IT is a fair to say a lot happens in hotels, but rarely does what goes on behind closed doors change the world…but it can happen.
The Watergate Scandal is proof of this.
Exposed by a story in The Washington Post, it was to mark the overturn of the entire American political system, marring it with distrust and resulting in the eventual resignation of the 37th President Richard Nixon.
Olga Leleka looks at the events that unfolded in the Watergate Hotel and their impact.
On Sunday, June 18, 1972 two young reporters – Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward wrote a story about burglars arrested at the Watergate Hotel, the former home to the Democratic National Committee office in Washington DC.
The story said the burglars, disguised as plumbers failed to place a listening device in the committee office in spite of the operation being led by former CIA officer and political figure E. Howard Hunt on the President’s orders.
A few weeks later, Bernstein’s report “Bug Suspect Got Campaign Funds” would reveal further details and expose the paranoia Nixon had surrounding the security of his reelection, it marked the first time the Washington Post cast a shadow over the White House and the American political system. The story was explosive and revealed to the public the fact that a $25,000 check for Nixon’s reelection campaign was paid into the burglars’ bank accounts.
In response to the stories the suspected mastermind of the operation Howard Hunt asked for protection and more “hush money” and after that White House lawyer John Dean, as if anticipating the dramatic events that would follow, would claim there was a “cancer on the presidency”.
These words would prove prophetic and the scandal would deepen in April 1973 when the Watergate burglars broke into the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg to discredit him for Pentagon secret papers he had earlier given to The New York Times. This caused further suspicion of espionage to monitor the opponents of the President.
In fact, stories of tapes in the White House had been an object of speculation since the very beginning of the Watergate Scandal, but the rumors were finally confirmed in July 1973. The situation grew into “… a great constitutional struggle between a President determined not to give up executive documents and materials and a Senate committee and a federal prosecutor who are determined to get them,” said The Post on July 24, 1973. “The ultimate arbitration, it was believed, would have to be made by the Supreme Court.”
As soon as the White House provided the summary of the taped conversations on the demand of the Court, the Watergate story drew to a close. “One year of Watergate is enough,” said President Nixon in 1974 and on August 8 announced his resignation.
What was Watergate?
The scandal has gone with many questions still left unanswered. More than 33 years later details were still emerging including the fact FBI official Mark Felt, dubbed as “Deep Throat”, was the main source of information for The Washington Post.
With the passing of time the “many-headed monster of Watergate” seems to be something more than a political trick, yet rather a well-executed plan to overturn the American political system.
Thus, in words that hinted at his demise, Nixon for the last time said of the White House: “Those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”
Enveloped in political intrigue, the Watergate Hotel has become synonymous with political changes and today claims a significant part in American and world history. And it continues to play a role in political life and scandals. Consequently, it continues to be a draw card for America’s political elite and the odd controversial figure such as Senator Bob Dole and Monica Lewinsky.
History and politics buffs can capture the atmosphere of the political intrigue by checking listings of hotels in Washington DC here.