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The Nixon Administration and Watergate

Nixon Impeachment

Project: Nixon, Ford, and Watergate
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Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are discussing their upcoming story documenting the secret Nixon campaign “slush fund” controlled by former Attorney General John Mitchell (see Early 1970 and September 29, 1972) when Bernstein has an epiphany of sorts—a “literal chill going down my neck,” he will recall in 2005. “Oh my God,” he tells Woodward. “The president is going to be impeached.” After a moment, Woodward replies, “Jesus, I think you’re right.” Woodward then says, “We can never use that word in this newsroom.” No one in Congress has broached the subject of impeachment yet, and will not for another year, but neither journalist wants anyone to think that they might have some sort of agenda in their reporting. “Any suggestion about the future of the Nixon presidency could undermine our work and the Post’s efforts to be fair,” Bernstein will later write. The two will later decide not to include this anecdote in their book All the President’s Men (see June 15, 1974), as it would be published during the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment investigation of President Nixon (see February 6, 1974). “To recount it then might have given the impression that impeachment had been our goal all along,” Bernstein will write. “It was not. It was always about the story.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 229-230]

Entity Tags: Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Richard M. Nixon, House Judiciary Committee, John Mitchell

Category Tags: Woodward, Bernstein & Post, Nixon Impeachment

Washington Post headline of firings.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

Category Tags: Watergate Resignations and Firings, Watergate Special Prosecutor, Nixon Impeachment, Allegations of White House Cover-up

Peter Rodino.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]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, House Judiciary Committee, Peter Rodino

Category Tags: Nixon Impeachment

May 9, 1974: House Begins Impeachment Hearings

The House Judiciary Committee begins impeachment hearings against President Nixon. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, House Judiciary Committee

Category Tags: Nixon Impeachment

Barbara Jordan speaking before the House Judiciary Committee.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]

Entity Tags: Kennedy administration, Barbara Jordan, Dita Beard, E. Howard Hunt, House Judiciary Committee, Richard M. Nixon, US Supreme Court, International Telephone and Telegraph, Leon Jaworski

Category Tags: Congressional Investigations, Nixon Impeachment, ITT and Dita Beard, 'Plumbers', Allegations of White House Cover-up, Illegal Wiretapping & Surveillance, Payoffs and Blackmail, Watergate Tapes and Documents

The House Judiciary Committee adopts the first Article of Impeachment by a vote of 27-11. All the Democrats, and six Republicans, vote for impeachment. The Article charges President Richard Nixon with obstructing the investigation of the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). [Brian J. Henchey, 6/7/2007; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, House Judiciary Committee

Category Tags: Nixon Impeachment, Allegations of White House Cover-up, Watergate Burglary, Nixon's Final Days

The House Judiciary Committee adopts the second Article of Impeachment (see July 27, 1974) against President Nixon. This one charges Nixon with misuse of power and violation of his oath of office. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Twenty-one Democrats and six Republicans vote for the second Article. [Brian J. Henchey, 6/7/2007]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, Richard M. Nixon

Category Tags: Nixon Impeachment, Allegations of White House Cover-up, Illegal Wiretapping & Surveillance, Nixon's Final Days

The House Judiciary Committee adopts the third Article of Impeachment (see July 27, 1974 and July 29, 1974). The third Article charges President Nixon with failure to comply with House subpoenas. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Twenty Democrats and two Republicans vote for the second Article. [Brian J. Henchey, 6/7/2007] After voting for the third article, committee chairman Peter Rodino (D-NJ) goes to a back room, calls his wife, and weeps. He tells her, “I hope we’ve done the right thing.” [Los Angeles Times, 5/8/2005]

Entity Tags: Peter Rodino, Richard M. Nixon, House Judiciary Committee

Category Tags: Congressional Investigations, Nixon Impeachment, Nixon's Final Days

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]

Entity Tags: Committee to Re-elect the President, Richard M. Nixon, H.R. Haldeman

Category Tags: Nixon Impeachment, Nixon's Final Days, Watergate Tapes and Documents

Barry Goldwater.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]

Entity Tags: Hugh Scott, US Congress, Richard M. Nixon, Barry Goldwater, John Rhodes

Category Tags: Nixon Impeachment, Nixon Resignation, Nixon's Final Days

Washington Post headline from August 7, 1974: ‘Nixon Says He Won’t Resign.’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]

Entity Tags: Ray Price, House Judiciary Committee, Richard M. Nixon, New York Times

Category Tags: Nixon Impeachment, Nixon Resignation, Nixon's Final Days

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]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, Carl Feldbaum, Peter Kreindler, Leon Jaworski, Richard M. Nixon

Category Tags: Watergate Prosecutions, Nixon Impeachment, Nixon Resignation, Nixon's Final Days

Law professor and House candidate Bill Clinton.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]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Central Intelligence Agency, John Paul Hammerschmidt, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard M. Nixon, House Judiciary Committee

Category Tags: Nixon Impeachment, Nixon Resignation, Nixon's Final Days

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