Monday, February 4, 2013

February 3, 1973

The president meets with Chuck Colson in the Oval Office.

Nixon brings up Watergate to make two points. The first is about Judge Sirica, whose behavior confuses Nixon -- although Colson has a useful suggestion:

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President Nixon: Let me spend a minute on the Watergate and so forth. What the hell is the strategy going to be here now? We don't -- we just have to -- all we are doing is just sort of letting them, you, here is the judge, and saying this...his Goddamn conduct is shocking. As a judge.

Colson: Is it?

President Nixon: [...] What is he buying for? Is he young enough to look for an appointment [to the Supreme Court] with the Democrats for the next four years?
[...]
Colson: No. No. He is a Republican. I know him pretty well. I have been with him at various events -- social events. Very decent guy, dedicated to you and to Eisenhower. I can't understand what he's doing. He's been ill. The only think I can figure out is that he -- this case just got under his craw for some reason, and he is a hot-headed Italian...

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Next, Nixon gets into the Senate investigation. Skipping most of this just to give the flavor of it:

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President Nixon: Thank God it's Ervin...At least, he is now going to be hoisted on his own petard, because he is the great constitutionalist, and talk about hearsay and all the rest.
[...]
President Nixon: Well, more than anything, what, if anything, is being done, or can be done to counterattack, etc.? Are any of the charges against our Democratic friends being investigated, have they been? Will they be?
[...]
President Nixon: [T]he Senate is full of people who take money. Christ, I was one of the few that didn't take anything.
[...]
President Nixon: Can we get in this investigation by Ervin, can we get one of our senators to take this whole record and say, "I demand all this be investigated?"...

Colson: I think your idea, Mr. President [...] is marvelous. Because I've always felt when push came to shove, that Ervin would not go ahead with those hearings, because people would have been quite satisfied with throwing stones. Ervin I'm sure is clean as a whistle. There is damn few of his colleagues who don't have a skeleton --

President Nixon: But the point is, how do we get those colleagues so they will tell Ervin to lay off.

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Nixon continues to believe in the fantasy that he can fight off Watergate by, essentially, blackmailing the rest of the political system: they won't dare press into his business if he threatens to press into whatever they've done, whether it's LBJ (supposedly) bugging his campaign plane in 1968 or most of the Senate (supposedly) being on the take.

Not that anyone is leveling with him. Colson offers him reassurance:

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President Nixon: I don't think the country is all that stirred up about that -- what do you think?

Colson: No. Oh, God, no, the country is bored with it. We get less than 1 percent who even mention Watergate. The Watergate issue has never been a public issue. It's a Washington issue. It's a way to get at us. It's the way Democrats think they can use to embarrass us, and keep us on the defensive, and keep us worried, and keep us from doing other things. That's why they have kept it alive. I don't think it's worth a damn in the country...

--

In fact, Nixon was just then riding a surge of popularity thanks to good news from Vietnam, with his Gallup approval spiking up to 67% in a late January poll. It would not last.

1 comment:

  1. It's a little surprising to hit "he's a hot-headed Italian" there as an explanation of the judge's behavior. Times have changed. (I hope!)

    ReplyDelete

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