It was a 24-year-old security guard who first noticed something strange that night at the Watergate office complex: a piece of tape on a basement door, preventing it from locking. The guard removed the tape, but when he returned on his next rounds it was back. He called the police. Upstairs, five men were engaged in the most famous dirty trick in American politics – a plot to record conversations and photograph documents at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. The Nixon administration initially dismissed the incident as little more than a “third-rate burglary.” But it was the match that would light a bonfire – one that would forever alter the relationship between the press and politicians, and finally consume a president. The nightly log filled out by the guard now sits in the U.S. National Archives.
Police and telephone men check out the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington after five men were arrested during a break-in attempt. Photo by Ken Feil/Washington Post/Getty Images
The Watergate complex in Washington, DC as seen in this 1972 courtroom evidence photo used to illustrate the proximity of the Howard Johnson’s Hotel (lower left) and the Watergate building. The burglars planned to use bugging equipment to listen in on the Democratic National Committee from the nearby hotel.
Five men are arrested at 2:30 a.m. trying to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate hotel and office complex. From left: Virgilio González, Eugenio Martínez, James McCord, Bernard Barker and Frank Sturgis.
Reporters Bob Woodward, right, and Carl Bernstein, whose reporting of the Watergate case won a Pulitzer Prize, sit in the newsroom of the Washington Post May 7, 1973. Photo by The Associated Press
Actual page from Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward's notebook on June 17, 1972. Just hours after the botched break-in Woodward attended the preliminary hearing for the five men arrested at the Democratic National Committee headquarters starting what would become one of the most tumultuous periods in U.S politics. Woodward and Bernstein Watergate Papers/University of Texas
In this May 13, 1970 photo President Richard Nixon sits at his Oval Office desk as he meets with aides from left: H.R. Haldeman, Dwight Chapin & John Ehrlichman — all three men would go on to be convicted of charges ranging from conspiracy, obstruction and perjury in connection with the incident. Time Life Pictures/The White House
Follow Joanna Slater on Twitter: