Unfortunately, criminal activity is not just limited to what we commonly think of as the “criminal element”. Many times, people who are at high levels of power and trust take advantage of the authority they have and commit crimes that can be every bit as destructive as any bank robber or car thief. In the early part of the 1970s, crime at high levels reached its zenith when the it was uncovered that criminal activity had been conducted by the President of the United States, Richard Nixon and his staff and action would have to be taken to bring to justice those involved.
The entire scandal became known as the Watergate investigation because the primary criminal activity involved a break in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee that was headquartered at the Watergate Hotel complex in Washington D.C. Eventually five men were arrested for this break in. But those arrests only surfaced a huge hidden level of crime that reached all the way to the office of the President.
Once the scandal broke about the break in, that is when the FBI and eventually a House Judiciary Committee began to investigate. It was like the domino effect. As each crime was revealed, more crimes came to light and the scandal just kept spreading and spreading. The abuses that the Nixon administration carried out before Watergate blew everything wide open set a new standard in high-level 20th century crime. Some of the criminal activities that were discovered by the House Judiciary Committee included more illegal break-ins, vast uses of illegal wiretapping, tax audits that were improper, fraud in the use of campaign funds, espionage and sabotage and even money laundering.
Along with huge body of illegal activities, the FBI discovered complicated and intricate maneuvers the Nixon administration had put into place to try and cover up the criminal activity. Like common thugs involved in any other kind of 20th century crime, our government officials felt if they could just cover it all up, they could make it go away. What finally made any attempts at cover up impossible was when it was discovered that Nixon had used a recording system to record conversations that documented the crimes. While heavy resistance was offered to make these tapes available to prosecutors, the Supreme Court finally stepped in and forced Nixon and his cronies to comply and turn them over to the investigation of Watergate.
The only possible outcome of a scandal of such proportions was that Nixon would have to be impeached and removed from office. Ten days after the Supreme Court forced the White House tapes to be surrendered, Nixon resigned the presidency turning over the office to Gerald Ford. Ford guaranteed that he would not serve a full term by pardoning Nixon but he also spared the country watching its former president be prosecuted and sent to prison.
There is certainly no 20th century crime that so changed the national mood as much as the Watergate break-ins and related criminal activity. The faith in the government was shaken to its core. This combined with the loss of the war in Vietnam caused a long period of national introspection that to some extent is still going on. We can be glad the wheels of justice flushed out these criminal activities. It is encouraging to see that even at the highest levels of government nobody is above the law. And that basic rule of law will be what continues to make the American system of government able to rebound even from a scandal of this size and scope.