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Profile: Carl Albert
Carl Albert was a participant or observer in the following events:
President Nixon still refuses to hand over the tapes subpoenaed by the Watergate special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski (see April 16, 1974). Instead, Nixon provides more edited transcripts of the tapes to the House Judiciary Committee. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Transcripts Prove His Innocence, Nixon Claims - A summary of the tapes, written by White House officials, says that the transcripts prove Nixon’s innocence. “In all of the thousands of words spoken,” the summary says, “even though they often are unclear and ambiguous, not once does it appear that the president of the United States was engaged in a criminal plot to obstruct justice.” [Washington Post, 5/1/1974] Shortly after the release of the transcripts, Nixon appears on television with a pile of looseleaf notebooks—the transcripts, which he says he has personally compiled—and says: “In these transcripts, portions not relevant to my knowledge or actions with regard to Watergate are not included, but everything that is relevant is included—the rough as well as the smooth—the strategy sessions, the exploration of alternatives, the weighing of human and political costs. As far as what the president personally knew and did with regard to Watergate and the cover-up is concerned, these materials—together with those already made available—will tell it all.… I want there to be no question remaining about the fact that the president has nothing to hide in this matter.” [White House, 4/29/1974; White House, 4/29/1974; White House, 4/29/1974; White House, 4/29/1974; Washington Post, 2007] “As far as the president’s role with regard to Watergate is concerned,” Nixon claims, “the entire story is there.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 608] He rails against the idea of impeaching him (see February 6, 1974), saying that the charges are based on “[r]umor, gossip, innuendo, [and] accounts from unnamed sources,” and implicitly accuses former White House counsel John Dean of lying about his involvement in the Watergate cover-up (see April 6-20, 1973). The 18 ½ minute erasure on one of the key tape recordings (see November 21, 1973) is “a mystery” to him, Nixon asserts. The nation must move past Watergate to deal with more serious matters, he says. [Washington Post, 2007]
Reaction Divided - Reaction on Congress is divided largely along party lines. House Minority Leader John Rhodes (R-AZ) says the transcripts show Nixon is “in substantial compliance” with a Judiciary Committee subpoena. Speaker of the House Carl Albert (D-FL) has a different view: “Why substitute other evidence when the direct evidence [the actual tapes] is available?” [Washington Post, 5/1/1974]
Transcripts Heavily Edited, Doctored - It quickly becomes evident that the transcripts have been heavily edited and altered, both to clean up Nixon’s language and to cloak the details of the events documented in the tapes. Only 11 of the 64 conversations cited in the subpoenas are present, and those have been doctored. The term “expletive deleted” quickly enters the political and popular lexicon, and even with much of the profanity and ethnic slurs deleted, the impression given by the transcripts is not popular with the American people; in the words of reporter Mike Feinsilber, the transcripts show Nixon “as a vengeful schemer—rambling, undisciplined, mean-spirited and bigoted.” Even the edited transcripts document Nixon participating in discussions about raising blackmail money and “laundering” payments, offering clemency or parole to convicted Watergate figures, discussing how to handle perjury or obstruction of justice charges, and debating how best to use the term “national security” to advance his own personal and political agendas. In one conversation, Dean says that one of their biggest problems is that they are not “pros” at the kinds of activities they are engaging in: “This is the sort of thing Mafia people can do.” Nixon replies: “That’s right.… Maybe it takes a gang to do that.” The Judiciary Committee immediately joins the special prosecutor in demanding the actual tapes. [Washington Post, 5/1/1974; Houston Chronicle, 6/7/1999; Reeves, 2001, pp. 608]
Map of the Cambodian coast showing the island of Koh Tang. [Source: American Merchant Marine at War]A US cargo ship, the SS Mayaguez, is seized by the Cambodian navy in the Gulf of Siam. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger urges retaliatory action to punish the Cambodians and retake the ship, arguing that the US must let the Communist forces in Southeast Asia know that, even though the US has withdrawn from South Vietnam, the US would defend itself and its interests. President Ford agrees. Without asking or even consulting Congress, Ford, calling the capture of the Mayaguez an “act of piracy,” orders US Marines to attack Cambodian warships and storm the island of Koh Tang (sometimes spelled Kaoh Tang) where the crew of the Mayaguez is believed to be held prisoner. On May 15, some 180 Marines storm the island in a helicopter assault, with light air support. [American Merchant Marine at War, 6/5/2000; Savage, 2007, pp. 31-33]
Violation of Constitution, Law - Ford briefs Congressional leaders after the fact; the leaders agree that the attack is the right decision, but sharply disagree with how Ford carried out the decision. A 1971 law prohibits the use of ground forces in Cambodia, and the 1973 War Powers Resolution requires advance consultation with Congress “in every possible instance.” Speaker of the House Carl Albert (D-OK) reminds Ford, “There are charges on the floor [of the House] that you have violated the law.” And Senate Majority Whip Robert Byrd (D-WV) asks why Ford did not inform Congressional leaders before ordering the attacks, saying, “I’m for getting the ship back, but I think you should have given them a chance to urge caution.” Ford replies: “It is my constitutional responsibility to command the forces and to protect Americans.… We have a separation of powers. The president is the commander in chief so long as he is within the law. I exercised my power under the law and I complied with the law. I would never forgive myself if the Marines had been attacked.”
'Nerve and Steel' - The Mayaguez and her crew are recovered, and Ford’s decision is hailed by media outlets such as Newsweek as a “daring show of nerve and steel,” a “classic show of gunboat diplomacy,” and “a four star political and diplomatic victory.… It was swift and tough—and it worked.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 31-33]
Facts Far Different from Initial Reporting - But subsequent information shows that the initial reports of the US military action were false. The government will claim that one Marine died and 13 were wounded in the invasion of the Cambodian island. In reality, 40 soldiers die—15 in the initial assault (13 Marines and two Air Force soldiers), 23 Marines in a helicopter crash, and three Marines who are inadvertently left behind, captured by the Cambodians, and executed. Forty-four Marines and six Air Force soldiers are wounded. The US expected maybe two dozen Cambodian soldiers on the island, but in actuality well over 200 heavily armed and entrenched Cambodian soldiers were in place. The crew of the Mayaguez had never been on the island; the Cambodians had taken them to the mainland. And the Cambodian government had already publicly announced it was releasing the vessel and the crew before the attack began—Ford had not yet received the message when he authorized the Marine assault. Marines had stormed the Mayaguez and found no one on board; the crew was at sea in a fishing boat when the Marines launched their attack. It is never completely clear why the ruling Khmer Rouge releases the crew so quickly; some speculate intervention by China or Israel. But the facts of the incident, and the unexpectedly large number of deaths and injuries, are submerged in a wave of patriotic fervor that sweeps the country. A Ford administration official will later admit to Newsweek that the operation had been “the sheerest sort of jingoism,” but, he will argue, it worked to perfection, “and nobody challenges success.” Overwhelmed by the outpouring of public support for Ford and the “rescue” of the Mayaguez, Congress quickly shelves its objections to Ford’s usurpation of Constitutional principles. In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write, “The Mayaguez incident revealed just how difficult it would be for Congress to rein in a president once troops were committed.” [American Merchant Marine at War, 6/5/2000; Savage, 2007, pp. 31-33]
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