The backdrop of the Watergate scandal was the fiercely contested 1972 presidential election.
Richard Nixon was running for re-election while the US was still embroiled in the Vietnam War and his team were convinced they needed to fight an aggressive campaign to win.
In May 1972, members of Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (mockingly referred to as CREEP) broke into the Democratic National Committee’s Watergate headquarters in Washington D.C.
They stole secret dossiers and wiretapped the phones.
But these bugs failed to work and a month later burglars went back to the building but were noticed by security.
The police caught them red handed with equipment to install a new microphone in the office.
At first it was unclear that the burglars had any connection to Nixon, but suspicions were raised when a phone number for the president’s re-election committee was found in their possession.
In August, Nixon held a news conference in which he denied that his staff were involved in the break-in.
Pictured: President Richard Nixon speaks in 1973, a year before he resigned
A few months later the American people handed him a landslide election victory.
It would later emerge that the president had arranged for hundreds of thousands in ‘hush money’ to be paid to the burglars.
More grave was a plan hatched with his advisors to tell the CIA to block the FBI’s investigation. This was an abuse of his power and an obstruction of justice.
Seven people were indicted over their role in the Watergate scandal, five pleaded guilty while the other two were convicted in January, 1973.
By this time a number of people were deeply suspicious that there had been a more serious plot at work, including Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
Some of those indicted started to crack up and an anonymous source, who Woodward and Bernstein called Deep Throat, provided explosive information.
Some of Nixon’s top White House aides told a grand jury of the president’s crimes and it was revealed that Nixon secretly recorded every conversation in the Oval Office.
Prosecutors went after those tapes and Nixon was ultimately unable to prevent them from becoming public.
Nixon fired independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox when he refused to stop demanding the tapes.
Several other members of the Justice Department stood down and these October, 1973, resignations became known as the Saturday Night Massacre.
By 1974, Nixon had agreed to hand over some of the tapes and the cover-up was rapidly unravelling.
In March, a grand jury appointed by the special prosecutor indicted seven of Nixon’s former staff. The jury referred to Nixon as an ‘unindicted co-conspirator.’
In July, Nixon was ordered to turn over all of his Oval Office recordings by the Supreme Court.
The House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach the president for obstruction of justice, abuse of power and criminal cover-up.
Eventually, on August 5, Nixon bowed and released the tapes to provide unequivocal proof that he was directly involved in Watergate.
Nixon, facing certain impeachment, resigned three days later.
Six weeks later Vice President Gerald Ford was sworn in and pardoned Nixon.
But other White House staffers were not as fortunate, they included the former FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy who masterminded the plot. He served four and a half years behind bars.
The Attorney General John Mitchell served 19 months, Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman was sent to prison for the same length of time, while assistant to the president for domestic affairs, John Ehrlichman, was jailed for 18 months.