Explore "The Lessons of Watergate" conference

Sponsored by the Common Cause Education Fund

To mark the 40th anniversary of Watergate, Common Cause convened Watergate figures, policy experts, journalists and others on March 13-14 to explore lessons learned from that dramatic period in history, and consider their resonance today as we seek to strengthen our democracy. The result was a full house at the National Press Club in Washington DC as attendees were treated to an insider’s view of Watergate, plus insights into how Watergate reforms are faring, and navigating the challenges we face today. A special reception honored four “Uncommon Heroes” for holding power accountable.

Below you will find video of three of the keynote speakers – John Nichols, Robert Reich and the Hon. Russ Feingold – as well as from two panels featuring prominent Watergate players.

Keynote speeches:

Watergate’s Lessons and Inspirations for Future Reform

John Nichols – Washington correspondent, “The Nation” magazine

Have we come full circle? John Nichols takes a look at the lessons – and inspirations – the Watergate crisis offers. Did we miss opportunities then, and will we seize them now?

Democracy in Crisis, Then and Now

Robert Reich, chairman, Common Cause National Governing Board; Secretary of Labor, Clinton Administration

The Watergate scandal shook the foundation of many Americans' trust in their government and its ability to actively represent them -- concerns that the Citizens United decision and unprecedented voter suppression have sadly revitalized. Robert Reich draws paralells between then and now, and lays out the groundwork for reformers to take back our democracy.

It Takes a Scandal 

Hon. Russ Feingold - Founder, Progressives United, former United States Senator, Wisconsin
From the Watergate debacle, to the scandals that ushered in the McCain-Feingold reforms, to the potential corruption unleashed by the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in Citizens United, Sen. Feingold will share insights on the struggle to confront the corrupting power of big money in elections after Watergate and identify opportunities for advancing a reform agenda in the current political and legal landscape.

Plenary sessions:

Watergate, Abuse of Power

The abuse of Presidential power uncovered 40 years ago tested the strength of our democracy. What happened during Watergate, why was it so important, and what was extraordinary about the response? Panelists will share their perspectives and first-hand accounts of their Watergate experiences, followed by discussion and Q & A.Panelists:


· Hon. Elizabeth Holtzman – member, House Judiciary Committee during Watergate
· Hon. William S. Cohen – member, House Judiciary Committee during Watergate
· Jill Wine-Banks – assistant special prosecutor, Watergate Task Force
· Daniel Ellsberg – military analyst, co-author of the Pentagon Papers

Moderated by Tim Naftali - director, Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, 2007-2011

Congressional Oversight and Media Scrutiny

The actions taken by Congress and the courts and the response of an independent press to uncover the full extent of the Watergate abuses were unprecedented in our nation’s history.


· Francis O’Brien – chief of staff to chair, House Judiciary Committee
· Terry Lenzner – assistant counsel, Senate Watergate Committee
· Jack Farrell – Investigative journalist, “Richard Nixon: An American Tragedy” (forthcoming)

Moderated by Al Hunt – executive Washington editor of Bloomberg News

Uncommon Heroes of Watergate

  • * Hon. William S. Cohen, member, House Judiciary Committee during Watergate; former Defense Secretary under President Clinton,
  • * Hon. John Conyers Jr., member, House Judiciary Committee during Watergate,
  • * Hon Elizabeth Holtzman, member, House Judiciary Committee during Watergate
  • * Francis O'Brien, chief of staff to the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate

    This conference was made possible in part by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.


    Read the conference program here
  • Read the reception program here