While addressing a group of 400 newspaper editors from the Associated Press, President Richard Milhous Nixon proclaimed “I am not a crook.” On the face of it, a remarkable assertion for any head of state to feel was actually necessary to make. But then, Nixon was somewhat paranoid, and the slowly unfolding Watergate scandal was only making him more so. (Although to be fair, is it really paranoia when they really are out to get you?)
He was also lying, or at least, there is considerable evidence that suggests that he was lying, most notably the fact that his successor’s first act on taking office was to issue a Presidential Pardon for Nixon – even though he had not been convicted of any crime (usually considered a pre-requisite for pardoning).
It is the single greatest scandal to have ever touched the office of the President of the United States: Richard Nixon was impeached by Congress. Which is to say, he was charged with criminal offences related to his office. More specifically, the charges related to his role in the Watergate scandal and its attendant (and failed) cover-up.
In little more than a fortnight, Nixon would resign the Presidency in shame, and his hand-picked successor would immediately give him the quid pro quo of a pardon that also covered Nixon for “crimes yet to be discovered.” This allowed Nixon to avoid actually facing the charges against him, and made him one of the few people to have been pardoned for crimes he was never convicted of, or even tried for; and also did untold damage to the institution of the Presidency, which would never again be as respected as it had been before 1973.
It’s commonly believed that this is where Nixon got his start in politics, but in fact he was a member of Congress (representing the California 12th) from 1946 to 1950. But by 1950, he’d made enough of an impact in California to secure the Republican nomination to run for the Senate.
His Democratic opponent was left-leaning Helen Gahagan Douglas, who was widely derided as an actess with no business in the serious world of politics despite having spent more years in Congress than Nixon had. Nixon won comfortably, but even in her defeat, Gahagan had the last laugh: she it was who bestowed upon Nixon his nickname of “Tricky Dick”, which would dog him for the rest of his career (and indeed, in the wake of Watergate, seem rather prophetic).