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#219: Nixon Resigns Over Watergate

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Reporters Bob Woodward, right, and Carl Bernstein in the Washington Post newsroom on May 7, 1973. Their reporting of the Watergate case won them a Pulitzer Prize.
Reporters Bob Woodward, right, and Carl Bernstein in the Washington Post newsroom on May 7, 1973. Their reporting of the Watergate case won them a Pulitzer Prize.

STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

This week in our series, we conclude the story of the thirty-seventh president of the United States, Richard Nixon.

(MUSIC)

Richard Nixon's first term ended with the hope for a complete American withdrawal from the war in Vietnam. Yet Americans were still angry about the war and its economic effects on life at home. Inflation and unemployment were both high.

Some political observers thought Nixon would not win a second term. Nixon, however, was sure the American people would support him.

He did not actively campaign in the state primary elections leading up to the Republican nominating convention. He focused much of his attention on foreign policy -- including his historic trip to China in February nineteen seventy-two. In May he traveled to Austria, the Soviet Union, Iran and Poland. In Moscow, he signed the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, or SALT, with the Soviets.

But back in Washington, something happened. It was a small incident, but one that would have a huge effect.

(MUSIC)

On June seventeenth, nineteen seventy-two, five men wearing surgical gloves broke into the headquarters of the Democratic Party. The Democratic National Committee offices were located in one of the buildings in a complex called Watergate. Police caught the burglars and, at the time, the incident did not seem very important.

But the men carried papers that linked them to top officials in the Nixon White House. The question was: Did the president know what was going on? Nixon denied any wrongdoing.

In time, the Watergate break-in would lead to a congressional investigation.

(MUSIC)

But, in the summer of nineteen seventy-two, attention focused on the presidential nominating conventions. Democrats met in Miami Beach, Florida, and chose George McGovern, a senator from South Dakota, as their candidate for president.

The Republicans also met in Miami Beach and, as expected, nominated Richard Nixon for a second term.

McGovern, a liberal, attacked Nixon for his policies on Vietnam. However, Nixon easily won the nineteen seventy-two election. He defeated McGovern, carrying forty-nine of the fifty states.

But the shadow of Watergate would not go away.

Two young reporters for the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, had been following the story since the break-in. In early nineteen seventy-three, they found evidence that linked the break-in to White House officials. The evidence also showed that these officials tried to use government agencies to hide the connection.

The burglars had been financed with money connected to the Committee to Re-Elect the President.

Pressure grew for a full investigation. In April, President Nixon ordered the Justice Department to carry it out. Attorney General Elliot Richardson appointed law professor Archibald Cox as a special prosecutor to lead the investigation.

SENATOR SAM ERVIN (WATERGATE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN)): "The committee will come to order."

In May, a special Senate committee began its own investigation. A former White House lawyer, John Dean, provided the major evidence.

JOHN DEAN: "It is my honest belief that, while the president was involved, he did not realize, or appreciate at any time, the implications of his involvement. And I think that, when the facts come out, I hope the president is forgiven."

By July, the public learned that President Nixon had made tape recordings of some of his discussions and telephone calls. The Senate committee asked him for some of the tapes. Nixon refused. He said the president of the United States has a Constitutional right to keep such records private.

A federal judge, John Sirica, ordered the president to surrender the tapes. Lawyers for the president took the case to the Supreme Court. The high court supported Sirica's decision.

After that, pressure increased for Nixon to cooperate. In October, he offered to provide written transcripts of parts of the recordings. Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor, rejected the offer. So Nixon ordered Attorney General Richardson to dismiss him. Richardson -- the nation's top law enforcement officer -- refused. Instead, he resigned, as did his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, when Nixon ordered him to fire Cox.

ABC NEWS REPORTER JERRY LANDAY: "The Watergate drama has taken a half-year to unfold. The president's unique actions in firing two popular and respected members of the Executive Branch, and forcing a third to quit, took less than eight hours. The impact of all this, clearly colossal, and yet to be measured."

Jerry Landay, reporting for ABC News.

(MUSIC)

The incident happened on a Saturday night and became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre."

Nixon then had acting Attorney General Robert Bork dismiss Cox, and the president eliminated the office of special prosecutor. He gave the Justice Department the responsibility of continuing the investigation.

President Nixon had another political problem, in addition to Watergate. In late nineteen seventy-three, his vice president, Spiro Agnew, was forced to resign. A court had found Agnew guilty of violating tax laws.

President Nixon asked Gerald Ford to become the new vice president. Ford was a longtime member of Congress from Michigan.

By that time, some members of Congress were talking about trying to remove Nixon from office. Was the president covering up important evidence in the Watergate case? Was he, in fact, guilty of crimes?

In April nineteen seventy-four, Nixon surrendered some of the recordings of conversations in his office. However, three important ones were missing. The Nixon administration tried to explain, saying the tape machine had failed to record two of those conversations. The third recording, it said, had been erased accidentally. This became known as the famous "eighteen-minute gap."

Many Americans did not believe these explanations.

Two months later, the Supreme Court ruled that a president cannot hold back evidence in a criminal case. It said there is no presidential right of privacy in such a case.

Congress moved ahead with efforts to bring charges against the president.

REPRESENTATIVE OGDEN REID: "Congress has no alternative now but to institute impeachment proceedings."

(MUSIC)

In July nineteen seventy-four, a committee in the House of Representatives proposed to impeach Nixon. That is, put the president on trial in the Senate. If Nixon were found guilty of crimes connected to the Watergate case, he would be removed from office.

Finally, Nixon surrendered the last of the documents sought by congressional investigators. These documents appeared to provide proof that the president had ordered a cover-up of evidence in the Watergate burglary.

(MUSIC)

Every president promises to protect and defend the Constitution. The congressional investigation showed that Nixon had repeatedly misused government agencies in an effort to hide wrongdoing and punish his critics. The hearings also showed that he had tried to block the investigation.

Richard Nixon says goodbye to staff members outside the White House on August 9, 1974, after resigning
Richard Nixon says goodbye to staff members outside the White House on August 9, 1974, after resigning

On August eighth, nineteen seventy-four, Richard Nixon spoke to the nation. His long struggle to remain in office was over.

RICHARD NIXON: "Throughout the long and difficult period of Watergate, I have felt it was my duty to persevere, to make every possible effort to complete the term of office to which you elected me. In the past few days, however, it has become evident to me that I no longer have a strong enough political base in the Congress to justify continuing that effort. Therefore, I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow."

(MUSIC)

By resigning, Nixon avoided impeachment and possible imprisonment. Never before had an American president resigned. On August ninth, Nixon's vice president, Gerald Ford, was sworn-in as the nation's thirty-eighth president.

Soon after becoming president, Gerald Ford made a surprise announcement.

GERALD FORD: "I deeply believe in equal justice for all Americans, whatever their station or former station. But it is not the ultimate fate of Richard Nixon that most concerns me, though surely it deeply troubles every decent and every compassionate person. My concern is the immediate future of this great country."

(MUSIC)

He pardoned Richard Nixon. Many Americans criticized Ford for doing this. But the new president believed he had good reason.

Ford wanted to deal with the other problems facing the nation. He did not want Watergate to go on and on. But the investigation did go on. A number of officials in the Nixon administration went to prison.

The effects of Watergate on public opinion and public policy would be felt for years to come.

For example, Congress passed laws designed to prevent an administration from using its power to punish opponents. Nixon's abuses also led Congress to order government agencies to provide more information about their intelligence gathering activities.

Nixon's actions violated the basic trust between the American public and their elected officials. It led to more aggressive reporting by a new generation of journalists hoping to follow in the footsteps of Woodward and Bernstein. Their coverage of Watergate won a Pulitzer Prize -- one of journalism's top awards -- and led to a movie based on their book "All the President's Men." It starred Robert Redford as Bob Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein. Jason Robards played Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee.

MANAGING EDITOR HOWARD SIMONS (MARTIN BALSAM): "But do any of them have an axe?"

BOB WOODWARD (ROBERT REDFORD): "No."

HOWARD SIMONS: "Personal, political, sexual, is there anything at all on Mitchell?"

BOB WOODWARD: "No."

HOWARD SIMONS: "Then can we use their names?"

CARL BERNSTEIN (DUSTIN HOFFMAN): "No."

BEN BRADLEE (JASON ROBARDS): "When is somebody going to go on the record in this story? You guys are about to write a story that says the former attorney general, the highest-ranking law enforcement officer in this country, is a crook! Just be sure you're right."

(MUSIC)

The presidency of Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford, will be our story next week.

You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and pictures at www.unsv.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.

___

Contributing: Jerilyn Watson

This was program #218. For earlier programs, type "Making of a Nation" in quotation marks in the search box at the top of the page.

美国总统尼克松的第一个任期结束时,美国人看到了美国从越南全部撤军的希望,但是大家对战争给美国经济和国内生活带来的创伤还是深感气愤。那个时候,美国的通货膨胀和失业率都很高。

有政治观察家认为,尼克松不可能连任,但是尼克松却坚信,美国人民会继续支持他。共和党召开全国代表大会提名总统候选人之前,尼克松没有积极参加州内初选,而是把精力集中用于外交政策,其中也包括他1972年2月对中国进行的历史性访问。尼克松5月份还前往奥地利、苏联、伊朗和波兰,在莫斯科跟苏联签署了第一份战略武器限制条约。

这时候,美国首都华盛顿发生了一件小事,却产生了重大的影响。1972年6月17日,五个带着外科手术手套的人潜入民主党全国委员会位于水门大厦的办公室,被警察抓获,这件事当时看来并不重要。

但是后来发现,这些人跟尼克松政府高官有联系,关键在于,总统是否知情。尼克松否认自己有任何不妥行为。最后,国会对水门事件展开了调查。

1972年夏天,美国总统候选人提名是大家最关心的事情。民主党人在佛罗里达州的海滨城市迈阿密召开全国代表大会,推举南达科他州参议员乔治.麦戈文为总统候选人。共和党人也在迈阿密开会,并推举现任总统尼克松参选连任。

麦戈文是自由派民主党人,他对尼克松的越战政策提出批评。最后,尼克松轻松获胜,击败麦戈文,美国一共50个州,尼克松赢得了49个州的支持。

然而,水门大厦夜盗事件并没有被人遗忘。华盛顿邮报的两个年轻记者鲍勃.伍德沃德和卡尔.伯恩斯坦从夜盗事件一开始,就一直追踪报导。1973年年初,他们找到证据,证明夜盗跟白宫有关,而且白宫官员还试图用政府部门来掩盖自己跟案件的关联,夜盗人拿的钱是支持尼克松连任的委员会给的。

在外界压力下,尼克松总统4月份下令司法部对此事展开调查。司法部长理查森指派法律教授考克斯担任特别检察官,全面负责案件调查。

5月份,参议院一个特别委员会也开始了自己的调查。前白宫律师约翰.迪恩提供重要证据。迪恩说:"我相信,总统确实跟此事有关,但是他并没有意识到,也不知道参与此事的严重性,我希望,大家知道所有事实后,能够原谅总统。"

7月份的时候,民众了解到,尼克松的某些谈话和电话都有磁带录音,参议院委员会要尼克松交出磁带,但是遭到了尼克松的拒绝。他表示,美国总统根据宪法有权不把这些磁带公开。

联邦法官约翰.西里卡裁决,要尼克松交出磁带。尼克松的律师们一路把官司打到联邦最高法院,但是最高法院支持西里卡的裁决。尼克松面临的压力越来越大。10月份的时候,他提出愿意提供录音的部分文字记录,遭到特别调查负责人考克斯的拒绝。尼克松于是下令司法部长理查森解除考克斯的职务,理查森断然拒绝,并随即提出了辞呈。尼克松又下令司法部副部长拉克尔肖斯解除考克斯的职务,拉克尔肖斯也不肯听命于尼克松,并请求辞职。

当时美国广播公司的报道说:"水门事件已经历时半年,如今,总统在不到八个小时里,就采取行动,开除了两个倍受尊敬和支持的政府官员,现在又在逼第三个人辞职,这一切显然会带来巨大影响,但到底是什么,现在还无法衡量。"这一系列事件发生在一个星期六的晚上,后来被称为"星期六之夜大屠杀"。

尼克松随后下令司法部代理部长博克解除了考克斯的职务,他又撤销了特别检察官办公室,让司法部接手案件的调查。

除了水门事件外,尼克松还面临着另外一个政治问题。1973年年底,他的副总统阿格纽因为被法院裁定违反了税务法,而被迫辞职。尼克松请来自密西根州的资深国会议员杰拉尔德.福特接任副总统。

那时候,国会的一些议员已经开始讨论让尼克松下台的问题了。大家想知道,尼克松有没有掩盖水门一案的重要证据,是否违反了法律。

1974年4月,尼克松终于交出了一部分谈话录音的磁带,但其中少了三个很重要的谈话。尼克松政府解释说,其中两次谈话没录上,第三个不小心洗掉了,这就是后来着名的"18分钟空白"。

很多美国人都不相信尼克松的解释。两个月后,联邦最高法院裁定,在刑事案件调查中,总统不得拒不交出证据,总统在这种情况下不享受隐私权。国会开始采取措施,对总统提出指控,启动弹劾程序。

1974年7月,国会众议院的一个小组委员会提出了针对尼克松的弹劾案,让尼克松在参议院受审,如果证明尼克松跟水门事件有关,就必须下台。

最后,尼克松不得不把剩下的一些文件交给了国会调查人员,从这些文件上可以看出,尼克松确实下令掩盖水门夜盗案的相关证据。

美国的每一届总统都要誓言保护和捍卫宪法。美国国会调查结果显示,尼克松三番五次滥用政府部门职权,掩盖错误行为,惩罚批评他的人。国会听证还显示,尼克松曾试图阻止调查的进行。

1974年8月8日,尼克松发表全国讲话宣布下台。尼克松说:"在水门事件漫长和艰难的调查过程中,我一直觉得自己有义务坚持下去,竭尽全力做完自己的总统任期。但是过去几天里,很显然,我在国会不再有足够的政治支持,让我完成自己的使命。因此,我将辞去总统职务,明天中午生效。"

尼克松是美国历史上第一位辞职的总统,辞职让他免去了弹劾和牢狱之灾。1974年8月9号,副总统福特宣誓就职,成为美国第38任总统。福特就职后,出人意料地做出了如下宣布。

福特说:"我深信,美国人在法律面前人人平等,不管他们现任或是曾经担任过什么官职。尽管美国正直并有同情心的人都深感困扰,但我最关心的并非尼克松的命运,而是这个伟大国家的前程。"

福特总统宣布特赦尼克松,受到很多美国人的批评,但是福特觉得自己这样做有他的理由。他希望集中精力处理美国面临的其他重要问题,不愿意看着水门事件一拖再拖。然而,调查并没有停止,尼克松政府里好几位官员都因为水门事件被判刑入狱。

水门事件对日后的美国公众舆论和公共政策带来了持久影响。例如,美国国会后来通过法律,防止政府利用权力打压反对派,国会还下令各政府部门提供信息,解释自己搜集情报的活动。

尼克松的行动违背了美国民众和民选官员之间最基本的信任,也影响了一大批年轻记者,他们都希望追寻伍德沃德和伯恩斯坦的榜样。伍德沃德和伯恩斯坦因为对水门事件的报道而赢得了新闻界的最高荣誉---普利策新闻奖。他们出的书《回放水门事件》后来改编成电影,罗伯特.雷德福扮演伍德沃德,达斯汀.霍夫曼饰演伯恩斯坦。贾森.罗巴茨饰演华盛顿邮报的执行总编本.布拉德利。

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