After John Dean's televised appearance, the Watergate Committee hearings had continued, with John Mitchell appearing and basically stonewalling. Soon after, Richard Nixon was hospitalized with viral pneumonia.
The way the committee worked was that, if possible, they pre-interviewed the witnesses before the full committee confronted them on live TV. On July 13, the pre-interview was with Alexander Butterfield -- the man who had run the president's daily schedule (and who now headed the FAA).
Here's Emery, taking up the story after the Democratic counsel had taken his turn with Butterfield.
For the Republican minority staff, Don Sanders got his turn after the first three hours of fencing. Sanders, who had been in the FBI, where it was common knowledge that the late Director Hoover had taped all discussions, wanted to get back to the Buzhardt memos. They looked like transcripts to him, and then there was Dean's suggestion that the president had taped him on April 15. He asked Butterfield whether to his knowledge any of the presidential conversations were taped.
Butterfield, as with the rest of them, had been told by the new White House counsel, Len Garment, not to volunteer anything but to answer every question truthfully, no matter what.
And Butterfield didn't even realize that when he answered in full about the taping system -- in the Oval Office, the EOB office, the phones, and Camp David -- that the committee didn't know about it yet (he assumed that Haldeman, all ready pre-interviewed, had spilled the beans).
But no -- the committee had no idea about it at all. All of a sudden, it was no longer a hopeless stalemate of John Dean's word against the president. Real evidence -- excellent evidence -- existed.
And with that...the story of Watergate, from this point on, is a legal battle for control of the tapes. I'll continue these posts, but there's really nothing more to it. Congress and the Special Prosecutor want the evidence; the president, as we shall see soon, resists (and, yes, I'll write about the question about destroying the tapes); and it will come down to the courts. They didn't know it at the time, but from what we know now there was no way for Richard Nixon's presidency to survive the evidence. And after all that had happened, there was no way that Congress would back down from demanding to see that evidence -- and a Special Prosecutor was in place who also would never back down. And Nixon's popularity was long gone; his last Gallup sounding, a few days earlier, had slipped to 39% approval.
That Friday the 13th, however, all that is still in the future. The committee staff in the room rapidly notify the committee, and they prepare the next steps.