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The Nixon Administration and Watergate

Nixon's Final Days

Project: Nixon, Ford, and Watergate
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President Nixon formally nominates acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray to permanently head the agency. His nomination is sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee for action. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file] Many political observers find the nomination inexplicable. It is virtually certain that Gray’s confirmation hearings (see February 28-29, 1973) will turn into a Congressional inquiry into the FBI’s reluctance to investigate the broader aspects of the Watergate conspiracy. Administration officials confirm that the decision to nominate Gray was the result of a contentious debate, with President Nixon personally overruling the strenuous objections of his top aide, John Ehrlichman. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 267-268]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ehrlichman, L. Patrick Gray, Senate Judiciary Committee

Category Tags: Nixon's Final Days, Political Subordination of FBI, CIA

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]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Barry Goldwater

Category Tags: Nixon's Final Days

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

Alexander Haig.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]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Robert Hartmann, Fred Buzhardt, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Marsh, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

Category Tags: Nixon Pardon, Nixon's Final Days

Betty Ford.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]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Robert Hartmann, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Betty Ford, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

Category Tags: Nixon Pardon, 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

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]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Leon Jaworski

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

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

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]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller, Nixon administration, William Gulley, Henry A. Kissinger, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Jack Brennan

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

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]

Entity Tags: James Reston, Jr, Richard M. Nixon, National Archives and Records Administration

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

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

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

August 8, 1974: Nixon Resigns Presidency

Richard Nixon announcing his resignation to the country.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]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, Leon Jaworski, Richard M. Nixon, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Barry Werth

Category Tags: Nixon Resignation, Nixon's Final Days

Jerald terHorst.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]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, James R. Schlesinger, Jerald terHorst, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

Category Tags: Nixon Resignation, Nixon's Final Days

The Washington Post prints a small, almost-buried story entitled “Pentagon Kept Watch on Military.” The relatively innocuous headline conceals a potentially explosive charge—that during the final days of the Nixon administration, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger and the Joint Chiefs of Staff had “kept a close watch to make certain that no orders were given to military units outside the normal chain of command.” The article, careful in its word choices, says the extraordinary alert was “based on hypothetical situations that could arise during a period when President Nixon’s hold on the presidency was not clear.… Specifically, there was concern that an order could go to a military unit outside the chain of command for some sort of action against Congress during the time between a House impeachment and a Senate trial on the impeachment charge.” Pentagon sources say no one has any evidence that any such action was being contemplated, but steps were taken to ensure that no military commander would take an order from the White House or anywhere else that did not come through military channels. The implication is clear: Pentagon officials worried that Nixon might use certain elements of the military to stage some sort of coup. Schlesinger gives the story “legs” by issuing the following non-denial: “I did assure myself that there would be no question about the proper constitutional and legislated chain of command, and there never was any question.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 174-175]

Entity Tags: Ford administration, US Department of Defense, Washington Post, James R. Schlesinger

Category Tags: Nixon Resignation, Nixon's Final Days

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