Watergate and Scandal Politics: The Rise and Fall of the Special Prosecutor

  • Clodagh Harrington
Part of the The Evolving American Presidency Series book series (EAP)


The revelations of the Nixon White House’s Watergate wrongdoings generated a national sense of mistrust of the ethical standards in America’s government. Reacting to this, Congress approved the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 that codified ethical requirements for officeholders in all branches of government and institutionalized in its Title VI the office of special prosecutor to investigate alleged wrongdoing by executive-branch officials. During the debates over its enactment, the measure was widely touted as being necessary to prevent another Watergate. The confidence that it placed in the special prosecutor reflected the hero status that holders of that office had attained for their determined investigation of the misconduct of Nixon and his men. Their successors were expected to shore up the nation’s faith in the continued integrity of the process for enforcing the law against the executive. As a Justice Department official acknowledged during the congressional hearings over the 1978 measure, “[I]n the shadow of Watergate, … the appearance of justice is almost as important as justice itself.”1 However, overuse, and sometimes misuse, of the machinery of investigation, combined with the nation’s increasingly polarized political culture, brought cries of foul play against post-Watergate special prosecutors. Increasingly perceived as a partisan tool in scandal politics, the office lost the credibility it needed to function effectively.


American Politics Attorney General Author Interview Solicitor General Scandal Politics 
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Copyright information

© Michael A. Genovese and Iwan W. Morgan 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Clodagh Harrington

There are no affiliations available

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