Uncovering Watergate, 1972

Five men were arrested in June 1972 for illegally entering the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington’s Watergate building. Republican president Richard Nixon denied any connection between the burglary and his reelection campaign. Yet, suspicions lingered. After Nixon’s landslide victory in November, the Senate appointed a special committee to investigate the matter.

In televised hearings, the Watergate committee, chaired by North Carolina senator Sam Ervin, grilled key administration figures. The committee soon discovered that Nixon had secretly recorded his Oval Office conversations, and the Supreme Court ordered the president to give these tapes to a special prosecutor. They revealed Nixon’s role in the cover-up. The Senate hearings swayed public opinion and helped lead to an impeachment effort in the House—halted abruptly by President Nixon’s resignation. The Watergate affair reinforced the Senate’s investigative role and—into the 21st century—strengthened its vigilance against abuses of governmental power.