Friday, March 15, 2013

March 14, 1973

Nixon and Dean, again.

I should note here, as I've noted before, that one has to be careful about this material. Many of the transcripts here are from Kutler (essentially, if I don't include a link or a specific citation, it's from Kutler). He presents excerpts, not full transcripts; I'm usually taking excerpts from those excerpts. Of course I'm doing my best to give the full meaning as I read it, but there's clearly some room for slippage in the process. So for example, here's what Kutler has from this one, which he describes as "a long rambling conversation" but only gives us a bit under one page:


President Nixon: Espionage and sabotage. Do you understand? That's the point that I'm making...[E]spionage and sabotage is illegal only if against the government. Hell, you can espionage and sabotage all you want, unless you use illegal means...Can I get away with it?

Dean: I don't think we'll get away with it forever.

President Nixon: Do you think he knew, Haldeman knew?

Dean: Yes....


As usual, the ellipses that way means it's in the original (that is, Kutler's transcript); if I further cut it, I put bracketed ellipses. So what's happening here? I don't know. "Can I get away with it?" seems to come out of left field. And it might have! Or that question, and then the Haldeman follow-up, might have additional context we're not getting. That's not to run down Kutler; even cuts in good faith still may lose some of the nuance. If I wasn't using this as an example, I might have started it with "Can I get away with it?" and lost the first part. Would that have made it less true to the real meaning? I don't know.

At any rate, here's more from that conversation.


Dean: Hopefully there's a assumption that we know all here, the Dean investigation knows everything. We don't. Now we've got some good ideas, but we don't have all the answers.

President Nixon: Suppose you knew all? What the hell does it tell them? I mean, Watergate we know -- certainly we must know what happened. We know what happened. We must know that somebody, we were very specific, and I can't -- and it had to be at a higher level. We know Goddamn well that Hunt and Liddy. We all know that.

Who, I don't know, and I would prefer not to know, because I don't want to get my friends involved. But I know very well it had to be a higher-up. That's our real problem, and everybody knows it. They wouldn't have done it because Magruder told them to, or Hugh Sloan told them, and we've just got to recognize that. So there is our real problem with Watergate, as I see it, my problem. But I'm taking your word that your investigation showed that no one in the White House knew.


And this is the classic Nixon of the tapes: asking Dean questions which he's already asked others while pretending the information is new to him; becoming shockingly candid about all of it; and then, suddenly, in the last sentence, a totally incongruous sentence that seemingly pretends the rest of the conversation never happened. Is he rehearsing a public statement? Speaking for the tapes? Remember, only Nixon and Haldeman know about the taping system. Just trying out random versions of a story? Fascinating.


  1. Well, we know that when a president uses the word "it" without a clear reference, he's referring to building your own business. So Nixon must be asking here whether he can get away with building his own business, without any government help, and Dean says no, not forever -- eventually he'll need a tax break or an SBA loan or something. Or publicly financed roads and bridges.

    This must also be why, in another famous conversation, Nixon says he knows how you can get the money, you can get a million dollars, you can get it in cash. Yes, it sounds like he's talking about something illegal, but what he means is that raising capital is difficult under our system of oppressive government regulation. But he's got a solution. He's just a very enterprising, entrepreneurial soul -- a "maker," not a taker, if you will. Kind of guy that made this country great.

  2. In this passage, at least, it seems clear that Nixon is setting up John Mitchell to take the fall, if it came to it. At least, he's trying to talk himself into it...

    "No one in the White House knew..." Of course not, because Mitchell left Justice to run CREEP in March of '72.


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