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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 09:42 GMT 10:42 UK
Legacy of Watergate overshadows politics
Richard Nixon shortly after his resignation in 1972
Nixon is the only US president ever to resign

Monday marks the 30th anniversary of Watergate, the most famous political scandal in American history.

What began as a seemingly innocuous burglary led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon.

It also unearthed a web of political spying, sabotage and bribery.


It seems to me that the bastards are still lying and they still try to cover up

Ben Bradlee

When he was elected President, Nixon declared that "the great objective of this administration will be to bring the American people together".

He failed in spectacular style, becoming the only US president in history to resign.

On 17 June 1972, five men were caught trying to break into the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate complex in Washington.

The intruders were adjusting bugging equipment and photographing documents.

The Republican Party, the FBI, the CIA, the Justice Department, the Attorney General, the White House, and eventually the President of the United States all became embroiled in the ensuing scandal.

Secret tapes

When secret tape recordings of Nixon's complicity finally came to light, he was left with no choice but to resign.

Three decades later, the story still holds much fascination, informing today's political climate.

There continue to be large doses of public scepticism about politics and politicians, borne out of the Vietnam War but cemented in Watergate.

As White House counsel, John Dean was at the centre of the Watergate hearings, telling investigators that he had discussed the Watergate cover-up with President Nixon at least 35 times.

Former US President Richard Nixon waves on the day of his resignation
Watergate fuelled public cynicism about politics
He describes the affair as a turning point in relations between government and the press.

"The lasting impact has been the fact that today, when some scandal comes up, the press no longer gives any benefit of the doubt to those involved - they have to prove their innocence - and it has become a little bit more sensational in its coverage," he said.

"It has often become even more of interest to the media than the reading or listening public."

Ben Bradlee was executive editor of the paper that broke the story - the Washington Post.

He remembers the 26-month scandal as "the most intense moment of all our lives".

'Still lying'

Thirty years on, he is less bothered by today's political reporting than by political cynicism.

"You just can't cover up the truth for any length of time, and therefore you would think that it would have ended cover-ups. But it sure as hell hasn't," he said.

"It seems to me that the bastards are still lying and they still try to cover up."

But the scandal was about more than just scepticism.

For many, the painful outcome ultimately restored faith in the American political system, which separates power between the president, Congress and the courts.

It is this which many choose to see as the abiding legacy of Watergate.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Ian Pannel
"For many the painful outcome ultimately restored faith in the American political system"
See also:

01 Mar 02 | Americas
28 Feb 02 | Americas
28 Feb 02 | Americas
20 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
29 Aug 00 | Americas
02 Dec 98 | The big picture
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