The Watergate scandal was a political scandal that occurred in the United States in the 1970s as a result of the June 17, 1972, break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and the Nixon administration's attempted cover-up of its involvement. The scandal eventually led to the resignation of Richard Nixon, the President of the United States, on August 9, 1974 — the only resignation of a U.S. President to date. The scandal also resulted in the indictment, trial, conviction, and incarceration of forty-three persons, dozens of whom were Nixon's top administration officials.
The affair began with the arrest of five men for breaking and entering into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters at the Watergate complex on June 17, 1972. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) connected cash found on the burglars to a slush fund used by the Committee for the Re-Election of the President, the official organization of Nixon's campaign. In July 1973, as evidence mounted against the president's staff, including testimony provided by former staff members in an investigation conducted by the Senate Watergate Committee, it was revealed that President Nixon had a tape-recording system in his offices and he had recorded many conversations.
Recordings from these tapes implicated the president, revealing he had attempted to cover up the questionable (and illegal) goings-on that had taken place after the break-in. After a protracted series of bitter court battles, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the president had to hand over the tapes to government investigators; he ultimately complied.
While granting that the surveillance programs that were leaked by Ed Snowden recently are legal under current U.S. law, I nonetheless find it striking that perhaps the biggest political scandal in U.S. history was rooted in such activities happening on a far smaller scale. I guess it is a step in the right direction that current surveillance activities, being rooted in digital surveillance, have at least rendered the break-in part unnecessary.
I also find it striking that the outrage that was exhibited over that surveillance, and the subsequent cover-up, has not made as much of an appearance during the current scandal. I suppose people get the government they deserve...