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Context of 'September 10, 1974: Senate Opposes More Pardons; House Demands Information on Nixon Pardon'

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September 8, 1974: Ford Pardons Nixon

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

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

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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

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

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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

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

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Mid-October 1974: Ford Denies Any Pardon Deal

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

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

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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

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

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

April 13, 1977: Frost Pins Tape Erasure on Nixon

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

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

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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

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

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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