On Aug. 9, 1974, at noon, Richard M. Nixon became the first U.S. president to resign the office.
The House Judiciary Committee had begun hearings three months earlier to impeach Nixon, who had been 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.
For months, the Watergate scandal pitted The Washington Post against the 37th president of the United States. 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. Well, I’m not a crook,” he said during a 1973 televised question-and-answer session with Associated Press managing editors.
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.
The Post, whose reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein doggedly uncovered the Watergate crime, earned the 1973 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.
The taped door that led to the Watergate investigation, along with the reporters’ notes, are on display in the News Corporation News History Gallery.