The White House tapes are public. Alexander P. Butterfield is brought in as a surprise witness to the Ervin Committee, where he reveals -- and the White House then confirms -- that "President Nixon had listening devices in the White House that would have automatically tape-recorded his conversations with John W. Dean 3rd and other key figures in the Watergate case."
Sam Dash: Just one last question If one were therefore to reconstruct the conversations at any particular date, what would be the best way to reconstruct those conversations, Mr. Butterfield, in the President's Oval Office?
Butterfield: Well, in the obvious manner, Mr. Dash -- to obtain the tape and play it.
The committee scheduled a meeting for later in the week to formally consider a request for the tapes; San Dash tells reporters that they will surely do so. By the end of the week, the committee had requested tapes -- as did Archibald Cox, who asked for eight specific tapes.
Key point here: the prosecutors and the committee focused on the conversations they knew about, which meant those which someone (such as Dean) had reported to them, or those which they had some other specific evidence about. Neither was about to try to force Nixon to turn over everything, in a wild goose chase. Even as a technical matter that wouldn't make much sense, but both legally and politically both Congress and Cox wanted to be very specific and very limited. All of which made sense -- but it also meant that many, many important conversations were never revealed during any of the Watergate proceedings. In short, we know a lot more than they did.
At the White House, Al Haig shuts off the system. The White House tapes are done.
And they then proceed with the big decision: what to do with the evidence.
For destroying the tapes (Emery's source is Nixon): Buzhardt, Agnew, Kissinger John Connally, Nelson Rockefeller.
Against? Haig, Haldeman, and Leonard Garment, who threatened to resign.
Garment (in addition to the sensible point that getting rid of hundreds of hours of old-fashioned audio tape wouldn't actually be all that easy), got it right: Nixon would surely be impeached for obstruction of justice if he destroyed evidence.
The blunt fact of it was that Nixon's best bet at this point was to win in the courts, thereby keeping the tapes from ever being seen. That might have seemed a longshot to the president's team, but as impossible a position as it was to say that the tapes would prove him innocent but he couldn't share them because of his responsibility to the presidency, it would have been even more untenable to claim that the tapes exonerated him but he had to burn them.
And impeachment -- clearly a very real possibility at this point -- was ultimately a political, not a legal, question. Even if Dean was proved more accurate than Nixon, and even if some other details came out from whichever tapes he would eventually have to surrender, it was always still possible that Republicans (or conservatives from both parties) would stick with him anyway.
Emery makes two other points about keeping the tapes. One is that they were potentially worth a lot of money, one way or another. But another point is that the tapes, as much as they incriminated Nixon, also promised him some measure of protection against others eventually turning on him. After all, Dean was basically telling the truth now, but what if he chose to add some lies to it -- or what if one of the others decided to lie about Nixon in order to save his own skin.
The bottom line, really, is that Nixon's job was to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." If he destroyed evidence in a criminal case, how could Congress not remove him from office?
And so Nixon keeps the tapes, and readies himself for the fight over them.