Daily Class OutlineDaily Class QuestionsDaily Class Web LinksDaily Class Notes


Question for Discussion:
How did President Nixon
and the Watergate scandal threaten American
democracy?

Reading: "Nixon's Enemies List" handout; Schell
"Watergate" (web)
; What were the Watergate Crimes?
(web)

Video: David Frost Interview with Richard Nixon

Assignment: Make a list of the most absurd
examples of people who are on Nixon's
enemies list, people who Nixon thinks are
a threat to the nation but are in no way such
a threat.

Daily Class Web Links

The Nixon Presidency

The Watergate Criminal Conspiracy

Daily Class Outline

1. President Nixon and his Enemies

2. The Collapse of the Nixon Presidency



Daily Class Questions

1. What can we conclude about President Nixon's understanding about American democracy and rights based on the names on his enemies list?

2. According to Schell, why was President Nixon so concerned about covering up the Watergate break-in?

3. What does Schell mean when he observes that "the public had grown accustomed to deception and evasion in high places, but not yet to repeated, consistent, barefaced lying at all levels"?

4. Why was President Nixon spying on and harassing the Democrats?

5. What does Schell mean when he argues that "the President's drive to take over the federal government was going well"?

6. Do you agree with Schell's conclusion about the growing threat posed by President Nixon's abuse of power: "Either the Nixon Administration would be survive in power and the democracy would die or the Administration would be driven from power and democracy would have another chance to live"?

7. Do you agree with Schell that President Nixon was on the verge of undermining our Constitutional democracy and creating a Presidential dictatorship?

8.  According to the House Judiciary Committee, what are the major crimes that President Nixon has committed that led it to conclude that he should be impeached?



Daily Class Notes

"We want you to be proud of what you have done. We want you to continue to serve in government, if that is your wish. Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself."
                    Richard Nixon, August 1974


The best place to start a discussion about how President Nixon and the Watergate scandal affected American democracy it to look at the specific crimes committed by the President and his top aides. This list is taken from the Watergate Home Page:

"Watergate" is now an all-encompassing term used to refer to:

1. political burglary
2. bribery
3. extortion
4. wiretapping (phone tapping)
5. conspiracy
6. obstruction of justice
7. destruction of evidence
8. tax fraud
9. illegal use of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA.)
10. illegal use of the Federal Bureau of Investigations
(FBI.)
11. illegal campaign contributions
12. use of public (taxpayers') money for private purposes

These Watergate crimes began from the moment President Nixon took office and continued until he was forced to resign the Presidency in August 1974. The larger question we must now ask is what would the President of the United States and his top advisors engage in the above list of crimes. As some of my students pointed out, these crimes are usually associated with organized crime and criminal conspiracies. Why in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as David Frost asked Nixon, "did it go so rotten so fast."

The answer lies in Nixon's confusion between himself, the office of the Presidency, and the United States. Upon taking office, Nixon promised himself he would not let the anti-war movement and critics of the government undermine his Presidency as they had President Johnson's. Nixon believed that because he was elected President he knew what was best for the nation. Anyone who hated him, who challenged his policies, who questioned his leadership was therefore a threat to the nation. Nixon believed because he as President represented the United States, anyone challenged him was thus a threat to the nation. Nixon confused people's dislike of him and his Presidency with disloyalty to the nation; he confused personal threats to his own self-esteem with threats to the Nation's health. Nixon concluded because he was the President, anyone who challenged him was a threat to the nation and he could use the power of the government to crush his enemies. One of Nixon's top aides put it this way:

"It didn't matter who you were or what ideological positions you took. You were either for us or against us, and you were against us we were against you."

The crimes of Watergate were thus committed because Nixon confused his self and his Presidency with the nation. But by concluding that disloyalty to Nixon was disloyalty to the nation, President Nixon threatened to become, as Schell agues, a dictator, undermining the basic rights and freedom that Americans have to shape and control their government and their society.

When he was elected President in 1968, Nixon promised to end the war in Vietnam. But in his first years as President far from ending the war, he expanded it and increased the killing. This caused many Americans to become angry and bitter at Nixon, with many critics calling him "tricky dickey." They felt that Nixon had lied to them and was now purposely going against the will to the people who wanted an end to the Vietnam war. Facing increasing anger and hatred from increasing number of Americans in the late 1960s, President Nixon began to feel he was under siege. He feared that there "was a domestic conspiracy against his Presidency." In his interview with David Frost, Nixon argues that America during his Presidency was at war with itself just as it was during the Civil War. Feeling under siege and threatened, President Nixon had his top aides draw up an enemies list. Nixon decided that this domestic conspiracy against his Presidency had to be crushed, and he was determined to use all the power at his disposal to crush his enemies.

In order to understand Nixon's growing paranoia and criminal activities we need to look closely at who was on his enemies list:

Judith Martin (AKA "Miss Manners"), Joe Namath, Jane Fonda, Dick Gregory, Carol Channing, Gregory Peck, Steve McQueen

Edward Kennedy, Edmund Muskie, Harold Hughes, Walter Mondale, William Proxmire, Birch Bayh

The Presidents of Yale, Harvard Law School, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the World Bank, the Ford Foundation, the Rand Corporation, the National Education Association, Philip Morris, and the National Cleaning Contractors

Dan Rather, Dan Schorr, James Reston, Julian Goodman, Marvin Kalb, Rowland Evans, Joseph Kraft, Jack Anderson

The American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization for Women, Americans for Democratic Action, and the Urban League.

The above are just a few of the more than 200 individuals and 18 organization on Nixon's enemies list. What all these people have in common is they are powerful mainstream Americans from the Democratic party, liberal organizations, Hollywood, and the news media. In many ways these people are part of the American political and social establishment. The question we are now forced to ask is this: Why did President Nixon conclude that mainstream establishment America was his enemy and therefore an enemy of the nation?

In 1969 and 1970, President Nixon tried to get the FBI to neutralize his enemies just as they had neutralized the Black Civil Rights movement, the student movement, and the anti-war movement. If they could neutralize and crush these groups, Nixon argued, why couldn't they crush his enemies--mainstream establishment America? However, the FBI concluded that it could not afford to neutralize Nixon's enemies because they were so powerful they could destroy and crush the FBI if they found out about this; the director of the FBI feared that Congress and the media would destroy the FBI if they were caught. Nixon was frustrated and angry with the FBI's refusal. He was forced to hire his own private counterintelligence team to neutralize his domestic enemies. Nixon hired former FBI, CIA, and policemen and created his own "Internal Security Division" to harass and neutralize his enemies. So, imagine for a moment, the President's own secret team bugging, harassing, intimidating, stealing documents, and following leading Democratic politicians, the news media, Hollywood actors, and leaders of prominent liberal organizations. This is what Watergate was really all about.

The problem Nixon now faced was that he couldn't fund these illegal activities using government money. If he used government money, Congress and the press might find out about this criminal conspiracy against innocent Americans. Nixon was thus forced to raise the money to fund his Internal Security Division illegally. Between 1970 and 1972, President Nixon raised over $60 million dollars from large corporations by asking them to pass huge amounts of money under-the-table in return for government favors. Nixon was actually making the government for sale. Those companies that agreed to pass large amounts of money to Nixon would be given government support and benefits. Instead of running the government to protect the interest of the American people, Nixon was selling government services to the largest bidders.

Let's look at some of the illegal deals Nixon made with corporate America. Billionaire Howard Hughes gave Nixon $100,000 to prevent the federal government from investigating his buying hotels in Las Vegas. The Dairy Industry gave Nixon $2 million dollars to ensure high price supports for milk, which forced Americans to pay higher milk prices. ITT gave Nixon $400,000 dollars in order to stop the Justice Department from filing antitrust charges against it. And giant energy companies such as Ashland Oil and Gulf Oil gave Nixon millions of dollars for political favors. In addition, defense contractors such as Northrup and Goodyear gave Nixon large amounts of money for political favors and support. By making the government for sale to these large companies, President Nixon was violating his primary responsibility to the American people--to defend and protect their interests.

In the end, as Schell concludes, by trying to destroy his domestic enemies and limiting free speech and debate, Nixon was amassing dictatorial powers. Just as the United States believed it had the right to control the internal affairs--the politics and economics--of other countries, so too was Nixon trying to control the internal affairs of the United States. If Nixon had succeeded in his efforts to neutralize his domestic enemies he would have become just like one of the dictators that the United States supported in Third World countries. Just as Nixon and other President believed that only strong, authoritarian rulers could govern and protect backward peoples, President Nixon was on the verge of becoming such a ruler himself. Let's now look as his larger "plan" to amass such power by destroying his domestic enemies.

By 1970, Nixon had concluded that the Democratic party and its leaders were a threat to the nation because they were challenging his Presidency. Nixon believed that because he was the President, and he knew what was best for the nation, he must be re-elected President and his Democratic opponents neutralized. In effect, Nixon tried to rig the 1972 national election to make sure he was re-elected President. Nixon and his top aides drew up an elaborate plan to divide the Democratic Party, sow dissension between the top Democratic candidates for President, and ensure that the weakest Democratic candidate was nominated, which would guarantee that Nixon would be re-elected. Nixon, his aides, and his Internal Security Division were largely successful at neutralizing the Democratic candidates for President in 1972.

In 1971, according to Nixon aide, Patrick Buchanan, their primary objective was to "prevent Muskie from sweeping the early primaries." Nixon's people felt that Senator Muskie was the greatest political threat to Nixon's re-election. Nixon's men hired agent to infiltrate the Democratic candidates campaign, steal documents, bug phones, spread slanderous and false stories, and undermine their candidates' character. These agents sent false memos on campaign stationary accusing their Democratic opponents of adultery, homosexuality, drunkenness, and consorting with prostitutes. They also called press conferences and set up meetings with prominent political groups and didn't tell their candidates, so that the press and these groups would think they had been slighted. In addition, they threw smoke buns at Press conferences, created and sold derogatory bumper stickers, and even hired a woman to run outside of Muskie's hotel room naked, shouting "I love Muskie." As you can imagine all these mysterious activities soon took their toll on the candidates. Everything seemed to being going wrong for their campaigns, and they just couldn't figure out why. Nixon's agents planted false news stories in a New Hampshire newspaper accusing Muskie's wife of being an alcoholic, being a lewd woman, and slandering French Canadians. This was the last straw for Muskie, he was furious. He called a press conference and couldn't control his anger and began to cry. This ruined his chances to be elected President, because the press and the media accused him of being unstable. If they only knew what was really going on.

After getting rid of Muskie, Nixon's agents focused on undermining the campaigns of Humphrey, Jackson, and Bayh. As Patrick Buchanan again wrote: "We must do as little as possible at this time to impede McGovern's rise." In fact, Nixon and his Republican agents actually succeeded in helping McGovern win the Democratic nomination for President. They then ran against McGovern, charging that he was a dangerous radical who supported "abortion, amnesty, and acid." But Nixon's men didn't stop with destroying all the Democratic candidates but McGovern. They were now becoming really cocky and aggressive.

Nixon wanted to make sure that he was re-elected, so his men now targeted the Democratic Party and the Democratic Convention. They drew up plans to wiretap the convention, bug the hotel rooms, bug prominent Democrat's phones, and steal campaign documents. In May 1972, one of Nixon's team went into the Democratic National headquarters in the Watergate building and planted bugs on all the phones and copied and stole campaign documents. But by mid-June one of the bugs they had planted had stopped working, so they sent in a team to replace the bug and steal more documents. But this time, on June, 17, 1972, Nixon's men were caught. Five men were charged with breaking into Democratic headquarters and two other men were caught inside the Watergate building and also charged. President Nixon now had a real problem: How could he explain the fact that seven men who worked on his campaign to re-elect the President (CREEP) were caught breaking into Democratic Party headquarters?

On June, 23, 1972, Richard Nixon ordered a cover-up of the Watergate break-in, telling John Mitchell, the attorney general of the United States:

"I don't give a shit what happens, I want you to stonewall it...save the plan."

Throughout the summer of 1972, President Nixon and his top aides tried to use all the powers of the government they could to undermine the investigation into the Watergate scandal. Despite the fact that some of his own campaign workers were in jail facing felony charges, Nixon was able to get re-elected in a landslide. But, as we now know, Nixon's election was in fact rigged; through illegal dirty tricks Nixon had ensured his own re-election. The 1972 election was in no way a free and fair election.

From the summer of 1972 on, President Nixon and his top aides were conspiring to derail the Congress's and the court's investigation into the illegal actions committed by the President and his men. They raised millions of dollars of illegal hush money to try to buy the silence of the Watergate burglars. They tried to use the CIA to force the FBI and the Justice Department to end their investigations into Watergate. They destroyed and altered government documents and the tapes that Nixon had made of all his conversations in the White House. But Congress and the courts persisted in their investigations.

Faced with the determination of Congress and the courts, Nixon tried to find someone to become the scapegoat, someone to admit that all these criminal activities were their fault and no one else's. At first, Nixon wanted James McCord, a former CIA agent and Nixon counterintelligence agent, now languishing in jail because he was caught in the Watergate break-in, to take the fall, admitting that it was all a top-secret CIA conspiracy. But when McCord refused and started to talk to investigators to save himself from a long prison term, Nixon then looked to John Dead to become the scapegoat. When Dean refused, declaring that if he was going down he would take Nixon's top aides Ehrlichman and Hadelman with him, Nixon then tried to get Ehrlichman and Hadelman to become the scapegoats. He forced them to resign in April 1973, hoping that this would stop the investigations. But it didn't, facing long prison terms Nixon's top aides began to talk to Congress and investigators about the larger criminal conspiracy organized from the White House.

Faced with increasing pressure, President Nixon fired the special government prosecutor, Archibald Cox, who was hired to investigate the Watergate scandal. After Nixon fired Cox, millions of Americans concluded that he was in fact guilty. Faced with this increasing scandal, President Nixon in November 1973 gave a speech in which he declared that "I am not a crook." He hoped that by stating that he wasn't a crook, and getting the charges out in the open, that Americans would believe him. After all, if he was a crook, would he call attention to the face by declaring he wasn't a crook?

But Nixon was faced with additional problems. In October 1973, his Vice President, Spiro Agnew, was forced to resign from office after admitting that he took bribes while in office. Agnew's resignation forced Nixon to appoint a new Vice President. Faced with the increasing threat of impeachment, Nixon tried to find someone to be his Vice President that Congress would not trust to be President. If they didn't want an incompetent to be President, Nixon hoped, they would not force him to resign from office. In October 1973 Nixon appointed Congressmen Gerald Ford as his Vice President. According to one of his top aides: "Nixon picked Ford because the Congress knew Ford so well that they would never impeach Nixon if it meant Ford would become President." Ford was thus Nixon's impeachment insurance.

However, by the summer of 1974, Nixon was under increasing pressure to resign as President. The Supreme Court ruled that he must turn over all the tapes he made of his conversations in the White House. After hearing the first batch of these tapes, the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach President Nixon for crimes committed against the American people. The tapes clearly implicated Nixon as the leader of the Watergate criminal conspiracy. Faced with the realization that the House would impeach him and that the Senate would find him guilty of crimes and force him from office, President Nixon resigned the Presidency in August 1974.

But the Watergate scandal didn't end there. In early September 1974, President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon for all crimes committed while President. With this pardon, Nixon would not be tried and forced to go to jail for the crimes he committed. Ford claimed he was pardoning Nixon for the "good of the American people," believing that Americans were already too traumatized by the Watergate scandal to endure a formal trial of former-President Nixon. But many Americans rejected Ford's argument for pardoning Nixon; they thought that in return for the Presidency Ford had agreed to pardon Nixon. It seemed to many that Ford's pardon was just another part of the larger criminal conspiracy of Watergate. In fact, we know today that Nixon's aides talked to Ford's aides and received some assurances that Ford would pardon Nixon before Nixon appointed him as Vice President. So Ford's pardon probably was just another part of this larger criminal conspiracy.

In 1977, former-President Nixon gave a TV interview with David Frost trying to justify the crimes he committed as President. Just as he had during office, Nixon defended himself and argued that the crimes he committed and actions he took were necessary to protect the nation. Nixon argued that America was at war in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and as a result America was torn apart, and he took the actions he did to save America. Just as Lincoln took extraordinary actions during Civil War, Nixon argued, so too was he forced to take extraordinary actions to save the nation from the divisions and anger created by the Vietnam War. Nixon concluded that sometimes crimes committed by the President in the name of "preserving the nation" are necessary and are in fact not crimes. By watching Nixon during these interviews we can see once again that Nixon his confusing himself and his own Presidency with the health and the security of the Nation. Nixon's own paranoia and inability to distinguish between his self and the nation helped destroy his Presidency and undermine American's faith and trust in their government.

But Americans still haven't gotten over the Watergate scandal. In that last few years, more and more of the President's Watergate tapes were forced to be released to the public. These tapes once again remind Americans of the vicious criminal that President Nixon became. For a look at some of this recent material, see the Watergate Coverup surfaces in newly public tapes and internet sites. When all these tapes are finally released, and President Nixon is revealed to be the criminal he was, the American people will be forced to conclude that he was the most corrupt and criminal politician in American history.


© 2002 by Chris H.  Lewis, Ph.D.
Sewall Academic Program; University of Colorado at Boulder
Created 7 August 2002:  Last Modified: 11 Dec. 2002
E-mail: cclewis@spot.colorado.edu
URL:    http://www.colorado.edu/AmStudies/lewis/2010/water.htm
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