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Profile: David Frost
David Frost was a participant or observer in the following events:
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
H. R. Haldeman’s “The Ends of Power.” [Source: Amazon (.com)]Former Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman, in his autobiography The Ends of Power, advances his own insider theory of the genesis of the Watergate burglaries (see July 26-27, 1970). Haldeman, currently serving a one-year prison sentence for perjuring himself during his testimony about the Watergate cover-up, became so angered while watching David Frost interview former President Nixon, and particularly Nixon’s attempts to pin the blame for Watergate on Haldeman and fellow aide John Ehrlichman (see April 15, 1977), that he decided to write the book to tell his version of events. Some of his assertions:
Nixon, Colson Behind 'Plumbers;' Watergate Burglary 'Deliberately Sabotaged' - He writes that he believes then-President Nixon ordered the operation that resulted in the burglaries and surveillance of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters because he and Charles Colson, the aide who supervised the so-called “Plumbers” (see Late June-July 1971), were both “infuriated with [DNC chairman Lawrence] O’Brien’s success in using the ITT case against them” (see February 22, 1972). Colson, whom Haldeman paints as Nixon’s “hit man” who was the guiding spirit behind the “Plumbers,” then recruited another White House aide, E. Howard Hunt, who brought in yet another aide, G. Gordon Liddy. Haldeman goes into a more interesting level of speculation: “I believe the Democratic high command knew the break-in was going to take place, and let it happen. They may even have planted the plainclothesman who arrested the burglars. I believe that the CIA monitored the Watergate burglars throughout. And that the overwhelming evidence leads to the conclusion that the break-in was deliberately sabotaged.” O’Brien calls Haldeman’s version of events “a crock.” As for Haldeman’s insinuations that the CIA might have been involved with the burglaries, former CIA director Richard Helms says, “The agency had nothing to do with the Watergate break-in.” Time magazine’s review of the book says that Haldeman is more believable when he moves from unverifiable speculation into provable fact. One such example is his delineation of the conspiracy to cover up the burglaries and the related actions and incidents. Haldeman writes that the cover-up was not a “conspiracy” in the legal sense, but was “organic,” growing “one step at a time” to limit political damage to the president.
Story of Kennedy Ordering Vietnamese Assassination Actually True - He suggests that the evidence Hunt falsified that tried to blame former president John F. Kennedy of having then-South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem assassination (see Mid-September 1971) may have pointed to the actual truth of that incident, hinting that Kennedy may have ordered the assassination after all.
US Headed Off Two Potentially Catastrophic Nuclear Incidents with USSR, China - He also writes of a previously unsuspected incident where Nixon and other US officials convinced the Soviets not to attack Chinese nuclear sites. And Haldeman tells of a September 1970 incident where the US managed to head off a second Cuban Missile Crisis. Both stories of US intervention with the Soviets are strongly denied by both of Nixon’s Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger, and William Rogers.
Duality of Nixon's Nature - Haldeman says that while Nixon carried “greatness in him,” and showed strong “intelligence, analytical ability, judgment, shrewdness, courage, decisiveness and strength,” he was plagued by equally powerful flaws. Haldeman writes that Nixon had a “dirty, mean, base side” and “a terrible temper,” and describes him as “coldly calculating, devious, craftily manipulative… the weirdest man ever to live in the White House.” For himself, Haldeman claims to have always tried to give “active encouragement” to the “good” side of Nixon and treat the “bad” side with “benign neglect.” He often ignored Nixon’s “petty, vindictive” orders, such as giving mass lie detector tests to employees of the State Department as a means of finding security leaks. He writes that while he regrets not challenging Nixon more “frontally” to counter the president’s darker impulses, he notes that other Nixon aides who had done so quickly lost influence in the Oval Office. Colson, on the other hand, rose to a high level of influence by appealing to Nixon’s darker nature. Between the two, Haldeman writes, the criminal conspiracy of Watergate was created. (Colson disputes Haldeman’s depiction of his character as well as the events of the conspiracy.) Haldeman himself never intended to do anything illegal, denies any knowledge of the “Gemstone” conspiracy proposal (see January 29, 1972), and denies ordering his aide Gordon Strachan to destroy evidence (see June 18-19, 1972).
Reconstructing the 18 1/2 Minute Gap - Haldeman also reconstructs the conversation between himself and Nixon that was erased from the White House tapes (see June 23, 1972 and July 13-16, 1973). Time notes that Haldeman reconstructs the conversation seemingly to legally camouflage his own actions and knowledge, “possibly to preclude further legal charges against him…” According to Haldeman’s reconstruction, Nixon said, “I know one thing. I can’t stand an FBI interrogation of Colson… Colson can talk about the president, if he cracks. You know I was on Colson’s tail for months to nail Larry O’Brien on the [Howard] Hughes deal (see April 30 - May 1, 1973; O’Brien had worked for Hughes, and Nixon was sure O’Brien had been involved in illegalities). Colson told me he was going to get the information I wanted one way or the other. And that was O’Brien’s office they were bugging, wasn’t it? And who’s behind it? Colson’s boy Hunt. Christ. Colson called [deputy campaign chief Jeb Magruder] and got the whole operation started. Right from the g_ddamn White House… I just hope the FBI doesn’t check the office log and put it together with that Hunt and Liddy meeting in Colson’s office.” Time writes, “If the quotes are accurate, Nixon is not only divulging his own culpability in initiating the bugging but is also expressing a clear intent to keep the FBI from learning about it. Thus the seeds of an obstruction of justice have been planted even before the celebrated June 23 ‘smoking gun’ conversation, which ultimately triggered Nixon’s resignation from office.” Haldeman says he isn’t sure who erased the tape, but he believes it was Nixon himself. Nixon intended to erase all the damning evidence from the recordings, but since he was, Haldeman writes, “the least dexterous man I have ever known,” he quickly realized that “it would take him ten years” to erase everything.
'Smoking Gun' Allegations - Haldeman also makes what Time calls “spectacular… but unverified” allegations concerning the June 23, 1972 “smoking gun” conversations (see June 23, 1972). The focus of that day’s discussion was how the White House could persuade the CIA to head off the FBI’s investigation of the Watergate burglary. The tape proved that Nixon had indeed attempted to block the criminal investigation into Watergate, and feared that the money found on the burglars would be traced back to his own re-election campaign committee. Haldeman writes that he was confused when Nixon told him to tell the CIA, “Look, the problem is that this will open up the whole Bay of Pigs thing again.” When Haldeman asked Helms to intercede with the FBI, and passed along Nixon’s warning that “the Bay of Pigs may be blown,” Helms’s reaction, Haldeman writes, was electric. “Turmoil in the room, Helms gripping the arms of his chair, leaning forward and shouting, ‘The Bay of Pigs had nothing to do with this. I have no concern about the Bay of Pigs.’” Haldeman writes, “I was absolutely shocked by Helms‘[s] violent reaction. Again I wondered, what was such dynamite in the Bay of Pigs story?” Haldeman comes to believe that the term “Bay of Pigs” was a reference to the CIA’s secret attempts to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The CIA had withheld this info from the Warren Commission, the body that investigated the assassination of President Kennedy, and Haldeman implies that Nixon was using the “Bay of Pigs thing” as some sort of blackmail threat over the CIA. Haldeman also hints, very vaguely, that Nixon, when he was vice president under Dwight D. Eisenhower, was a chief instigator of the actual Bay of Pigs invasion. (Time notes that while Vice President Nixon probably knew about the plans, “he certainly had not been their author.”)
Other Tidbits - Haldeman writes that Nixon’s taping system was created to ensure that anyone who misrepresented what Nixon and others said in the Oval Office could be proven wrong, and that Nixon had Kissinger particularly in mind. Nixon kept the tapes because at first he didn’t believe he could be forced to give them up, and later thought he could use them to discredit former White House counsel John Dean. He says Nixon was wrong in asserting that he ordered Haldeman to get rid of the tapes. Haldeman believes the notorious “deep background” source for Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward was actually Fred Fielding, Dean’s White House deputy. Interestingly, Haldeman apparently discovered the real identity of “Deep Throat” in 1972 to be senior FBI official W. Mark Felt (see October 19, 1972). It is unclear why Haldeman now writes that Fielding, not Felt, was the Post source.
Not a Reliable Source - Time notes that Haldeman’s book is far from being a reliable source of information, characterizing it as “badly flawed, frustratingly vague and curiously defensive,” and notes that “[m]any key sections were promptly denied; others are clearly erroneous.” Time concludes, “Despite the claim that his aim was finally to ‘tell the truth’ about the scandal, his book is too self-protective for that.” And it is clear that Haldeman, though he writes how the cover-up was “morally and legally the wrong thing to do—so it should have failed,” has little problem being part of such a criminal conspiracy. The biggest problem with Watergate was not that it was illegal, he writes, but that it was handled badly. He writes, “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind today that if I were back at the starting point, faced with the decision of whether to join up, even knowing what the ultimate outcome would be, I would unhesitatingly do it.” [Time, 2/27/1978; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Entity Tags: Fred F. Fielding, William P. Rogers, E. Howard Hunt, Democratic National Committee, David Frost, Charles Colson, W. Mark Felt, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, US Department of State, Lawrence O’Brien, Richard Helms, John Dean, Jeb S. Magruder, Howard Hughes, Henry A. Kissinger, Gordon Strachan, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, H.R. Haldeman, John F. Kennedy
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto claims that her country does not have a nuclear weapons program in an interview with British entertainer David Frost. “We have neither detonated nor have we got nuclear weapons,” she says. “Being a responsible state and a state committed to non-proliferation, we in Pakistan, through five successive governments, have taken a policy decision to follow a peaceful nuclear program.” Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will describe Frost as “incredulous” at hearing this denial. They will add: “It was a lie. She knew it.” The Pakistani military keeps many of the details of the program from Bhutto, but she is aware of the outline and even went on a mission to North Korea to get missiles to deliver locally-produced warheads the previous year (see December 29, 1993 and Shortly After). [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 255-256, 511]
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