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Donald Trump and Richard Nixon: Political Scandals 50 Years Apart

With the election for the 47th President of the United States taking place in November of this year, there is discussion around whether Donald Trump will remain on the voting ballot amidst the Capitol Riots that happened on January 6, 2021, caused by Trump supporters. The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments about the case in the coming days. After facing a flurry of legal battles for criminal activity, it is still up in the air as to whether he will be able to be elected as President again. There have been a string of presidential scandals across the years but perhaps one in particular sticks out. Fifty years ago, in 1974, Richard Nixon became the first and only US President to resign his post, amidst the infamous ‘Watergate Scandal’.

Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon was the 37th president of the United States from 1969 until 1974, serving almost two terms in the position. Born in 1913 on his family’s lemon ranch in California, Nixon came from humble beginnings. He excelled in school, and attended Whittier College and Duke University School of Law, accumulating a summa cum laude and Order of the Coif induction under his belt. After spending his early career practising law, he then went on to serve in the US Navy during the Second World War, before transitioning into politics in the late 1940s. After being elected for a seat in the United States House of Representatives in 1946, by 1950 he was in the US Senate for California. Furthermore, two years later he was elected as the Vice President to Republican President Dwight Eisenhower and remained in the position until 1961, following two terms. Nixon caught the presidential bug and ran for President in 1960 but lost to Democrat John F. Kennedy. He continued his role as a Congressman up until the 1968 Presidential election, which he won by a landslide. Nixon then became US President, succeeding Lyndon B. Johnson. Throughout his presidency, Richard Nixon made sufficient progress in the country. He began a war on drugs, a war on cancer, lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 and ended America’s involvement with the Vietnam War. Unsurprisingly, he was re-elected for President in 1972. This is where everything seemed to go wrong. 

Watergate Scandal

On June 17, 1972, five burglars were caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) headquarters in the Watergate Complex building in Washington, D.C. The suspects were arrested by the police on-site after a security guard had caught them stealing documents and wiretapping phones. At first, not much was thought of, until the suspects were named, which revealed a few had been a part of Nixon’s re-election campaign, as well as others being involved in the anti-Castro movement against Cuba’s leader, Fidel Castro. When the identities of the burglars came out, suspicions of Nixon began escalating. 

The burglary was reported on June 18 in The Washington Post by Alfred E. Lewin, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the two latter reporters who would later become key figures in the scandal. Shortly after Nixon was brought into the mix, he claimed neither he nor his staff had any involvement with the break-in. 

However, Woodward and Bernstein worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and found that two members of Nixon’s staff, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy were conspirators in the case. Shortly after, an anonymous tip leaked phone calls from the White House, which led to a 10-page story in The Washington Post by Bernstein and Woodward, exposing the president’s knowledge of the break-in and the subsequent cover-up.

Initially, Nixon persisted in denial by claiming it was vendetta placed against him by Liberal opposition, but after the evidence against him started stacking him, he was backed into a corner. There were even money trials investigated, allegedly the money used from Nixon's re-election campaign contributions was laundered to fund the DNC break-in. 

The trials of the five burglars as well as their accomplices took place a few weeks before Nixon’s second inauguration at the start of 1974. All burglars pleaded guilty to the charges placed against them. Then in March, the indictment of several of Nixon’s former staff took place. In the end, 69 people were charged for their involvement in the Watergate Scandal and 48 people were found guilty. The scandal became one of the biggest political scandals in American history, after losing the trust of the public, Nixon’s presidency began to rapidly decline. 

There was an 8-0 Supreme Court decision that ordered Nixon to release the tapes that were being kept from the public to determine his knowledge of the break-in. A month later, Richard Nixon announced his resignation as President on live television, stating, “I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as president, I must put America first.” 

Six weeks after resigning, Gerald Ford was appointed President, granting Nixon a full pardon for the scandal. Lawfully, Nixon came out relatively unscathed, but the same can’t be said for his reputation. In 1976, he was disbarred for obstruction of justice in Watergate by the New York Bar Association due to the huge amount of distrust caused by the scandal. 

Donald Trump’s 2024 Presidential Campaign

In November 2022, Trump announced he would be running for president for the third time, and is currently the frontrunner for the Republican party, with Nikki Haley running shortly behind him. Despite indictments that took place last year, he is still able to run as a candidate unless the Supreme Court declares otherwise. There is currently a strategy underway that would block Trump from the ballot based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment that states anyone who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same” would be able to run for office. People are stating the denial of his 2020 presidential campaign loss, leading to the Capitol Riots defying Section 3, but he is yet to be blocked from the primary ballot. Richard Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate Scandal caused an uproar across America, and despite Donald Trump being indicted on four criminal charges, resulting in 91 felonies, there is still a very good chance he can re-run for president, which raises the questions of leniency within the US government.

Edited by Chloe Mansola

Image 'President Richard Nixon on the Telephone at the Oval Office Desk’ by RandomUserGuy1738 licensed by PDM 1.0


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