Watergate and Irangate were two different types of scandals; the main
thing they had in common was an abuse of executive power.
A summary of the Watergate scandal can be found on this page:
Watergate: The Scandal That Brought Down Richard Nixon
Watergate began with a burglary of Democratic National Committee
offices; the burglars were eventually connected with President Richard
Nixon's re-election campaign. Resulting investigations were heavily
influenced by the reporting of the Washington Post. Dramatic televised
testimony in Congress eventually revealed the existence of audiotapes
made of the president. What finally sealed Nixon's fate was a Supreme
Court decision ordering Nixon to turn over some of the most damning
tapes. The tapes revealed that Nixon was intimately involved in an
obstruction of justice relating to the burglary investigation. Nixon
resigned rather than force a constitutional crisis.
A summary of Irangate can be found on this page:
A year or two after the fact, Congressional investigations showed that
the government had secretly sold weapons to Iran and, in effect,
traded them for hostages held in Lebanon, the profits being used to
support antigovernment guerrillas in Nicaragua. This was a blatant
attempt to get around the so-called Boland Amendment, which prohibited
U.S. financial support for those guerrillas. Ultimately, some high
administration officials were charged and/or convicted of various
crimes, but there never was a "smoking gun" to prove conclusively that
President Ronald Reagan had directed the illegal conduct.
Here are three major differences (other than the result that one
scandal ousted a president, while the other remained popular):
1. Investigations and the furor over the scandal came after the fact
in the case of Irangate; with Watergate, the administration was
already under scrutiny when the blatant misconduct occurred.
2. Watergate involved a breach of fundamental protections in the
justice system. Irangate involved a breaching of policy laid down by
3. Nixon was clearly and unequivocally tied to criminal conduct, while
Reagan was not.
Other differences explain why one scandal resulted in resignation (and
threatened impeachment) while the other did not:
1. Nixon lost the support of his closest Republican allies when it
became clear what he had done. Much of the controversy involving
Reagan was of a partisan nature.
2. Nixon was despised by many people in the country as well as many
leaders in the opposition party. Reagan was personally popular even
among many people who disagreed with his policies.
3. Nixon was elected with a minority of the vote in 1968; although he
won handily in 1972, it was against a candidate viewed as an
extremist. Reagan, on the other hand, was elected by a solid majority.
4. A significant number of people thought that what the Reagan
administration had done was a good thing, because they had never
supported the law that was violated. Some of the key players were (and
still are) viewed as patriots, not criminals.
5. There was a "smoking gun" in the Nixon case but not with Irangate.
6. There was a certain innocence that was lost in Watergate. Many
people (Billy Graham among them) were truly shocked to find out that
Nixon had used naughty words in the White House. By the time Reagan
came along, there was a stronger feeling that the government lies as a
matter of course.
6. Watergate, despite on the complex details of the plot, was fairly
simple to understand. Irangate was much more complicated.
7. Reagan was widely seen as a nice guy and someone who didn't tend to
micromanage. Thus there was some plausibility to the belief that he
hadn't ordered a violation of the law.
Although most of this answer was based on personal recollection, here
are some other sites I looked at in developing my answer:
Presidential Scandals in U.S. History
The American Presidency: Watergate
The American Presidency: Iran-Contra Affair
I hope you find this information fully answers your question.
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