapes revealed a hidden aspect of Nixon's personality: he had a very bad language. Several times, we heard him insulting, swearing, and calling names. This revealed manners and behaviour more common to mob or gang leaders than expected from a US President. The United States is a Federal republic with a presidential regime. [...]
[...] So, the Watergate scandal put into light governmental practices using the abuse of power, and not respecting elementary civil rights. Also, the enquiry revealed the illegal financing of the presidential campaign and the immoral behaviour of the president. It was first of all, established that important sums of money were cleared illegally to support his campaign and illegal actions committed before re-election. In 1972, Richard Nixon was indeed re-elected with a great majority. But on January the lawsuit of the five burglars opened and demonstrated in broad daylight the illegal pressure and the activities of the committee for the re-election of the president. [...]
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