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Far More Than Just A Burglary

'Watergate' as shorthand for a slew of official misdeeds

By Craig Staats/AllPolitics

WASHINGTON (June 12) -- Some 25 years have passed since the bungled break-in at the Watergate hotel, a so-called "third-rate burglary," triggered a first-rate national crisis whose consequences still color the nation's politics. Like many other political scandals, Watergate grew to encompass far more than just the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Here's a look backward at everything that is Watergate.

By the time Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974, the term Watergate had become a catch-all for a breathtaking range of high crimes and misdemeanors. In all, more than 30 officials were convicted in the nation's worst political scandal ever.

There were other break-ins, like the burglary of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office in September 1971. There was "national security" wiretapping of news reporters who revealed information the Nixon White House did not want uncovered.

There was misuse of the FBI and CIA for political purposes. There were allegations that Nixon intervened in an antitrust action against ITT in return for political contributions and raised milk support prices for similar considerations, and obstructed justice by firing special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Finally, there was the smoking gun -- taped evidence that Nixon discussed a cover-up just a week after the Watergate burglary. Three days after the White House released those transcripts, Nixon announced his resigation. And soon Vice President Gerald Ford took office. "Our long national nightmare is over," he declared to a nation exhausted by a long cascade of scandal.

Senate Hearings And Courtroom Dramas

But beyond the crimes, Watergate conjures up other memories, too: a bold press in pursuit of a real whodunit as well as riveting Senate hearings and courtroom dramas that helped establish that no one, not even a president, is above the law.

The seeds of Watergate and Nixon's downfall were contained in the man himself, as tragic and twisted a figure as ever occupied the White House. Nixon was a gut fighter who came back from early political defeats to win the presidency -- narrowly in 1968, but by an epic margin in 1972.

Yet Nixon never seemed comfortable in his success. In a tumultuous time, with the country wracked by anger over the Vietnam War and racial conflict, he brought a siege mentality to the White House. For Nixon, it was an us-versus-them world, and them included academics, the Eastern establishment, the press, liberals and antiwar protestors.

That bunker mentality led, some three years before the Wate