Tuesday, October 15, 2013

October 15, 1973

The Appeals Court had ruled against Richard Nixon in the battle over the tapes, but it left him an out: instead of appealing up to the Supreme Court, he could try to work out a deal. That's what begins now: the attempted Stennis compromise.

It actually began on Sunday the 14th. Nixon met with Senate Armed Services Chair John Stennis, a southern Democrat but a Nixon supporter, and suggested a plan in which the White House would provide transcripts, and Stennis would listen to the actual tapes to verify the accuracy of the transcripts.

The record then gets confused; this is another of those instances where testimony differs. The back and forth between Nixon, Al Haig, Stennis, Attorney General Elliot Richardson, and Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox is convoluted: Nixon is, on the 15th, trying to sell the Stennis idea; trying to limit it to just the nine tapes currently at issue; and, on and off, moving towards firing Cox. Perhaps the Stennis compromise is a sincere effort to salvage something from a loss in the courts; perhaps it's merely a strategy for putting Cox on the defensive, so that he could be removed with at least a chance that public opinion would support the president (if, that is, Cox appeared to be stubbornly refusing a reasonable deal).

The first problem with it is that Stennis isn't really on board, so even getting the thing set up is going to require a lot of work.

The second is even more serious: Richardson makes it clear, on the 15th, that he simply won't fire Cox. Cox, although independent, is still part of the Justice Department, which means that it's the Attorney General who could dismiss him, but Richardson has promised the Senate Judiciary Committee, as part of the conditions of his confirmation, that a special prosecutor would be appointed and allowed to do his work.

Nixon has until Friday the 19th, to appeal to the Supreme Court. Something is going to have to give, and soon.


  1. From Wikipedia: "In October 1973, during the Watergate scandal, the Nixon administration proposed the Stennis compromise, wherein the hard-of-hearing Stennis would listen to the contested Oval Office tapes and report on their contents, but this plan went nowhere. TIME Magazine ran a picture of John Stennis that read :'Technical Assistance Needed.' The picture had his hand cupped around his ear."

    I remember that picture. Maybe it's because I was a kid, but the guy looked incredibly old -- he was 72 but I remember him looking 92. In fact, Wikipedia goes on to say that in his late 80s, still in the Senate, he was president pro tem for two years, putting him three heartbeats away from the presidency (one of them Reagan's, who himself was late 70s). Just FYI.

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