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Profile: Richard M. Nixon
Positions that Richard M. Nixon has held:
- President of the United States (1969-1974)
Some point between 1969 and 1974
“I don’t give a damn [about civilian casualties]. I don’t care.”
[CBS News, 2/28/2003]
Richard M. Nixon was a participant or observer in the following events:
Spiro T. Agnew. [Source: University of Maryland]Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigns. He will be replaced by an appointee, House Republican Gerald Ford (see October 12, 1973). Agnew, a conservative Maryland Republican with a long history of racial repression, ethnic jokes, and racial slurs in his record, appealed to conservative Southern voters as Richard Nixon’s vice presidential candidate in 1968 and 1972 (see 1969-1971). Agnew was the first vice president to be given his own office in the West Wing. [Time, 9/30/1996; US Senate, 2007] But by mid- and late 1971, Agnew is battling attempts from within the White House to force him to resign (see Mid-1971 and Beyond).
Nolo Contendre - Agnew’s lawyers reach a deal with the Justice Department, agreeing to a plea of nolo contendre (no contest) to the tax charge, a $160,000 levy of tax repayments, and a $10,000 fine. In return, Agnew agrees to leave office. One of his last actions as vice president is to visit Nixon, who assures him that he is doing the right thing. Agnew later recalls bitterly: “It was hard to believe he was not genuinely sorry about the course of events. Within two days, this consummate actor would be celebrating his appointment of a new vice president with never a thought of me.” For his part, Nixon will recall, “The Agnew resignation was necessary although a very serious blow.” Nixon apparently is not as concerned about punishing a White House official for misconduct as much as he hopes Agnew’s resignation will redirect the public anger away from himself. That ploy, too, will backfire: Nixon later writes that “all [Agnew’s resignation] did was to open the way to put pressure on the president to resign as well.” [US Senate, 2007] Agnew later says that Nixon “naively believed that by throwing me to the wolves, he had appeased his enemies.” [New York Times, 9/19/1996] The State of Maryland will later lift Agnew’s license to practice law. [University of Maryland Newsdesk, 10/6/2003]
'Affluent Obscurity' - Agnew will return to private life (in what one reporter will call “an affluent obscurity”) [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 9/21/1996] as an international business consultant (see 1980s). He will publish a 1980 memoir entitled Go Quietly… Or Else, in which he says he was forced to resign by scheming Nixon aides, and a novel about a corrupt American vice president “destroyed by his own ambition.” Continuing to maintain his innocence of any wrongdoing (see 1981), he refuses any contact from Nixon until he chooses to attend Nixon’s funeral in 1994. [New York Times, 9/19/1996; US Senate, 2007]
Gerald R. Ford, Jr. [Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library]President Nixon names Congressman Gerald R. Ford (R-MI) as his nominee for vice president. Two days before, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned his office after being convicted of tax evasion charges unrelated to Watergate (see October 10, 1973). [Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum, 5/3/1999] Nixon’s original choice for Agnew’s replacement is former Texas governor John Connally, in hopes that Connally can secure the 1976 GOP presidential nomination, win the election, and continue Nixon’s legacy. But Connally, Nixon’s Treasury Election, is himself under investigation for his handling of a secret Nixon campaign fund. Nixon’s close political ally and strategist Melvin Laird, Nixon’s first secretary of defense, and veteran political adviser Bryce Harlow advised Nixon to select Ford as his new vice president. Other Republicans are recommending better-known party stalwarts—former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, California governor Ronald Reagan, Senate Watergate Committee co-chair Howard Baker, Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, Senator Barry Goldwater, Republican Party chairman George H.W. Bush, Connally, Laird, and others—Ford is a complete party loyalist, popular among Congressional Republicans, and an influential member of the House Judiciary Committee. By naming Ford as vice president, Laird and Barlow hope to head off any impeachment vote by that committee. On October 10, Laird phoned Ford and, according to Laird’s later recollection, said: “Jerry, you’re going to get a call from Al Haig [Nixon’s chief of staff]. I don’t want any bullsh_t from you. Don’t hesitate. Don’t talk to Betty [Ford, his wife]. Say yes.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 30-31]
Entity Tags: Melvin Laird, Nelson Rockefeller, Spiro T. Agnew, Ronald Reagan, Richard M. Nixon, John Connally, Howard Baker, Bryce Harlow, Hugh Scott, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Barry Goldwater, Betty Ford, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, House Judiciary Committee, George Herbert Walker Bush
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Stories of President Nixon’s emotional and physical debilitation circulate around Washington, with rumors of bouts of heavy drinking and depressive episodes. The press does not report these rumors, mostly because Nixon keeps himself out of the public eye, shuttling between his home in San Clemente, California, his vacation home in Key Biscayne, Florida, and Camp David. In his notes taken during a meeting about the Yom Kippur War, Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill (D-MA) writes, “President is acting very strangely.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 606]
President Nixon, still attempting to circumvent the courts’ insistence that he hand over relevant tapes of his White House conversations (see July 13-16, 1973) to the Watergate investigation, offers a compromise: He will personally prepare “summaries” of the tapes for Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, and allow Senator John Stennis (D-MS) to listen to the tapes and authenticate the summaries’ accuracy. In return, Cox must agree not to subpoena or otherwise seek further tapes or other records of Nixon’s conversations. Cox will refuse (see October 19-20, 1973). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Washington Post headline of firings. [Source: Washington Post]After Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox refuses President Nixon’s offer of a “compromise” on the issue of the White House tapes (see October 19, 1973), Nixon orders (through his chief of staff Alexander Haig) Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refuses the presidential order, and resigns on the spot. Haig then orders Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus also refuses, and resigns also. Haig finally finds a willing Justice Department official in Solicitor General Robert Bork, who is named acting attorney general and fires Cox. (Of the firing, Bork tells reporters, “All I will say is that I carried out the president’s directive.”) White House press secretary Ronald Ziegler announces that the Office of the Special Prosecutor has been abolished. FBI agents are sent to prevent Cox’s staff from taking their files out of their offices. Ziegler justifies the firing by saying that Cox “defied” Nixon’s instructions “at a time of serious world crisis” and made it “necessary” for Nixon to discharge him. After his firing, Cox says, “Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people.” The press dubs Cox’s firings and the abolishment of the OSP the “Saturday Night Massacre,” and the public reacts with a fury unprecedented in modern American political history. In a period of ten days, Congress receives more than a million letters and telegrams (some sources say the number is closer to three million), almost all demanding Nixon’s impeachment. Congress will soon launch an impeachment inquiry. Former Washington Post editor Barry Sussman writes in 1974 that Cox’s firing was not a result of impetuous presidential anger. Nixon had been more than reluctant to accept a special prosecutor for Watergate. Cox, named special prosecutor in the spring of 1973, had quickly earned the ire of White House officials and of Nixon himself, and by October 7, Nixon had announced privately that Cox would be fired. [Washington Post, 10/21/1973; Sussman, 1974, pp. 251; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Entity Tags: John Sirica, Archibald Cox, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Barry Sussman, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard M. Nixon, William Ruckelshaus, John Stennis, Elliot Richardson, Robert Bork, Ron Ziegler
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
President Nixon during the press conference. [Source: Business Week]During a press conference, President Nixon denies any involvement in the Watergate conspiracy, and declares, “I am not a crook.” [Washington Post, 11/18/1973] A defensive Nixon says he has never profited from his years of public service: “I have earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life I have never obstructed justice. People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook. I’ve earned everything I’ve got.” The statement about his finances comes from allegations that he paid insufficient taxes in 1970 and 1971. In regards to Watergate, Nixon only admits that he made mistakes in letting campaign officials operate with insufficient supervision. He says that the telephone conversations of his brother, Donald Nixon, were taped, but refuses to say why; sources have said that Donald Nixon’s phone was tapped because of his potentially embarrassing financial dealings. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Rose Mary Woods. [Source: Genevieve Naylor / Corbis]A gap of 18 and ½ minutes is found on the tape of a conversation between President Nixon and his aide, H. R. Haldeman, from June 20, 1972 (see July 13-16, 1973). Nixon lawyer Fred Buzhardt says he has no explanation for “the phenomenon.” Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, denies any deliberate erasure. But electronics experts will eventually find that the tape has been deliberately erased at least five separate times. White House chief of staff Alexander Haig will blame “some sinister force” for the erasure.
Watergate Discussed - Former Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox’s subpoena of the tape (see July 23-26, 1973) says that “there is every reason to infer that the meeting included discussion of the Watergate incident.” That supposition is bolstered by previous testimony from former White House aide John Ehrlichman (see July 24, 1973). Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski says he is considering having all the remaining Watergate tapes placed under guard to prevent any further tampering. [Washington Post, 11/22/1973; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Three Suspects - Evidence later shows that only three people could have made the erasure: Woods; Stephen Bull, Nixon’s assistant; and Nixon himself. [Reston, 2007, pp. 33]
Washington Post Learns of Gap - Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward learned of “deliberate erasures” in the first week of November from his FBI source, W. Mark Felt (see May 31, 2005). White House sources confirmed that the tapes were often of poor quality, and that some inadvertent gaps existed, but, as press secretary Ron Ziegler tells Woodward’s colleague Carl Bernstein, to say that those gaps were deliberate would be “inaccurate.” When the deliberate gap is reported, Ziegler calls Bernstein to say that he did not know about the gap beforehand. Neither Bernstein nor Woodward doubt Ziegler—by this time, it is obvious that Nixon’s paranoia and penchant for secrecy extends even to the most trusted members of his staff. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 333-334]
Symbolic - In 2005, Woodward will write: “The missing 18 1/2-minute gap soon becomes a symbol for Nixon’s entire Watergate problem. The truth had been deleted. The truth was missing.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 103]
Entity Tags: Rose Mary Woods, Stephen Bull, Richard M. Nixon, W. Mark Felt, Leon Jaworski, Ron Ziegler, H.R. Haldeman, Archibald Cox, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., John Ehrlichman, Carl Bernstein, Fred Buzhardt, Bob Woodward
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Bo Burlingame, a former member of the radical antiwar group the Weather Underground, interviews former Nixon White House aide Tom Charles Huston, the author of the notorious, unconstitutional “Huston Plan” (see July 14, 1970). Huston is just coming off a speech to a conservative audience in which he said that his plan, and Nixon’s attempt to seize executive power at the expense of Congress and the Constitution, was excessive and mistaken (see Late 1973). Huston, a lawyer, a former Army intelligence officer, and an early leader of the Indiana chapter of the conservative extremist group Young Americans for Freedom, tells Burlingame that he found an interesting parallel between his group of right-wing extremists and Burlingame’s left-wing extremists: “I was interested to learn that you people were frustrated because nobody was listening to you. You know, we felt the same thing at the White House. It seemed as if a momentous crisis was at hand, and nobody was aware of it or cared.”
Coup d'Etat Begins with Creation of Fear in Populace - Huston is contemptuous and dismissive of many of his former White House colleagues, particularly Richard Nixon. “Frankly, I wouldn’t put anything past him and those damn technocrats,” he says of Nixon and his senior aides. “[Y]ou can’t begin to compete with the professional Nixonites when it comes to deception.… If Nixon told them to nationalize the railroads, they’d have nationalized the railroads. If he’d told them to exterminate the Jews, they’d have exterminated the Jews.” He took a position with the White House in January 1969 “believing that things were finally going to be set straight.”
Disillusioned - Huston became increasingly disillusioned with the lack of idealism in the Nixon White House, and left after deciding that Nixon and his top officials were less interested in implementing true conservative reforms and more interested in merely accumulating power. The Nixon team was an apolitical, power-hungry bunch “whose intellectual tradition is rooted in the philosophy of [marketing and advertising guru] J. Walter Thompson.… This administration has done more to debauch conservative values than anything else in recent history.”
Fear and Repression - Considering his plan to abrogate the fundamental rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans, Huston seems quite supportive of those rights even in the face of national danger. “The real threat to national security is repression,” he had told a New York Times interviewer not long before the Burlingame interview. “A handful of people can’t frontally overthrow the government. But if they can engender enough fear, they can generate an atmosphere that will bring out every repressive demagogue in the country.”
Explaining the Huston Plan - Huston explains the rationale behind his radically repressive plan, telling Burlingame that the country was on the brink of mass insurrection and the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover was not doing nearly enough to combat the civil rights and antiwar protesters, particularly groups like the Black Panthers and Burlingame’s Weather Underground. By early 1970, many in the White House were ready to ease Hoover out of power; when, shortly thereafter, the mass protests against the Cambodia bombings (see February 23-24, 1969 and April 24-30, 1970) and the Jackson State and Kent State shootings (see May 4-5, 1970) occurred, Huston and others at the White House thought there was a far more organized and systematic underground, left-wing revolution going on than they had evidence to document. “We just didn’t believe we were getting the whole story,” he says.
Removing Hoover - Getting rid of Hoover and replacing him with someone more amenable to the White House’s agenda was the first goal, Huston says. The June 1970 “Interagency Committee on Intelligence” (see June 5, 1970) was designed to maneuver around Hoover and have him implicitly authorize counter-insurrection methods that he had always opposed, including “surreptitious entry” and “covert mail coverage.” The committee was the genesis of the Huston Plan. But Hoover stops the plan in its tracks by going through Attorney General John Mitchell. Whatever he said to Mitchell is not known, but Mitchell chewed out Huston and saw to it that the plan was terminated. Huston says that the unit of illegal campaign operatives later known as the “Plumbers” (see July 20, 1971) stems in part from the White House’s inability to force Hoover from power. Had Hoover made the FBI available to conduct the illegal burglaries and surveillances that Nixon wanted done—had Nixon supported the Huston Plan—the Plumbers would have never come into existence. “I find that totally indefensible,” Huston observes.
Ethical Confusion - Burlingame is bemused by Huston’s apparent ethical schizophrenia—on the one hand, Huston has come out strongly for constitutional freedoms, and on the other hand is now saying that his plan, which he himself has long admitted was blatantly illegal, would have avoided the entire Watergate contretemps and would have worked to bring the country into line. In fact, Huston asserts, he believed at the time that the Watergate conspiracy was completely legal. “I took the view that in internal security matters the president had the right to infringe on what would, in other circumstances, be constitutional rights, but that decision encompassed a decision that you forfeit the right to prosecute.” This view is why he left the Justice Department entirely out of the loop on his plan, he says.
Deliberately Keeping outside the Framework of the Law - The entire Huston plan would have never been used for anything except intelligence-gathering, he says. It was necessary for the plan to be exercised outside the structure of US law, he says. “[Y]ou don’t want a constitutional or legal mandate,” he says. “You don’t want to institutionalize the excesses required to meet extraordinary threats. The law just can’t anticipate all the contingencies.” He now thinks that he went too far with pushing for extraordinary powers; that if Hoover could have been eased out of power, the FBI could have done what needed doing without breaking the law. Burlingame writes that he cannot help but think that Huston is employing “tortured legalisms” to “cover his flank,” and questions Huston’s portrait of himself as an increasingly marginalized conservative idealist who became so disillusioned with the amoral power-mad bureaucrats of the Nixon administration that he walked out rather than further jeopardize his own principles. [Harper's, 10/1974]
Entity Tags: John Mitchell, Bo Burlingame, Black Panthers, ’Plumbers’, Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Walter Thompson, Young Americans for Freedom, J. Edgar Hoover, Tom Charles Huston, US Department of Justice, Weather Underground, Nixon administration, Richard M. Nixon
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Amid rumors and observations of President Nixon’s crumbling physical and emotional state (see Mid-October, 1973), Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) writes in a memo to himself: “I have reason to suspect that all might not be well mentally in the White House. This is the only copy that will ever be made of this; it will be locked in my safe.” The memo will not be revealed until 2001, when it is reported in Richard Reeves’s biography, President Nixon. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 606]
The Washington Post reports that “Operation Candor,” the White House’s public relations campaign to clear President Nixon’s name regarding Watergate, has been shut down. It also reports that several of Nixon’s most senior advisers no longer believe his protestations of innocence and ignorance. White House chief of staff Alexander Haig calls the story “scurrilous.” Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward soon learn that Haig himself is dubious of Nixon’s course, and has urged Nixon to cut ties with three of his former aides, H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Charles Colson—to let them go down and ensure he doesn’t go with them. Nixon’s legal defense is constructed in concert with theirs, and the White House has been supplying their lawyers with the same documents it has been releasing to the special prosecutor’s office. Nixon himself has no intention of either accepting responsibility for his role in the Watergate conspiracy or making any public apology. “Contrition is bullsh_t,” press secretary Ron Ziegler has said, and that is an apparent reflection of Nixon’s own views. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 334-335]
Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger begins pushing for a new nuclear weapons doctrine to supplant the idea of “mutually assured destruction” (MAD) as a final deterrent to war with the Soviet Union. Schlesinger argues that the president needs more options in the case of an armed confrontation with the USSR. Instead of the only two options being either no war, or total global annihilation, he says, the US needs to be able to pick and choose targets ranging from selected military bases to a general nuclear assault on the entire Soviet infrastructure. Because it fits with their idea of having the option of a limited nuclear war, both President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger approve the plan. But Schlesinger says at a luncheon/press conference at the Overseas Writers Association that this is a “change in targeting strategy” that gives the US options besides “initiating a suicidal strike against the cities of the other side.” The US cannot rely solely on MAD as its only nuclear doctrine, he tells the gathered reporters. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will observe, “Schlesinger was essentially parroting the conservative line, implying that MAD was a policy that could be rejected—as opposed to a condition—and that he was the one who had done it.” Schlesinger’s policy is not adopted, but his argument has the effect of chilling US-Soviet negotiations during the SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) discussions (see June 20, 1974 and After and November 23, 1974). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 79-80]
Peter Rodino. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]The House of Representatives authorizes the House Judiciary Committee to begin investigating whether grounds exist to impeach President Nixon. The Judiciary Committee is chaired by Peter Rodino (D-MI). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Samuel Joseph Byck. [Source: Unknown]Samuel Joseph Byck, an unemployed former tire salesman from Philadelphia, tries to hijack a commercial aircraft with the intent of crashing it into the White House and killing President Richard Nixon, but commits suicide when his attempt runs into difficulties. Byck has focused his resentment on Nixon after being turned down for a loan by the Small Business Administration. He has come up with a plot to assassinate the president, called “Operation Pandora’s Box,” which entails hijacking an airliner and crashing it into the White House on a day when Nixon is there. [Edmund Preston, 1987, pp. 52-53; LA Weekly, 9/12/2001; Weekly View, 4/10/2014]
Man Shoots a Guard before Boarding a Plane - A few hours before making his assassination attempt, Byck mails a tape-recorded message in which he describes his plan to the renowned investigative reporter Jack Anderson. [Casa Grande Dispatch, 7/28/2004] Then, early this morning, he drives to Baltimore-Washington International Airport to carry out the plot. He has with him a revolver and a bomb, which he made using gasoline housed in motor oil bottles and a crude igniter switch. At the airport, without warning, he pulls out the revolver and shoots dead a security guard. He then leaps over the security check and gets onto Delta Air Lines Flight 523 to Atlanta, Georgia, a DC-9, choosing this plane because it is the nearest flight that is ready to take off.
Man Shoots the Pilots and Threatens to Blow Up the Plane - On the plane, Byck orders the pilots to take off immediately. They say they are unable to take off until the wheel blocks have been removed. Frustrated by the delay, Byck shoots the pilots, fatally wounding one of them. In his desperation, he then grabs a passenger and orders her to “fly the plane.” He also threatens to blow up the plane unless a flight attendant closes the door. After a standoff between Byck and the police ensues, a police officer starts firing through the cabin door, and two of his shots hit and wound Byck. Then, as the authorities close in, Byck commits suicide by shooting himself in the head. A briefcase containing the gasoline bomb is subsequently found under his body.
Incident 'Resonates' in American Minds after 9/11 - Following this incident, a bunker will be built deep inside the White House and large guns will be placed on the roof of the White House. A report published by the Federal Aviation Administration in 1987 will note that while Byck “lacked the skill and self-control to reach his target, he had provided a chilling reminder of the potential of violence against civil aviation.” After the attempted assassination occurs, Byck’s plot to kill Nixon will remain little known except within the US Secret Service. But it will again be mentioned in reports after 9/11. Then, one journalist will remark that “the terrifying memory of Samuel Byck’s misguided scheme resonates in every American’s mind whenever the thought of 9/11 visits our nightmares.” And LA Weekly will comment, “In the evolution of terrorism, the use of American commercial airliners as murder weapons was ‘pioneered’ by… Byck.” [Edmund Preston, 1987, pp. 52-53; LA Weekly, 9/12/2001; Weekly View, 4/10/2014]
Herbert Kalmbach, Richard Nixon’s personal lawyer and formerly the assistant finance chairman of the Nixon re-election campaign, pleads guilty to violating the Federal Corrupt Practices Act and a misdemeanor charge of fraudulently promising an ambassadorship in return for a campaign contribution. The FBI’s internal report says that Kalmbach’s primary function in the Watergate conspiracy was to distribute the money used to silence the original seven Watergate defendants (see January 8-11, 1973). [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ]
Editorial cartoon from the Washington Post by ‘Herblock,’ July 14, 1974. [Source: Washington Post / Library of Congress]The Watergate grand jury indicts seven Nixon officials and aides for a variety of crimes committed as a part of the Watergate conspiracy, including perjury and conspiring to pay “hush money” to the convicted Watergate burglars. The indicted White House officials are former top Nixon aides John Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman, and Charles Colson; former assistant attorney general Robert Mardian; and Haldeman’s former assistant Gordon Strachan. The former Nixon campaign officials are former campaign chairman John Mitchell and former campaign lawyer Kenneth Parkinson. The charges against Colson will be dropped after he pleads guilty to obstruction of justice in the Ellsberg case (see March 7, 1974). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 335; O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 ; Reeves, 2001, pp. 607; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] President Nixon is labeled an “unindicted co-conspirator” by the grand jury, on a 19-0 vote. [Time, 6/17/1974]
President Nixon demands IRS probes of every senior White House staffer and every member of Congress, in hopes of finding some ammunition to use in defending himself from Watergate-related charges. He says in a memo to chief of staff H. R. Haldeman, “It could be said, if any questions are raised, that this is what we are going because of letters we have received indicating that people in government do not get IRS checks because of their special position…. Give me an oral report.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 577]
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]
A small team of investigators working for the Senate Watergate Committee issues a preliminary report about the suspicious $100,000 gift made to the Nixon re-election campaign by President Nixon’s close friend, Charles “Bebe” Rebozo, which may have been disbursed illegally to Nixon’s family and friends, and perhaps to Nixon himself. Nixon has angrily declared the entire matter off-limits, but a four-man team of investigators, headed by former assistant US attorney Terry Lenzner, has uncovered much of the truth behind the Rebozo gift. The investigators have until May 28, when the entire Watergate Committee is slated to terminate its proceedings. Lenzner and his team were greatly aided by testimony from Nixon’s personal attorney, Herbert Kalmbach, who testified before the committee and was later found guilty of taking part in the Watergate conspiracy (see February 25, 1974). Kalmbach said that Rebozo had asked him about the potential illegal use of the donations, but then changed his mind and claimed he had never made the donations in the first place (see April 30 - May 1, 1973). In his own testimony, Rebozo denied ever asking Kalmbach anything about the donations; Kalmbach must have “misunderstood.” However, the evidence shows otherwise. Lenzner’s investigators believe that Rebozo did indeed make the donations, and that they were indeed illegally disbursed to Nixon’s friends, brothers, and other unnamed people, as Rebozo had originally claimed. The investigators have found that in April 1973, when he first spoke to Kalmbach, Rebozo was looking for a fast, safe way to replace the cash so he could safely claim that he had never made the donation. Lenzner believes that Rebozo secured the replacement cash from another millionaire friend of Nixon’s, financier Robert Abplanalp, through Abplanalp’s lawyer, William Griffin. In May 1973, Lenzner believes that Rebozo and Hughes Corporation executive Richard Danner, the original source of the contribution, met with Nixon, where Abplanalp provided the cash to replace the missing $100,000. Lenzner hopes to secure IRS files on Rebozo that will confirm the team’s findings. Lenzner believes that White House lawyer Fred Buzhardt was in charge of what he calls the “Hughes-Rebozo cover-up.” Buzhardt testified once before the committee, but was able to recall so little that he has been summoned to testify a second time. “It was an incredible performance,” says one committee investigator. “He couldn’t remember anything—not even what he was doing two days before he testified.” Ultimately, little will come of Lenzner’s investigation. [Time, 5/6/1974]
Former Attorney General Richard Kleindienst pleads guilty to a misdemeanor charge resulting from his agreement not to pursue charges in the ITT corruption case (see 1969). Kleindienst admits to giving in to pressure from President Nixon and White House aide John Ehrlichman to drop the Justice Department’s investigation of ITT. He pleads guilty to failing to testify accurately before the Senate. The judge in the case fines Kleindienst $100 and gives him a 30-day suspended jail sentence, calling Kleindienst a man of the “highest integrity” but one who has “a heart that is too loyal.” [New York Times, 2/4/2000]
Former Nixon White House aide Charles Colson, later described by reporter David Plotz as “Richard Nixon’s hard man, the ‘evil genius’ of an evil administration,” is sentenced to jail after pleading guilty (see March 7, 1974) to taking part in the plan to break into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office (see September 9, 1971) and interfering with Ellsberg’s trial (see June 28, 1971). Colson also, according to Watergate historian Stanley Kutler, tried to hire Teamster thugs to beat up antiwar demonstrators, and plotted to either raid or firebomb the Brookings Institution (see June 8-9, 1973). Colson will serve seven months in jail (see September 3, 1974). [Slate, 3/10/2000] Colson tells the court: “I shall be cooperating with the prosecutor, but that is not to say that the prosecutor has bargained for my testimony, that there is any quid pro quo: there was not. I reached my own conclusion that I have a duty to tell everything I know about these important issues, and a major reason for my plea was to free me to do so.” Colson’s testimony against Richard Nixon is damning, as he tells the court Nixon had “on numerous occasions urged me to disseminate damaging information about Daniel Ellsberg.” Vice President Ford defends Nixon, saying, “There’s a big difference between telling Chuck Colson to smear Ellsberg and ordering—or allegedly ordering—a break-in.” Colson will later become a born-again Christian evangelist, and found an influential prison ministry. [Slate, 3/10/2000; Werth, 2006, pp. 273-274]
The Glomar Explorer. [Source: Federation of American Scientists]The CIA attempts to carry out a secretive recovery, code-named Project Jennifer, of a Soviet Golf-II ballistic submarine that sunk in April 1968 in the Pacific Ocean. The submarine, carrying nuclear missiles, had sunk in over three miles of water. Analysts believe the submarine may have been a rogue on its way to attack Hawaii. The Pentagon is capable of carrying out the necessary deep-sea recovery effort itself, but President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger decide instead to outsource the recovery to a private firm, Summa Corporation, headed by eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. The cover story, which has Summa attempting to mine manganese from the ocean floor, is only preserved by CIA Director William Colby feeding Watergate leads to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh to keep Hersh from finding out more about the recovery mission (see February 1975). Summa has built an enormous recovery ship, the Glomar Explorer, for the mission, and the ship goes to the site. Kissinger badly wants the submarine for verification of arms control analyses of Soviet military and nuclear capabilities, as well as for his dealings with defense hawks such as Defense Secretary James Schlesinger. The Glomar has been on site since June, but for the last two weeks an armed Soviet trawler has been near the recovery vessel, taking photographs and making the civilian crew nervous. Many in Washington worry that the Soviets may try to board the Glomar. Kissinger feels that the “intelligence coup” of the recovered sub makes the possibility of a confrontation with the Soviets worthwhile. Ford, like Kissinger and the other senior officials informed of the operation, knows that the Glomar is completely vulnerable, but if President Ford sends US naval vessels to the site, the Soviets will do the same, thus escalating the situation. Worse, the closest Navy vessels are days away. This is Ford’s first test against the Soviets. Ford orders the Glomar to continue operations, but holds off sending naval vessels to the site just yet. [Werth, 2006, pp. 28-30; Federation of American Scientists, 9/14/2006] The rescue attempt is unsuccessful; as the sub is being pulled to the surface, it breaks apart, irretrievably scattering missiles, computer components, secret codes, and everything else of real value. [Werth, 2006, pp. 56] However, unconfirmed accounts say the CIA manages to retrieve a number of items, including three nuclear missiles, two nuclear torpedoes, the ship’s code machine, and various code books. [Federation of American Scientists, 9/14/2006]
Entity Tags: William Colby, Summa Corporation, Richard M. Nixon, Central Intelligence Agency, Seymour Hersh, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Howard Hughes, Henry A. Kissinger, US Department of Defense
Timeline Tags: US International Relations, Nixon and Watergate
The Supreme Court, in the case of United States v. Nixon, votes 8-0 to uphold the subpoena of special prosecutor Leon Jaworski demanding the Watergate tapes for use in the trial of Nixon’s former aides (see March 1, 1974). (William Rehnquist, a Nixon appointee, recused himself from deliberations.) The Court rules, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Warren Burger, that Nixon’s claim of “executive privilege” authorizing him to keep the tapes to himself does not apply, and that his lawyers’ claim that neither the courts nor the special prosecutor have the authority to review the claim also has no weight. Jaworski and one of his senior staffers, Philip Lacovara, argued the case against an array of lawyers for Nixon headed by James St. Clair. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of Jaworski. [UNITED STATES v. NIXON, 7/24/1974; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Barbara Jordan speaking before the House Judiciary Committee. [Source: American Rhetoric (.com)]Barbara Jordan (D-TX), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, makes an eloquent speech reminding her colleagues of the constitutional basis for impeaching a president (see May 9, 1974). Jordan says that America has come too far for her “to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.” Jordan reminds her colleagues that impeachment is not conviction. It proceeds “from the misconduct of public men… the abuse or violation of some public trust.” To vote for impeachment, she says, is not a vote for removing the president from office. The power of impeachment is “an essential check in the hands of this body, the legislature, against and upon the encroachment of the executive.” The framers of the Constitution “did not make the accusers and the judges the same person.… The framers confined in the Congress the power, if need be, to remove the president in order to strike a delicate balance between a president swollen with power and grown tyrannical and preservation of the independence of the executive.” It cannot become a political tool to strike against a president that a group of partisans dislikes, but must “proceed within the confines of the constitutional term, ‘high crime and misdemeanors.’” The evidence against President Nixon is enough to show that he did know that money from his re-election campaign funded the Watergate burglaries (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972), and he did know of campaign official E. Howard Hunt’s participation in the burglary of a psychiatrist’s office to find damaging information against a political enemy (see September 9, 1971), as well as Hunt’s participation in the Dita Beard/ITT affair (see February 22, 1972), and “Hunt’s fabrication of cables designed to discredit the Kennedy administration.” The Nixon White House has not cooperated properly with Congress and the special Watergate prosecutor in turning over evidence under subpoena; Jordan says it was not clear that Nixon would even obey a Supreme Court ruling that the evidence must be given up (see July 24, 1974). Nixon has repeatedly lied to Congress, the investigators, and the US citizenry about what he knew and when he knew it, and has repeatedly attempted to “thwart the lawful investigation by government prosecutors.” In short, Nixon has betrayed the public trust. He is impeachable, Jordan says, because he has attempted to “subvert the Constitution.” She says: “If the impeachment provision in the Constitution of the United States will not reach the offenses charged here, then perhaps that eighteenth century Constitution should be abandoned to a twentieth century paper shredder. Has the president committed offenses and planned and directed and acquiesced in a course of conduct which the Constitution will not tolerate? This is the question. We know that. We know the question. We should now forthwith proceed to answer the question. It is reason, and not passion, which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decision.” [American Rhetoric, 7/25/1974]
Alexander Haig. [Source: Brooks Institute]President Richard Nixon`s chief of staff Alexander Haig pays an urgent call on Vice President Gerald Ford to discuss the terms under which Nixon will resign (see August 8, 1974). Haig gives Ford a handwritten list of what White House counsel Fred Buzhardt, the author of the list, calls “permutations for the option of resignation.” The idea is for Nixon to agree to resign in return for Ford’s agreement to pardon Nixon for any crimes Nixon may have committed while president. Ford listens to Haig but does not agree to any terms. The next day, after learning of the meeting, Ford’s own counsel, Robert Hartmann, is outraged that Ford did not just throw Haig out of his office. With fellow counsel John Marsh, Hartmann demands that Ford call Haig and state unequivocally, for the record, and in front of witnesses that Ford has made no such agreements. Haig considers Hartmann essentially incompetent, and Hartmann views Haig as a power-hungry “assh_le.” The subsequent tensions between Haig, one of the Nixon holdovers in Ford’s presidency, and Ford’s staff will shape future events in the Ford administration. In part to counteract Haig’s influence, Ford will name former NATO ambassador and Nixon aide Donald Rumsfeld as the head of his transition team. Rumsfeld will in turn name former Wyoming congressman and current investment executive Dick Cheney as his deputy; Cheney has lectured his clients that Watergate was never a criminal conspiracy, but merely a power struggle between the White House and Congress. [Werth, 2006, pp. 20]
Betty Ford. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]Despite President Ford’s insistence that he is not considering a pardon for former President Richard Nixon (see September 5-6, 1974), and Ford’s own denials in his 1976 memoir A Time to Heal, Ford tells his lawyer, Robert Hartmann, that he and his wife Betty have decided that if Nixon resigns, Ford will likely pardon him for any Watergate crimes. “We felt we were ready,” Ford tells Hartmann. “This just has to stop; it’s tearing the country to pieces. I decided to go ahead and get it over with, so I called [Nixon’s chief of staff] Al Haig and told them they should do whatever they decided to do; it was all right with me” (see August 1-2, 1974). This is not the last time stories will conflict over Ford’s decision on whether to pardon Nixon (see August 30, 1974 and September 5-6, 1974). [Werth, 2006, pp. 204]
Under tremendous pressure, President Nixon releases transcripts of three conversations he had with then-chief of staff H. R. Haldeman. One tape, of a June 23, 1972 conversation, becomes known as “the smoking gun” (see June 23, 1972). In that conversation, he discusses ordering the FBI to abandon its investigation of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). Nixon also releases tapes that prove he ordered a cover-up of the burglary on June 23, 1972, six days after the break-in. The tapes also show that he knew of the involvement of White House officials and officials from the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Nixon makes one last televised pitch to save his presidency, admitting that he had listened to the June 23 tape—an admission proving he had knowingly lied—and adding: “Whatever mistakes I made in the handling of Watergate, the basic truth remains that when all the facts were brought to my attention I insisted on a full investigation and prosecution of those guilty. I am firmly convinced that the record, in its entirety, does not justify the extreme step of impeachment and removal of a president.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 609]
Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig has Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski to lunch at Haig’s home. Haig wants to personally inform Jaworski that President Nixon will resign (see August 8, 1974), that Nixon’s papers, and the secret recordings he made while president, will be shipped to his California home, and that Jaworski will have access to those documents as needed. “There’s no hanky-panky involved,” Haig assures Jaworski, but then says: “I don’t mind telling you that I haven’t the slightest doubt that the tapes were screwed with. The ones with the gaps and other problems.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 31]
Barry Goldwater. [Source: Blogger (.com)]Three senior Republican congressmen—Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), Hugh Scott (R-PA), and John Rhodes (R-AZ)—meet with President Nixon, and tell him that his chances of avoiding impeachment are “gloomy.” Pressure is mounting both in the press and among the citizenry for Nixon to resign. [Dean, 2006, pp. xxxi; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
On his final working day in office, President Nixon instructs the National Archives to keep his presidential papers sealed until January 1, 1985. Nixon has already bestowed a great number of papers, documents, and other materials to the Archives (and taken a controversial $432,000 tax deduction for the gift), but before today they had been slated to be released to public view at the end of his presidency—effectively August 10, 1974. Author James Reston Jr. will write, somewhat sardonically: “What presence of mind! Here was a president about to resign in disgrace and humiliation, who was cool enough to concern himself with frustrating the work of historians who would want to analyze him.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 61-62]
Law professor and House candidate Bill Clinton. [Source: About (.com)]Bill Clinton, a University of Arkansas law professor and candidate for the House of Representatives, says his opponent, John Paul Hammerschmidt (R-AR), is wrong in opposing President Nixon’s resignation, and is wrong to question whether Nixon committed impeachable offenses. Hammerschmidt now says the House should begin digging into Nixon’s alleged crimes, but Clinton retorts, “I don’t see how in the world he can say that when a year ago he was saying we should forget about it and he voted against giving funds for the House Judiciary Committee staff.” Clinton says: “I think it’s plain that the president should resign and spare the country the agony of this impeachment and removal proceeding. I think the country could be spared a lot of agony and the government could worry about inflation and a lot of other problems if he’d go on and resign.” There is “no question that an admission of making false statements to government officials and interfering with the FBI and the CIA is an impeachable offense,” Clinton says. [Arkansas Gazette, 8/8/1974]
Washington Post headline from August 7, 1974: ‘Nixon Says He Won’t Resign.’ [Source: Washington Post]President Nixon’s speechwriter, Ray Price, writes a speech for Nixon to use in case the president chooses to stay and fight the Watergate allegations rather than resign. According to Price, who will allow the New York Times to publish the speech in 1996, Nixon is never shown this particular speech. Price’s speech acknowledges that the House Judiciary Committee has prepared articles of impeachment against Nixon (see July 27, 1974, July 29, 1974, and July 30, 1974), and that the matter will almost certainly go to the Senate for a trial. The speech has Nixon acknowledging the “smoking gun” tape of June 23, 1972 and released on August 5, 1974 (see June 23, 1972) as a conversation that could “be widely interpreted as evidence that I was involved from the outset in efforts at cover-up.” He should have made the tape available much sooner, the speech acknowledges, and excuses the lapse by saying he “did not focus on it thoroughly…” His failure to release the tape was “a serious mistake.” According to the speech, Nixon would say that he “seriously considered resigning,” but to do so “would leave unresolved the questions that have already cost the country so much in anguish, division and uncertainty. More important, it would leave a permanent crack in our Constitutional structure: it would establish the principle that under pressure, a president could be removed from office by means short of those provided by the Constitution. By establishing that principle, it would invite such pressures on every future president who might, for whatever reason, fall into a period of unpopularity.… I firmly believe that I have not committed any act of commission or omission that justifies removing a duly elected president from office. If I did believe that I had committed such an act, I would have resigned long ago…” In the long run, the benefits of Nixon staying and fighting “will be a more stable government,” avoiding “the descent toward chaos if presidents could be removed short of impeachment and trial.” America must not become like so many other countries, where “governmental instability has reached almost epidemic proportions…” For Nixon to resign could result in the destruction of the US government as it now stands, or almost as bad, would allow the government to “fall such easy prey to those who would exult in the breaking of the president that the game becomes a national habit.” [Cannon, 1994, pp. 309; New York Times, 12/22/1996; PBS, 1/2/1997; National Archives and Records Administration, 3/24/1999]
As President Nixon is resigning his office (see August 8, 1974), Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski receives a memo from his staff recommending Nixon be prosecuted. The memo, from Carl Feldbaum and Peter Kreindler, says: “[T]here is clear evidence that Richard M. Nixon participated in a conspiracy to obstruct justice by concealing the identity of those responsible for the Watergate break-in and other criminal offenses.… Mr. Nixon should be indicted and prosecuted.” They summarize the arguments against prosecution: Nixon has been punished enough by being forced to resign, the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach him (see July 27, 1974, July 29, 1974, and July 30, 1974), prosecuting Nixon might “aggravate political divisions in the country,” “the times call for conciliation rather than recrimination,” and a fair trial for Nixon would be difficult “because of massive pre-trial publicity.” Those arguments are outweighed by those favoring indictment and prosecution: the “principle of equal justice under law requires that every person, no matter what his past position or office, answer to the criminal justice system for his past offenses,” especially if Nixon’s “aides and associates, who acted upon his orders and what they conceived to be his interests, are to be prosecuted for the same offenses.” Not prosecuting Nixon would further divide the country, the memo asserts, and would threaten “the integrity of the criminal justice system and the legislative process, which together marshalled the substantial evidence of Mr. Nixon’s guilt.” The Constitution provides that anyone removed from office by impeachment should be tried in a court of law. Nixon’s resignation is not “sufficient retribution for [his] criminal offenses… [a] person should not be permitted to trade in the abused office in return for immunity.” And finally, to allow the argument of massive pre-trial publicity to obviate the ability to indict and prosecute Nixon “effectively would immunize all future presidents for their actions, however criminal. Moreover, the courts may be the appropriate forum to resolve questions of pre-trial publicity in the context of an adversary proceeding.” [Leon Jaworski, 1982]
Richard Nixon announcing his resignation to the country. [Source: American Rhetoric.com]President Richard Nixon, forced to resign because of the Watergate scandal, begins his last day in office. The morning is marked by “burn sessions” in several rooms of the White House, where aides burn what author Barry Werth calls “potentially troublesome documents” in fireplaces. Nixon’s chief of staff, Alexander Haig, is preparing for the transition in his office, which is overflowing with plastic bags full of shredded documents. Haig says all of the documents are duplicates. Haig presents Nixon with a one-line letter of resignation—“I hereby resign the office of president of the United States”—and Nixon signs it without comment. Haig later describes Nixon as “haggard and ashen,” and recalls, “Nothing of a personal nature was said… By now, there was not much that could be said that we did not already understand.” Nixon gives his resignation speech at 9 p.m. [White House, 8/8/1974; White House, 8/8/1974; American Rhetoric, 2001; Werth, 2006, pp. 3-8] On August 7, Haig told Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski that Congress would certainly pass a resolution halting any legal actions against Nixon. But, watching Nixon’s televised resignation speech, Jaworski thinks, “Not after that speech, Al.” Nixon refuses to accept any responsibility for any of the myriad crimes and illicit actions surrounding Watergate, and merely admits to some “wrong” judgments. Without some expression of remorse and acceptance of responsibility, Jaworski doubts that Congress will do anything to halt any criminal actions against Nixon. [Werth, 2006, pp. 30-31] Instead of accepting responsibility, Nixon tells the nation that he must resign because he no longer has enough support in Congress to remain in office. To leave office before the end of his term “is abhorrent to every instinct in my body,” he says, but “as president, I must put the interests of America first.” Jaworski makes a statement after the resignation speech, declaring that “there has been no agreement or understanding of any sort between the president or his representatives and the special prosecutor relating in any way to the president’s resignation.” Jaworski says that his office “was not asked for any such agreement or understanding and offered none.” [Washington Post, 8/9/1974]
While President Nixon is bidding his White House staffers farewell (see August 8, 1974), White House military office chief William Gulley collects a dozen boxes with personal papers from the residency wing of the White House. Nixon wants the papers delivered to his private home in California, where they cannot be viewed by others. In consultation with Nixon’s military aide, Jack Brennan, Gulley determines to get the papers to California before incoming President Ford can consolidate control of the White House and stop any shipments of presidential documents out of Washington and public view. Gulley will be successful. [Werth, 2006, pp. 44-45] At about this same time, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has 30 crates of his own files, including phone transcripts, secretly shipped to the bomb shelter of Vice President Nelson Rockefeller’s estate in New York, consigning those files to public oblivion. [Werth, 2006, pp. 241]
Jerald terHorst. [Source: Diana Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images]A host of tips, leaks, rumors, and wild speculations swirl around President Nixon’s resignation from the presidency and upcoming departure from the White House (see August 8, 1974). Nixon has pardoned himself and all of his aides before resigning, one rumor goes. Nixon has already sneaked out all of his secret tapes of White House conversations to his private residence in San Clemente, California, claims another rumor. Another one, more worrying, has Defense Secretary James Schlesinger informing military commanders not to take orders from the West Wing in case a drunken, suicidally paranoid Nixon refused to leave or ordered a nuclear strike. Vice President Ford’s press secretary, Jerald terHorst, assures reporters that none of the rumors are true. The press listens to terHorst because he is one of them, having resigned a senior position with the Detroit News to take the position in the White House. [Werth, 2006, pp. 17]
Newly installed President Gerald Ford (see August 9, 1974) has no intention of pardoning former President Richard Nixon. Press secretary Jerald terHorst tells reporters, “I don’t think the American people would stand for it.” TerHorst adds that Ford even opposes granting Nixon immunity from prosecution. “I can assure you of that,” he says. [Werth, 2006, pp. 17-18] Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski is “stunned and upset” by terHorst’s statement that Ford is not considering executive clemency for Nixon. Jaworski wants to avoid any court and constitutional battles over Nixon’s legal liabilities, but he suspects Ford is attempting to pressure him into making the first move. Jaworski has tried to work with both Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig and with his own staff, who to a man suspect him of having more loyalty to Nixon than an interest in pursuing the truth. But whatever loyalties Jaworski has towards Nixon have eroded over the months of investigations. Jaworski will later recall a “galling frustration” with Nixon, who “continually twisted the facts while I, who knew the truth, had to remain silent.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 30-31]
Gerald Ford takes the oath of office. [Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library]Vice President Gerald Ford prepares to take over the presidency from the resigning Richard Nixon (see August 8, 1974). Ford’s transition team suggests that, in line with Ford’s own views, Ford not appoint a chief of staff at this time. “However,” says the team’s memo, “there should be someone who could rapidly and efficiently organize the new staff organization, but who will not be perceived or eager to be chief of staff.” Ford writes “Rumsfeld” in the margin of the memo. Donald Rumsfeld is a former Navy pilot and Nixon aide. Rumsfeld has been the US ambassador to NATO and, thusly, was out of Washington and untainted by Watergate. Rumsfeld harbors presidential ambitions of his own and has little use for a staff position, even such a powerful position as a president’s chief of staff. [Werth, 2006, pp. 7-8] Rumsfeld believes that Ford’s first task is to establish a “legitimate government” as far from the taint of Watergate as possible—a difficult task considering Ford is retaining Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the rest of the Nixon cabinet, Haig, and virtually the entire White House staff, although plans are for Haig and most of the White House staff to gracefully exit in a month. [Werth, 2006, pp. 21] Shortly after noon, Ford takes the oath of office for the presidency, becoming the first president in US history to enter the White House as an appointed, rather than an elected, official. Ford tells the nation: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.… I assume the presidency under extraordinary circumstances.… This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts.” [Politico, 8/9/2007]
Time cover of Leon Jaworski. [Source: Time]Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski and his staff discuss how to proceed with the Watergate prosecutions. The combined trial of Nixon aide H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, former Attorney General John Mitchell, and three other Nixon aides, is scheduled for September 9, though that date seems unlikely. Most of the prosecution lawyers assume Jaworski will put Nixon on trial along with his aides. Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig has already told Jaworski that Nixon will refuse to testify or be involved in any legal proceedings, and implied that Nixon’s mental and physical conditions are rapidly deteriorating. Jaworski is not sure what to do. His staff calls the entire issue of who should take what responsibility for handling Nixon the “monkey problem.” Prosecutors Richard Ben-Veniste and George Frampton later write, “On whose back was the monkey going to end up: the prosecutors, Congress, the White House, the grand jury, the court?” [Werth, 2006, pp. 31-33]
Richard Nixon’s presidential documents—46 million pieces of paper and 950 reels of recording tape—are being packed up in boxes and stored throughout the White House, the Executive Office Building (EOB), and other locations. The question is, should all the materials be turned over to Nixon, as he insists, or retained for evidence in upcoming Watergate trials? President Ford wants to stay out of the dispute. Ford’s staff learns that White House aides still loyal to Nixon are stuffing documents into “burn bags” at an extraordinary rate, and the White House “burn room,” where documents are chemically destroyed, is overflowing, with cartons of documents stacking up in the halls. Ford orders his staff to guard the materials and prevent them from being destroyed or removed. Unfortunately, the problem is not so easily resolved. Ford’s staffers are working out of the EOB, and Nixon’s people command the West Wing, where they show little inclination to obey any directives from Ford’s people. One of Ford’s attorneys, Benton Becker, tries to prevent Army soldiers from loading a truck with boxes full of Nixon materials; the truck will convey the materials to Andrews Air Force Base, where they will be flown to California. When Becker tells the colonel in charge that Ford has ordered the documents to remain, the colonel retorts, “I take my orders from General Haig” [Alexander Haig, Nixon’s chief of staff]. Becker tells White House security not to let the truck leave the grounds, and informs Ford, who angrily confronts Haig. Haig denies any knowledge of the situation and says the colonel must be acting on his own, an explanation Becker finds hard to believe. Like it or not, Ford is now involved in the custody battle over Nixon’s documents. [Werth, 2006, pp. 33-35]
White House lawyer Fred Buzhardt, a Nixon loyalist who is retiring into private practice, orders Staff Secretary Jerry Jones to box up all the Watergate tapes and place the boxes on an Air Force truck outside the White House, joining boxes and crates of White House documents being shipped to Nixon’s home in San Clemente, California (see August 8, 1974). Ever since the now-infamous 18-and-one-half minute gap had been discovered on one of the tapes, Jones has been the only person authorized to enter the guarded vault in the EOB where the tapes are stored. Jones complies, believing that Buzhardt has authorization from President Ford’s personal lawyer, Philip Buchen. But two hours into the packing process, Buzhardt stops Jones from continuing. “I think what happened is Buchen changed his mind,” Jones later recalls, “and then Fred had a problem. I think we probably could have shipped them after Buchen told him not to. But Fred felt that being the case, we simply couldn’t do it.… It was a trust thing. We were all in the position that if we did the wrong thing, or if I relied on Fred and he did the wrong thing, or he relied on me and I did the wrong thing, or we both relied on [chief of staff Alexander] Haig and he did the wrong thing, we could go to jail.” By August 12, Jones recalls, “nobody knew what in the hell to do with these things.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 72-73]
August 19, 1974 cover of Time magazine, inspired by Ford’s speech. [Source: Time]Gerald Ford gives his first speech as president to the House of Representatives. When he enters the chamber, he receives a thunderous ovation in the House of Representatives. Columnist and author Jimmy Breslin will later write: “When the doors swung open and everybody in the chamber saw that it was not Richard Nixon walking in, the cheers that went up around me were merely perfunctory when matched with the feeling of relief, a feeling so intense that it could be felt, almost heard, as it rose from their chests and shoulders to leave them free of Nixon and all the name meant to their careers and their country. Oh, they liked Jerry Ford very much.… But for anybody who was standing up with the crowd, watching, listening, feeling, it was obvious that these men, who are in politics for a living, would have cheered for anybody.” Ford promises listeners: “There will be no illegal tappings, eavesdroppings, buggings, or break-ins by my administration. There will be hot pursuit of tough laws to prevent illegal invasions of privacy in both government and private activities.” ABC reporter and pundit Harry Reasoner says after the speech that it is surprising “how easy it is to give this man the benefit of the doubt,” adding, “The old saying may be demonstrated again—that God takes care of fools, drunkards, and the United States.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 52-54]
Jerald terHorst. [Source: Dirck Halstead / Getty Images]During a White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jerald terHorst is grilled about the fate of the thousands of hours of recordings made by former President Richard Nixon, recordings clandestinely made by Nixon of conversations with his aides, staffers, advisers, and visitors (see February 1971 and July 13-16, 1973). The practice of secretly recording White House conversations began with Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Nixon had gone far beyond the simple recording systems made by his predecessors. He had hidden microphones in the lamps and room fixtures in the Oval Office, his office in the Executive Office Building (EOB), the Cabinet Room, and in the Aspen Lodge at Camp David. In all, he made over 3,700 hours of recordings between July 1971 and July 1973. The tapes are loaded with evidence of criminal conspiracies and deeds involving Nixon and dozens of his closest advisers and aides, and are of intense interest to reporters and the Watergate prosecutors. TerHorst causes a stir when he tells listeners that the tapes are currently being guarded by Secret Service personnel, and “they have been ruled to be the personal property” of Nixon. Ruled by whom? reporters demand. The “ruling” is based on a “formal,” albeit unwritten, legal opinion by White House lawyers Fred Buzhardt and James St. Clair, who had helped frame Nixon’s Watergate defense. TerHorst is unaware of the legal dispute over the tapes brewing in the White House and in the office of Leon Jaworski, the Watergate special prosecutor. Ford was not involved in the decision to turn the materials over to Nixon, says terHorst, but concurs in it. TerHorst is speculating far more than the reporters realize; he has been given little information and only scanty guidance from Buzhardt. When asked if the decision to give the documents and tapes to Nixon comes from “an agreement among the different staffs, the special prosecutor, the Justice Department, and the White House legal staff,” terHorst replies unsteadily, “I assume there would be because I’m sure neither one would just take unilateral action.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 71-75]
Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski receives a phone call from Senator James Eastland (D-MS), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a longtime friend of Richard Nixon. Eastland tells Jaworski that Nixon had called him from the Nixon compound in San Clemente, California. Nixon had cried during the conversation, says Eastland: “He said, ‘Jim, don’t let Jaworski put me in that trial with [former aides H. R.] Haldeman and [John] Ehrlichman. I can’t take any more.…’ He’s in bad shape, Leon.” Jaworski asks if Eastland has any plans for a Senate resolution opposing prosecution for Nixon; such a resolution would not be legally binding, but would provide cover for both Jaworski and President Ford if either decided to do something to keep Nixon out of court. “We’ll think on it,” Eastland says. Despite his mandate to pursue Nixon and bring him before a jury, Jaworski does not want Nixon in court. But he cannot find a legal justification for such an action. Prosecution counsel Philip Lacovara will recall: “The whole premise of this exercise called Watergate was to follow the facts wherever they lead, and if they led into the Oval Office, to apply the law to those facts in the same way that the law would apply to any other person. It would be fundamentally inconsistent with the idea of equal application of the law to prosecute people who had acted on President Nixon’s behalf, and indeed under President Nixon’s direction, and to give him a pass.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 74-75]
Lesley Stahl. [Source: John Neubauer / Getty Images]Judge John Sirica, presiding over the Watergate trial of former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman, subpoenas former President Nixon to appear as a witness on behalf of Ehrlichman. Ehrlichman has heard the tapes the prosecution intends to use against him, and, already convicted of conspiracy and lying about his involvement in the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971), knows he needs a powerful defense to avoid more jail time. He demanded that Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski hand over the White House files on Ehrlichman for his defense. But Jaworski instead gave Ehrlichman an affidavit from Nixon’s former White House lawyer Fred Buzhardt, who affirmed that nothing in those ten million documents would help Ehrlichman in his defense. Days later, Buzhardt suffered a heart attack, rendering it impossible for Ehrlichman to challenge his affirmation. Ehrlichman hopes that the subpoena will muddy the legal waters by provoking a confrontation between Nixon’s lawyers and Jaworski’s. CBS reporter Lesley Stahl informs her viewers, incorrectly, that it seems Jaworski “has indicted Mr. Nixon.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 84-88]
Conservative Democratic senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA) meets with President Ford as part of a discussion about the standoff with the Soviet Union over trade and emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel. Jackson—hawkish, defense-minded, and solidly pro-Israel—sees the standoff as an opportunity to undercut Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Jackson is a forerunner of what in later years will be called “neoconservatism” (see 1965), an ideology mostly espoused by a group of Democratic lawmakers and intellectuals who have abandoned their support for Rooseveltian New Deal economics and multilateralist foreign policies (see Early 1970s). Jackson and his outspoken pro-Israel aide, Richard Perle, view Kissinger as far too conciliatory and willing to negotiate with the Communist bloc. Jackson and Perle see the Soviet Union, not the Israeli-Palestine conflict, as the chief threat to US interests in the Middle East and the control of that region’s oil fields. They see a strong, powerful Israel as essential to their plans for US domination of the region. Jackson resists a proposed compromise on the number of Soviet Jews the USSR will allow to emigrate to Israel—the Soviets offer 55,000 and Jackson insists on 75,000—and many in the meeting feel that Jackson is being deliberately recalcitrant. “It made mo sense to me because it was sure to be counterproductive,” Ford later writes, “but he would not bend, and the only reason is politics.” For his part, Kissinger respects Jackson’s political abilities, but to his mind, Perle is a “ruthless… little b_stard.” Kissinger knows that Republican hawks as well as the burgeoning neoconservative movement will pressure Ford to abandon Richard Nixon’s policies of moderating relations with the Soviet Union and Communist China. But, author Barry Werth writes in 2006: “what Kissinger and now Ford would chronically underestimate was the neoconservatives’ argument that the United States should not so much seek to coexist with the Soviet system as to overthrow it through direct confrontation. Or the extent to which the neoconservatives would go to exaggerate a foreign threat and stir up fear.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 77-79]
The White House announces that none of former President Richard Nixon’s documents and tapes will be released to him, but will instead remain in White House custody pending a resolution of the legal issues surrounding the materials. Nixon has correctly argued that all other presidents routinely receive their files and documents upon leaving office, but these are extraordinary circumstances and Nixon has no constitutional or legal right to those materials. President Ford’s counsel, Philip Buchen, speaking for Ford, notes that the decision to keep the files “in no way constitutes a denial” that they legally belong to Nixon. Another of Ford’s counselors, Robert Hartmann, later writes that the key to this question is not Nixon’s desire for the files or the Watergate prosecutors’ equal desire for them, but that “Ford wanted to get rid of them. He had no desire to be the daily arbiter of this no-win contest. Nixon’s files were a millstone hung around his fledgling presidency. He desperately wanted to cut himself free.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 83-84]
President Ford announces the selection of former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, a moderately liberal Republican, as his vice president. Ford gives Richard Nixon a courtesy call to inform him of the selection before making the public announcement. Nixon seems “very pleased,” Ford will later write. “He said Nelson’s name and experience in foreign policy would help me internationally, and that he was fully qualified to be president should something happen to me. The extreme right wing, he continued, would be very upset, but I shouldn’t worry because I couldn’t please them anyway.” Ford then telephones George H.W. Bush, who is bitterly disappointed at being passed over. To make the public announcement, Ford enters the Oval Office with Rockefeller at his side. Ford characterizes the decision to select Rockefeller as “a tough call for a tough job.” Rockefeller must be confirmed by the Senate, but no one expects any difficulties on that score. Rockefeller does cause a stir by confirming that Ford has “every intention” of running for president in 1976, though Rockefeller will not confirm that he will also be on the ticket. Most Republicans outside of the hard-core right applaud Rockefeller’s selection. House Minority Leader John Rhodes (R-AZ), a longtime Ford ally, chides the extremists: “I can’t believe conservative Republicans feel broadening the base of the party is a bad thing—unless they want to keep on losing and keep being a minority—and I just can’t subscribe to that way of thinking.” The mainstream media approves of Rockefeller as well, with CBS’s Eric Sevareid calling the new Ford-Rockefeller administration a triumph of “common sense.” He goes on to say the two are so popular that Democrats, “more deeply divided than the Republicans,” may find themselves in for a “long stretch in the political wilderness.… They thought they could run against Nixon for the next twenty [years]. But as things stand now they can’t run against Nixon even this year.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 138-143]
The House Judiciary Committee releases its final Watergate report, a 528-page document that concludes there is “clear and convincing evidence” that Richard Nixon “condoned, encouraged… directed, coached, and personally helped to fabricate perjury,” had abused the powers of the presidency, and, had he not resigned, should have been removed from office. Ten of Nixon’s staunchest House allies release a concurring statement that says, while Nixon was “hounded from office,” he undoubtedly “impeded the FBI investigation of the Watergate affair… created and preserved the evidence of that transgression… and concealed its terrible import, even from his own counsel, until he could no longer do so. [Nixon] imprisoned the truth about his role in the Watergate cover-up so long and so tightly within the solitude of his Oval Office that it could not be unleashed without destroying his presidency.” The House votes to accept the report 412-3. Committee chairman Peter Rodino (D-NJ) says: “I feel tremendously relieved. The country can get moving again.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 160-161]
Judge John Sirica, presiding over the Watergate trial of H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Mitchell, postpones their trial until September 30. This gives Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski some much-desired breathing room. Jaworski must decide whether to indict Richard Nixon. Jaworski’s staff unanimously believes Nixon must at least be indicted, if not actively prosecuted, or history will condemn the entire work of the special prosecution. George Frampton, one of Jaworski’s staff, notes that the politicians who could have made a decision on the issue have not done so. In a memo to Jaworski, Frampton writes that no one “can expect you now to abandon your mandate and responsibilities to the administration of justice in order to assume their burden.… I wonder if ten years from now history will endorse the notion that Mr. Nixon has ‘suffered enough.’ The powerful men around him have lost their liberty and their livelihoods. Mr. Nixon, on the other hand, will be supported in lavish style with a pension and subsidies at taxpayer expense until his death. He may reenter public life, no matter how morally crippled.” The breadth and depth of crimes allegedly committed by Nixon are such that Jaworski is not sure where to even start with an indictment. [Werth, 2006, pp. 162-163]
President Ford, with Attorney General William Saxbe and Ford’s counsel Philip Buchen, discuss what to do with the ever-accumulating boxes and crates of Richard Nixon’s presidential documents. Mostly stored on the third floor of the Executive Office Building, their weight is so heavy that the Secret Service worries the floor might cave in underneath them. No one is sure how many documents William Gulley, the director of the White House military office, managed to spirit out to the Nixon residence in California (see August 8, 1974), but the White House tape recordings and most of the important documents remain in White House custody. Ford wants to be rid of the documents once and for all, but he has so far yielded to the advice of his lawyers to keep them. Ford’s attorney Benton Becker will later write, “I suggested to President Ford, not too diplomatically… that American history would record his transmittal of the records and tapes to California as the final act of the Watergate cover-up—an act initiated and carried out by Gerald Ford.” Ford asks Saxbe to get a firm legal opinion on exactly who owns the Nixon files, Nixon or the government. [Werth, 2006, pp. 157-158]
Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford at a Los Angeles hotel, October 1974. [Source: David Hume Kennerly / Vanity Fair]The Republican governor of California, Ronald Reagan, has until now been undecided whether to run for president in 1976 against Ford. But Nelson Rockefeller’s nomination as vice president (see August 20, 1974) galvanizes Reagan and his team. Conservative Republicans begin gathering under Reagan’s banner to oppose what they see as an unacceptably left-leaning 1976 ticket of Ford and Rockefeller. Reagan is not universally popular in the GOP: Richard Nixon thought him “strange” and not “pleasant to be around.” For his part, Reagan has until now staunchly supported Nixon throughout the Watergate debacle, but has begun exhorting young conservatives to forget Nixon and embrace conservative ideology. At a Maryland fund-raising party, Reagan tells the crowd that the Ford administration must reassert what he calls the “mandate of 1972,” when Nixon trounced Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in the most lopsided victory in modern US history. By re-electing Nixon so overwhelmingly, Reagan says, “voters rejected an invitation to Utopia and reaffirmed the basic values from which our system was built. They voted for fiscal responsibility and individual determination of their own destinies.… They repudiated the idea that government should grow bigger and bigger, that we should embrace more costly programs to alleviate human misery—programs that somehow never succeed no matter how much money is spent on them. The mandate of 1972 was a matter of the people vs. big government. The people, I believe, have given the government a mandate which they expect to be enforced.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 180-181]
A small August 24, 1974, story in the Washington Post about the Pentagon ensuring that former President Nixon could not unilaterally use military forces to retain power in the case of an impeachment (see August 22, 1974) becomes blazing page one headlines around the country. The stories center around quotes from Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, who says that he worried about two unlikely possibilities. First, Nixon might order military units to block Congress from the “constitutional process” of removing him from office, or some other official might try to oust Nixon in something of a coup d’etat. Second, the nation might suddenly face a crisis calling for immediate military action, and Schlesinger and General George Brown, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would have to justify their decision to take such action. “Pentagon Kept Tight Rein in Last Days of Nixon Rule,” the New York Times reports. President Ford is outraged at the story, and sees the leaker of the story—Schlesinger or someone else—as having committed a profoundly disloyal act, not just against Nixon, but against the nation and the military. Ford meets with Brown, who tells him that the story is bogus. “There was no alert,” Brown says. “I’ve checked at headquarters. There are no recorded messages coming out of [Schlesinger]‘s office. Furthermore, if there had been a call, it would have been referred back to the National Military Command Center here at the Pentagon. We have no record of that. I’ve checked every record and it’s all pure fabrication.” Ford learns that the story indeed originated with Schlesinger, who held a lunch meeting with reporters on August 23. Deputy Secretary of Defense William Clements asks Schlesinger, “Why did you say all this?” Schlesinger’s response, according to Ford’s memoirs: “I don’t know.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 182-185]
Philip Lacovara, a lawyer on Leon Jaworski’s Watergate prosecution staff, is adamant in pushing for an indictment against Richard Nixon (see August 22, 1974). Lacovara is a Goldwater conservative among a coterie of liberals and moderates; it is his role to interpret the team’s duties and responsibilities in light of the Constitution. As such, his recommendations carry weight. Jaworski is also discussing legal strategies with Herbert “Jack” Miller, Nixon’s lawyer, who intends to argue that Nixon cannot be given a fair trial by an impartial jury due to the incredible media coverage of the Watergate conspiracy (see Late August 1974). Jaworski’s prosecutors are solidly behind Lacovara in demanding that Nixon be indicted. “To do otherwise,” prosecutors Richard Ben-Veniste and George Frampton will later write, “was to admit that the enormity of Nixon’s crimes and the importance of his office automatically guaranteed him immunity from prosecution.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 207-208]
Former Nixon White House counsel Leonard Garment, now working for President Ford, meets with former Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas to further his case for pardoning Richard Nixon. Garment has already spoken to a number of journalists who believe the time has come for a pardon. Garment asks Fortas if Nixon should be pardoned; Fortas says he should. This, Fortas says, is “Ecclesiastes time,” a time to cast away stones and to heal. A public prosecution of Nixon would be a “horror,” Fortas muses. Garment phones Ford’s chief of staff Alexander Haig, who is pushing the case for a pardon from within the White House, and Haig gives Garment permission to meet with Ford and make his case. [Werth, 2006, pp. 206-207]
A US marshal serves two judicial subpoenas to Richard Nixon at his home in San Clemente, California. Nixon is slated to testify at the upcoming Watergate trials of H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Mitchell. [Werth, 2006, pp. 223-224]
Leonard Garment. [Source: Spartacus Educational]Former President Nixon’s White House counsel, Leonard Garment, delivers a three-page handwritten memo to the White House outlining his arguments in favor of a pardon (see August 27, 1974). Garment writes that the time for a pardon is now, otherwise President Ford risks “losing control of the situation.” Calls for indictment will increase, Garment says, and “the whole miserable tragedy will be played out to God knows what ugly and wounding conclusion.” Once the initial negative reaction to a pardon blows over, Garment argues, Ford will be viewed as “strong and admirable.… There will be a national sigh of relief.” Garment also argues that Nixon well may not survive a prosecution because of his physical debilities and near-suicidal depression. Ford does not immediately see the memo, but his ad hoc chief of staff Alexander Haig does. Ford and Haig discuss the pardon in private, and though Ford will later write that Haig did not try to argue for a pardon, after the meeting Haig calls Garment to tell him, “It’s a done deal.” For his part, Ford doesn’t think the country wants to, in his words, “see an ex-president behind bars.” Nixon’s suffering is enormous, Ford believes: “His resignation was an implicit admission of guilt, and he could have to carry forever his burden of guilt.” Moreover, Ford worries that the nation is essentially overdosing on the political drama. Everyone has become “Watergate junkies,” as one of Ford’s military aides, Robert Barrett, tells him. “Some of us are mainlining, some of us are sniffing, some are lacing it with something else, but all of us are addicted,” Barrett says. “This will go on and on unless someone steps in and says that we, as a nation, must go cold turkey. Otherwise, we’ll die of an overdose.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 212-214]
Philip Lacovara. [Source: Oyez.org]One of Leon Jaworski’s senior Watergate prosecutors, Philip Lacovara, is incensed at what he and many others perceive as waffling by President Ford on the decision to pardon Richard Nixon. Ford has repeatedly acknowledged that he has the right to pardon Nixon if he so chooses, but he has also said that he is leaving the decision to indict to Jaworski. In Lacovara’s opinion, Ford is shifting the burden of responsibility and the possibility of any future blame directly onto Jaworski. Lacovara says that Jaworski should confront Ford, and “put [the matter] squarely to [Ford] over whether he wishes to have a criminal prosecution of the former president or not.… I believe he should be asked to face this issue now and make the operative judgment concerning the former president, rather than leaving this matter in the limbo of uncertainty that has been created.” Lacovara also knows that the question of a pardon hangs over the trial of the Watergate “Big Three”—H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and John Mitchell. If Nixon is to be indicted along with these three, and then pardoned during the trial, it would wreak havoc on any chance of winning a guilty verdict for any of the three. If Ford is going to pardon Nixon, Lacovara says, he should do it now, before the Watergate trials can commence. Jaworski has an additional worry, fueled by Nixon’s lawyers: that Nixon might die during the proceedings, and Jaworski will be held to blame. Nixon’s lawyers are calling their client “mortally ill with phlebitis,” Lacovara will recall, and are arguing: “Why should the special prosecutor put this man into his grave? He’d suffered horribly enough and been forced to resign in disgrace. Just as a matter of human decency, this fatally ill man should not be called before the bar.” According to Lacovara, Jaworski does not want to make the decision to indict Nixon. Later, Jaworski tells former Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig, with whom Jaworski stays in close contact, that his staff is pressuring hm to push Ford to either “fish or cut bait… and not dangle the possibility of a pardon out there. The president needs to know that this is a call that he’s ultimately going to have to make.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 229-232]
Richard Nixon implores his former White House military aide, William Gulley, to help him secure his presidential files—including the so-called Watergate tapes—from White House custody. During the conversation, a melancholy and obviously bitter Nixon tells Gulley: “I’d like you to know that nothing more can hurt me, but associating with me can hurt those who do. You should always remember that, because the media aren’t going to let up on me. This is not going to satisfy them. They won’t be satisfied until they have me in jail.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 242]
President Ford tells chief of staff Alexander Haig and a small assemblage of his closest legal advisers that he is “very much inclined to grant [Richard] Nixon immunity from further prosecution.” He tells White House counsel Phil Buchen to begin researching how he can do it, but to “be discreet. I want no leaks.” Buchen will later recall that Ford has made up his mind, but wants to be exactly sure of the legal procedures and ramifications of a presidential pardon for Nixon. Buchen suggests a trade: Nixon receives the pardon, and in return, he grants full custody of his presidential documents and files to the federal government. Buchen is struggling with a subpoena of his own that requires him to turn over a selection of Nixon’s Oval Office tape recordings to an attorney for a former Democratic Party official whose phone was bugged during the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). [Werth, 2006, pp. 243] The assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Antonin Scalia [US Supreme Court, 2008 ] , has written that Buchen has no authority to turn over the tapes because they belong to Nixon and not the government. Scalia’s opinion has not yet been released, but Buchen fears it will weaken the argument for retaining custody of the tapes and documents. Buchen wants the issue settled before it can explode into a huge, embarrassingly public legal debacle. In addition, Buchen wants a “statement of contrition” from Nixon in return for the pardon. Ford tells Buchen to work on both, but “for God’s sake don’t let either one stand in the way of my granting the pardon.” Buchen and other advisers, particularly another Ford lawyer, Robert Hartmann, argue against issuing a pardon at the particular moment; when Buchen finally says, “I can’t argue with what you feel is right, but is this the right time?” Ford replies, “Will there ever be a right time?” [Werth, 2006, pp. 243-246]
President Ford assigns attorney Benton Becker to find out what the technicalities of a presidential pardon are. Among Ford’s questions: Can a president pardon someone before that person is indicted? Would it stop a conviction if issued after an indictment but before jury deliberations? Does a pardon need to cite specific crimes, or can it be for across-the-board violations of the entire US criminal code? Would it affect charges brought by individual states or communities? In light of some senators’ push for Richard Nixon’s impeachment even though he has already resigned, would it stop an impeachment proceeding? “What does a pardon really mean?” Ford asks Becker. “Am I erasing everything he did, as if it never occurred? Does a pardon erase a criminal act or does it only erase criminal punishment?” [Werth, 2006, pp. 248-249]
Defense Secretary James Schlesinger and Attorney General William Saxbe suggest that the Nixon pardon be tied to a proposal to grant conditional amnesty to Vietnam draft evaders, many of whom are still living as “outlaws” in Canada. The proposal has encountered stiff resistance from conservatives and veterans’ groups, but a bigger question is whether an amnesty proposal would be considered some sort of underhanded “quid pro quo” for Nixon’s pardon. The idea is eventually abandoned. [Werth, 2006, pp. 251-252]
Nathan Lewin publishes an angry op-ed column in the New Republic calling for a full investigation and prosecution of Richard Nixon. Lewin is the law partner of Herbert “Jack” Miller, who now represents Nixon. It will be Miller’s job to argue that Nixon should not be indicted by the Watergate special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski. Lewin writes that Nixon “robbed the Senate” of the opportunity to render a strong judgment about his presidency when he resigned, and notes “the probability that Richard Nixon knows of or participated actively in crimes related to Watergate that have not yet been made the subject of a formal charge.” In light of these not-yet-uncovered crimes, Lewin asks, “What possible explanation will there ever be if history records that those who acted on Nixon’s instructions, express or implied, were charged and convicted of crimes and sent to jail while their chief spent his retirement years strolling the Pacific beaches, writing about his accomplishments in foreign policy and lecturing to college students?” Nixon is unworried about Miller’s partnership with Lewin. Miller will decide that the best way to keep Nixon out of the courts is to claim that, because of the massive negative publicity generated by Watergate, there is nowhere in the country Nixon can go to receive a fair trial from an impartial jury. [Werth, 2006, pp. 187-189]
Researching the legal and technical aspects of presidential pardons (see August 30, 1974), Benton Becker, President Ford’s lawyer, finds that they only apply to federal crimes, meaning, for example, that Richard Nixon can still be prosecuted for crimes in California arising from his connections to the Ellsberg burglary (see September 9, 1971). It would not affect a Senate impeachment trial, even though the possibility of that happening is increasingly remote. Becker finds two legal references of particular use in his research: the 1915 Supreme Court case of United States v. Burdick, which attempted to answer the fundamental question of the meaning of a presidential pardon; and an 1833 quote from the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, who wrote, “A pardon is an act of grace… which exempts the individual on whom it is bestowed from the punishment the law inflicts for a crime he has committed.” Becker determines that such an “act of grace” is an implicit admission of guilt. Unlike the proposed conditional amnesty for draft evaders (see August 31, 1974), a pardon will strike convictions from the books and exempt those pardoned from any responsibility for answering for their crimes, but it does not forget (in a legal sense) that those crimes took place. “The pardon is an act of forgiveness,” Becker explains. “We are forgiving you—the president, the executive, the king—is forgiving you for what you’ve done, your illegal act that you’ve either been convicted of, or that you’ve been accused of, or that you’re being investigated for, or that you’re on trial for. And you don’t have to accept this—you can refuse this.” The Burdick decision convinces Becker that by pardoning Nixon, Ford can stop his imminent prosecution, and undoubted conviction, without having to condone Nixon’s crimes. For Nixon to accept a pardon would be, in a legal sense, an admission of criminal wrongdoing. [Werth, 2006, pp. 263-265]
One of the outbuildings at Fort Holabird. [Source: Hugh D. Cox]Former White House counsel John Dean begins a one-to-four-year term in prison for his role in the Watergate coverup. Dean’s sentence would have been far longer had he not cooperated so completely with the Watergate investigators. He is the 15th Watergate figure to go to jail, but the first to be asked whether Richard Nixon should join him in prison. (Dean refuses to comment.) Privately, Dean is shaken that Nixon is still insisting on his innocence. Later, Dean will write that he believes a number of reasons—hubris, victimization, self-pity, belief that history will exonerate him, and fear of jail—is all part of Nixon’s recalcitrance, but Dean does not believe that Nixon made a deal with President Ford for any sort of clemency. Dean will serve his term at Fort Holabird, a former army base just outside Baltimore used for government witnesses. Dean will mingle with three fellow Watergate convicts—Charles Colson, Jeb Stuart Magruder, and Herbert Kalmbach—and a number of organized crime figures in the government’s witness protection program. [Werth, 2006, pp. 269-270] Colson, who has provided damning testimony against Nixon as part of his plea agreement (see June 1974), leads the others in reaching out to Dean in prison. Dean, who is held in relative isolation, briefly meets Magruder in the hallway. Magruder is preparing to testify against the “Big Three” of John Mitchell, John Ehrlichman, and H. R. Haldeman in their upcoming trial. Magruder says to Dean: “Welcome to the club, John. This place looks just like the White House with all of us here.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 269-270]
Richard Nixon’s lawyer, Jack Miller, has prepared a “deed of trust” for Nixon’s presidential documents and tapes. According to the proposal, Nixon and the government will share ownership, and the files will be available for court subpoenas for up to five years. Two keys will be necessary to access the material, with Nixon retaining one and the General Services Administration (GSA) retaining the second. Miller is not sure Nixon will accept the plan, but he presents it to President Ford’s lawyers Benton Becker and Philip Buchen. (Nixon has another reason for wanting to retain control of the documents; his agent, Irv “Swifty” Lazar, is peddling a proposal for his biography to publishers, with an asking price of over $2 million. The documents will be a necessary source for the biography.) Buchen tells Miller that Ford is considering pardoning Nixon (see August 30, 1974). Miller is not sure Nixon wants a pardon, with its implication of guilt (see September 2, 1974). Miller has had trouble discussing Watergate with Nixon, who does not want to discuss it and certainly does not want to admit any guilt or complicity in the conspiracy. Becker says that the entire issue of Nixon’s pardon, and the concurrent question of the Nixon files, has to be resolved quickly. [Werth, 2006, pp. 280-281]
President Ford and his lawyer, Benton Becker, discuss pardoning Nixon. [Source: David Hume Kennerly / Getty Images]President Ford authorizes his attorney, Benton Becker, to tell Richard Nixon, “It’s not final, but in all probability a pardon will be forthcoming.” Ford agrees not to seek a decision on Nixon’s presidential files (see September 4, 1974) as a condition for a pardon; however, a statement of contrition (if not an outright admission of guilt) is something Ford and his advisers want from Nixon in return for a pardon. As Becker prepares to leave for California to meet with Nixon and his lawyer, Ford tells Becker to carefully judge Nixon’s physical and mental health. As for the records, Becker will later recall: “We walked out of the office; [Ford] had his hand over my shoulder, he said, ‘I will never, ever give up those records. They belong to the American people. You let President Nixon know that I feel very strongly about this.’” [Werth, 2006, pp. 293] When Becker arrives in San Clemente, he meets with Ron Ziegler, Nixon’s former press secretary, who now serves as Nixon’s personal aide. Ziegler tells Becker, “I can tell you right now that President Nixon will make no statement of admission or complicity in return for a pardon from Jerry Ford.” Becker believes Ziegler was forewarned by Ford’s ad hoc chief of staff, Alexander Haig, who has maintained close contact with the Nixon staff since Nixon’s resignation. Ziegler apparently knows that Ford will not insist on either a document turnover or a statement of contrition in return for a pardon, and is toeing a hard line. Angered by what he considers Haig’s intolerable betrayal of Ford, Becker bluffs Ziegler, turning around and preparing to leave without further discussion. The bluff works; Ziegler and Becker discuss the problem until early in the morning hours. [Werth, 2006, pp. 294-295] By the next morning, Becker has overseen a tentative agreement with Nixon’s lawyer Jack Miller and General Services Administration (GSA) head Arthur Sampson. The agreement will “temporarily” store the documents in a facility near San Clemente, under restricted access requiring both Nixon and a GSA official to access the documents, and Nixon retaining control of who accesses the materials. On September 1, 1979, the agreement reads, Nixon will donate the materials entirely to the federal government. As for the tapes, Nixon retains the right to destroy the tapes after five years, which will be destroyed anyway on September 1, 1989, or on the occasion of Nixon’s death, “whichever event shall first occur.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 297-298]
During the careful negotiations over the conditions of Richard Nixon’s possible pardon (see September 5-6, 1974), Nixon aide Ron Ziegler brings up the issue of the “statement of contrition,” and shows Benton Becker, the lawyer negotiating for President Ford, a draft statement. The statement, crafted by a speechwriter, blames the pressures of the office, Nixon’s preoccupation with foreign crises, and his decision to rely on the judgment of his staff, for his alleged involvement. The statement makes no admission of guilt or acceptance of responsibility whatsoever. Such a statement would invite state prosecution of Nixon even if Ford grants him a pardon for federal crimes, Becker notes. Nixon would be better off saying nothing at all than making this statement. A revised statement merely admits that Nixon was guilty of poor judgment. Becker presses for more. A third revision has Nixon admitting that he “can see clearly now that I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate, particularly when it reached the stage of judicial proceedings and grew from a political scandal into a national tragedy.” Becker seizes on the word “forthrightly” as an implied admission of contrition and a subtle acceptance of guilt. “The word is a synonym for ‘honestly,’” he will later recall. “That had meaning for me as a former prosecutor, because that meant obstruction of justice.” Ford, contacted by phone about the statement, is not happy with the legal parsing that Becker is trying to stretch into an implied admission of responsibility. Ford will later write, “I was taking one hell of a risk [in pardoning Nixon] and [Nixon] didn’t seem to be responsive at all.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 299-301] Becker finally meets face-to-face with Nixon, who seems to Becker unhealthily aged and almost “freakishly grotesque,” with long, thin arms dangling from the sleeves of his suit. Nixon doesn’t want to discuss Watergate at all, attempting repeatedly to steer the discussion towards football and responding in monosyllables to Becker’s attempts to discuss the details of the forthcoming pardon. After Becker manages to get a grudging, distracted acquiescence from Nixon to the deal, Nixon suddenly turns maudlin. He says Becker has been “a gentleman” towards him, and wants to give him a present. “But look around the office,” he says. “I don’t have anything anymore. They took it all away from me. Everything I had is gone.” Nixon gives Becker the last two bits of presidential memorabilia he owns, taken, he says, “from my personal jewelry box.” They are a presidential tiepin and a pair of presidential seal cufflinks. Nixon is almost in tears, and a distinctly uncomfortable Becker withdraws as graciously as he may. “I just wanted to get the hell out of there,” Becker will later recall. [Werth, 2006, pp. 304-306]
President Ford, realizing that has got all the concessions he is likely to get from Richard Nixon (see September 6, 1974) and fearing that Nixon may die before he can issue any executive clemency, finalizes his plans to announce a pardon for Nixon. He informs his closest advisers. Press secretary Jerald terHorst is not fully aware of the internal dealings for any pardon until he enters the press room, having been informed that Ford is preparing to make a major announcement. TerHorst is stunned at the news that Ford will pardon Nixon. He belatedly realizes that for weeks he has been misled by Ford and, accordingly, he has inadvertently misled the press and the American people about Ford’s intentions. Ford’s explanation that he did not want to force terHorst to lie to the press carries little weight with the press secretary. He feels that his 25-year relationship with Ford has been irrevocably tainted. Nevertheless, terHorst restrains himself, agreeing to come in early the next morning to help craft the statement to the press. But, driving home at the end of the workday, terHorst decides to resign. [Werth, 2006, pp. 312-313]
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]
Less than ten minutes after President Ford announces his pardon of Richard Nixon (see September 8, 1974), Nixon’s aide Ron Ziegler reads the “statement of contrition” he and Nixon’s lawyer have agreed to as part of the pardon deal (see September 6, 1974). The statement is substantially the same as the draft agreed upon by Nixon and Ford’s respective representatives. Nixon, traveling with his wife Pat to the Palm Beach, California, estate of Ambassador Walter Annenberg, tells Pat, “This is the most humiliating day of my life.” But, author Barry Werth notes, Nixon has traded for the pardon, and gotten his terms. He will be able to write his own version of history without ever having to admit guilt or responsibility for any aspect of Watergate. He will be able to rehabilitate himself, perhaps even once again play a role in world affairs. He admits to nothing more than “mistakes” and “misjudgment.” Nevertheless, as historian Stephen Ambrose will note, in accepting the pardon, Nixon implicitly acknowledges his guilt. Werth will write in 2006, “Full, free, and absolute, a pardon was also damning and irrevocable—especially for a presumed offender who never was so much as charged with a crime.” Nixon will later write, “Next to the resignation, accepting the pardon was the most painful decision of my political career.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 321-323]
After attending church, President Ford works on the final wording of his statement announcing the pardon of Richard Nixon. His statement will emphasize Nixon’s failing health and decades of service to the Republican Party and America. Ford alerts a few Congressional leaders of his upcoming announcement. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) is nonplussed. “What are you pardoning him of?” he asks, “It doesn’t make any sense.” Ford replies, “The public has the right to know that in the eyes of the president, Nixon is clear.” Goldwater is taken aback. “He may be clear in your eyes, but he’s not clear in mine,” Goldwater retorts. House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-MA) is equally blunt. “I’m telling you right now,” O’Neill says: “this will cost you the election. I hope it’s not part of any deal.” Ford responds, “No, there’s no deal,” to which O’Neill says, “Then why the hell are you doing it?” O’Neill says that if Ford has to pardon Nixon, the timing is bad. He needs to wait. Ford disagrees. The resistance from without is reflected inside the White House, when press secretary Jerald terHorst tenders his resignation to Ford (see September 7, 1974). TerHorst’s letter says in part, “I cannot in good conscience support your decision to pardon” Nixon, “even before he has been charged with the commission of any crime. As your spokesperson, I do not know how I could credibly defend that action in the absence of a like decision to grant absolute pardon to the young men who evaded military service (see August 31, 1974) as a matter of conscience and the absence of pardon for former aides of Mr. Nixon who have been charged with crimes—and imprisoned.… [I]t is impossible to conclude that the former president is more deserving of mercy than persons of lesser station in life whose offenses have had far less effect on our national well-being.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 316-319]
Just hours after President Ford announces his pardon of Richard Nixon (see September 8, 1974), he sees evidence that the pardon is even more unpopular than he had feared. The White House switchboard is flooded with “angry calls, heavy and constant,” as Ford’s lawyer Philip Buchen will later recall. The response, says resigning press secretary Jerald terHorst (see September 8, 1974), is roughly 8-1 against. TerHorst’s admission to the press that he is resigning over the pardon adds even more fuel to the blaze of criticism. “I resigned,” terHorst tells reporters, “because I just couldn’t remain part of an act that I felt was ethically wrong.” Reporters almost uniformly side with terHorst against Ford; as author Barry Werth will later write, “the press concluded intrinsically that terHorst’s act of conscience trumped the president’s.” TerHorst’s resignation is inevitably compared to Nixon’s infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” (see October 19-20, 1973), and engenders a similar avalanche of press criticism and public outrage. The day after, protesters greet Ford in Pittsburgh with chants of “Jail Ford!” Conservative columnist George Will writes, “The lethal fact is that Mr. Ford has now demonstrated that… he doesn’t mean what he says.” The New York Times calls the pardon a “profoundly unwise, divisive, and unjust act.… This blundering intervention is a body blow to the president’s own credibility and to the public’s reviving confidence in the integrity of its government.” Ford’s popularity plunges almost overnight from 70 percent to 48 percent; fewer than one in five Americans identify themselves as Republicans. Ford’s biographer John Robert Greene will write that journalists begin “treating Ford as just another Nixon clone in the White House—deceitful, controlled by the leftover Nixonites, and in general no different than any of his immediate predecessors.” Werth will conclude that Ford’s “self-sacrific[e]” is the political equivalent of him “smothering a grenade.” Nixon’s refusal to atone in any fashion for his crimes placed the burden of handling Watergate squarely on Ford’s shoulders, and that burden will weigh on his presidency throughout his term, as well as damage his chances for election in 1976. Ford will later write: “I thought people would consider his resignation from the presidency as sufficient punishment and shame. I thought there would be greater forgiveness.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 328-332] Years later, Ford’s chief of staff, Dick Cheney, will reflect that the pardon should have “been delayed until after the 1974 elections because I think it did cost us seats [in Congress]. If you say that that is a political judgment, it’s true, but then, the presidency is a political office.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 27]
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]
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]
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]
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]
1974 New York Times headline. [Source: New York Times]The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has repeatedly, and illegally, spied on US citizens for years, reveals investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in a landmark report for the New York Times. Such operations are direct violations of the CIA’s charter and the law, both of which prohibit the CIA from operating inside the United States. Apparently operating under orders from Nixon officials, the CIA has conducted electronic and personal surveillance on over 10,000 US citizens, as part of an operation reporting directly to then-CIA Director Richard Helms. In an internal review in 1973, Helms’s successor, James Schlesinger, also found dozens of instances of illegal CIA surveillance operations against US citizens both past and present (see 1973). Many Washington insiders wonder if the revelation of the CIA surveillance operations tie in to the June 17, 1972 break-in of Democratic headquarters at Washington’s Watergate Hotel by five burglars with CIA ties. Those speculations were given credence by Helms’s protests during the Congressional Watergate hearings that the CIA had been “duped” into taking part in the Watergate break-in by White House officials.
Program Beginnings In Dispute - One official believes that the program, a successor to the routine domestic spying operations during the 1950s and 1960s, was sparked by what he calls “Nixon’s antiwar hysteria.” Helms himself indirectly confirmed the involvement of the Nixon White House, during his August 1973 testimony before the Senate Watergate investigative committee (see August 1973).
Special Operations Carried Out Surveillance - The domestic spying was carried out, sources say, by one of the most secretive units in CI, the special operations branch, whose employees carry out wiretaps, break-ins, and burglaries as authorized by their superiors. “That’s really the deep-snow section,” says one high-level intelligence expert. The liaison between the special operations unit and Helms was Richard Ober, a longtime CI official. “Ober had unique and very confidential access to Helms,” says a former CIA official. “I always assumed he was mucking about with Americans who were abroad and then would come back, people like the Black Panthers.” After the program was revealed in 1973 by Schlesinger, Ober was abruptly transferred to the National Security Council. He wasn’t fired because, says one source, he was “too embarrassing, too hot.” Angleton denies any wrongdoing.
Supposition That Civil Rights Movement 'Riddled' With Foreign Spies - Moscow, who relayed information about violent underground protesters during the height of the antiwar movement, says that black militants in the US were trained by North Koreans, and says that both Yasser Arafat, of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and the KGB were involved to some extent in the antiwar movement, a characterization disputed by former FBI officials as based on worthless intelligence from overseas. For Angleton to make such rash accusations is, according to one member of Congress, “even a better story than the domestic spying.” A former CIA official involved in the 1969-70 studies by the agency on foreign involvement in the antiwar movement says that Angleton believes foreign agents are indeed involved in antiwar and civil rights organizations, “but he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
'Cesspool' of Illegality Distressed Schlesinger - According to one of Schlesinger’s former CIA associates, Schlesinger was distressed at the operations. “He found himself in a cesspool,” says the associate. “He was having a grenade blowing up in his face every time he turned around.” Schlesinger, who stayed at the helm of the CIA for only six months before becoming secretary of defense, informed the Department of Justice (DOJ) about the Watergate break-in, as well as another operation by the so-called “plumbers,” their burglary of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office after Ellsberg released the “Pentagon Papers” to the press. Schlesinger began a round of reforms of the CIA, reforms that have been continued to a lesser degree by Colby. (Some reports suggest that CIA officials shredded potentially incriminating documents after Schlesinger began his reform efforts, but this is not known for sure.) Intelligence officials confirm that the spying did take place, but, as one official says, “Anything that we did was in the context of foreign counterintelligence and it was focused at foreign intelligence and foreign intelligence problems.”
'Huston Plan' - But the official also confirms that part of the illegal surveillance was carried out as part of the so-called “Huston plan,” an operation named for former White House aide Tom Charles Huston (see July 26-27, 1970) that used electronic and physical surveillance, along with break-ins and burglaries, to counter antiwar and civil rights protests, “fomented,” as Nixon believed, by so-called black extremists. Nixon and other White House officials have long denied that the Huston plan was ever implemented. “[O]bviously,” says one government intelligence official, the CIA’s decision to create and maintain dossiers on US citizens “got a push at that time.…The problem was that it was handled in a very spooky way. If you’re an agent in Paris and you’re asked to find out whether Jane Fonda is being manipulated by foreign intelligence services, you’ve got to ask yourself who is the real target. Is it the foreign intelligence services or Jane Fonda?” Huston himself denies that the program was ever intended to operate within the United States, and implies that the CIA was operating independently of the White House. Government officials try to justify the surveillance program by citing the “gray areas” in the law that allows US intelligence agencies to encroach on what, by law, is the FBI’s bailiwick—domestic surveillance of criminal activities—when a US citizen may have been approached by foreign intelligence agents. And at least one senior CIA official says that the CIA has the right to engage in such activities because of the need to protect intelligence sources and keep secrets from being revealed.
Surveillance Program Blatant Violation of Law - But many experts on national security law say the CIA program is a violation of the 1947 law prohibiting domestic surveillance by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Vanderbilt University professor Henry Howe Ransom, a leading expert on the CIA, says the 1947 statute is a “clear prohibition against any internal security functions under any circumstances.” Ransom says that when Congress enacted the law, it intended to avoid any possibility of police-state tactics by US intelligence agencies; Ransom quotes one Congressman as saying, “We don’t want a Gestapo.” Interestingly, during his 1973 confirmation hearings, CIA Director Colby said he believed the same thing, that the CIA has no business conducting domestic surveillance for any purpose at any time: “I really see less of a gray area [than Helms] in that regard. I believe that there is really no authority under that act that can be used.” Even high-level government officials were not aware of the CIA’s domestic spying program until very recently. “Counterintelligence!” exclaimed one Justice Department official upon learning some details of the program. “They’re not supposed to have any counterintelligence in this country. Oh my God. Oh my God.” A former FBI counterterrorism official says he was angry upon learning of the program. “[The FBI] had an agreement with them that they weren’t to do anything unless they checked with us. They double-crossed me all along.” Many feel that the program stems, in some regards, from the long-standing mistrust between the CIA and the FBI. How many unsolved burglaries and other crimes can be laid at the feet of the CIA and its domestic spying operation is unclear. In 1974, Rolling Stone magazine listed a number of unsolved burglaries that its editors felt might be connected with the CIA. And Senator Howard Baker (R-TN), the vice chairman of the Senate Watergate investigative committee, has alluded to mysterious links between the CIA and the Nixon White House. On June 23, 1972, Nixon told his aide, H.R. Haldeman, “Well, we protected Helms from a hell of a lot of things.” [New York Times, 12/22/1974 ]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, William Colby, Seymour Hersh, Rolling Stone, Richard Ober, Tom Charles Huston, Richard M. Nixon, Daniel Ellsberg, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Helms, Central Intelligence Agency, Black Panthers, Howard Baker, James Angleton, New York Times, H.R. Haldeman, KGB, James R. Schlesinger, Jane Fonda, Henry Howe Ransom
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate
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]
Publicity photo for the Frost/Nixon interviews. [Source: London Times]British interviewer and entertainer David Frost makes a deal with former President Richard Nixon to undertake 24 hours of interviews on a wide range of topics, with six hours each on foreign policy, domestic affairs, Watergate, and a loosely defined “Nixon the Man” interview. Frost intends that the centerpiece of the interviews to be the Watergate session. Nixon agrees to a free, unfettered set of interviews in return for over a million dollars in appearance fees. [Reston, 2007, pp. 13-17] (Other sources say that Nixon will be paid $600,000 plus 20% of the profits from the broadcast, which are expected to top $2 million.)
Frost Seen as Unlikely Interviewer - There is also considerable skepticism about the choice of Frost as an interviewer; he is better known as a high-living entertainer who likes to hobnob with celebrities rather than as a tough interrogator. His primary experience with politics is his hosting of the BBC’s celebrated 1960s satirical show That Was the Week That Was. Frost outbid NBC for the rights to interview Nixon, and after all three American television networks refuse to air the shows, Frost has to cobble together an ad hoc group of about 140 television stations to broadcast the interviews. Frost will recall in 2007, “We were told, ‘Half the companies you’re approaching would never have anything to do with Nixon when he was president, and the other half are trying to make people forget that they did.’” [Time, 5/9/1977; Washington Post, 4/30/2007] Interestingly, when the Nixon team began negotiating for the interviews in July 1975, they made a point of not wanting any “real” investigative journalists to conduct the interviews—in fact, they considered offering the interviews to American television talk show host Merv Griffin. [Time, 5/9/1977] The interviews are to be done in segments, three sessions a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, for two weeks in the spring of 1977. [National Public Radio, 6/17/2002]
Nixon Team Wants Focus Away from Watergate - While Nixon agrees that six hours of interviews will be on the topic of Watergate, his team wants to define “Watergate” as almost anything and everything negative about the Nixon presidency—not just the burglary and the cover-up, but abuses of power at the IRS, CIA, and FBI, Nixon’s tax problems, the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971), disputed real estate sales, the sale of ambassadorships (see March-April 1972), the enemies list (see June 27, 1973), and the Huston Plan (see July 14, 1970). The hope is that Frost’s focus will become diluted and fail to focus on the Watergate conspiracy itself. The hope will not be fulfilled (see April 13-15, 1977).
Frost's Investigative Team - Frost begins hiring a team of investigators and experts to prepare him for the interviews, including author and journalist James Reston Jr. [Time, 5/9/1977] , a self-described “radical” who had worked to win amnesty for US citizens who had avoided the draft, and views Nixon as a contemptible figure who, despite his resignation (see August 8, 1974), remains “uncontrite and unconvicted.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 7/22/2007] Other members of Frost’s research team are Washington journalist and lawyer Robert Zelnick, freelance writer Phil Stanford, and London TV news executive John Birt, who will produce the interviews. Zelnick will play Nixon in the briefing sessions, going so far as mimicking Nixon’s mannerisms and hand gestures. For his part, Nixon had almost completed his own meticulous research of his presidency for his upcoming memoirs, and is quite conversant with his facts and defense strategies. Nixon’s team of aides includes his former White House military aide Colonel Jack Brennan, chief researcher Ken Khachigian, former speechwriter Ray Price, former press assistant (and future television reporter) Diane Sawyer, and former aide Richard Moore. [Time, 5/9/1977]
Nixon's Perceived 'Sweetheart Deal' - In his 2007 book on the interviews, The Conviction of Richard Nixon (written largely in 1977 but unpublished for thirty years), Reston will write that Nixon surely “saw the enterprise as a sweetheart deal. He stood to make a lot of money and to rehabilitate his reputation.” Nixon harbors hopes that he can make a political comeback of one sort or another, and apparently intends to use Frost—best known for conducting “softball” interviews with celebrities and world leaders alike—as his “springboard” to re-enter public service. But, as Reston later observes, Nixon will underestimate the researchers’ efforts, and Frost’s own skill as a television interviewer. [Reston, 2007, pp. 13-17, 84] Time will describe Nixon in the interviews as “painful and poignant, sometimes illuminating, usually self-serving.” [Time, 5/9/1977]
Entity Tags: NBC, Phil Stanford, Merv Griffin, Richard Moore, Ray Price, Ken Khachigian, James Reston, Jr, Richard M. Nixon, John Birt, David Frost, Jack Brennan, Robert Zelnick, Diane Sawyer
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
Senator Frank Church. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]A Senate committee tasked to investigate the activities of US intelligence organizations finds a plethora of abuses and criminal behaviors, and recommends strict legal restraints and firm Congressional oversight. The “Church Committee,” chaired by Senator Frank Church (D-ID), a former Army intelligence officer with a strong understanding of the necessity for intelligence-gathering, notes in its final report that the CIA in particular had been overly cooperative with the Nixon administration in spying on US citizens for political purposes (see December 21, 1974); US intelligence agencies had also gone beyond the law in assassination attempts on foreign government officials in, among other places, Africa, Latin America, and Vietnam. Church himself accused the CIA of providing the White House with what, in essence, is a “private army,” outside of Congressional oversight and control, and called the CIA a “rogue elephant rampaging out of control.” The committee will reveal the existence of hitherto-unsuspected operations such as HT Lingual, which had CIA agents secretly opening and reading US citizens’ international mail, and other operations which included secret, unauthorized wiretaps, dossier compilations, and even medical experiments. For himself, Church, the former intelligence officer, concluded that the CIA should conduct covert operations only “in a national emergency or in cases where intervention is clearly in tune with our traditional principles,” and restrain the CIA from intervening in the affairs of third-world nations without oversight or consequence. CIA director William Colby is somewhat of an unlikely ally to Church; although he does not fully cooperate with either the Church or Pike commissions, he feels that the CIA’s image is badly in need of rehabilitation. Indeed, Colby later writes, “I believed that Congress was within its constitutional rights to undertake a long-overdue and thoroughgoing review of the agency and the intelligence community. I did not share the view that intelligence was solely a function of the Executive Branch and must be protected from Congressional prying. Quite the contrary.” Conservatives later blame the Church Commission for “betray[ing] CIA agents and operations,” in the words of American Spectator editor R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr, referencing the 1975 assassination of CIA station chief Richard Welch in Greece. The chief counsel of the Church Committee accuses CIA defenders and other conservatives of “danc[ing] on the grave of Richard Welch in the most cynical way.” It is documented fact that the Church Commission exposed no agents and no operations, and compromised no sources; even Colby’s successor, George H.W. Bush, later admits that Welch’s death had nothing to do with the Church Committee. (In 1980, Church will lose re-election to the Senate in part because of accusations of his committee’s responsibility for Welch’s death by his Republican opponent, Jim McClure.) [American Prospect, 11/5/2001; History Matters Archive, 3/27/2002; Assassination Archives and Research Center, 11/23/2002]
Final Report Excoriates CIA - The Committee’s final report concludes, “Domestic intelligence activity has threatened and undermined the Constitutional rights of Americans to free speech, association and privacy. It has done so primarily because the Constitutional system for checking abuse of power has not been applied.” The report is particularly critical of the CIA’s successful, and clandestine, manipulation of the US media. It observes: “The CIA currently maintains a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda. These individuals provide the CIA with direct access to a large number of newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets.” The report identifies over 50 US journalists directly employed by the CIA, along with many others who were affiliated and paid by the CIA, and reveals the CIA’s policy to have “their” journalists and authors publish CIA-approved information, and disinformation, overseas in order to get that material disseminated in the United States. The report quotes the CIA’s Chief of the Covert Action Staff as writing, “Get books published or distributed abroad without revealing any US influence, by covertly subsidizing foreign publicans or booksellers.…Get books published for operational reasons, regardless of commercial viability.…The advantage of our direct contact with the author is that we can acquaint him in great detail with our intentions; that we can provide him with whatever material we want him to include and that we can check the manuscript at every stage…. [The agency] must make sure the actual manuscript will correspond with our operational and propagandistic intention.” The report finds that over 1,000 books were either published, subsidized, or sponsored by the CIA by the end of 1967; all of these books were published in the US either in their original form or excerpted in US magazines and newspapers. “In examining the CIA’s past and present use of the US media,” the report observes, “the Committee finds two reasons for concern. The first is the potential, inherent in covert media operations, for manipulating or incidentally misleading the American public. The second is the damage to the credibility and independence of a free press which may be caused by covert relationships with the US journalists and media organizations.”
CIA Withheld Info on Kennedy Assassination, Castro Plots, King Surveillance - The committee also finds that the CIA withheld critical information about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy from the Warren Commission, information about government assassination plots against Fidel Castro of Cuba (see, e.g., November 20, 1975, Early 1961-June 1965, March 1960-August 1960, and Early 1963); and that the FBI had conducted a counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO) against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Mafia boss Sam Giancana was slated to testify before the committee about his organization’s ties to the CIA, but before he could testify, he was murdered in his home—including having six bullet wounds in a circle around his mouth. Another committee witness, union leader Jimmy Hoffa, disappeared before he could testify. Hoffa’s body has never been found. Mafia hitman Johnny Roselli was murdered before he could testify before the committee: in September 1976, the Washington Post will print excerpts from Roselli’s last interview, with journalist Jack Anderson, before his death; Anderson will write, “When [Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey] Oswald was picked up, the underworld conspirators feared he would crack and disclose information that might lead to them. This almost certainly would have brought a massive US crackdown on the Mafia. So Jack Ruby was ordered to eliminate Oswald.” (Anderson’s contention has not been proven.) The murders of Giancana and Roselli, and the disappearance and apparent murder of Hoffa, will lead to an inconclusive investigation by the House of the assassinations of Kennedy and King. [Spartacus Educational, 12/18/2002]
Leads to FISA - The findings of the Church Committee will inspire the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (see 1978), and the standing committees on intelligence in the House and Senate. [Assassination Archives and Research Center, 11/23/2002]
Simultaneous Investigation in House - The Church Committee operates alongside another investigative body in the House of Representatives, the Pike Committee (see January 29, 1976).
Church Committee Smeared After 9/11 - After the 9/11 attacks, conservative critics will once again bash the Church Committee; former Secretary of State James Baker will say within hours of the attacks that the Church report had caused the US to “unilaterally disarm in terms of our intelligence capabilities,” a sentiment echoed by the editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal, who will observe that the opening of the Church hearings was “the moment that our nation moved from an intelligence to anti-intelligence footing.” Perhaps the harshest criticism will come from conservative novelist and military historian Tom Clancy, who will say, “The CIA was gutted by people on the political left who don’t like intelligence operations. And as a result of that, as an indirect result of that, we’ve lost 5,000 citizens last week.” [Gerald K. Haines, 1/20/2003]
Entity Tags: Washington Post, Tom Clancy, William Colby, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, R. Emmett Tyrrell, Richard M. Nixon, HT Lingual, George Herbert Walker Bush, Jack Anderson, Frank Church, Church Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sam Giancana, Jack Ruby, James R. Hoffa, Pike Committee, Martin Luther King, Jr., James A. Baker, Lee Harvey Oswald, John F. Kennedy, Jim McClure, Johnny Roselli, Warren Commission
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The research team for David Frost, in the midst of marathon interviews with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976), has a week to prepare for the upcoming four-hour interview sessions on Watergate (see April 6, 1977).
Countering the 'Other Presidents Did It, Too' Defense - Researcher James Reston Jr. tackles Frost’s possible response to what Reston feels will be Nixon’s last line of defense: that what he did was simply another instance in a long line of presidential misconduct. “Nixon nearly persuaded the American people that political crime was normal,” investigative reporter Jack Anderson had told Nixon biographer Fawn Brodie, a line that haunts Reston. Brodie gives Reston a study commissioned by the House Judiciary Committee (see February 6, 1974) and authored primarily by eminent Yale historian C. Vann Woodward, a study examining the history of presidential misdeeds from George Washington through Nixon. The study was never used. Brodie says that Frost should quote the following from Woodward’s introduction to Nixon: “Heretofore, no president has been proved to be the chief coordinator of the crime and misdemeanor charged against his own administration as a deliberate course of conduct or plan. Heretofore, no president has been held to be the chief personal beneficiary of misconduct in his administration or of measures taken to destroy or cover up evidence of it. Heretofore, the malfeasance and misdemeanor have had no confessed ideological purposes, no constitutionally subversive ends. Heretofore, no president has been accused of extensively subverting and secretly using established government agencies to defame or discredit political opponents and critics, to obstruct justice, to conceal misconduct and protect criminals, or to deprive citizens of their rights and liberties. Heretofore, no president had been accused of creating secret investigative units to engage in covert and unlawful activities against private citizens and their rights.” Frost will ultimately not use the quote, but the quote helps Reston and the other researchers steer their course in preparing Frost’s line of questioning.
Frost Better Prepared - As for Frost, he is much more prepared for his interrogation of Nixon than he has been in earlier sessions, prepped for discussing the details of legalities such as obstruction of justice, corrupt endeavor, and foreseeable consequence. Nixon undoubtedly thwarted justice from being served, and Frost intends to confront him with that charge. Reston worries that the interview will become mired in legalities to the point where only lawyers will gain any substantive information from the session. [Reston, 2007, pp. 112-114]
The scheduled interviews between former President Richard Nixon and British interviewer David Frost (see Early 1976) are postponed until March 1977, due to Nixon’s wife, Pat, being hospitalized with a stroke. In return for the delay, Nixon agrees to five programs devoted to the interviews instead of the originally agreed-upon four. Further, Nixon agrees to talk frankly about Watergate; previously, he had balked at discussing it because of ongoing prosecutions related to the conspiracy. Frost wants the shows to air in the spring of 1977 rather than the summer, when audiences will be smaller; Nixon jokes in reply, “Well, we got one hell of an audience on August 9, 1974” (see August 8, 1974). Nixon welcomes the extra time needed to prepare for the interviews. [Reston, 2007, pp. 53]
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]
The research staff for British interviewer David Frost, preparing for his upcoming interviews with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976), finds transcripts of two conversations between Nixon and his then-aide Charles Colson from February 1973 (see February 13, 1973 and February 14, 1973) in a batch of documents surrounding the prosecution of the Watergate burglars (see January 1, 1975). Former Watergate prosecutors Richard Ben-Veniste and George Frampton, informally advising the Frost research team, are both keenly interested in the transcripts. “You’ve got something no one else has,” Frampton says. “These transcripts must have been placed in the official exhibit by a clerical error.” The two explain the significance of the conversations between Nixon and Colson: they place Nixon directly in the plot to cover up the Watergate conspiracy six weeks before Nixon says he first learned of it. Frampton shows researcher James Reston Jr. just how he would have used the conversations against Nixon in court, while Ben-Veniste instructs Reston on how Frost should interrogate Nixon as a hostile witness. Frost should ask something like, “Is it still your position, Mr. Nixon, that between 21 March and 30 April, 1973, you acted to stop the cover-up and prosecute the guilty?” When Nixon answers yes, Frost should follow, “But in fact, as late as 16 April, 1973, you were working out ‘scenarios’ with Ehrlichman and Haldeman to make John Dean the Watergate scapegoat, weren’t you?” Other questions to ask include, “By what right were you offering campaign money for the defense of your associates who were charged in a criminal conspiracy?” and “Isn’t it really true that you never made any effort before 21 March to learn the details of a criminal activity that you knew was going on all around you?” [Reston, 2007, pp. 50-51]
Earl Butz. [Source: Slate]Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz resigns after making a stridently racist joke that is reported in Rolling Stone. Butz, flying from New Mexico to California, found himself on board with singers Pat Boone and Sonny Bono as well as former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, now working as a reporter for Rolling Stone. Butz, whom Time magazine describes as a “gregarious man” with a “barnyard sense of humor,” wanders over to kibitz with Boone and Bono, both active in the Republican Party. When Boone asks why the Republicans aren’t able to attract more black voters, Butz responds: “I’ll tell you what the coloreds want. It’s three things. First, a tight p_ssy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to sh_t.” Dean later reports the joke in his Rolling Stone column, without naming Butz as its source. (Interestingly, a Japanese newspaper sanitized the translation, reporting Butz as saying, “Blacks wanted only three things in life: pleasant family relations, comfortable footwear, and adequate toilet facilities.”) Before long, other media outlets have learned who said it, and Butz was revealed in the media as the perpetrator of the joke.
Ford Initially Defends Butz - President Ford does not immediately fire Butz because the secretary claims that his words were taken out of context; he claims that the joke was preceded with, “Things have come a long way since the days when a ward politician could say…” Ford considers Butz a friend and is reluctant to fire him outright; furthermore, Ford doesn’t want to alienate voters in key farm states. But when both Democrats and Republicans begin calling for Butz’s firing, Butz decides to resign. Butz tells reporters that he is not a racist, and that his resignation “is the price I pay for a gross indiscretion in a private conversation.” Time magazine later reports that Ford’s indecision costs him credibility and support—instead of doing the right thing when the time came, Ford seemed instead to merely cave under pressure. A top Ford aide later says, “I’m afraid some people will start wondering how straight a guy, how nice a fellow the president really is.” Ford loses little support in the farm states; although organizations like the American Farm Bureau Federation bemoan Butz’s resignation, smaller farmers rejoice in his departure, saying that he favored big producers and agribusiness interests over smaller, independent farmers. As for Butz himself, he is remarkably unrepentant and oblivious to the racial content of his humor. He will tell a reporter in the days to follow: “You know, I don’t know how many times I told that joke, and everywhere—political groups, church groups—nobody took offense, and nobody should. I like humor. I’m human.” [Time, 10/18/1976; Reston, 2007, pp. 54]
Casual Racism Mark of Butz's Breed of Politician - In February 2008, in a column marking Butz’s passing, Slate’s Timothy Noah will write that Butz was one of the last of a breed of politicians who routinely peppered their conversations with off-color, racist, and offensive remarks, certain that their power and position made them untouchable. Butz was certainly not the only one in the Nixon and Ford administration to make racist remarks: in 1971, President Nixon himself told Donald Rumsfeld, that blacks “basically are just out of the trees. Now let’s face it, they are.” (Nixon was wise enough not to make such remarks in public.) But by 1976, most lawmakers and office holders had learned to keep such observations to themselves. Noah will write: “Butz was not one of the smarter ones. He was a bigot and, even then, at 66, not a young man. And so he got caught in a paradigm shift. Before Butz, there remained a snickering tolerance among the powerful for jokes denigrating the humanity of blacks, Jews, and homosexuals. After Butz—well, the jokes about gays limped along for awhile, but it finally sank in that racism and anti-Semitism would seldom be tolerated, even in private.” [Slate, 2/4/2008]
Time magazine cover from May 9, 1977 touting the Frost/Nixon interviews. [Source: Time]Former President Richard Nixon meets with his interviewer, David Frost, for the first of several lengthy interviews (see Early 1976). The interviews take place in a private residence in Monarch Bay, California, close to Nixon’s home in San Clemente. One of Frost’s researchers, author James Reston Jr., is worried that Frost is not prepared enough for the interview. The interview is, in Reston’s words, a rather “free-form exercise in bitterness and schmaltz.”
Blaming Associates, Justifying Actions, Telling Lies - Nixon blames then-chief of staff H. R. Haldeman for not destroying the infamous White House tapes (see July 13-16, 1973), recalls weeping with then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger over his resignation, and blames his defense counsel for letting him down during his impeachment hearings (see February 6, 1974). His famously crude language is no worse than the barracks-room speech of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, he asserts. Frost shows a film of Nixon’s farewell address to the nation (see August 8, 1974), and observes that Nixon must have seen this film many times. Never, Nixon says, and goes on to claim that he has never listened to or watched any of his speeches, and furthermore had never even practiced any of his speeches before delivering them. It is an astonishing claim from a modern politician, one of what Nixon biographer Fawn Brodie calls “Unnecessary Nixon Lies.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 81-91] (In a 1974 article for Harper’s, Geoffrey Stokes wrote that, according to analysis of transcripts of Nixon’s infamous Watergate tape recordings by a Cornell University professor, Nixon spent nearly a third of his time practicing both private and public statements, speeches, and even casual conversations.) [Harper's, 10/1974]
Nixon Too Slippery for Frost? - During the viewing of the tape, Nixon’s commentary reveals what Reston calls Nixon’s “vanity and insecurity, the preoccupation with appearance within a denial of it.” After the viewing, Nixon artfully dodges Frost’s attempt to pin him down on how history will remember him, listing a raft of foreign and domestic achievements and barely mentioning the crimes committed by his administration. “What history will say about this administration will depend on who writes the history,” he says, and recalls British prime minister Winston Churchill’s assertion that history would “treat him well… [b]ecause I intend to write it.”
Reactions - The reactions of the Frost team to the first interview are mixed. Reston is pleased, feeling that Nixon made some telling personal observations and recollections, but others worried that Frost’s soft questioning had allowed Nixon to dominate the session and either evade or filibuster the tougher questions. Frost must assert control of the interviews, team members assert, must learn to cut Nixon off before he can waste time with a pointless anecdote. Frost must rein in Nixon when he goes off on a tangent. As Reston writes, “The solution was to keep the subject close to the nub of fact, leaving him no room for diversion or maneuver.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 81-91]
Interviewer David Frost has a difficult time with his subject, former President Richard Nixon, in the day’s early questioning (see April 6, 1977). Frost attempts to recoup with a line of questioning suggested by his adviser James Reston, Jr., one used in the trial of former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman (see January 1, 1975). Were there no limits to what a president can do, even if the president wants to do something plainly illegal? he asks. Could he do anything despite the law? Burglary? Forgery? Even murder? “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal,” Nixon retorts. “Never had his imperialism been so baldly stated,” Reston will later reflect. Frost asks if the dividing line between, for example, a police burglary and the murder of an antiwar protester is only the president’s judgment? Nixon agrees, and adds: “There’s nothing specific that the Constitution contemplates in that respect. I haven’t read every word, every jot and every tittle, but I do know this: That it has been, however, argued that as far as a president is concerned, that in war time, a president does have certain extraordinary powers which would make acts that would otherwise be unlawful, lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the nation and the Constitution, which is essential for the rights we’re all talking about.” [Time, 5/30/1977; Reston, 2007, pp. 102-105; Landmark Cases, 8/28/2007]
Former President Richard Nixon, generally acknowledged as having bested his interviewer David Frost in the first rounds of a set of interviews (see April 6, 1977), now defends his support for the infamous Huston Plan, admitted by the plan’s author himself to be illegal in its breathtaking contempt for civil liberties and the rule of Constitutional law. Former Watergate prosecutor Philip Lacovara had told Frost’s aide James Reston Jr. that it was surprising Huston was not taken out and shot. Reston will later write acidly: “Not only was Tom Charles Huston not taken out and shot, the plan was calmly considered and signed by Nixon, and was in force for a week, until J. Edgar Hoover objected on territorial rather than philosophical grounds (see July 26-27, 1970). Only then was approval rescinded (although many felt it remained in effect under the code name COINTELPRO).” Reston will write that during this interview, Nixon paints a picture of an America engulfed in armed insurrection, a portrait so convincing that the Huston Plan actually seems a rational response. Frost fails to press the point that the antiwar protests were largely nonviolent and not a threat to national security. [Reston, 2007, pp. 102-105] Frost does ask that if this was indeed so vital to national security, why not ask Congress to make such acts legal? “In theory,” Nixon replies, “this would be perfect, but in practice, it won’t work.” It would merely alert the targeted dissenters and raise a public outcry. [Time, 5/30/1977] This part of the interview sessions will be aired on May 19, 1977. [Landmark Cases, 8/28/2007]
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]
Advertisement for Nixon/Frost interviews. [Source: Bamboo Trading (.com)]Former President Richard Nixon, generally acknowledged as having bested his interviewer David Frost in the first rounds of interviews (see April 6, 1977), now defends his support for the infamous Huston Plan, admitted by the plan’s author himself to be illegal in its breathtaking contempt for civil liberties and the rule of Constitutional law. Former Watergate prosecutor Philip Lacovara had told Frost’s aide James Reston Jr. that it was surprising Huston was not taken out and shot. Reston will write acidly: “Not only was Tom Charles Huston not taken out and shot, the plan was calmly considered and signed by Nixon, and was in force for a week, until J. Edgar Hoover objected on territorial rather than philosophical grounds (see July 26-27, 1970). Only then was approval rescinded (although many felt it remained in effect under the code name COINTELPRO).” Reston will write that, during this interview, Nixon paints a picture of an America engulfed in armed insurrection, a portrait so convincing that the Huston Plan actually seems a rational response. Frost fails to press the point that the antiwar protests were largely nonviolent and not a threat to national security. [Reston, 2007, pp. 102-105] Frost does ask that if this was indeed so vital to national security, why not ask Congress to make such acts legal? “In theory,” Nixon replies, “this would be perfect, but in practice, it won’t work.” It would merely alert the targeted dissenters and raise a public outcry. [Time, 5/30/1977] This part of the interview sessions will be aired on May 19, 1977. [Landmark Cases, 8/28/2007]
David Frost, the British interviewer conducting a series of interviews with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976), spends four hours over three days hammering at Nixon over his involvement in the Watergate conspiracy (see April 13, 1977. April 13, 1977, April 13, 1977, April 15, 1977, and April 15, 1977). His first question is, “With the perspective of three years now, do you feel that you ever obstructed justice or were part of a conspiracy to obstruct justice?”
Wrestling with Proteus - James Reston, Jr., part of Frost’s research team, later notes that the four hours of interviews as edited for later broadcast becomes what “has been called a television epic. It had all the elements of high drama (and occasional high comedy). The tension started high and built towards an almost unbearable, climactic breaking point. It pitted a feisty, beautifully informed inquisitor (see April 7-12, 1976), playing his surprise cards and rehearsed lines masterfully, aware, finally, of his duty as a surrogate prosecutor, aware of the imperative to prove the guilt that all assumed, creatively using the ploys of judicious contempt and reverse patronizing and deadly humor to reduce his intimidating adversary to apology and mawkishness.” Reston finally comes to believe what he has been saying for weeks, that Frost is “the best man in the world for this ultimate task, far better than any American journalist on the scene.” Frost wrestles with Nixon, the “virtuoso of deception” whom he compares to the shape-changing Greek god Proteus, and ultimately pins him down. [Encyclopedia Mythica, 4/10/2001; Reston, 2007, pp. 116-118]
Opening Arguments - Nixon dodges the opening question and tries to redefine “Watergate” as just about every illegal, immoral, or questionable action he had performed as president. “Watergate means all of the charges that were thrown at me during the period before I left the presidency,” Nixon says. But instead of accepting Nixon’s definition and spending four hours touching on the surface of each allegation—mentioning it, letting Nixon deny or evade the charges, then moving on, as most American journalists might well have done—Frost homes in on the Watergate conspiracy itself. When Frost begins listing the crimes and unethical actions committed by Nixon’s underlings, Nixon turns to obfuscation: “You have lumped together a number of charges, and I can’t vouch for the accuracy of them.” (Reston later writes, “So facts became charges” in Nixon’s characterization of events.) Nixon asks for Frost’s sources for each charge, but Frost refuses to respond to the question. [Reston, 2007, pp. 116-118]
In his Watergate interview with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976 and April 13-15, 1977), David Frost continues from his earlier questioning about Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate conspiracy (see April 13, 1977) to the events of March 21, 1973 (see March 21, 1973). Now that Nixon’s status as a co-conspirator from the outset has been established, Frost wants to know why Nixon claims not to have known about the illegal aspects of the cover-up, or about the blackmail demands of Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, until this date. Nixon is cautious, claiming only that he learned of Hunt’s blackmail demands on March 21, and refusing to acknowledge that he knew anything about the $400,000 in payouts during the eight months preceding (see June 20-21, 1972).
Springing the Trap - Frost circles back, hoping for a flat confirmation: “So March 21 was the first day you learned about an illegal cover-up?” Nixon carefully says that March 21 was the day he learned of the “full import” of the cover-up, only having heard “smatterings” beforehand and being reassured by then-White House counsel John Dean that no White House personnel were involved. Frost springs his trap: “In that case, why did you say in such strong terms to [White House aide Charles] Colson on February 14, more than a month before, ‘The cover-up is the main ingredient, that’s where we gotta cut our losses. My losses are to be cut. The president’s losses got to be cut on the cover-up deal’” (see February 14, 1973). Nixon’s face betrays his shock. “Why did I say that?” he asks rhetorically, trying to gather himself. He fishes around for excuses, quickly settling on media reports at the time that tossed around charges of conspiracies, “hush money” payouts, and promises of executive clemency. That’s all he was referring to in the February 14 conversation, he says: the cover-up itself had to be avoided at all costs. Frost researcher James Reston, Jr. later writes, “It was an exquisite lie, a superb time warp.”
Error Goes Unnoticed - Only later do Reston and other research team members realize that no such stories had appeared in the media by February 14; in fact, allegations of a cover-up never made it into print until after burglar James McCord wrote his letter to Judge John Sirica on March 19 warning the judge of involvement of “higher-ups” in a conspiracy of silence (see March 19-23, 1973). No one had written publicly of any executive clemency deals until the subject was broached during the Senate Watergate investigative hearings (see February 7, 1973). But few of the millions who will see the interview will have the grasp of the chronology of events necessary to realize the extent of Nixon’s dishonesty.
Second Colson Bombshell - Frost reminds Nixon of his conversation with Colson of February 13 (see February 13, 1973), the day before, when they had discussed which Nixon official will have to take the fall for Watergate. Former campaign director John Mitchell couldn’t do it, the conversation went, but Nixon wants to know about Mitchell’s former deputy, Jeb Magruder. “He’s perjured himself, hasn’t he?” Nixon asked Colson. Frost asks Nixon, “So you knew about Magruder’s perjury as early as February the thirteenth?” Nixon bobs and weaves, talking about events from the year before, how Mitchell and Colson hated each other, how Colson and Ehrlichman hated each other. Frost brings Nixon back on point by reading another quote from the February 13 conversation, where Nixon says that “the problem” will come up if “one of the seven [indicted Watergate burglars] begins to talk…” Frost asks, “Now, in that remark, it seems to be that someone running the cover-up couldn’t have expressed it more clearly than that, could he?” Frost wants to know precisely what the phrase “one of the seven begins to talk” means. Nixon argues, but Frost refuses to be distracted. How can it mean anything else except “some sort of conspiracy to stop Hunt from talking about something damaging?” Frost asks. Nixon retorts, “You could state your conclusion, and I’ve stated my views.”
Nixon's Own Words Prove Knowledge, Complicity - Frost proceeds to pepper Nixon with his own quotes proving his knowledge and complicity, nine of them, a barrage that leaves Nixon nearly breathless. Nixon finally accuses Frost of taking his words out of context. Frost’s final quote is from an April 21 meeting where Nixon told aides John Dean and H. R. Haldeman, “Christ, just turn over any cash we got.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 126-134] After the taping, Nixon asks his aides about the Colson transcripts: “What was that tape? I’m sure I never heard that tape before. Find out about that tape.” [Time, 5/9/1977]
Entity Tags: James Reston, Jr, David Frost, Charles Colson, E. Howard Hunt, James McCord, John Sirica, Richard M. Nixon, John Dean, H.R. Haldeman, Jeb S. Magruder, John Mitchell
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
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