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Context of 'January 1, 1975: Watergate ‘Big Three’ Convicted'

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In a conversation about Watergate with senior aide Charles Colson, President Nixon says: “When I’m speaking about Watergate, though, that’s the whole point, where this tremendous investigation rests. Unless one of the seven [burglars] begins to talk. That’s the problem.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 43-44] Colson and Nixon want to decide how to limit the exposure of top White House aides to the Congressional inquiry (see February 7, 1973), perhaps by allowing access to lower-level officials. Nixon says: “You can let them have lower people. Let them have them. But in terms of the people that are direct advisers to the president, you can say they can do it by written interrogatories, by having [Senate Watergate Committee head Senator Sam] Ervin and the two counsels conduct interrogatories. But don’t go up there on television (see May 17-18, 1973).” Colson believes “it’s a good compromise,” and Nixon goes on to say that he has considered not letting anyone testify, but “I’m afraid that gives an appearance of total cover-up, which would bother me a bit.… You let them have some others.… That’s why you can’t go. The people who have direct access to the president can’t go.” Later in the conversation, Colson makes a bold suggestion: “The other point is, who did order Watergate? If it’s gonna come out in the hearings, for God’s sakes, let it out now.… Least get rid of it. Take our losses.” Nixon asks: “Well, who the hell do you think did this? Mitchell [referring to John Mitchell, the former head of the Nixon re-election campaign]? He can’t do it. He’ll perjure himself. He won’t admit it. Now, that’s the problem. Magruder [Jeb Magruder, Mitchell’s former deputy]?” “I know Magruder does,” Colson says. Nixon responds, “Well, then he’s already perjured himself, hasn’t he?” Colson replies, “Probably.” Nixon knows what to do if and when he or either of his top two aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, are called to testify. “In the case of Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and me, the only three you can probably do this with, they should either be written interrogatories or appointive-type things where they list out some highly specific areas. And that’s it and not beyond that. If they try to get beyond that, you just stonewall it or you just don’t remember something when you don’t have to.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 196-199]

Entity Tags: Sam Ervin, Charles Colson, H.R. Haldeman, Jeb S. Magruder, John Ehrlichman, Richard M. Nixon, John Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

President Nixon and his senior political aide, Charles Colson, discuss the Watergate conspiracy and how the White House should handle it. Nixon says, “A cover-up is the main ingredient.” Colson agrees, “That’s the problem.” Nixon continues: “That’s where we gotta cut our losses. My losses are to be cut. The president’s losses got to be cut on the cover-up deal.” Nixon will not admit to knowing anything about a cover-up until March 23, when he will claim to have been told for the first time about a cover-up by White House counsel John Dean (see March 21, 1973). Author James Reston Jr. calls this conversation, and that of the day before (see February 13, 1973), examples of Nixon and his aides’ “very good gangster talk,” and writes that “there could not be more classic evidence of the president wriggling, maneuvering, scheming to escape the reach of the law.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 43-44] Nixon is not so worried about his former campaign chairman, John Mitchell. He “has a great stone face” and a “convenient memory,” he and Colson agree. Colson is fairly sure if burglar E. Howard Hunt begins talking to the Watergate prosecutors, he will “limit the losses,” but neither are fully convinced of Hunt’s commitment to silence. [Reston, 2007, pp. 199-200]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, John Dean, James Reston, Jr, E. Howard Hunt, John Mitchell, Charles Colson

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

September 8, 1974: Ford Pardons Nixon

Ford delivering the televised address in which he announces the pardon of Nixon.Ford delivering the televised address in which he announces the pardon of Nixon. [Source: Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum]At 11:01 a.m., President Ford delivers a statement announcing the pardon of former President Richard Nixon to a bank of television cameras and reporters. He calls Watergate and Nixon’s travails “an American tragedy in which we have all played a part.” He says that to withhold a pardon would subject Nixon, and the country, to a drawn-out legal proceeding that would take a year or more, and “[u]gly passions would again be aroused.” The American people would be even more polarized, and the opinions of foreign nations towards the US would sink even further as the highly public testimonies and possible trial of Nixon played out on television and in the press. It is doubtful that Nixon could ever receive a fair trial, Ford says. But Nixon’s fate is not Ford’s ultimate concern, he says, but the fate of the country. His duty to the “laws of God” outweigh his duty to the Constitution, Ford says, and he must “be true to my own convictions and my own conscience. My conscience tells me clearly and certainly that I cannot continue to prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed.… [O]nly I, as president, have the constitutional power to firmly shut and seal this book.… I do believe with all my heart and mind and spirit that I, not as president, but as a humble servant of God, will receive justice without mercy if I fail to show mercy.” Nixon and his family have “suffered enough,” Ford continues, “and will continue to suffer no matter what I do.” Thereby, Ford proclaims a “full, free and absolute pardon upon Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he… has committed or may have committed or taken part in” duiring his presidency. On camera, Ford signs the pardon document. [Werth, 2006, pp. 320-321]

Entity Tags: Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The Senate votes 55-24 to pass a resolution opposing any more Watergate pardons (see September 8, 1974) until defendants can be tried, rendered a verdict, and exhaust their appeals process, if appropriate. The House of Representatives passes two resolutions asking the White House to submit “full and complete information and facts” regarding the pardon for former President Richard Nixon. [Werth, 2006, pp. 332] In the following months, Congress, angry at the crimes that engendered the pardon, will impose restrictions on the presidency designed to ensure that none of President Nixon’s excesses can ever again take place, a series of restrictions that many in the Ford White House find objectionable. None object more strenuously than Deputy Chief of Staff Dick Cheney. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 28]

Entity Tags: US Congress, Ford administration, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

President Ford names outgoing chief of staff Alexander Haig to be supreme allied commander in Europe, provoking an outcry in Congress and unprecedented demands that Haig be confirmed for the post by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) says, “I’d like to put him under oath to learn his role in the Nixon pardon” (see September 8, 1974). Haig will not be compelled to testify before the committee, but he weathers another scare, this one from inside the White House. Haig is told by former Nixon White House lawyer Fred Buzhardt, who now works for Ford, that the group preparing Ford for his upcoming House testimony on the pardon (see Mid-October 1974) has “prepared sworn testimony for the president that could very well result in your indictment,” as Haig will later write. Haig storms to the White House, reads the testimony, and demands an immediate audience with Ford. White House staffers refuse him. Haig then threatens to announce his knowledge of “a secret effort by Ford people to hurry Nixon out of the presidency behind Ford’s back.” Haig gets the meeting. He learns that Ford has not read the testimony, and decides that Buzhardt’s threat is hollow. [Werth, 2006, pp. 335-336]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, William Proxmire, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Fred Buzhardt, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Mid-October 1974: Ford Denies Any Pardon Deal

President Ford testifies before a House subcommittee about his pardon of President Nixon (see September 8, 1974). When told, “People question whether or not in fact there was a deal” between Nixon and Ford—the presidency traded for a pardon—Ford replies, “There was no deal, period, under no circumstances.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 333] Ford’s testimony is “only the second time in history that the president had ever done that,” Deputy Chief of Staff Dick Cheney will later recall, marveling at Ford’s near-unprecedented agreement. Cheney is incorrect; not only did Abraham Lincoln testify before the House Judiciary Committee in 1862 about a news leak, but both George Washington and Woodrow Wilson had also testified before Congress. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 28]

Entity Tags: Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

H. R. Haldeman testifying to Congress in July 1973. Haldeman’s testimony was damaging to all four defendants.H. R. Haldeman testifying to Congress in July 1973. Haldeman’s testimony was damaging to all four defendants. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Former Nixon aides John Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman, and John Mitchell, along with former Mitchell aide Robert Mardian, are convicted of various Watergate-related crimes, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice, fraud, and perjury. Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Mitchell receive sentences of two to eight years in prison; Mardian will be given a sentence of ten months to three years. They immediately appeal their convictions on the grounds that they could not receive a fair trial because of the massive publicity surrounding Watergate. This was the same argument President Nixon’s lawyers used to influence President Ford’s decision to pardon Nixon (see September 8, 1974). The appeals court will reject the contention. [New York Times, 2/16/1999; Werth, 2006, pp. 334]
Ehrlichman Asks for Leniency - All four will write letters to Judge John Sirica asking for leniency in sentencing. The only letter that is made public is Ehrlichman’s; he writes of his “profound regret” for his role in the Watergate conspiracy, and adds: “I have been found to be a perjurer. No reversal on appeal can remove the stigma.” Ehrlichman asks that he be allowed to spend his sentence working with the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, using his legal talents to help them with land-use problems. Sirica will ignore the letter in his sentencing. Sirica will also ignore Haldeman’s argument that he only did the bidding of his boss, President Nixon, and that since Nixon never served jail time, neither should Haldeman. Mitchell, mired in divorce proceedings from his wife, says of the sentence: “It could have been a hell of a lot worse. They could have sentenced me to spend the rest of my life with Martha Mitchell.” [Time, 3/3/1975]
'Abdicated My Moral Judgments' - Reflecting on his conviction and his conduct during the Nixon years, Ehrlichman will say in 1977: “I abdicated my moral judgments and turned them over to somebody else. And if I had any advice for my kids, it would be never—to never, ever—defer your moral judgments to anybody: your parents, your wife, anybody.” [New York Times, 2/16/1999]

Entity Tags: Robert Mardian, John Sirica, John Mitchell, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Martha Mitchell, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Publicity photo for the Frost/Nixon interviews.Publicity photo for the Frost/Nixon interviews. [Source: London Times]British interviewer and entertainer David Frost makes a deal with former President Richard Nixon to undertake 24 hours of interviews on a wide range of topics, with six hours each on foreign policy, domestic affairs, Watergate, and a loosely defined “Nixon the Man” interview. Frost intends that the centerpiece of the interviews to be the Watergate session. Nixon agrees to a free, unfettered set of interviews in return for over a million dollars in appearance fees. [Reston, 2007, pp. 13-17] (Other sources say that Nixon will be paid $600,000 plus 20% of the profits from the broadcast, which are expected to top $2 million.)
Frost Seen as Unlikely Interviewer - There is also considerable skepticism about the choice of Frost as an interviewer; he is better known as a high-living entertainer who likes to hobnob with celebrities rather than as a tough interrogator. His primary experience with politics is his hosting of the BBC’s celebrated 1960s satirical show That Was the Week That Was. Frost outbid NBC for the rights to interview Nixon, and after all three American television networks refuse to air the shows, Frost has to cobble together an ad hoc group of about 140 television stations to broadcast the interviews. Frost will recall in 2007, “We were told, ‘Half the companies you’re approaching would never have anything to do with Nixon when he was president, and the other half are trying to make people forget that they did.’” [Time, 5/9/1977; Washington Post, 4/30/2007] Interestingly, when the Nixon team began negotiating for the interviews in July 1975, they made a point of not wanting any “real” investigative journalists to conduct the interviews—in fact, they considered offering the interviews to American television talk show host Merv Griffin. [Time, 5/9/1977] The interviews are to be done in segments, three sessions a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, for two weeks in the spring of 1977. [National Public Radio, 6/17/2002]
Nixon Team Wants Focus Away from Watergate - While Nixon agrees that six hours of interviews will be on the topic of Watergate, his team wants to define “Watergate” as almost anything and everything negative about the Nixon presidency—not just the burglary and the cover-up, but abuses of power at the IRS, CIA, and FBI, Nixon’s tax problems, the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971), disputed real estate sales, the sale of ambassadorships (see March-April 1972), the enemies list (see June 27, 1973), and the Huston Plan (see July 14, 1970). The hope is that Frost’s focus will become diluted and fail to focus on the Watergate conspiracy itself. The hope will not be fulfilled (see April 13-15, 1977).
Frost's Investigative Team - Frost begins hiring a team of investigators and experts to prepare him for the interviews, including author and journalist James Reston Jr. [Time, 5/9/1977] , a self-described “radical” who had worked to win amnesty for US citizens who had avoided the draft, and views Nixon as a contemptible figure who, despite his resignation (see August 8, 1974), remains “uncontrite and unconvicted.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 7/22/2007] Other members of Frost’s research team are Washington journalist and lawyer Robert Zelnick, freelance writer Phil Stanford, and London TV news executive John Birt, who will produce the interviews. Zelnick will play Nixon in the briefing sessions, going so far as mimicking Nixon’s mannerisms and hand gestures. For his part, Nixon had almost completed his own meticulous research of his presidency for his upcoming memoirs, and is quite conversant with his facts and defense strategies. Nixon’s team of aides includes his former White House military aide Colonel Jack Brennan, chief researcher Ken Khachigian, former speechwriter Ray Price, former press assistant (and future television reporter) Diane Sawyer, and former aide Richard Moore. [Time, 5/9/1977]
Nixon's Perceived 'Sweetheart Deal' - In his 2007 book on the interviews, The Conviction of Richard Nixon (written largely in 1977 but unpublished for thirty years), Reston will write that Nixon surely “saw the enterprise as a sweetheart deal. He stood to make a lot of money and to rehabilitate his reputation.” Nixon harbors hopes that he can make a political comeback of one sort or another, and apparently intends to use Frost—best known for conducting “softball” interviews with celebrities and world leaders alike—as his “springboard” to re-enter public service. But, as Reston later observes, Nixon will underestimate the researchers’ efforts, and Frost’s own skill as a television interviewer. [Reston, 2007, pp. 13-17, 84] Time will describe Nixon in the interviews as “painful and poignant, sometimes illuminating, usually self-serving.” [Time, 5/9/1977]

Entity Tags: NBC, Phil Stanford, Merv Griffin, Richard Moore, Ray Price, Ken Khachigian, James Reston, Jr, Richard M. Nixon, John Birt, David Frost, Jack Brennan, Robert Zelnick, Diane Sawyer

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The research staff for British interviewer David Frost, preparing for his upcoming interviews with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976), finds transcripts of two conversations between Nixon and his then-aide Charles Colson from February 1973 (see February 13, 1973 and February 14, 1973) in a batch of documents surrounding the prosecution of the Watergate burglars (see January 1, 1975). Former Watergate prosecutors Richard Ben-Veniste and George Frampton, informally advising the Frost research team, are both keenly interested in the transcripts. “You’ve got something no one else has,” Frampton says. “These transcripts must have been placed in the official exhibit by a clerical error.” The two explain the significance of the conversations between Nixon and Colson: they place Nixon directly in the plot to cover up the Watergate conspiracy six weeks before Nixon says he first learned of it. Frampton shows researcher James Reston Jr. just how he would have used the conversations against Nixon in court, while Ben-Veniste instructs Reston on how Frost should interrogate Nixon as a hostile witness. Frost should ask something like, “Is it still your position, Mr. Nixon, that between 21 March and 30 April, 1973, you acted to stop the cover-up and prosecute the guilty?” When Nixon answers yes, Frost should follow, “But in fact, as late as 16 April, 1973, you were working out ‘scenarios’ with Ehrlichman and Haldeman to make John Dean the Watergate scapegoat, weren’t you?” Other questions to ask include, “By what right were you offering campaign money for the defense of your associates who were charged in a criminal conspiracy?” and “Isn’t it really true that you never made any effort before 21 March to learn the details of a criminal activity that you knew was going on all around you?” [Reston, 2007, pp. 50-51]

Entity Tags: James Reston, Jr, Charles Colson, George Frampton, John Dean, David Frost, Richard Ben-Veniste, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Interviewer David Frost has a difficult time with his subject, former President Richard Nixon, in the day’s early questioning (see April 6, 1977). Frost attempts to recoup with a line of questioning suggested by his adviser James Reston, Jr., one used in the trial of former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman (see January 1, 1975). Were there no limits to what a president can do, even if the president wants to do something plainly illegal? he asks. Could he do anything despite the law? Burglary? Forgery? Even murder? “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal,” Nixon retorts. “Never had his imperialism been so baldly stated,” Reston will later reflect. Frost asks if the dividing line between, for example, a police burglary and the murder of an antiwar protester is only the president’s judgment? Nixon agrees, and adds: “There’s nothing specific that the Constitution contemplates in that respect. I haven’t read every word, every jot and every tittle, but I do know this: That it has been, however, argued that as far as a president is concerned, that in war time, a president does have certain extraordinary powers which would make acts that would otherwise be unlawful, lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the nation and the Constitution, which is essential for the rights we’re all talking about.” [Time, 5/30/1977; Reston, 2007, pp. 102-105; Landmark Cases, 8/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, David Frost, James Reston, Jr, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

April 13, 1977: Frost Pins Tape Erasure on Nixon

In his first interview session with former President Richard Nixon about Watergate (see April 13-15, 1977), David Frost asks about what then-chief of staff H. R. Haldeman knew on June 20, 1972 (see June 20, 1972), when he and Nixon discussed Watergate in the conversation that would later be erased from Nixon’s secret recordings (see November 21, 1973).
Avoiding Questions - Nixon tries to accuse Frost of putting words in his mouth; Frost refuses to be baited. Nixon then uses diversion, addressing not the June 20 conversation, but instead spinning out a discourse focusing on his lack of advance knowledge of the break-in and accusing the media of pinning unwarranted blame on him. Frost lets him speak, then focuses again on the conversation: “So we come back to, what did Haldeman tell you during the eighteen-and-a-half minute gap?” Nixon dodges the known material in that conversation—the suggested “public relations offensive” to evade criticism and investigation of the burglary, and instead says that he and Haldeman were worried that the Democrats had bugged the Executive Office Building.
Questions about Stennis's Hearing - He tries to segue into a digression about charges of Democratic eavesdropping from the 1950s, but Frost pulls him back, and asks why he offered to allow only one senator, Mississippi Democrat John Stennis (see October 19, 1973), to hear the tapes. Stennis was “alas, partially deaf and very old.” Frost notes that the sound quality of the tapes was often poor, and adds, “If you and [Nixon’s personal secretary] Rose Mary Woods could not hear them clearly, Senator Stennis was not an ideal choice.” Nixon tries to turn Frost’s question into a challenge to Stennis’s intellect and even his integrity, but Frost repeats: “His hearing is crucial. You’ve just said so.” Nixon retorts that he has never noticed a problem with Stennis’s hearing, and even if Stennis had hearing problems, “[a]fter all, there’s an invention called hearing aids…” Frost is clearly enjoying Nixon’s marked discomfiture, but is unaware that he is making a gaffe of his own: Stennis has, by all accounts, perfectly good hearing. However, Nixon knows nothing of Frost’s error, and writhes under Frost’s relentless questioning about Stennis’s alleged inability to adequately hear everything on the tapes. (Frost’s gaffe will not be noticed at the time and will first be revealed in James Reston Jr.‘s 2007 book on the interviews, The Conviction of Richard Nixon.)
Who Erased the Tape? - Frost focuses on the question of who exactly erased the June 20 tape. It has been determined that only three people could have possibly erased the tape: Stephen Bull, Nixon’s assistant; Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s secretary; and Nixon himself. No one was ever indicted for the crime of destruction of evidence because Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski was unable to determine who of the three might have actually performed the erasure. Nixon tells Frost that it could have been rogue Secret Service agents who erased the tape, but that charge falls flat under its own weight of implausibility. Bull had offered to take a lie detector test in denying that he erased the tape. And if Woods had erased the tape, it would have undoubtedly been by accident. The tape was subjected to at least five separate manual erasures, making an accidental erasure unlikely at best. That leaves Nixon as the most likely suspect. Nixon refuses to admit to erasing anything, and Frost says, “So you’re asking us to take an awful lot on trust, aren’t you?”
Avoiding Perjury Charges - After further dodging and weaving, Nixon finally falls back on a legal reason why he won’t answer the question: he had already testified under oath to a grand jury that he had not erased the tape; that Woods most likely erased the tape by accident. Being pardoned for his crimes during his presidency by Gerald Ford (see September 8, 1974) wouldn’t cover his lying under oath after his resignation, he says, and he isn’t going to give a jury a chance to charge him with perjury. [Reston, 2007, pp. 118-122]
Interview Airs in May - This interview will air on US television stations on May 4, 1977. [Television News Archive, 5/4/1977]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Stephen Bull, John Stennis, James Reston, Jr, David Frost, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, H.R. Haldeman, Leon Jaworski, Rose Mary Woods

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

James Reston Jr.James Reston Jr. [Source: James Reston, Jr]James Reston Jr., a member of David Frost’s research team for the famous Nixon-Frost interviews (see Early 1976), publishes his book, The Conviction of Richard Nixon, about those debates and their echoes in the actions of the Bush administration. Reston writes that “it might be argued that the post-September 11 domestic abuses find their origin in Watergate. In 1977 the commentators were shocked when Nixon said about his burglaries and wiretaps, ‘If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal’ (see April 6, 1977).… These brazen words… come eerily down to us through the tunnel of the last thirty years.”
Presidential Immunity - Reston writes: “In the area of criminal activity, Nixon argues, the president is immune. He can eavesdrop; he can cover up; he can approve burglaries; he can bend government agencies like the CIA and the FBI to his own political purposes. He can do so in the name of ‘national security’ and ‘executive privilege.’ And when these acts are exposed, he can call them ‘mistakes’ or ‘stupid things’ or ‘pipsqueak’ matters. In the 21st century, Nixon’s principle has been extended to authorizing torture, setting up secret prisons around the world, and ignoring the requirement for search warrants. A president can scrap the Geneva Convention and misuse the Defense Department and lie about the intelligence analyses. He is above the law. This is especially so when the nation is mired in an unpopular war, when the country is divided, when mass protests are in the streets of America, and an American president is pilloried around the world. If Nixon’s words resonate today, so also does the word Watergate.”
Echoes of Nixon and Watergate - Reston continues: “Again the nation is in a failing, elective war. A Nixon successor is again charged with abuse of power in covering up and distorting crucial facts as he dragged the country, under false pretenses, into war. Again secrecy reigns in the White House, and the argument is made that national security trumps all.… In 2007 the issue has returned with a vengeance. And one can become almost wistful in realizing that the period after Watergate brought an era of reform. A campaign finance law was passed; Congress reasserted its control over intelligence activities; and moral codes were enunciated for public officials. National security, the New York Times editorialized after the interviews, was no longer ‘the magic incantation’ that automatically paralyzed inquiry. After September 11, the incantation became magic again. And so, people have asked, after the Bush presidency, who will be his David Frost? It is hard to imagine that there will be one.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 9-10, 180]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, James Reston, Jr, George W. Bush, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Frost, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard M. Nixon, Geneva Conventions

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

President Bush signs the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), a revamping and expansion of the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). The legislation passed the House by a sweeping 293 to 129 votes, with most Democratic Congressional leaders supporting it over the opposition of the more liberal and civil liberties-minded Democrats. Republicans were almost unanimously supportive of the bill. Though Democratic Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT) managed to delay the bill’s passage through the Senate, their attempt to modify the bill was thwarted by a 66-32 margin. (Dodd credits AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) as one of the very few people to make the public aware of the illegal NSA wiretapping program, which the FISA amendment would protect. Without Klein, Dodd states, “this story might have remained secret for years and years, causing further erosion of our rights.”) Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, gave his qualified support to the bill, stating: “Given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as president, I will carefully monitor the program.” Obama had opposed an earlier Senate version that would have given “blanket immunity” to the telecommunications companies for their participation in the illegal NSA wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who organized Democratic support for the bill in the House, said that she supported the bill primarily because it rejects Bush’s argument that a wartime chief executive has the “inherent authority” to conduct some surveillance activity he considers necessary to fight terrorism. It restores the legal notion that the FISA law is the exclusive rule on government spying, she said, and added: “This is a democracy. It is not a monarchy.” Feingold, however, said that the bill granted “retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies that may have engaged in President Bush’s illegal wiretapping program.” The amendments restore many of the provisions of the expired Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) that drastically modify the original FISA legislation and grant the government broad new surveillance powers. Like the PAA, the FAA grants “third parties” such as telecommunications firms immunity from prosecution for engaging in illegal surveillance of American citizens if they did so in partnership with government agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA). [Washington Post, 6/20/2008; CNN, 6/26/2008; US Senate, 7/9/2008; White House, 7/10/2008; Klein, 2009, pp. 95-97] Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) actually refused to honor a “hold” placed on the bill by Dodd, a highly unusual move. Klein will later note that Reid has in the past always honored holds placed on legislation by Republicans, even if Democrats were strongly supportive of the legislation being “held.” Klein will write that Pelosi crafted a “showpiece” FISA bill without the immunity provisions, garnering much praise for her from civil liberties organizations; however, Pelosi’s colleague House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) had secretly worked with the White House to craft a bill that preserved immunity for telecoms, and on June 10, Pelosi “rammed” that bill through the House. The final bill actually requires the judiciary to dismiss lawsuits brought against telecom firms if those firms can produce evidence that they had worked in collusion with the NSA. Feingold later observes that the final bill is not a “compromise, it is a capitulation.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 101-103] Klein will write that Democrats and Republicans have worked together to “unw[ind] one of the main reforms of the post-Watergate era and accepted the outrageous criminal rationalizations of [President] Nixon himself.” Klein will quote Nixon as saying, “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal” (see April 6, 1977), and will say that is “the essence of the FISA ‘compromise’” and turned Congress into the White House’s “rubber stamp.… It is the twisted judicial logic of a dictatorship.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 107]

Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA Amendments Act of 2008, Christopher Dodd, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Mark Klein, Russell D. Feingold, Richard M. Nixon, Harry Reid, Steny Hoyer, National Security Agency, Protect America Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US government’s Nixon Presidential Library begins making the grand jury testimony of former President Richard Nixon available to the public. In June 1975, Nixon testified about his involvement in the Watergate scandal after his resignation (see August 8, 1974) to a California grand jury. Although he was protected by the pardon granted him by his successor, Gerald Ford (see September 8, 1974), he could have been charged with perjury if he lied under oath. No such charges were filed against Nixon. Judge Royce Lambeth ordered the testimony made public in July 2011 over the opposition of the Obama administration, which argued that too many people from the Nixon administration were still alive for secret testimony involving them to be made public. Lambeth wrote, “The court is confident that disclosure will greatly benefit the public and its understanding of Watergate without compromising the tradition and objectives of grand jury secrecy.” The records are available at the California home of the library and online. Historian Stanley Kutler, who was one of the principal figures involved in the lawsuit to bring the testimony to light, says, “This is Nixon unplugged.” However, he adds: “I have no illusions. Richard Nixon knew how to dodge questions with the best of them. I am sure that he danced, skipped, around a number of things.” Nixon’s testimony, conducted for 11 hours over two days, was the first time an ex-president ever testified before a grand jury. The library is also releasing thousands of pages of other Watergate-era documents, several oral histories from that time, and 45 minutes of recordings made by Nixon with a dictating machine. Some portions of the Nixon grand jury testimony have not yet been made public, due to the fact that they deal with people still alive. Some or all of that information may be made public at a future date. Kutler says it is doubtful the public will learn much more about Watergate from the new records: “The grand jury after that testimony had a chance to sit and indict but they did not, so I don’t expect it to be that important.” He adds that the opening of grand jury records is a milestone by itself, “another precedent for opening up secretiveness in public life.” [Associated Press, 11/10/2011] After initially reviewing the transcripts, Kutner says: “It’s Nixon being Nixon. It’s a virtuoso performance. How about $10 for every time he says, ‘I don’t recall’?” [Daily Mail, 11/11/2011] According to reporters who review the transcripts, Nixon spent much of his time before the grand jury defending his legacy as president and denying first-hand knowledge of any of the activities that made up the Watergate scandal, but acknowledging his administration committed some questionable acts. “I want the jury and the special prosecutors to kick the hell out of us for wiretapping and for the plumbers and the rest,” he said, “because obviously, you may have concluded it is wrong.” [Associated Press, 11/11/2011] Nixon reiterated the story that his secretary Rose Mary Woods accidentally erased 18 1/2 minutes of an audiotape that might have shown his complicity in the Watergate conspiracy (see November 21, 1973), saying: “Rose had thought it was four minutes, or something like that. Now the counsel have found that it is 18-and-a-half minutes, and I practically blew my stack.… If you are interested in my view as to what happened, it is very simple. It is that it was an accident.” Nixon was harsh with the Watergate prosecutors, accusing them of persecuting him and employing what he called double standards against him as opposed to his Democratic adversaries. “If I could give one last bit of advice,” he told the prosecutors, “taking the double standard is going to make you much more popular with the Washington press corps, with the Georgetown social set, if you ever go to Georgetown, with the power elite in this country. But on the other hand, think of your children—they are going to judge you in the pages of history.… I mean, I am not unaware of the fact that the great majority of the people working in special prosecutor’s office did not support me for president.” [Daily Mail, 11/11/2011]

Entity Tags: Royce Lambeth, Stanley Kutler, Richard M. Nixon, Nixon administration, Nixon Presidential Library, Obama administration, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Rose Mary Woods

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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