The Truth About J. Edgar Hoover And Richard Nixon’s Relationship

The Watergate scandal was a major blow to the public’s confidence in the U.S. presidency, showing the nation how corruption could affect otherwise seemingly average individuals (via Britannica). The fact that operatives had been discovered wiretapping and stealing from the Democratic party’s headquarters was bad enough, but their connection to the president implicated such a massive misuse of his office that it led to Nixon’s historic resignation. This event was so prominent that many corruption scandals in the decades since have been compared to it via the unofficial suffix of ‘-gate.’ 

Yet while similarities are often drawn, the motivations that led to the break-in are less well understood. While President Richard Nixon (above) and the burglars involved are not devoid of responsibility, the motivation to carry it out originated may have been encouraged by the extreme surveillance practices of J. Edgar Hoover (via NPR). Hoover died just before the Watergate scandal unfolded, but in his last months as head of the FBI he found what he believed to be a deep conspiracy involving Democratic campaign contributions.

Hoover's baseless conclusions helped fuel the Watergate scandal

When Hoover (above) died in 1972 at the age of 77, he had been head of the FBI since its founding. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon considered dismissing him because of his age, but all chose not to. Nixon in particular feared that doing so might have led Hoover to wiretap him, which in a roundabout way is somewhat ironic (via The Washington Post). According to MuckRock, in 1971 Hoover compiled a report based on a variety of dubious sources that there was coordination between the Democratic party, media organizations, and agency officials to put forward an unbeatable candidate.

The plot, as Hoover envisioned, would essentially have been to flood ideal candidates with so much in campaign contributions that both the Republicans and rival Democrats would be dissuaded from running. To make this work, groups such as CBS would employ a variety of shell companies and fake identities. Despite the lack of any concrete evidence and Nixon’s previously strenuous relationship with Hoover, this likely contributed to Nixon’s already growing paranoia (via The Guardian). When Hoover refused to help beyond that, however, Nixon began to form his own group that would seek out the supposed truth by any means (via Miller Center).

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