Senators Howard Baker (R-TN) and Sam Ervin (D-NC) cast votes during the Senate Watergate Committee hearings of 1973. Seated behind the senators is the committee deputy counsel Rufus Edmisten, whose oral history interview is included in the collection of the U.S. Senate Historical Office. (Photo courtesy Senate Historical Office.)
During the month of May 2013, on www.senate.gov, the U.S. Senate Historical Office looks back 40 years to one of the Senate’s most important investigations. The Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, more commonly known as the Watergate Committee, questioned the president’s closest advisors about the break-in and cover-up at the Watergate office complex and other “illegal and improper campaign practices” that occurred during the presidential campaign of 1972.
Hearings began in closed session on March 28, 1973, and then continued in open, televised sessions on May 17. Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina chaired the committee, with Tennessee’s Howard Baker serving as vice-chair, ably assisted by their majority and minority counsels, Sam Dash and Fred Thompson.
Under the guidance of Senators Ervin and Baker, and backed by bipartisan support of the Senate, the Watergate Committee produced much of the evidence that led to the August 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon. The Watergate Committee also established an important legislative legacy.
As the Watergate Committee continued its work, the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration prepared for an anticipated impeachment trial. Assisted by long-time Senate parliamentarian Floyd Riddick, the Rules Committee held its own set of executive session hearings to lay the groundwork for a presidential impeachment trial.
Since its first inquiry in 1792, Congress has conducted hundreds of investigations, fulfilling a constitutional oversight responsibility while serving as the eyes and ears of the American public. During the Civil War, Congress created the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War to oversee wartime activities of the Lincoln administration. Throughout its history the Senate has investigated a wide array of issues, including organized crime, the defense industry, and Wall Street banking practices, revealing some of its most interesting stories and personalities, but few investigations have proved to be as consequential as Watergate. For further information, contact email@example.com.
~ Betty Koed, Associate Historian, United States Senate