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Context of 'August 29, 1973: Judge Sirica Orders Nixon to Hand over Tapes'

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Convicted Watergate burglar James McCord (see January 30, 1973) writes a letter to the presiding judge, John Sirica, in response to Sirica’s requests for more information. McCord writes that he is “whipsawed in a variety of legalities”—he may be forced to testify to the Senate (see February 7, 1973), and he may be involved in future civil and other criminal proceedings. He also fears unspecified “retaliatory measures… against me, my family, and my friends should I disclose” his knowledge of the Watergate conspiracy. But McCord wants some leniency from Sirica in sentencing. McCord alleges that the five defendants who pled guilty did so under duress. The defendants committed perjury, McCord continues, and says that others are involved in the burglary. The burglary is definitely not a CIA operation, though “[t]he Cubans may have been misled” into thinking so. McCord writes, “I know for a fact that it was not,” implying inside knowledge of at least some CIA workings. McCord requests to speak with Sirica privately in the judge’s chambers, because he “cannot feel confident in talking with an FBI agent, in testifying before a Grand Jury whose US attorneys work for the Department of Justice, or in talking with other government representatives.” In his discussion with Sirica, he makes the most explosive charge of all: he and his fellow defendants lied at the behest of former Attorney General John Mitchell, now the head of the Nixon re-election campaign, and current White House counsel John Dean. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 275-276; Time 1/7/1974; James W. McCord, Jr 7/3/2007; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007) It seems that McCord writes his letter to Sirica in retaliation for President Nixon’s firing of CIA director Richard Helms, and the White House’s attempts to pin the blame for the Watergate conspiracy on the CIA (see December 21, 1972).

Judge John Sirica orders President Nixon to hand over nine of the secret White House tapes for Sirica to review in private. Nixon refuses, but will lose in the courts. (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007)

A US appeals court orders President Nixon to turn over tape recordings relevant to the Watergate investigation (see August 29, 1973). (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007)

Bowing to intense pressure from the media and the citizenry, President Nixon grudgingly agrees to comply with a subpoena ordering him to turn over some of the Watergate tapes to investigators (see August 29, 1973). (Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007)

Former President Richard Nixon is admitted to the hospital with life-threatening blood clots. His lawyer tells Judge John Sirica, who is presiding over the conjoined trials of former Nixon aides John Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman, and John Mitchell, that even though Nixon has been subpoenaed to testify (see August 28, 1974), he will not be available to the court until early 1975. Sirica wants the trial over and done with by Christmas. Nixon thusly escapes ever having to publicly answer for, or even discuss under oath, his crimes. (Werth 2006, pp. 338-339)


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