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Context of 'April 24, 1973: Nixon Asks for Resignations of Haldeman, Ehrlichman'

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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

After learning that the White House will soon make a dramatic Watergate admission, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward meets clandestinely with his “Deep Throat” source, FBI deputy director W. Mark Felt (see May 31, 2005). Felt drops a bombshell. “You’d better hang on for this,” he says. “Dean and Haldeman are out—for sure” (see April 30, 1973). John Dean is President Nixon’s White House counsel and one of the key figures in the Watergate conspiracy. H. R. Haldeman is Nixon’s chief of staff and closest confidante. “Out. They’ll resign. There’s no way the president can avoid it.” Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein inform Post editor Ben Bradlee of Felt’s revelation (avoiding any identification of Felt). Bradlee is reluctant to print such an explosive story based on one “deep background” source, no matter how reliable. The story does not go to print. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 75-81] Felt’s story is accurate as far as it goes. The day before, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst had informed President Nixon that Dean and former campaign deputy Jeb Magruder testified, and that they named Haldeman, White House aide John Ehrlichman, and former campaign chief John Mitchell as co-conspirators. Dean went even further, demanding complete immunity and threatening to implicate Nixon if he was not given legal protection. Kleindienst says he will have to recuse himself from further involvement in the investigation because of his close relationship with Mitchell (see April 19, 1973), but deputy attorney general Henry Peterson will keep Nixon informed of any and all events that transpire. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 586-587] It is not clear if Felt knew that Mitchell and Ehrlichman had also been implicated; in any event, he does not inform Woodward. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 75-81]

Entity Tags: W. Mark Felt, Richard M. Nixon, Richard Kleindienst, Nixon administration, John Mitchell, H.R. Haldeman, Carl Bernstein, Henry Peterson, Bob Woodward, John Dean, John Ehrlichman, Ben Bradlee, Jeb S. Magruder

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Vacationing in his Key Biscayne, Florida home, President Nixon calls chief of staff H. R. Haldeman and senior aide John Ehrlichman. He tells Haldeman: “You’re doing the right thing [by resigning—see April 16-17, 1973 and April 30, 1973]. That’s what I used to think when I killed some innocent children in Hanoi.” He also speaks to White House counsel John Dean. Dean will later say that Nixon tells him, “You’re still my counsel.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 594]

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

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

White House press secretary Ron Ziegler, with President Nixon in Florida (see April 22, 1973), calls chief of staff H. R. Haldeman and informs him that he and aide John Ehrlichman must resign. Ziegler paraphrases what Nixon told him: “He must get this out of his mind. He has an obligation to run the nation and he cannot, as a human being, run the country with this on his mind.” Ziegler assures Haldeman that Nixon is extremely reluctant to ask for their resignations, but he sees no other way to dodge any further involvement in the Watergate imbroglio. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 593-594]

Entity Tags: Ron Ziegler, H.R. Haldeman, Richard M. Nixon, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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]

Entity Tags: H.R. Haldeman, Charles ‘Bebe’ Rebozo, Richard M. Nixon, Ron Ziegler, Ray Price, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

President Nixon formally asks for and receives the resignations of two of his most senior advisers, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman (see April 16-17, 1973 and April 24, 1973), along with Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. In addition, he fires White House counsel John Dean, who has begun cooperating with Watergate investigators (see April 6-20, 1973).
Replacements - Kleindienst is replaced by Defense Secretary Elliot Richardson, whom Nixon tasks with the responsibility for “uncovering the whole truth” about the Watergate scandal. Richardson will be given “absolute authority” in handling the Watergate investigation, including the authority to appoint a special prosecutor to supervise the government’s case (see April 30, 1973). Dean is replaced temporarily by Nixon’s personal lawyer Leonard Garment.
Additional Resignation - Also, Gordon Strachan, the general counsel to the United States Information Agency (USIA), resigns. Strachan is a former aide to Haldeman, and, according to a USIA statement, resigned “after learning that persons with whom he had worked closely at the White House had submitted their resignations.”
Lawmakers' Comments - Senate Majority Leader Hugh Scott (R-PA) says of the resignations: “[A] lack of grace in power has led to a fall from grace. This rotten vine of Watergate has produced poisonous fruit, and all nourished by it should be cast out of the Garden of Eden.” House Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-MI) says the resignations are “a necessary first step by the White House in clearing the air on the Watergate affair.… I have the greatest confidence in the president and I am absolutely positive he had nothing to with this mess.” Representative John Moss (D-CA) says the House must prepare itself to deal with the possibility of impeachment, but “before we even suggest impeachment, we must have the most uncontroverted evidence.” In their letters of resignation, Haldeman and Ehrlichman promise to cooperate with the Justice Department investigation of Watergate. [Washington Post, 5/1/1973]
Reaction at the Washington Post - Knight Newspapers reporter James McCartney later writes an article for the Columbia Journalism Review on the Post’s Watergate coverage, which describes the reaction in the Post offices to the news: “For a split second [executive editor] Ben Bradlee’s mouth dropped open with an expression of sheer delight.… ‘How do you like them apples?’ he said to the grinning Simons [managing editor Howard Simons]. ‘Not a bad start.’” As reporters and employees begin gathering around, Simons murmurs: “Don’t gloat. We can’t afford to gloat.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 310]

Entity Tags: United States Information Agency, Richard M. Nixon, Washington Post, Richard Kleindienst, Leonard Garment, Ben Bradlee, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Gordon Strachan, John Moss, Elliot Richardson, Howard Simons, Hugh Scott, John Ehrlichman, John Dean, James McCartney, H.R. Haldeman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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). [Washington Post, 6/3/1973]

Entity Tags: L. Patrick Gray, E. Howard Hunt, Daniel Ellsberg, H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Samuel Dash, Washington Post, Richard M. Nixon, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Nixon administration, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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. [Washington Post, 4/30/2007] This interview will air on US television on May 26, 1977. [Guardian, 5/27/1977]

Entity Tags: David Frost, Bob Woodward, James Reston, Jr, Arthur Nixon, Ray Price, Richard M. Nixon, John Dean, Jack Brennan, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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