The Case

The Watergate scandal started on 17 June 1972, when some burglars were detained in the office of the Democratic National Committee which was situated in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C.  This was not an incident of robbery but something related directly to the reelection campaign of then-President Richard Nixon. The burglars were stealing documents and tapping phones. The president then took steps to cover up it aggressively but failed and had to resign in 1974. ( 2018)

It afterward came to light that the President was telling lies and covering up. It was proved that he paid hush money to the burglars few days after the break-in. ( 2018)

Moreover, after the incident, the President and his allies made a plan to instruct the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to hamper the investigation of the crime by the FBI. It was even a more serious crime than the original break-in as it was a deliberate obstruction of justice and the abuse of power. ( 2018)

President Nixon was found guilty because several of his helpers,” including White House counsel John Dean, testified before a grand jury about the president’s crimes; they also testified that Nixon had secretly taped every conversation that took place in the Oval Office. If prosecutors could get their hands on those tapes, they would have proof of the president’s guilt.” ( 2018)

The President then tried to protect the tapes until he was ordered by the supreme court to hand them over. “His lawyers argued that the president’s executive privilege allowed him to keep the tapes to himself, but Judge Sirica, the Senate committee and an independent special prosecutor named Archibald Cox were all determined to obtain them.” ( 2018)

In the meantime, seven conspirators were charged for their involvement in the Watergate Scandal. Five of them pleaded guilty and thus avoided trial whereas the remaining two were convicted in the January 1973. Finally, impeachment proceedings were started and the President had to resign as a result. ( 2018)

This case cast serious doubts about the legal ethics as so many lawyers were involved in the cover-up. It seems that none of them questioned the wrongdoing and keep on working for the reelection campaign for the president because they were not trained to do so. (Hansen 2015)

This essay is written from the point of view of a lawyer who was part of the Nixon’s reelection campaign. John W. Dean III is one of the lawyers brought down by the Watergate Scandal. He was White House counsel when the break-in happened and then he “went on to provide key incriminating testimony to the Senate Watergate Committee.” (Hansen 2015)


The three possible CSR or Ethical objectives could be as follows,

  • Choose to be an ethical leader.
  • Choose to be an unethical leader.
  • Choose to not get involved.

Choose to be an ethical leader is the ideal objective because it would bring in positive change in the society and promote rule of law and fairness. Being a lawyer, the person is expected to uphold the rule of law but being not to become an ethical leader, he would try to interfere with the rule of law. Choosing not to get involved is also not a good option because in this case, is a counsel of the White House, he had to get involved in any case or otherwise, he would have to lose his job. Moreover, he would compromise on rule of law by not getting involved.


A. Environmental

There are certain environmental obstacles that prevented the achievement of above mentioned CSR objective. These are the obstacles which are largely uncontrollable by Mr. Dean. There are corruption links between political parties and police, prosecuting, judicial, and legislative branches of government; and there were no ethical standards among the lawyer community or part of their education that can make people going against unethical practices in the society. The only standards at that time were related to lawyers not participating in any such activity. So, the environment is such that motivates selfish behavior from the lawyers particularly and that is why it is difficult for Mr. Dean to act as an ethical leader.

B. Organizational

There are certain organizational obstacles that prevented the achievement of above mentioned CSR objective. There was a culture of “It’s just a game,” “We keep score by the numbers,” “End of winning justifies the means”. Then the compensation of Mr. Dean also depends upon the satisfaction of the Mr. President otherwise he may have lost his job. So, organizational pressures were immense in this regard.

C. Individual

There are certain individual obstacles as well that prevented the achievement of above mentioned CSR objective. These individual obstacles forced Mr. Dean to take the decision he took. Most importantly, he succumbed to organizational and environmental pressures. Then, he was not trained appropriately to deal with such a situation upholding higher ethical standards. The ethical standards for lawyers at that time were quite low.  If he wants to become an ethical leader, he has to deal with these organizational and environmental pressures and act in the greater public and national interest.

Macro Ethics/ CSR Lead Strategies

The three most appropriate Ethics/ CSR strategies, in this case, our vision and values, top-down power and incentive-based win-win methods.

Top-down powerseems most appropriate option in this case. Values and vision are although important but they are not appropriate because Mr. Dean is not in power and he cannot force White House to change its vision and values as far as democratic practices are concerned.  The win-win method would not have worked as well because he was in no position to negotiate with the President. At best, he can use top-down power strategy where he can choose the following three micro strategies,

– Secretly threaten perpetrator with blowing the whistle inside or outside the organization.

– Secretly blow the whistle inside the organization

-Secretly threaten regulators/media with exposure if they do not do anything about the whistle-blowing information

However, in the end, he had to blow the whistle as President does not seem in the mood to listen to anyone regarding the Watergate Scandal and had already fired several allies in attempts to cover up. He may have done the same with Mr. Dean as well.

The only viable option for him is thus to choose the macro-strategy of whistle blowing outside the organization to media perhaps so that they can expose the illegal practice going on inside the white house. This micro-strategy is better than threatening the President as he was in no position to do so. Moreover, blowing the whistle inside the organization would again have no benefits because everyone seemed to be on the President Nixon’s side.

Why May The Plan Fail?

The primary plan of applying whistle blowing strategy to achieve the objective of being ethical leader may fail because Media may refuse to act on the information either due to being biased or because Nixon allies have used campaign funds to shut their mouths as well, in the same way, they have paid burglars. In this case, the media would take no action and instead, the people at media may inform Nixon about what is going on. Mr. Dean may have to face negative consequences as a result, including dismissal from his counsel role. In this case, he would need to choose some alternative method to achieve his goal of ethical leadership.

Contingency Plan

If primary Macro and Micro methods of whistle blowing does not work and media does not act on the news to motivate regulators to act against the crime, then Mr. Dean has to choose an alternative way to fulfill his objective of being an ethical leader in his profession.

The other suitable macro method is using the Win-lose method. Win lose method is better than win-win method because the President would have nothing to win or gain in case he does not commit the crime ( as he actually wants to gain an unfair advantage to win the election and by not doing the crime, he may not be able to win the election at all). He is in no position to write organizational rules and regulations for the White House and can only provide counseling. So the Top-down approach would not have worked either. In this case, the only feasible alternative macro method win-lose macro method. The three micro strategies for this purpose are as follows,

-Parity building alliance-exposure-transparency inside or outside the organization with the power manager, media, regulator-prosecutor.

-Networking with other less powerful

-And Research and data based exposure of conflicts of interest between special interest lobbying and the common good.

In this instance, the networking with other less powerful group is the best option. This is because, in this way, all the lawyers can refuse to work for the white house and then they can also arrange protests against the white house and the President with the help of other lawyers. As the media would have already refused to help them (as the primary strategy of whistle blowing is already failed), so it is of no use of building alliance with the media and outside the organization. However, Supreme Court can take the action and so the network of lawyers and other interested less powerful parties, they can go to court against the president and thus upholding the higher ethical standards and become an ethical leader.


Watergate Scandal is a series of events started in the late 60’s and ended with the resignation of President Nixon. It was a case of suppressing and blocking justice and abuse of presidential power. President Nixon used his power to not only tape the phones of the White House but other political party leaders as well but when the issue came to light, he also tried to cover up the issue. Current essay evaluates the role of Mr. Dean, a lawyer and the counsel of White house at the time of the break-in and who later went on to provide key incriminating testimony to the Senate Watergate Committee.

The ethical objective he may choose to achieve is becoming an ethical leader in the situation as opposed to behaving unethically, as he actually did and not doing anything about it. There are organizational, environmental and individual obstacles to the achievement of this objective. There was corruption in the political parties and there were very low ethical standards for the lawyers. Then the compensation of Mr. Dean depends on Mr. Nixon, the President and he personally failed to cope up with the organizational and environmental pressures. The Macro strategy he may choose, top-down power and the micro-strategy he may choose is whistleblowing. This micro-strategy is better than threatening the President as he was in no position to do so. Moreover, blowing the whistle inside the organization would again have no benefits because everyone seemed to be on the President Nixon’s side whereas other strategies may not have worked that well.

This plan may fail if President can use funds to bribe the media or if the media is biased. In this case, Mr. Dean needs to use Win lose macro strategy of Ethical leadership and by networking with another less powerful group to raise voice.

This case provides insights about the abuse of power and how media and awareness can play role in upholding the higher ethical standards. Then through the application of CSR/ Ethical leadership policies, we also learned how such a situation can be handled in an ethical manner. Moreover, we learned from the case that how ethical standards and state of democracy in a nation can improve due to people taking a stand against illegal and unethical practices and by upholding and prevailing justice.


Watergate Scandal (2018). Retrieved from:

Hansen, M (2015). 1965-1974: Watergate and the rise of legal ethics. Retrieved from:

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