Jun 22, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Watergate trial records digitized for 50th anniversary

A chart of President Nixon and officials involved in the Watergate scandal

President Nixon and officials involved in the Watergate scandal. Photo: Bettmann Archives

Paper records, exhibits and artifacts from the Watergate trial have been digitized for the first time as the nation marks the 50th anniversary of the break-in that eventually led to President Nixon's resignation.

What's happening: Materials from the United States v. G. Gordon Liddy case are now available in the National Archives Catalog and can be viewed via a new website, rather than exclusively in person in Maryland.

  • The newly digitized evidence from one of the most famous political scandals of the 20th century comes in the midst of the House Jan. 6 select committee's public hearings examining the Capitol insurrection.

The intrigue: The records include images of screwdrivers, lockpicks, business cards, surgical gloves, a room key for the Watergate and the now-infamous ChapStick microphone.

  • Other documents include testimony, transcripts and government evidence.

Flashback: Five men were arrested on June 17, 1972, after breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Office Building.

  • The men sought to illegally obtain information on Democrats.
  • Three of the burglars were Cuban American exiles and right-wing hardliners who believed, with no evidence, that Cuban leader Fidel Castro was helping Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern against Nixon in the 1972 election.
  • In the coming months, more of Nixon's aides would be arrested and indicted as investigators and journalists unveiled a massive political cover-up.

The Watergate investigation eventually uncovered a number of "dirty tricks" by the Nixon administration, including spying on Democrats and the attempted sabotage of Democratic campaigns.

What they're saying: "Some handling and condition issues limited the possibility to get the clearest or most visually appealing images," digital imaging specialist Jennifer Seitz, who was responsible for photographing the Liddy trial exhibits, said in a statement.

  • The Liddy trial exhibits were photographed using a high-resolution studio setup at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.
  • “We attempted to get the best images possible while leaving the original condition undisturbed," Seitz said.

Between the lines: Michael Dobbs, author of "King Richard: Nixon and Watergate — An American Tragedy," told Axios that Watergate was the mother of all political scandals.

  • "The essential principle that was at stake was whether a president who has committed crimes was subjected to the law, and whether America was a democracy or an autocracy."
  • Ultimately, Dobbs said the system worked and Nixon was compelled to resign. "Whether the system still works as effectively today as in 1972-4 is the key question of our times," he added.

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