President Nixon's final White House tapes, released Aug. 21 by the National Archives, reveal that right after his national speech promising "no whitewash" about Watergate, he told his attorney general not to appoint a special prosecutor, and advised his former special counsel to stonewall questions by invoking national security.
Although Nixon said in his speech he'd given his newly appointed attorney general Elliot Richardson authority to "name a special supervising prosecutor," the President phoned Richardson that night and told him not to do so. Instead, Nixon told Richardson to solely "assume responsibility for the investigation."
(Later, Richardson appointed Archibald Cox as special prosecutor. Nixon ordered the attorney general to fire Cox, but Richardson refused and resigned.)
Nixon also phoned former special counsel Charles Colson after the April 30, 1973 speech, and told him to avoid answering questions about Watergate by saying "...we were protecting the security of this country." (Colson later pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and served a brief prison sentence.)
Nixon received supportive calls about the speech from future Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Reagan, then governor of California, told President Nixon, "You can count on us, we’re still behind you out here...you're in our prayers." Reagan forecast, "This too shall pass."
Bush, then head of the Republican National Committee, expressed "great pride" in Nixon. (Bush wrote a letter many months later urging Nixon to resign.)
Nixon's well-known prejudices are evident in the tapes:
- "No Jews. Is that clear?" he said about judicial nominees. "We've got enough Jews. Now if you find some Jew that I think is great, put him on there." (Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas resigned from what was known as the "Jewish seat" in 1969, President Nixon's first year in office. There was not another Jewish Supreme Court Justice until 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, appointed by President Bill Clinton.
- "Do you know, maybe, one black country that's well run?" Nixon asks rhetorically.
Other controversies discussed on the recordings include:
- The Vietnam War peace settlement ("Peace is at hand") and return of P.O.W.s.
- The Wounded Knee, S.D. takeover by 200 American Indian Movement (AIM) members, calling for Congressional investigations of conditions on reservations, and of alleged corruption within the Interior Department and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The siege lasted for 71 days, the longest-lasting "civil disorder" in America's 200-year history. Wounded Knee, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, was the site of an 1890 massacre of some 150 Native Americans, the final armed battle between federal troops and the Sioux.
- The "Soviet Summit" -- Nixon's June 1973 Oval Office meeting with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was the only summit meeting ever recorded on a U.S. Presidential taping system.
- Other less controversial meetings and calls are with heads of states including Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, and Willy Brandt of West Germany.
- Other notable figures heard on the tapes include White House staff members Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig; Billy Graham; and soccer superstar Pelé.
These 94 tapes -- 340 hours -- and more than 140,000 pages of documents from April 9, 1973 through July 12, 1973 were released at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, Calif., and also put online at www.nixonlibrary.gov.
Oval Office recorders were turned off after the taping was revealed mid-July 1973 at the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities' hearings about the Watergate break-in and cover-up.
All tapes, and a large selection of those documents, are online. To help search, the Library has created:
And here are:
- Virtual Library of tape excerpts: http://www.nixonlibrary.gov/virtuallibrary/tapeexcerpts/index.php.
- YouTube Playlist: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLiF7JevUP8B8GUbmaqbqonpvTdaS_rT3
The newly released documents include:
- U.S. intelligence analysis regarding the Vietnam War.
- Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker’s negotiations with South Vietnam President Thieu.
- Henry Kissinger's meetings with Chinese leaders in advance of President Nixon's historic February 1972 trip
- Much of the newly released records outline efforts to recruit qualified women for high-level government positions.
- U.S. policy toward Latin America. (Documents released previously from various agencies through the Freedom of Information Act have revealed covert operations in Chile and other countries. "Project FUBELT" was the code name for covert operations to undermine Chile's President Salvadore Allende and promote the military coup there in Sept. 1973.)
- Letters from the public to the White House include protests against and support for topics including the Vietnam War, the draft, campus unrest, school desegregation, gun control ...
Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974, faced with almost certain impeachment due to the Watergate scandal. He is the only U.S. President to resign. President Gerald Ford granted Nixon a full pardon.
The National Archives also recently released a total 1,025 pages of records from the 1973 Watergate break-in trial of G. Gordon Liddy, E. Howard Hunt, and five other men. The documents, sealed for four decades until released by court order, are available online at www.archives.gov/research/investigations/watergate/us-v-liddy.html.
Nixon said he was resigning to allow "that process of healing which is so desperately needed in America."
For more info: Watergate tapes and text, www.nixonlibrary.gov, Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, 18001 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda, Calif. It's one of 13 Presidential libraries administered by the National Archives, www.archives.gov. Presidential libraries of the National Archives, http://ourpresidents.tumblr.com/.