What Was the Watergate Scandal About?

What was originally dismissed as a third-rate burglary by the White House Press Secretary grew into the largest political scandal of the Twentieth Century—culminating with the only resignation of a President in our nation’s history and the conviction and imprisonment of two dozen members of his administration.  

Even today, some fifty years after those momentous events, controversy still swirls around the origin, meaning, and lessons to be learned from the scandal and its aftermath.

Geoff Shepard was intimately involved in the functioning of the White House throughout that scandal—but untouched by the criminal prosecutions that followed. He worked on the Domestic Council’s staff for John Ehrlichman, who was convicted in both the Plumbers and the Cover-up Trials; his immediate supervisor was Egil (Bud) Krogh, the head Plumber; Gordon Liddy was a colleague on the Domestic Council staff. Both Charles (Chuck) Colson and John Dean had offices nearby.  

His responsibilities as a member of the Domestic Council staff centered on the Department of Justice, so Shepard also knew and worked with DOJ officials who later became prominent as the scandal unfolded.  

Once the cover-up collapsed, Shepard joined the Watergate defense team and functioned as principal deputy to J. Fred Buzhardt, President Nixon’s lead defense counsel. In that capacity, he helped transcribe the White House tapes—and supervised publication of the Blue Book of almost fifty conversations on April 30, 1974. He also ran the Document Room holding the seized files of John Dean, John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman. He staffed Presidential Counselors Bryce Harlow and Dean Burch on the Watergate issue and was the official White House representative argument before the Supreme Court in U.S. v Nixon.

Shepard testified as a government witness in the Plumbers trial and was subpoenaed for the same purpose in the Cover-up Trial. He is the only senior member of the White House staff to possess a “clearance” letter from the Special Prosecutor saying, in pertinent part, that he was never the object of any investigation by any of their task forces.  

Shepard’s views on Watergate –how and why the break-in occurred and the cover-up grew to consume the presidency, and what lessons are to be learned from the experience—differ materially from generally accepted conventional wisdom on this subject. What underlies his work are the multitude of internal documents he has uncovered in the files of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, many of which were improperly taken by Watergate prosecutors when they left office. 

Shepard has written three books and dozens of essays about Watergate, along with a series of presentations, the most recent of which are the 2020 interviews he did with Hugh Hewitt and the 2019 lectures he gave at Temple University in Philadelphia.  

This section contains information designed to help guide future researchers and scholars to a greater understanding of Watergate:

  • Essential Chronology: A brief list of the most important Watergate events.  
  • Major Players: A directory of those individuals who play key roles in the scandal.
  • Words and Phrases: Definitions of memorable words and phrases that became popular as the scandal unfolded.
  • Annotated Bibliography: The list of reference works, predominately by actual participants, that shed light on the scandal.
  • Annotated Chronology: A highly detailed list of events designed as a reference for placing Watergate developments in context.