On the morning of June 17, 1972, a young journalist named Bob Woodward was working the court beat in Washington DC. It was a pretty dull assignment for the most part, until that day, when five men – Virgilio González, Bernard Barker, James W. McCord, Jr., Eugenio Martínez, and Frank Sturgis – were arraigned for a burglary at the Watergate Complex, which housed the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.
The five men were operatives in the pay of the Nixon government, and the most notorious scandal in United States political history was only beginning. By the time it was over, Woodward and his co-writer Bernstein would be household names, as would their informant, known for more than two decades by no other name than the alias of Deep Throat. Moreover, Nixon would resign in disgrace, and numerous members of his government would wind up facing criminal charges for their participation in the burglary, the cover-up that followed, and any number of other such dirty tricks that the Nixon White House, which referred to these activities as “ratfucking”, was wont to engage in.
It is the single greatest scandal to have ever touched the office of the President of the United States: Richard Nixon was impeached by Congress. Which is to say, he was charged with criminal offences related to his office. More specifically, the charges related to his role in the Watergate scandal and its attendant (and failed) cover-up.
In little more than a fortnight, Nixon would resign the Presidency in shame, and his hand-picked successor would immediately give him the quid pro quo of a pardon that also covered Nixon for “crimes yet to be discovered.” This allowed Nixon to avoid actually facing the charges against him, and made him one of the few people to have been pardoned for crimes he was never convicted of, or even tried for; and also did untold damage to the institution of the Presidency, which would never again be as respected as it had been before 1973.
After the long, slow death of a thousand cuts that was the Watergate scandal, Nixon’s decision to resign from the Presidency – even in disgrace – must have come as something of a relief to him. Starting with the Watergate break-in, on June 17, 1972, which led to the revelation of the Nixon administration’s dirty tricks squad – and getting worse and worse as the attempted cover-up ballooned and failed.
Nixon fought, though. He fought as hard as could, as long as he could – for more than two years. But in the end, his only remaining choice was to leave on his own terms before he was forced out. The pardon that his hand-picked successor gave him – which was for all crimes including those yet to be discovered – was no doubt also a consideration.