August 6, 2009
Aug. 9, 1974, issue of The Washington Post. (Newseum collection)

Aug. 9, 1974, issue of The Washington Post. (Newseum collection)

35 Years Ago: Watergate Is Nixon's Waterloo

At noon on Aug. 9, 1974, Richard M. Nixon became the first U.S. president to resign the office.

Three months earlier, the House Judiciary Committee had begun hearings to impeach the 37th president, who was accused of covering up his role in the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at Washington’s Watergate hotel and office complex.

The Watergate scandal — an epic tale of crime and cover-up at the highest levels of the U.S. government — pitted The Washington Post against the leader of the free world. The Post’s stories ultimately brought in the rest of the news media. Congress and the courts also investigated.

Throughout the ordeal, Nixon repeatedly denied any wrongdoing or any knowledge of the burglary.

"People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook," he said during a 1973 televised question-and-answer session with Associated Press managing editors. "Well, I’m not a crook. I’ve earned everything I’ve got."

The "smoking gun" that destroyed Nixon’s presidency was a secret tape recording Nixon released to the special prosecutor four days before his resignation. The tape revealed that Nixon not only knew of the cover-up from the beginning but tried to use the FBI to stop the investigation.

"Nixon Resigns," screamed the Aug. 9, 1974, edition of The Washington Post. The Post, whose reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein doggedly uncovered the Watergate crime, earned the Pulitzer Prize for public service for its Watergate coverage.

On Sept. 8, 1974, President Gerald R. Ford granted Nixon a full and absolute pardon for any federal crimes he may have committed in office.

The name Watergate started a worldwide trend of attaching the suffix "-gate" to any story that hinted of scandal.

Watch video clips of Bernstein and Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. discussing the film "All the President’s Men," which was screened March 16 at the Newseum as part of its "" film series.

The taped door that led to the Watergate investigation and Woodward and Bernstein’s notes are on display in the News Corporation News History Gallery.

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