August 8, 1974, is one day the nation will never forget: Richard M. Nixon became the first U.S. president to resign from the position. Three days after the transcripts of the Watergate tapes were publicly released, proving that Nixon had tried to obstruct the investigation into Watergate, Nixon gave a speech announcing his resignation, and he turned in his letter on August 9th. Try answering these trivia questions about a precedent-setting president.
Why Did Nixon Actually Resign?
The Watergate scandal had been building for over two years, but by mid-1974, it was clear that Nixon was surrounded by the original political swamp. He was the target of a months-long investigation plus an impeachment vote in July, and the Supreme Court pressured him to release the Watergate tapes, recordings that Nixon had made of every conversation he'd had while in the Oval Office.
The final straw happened on August 5th. Transcripts of each of the tapes were released, and they contained the damning conversation in which Nixon ordered his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, to stop the FBI from continuing its investigation. In other words, that transcript basically proved Nixon was guilty of obstruction of justice, which was the topic of one of the articles of impeachment brought against him. Facing that, as well as charges of abuse of presidential power and obstructing the impeachment itself, Nixon decided that stepping down would be better than impeachment, removal, and potential imprisonment.
Did Nixon Ever Own Up to His Mistakes in the Scandal? During a series of interviews with British TV personality David Frost in May 1977, Nixon insisted that while he had never "technically" committed a crime, he admitted that he had badly mishandled matters in the aftermath of the break-in. Of his behavior during this period, he said, " . . . I made so many bad judgments, the worst ones mistakes of the heart rather than the head . . . but let me say a man in that top job -- he's got to have a heart, but his head must always rule his heart."
What Does It Take for a Sitting President to Resign? Surprisingly little. The president merely has to give the secretary of state a letter of resignation, just like an employee would give a resignation letter to a supervisor. When Nixon gave his letter to then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, that was it. Nixon's public speech on the 8th was more of a courtesy to the American people than anything else.
Who Turned Out to Be Deep Throat?
"Deep Throat" was a mysterious informant who provided many of the clues that allowed journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to eventually break the Watergate case. Contrary to the popular image of Deep Throat as a deus ex machina figure who appeared at the right time, the informant had actually been acquainted with Woodward since 1970, helping him with a few stories for The Washington Post. Per his request though, Woodward kept Deep Throat very, very anonymous for this big story. The anonymity was done so well that people doubted Deep Throat was just one person.
In 2005, Deep Throat's identity was revealed. He was William Mark Felt, who had been the associate director of the FBI. It's generally thought that his reason for informing was that he was distressed by the crimes occurring all around him. Woodward and Bernstein's investigation received a very lucky break, by the way. When Nixon demanded to know who Deep Throat was, the investigation was given to Felt himself.