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Context of 'Late Fall, 1976: Frost Researchers Procure Documents Indicating Government’s Line of Inquiry in Prospective Nixon Prosecution'

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The research staff for British interviewer David Frost, preparing for his upcoming interviews with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976), receive two key documents from Leon Jaworski’s special prosecutor files (see November 1, 1973) that are, in essence, the government’s plan for questioning Nixon if he were to ever take the stand as a criminal defendant in federal court. One document is entitled “RMN [Richard Milhous Nixon] and the Money,” and concentrates on the March 21, 1973, conversation with then-White House counsel John Dean concerning Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt’s demand for “hush money” (see Mid-November, 1972) and the attempts in the following weeks to explain away the payments to Hunt. The document is divided into five parts: Nixon’s statements about the money; Nixon’s knowledge of the payouts before March 21; the nature of the payment itself; the cover-up of Nixon’s role in the payout; and Nixon’s role in developing a defense against possible obstruction of justice charges. The second document cites excerpts from the June 20, 1972, conversations between Nixon and his then-senior aide Charles Colson (see June 20, 1972 and June 20, 1972). [Reston, 2007, pp. 45-47]

Entity Tags: David Frost, Charles Colson, E. Howard Hunt, John Dean, Richard M. Nixon, Leon Jaworski

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

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