Briscoe Statement to the Press, September 8, 1974
On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested while attempting to break into and set wiretaps at the Democratic national headquarters in the Watergate building in Washington, D.C. The five men, plus two accomplices, were tried and convicted on burglary charges. All were employees of President Nixon's reelection committee.
The Watergate burglary might have been forgotten as a minor incident in the annals of political dirty tricks had not one of the burglars written a letter to the trial judge alleging that the burglary was just one example of massive corruption at the highest levels of the Nixon administration. Because of these allegations, a special Senate committee began an investigation into what became known simply as "Watergate," which came to refer not only to the burglary but to the ever-more serious wrongdoing that the investigation uncovered. Dramatic testimony revealed that the burglary was authorized by the attorney general of the United States and President Nixon's two top advisors, and that Nixon himself had authorized an attempt to cover up the burglars' links to his campaign and to stop the FBI from investigating the incident. In the meantime, a special prosecutor uncovered evidence of widespread political espionage, illegal wiretapping of private citizens, and the selling of political favors in exchange for campaign contributions.
Nixon's own attempts to distance himself from the scandal only served to fuel it. When it was revealed that Oval Office conversations had been routinely tape-recorded, the special prosecutor ordered Nixon to turn over tapes relevant to the investigation. Instead, Nixon ordered the prosecutor fired; his attorney general and assistant attorney general resigned rather than carry out the order. This so-called "Saturday Night Massacre" led to the first calls for Nixon's impeachment. In the months that followed, several high-ranking officials were tried and convicted on corruption charges. On July 24, 1974, Nixon was ordered by the United States Supreme Court to turn over the tapes to the investigators. A few days later, the House Judiciary Committee prepared articles of impeachment against the president.
On August 5, 1974, Nixon admitted his awareness of the Watergate coverup, and on August 9, he resigned from office rather than face an impeachment trial in which he was certain to be convicted. Many Americans expected Nixon to be legally prosecuted for his actions and betrayal of the public trust. But one month later, the new president, Gerald Ford, feeling that a trial of Nixon would only prolong the nation's ordeal, issued a full pardon to Nixon.
The statement below gives Governor Briscoe's reaction to the pardon.