What Were the Effects of the Watergate Scandal?

The direct effect of the Watergate scandal was the resignation of Richard Nixon as President of the United States. A number of Nixon’s aides were sent to federal prison. Congress subsequently passed several laws concerning campaign financing, government ethics and freedom of information. A long-term effect was a widespread distrust by the American public in the presidency and the nation’s political institutions in general.

The first Watergate break-in occurred in May 1972, when members of Nixon’s Committee to Re-elect the President burglarized the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate building, bugging the phones and stealing top-secret documents. In June, the burglars returned, as the wiretaps were not functioning properly. This time the police caught them in the act and apprehended them.

President Nixon denied any knowledge of the break-in and as a result won the 1972 election by a landslide. Investigations and secret White House tapes afterwards revealed that he tried to cover up the burglaries by paying bribes, impeding the FBI investigation, firing government officials and destroying evidence.

Faced with certain impeachment, Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974. Soon after he was sworn in, Gerald Ford, the new president and former vice-president under Nixon, pardoned Nixon for any crimes committed while in office. The American public was incensed, and political commentators felt it was a major factor in Ford losing the 1976 presidential election to Jimmy Carter.