I'm really not pleased at all with Adam Nagourney's NYT story about the fight between Nixon loyalists and the National Archives over how Watergate should be portrayed at the Nixon Library. Someone reading the story without knowing anything about Watergate would get the sense that the scandal was about surreptitious taping of White House conversations. That's about the equivalent of saying that the OJ Simpson case was about gloves, not murder, or that (to bring it slightly more up to date) the Mark Foley case was about phone company records.
In case you're wondering whether Richard Nixon was a crook, imagine the following:
Suppose that Barack Obama was convinced that Marc Thiessen, John Bolton, and Paul Wolfowitz had removed important secret files from their various government offices when they left the Bush administration, files that revealed embarrassing, and perhaps illegal, actions by the administration. Suppose further that Obama believed that Wolfowitz et al. had secured those files at AEI.
With me so far? Now suppose that Obama repeatedly ordered Rahm Emanuel and other top White House officials to break into AEI in order to get those files back, either in order to leak them to embarrass the Republicans or, perhaps, to blackmail George W. Bush. That is, suppose that Emanuel suggested to the president that perhaps they could blackmail Bush, and Obama responded by continuing to order the break-in.
That's one of the things that happened in Watergate (substituting Nixon for Obama, Haldeman for Emanuel, and Brookings for AEI). The orders, that is; as it turned out, the president's men never quite did get around to breaking into Brookings, although they did hire and assign people to do it, and scheme and plot about it quite a bit. The president's men, sometimes at Nixon's instructions, sometimes with his knowledge, and sometimes perhaps without his direct instructions or knowledge but always in keeping with his general orders to his stop staff, also planted spies in the camp of Democratic campaigns; broke into Democratic headquarters, photographed documents, and planted bugs; broke into the the office of a Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist in order to learn things that could be used to destroy his image in the press; attempted to plant left-wing materials in the home of the guy who shot George Wallace; planned to (and perhaps did) selectively leak classified materials about foreign policy in order to hurt the Democrats; forged materials about foreign policy (the death of South Vietnam's President Diem) in order to plant false stories in the press that would hurt the Democrats; wiretapped government officials; paid a private investigator to tail Ted Kennedy; performed other dirty tricks such as forged letters intended to manipulate the Democratic presidential nomination process (efforts that may indeed have been successful); and other illegal, abuse and unethical actions -- this is not a comprehensive list.
Those were the original crimes. What followed was obstruction of justice as the White House, with the active leadership of the president, lied to FBI investigators and grand juries, destroyed evidence, suborned perjury by prearranging false testimony; suborned perjury by paying off witnesses and either promising or at least hinting at the promise of presidential pardons in exchange for false testimony, and using the authority of the presidency to derail and undermine FBI investigators and prosecutors. Again, the president was personally actively involved in all of those things.
(And that's not counting other important abuses of power such as waging war without the authorization of Congress and illegally disrupting the legal disbursement of government funds, and also not counting the president's purely personal possible crimes involving his taxes).
Oh, and for what it's worth...Nagourney writes that Nixon resigned "in the face of likely impeachment." That's too weak. It was certain impeachment, and virtually certain conviction. The House Judiciary Committee had voted in favor of impeachment while Nixon was still fighting against turning over several (additional) tapes of White House conversations; when those tapes were released, each of the Republicans on the Committee declared that he would now flip and support impeachment on the House floor. As far as the trial, Nixon's congressional liaison estimated that only seven Senators still supported the president. I can't imagine any combination of circumstances that would have prevented impeachment, and while there's always uncertainty in human affairs, it's very difficult to imagine how Nixon could have escaped conviction. It's worth mentioning too that all of that was the case even though plenty of incriminating evidence was still unknown to Congress at the time.
Richard Nixon announced his resignation on August 8, 1974, so it's been 36 years. The paper of record should do a better job of getting these things right.