Wednesday, May 1, 2013

April 30, 1973

The resignations are released to the press earlier in the day, with Nixon then returning from Camp David late in the day and giving a prime time address. The key paragraphs, in which he again embraces the new cover story for the cover-up (full transcript here; watch it here):


Until March of this year, I remained convinced that the denials were true and that the charges of involvement by members of the White House Staff were false. The comments I made during this period, and the comments made by my Press Secretary in my behalf, were based on the information provided to us at the time we made those comments. However, new information then came to me which persuaded me that there was a real possibility that some of these charges were true, and suggesting further that there had been an effort to conceal the facts both from the public, from you, and from me.

As a result, on March 21, I personally assumed the responsibility for coordinating intensive new inquiries into the matter, and I personally ordered those conducting the investigations to get all the facts and to report them directly to me, right here in this office.

I again ordered that all persons in the Government or at the Re-Election Committee should cooperate fully with the FBI, the prosecutors, and the grand jury. I also ordered that anyone who refused to cooperate in telling the truth would be asked to resign from Government service. And, with ground rules adopted that would preserve the basic constitutional separation of powers between the Congress and the Presidency, I directed that members of the White House Staff should appear and testify voluntarily under oath before the Senate committee which was investigating Watergate.

I was determined that we should get to the bottom of the matter, and that the truth should be fully brought out--no matter who was involved.

At the same time, I was determined not to take precipitate action and to avoid, if at all possible, any action that would appear to reflect on innocent people. I wanted to be fair. But I knew that in the final analysis, the integrity of this office--public faith in the integrity of this office--would have to take priority over all personal considerations.

Today, in one of the most difficult decisions of my Presidency, I accepted the resignations of two of my closest associates in the White House--Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman--two of the finest public servants it has been my privilege to know.

I want to stress that in accepting these resignations, I mean to leave no implication whatever of personal wrongdoing on their part, and I leave no implication tonight of implication on the part of others who have been charged in this matter. But in matters as sensitive as guarding the integrity of our democratic process, it is essential not only that rigorous legal and ethical standards be observed but also that the public, you, have total confidence that they are both being observed and enforced by those in authority and particularly by the President of the United States. They agreed with me that this move was necessary in order to restore that confidence.

Because Attorney General Kleindienst-though a distinguished public servant, my personal friend for 20 years, with no personal involvement whatever in this matter-has been a close personal and professional associate of some of those who are involved in this case, he and I both felt that it was also necessary to name a new Attorney General.

The Counsel to the President, John Dean, has also resigned.


He also named Elliot Richardson as the new Attorney General, and gave him the authority to name a special prosecutor.

Later, he spoke on the phone to Bob Haldeman:


President Nixon: Hello?

Haldeman: Hi.

President Nixon: I hope I didn't let you down.

Haldeman: No, sir. You got your points over, and now you've go it set right and move on. You're right where you ought to be.

President Nixon: Well, it's a tough thing, Bob, for you and for John and the rest, but Goddamn it, I'm never going to discuss the son-of-a-bitching Watergate thing again -- never, never, never, never. Don't you agree?

Haldeman: Yes, sir. You've done it now, and you've laid out your position. You've laid out -- you've taken your steps...

President Nixon: But let me say you're a strong man, Goddammit, and I love you.

Haldeman: Well --

President Nixon: And, you know, I love John and all the rest, and by God, keep the faith. Keep the faith. You're going to win this son of a bitch.

Haldeman: Absolutely ...

President Nixon: God bless America. I mean, I'm sure it must have driven you up the wall. It didn't drive me up the wall, but I felt that way.

Haldeman. No, sir, not at all. No, I'm all for that, completely agree.

President Nixon: I don't know whether you can call and get any reactions and call me back -- like the old style. Would you mind?

Haldeman: I don't think I can. I don't --

President Nixon: No, I agree.

Haldeman: I'm in kind of an odd spot to try and do that.

President Nixon: Don't call a goddamn soul. The hell with it.

President Nixon: But God bless you, boy. God bless you.

Haldeman: Okay.

President Nixon: I love you, as you know.

Haldeman: Okay.

President Nixon: Like my brother.

Haldeman: Well, we'll go on and up from here.

President Nixon: All right, boy. Keep the faith.

Haldeman: Right.


Nixon then accepts other calls, from various friends and allies. Most of it is just them flattering him; in most, he makes a point of it that Haldeman and Ehrlichman wouldn't volunteer to resign and forced him to order them to. One bit is worth noting in the call from Elliot Richardson:


Richardson: I've never -- I don't think I've never ever been with a group of people who were more moved by an occasion than this.

President Nixon: Really? Really?...

Richardson: And I won't let you down, Mr. President.

President Nixon: Oh, I know that. I know that. That's why I named you [Laughter]...

Richardson: I have the feeling that I think I can do it right. I really do.

President Nixon: Of course you can. Of course you can. Elliot, the one thing they're going to be hitting you on is about the special prosecutor.

Richardson: Yeah.

President Nixon: The point is, I'm not sure you should have one. I'm not sure but what you should say you assume the responsibility for the prosecution and maybe bring that nice fellow [?] Hastings or whatever his name is, say he's -- but whatever you want. Good God, if you want, you know, to exhume Charles Evans Hughes, you know, do it. I don't mind. [Laughter]

Richardson: Okay. Well, I'm thinking about it, and I met with Henry Petersen this afternoon.

President Nixon: Right.

Richardson: And I talked with him about it, and I'll think about it some more.

President Nixon: Do what you want, and I'll back you to the hilt. I don't give a damn what you do, I am for you. Do you understand? Get to the bottom of this sonofabitch.

Richardson: I do...


And so that's the end of this phase of the story, the collapse of the cover-up. More or less -- the prosecutors know most of the basic story of Gemstone, Liddy and Hunt, and Watergate; they know a fair amount about the Plumbers. The press knows much, but know all of that, yet. I notice that in one WaPo story, Laurence Stern and Haynes Johnson write that "He also announced that he had fired his counsel, John W. Dean III, who was by the ironies of the political process a casualty of the very scandal the President had charged him to investigate." Less ironic if you realize that there was not presidential charge, and no investigation; that was all a sham.

For a full sense of the immediate reaction, the Post's coverage is a good place to start; in addition to that story on the staff shake-up, there another on the speech, another on Haldeman, and an editorial.

1 comment:

  1. One of the key things this retrospective has taught me is not just the limitations of Presidents, but the limitations of conspiracies. These posts should be required reading for anyone tempted to believe in a conspiracy theory.

    Which isn’t to say conspiracies don’t happen. This is, after all, an actual criminal conspiracy at the highest levels of state power. But that’s the thing... it’s not the moon landing, let alone 9/11 - all they’re scheming over is a few low-rent burglaries/buggings, and then a cover-up of those operations.

    But they seem to be terrible at it. Not only do they fail to pull it off and keep their connections to it secret, but as soon as the pressure rises, they all get lawyers and start squealing on each other. They can’t remember what each other know, they probably can’t remember what they themselves knew at which point...they just seem to be really ineffective.

    And these are not a bunch of chumps. It’s a President and chief of staff known for being clever, extremely driven, and politically ruthless; and a very competent inner circle.

    There’s also very little of the style of imagined conspiracies here. You have moments where Nixon says things like, ‘You're to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them in.’ But for the most part they do an elaborate dance around the issue at hand, rarely saying exactly what they mean - even those who don’t know they’re being taped. They pretend to know less than they do, they nudge each other towards taking more of the rap, mostly they just fret aimlessly, for months on end. And when they need to lay down the law to someone, like Mitchell for instance, they don’t seem to have the nerve to do it.

    Or take something like the situation with Judge Sirica, as JB described it here. When Nixon first airs his frustrations about Sirica to Colson, and asks if he’s waiting for a Democrat to nominate him to the Supreme Court, Colson says:

    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.

    Now, in conspiracy land, what happens next is that they arrange for Colson to play a round of golf with him and just tell him, as a loyal soldier, what to do; or if he does balk, they promise him a SCOTUS seat, bribe him with millions, threaten or blackmail him or whatever - and problem solved. But no, in reality, they just speculate about whether he’s doing it because he’s a “hot-headed Italian” and carry on the dance of words. It seems it’s not even remotely on the radar to influence a judge. I mean, what kind of conspiracy is this!?

    They also have a hard time raising the money to keep the boys quiet - again, this is a plot run by the White House and senior figures in the GOP, and they can’t get their hands on enough money to keep their conspiracy secret. In the movies and on the net, hush-money is really not a problem for these kind of people.

    Now, no doubt a good deal of this is the result of what JB has been explaining about Nixon’s alienation of the rest of government, and presidential weakness in general. I dare say it’s easier to pull off a conspiracy if you’re Stalin than if you’re occupying the White House. And I guess a circle of, say, ‘shadowy’ international financiers, has less institutional barriers facing them. On the other hand, they lack many advantages of being officially in charge of the country. Like being able to offer immunity, or ask the FBI to destroy evidence.

    Still, I’d tentatively suggest that on this evidence, to pull off a major conspiracy like an inside-job 9/11 is, if not actually impossible, so incredibly unlikely to succeed that no experienced or competent pol would ever try it.



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