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Watergate Hearings Begin


On May 17, 1973, Senator Sam Ervin opened the first public hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, commonly known as the Watergate Committee. Television camera crews, photographers, and print journalists competed with Senate staff and curious onlookers for space in the crowded Senate Caucus Room, the site of numerous notable Senate investigations including the Teapot Dome oil leases, the Kefauver crime hearings, and the Army-McCarthy hearings. Over the next seven months senators and staff investigated allegations, prompted by the break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate hotel and office complex, of “illegal, improper, or unethical activities” related to the presidential election campaign of 1972. Television delivered live coverage of the dramatic hearings to the living rooms of millions of American households. Only one month after the hearings began, an overwhelming majority of Americans—97 percent—had heard of Watergate. Of those, 67 percent believed that President Nixon had participated in the Watergate cover-up. President Richard Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974.