Nightly News | June 15, 2012
>>> it's hard to believe 40 years have passed since watergate , the scandal that brought down an american president and changed maybe for all time the way americans view their government. tonight our political director and chief white house correspondent chuck todd speaks with one of the five men involved in the original break-in and the reporters who exposed the scandal.
>> i shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.
>> reporter: that's, of course, how watergate ended, but the biggest political scandal in american history began to unfold 40 years ago on june 17th , 1972 , when five men were arrested after breaking into democratic headquarters at the watergate complex . one of those men was eugenio martinez a cuban born cia operative told to look for evidence tying fidel castro to democratic presidential candidate george mcgovern . today at age 90 martinez regrets what he did.
>> the whole thing was one stupid thing after the other. how could i feel proud of it?
>> reporter: martinez and his fellow burglars were being supervised from this command post in room 73 all to make sure nobody was coming on the sixth floor of the watergate where the dnc had its headquarters. democratic operative r. spencer oliver's phone was the only one the burglars successfully tapped. oliver says nixon then used information from the tap to sabotage the democratic primary and ensure george mcgovern 's nomination.
>> it was a major coup by them within the democratic party to weaken it.
>> reporter: at the time the white house tried to dismiss it as a third-rate burglary but "the washington post " reporters began to tie top nixon aides to a massive coverup. white house counsel john dean said nixon told about the coverup. then another bombshell. the revelation of a secret white house taping system. after a long battle the supreme court ordered nixon to turn over the tapes. one crucial tape had an 18 1/2 minute audio gap. what nixon actually said on that tape is the last remaining secret of watergate following the 2005 revelation of deep throat's real identity. four decades later watergate still casts a cultural shadow. a scandal is nothing until the word "gate" is attached to it even in the world of sports. the reporters who exposed watergate say the scandal revealed a president obsessed with keeping power at any costs but its impact had lasted a lot longer.
>> a massive campaign of espionage and sabotage, covert, illegal, unconstitutional.
>> watergate implanted a cynical bomb in american politics that probably will never go away.
>> chuck todd , nbc news, washington.