Forty three years ago today, the House Judiciary Committee recommended that President Richard M. Nixon be impeached and removed from office. And while many remember the two year saga which placed the executive office and country in turmoil, they might not remember that several prominent Villagers were at the forefront of this chapter in our history.
For those who are too young to recall, it all began with the burglary at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington D.C. On June 17, 1972, burglars were caught breaking into the offices to wiretap phones and steal documents. Nixon denied he or his staff were involved in the break-in, and most Americans believed him. He won the re-election bid in November of 1972 in a landslide.
As it turned out, Nixon lied. Further, just three days after the Watergate break-in, Nixon engaged in a conspiracy to obstruct justice by telling the CIA to get the FBI to curtail its investigation of the Watergate break-in on the false grounds that it would uncover national security operations. This would later come out with the release of tapes of conversations between Nixon and his aides. In July of 1973, a former staff member of Nixon’s revealed the existence of these tapes which Nixon refused to release on the grounds of executive privilege and national security.
Calls for Nixon’s impeachment grew during the Summer and Fall of 1973, and Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox maintained pressure on the Nixon White House to release the tapes. On October 20, 1973, in what became known as the ‘Saturday Night Massacre,’ Nixon fired Cox, which led to the immediate departures of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus. This, of course, only led to a surge in momentum towards impeachment and the appointment of a special prosecutor. Eventually Nixon surrendered some but not all of the tapes.
The Villager reported shortly after the firing of Cox that Village Congressman and future NYC mayor Ed Koch voiced his strong support for an investigation by the Judiciary Committee to determine if the president was impeachable for the offense of obstruction of justice. Said Koch: “…Nixon must understand that he is the President and not the Emperor.”
Koch’s connection to Watergate and the Nixon impeachment was not just as a staunch advocate in Congress for a thorough investigation of the President’s actions. It was later revealed that Koch’s (then) left-wing positions on multiple issues so frightened his enemies that he too was being surveilled by some of the Watergate conspirators.
The Village’s other member of congress, Congresswoman Bella Abzug was also one of the more vocal champions of Nixon’s impeachment and removal from office. She and her left-wing associates threw an Impeachment Ball in January, 1974. Abzug was the first member of Congress to call for Nixon’s impeachment, prior to Watergate, based upon Nixon’s actions in Viet Nam.
In May of 1974, the House Judiciary Committee began formal impeachment proceedings against Nixon. On July 27th of that year, the first article of impeachment against the president was passed. Two more articles, for abuse of power and contempt for Congress, were approved on July 29th and July 30th. On August 5th, Nixon complied with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring that he provide transcripts of the missing tapes; this evidence clearly provided the evidence to implicate the President in a cover up. On August 8th, Nixon announced his resignation, becoming the first president in U.S. history to voluntarily leave office.