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Context of 'February 6, 1974: House Begins Investigation into Impeachment'

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President Richard Nixon writes an action memo to senior aide H. R. Haldeman saying, “One of our most important projects for 1970 is to see that our major contributors funnel all their funds through us.” Haldeman and Commerce Secretary Maurice Stans set up a secret fund-raising enterprise, the “Townhouse Operation,” designed to bypass the Republican National Committee. By doing so, Nixon intends to ensure the GOP will field candidates suitably loyal to him, and reliably opposed to the GOP’s traditional Eastern Establishment base that Nixon so resents. Although George H. W. Bush is a charter member of that Eastern Establishment, Nixon likes and trusts him. Bush is “a total Nixon man,” Nixon once says. “He’ll do anything for the cause.” Bush is the main beneficiary of the slush fund, which is made up of about $106,000 in contributions from Texas GOP sources, but up to 18 other Republican Senate candidates also receive money from the fund. The Wall Street Journal will later lambast Townhouse, calling it a “dress rehearsal for the campaign finance abuses of Watergate, as well as for today’s loophole-ridden system.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 115-116]

Entity Tags: Wall Street Journal, Townhouse Operation, Republican National Committee, H.R. Haldeman, George Herbert Walker Bush, Maurice Stans, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000

Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are discussing their upcoming story documenting the secret Nixon campaign “slush fund” controlled by former Attorney General John Mitchell (see Early 1970 and September 29, 1972) when Bernstein has an epiphany of sorts—a “literal chill going down my neck,” he will recall in 2005. “Oh my God,” he tells Woodward. “The president is going to be impeached.” After a moment, Woodward replies, “Jesus, I think you’re right.” Woodward then says, “We can never use that word in this newsroom.” No one in Congress has broached the subject of impeachment yet, and will not for another year, but neither journalist wants anyone to think that they might have some sort of agenda in their reporting. “Any suggestion about the future of the Nixon presidency could undermine our work and the Post’s efforts to be fair,” Bernstein will later write. The two will later decide not to include this anecdote in their book All the President’s Men (see June 15, 1974), as it would be published during the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment investigation of President Nixon (see February 6, 1974). “To recount it then might have given the impression that impeachment had been our goal all along,” Bernstein will write. “It was not. It was always about the story.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 229-230]

Entity Tags: Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Richard M. Nixon, House Judiciary Committee, John Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Carl Bernstein, Katherine Graham, and Bob Woodward discuss the newspaper’s Watergate coverage.Carl Bernstein, Katherine Graham, and Bob Woodward discuss the newspaper’s Watergate coverage. [Source: Southern Methodist University]The Washington Post reports that John Mitchell, the former attorney general and former head of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), personally controlled a secret Republican “slush fund” used to finance widespread intelligence-gathering operations against the Democratic Party (see Early 1970). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Mitchell had authorized expenditures from the fund beginning in the spring of 1971, while he was attorney general. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 98-103] The fund was originally conceived by White House aide G. Gordon Liddy, who in 1972 came up with what he called “Operation Gemstone,” a $1 million plan to carry out a series of covert and often illegal actions against President Nixon’s political enemies (see January 29, 1972). Mitchell scaled back the budget to $250,000 (at first) to launch a scaled-down version of Gemstone. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Mitchell personally approved a number of withdrawals from the fund, which swelled in size from around $350,000 to $700,000 at any given time. Four others besides Mitchell were later authorized to approve payments from the secret fund. One is Maurice Stans, the former commerce secretary who is now finance chairman of CREEP; the fund was kept in a safe in Stans’s office. A second is Jeb Magruder, the former manager of CREEP who is now deputy director of the organization. A third is a senior White House official involved in the campaign, and the other is a campaign aide based outside of Washington. [Washington Post, 9/29/1972] (Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward are all but convinced that the “senior White House official” is H. R. Haldeman, but they cannot get anyone to go on record to confirm their assumption, and therefore do not print Haldeman’s name in the story.) [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 100]
Mitchell's Explosive Reaction - Mitchell is outraged by the allegations. When Bernstein calls to confirm the story, he explodes: “Jesus!… All that crap, you’re putting it in the paper? It’s all been denied. Katie Graham [Katherine Graham, publisher of the Post] is gonna get caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published. Good Christ! That’s the most sickening thing I’ve ever heard.” (The actual quote, which Post executive editor Ben Bradlee cleans up for public consumption, is, “Katie Graham’s gonna get her t_t caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.”) [Washington Post, 9/29/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 105; Woodward, 2005, pp. 72] Mitchell continues: “You fellows got a great ball game going. As soon as you’re through paying Williams [Edward Bennett Williams, whose law firm represents the Democratic Party, as well as the Post], we’re going to do a story on all of you.” When Bradlee hears of Mitchell’s reaction, he asks if Mitchell was drunk. When Bernstein replies that he doesn’t believe so, and Bradlee confirms that Bernstein properly identified himself as a reporter, Bradlee tells Bernstein to print Mitchell’s reaction. CREEP spokesman Powell Moore tries to persuade Bradlee not to run the Mitchell quote, saying that it wasn’t fair to run the quote because Bernstein woke Mitchell up, and therefore Mitchell’s “composure [was] not guarded.” Bradlee refuses to delete the quote. [Washington Post, 9/29/1972; Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 105-108]
CREEP Denials - Moore later states that neither Mitchell or Stans knows anything about “any disbursement from an alleged fund as described by the Post and neither of them controlled any committee expenditures while serving as government officials.” One of the planners of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), G. Gordon Liddy, withdrew well over $50,000 from the fund. Although records of the fund’s disbursements have been destroyed, other sources indicate that some of the other recipients of the fund include Magruder; Herbert L. “Bart” Porter, CREEP’s scheduling director; several White House officials; and other unidentified persons not officially part of either CREEP or the Nixon administration. Magruder denies ever receiving any such funds. The General Accounting Office has said that such a fund is a “possible and apparent” violation of a new, stricter campaign finance disclosure law. [Washington Post, 9/29/1972]

Entity Tags: Edward Bennett Williams, Carl Bernstein, Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, Committee to Re-elect the President, Powell Moore, General Accounting Office, Katharine Graham, H.R. Haldeman, Herbert L. Porter, Maurice Stans, Jeb S. Magruder, John Mitchell, G. Gordon Liddy

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

White House counsel John Dean begins cooperating with the Watergate prosecutors. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Dean has already been asked to resign and has refused, fearing that President Nixon and his top aides will try to pin the blame for Watergate on him. Shortly after agreeing to cooperate with the investigation, Dean issues a statement making it clear that he is unwilling to be a “scapegoat in the Watergate case.” [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] According to an associate of Dean’s, when Dean told Nixon that he and aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman would have to go to jail to protect the presidency (see March 21, 1973), Nixon seemed resigned to the possibility. But shortly thereafter, Haldeman and Ehrlichman convinced Nixon that Dean could be the “fall guy” for the entire White House. “Instead of agreeing to cooperate, they are still telling [Nixon] that John should walk the plank for all of them. [Nixon] is ready to give John the final shove.” A Nixon campaign official will verify the Dean associate’s account, and say that Dean wanted to be honest, but was following orders from Haldeman and Ehrlichman. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 305] Dean will soon begin sharing evidence that implicates Haldeman and Ehrlichman in the Watergate conspiracy (see June 25-29, 1973). [Washington Post, 5/1/1973]

Entity Tags: John Dean, H.R. Haldeman, Nixon administration, Richard M. Nixon, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

’Newsweek’ cover on the revelation of the White House taping system.’Newsweek’ cover on the revelation of the White House taping system. [Source: Ideobook.net]White House aide Alexander Butterfield shocks the Senate Watergate Committee with his revelation of a secret recording system in the White House. Butterfield reveals that since 1971, President Nixon has been recording every conversation and telephone call in the Oval Office. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Butterfield is actually the aide who, at Nixon’s request, had the taping system installed. [Sussman, 1974] He is now the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Taping System Installed in 1970 at Nixon's Behest - Butterfield says the taping system was installed in the spring or summer of 1970, but corrects his testimony after committee chairman Sam Ervin reads him a letter from Nixon lawyer Fred Buzhardt stating that the first time the system was used was the spring of 1971; Butterfield then says the system was installed at that time (see February 1971). The system was installed and operated by Secret Service agents. Asked why Nixon would have such a system, Butterfield replies, perhaps ingenuously, “There was no doubt in my mind they were installed to record things for posterity, for the Nixon library.” Committee counsel Samuel Dash says the committee will request selected tapes to hear for themselves. Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox is also expected to request some of the tapes. Dash acknowledges that two other Nixon aides, H. R. Haldeman and Lawrence Higby, were also asked about the existence of the taping system, but both have refused to confirm the existence of the device. [Washington Post, 7/17/1973] Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s deputy, Alexander Haig, also knew of the taping system, but Kissinger himself did not know. Former White House counsel John Dean suspected that such a system existed. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 331]
'Small Fry' - Butterfield is described by one reporter as a “small fry,” the man responsible for keeping Nixon’s schedule and handling paper flow. On July 13, three committee staff members prepare Butterfield for his public testimony of July 16. They ask whether there is a White House recording system, but are not prepared for Butterfield’s answer, or the ramifications of his admission. Butterfield makes the same admission three days later, in open testimony before the committee and the television cameras, and in more detail. [Houston Chronicle, 6/7/1997] Butterfield explains his reluctance to discuss the recording system by saying, “It is very obvious that this could be—I cannot say that any longer—is embarrassing to our government.” [Washington Post, 7/17/1973]
No Longer Dean's Word Against Nixon's - During preparation, when the staff members ask Butterfield how the White House could have such detailed knowledge of the conversations, Butterfield replies: “I was hoping you guys wouldn’t ask me that.… Well, yes, there’s a recording system in the White House.” Nixon had had five voice-activated microphones placed in his desk in the Oval Office and two in wall lamps by the office fireplace, Butterfield reveals. More were in the Cabinet Room, Nixon’s “hideaway” office in the Old Executive Office Building, and even at Camp David, the presidential retreat. Before Butterfield’s testimony, Nixon and his top legal advisers felt they could duck and deny the worst charges against them. They feel that much of the Watergate imbroglio boils down to Nixon’s word against White House whistleblower John Dean (who had informed the committee that he suspected a recording system existed), and as Haig, who succeeded Haldeman as Nixon’s chief of staff, told Nixon: “Nobody in Congress likes [Dean]. We can take the son of a b_tch on.” Few in the White House know of Nixon’s secret and extensive taping system. Although senior Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman had told the few aides who do know of the system to invoke executive privilege and refuse to discuss it, Haig quietly told at least one aide, his former deputy Lawrence Higby, to “tell the truth” if asked under oath. Nixon’s lawyers had effectively rebutted Dean’s earlier testimony when Buzhardt secretly supplied a sympathetic Senate lawyer with highly detailed, nearly verbatim accounts of Nixon and Dean’s private conversations—accounts drawn from the secret tapes. Haig will later claim to be “shocked” at Butterfield’s revelation, saying, “It never occurred to me that anyone in his right mind would install anything so Orwellian as a system that never shut off, that preserved every word, every joke, every curse, every tantrum, every flight of presidential paranoia, every bit of flattery and bad advice and tattling by his advisers.” In reality, Haig had known of the system for months before Butterfield’s testimony, and had advised Nixon to have the tapes destroyed before the Watergate prosecutors could get their hands on them. [Washington Post, 7/17/1973; Werth, 2006, pp. 81-82] “Without the tapes,” reporter Mike Feinsilber will write in 1997, “it was unlikely Nixon would have had to give up the presidency.” [Houston Chronicle, 6/7/1997] Butterfield was considered so unimportant that, had Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein not pressured committee lawyers to interview him, the committee may not have bothered with him. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 330-331]

Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, Mike Feinsilber, John Dean, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Lawrence Higby, Alexander Butterfield, Fred Buzhardt, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Richard M. Nixon, Nixon administration

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Rose Mary Woods.Rose Mary Woods. [Source: Genevieve Naylor / Corbis]A gap of 18 and ½ minutes is found on the tape of a conversation between President Nixon and his aide, H. R. Haldeman, from June 20, 1972 (see July 13-16, 1973). Nixon lawyer Fred Buzhardt says he has no explanation for “the phenomenon.” Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, denies any deliberate erasure. But electronics experts will eventually find that the tape has been deliberately erased at least five separate times. White House chief of staff Alexander Haig will blame “some sinister force” for the erasure.
Watergate Discussed - Former Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox’s subpoena of the tape (see July 23-26, 1973) says that “there is every reason to infer that the meeting included discussion of the Watergate incident.” That supposition is bolstered by previous testimony from former White House aide John Ehrlichman (see July 24, 1973). Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski says he is considering having all the remaining Watergate tapes placed under guard to prevent any further tampering. [Washington Post, 11/22/1973; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Three Suspects - Evidence later shows that only three people could have made the erasure: Woods; Stephen Bull, Nixon’s assistant; and Nixon himself. [Reston, 2007, pp. 33]
Washington Post Learns of Gap - Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learned of “deliberate erasures” in the first week of November from his FBI source, W. Mark Felt (see May 31, 2005). White House sources confirmed that the tapes were often of poor quality, and that some inadvertent gaps existed, but, as press secretary Ron Ziegler tells Woodward’s colleague Carl Bernstein, to say that those gaps were deliberate would be “inaccurate.” When the deliberate gap is reported, Ziegler calls Bernstein to say that he did not know about the gap beforehand. Neither Bernstein nor Woodward doubt Ziegler—by this time, it is obvious that Nixon’s paranoia and penchant for secrecy extends even to the most trusted members of his staff. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 333-334]
Symbolic - In 2005, Woodward will write: “The missing 18 1/2-minute gap soon becomes a symbol for Nixon’s entire Watergate problem. The truth had been deleted. The truth was missing.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 103]

Entity Tags: Rose Mary Woods, Stephen Bull, Richard M. Nixon, W. Mark Felt, Leon Jaworski, Ron Ziegler, H.R. Haldeman, Archibald Cox, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., John Ehrlichman, Carl Bernstein, Fred Buzhardt, Bob Woodward

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Peter Rodino.Peter Rodino. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]The House of Representatives authorizes the House Judiciary Committee to begin investigating whether grounds exist to impeach President Nixon. The Judiciary Committee is chaired by Peter Rodino (D-MI). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, House Judiciary Committee, Peter Rodino

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Special prosecutor Leon Jaworski issues a subpoena for 64 formerly secret Watergate tapes (see July 13-16, 1973). The case will be decided in the Supreme Court (see July 24, 1974). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Jaworski also demands information concerning:
bullet The possible “sale” of ambassadorships to large campaign contributors (see March-April 1972);
bullet The Nixon administration’s settlement of the ITT antitrust lawsuit (see 1969);
bullet The White House’s negotiation with milk producers to artificially inflate prices in return for campaign contributions (see March 23, 1971);
bullet President Nixon’s notes on his daily news summaries;
bullet Former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman’s records on his dealings with the “Plumbers” (see July 20, 1971);
bullet Other Nixon conversations concerning the Watergate cover-up; and
bullet The location of the tape containing the 18 1/2 minute gap (see November 21, 1973) during the time when Nixon claimed the tapes were in his custody. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 607]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Leon Jaworski, John Ehrlichman, International Telephone and Telegraph, Nixon administration, ’Plumbers’, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

President Nixon still refuses to hand over the tapes subpoenaed by the Watergate special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski (see April 16, 1974). Instead, Nixon provides more edited transcripts of the tapes to the House Judiciary Committee. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Transcripts Prove His Innocence, Nixon Claims - A summary of the tapes, written by White House officials, says that the transcripts prove Nixon’s innocence. “In all of the thousands of words spoken,” the summary says, “even though they often are unclear and ambiguous, not once does it appear that the president of the United States was engaged in a criminal plot to obstruct justice.” [Washington Post, 5/1/1974] Shortly after the release of the transcripts, Nixon appears on television with a pile of looseleaf notebooks—the transcripts, which he says he has personally compiled—and says: “In these transcripts, portions not relevant to my knowledge or actions with regard to Watergate are not included, but everything that is relevant is included—the rough as well as the smooth—the strategy sessions, the exploration of alternatives, the weighing of human and political costs. As far as what the president personally knew and did with regard to Watergate and the cover-up is concerned, these materials—together with those already made available—will tell it all.… I want there to be no question remaining about the fact that the president has nothing to hide in this matter.” [White House, 4/29/1974; White House, 4/29/1974; White House, 4/29/1974; White House, 4/29/1974; Washington Post, 2007] “As far as the president’s role with regard to Watergate is concerned,” Nixon claims, “the entire story is there.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 608] He rails against the idea of impeaching him (see February 6, 1974), saying that the charges are based on “[r]umor, gossip, innuendo, [and] accounts from unnamed sources,” and implicitly accuses former White House counsel John Dean of lying about his involvement in the Watergate cover-up (see April 6-20, 1973). The 18 ½ minute erasure on one of the key tape recordings (see November 21, 1973) is “a mystery” to him, Nixon asserts. The nation must move past Watergate to deal with more serious matters, he says. [Washington Post, 2007]
Reaction Divided - Reaction on Congress is divided largely along party lines. House Minority Leader John Rhodes (R-AZ) says the transcripts show Nixon is “in substantial compliance” with a Judiciary Committee subpoena. Speaker of the House Carl Albert (D-FL) has a different view: “Why substitute other evidence when the direct evidence [the actual tapes] is available?” [Washington Post, 5/1/1974]
Transcripts Heavily Edited, Doctored - It quickly becomes evident that the transcripts have been heavily edited and altered, both to clean up Nixon’s language and to cloak the details of the events documented in the tapes. Only 11 of the 64 conversations cited in the subpoenas are present, and those have been doctored. The term “expletive deleted” quickly enters the political and popular lexicon, and even with much of the profanity and ethnic slurs deleted, the impression given by the transcripts is not popular with the American people; in the words of reporter Mike Feinsilber, the transcripts show Nixon “as a vengeful schemer—rambling, undisciplined, mean-spirited and bigoted.” Even the edited transcripts document Nixon participating in discussions about raising blackmail money and “laundering” payments, offering clemency or parole to convicted Watergate figures, discussing how to handle perjury or obstruction of justice charges, and debating how best to use the term “national security” to advance his own personal and political agendas. In one conversation, Dean says that one of their biggest problems is that they are not “pros” at the kinds of activities they are engaging in: “This is the sort of thing Mafia people can do.” Nixon replies: “That’s right.… Maybe it takes a gang to do that.” The Judiciary Committee immediately joins the special prosecutor in demanding the actual tapes. [Washington Post, 5/1/1974; Houston Chronicle, 6/7/1999; Reeves, 2001, pp. 608]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, John Dean, Carl Albert, John Rhodes, Mike Feinsilber, Leon Jaworski, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Cover for ‘All the President’s Men.’Cover for ‘All the President’s Men.’ [Source: Amazon (.com)]Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward publish the book All the President’s Men, documenting their 26-month coverage of the Watergate scandal. The Post will win a Pulitzer Prize for its Watergate reporting and the book will be made into an Oscar-winning film of the same name. Between the book and the film, All the President’s Men will become the touchstone for defining the complex, multilayered Watergate conspiracy. [Washington Post, 1996]

Entity Tags: Washington Post, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

August 8, 1974: Nixon Resigns Presidency

Richard Nixon announcing his resignation to the country.Richard Nixon announcing his resignation to the country. [Source: American Rhetoric.com]President Richard Nixon, forced to resign because of the Watergate scandal, begins his last day in office. The morning is marked by “burn sessions” in several rooms of the White House, where aides burn what author Barry Werth calls “potentially troublesome documents” in fireplaces. Nixon’s chief of staff, Alexander Haig, is preparing for the transition in his office, which is overflowing with plastic bags full of shredded documents. Haig says all of the documents are duplicates. Haig presents Nixon with a one-line letter of resignation—“I hereby resign the office of president of the United States”—and Nixon signs it without comment. Haig later describes Nixon as “haggard and ashen,” and recalls, “Nothing of a personal nature was said… By now, there was not much that could be said that we did not already understand.” Nixon gives his resignation speech at 9 p.m. [White House, 8/8/1974; White House, 8/8/1974; American Rhetoric, 2001; Werth, 2006, pp. 3-8] On August 7, Haig told Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski that Congress would certainly pass a resolution halting any legal actions against Nixon. But, watching Nixon’s televised resignation speech, Jaworski thinks, “Not after that speech, Al.” Nixon refuses to accept any responsibility for any of the myriad crimes and illicit actions surrounding Watergate, and merely admits to some “wrong” judgments. Without some expression of remorse and acceptance of responsibility, Jaworski doubts that Congress will do anything to halt any criminal actions against Nixon. [Werth, 2006, pp. 30-31] Instead of accepting responsibility, Nixon tells the nation that he must resign because he no longer has enough support in Congress to remain in office. To leave office before the end of his term “is abhorrent to every instinct in my body,” he says, but “as president, I must put the interests of America first.” Jaworski makes a statement after the resignation speech, declaring that “there has been no agreement or understanding of any sort between the president or his representatives and the special prosecutor relating in any way to the president’s resignation.” Jaworski says that his office “was not asked for any such agreement or understanding and offered none.” [Washington Post, 8/9/1974]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, Leon Jaworski, Richard M. Nixon, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Barry Werth

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 team for David Frost, in the midst of marathon interviews with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976), has a week to prepare for the upcoming four-hour interview sessions on Watergate (see April 6, 1977).
Countering the 'Other Presidents Did It, Too' Defense - Researcher James Reston Jr. tackles Frost’s possible response to what Reston feels will be Nixon’s last line of defense: that what he did was simply another instance in a long line of presidential misconduct. “Nixon nearly persuaded the American people that political crime was normal,” investigative reporter Jack Anderson had told Nixon biographer Fawn Brodie, a line that haunts Reston. Brodie gives Reston a study commissioned by the House Judiciary Committee (see February 6, 1974) and authored primarily by eminent Yale historian C. Vann Woodward, a study examining the history of presidential misdeeds from George Washington through Nixon. The study was never used. Brodie says that Frost should quote the following from Woodward’s introduction to Nixon: “Heretofore, no president has been proved to be the chief coordinator of the crime and misdemeanor charged against his own administration as a deliberate course of conduct or plan. Heretofore, no president has been held to be the chief personal beneficiary of misconduct in his administration or of measures taken to destroy or cover up evidence of it. Heretofore, the malfeasance and misdemeanor have had no confessed ideological purposes, no constitutionally subversive ends. Heretofore, no president has been accused of extensively subverting and secretly using established government agencies to defame or discredit political opponents and critics, to obstruct justice, to conceal misconduct and protect criminals, or to deprive citizens of their rights and liberties. Heretofore, no president had been accused of creating secret investigative units to engage in covert and unlawful activities against private citizens and their rights.” Frost will ultimately not use the quote, but the quote helps Reston and the other researchers steer their course in preparing Frost’s line of questioning.
Frost Better Prepared - As for Frost, he is much more prepared for his interrogation of Nixon than he has been in earlier sessions, prepped for discussing the details of legalities such as obstruction of justice, corrupt endeavor, and foreseeable consequence. Nixon undoubtedly thwarted justice from being served, and Frost intends to confront him with that charge. Reston worries that the interview will become mired in legalities to the point where only lawyers will gain any substantive information from the session. [Reston, 2007, pp. 112-114]

Entity Tags: James Reston, Jr, Richard M. Nixon, Jack Anderson, Fawn Brodie, C. Vann Woodward, David Frost, House Judiciary Committee

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Time magazine cover from May 9, 1977 touting the Frost/Nixon interviews.Time magazine cover from May 9, 1977 touting the Frost/Nixon interviews. [Source: Time]Former President Richard Nixon meets with his interviewer, David Frost, for the first of several lengthy interviews (see Early 1976). The interviews take place in a private residence in Monarch Bay, California, close to Nixon’s home in San Clemente. One of Frost’s researchers, author James Reston Jr., is worried that Frost is not prepared enough for the interview. The interview is, in Reston’s words, a rather “free-form exercise in bitterness and schmaltz.”
Blaming Associates, Justifying Actions, Telling Lies - Nixon blames then-chief of staff H. R. Haldeman for not destroying the infamous White House tapes (see July 13-16, 1973), recalls weeping with then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger over his resignation, and blames his defense counsel for letting him down during his impeachment hearings (see February 6, 1974). His famously crude language is no worse than the barracks-room speech of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, he asserts. Frost shows a film of Nixon’s farewell address to the nation (see August 8, 1974), and observes that Nixon must have seen this film many times. Never, Nixon says, and goes on to claim that he has never listened to or watched any of his speeches, and furthermore had never even practiced any of his speeches before delivering them. It is an astonishing claim from a modern politician, one of what Nixon biographer Fawn Brodie calls “Unnecessary Nixon Lies.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 81-91] (In a 1974 article for Harper’s, Geoffrey Stokes wrote that, according to analysis of transcripts of Nixon’s infamous Watergate tape recordings by a Cornell University professor, Nixon spent nearly a third of his time practicing both private and public statements, speeches, and even casual conversations.) [Harper's, 10/1974]
Nixon Too Slippery for Frost? - During the viewing of the tape, Nixon’s commentary reveals what Reston calls Nixon’s “vanity and insecurity, the preoccupation with appearance within a denial of it.” After the viewing, Nixon artfully dodges Frost’s attempt to pin him down on how history will remember him, listing a raft of foreign and domestic achievements and barely mentioning the crimes committed by his administration. “What history will say about this administration will depend on who writes the history,” he says, and recalls British prime minister Winston Churchill’s assertion that history would “treat him well… [b]ecause I intend to write it.”
Reactions - The reactions of the Frost team to the first interview are mixed. Reston is pleased, feeling that Nixon made some telling personal observations and recollections, but others worried that Frost’s soft questioning had allowed Nixon to dominate the session and either evade or filibuster the tougher questions. Frost must assert control of the interviews, team members assert, must learn to cut Nixon off before he can waste time with a pointless anecdote. Frost must rein in Nixon when he goes off on a tangent. As Reston writes, “The solution was to keep the subject close to the nub of fact, leaving him no room for diversion or maneuver.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 81-91]

Entity Tags: Geoffrey Stokes, David Frost, Fawn Brodie, Dwight Eisenhower, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, James Reston, Jr, Henry A. Kissinger, Richard M. Nixon, H.R. Haldeman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

After 14 hours (of the allotted 24) of the Nixon/Frost interviews (see Early 1976), most of the Frost research team feels that former President Richard Nixon has gotten the best of interviewer David Frost. Nixon has largely been allowed to expound at length on his many self-proclaimed triumphs in foreign policy until the last few sessions, and except for brief moments where Frost tried to corner Nixon over his Vietnam and Cambodia policies, Nixon has escaped with his reputation not only untarnished, but likely even somewhat burnished.
Frost Enabling Nixon's Resurrection? - After the day’s interview (see April 6, 1977), many on Frost’s research team lambast him for not pressing the point that Nixon’s arguments contravene almost everything the US stands for. (One television technician wisecracks after the first round of interviews, “If he keeps talking like that, I may vote for him.”) Team member Robert Zelnick tells Frost, “You sound like two old chums, sitting around a pork barrel, talking about a bowling game, rather than about the incredible divisiveness that Nixon himself deliberately caused.” Frost defends himself by saying that Nixon “admitted what we wanted him to,” but Zelnick retorts: “But how is the audience to know? You have to state the opposite view.” Frost’s producer John Birt adds: “Sniping at him is not good enough anymore. The absurdity of his position must be underlined. If you don’t respond to the absurdity, then it appears as if you not only accept his view, but endorse it.” Frost’s afternoon session with Nixon is more challenging, and later some observers categorize the Huston Plan interview as, in the words of author James Reston Jr., “the most damaging period in all the Nixon interviews” (see April 6, 1977).
Intensive Preparation - But Frost’s team is not satisfied. With a week’s break before the next interview, the team decides to push Frost to prepare more intensively for the upcoming Watergate interview sessions. Reston will later note that the Watergate sessions “had to be solid gold. Otherwise the series was dead—commercially as well as substantively. Did Frost realize the jeopardy we were in now? Worse than that: if Nixon’s guilt and his authoritarian impulses were not clearly demonstrated, Frost would take an equivalent position in the history of television to that of Nixon in the history of politics. The epitaph would read, He paid $1 million for Nixon’s resurrection.[Time, 5/30/1977; Reston, 2007, pp. 102-105]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, James Reston, Jr, Robert Zelnick, David Frost, John Birt

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

David Frost, the British interviewer conducting a series of interviews with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976), spends four hours over three days hammering at Nixon over his involvement in the Watergate conspiracy (see April 13, 1977. April 13, 1977, April 13, 1977, April 15, 1977, and April 15, 1977). His first question is, “With the perspective of three years now, do you feel that you ever obstructed justice or were part of a conspiracy to obstruct justice?”
Wrestling with Proteus - James Reston, Jr., part of Frost’s research team, later notes that the four hours of interviews as edited for later broadcast becomes what “has been called a television epic. It had all the elements of high drama (and occasional high comedy). The tension started high and built towards an almost unbearable, climactic breaking point. It pitted a feisty, beautifully informed inquisitor (see April 7-12, 1976), playing his surprise cards and rehearsed lines masterfully, aware, finally, of his duty as a surrogate prosecutor, aware of the imperative to prove the guilt that all assumed, creatively using the ploys of judicious contempt and reverse patronizing and deadly humor to reduce his intimidating adversary to apology and mawkishness.” Reston finally comes to believe what he has been saying for weeks, that Frost is “the best man in the world for this ultimate task, far better than any American journalist on the scene.” Frost wrestles with Nixon, the “virtuoso of deception” whom he compares to the shape-changing Greek god Proteus, and ultimately pins him down. [Encyclopedia Mythica, 4/10/2001; Reston, 2007, pp. 116-118]
Opening Arguments - Nixon dodges the opening question and tries to redefine “Watergate” as just about every illegal, immoral, or questionable action he had performed as president. “Watergate means all of the charges that were thrown at me during the period before I left the presidency,” Nixon says. But instead of accepting Nixon’s definition and spending four hours touching on the surface of each allegation—mentioning it, letting Nixon deny or evade the charges, then moving on, as most American journalists might well have done—Frost homes in on the Watergate conspiracy itself. When Frost begins listing the crimes and unethical actions committed by Nixon’s underlings, Nixon turns to obfuscation: “You have lumped together a number of charges, and I can’t vouch for the accuracy of them.” (Reston later writes, “So facts became charges” in Nixon’s characterization of events.) Nixon asks for Frost’s sources for each charge, but Frost refuses to respond to the question. [Reston, 2007, pp. 116-118]

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

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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