Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts Remember Watergate Step by Step

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Sunday marks the anniversary of the Watergate break-in, an event that led to the first-ever resignation of a U.S. president.

For context on the Watergate scandal's major plot points, we turned to ABC's former co-anchors Sam Donaldson, who covered Watergate as a correspondent for ABC News, and Cokie Roberts, who lived abroad in Greece reporting for CBS News during much of the investigation.

Donaldson said that while the individual reporters did good an enterprising works, Watergate also showed an American form of government that could self-correct.

"Whereas the press-certainly Woodward and Bernstein, and to some extent reporters from the New York Times and the L.A. Times and others-helped develop leads, it was the system and the organizations within the system, beginning with the courts" that brought Nixon down, Donaldson said. "Richard Nixon's history for all time, I hope the lede line says, 'First president to resign one step ahead of the sheriff.'"

And Roberts looked to what good came from Watergate.

"Many things happened as a results of Watergate, many of them positive. There was a sense in the country that the president is not above the law. There was a sense that the country's system worked, and there was a sense that the press was vigilant and willing to go after power, even when it could be dangerous, so those were institution-building aspects of Watergate," Roberts said.

Here are how they remember some key moments from the scandal and the aftermath:


Congress holds televised hearings to investigate the Watergate burglary

Cokie Roberts: It was extraordinary. I was living in California at the time, and they mesmerized the nation in a way that nothing in Congress had since the Army-McCarthy years, and they were all over television. People just sat and watched them, and it was dramatic. You had these dramatic moments of [then-senator] Sam Ervin running that committee in this very avuncular fashion, but tough as nails. Of course you had the famous Howard Baker [quote], 'What did the president know and when did he know it?' …

And you had the Alexander Butterfield moment, and the committee knew it was going to happen, but we didn't.

Sam Donaldson: You started out knowing that there was more to this than just an ordinary burglary, and you started out believing that-because it was the Democratic National Committee, that it tied into the people who wanted to help re-elect president Nixon. … But as time started to go on, I must tell you, I did not say to myself, 'Richard Nixon, president of the United States, is covering this up and is a crook and will be found to be doing so and will be removed from the presidency.' … All the reporters I know realized, 'Who knows where this story is going? But it's going to be big one way or another.'


The president reverses his stance and agrees to hand over, to Judge John Sirica, Oval Office recordings of his conversations about Watergate