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Context of 'April 15, 1977: Nixon: ‘I Have Impeached Myself’'

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In his conversation with chief of staff H. R. Haldeman about White House counsel John Dean’s phony “Dean Report,” which will say that no one in the White House was involved in the Watergate conspiracy (see March 22, 1973), President Nixon says: “[The report] should lay a few things to rest. I didn’t do this, I didn’t do that, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da. Haldeman didn’t do this. Ehrlichman didn’t do that. Colson didn’t do that. See?” (Reston 2007, pp. 42-43)

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). (Stern and Johnson 5/1/1973)

At Camp David, White House press secretary Ron Ziegler tells White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman that President Nixon is considering resigning. Haldeman replies: “That’s not going to happen. He’s just steeling himself to meet with us (see April 24, 1973). He’s creating a big crisis he can’t meet, so that he can meet the lesser crisis of dealing with us.” When the two meet with Nixon, Haldeman is shocked at how bad Nixon looks. Standing on the porch of the Aspen Lodge, Nixon, looking at the spring foliage, says, “I have to enjoy this because I may not be alive much longer.” Nixon says he prayed last night not to wake up this morning. A horrified Haldeman tries to reassure Nixon that he accepts Nixon’s decision to ask for his resignation. “What you have to remember,” he says, “is that nothing that has happened in the Watergate mess has changed your mandate in the non-Watergate areas. That is what matters. That is what you do best.” Nixon then meets with White House aide John Ehrlichman and tells Ehrlichman the same thing he told Haldeman—that he prayed not to wake up in the morning. “Don’t think like that,” Ehrlichman says. Nixon begins to cry. “This is like cutting off my arms,” he says. “You and Bob, you’ll need money. I have some—Bebe [Rebozo, Nixon’s millionaire friend] has it—and you can have it.” Ehrlichman replies: “That would just make things worse. You can do one thing for me, though, sometime. Just explain all of this to my kids, will you?” When Ehrlichman leaves, Ziegler joins Nixon in the lodge and Nixon says, “It’s all over, Ron, do you know that?” Ziegler knows Nixon means his presidency. Later, Nixon tells his speech writer, Ray Price, who is working on Nixon’s announcement of the resignations of Haldeman and Ehrlichman (see April 30, 1973): “Maybe I should resign, Ray. If you think so just put it in” the speech. Nixon walks towards the swimming pool, and Price stays close behind him, fearing that Nixon might attempt to drown himself. (Reeves 2001, pp. 600-602)

Washington Post headline from Dean story.Washington Post headline from Dean story. [Source: Washington Post]Former White House counsel John Dean has told Watergate investigators that he discussed the Watergate cover-up with President Nixon at least 35 times (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007) between January and April of 1973, according to sources quoted by the Washington Post. Dean plans on testifying to his assertions in the Senate Watergate hearings (see May 17-18, 1973), whether or not he is granted immunity from prosecution. He will also allege that Nixon himself is deeply involved with the Watergate cover-up. Nixon had prior knowledge of payments used to buy the silence of various Watergate conspirators, and knew of offers of executive clemency for the conspirators issued in his name. Dean has little solid evidence besides his own personal knowledge of events inside the White House.
Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Nixon Central Figures in Cover-Up - Dean will testify that two of Nixon’s closest aides, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman (see April 30, 1973), were also present at many of the meetings where the cover-up was discussed in Nixon’s presence. The White House, and Haldeman and Ehrlichman, have tried to portray Dean as the central figure in the Watergate conspiracy, and the Justice Department says there is ample evidence to indict Dean for a number of crimes related to the cover-up. Dean and his supporters paint Dean as a White House loyalist who merely did what he was told, until he began agonizing over the effect Watergate was having on Nixon. Dean alleges that Nixon asked him how much the seven Watergate defendants (see June 17, 1972) would have to be paid to ensure their silence, aside from the $460,000 already paid out; when Dean replied that the cost would be around $1 million, Nixon allegedly replied that such a payoff would be no problem. Dean has told investigators that later Nixon insisted he had been merely “joking” about the payoff. Dean says by that time—March 26—Nixon knew that Dean would be cooperating with the Watergate investigation, and that he believes Nixon was trying to retract the statement for his own legal well-being.
Pressured to Confess - Dean has also testified that Nixon tried to force him to sign a letter of resignation that would have amounted to a confession that Dean had directed the Watergate cover-up without the knowledge of Nixon, Haldeman, or Ehrlichman. When Dean refused to sign, he says, Nixon warned him “in the strongest terms” never to reveal the Nixon administration’s covert activities and plans. Dean also says that Nixon personally directed the White House’s efforts to counterattack the press over Watergate (see October 16-November, 1972). Until January 1, Dean has told investigators, he usually reported to Haldeman and Ehrlichman regarding his Watergate-related activities, but after that date Nixon began taking more of an active role in dealing with Dean, and gave Dean direct orders on handling the cover-up.
Reliable Witness - Dean has so far met eight times with the Watergate prosecutors, and twice with the chief legal counsel of the Senate Watergate committee, Samuel Dash. Dash and the prosecutors find Dean a compelling and believable witness. “[E]verything we have gotten from Dean that we were able to check out has turned out to be accurate,” says one Justice Department source. Dean says he tried without success to obtain records that would support his allegations in his final days in the White House, and believes that many of those records may have been destroyed by now. Dean did manage to remove some secret documents before his firing, documents that prompted Nixon to recently admit to “covert activities” surrounding Watergate. Dean’s information has already led to the revelation of the burglary of the office of Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see September 9, 1971), and to the resignation of FBI director L. Patrick Gray after Gray was found to have destroyed evidence taken from the safe of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt (see June 28, 1972). (Bernstein and Woodward 6/3/1973)

John Dean being sworn in by committee chairman Sam Ervin.John Dean being sworn in by committee chairman Sam Ervin. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]In five days of explosive testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee, former White House counsel John Dean claims that President Nixon was personally involved with the cover-up of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972 and June 3, 1973) within days of the crime. Dean gives a seven-hour opening statement detailing a program of political and campaign espionage activities conducted by the White House in recent years. He also tells the committee that he believes Nixon has tape-recorded some of the conversations regarding the Watergate conspiracy (see July 13-16, 1973). Dean tells the committee that he has White House documents detailing elements of the conspiracy in a safe-deposit box, and has given the keys to that box to Judge John Sirica, the judge overseeing the Watergate prosecutions. (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007) Dean, described by Time Magazine as “owlish” and speaking “in a lifeless monotone,” nevertheless displays “impressive poise and a masterly memory” as he “sp[ins] his detailed web of evidence. He readily admit[s] his own illegal and improper acts. But he emerge[s] unshaken from five full days of recital and cross examination, with his basic story challenged but intact.” Without a convincing rebuttal, it would be difficult for either the committee or the nation to believe that Nixon “was not an active and fully aware participant in the Watergate cover-up, as Dean charged.”
Implicates Nixon Aides - While Dean admits that he had no first-hand knowledge of Nixon’s complicity until September 1972, he directly implicates Nixon’s two most senior aides at the time, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, of what Time calls “multiple actions in the Watergate coverup,” as well as former Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell.
White House-Sourced Questioning of Dean Backfires - An initial White House attempt at rebutting Dean’s testimony, consisting of a statement and a list of questions drawn up by White House counsel Fred Buzhardt, are “easily handled” by Dean, and even backfires, to the point where the White House disavows any involvement in the material, saying that they were “Buzhardt’s friendly personal contribution to the proceedings.” The questions attempt to portray Dean as the “mastermind” behind the Watergate conspiracy, with Mitchell his “patron.” Time writes, “Creating a constitutional crisis almost alone, the Buzhardt statement in effect charge[s], Dean and Mitchell kept the truth of all that concealed for some nine months from such shrewd White House officials as H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Charles W. Colson—and the president.” But few on the committee find Buzhardt’s contention believable, considering the increasing amount of evidence to the contrary.
Testimony Details 'Climate of Fear' at White House - As yet much of Dean’s testimony remains uncorroborated, but, Time writes: “even if those facts leave many unconvinced of Nixon’s complicity in Watergate, Dean’s dismaying description of the climate of fear existing within the Nixon White House is almost as alarming as the affair that it spawned. With little regard for the law and under repeated proddings by the president himself. Dean contended, the Nixon staff used or contemplated using almost any available tactic to undermine political opponents, punish press critics, subdue antiwar protesters and gather political intelligence, including lists of ‘enemies’” (see June 27, 1973). Overall, Dean says, the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) was “the first act in a great American tragedy” and he finds it “very difficult” to testify about what others, including “men I greatly admire and respect,” had done. He finds it easier to admit to his own crimes. (Time 7/9/1973)

August 16, 1972 front page of the Washington Post, reporting on Nixon’s address.August 16, 1972 front page of the Washington Post, reporting on Nixon’s address. [Source: Southern Methodist University]President Nixon delivers his second prime-time televised speech about Watergate to the nation. He says that both the Senate investigations have focused more on trying to “implicate the president personally in the illegal activities that took place,” and reminds listeners that he has already taken “full responsibility” for the “abuses [that] occurred during my administration” (see April 30, 1973). But in light of the increasing evidence being revealed about the Watergate conspiracy, Nixon’s speech is later proven to be a compilation of lies, half-truths, justifications, and evasions.
'No Prior Knowledge' - He again insists that “I had no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in; I neither took part in nor knew about any of the subsequent cover-up activities; I neither authorized nor encouraged subordinates to engage in illegal or improper campaign tactics. That was and that is the simple truth.” He says that in all the Senate testimony, “there is not the slightest suggestion that I had any knowledge of the planning for the Watergate break-in.” He says only one witness has challenged his statement under oath, referring to former White House counsel John Dean (see April 6-20, 1973) and June 25-29, 1973), and says Dean’s “testimony has been contradicted by every other witness in a position to know the facts.” Instead, says Nixon, he insisted from the outset that the investigation into the Watergate burglary be “thorough and aboveboard,” and if there were any evidence of “higher involvement, we should get the facts out first.” A cover-up would be unconscionable, he says. He again insists that he was told in September 1972 that an FBI investigation, “the most extensive investigation since the assassination of President Kennedy… had established that only those seven (see June 17, 1972) were involved.” Throughout, Nixon says, he relied on the reports of his staff members, Justice Department, and FBI officials, who consistently reassured him that there was no involvement by anyone in the White House in the burglaries. “Because I trusted the agencies conducting the investigations, because I believed the reports I was getting, I did not believe the newspaper accounts that suggested a cover-up. I was convinced there was no cover-up, because I was convinced that no one had anything to cover up.”
Internal Investigation - He didn’t realize that those assurances were wrong until March 21, when he “received new information from [Dean] that led me to conclude that the reports I had been getting for over nine months were not true.” He immediately launched an internal investigation (see August 29, 1972), initially relying on Dean to conduct the investigation, then turning the task over to his senior aide, John Ehrlichman, and to the Attorney General, Richard Kleindienst. The results prompted him to give the case to the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, ordering the complete cooperation of “all members of the administration.” He never tried to hide the facts, Nixon asserts, but instead has consistently tried “to discover the facts—and to lay those facts before the appropriate law enforcement authorities so that justice could be done and the guilty dealt with.”
Refusal to Turn over Tapes; 'Privileged' Communications - Nixon says he is resisting subpoenas to turn over the secret recordings he has had made of White House and other conversations (see July 13-16, 1973) because of “a much more important principle… than what the tapes might prove about Watergate.” A president must be able to talk “openly and candidly with his advisers about issues and individuals” without having those conversations ever made public. These are “privileged” conversations, he says, similar to those between a lawyer and his client or “a priest and a penitent.” The conversations between a president and his advisers, Nixon says, are “even more important.” The conversations on those tapes are “blunt and candid,” made without thought to any future public disclosure, and for future presidents and their advisers to know that their conversations and advice might one day be made public would cripple their ability to talk freely and offer unfettered opinions. “That is why I shall continue to oppose efforts which would set a precedent that would cripple all future presidents by inhibiting conversations between them and those they look to for advice,” he says. “This principle of confidentiality of presidential conversations is at stake in the question of these tapes. I must and I shall oppose any efforts to destroy this principle.”
'Hard and Tough' Politics - Watergate has come to encompass more than just a burglary, Nixon says, but has brought up issues of partisan politics, “enemy lists” (see June 27, 1973), and even threats to national security. Nixon has always run “hard and tough” political campaigns, but has never stepped outside the law and “the limits of decency” in doing so. “To the extent that these things were done in the 1972 campaign, they were serious abuses, and I deplore them,” he says. The “few overzealous people” involved in the Watergate burglary should not reflect on his administration or the political process as a whole. He will “ensure that one of the results of Watergate is a new level of political decency and integrity in America—in which what has been wrong in our politics no longer corrupts or demeans what is right in our politics.”
Legal Wiretapping to Protect the Nation - The measures he has taken to protect the security of the nation have all been within the law and with the intention of protecting the government from possible subversion and even overthrow, he asserts. The wiretaps he authorized had been legal, he says, until the 1972 decision by the Supreme Court that rejected such wiretaps as unlawful (see June 19, 1972). Until then, Nixon says, he—like his predecessors—had implemented such wiretaps “to protect the national security in the public interest.” Since the Supreme Court decision, he says, he has stopped all such surveillance efforts. But the law must be mindful of “tying the president’s hands in a way that would risk sacrificing our security, and with it all our liberties.” He will continue to “protect the security of this nation… by constitutional means, in ways that will not threaten [American] freedom.”
The Fault of the Radicals - He blames the antiwar and civil rights movements of the 1960s as encouraging “individuals and groups… to take the law into their own hands,” often with the praise and support from the media and even from “some of our pulpits as evidence of a new idealism. Those of us who insisted on the old restraints, who warned of the overriding importance of operating within the law and by the rules, were accused of being reactionaries.” In the wake of this radical, anti-government atmosphere, the country was plagued by “a rising spiral of violence and fear, of riots and arson and bombings, all in the name of peace and in the name of justice. Political discussion turned into savage debate. Free speech was brutally suppressed as hecklers shouted down or even physically assaulted those with whom they disagreed. Serious people raised serious questions about whether we could survive as a free democracy.” That attitude permeated political campaigns, to the extent that “some persons in 1972 adopted the morality that they themselves had tightly condemned and committed acts that have no place in our political system… who mistakenly thought their cause justified their violations of the law.”
Looking Forward - It is time to put Watergate behind us, Nixon says, to abandon this “continued, backward-looking obsession with Watergate” and stop “neglect[ing] matters of far greater importance to all of the American people.… The time has come to turn Watergate over to the courts, where the questions of guilt or innocence belong. The time has come for the rest of us to get on with the urgent business of our nation.” (Nixon 8/15/1973; Nixon 8/15/1973; Nixon 8/15/1973; AMDOCS Documents for the Study of American History 6/1993; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007)

Richard Nixon announcing his resignation to the country.Richard Nixon announcing his resignation to the country. [Source: American]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. (Nixon 8/8/1974; Nixon 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.” (Kilpatrick 8/9/1974)

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)

Former President Richard Nixon is nearly 20 minutes late for his second Watergate interview with David Frost (see April 13-15, 1977 and April 13, 1977). Neither Frost nor his team of researchers realize how rattled Nixon is from the last session. Frost begins the interview by asking about the so-called “Dean report” (see March 20, 1973), the results of John Dean’s “internal investigation” of the Watergate conspiracy. Dean’s report would have served two purposes: it would hopefully have removed suspicion from any White House officials as to their involvement in the conspiracy, and, if it was ever pulled apart and shown to be a compendium of lies and evasion, would have pointed to Dean as the central figure in the conspiracy. Dean never wrote the report, but instead became a witness for the prosecution (see April 6-20, 1973. June 3, 1973, and June 25-29, 1973). Since Dean never wrote the report, Frost asks Nixon why he told the deputy attorney general, Henry Peterson, that there was indeed such a report (Nixon had called it “accurate but not full”). Astonishingly, Nixon asserts that Dean did write the report, and that it indeed showed no “vulnerability or criminality on the part of the president… so let’s not get away from that fact.” Frost sees Nixon’s vulnerability. Frost asks when he read the report. Caught, Nixon backs off of his assertion, saying that he “just heard that ah… that he had written a report… ah… the… that… ah… he… ah… ah, considered it to be inadequate.” Frost researcher James Reston, Jr. later writes, “[Nixon] was firmly skewered. His face showed it. His gibberish confirmed it.”
Ehrlichman's Report - Frost moves on to another report on Watergate by former aide John Ehrlichman, the so-called “modified, limited hangout,” and the offer of $200,000 in cash to Ehrlichman and fellow aide H. R. Haldeman for their legal fees. Nixon had told the nation that Ehrlichman would produce an informative and factual report on Watergate, even though he knew by then that Ehrlichman was himself heavily involved in the conspiracy (see August 15, 1973). “That’s like asking Al Capone for an independent investigation of organized crime in Chicago,” Frost observes. “How could one of the prime suspects, even if he was the Pope, conduct an independent inquiry?” Instead of answering the question, Nixon ducks into obfuscation about what exactly constitutes a “prime suspect.”
Nixon Begins to Crack - Reston later writes that, looking back on the interview, it is at this point that Nixon begins to “crack” in earnest. Frost has cast serious doubts on Nixon’s veracity and used Nixon’s own words and actions to demonstrate his culpability. Now Frost asks a broader question: “I still don’t know why you didn’t pick up the phone and tell the cops. When you found out the things that Haldeman and Ehrlichman had done, there is no evidence anywhere of a rebuke, but only of scenarios and excuses.” Nixon responds with what Reston calls a long, “disjointed peroration… about Richard the Isolated and Richard the Victimized… Nixon was desperate to move from fact to sentiment.” But Nixon is not merely rambling. Woven throughout are mentions of the guilt of the various White House officials (but always others, never Nixon’s own guilt), apology, mistakes and misjudgments. Clearly he is hoping that he can paint himself as a sympathetic figure, victimized by fate, bad fortune, and the ill will of his enemies. (Haldeman is so outraged by this stretch that he will soon announce his intention to tell everything in a book—see February 1978; Ehrlichman will call it a “smarmy, maudlin rationalization that will be tested and found false.”) Nixon says he merely “screwed up terribly in what was a little thing [that] became a big thing.”
Crossroads - Frost tries to ease an admission of complicity from Nixon—perhaps if hammering him with facts won’t work, appealing to Nixon’s sentimentality will. “Why not go a little farther?” Frost asks. “That word mistake is a trigger word with people. Would you say to clear the air that, for whatever motives, however waylaid by emotion or whatever you were waylaid by, you were part of a cover-up?” Nixon refuses. Behind the cameras, Nixon staffer Jack Brennan holds up a legal pad with the message “LET’S TALK” (or perhaps “LET HIM TALK”—Reston’s memory is unclear on this point). Either way, Frost decides to take a short break. Brennan hustles Reston into a room, closes the door, and says, “You’ve brought him to the toughest moment of his life. He wants to be forthcoming, but you’ve got to give him a chance.” He wouldn’t confess to being part of a criminal conspiracy, and he wouldn’t admit to committing an impeachable offense. Nixon’s staff has been arguing for days that Nixon should admit to something, but Brennan and Reston cannot agree as to what. Reston later writes that Nixon is at a personal crossroads: “Could he admit his demonstrated guilt, express contrition, and apologize? Two years of national agony were reduced to the human moment. Could he conquer his pride and his conceit? Now we were into Greek theater.” When the interview resumes, Nixon briefly reminisces about his brother Arthur, who died from meningitis at age seven. Was Frost using the story of his brother to open Nixon up? “We’re at an extraordinary moment,” Frost says, and dramatically tosses his clipboard onto the coffee table separating the two men. “Would you do what the American people yearn to hear—not because they yearn to hear it, but just to tell all—to level? You’ve explained how you got caught up in this thing. You’ve explained your motives. I don’t want to quibble about any of that. Coming down to sheer substance, would you go further?” Nixon responds, “Well, what would you express?” Reston will later write, “Every American journalist I have ever known would shrivel at this plea for help, hiding with terror behind the pose of the uninvolved, ‘objective’ interviewer. The question was worthy of Socrates: Frost must lead Nixon to truth and enlightenment.” Frost gropes about a bit, then lists the categories of wrongdoing. First, there were more than mere mistakes. “There was wrongdoing, whether it was a crime or not. Yes, it may have been a crime, too. Two, the power of the presidency was abused. The oath of office was not fulfilled. And three, the American people were put through two years of agony, and… I think the American people need to hear it. I think that unless you say it, you’re going to be haunted for the rest of your life…”
Apology and Admission - Nixon’s response is typically long, prefaced with a rambling discussion of his instructions to speechwriter Ray Price to include his own name with those of Haldeman’s and Ehrlichman’s in the speech announcing their resignations “if you think I ought to” (see April 29, 1973), a litany of all the good things he did while president, and a short, bitter diatribe against those who had sought to bring him down. He never committed a crime, he insists, because he lacked the motive for the commission of a crime.
Terrible Mistakes - But all this is prelude. Nixon shifts to the core of the issue: he had made terrible mistakes not worthy of the presidency. He had violated his own standards of excellence. He deliberately misled the American people about Watergate, he admits, and now he regrets his actions. His statements were not true because they did not go as far as they should have, and “for all of those things I have a deep regret… I don’t go with the idea that what brought me down was a coup, a conspiracy. I gave ‘em the sword. They stuck it in and twisted it with relish. I guess if I’d been in their position, I’d’a done the same thing.” Nixon will not, or perhaps cannot, plainly admit that he broke the law in working to conceal the facts surrounding Watergate, but he does admit that after March 21, 1973, he failed to carry out his duties as president and went to “the edge of the law.… That I came to the edge, I would have to say that a reasonable person could call that a cover-up.” Reston notes that Nixon has just admitted to a standard of guilt high enough for a civil court if not a criminal court. But Nixon isn’t done. (Reston 2007, pp. 137-155)
Calls Resigning a 'Voluntary Impeachment' - “I did not commit, in my view, an impeachable offense,” he says. “Now, the House has ruled overwhelmingly that I did. Of course, that was only an indictment, and it would have to be tried in the Senate. I might have won, I might have lost. But even if I had won in the Senate by a vote or two, I would have been crippled. And in any event, for six months the country couldn’t afford having the president in the dock in the United States Senate. And there can never be an impeachment in the future in this country without a president voluntarily impeaching himself. I have impeached myself. That speaks for itself.” Resigning the presidency (see August 8, 1974), he says, was a “voluntary impeachment.” (Guardian 9/7/2007)
Reactions - Frost and his researchers are stunned at Nixon’s statements, as will the millions be who watch the interview when it is broadcast. (Reston 2007, pp. 137-155) In 2002, Frost will recall, “I sensed at that moment he was most the vulnerable he’d ever be, ever again. It seemed like an almost constitutional moment with his vulnerability at that point.… I hadn’t expected him to go as far as that, frankly. I thought he would have stonewalled more at the last stage. I think that was probably one of the reasons why it was something of a catharsis for the American people at that time that he had finally faced up to these issues, not in a court of law, which a lot of people would have loved to have seen him in a court of law, but that wasn’t going to happen. So—he’d been pardoned. But faced up in a forum where he was clearly not in control and I think that’s why it had the impact it did, probably.” (National Public Radio 6/17/2002) Not everyone is impressed with Nixon’s mea culpa; the Washington Post, for one, writes, “He went no further than he did in his resignation speech two and a half years ago,” in a story co-written by Watergate investigative reporter Bob Woodward. (Segal 4/30/2007) This interview will air on US television on May 26, 1977. (Steele 5/27/1977)

H. R. Haldeman’s “The Ends of Power.”H. R. Haldeman’s “The Ends of Power.” [Source: Amazon (.com)]Former Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman, in his autobiography The Ends of Power, advances his own insider theory of the genesis of the Watergate burglaries (see July 26-27, 1970). Haldeman, currently serving a one-year prison sentence for perjuring himself during his testimony about the Watergate cover-up, became so angered while watching David Frost interview former President Nixon, and particularly Nixon’s attempts to pin the blame for Watergate on Haldeman and fellow aide John Ehrlichman (see April 15, 1977), that he decided to write the book to tell his version of events. Some of his assertions:
Nixon, Colson Behind 'Plumbers;' Watergate Burglary 'Deliberately Sabotaged' - He writes that he believes then-President Nixon ordered the operation that resulted in the burglaries and surveillance of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters because he and Charles Colson, the aide who supervised the so-called “Plumbers” (see Late June-July 1971), were both “infuriated with [DNC chairman Lawrence] O’Brien’s success in using the ITT case against them” (see February 22, 1972). Colson, whom Haldeman paints as Nixon’s “hit man” who was the guiding spirit behind the “Plumbers,” then recruited another White House aide, E. Howard Hunt, who brought in yet another aide, G. Gordon Liddy. Haldeman goes into a more interesting level of speculation: “I believe the Democratic high command knew the break-in was going to take place, and let it happen. They may even have planted the plainclothesman who arrested the burglars. I believe that the CIA monitored the Watergate burglars throughout. And that the overwhelming evidence leads to the conclusion that the break-in was deliberately sabotaged.” O’Brien calls Haldeman’s version of events “a crock.” As for Haldeman’s insinuations that the CIA might have been involved with the burglaries, former CIA director Richard Helms says, “The agency had nothing to do with the Watergate break-in.” Time magazine’s review of the book says that Haldeman is more believable when he moves from unverifiable speculation into provable fact. One such example is his delineation of the conspiracy to cover up the burglaries and the related actions and incidents. Haldeman writes that the cover-up was not a “conspiracy” in the legal sense, but was “organic,” growing “one step at a time” to limit political damage to the president.
Story of Kennedy Ordering Vietnamese Assassination Actually True - He suggests that the evidence Hunt falsified that tried to blame former president John F. Kennedy of having then-South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem assassination (see Mid-September 1971) may have pointed to the actual truth of that incident, hinting that Kennedy may have ordered the assassination after all.
US Headed Off Two Potentially Catastrophic Nuclear Incidents with USSR, China - He also writes of a previously unsuspected incident where Nixon and other US officials convinced the Soviets not to attack Chinese nuclear sites. And Haldeman tells of a September 1970 incident where the US managed to head off a second Cuban Missile Crisis. Both stories of US intervention with the Soviets are strongly denied by both of Nixon’s Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger, and William Rogers.
Duality of Nixon's Nature - Haldeman says that while Nixon carried “greatness in him,” and showed strong “intelligence, analytical ability, judgment, shrewdness, courage, decisiveness and strength,” he was plagued by equally powerful flaws. Haldeman writes that Nixon had a “dirty, mean, base side” and “a terrible temper,” and describes him as “coldly calculating, devious, craftily manipulative… the weirdest man ever to live in the White House.” For himself, Haldeman claims to have always tried to give “active encouragement” to the “good” side of Nixon and treat the “bad” side with “benign neglect.” He often ignored Nixon’s “petty, vindictive” orders, such as giving mass lie detector tests to employees of the State Department as a means of finding security leaks. He writes that while he regrets not challenging Nixon more “frontally” to counter the president’s darker impulses, he notes that other Nixon aides who had done so quickly lost influence in the Oval Office. Colson, on the other hand, rose to a high level of influence by appealing to Nixon’s darker nature. Between the two, Haldeman writes, the criminal conspiracy of Watergate was created. (Colson disputes Haldeman’s depiction of his character as well as the events of the conspiracy.) Haldeman himself never intended to do anything illegal, denies any knowledge of the “Gemstone” conspiracy proposal (see January 29, 1972), and denies ordering his aide Gordon Strachan to destroy evidence (see June 18-19, 1972).
Reconstructing the 18 1/2 Minute Gap - Haldeman also reconstructs the conversation between himself and Nixon that was erased from the White House tapes (see June 23, 1972 and July 13-16, 1973). Time notes that Haldeman reconstructs the conversation seemingly to legally camouflage his own actions and knowledge, “possibly to preclude further legal charges against him…” According to Haldeman’s reconstruction, Nixon said, “I know one thing. I can’t stand an FBI interrogation of Colson… Colson can talk about the president, if he cracks. You know I was on Colson’s tail for months to nail Larry O’Brien on the [Howard] Hughes deal (see April 30 - May 1, 1973; O’Brien had worked for Hughes, and Nixon was sure O’Brien had been involved in illegalities). Colson told me he was going to get the information I wanted one way or the other. And that was O’Brien’s office they were bugging, wasn’t it? And who’s behind it? Colson’s boy Hunt. Christ. Colson called [deputy campaign chief Jeb Magruder] and got the whole operation started. Right from the g_ddamn White House… I just hope the FBI doesn’t check the office log and put it together with that Hunt and Liddy meeting in Colson’s office.” Time writes, “If the quotes are accurate, Nixon is not only divulging his own culpability in initiating the bugging but is also expressing a clear intent to keep the FBI from learning about it. Thus the seeds of an obstruction of justice have been planted even before the celebrated June 23 ‘smoking gun’ conversation, which ultimately triggered Nixon’s resignation from office.” Haldeman says he isn’t sure who erased the tape, but he believes it was Nixon himself. Nixon intended to erase all the damning evidence from the recordings, but since he was, Haldeman writes, “the least dexterous man I have ever known,” he quickly realized that “it would take him ten years” to erase everything.
'Smoking Gun' Allegations - Haldeman also makes what Time calls “spectacular… but unverified” allegations concerning the June 23, 1972 “smoking gun” conversations (see June 23, 1972). The focus of that day’s discussion was how the White House could persuade the CIA to head off the FBI’s investigation of the Watergate burglary. The tape proved that Nixon had indeed attempted to block the criminal investigation into Watergate, and feared that the money found on the burglars would be traced back to his own re-election campaign committee. Haldeman writes that he was confused when Nixon told him to tell the CIA, “Look, the problem is that this will open up the whole Bay of Pigs thing again.” When Haldeman asked Helms to intercede with the FBI, and passed along Nixon’s warning that “the Bay of Pigs may be blown,” Helms’s reaction, Haldeman writes, was electric. “Turmoil in the room, Helms gripping the arms of his chair, leaning forward and shouting, ‘The Bay of Pigs had nothing to do with this. I have no concern about the Bay of Pigs.’” Haldeman writes, “I was absolutely shocked by Helms‘[s] violent reaction. Again I wondered, what was such dynamite in the Bay of Pigs story?” Haldeman comes to believe that the term “Bay of Pigs” was a reference to the CIA’s secret attempts to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The CIA had withheld this info from the Warren Commission, the body that investigated the assassination of President Kennedy, and Haldeman implies that Nixon was using the “Bay of Pigs thing” as some sort of blackmail threat over the CIA. Haldeman also hints, very vaguely, that Nixon, when he was vice president under Dwight D. Eisenhower, was a chief instigator of the actual Bay of Pigs invasion. (Time notes that while Vice President Nixon probably knew about the plans, “he certainly had not been their author.”)
Other Tidbits - Haldeman writes that Nixon’s taping system was created to ensure that anyone who misrepresented what Nixon and others said in the Oval Office could be proven wrong, and that Nixon had Kissinger particularly in mind. Nixon kept the tapes because at first he didn’t believe he could be forced to give them up, and later thought he could use them to discredit former White House counsel John Dean. He says Nixon was wrong in asserting that he ordered Haldeman to get rid of the tapes. Haldeman believes the notorious “deep background” source for Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward was actually Fred Fielding, Dean’s White House deputy. Interestingly, Haldeman apparently discovered the real identity of “Deep Throat” in 1972 to be senior FBI official W. Mark Felt (see October 19, 1972). It is unclear why Haldeman now writes that Fielding, not Felt, was the Post source.
Not a Reliable Source - Time notes that Haldeman’s book is far from being a reliable source of information, characterizing it as “badly flawed, frustratingly vague and curiously defensive,” and notes that “[m]any key sections were promptly denied; others are clearly erroneous.” Time concludes, “Despite the claim that his aim was finally to ‘tell the truth’ about the scandal, his book is too self-protective for that.” And it is clear that Haldeman, though he writes how the cover-up was “morally and legally the wrong thing to do—so it should have failed,” has little problem being part of such a criminal conspiracy. The biggest problem with Watergate was not that it was illegal, he writes, but that it was handled badly. He writes, “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind today that if I were back at the starting point, faced with the decision of whether to join up, even knowing what the ultimate outcome would be, I would unhesitatingly do it.” (Time 2/27/1978; Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007)

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