Wednesday, October 23, 2013

October 23, 1973

The House was back in -- and that meant resolutions of impeachment are introduced by Members of the House. Judiciary Chair Peter Rodino announced that his committee was beginning preparations for impeachment of the president.

The more important message, perhaps, is sent by House Republicans to the White House: unless Nixon surrendered the tapes, they would not be able to protect him.

Speaker Albert (who, remember, was currently next in line to the presidency) announces that confirming Gerald Ford would move forward. Al Haig at the White House warned about "a turnover of the government" to overturn the last election, but the Democratic leadership wasn't looking for that; they want Ford in place. Tip O'Neill had been thinking impeachment all year, and that meant impeachment and conviction, a far more likely prospect if it meant Republicans would retain the White House.

Judge Sirica, in the morning, calls what were now the two Watergate grand juries and remind them that the president could not touch them.

Elliot Richardson gives a press conference from Justice, carried live on TV (again, remember -- this is pre-cable, so it means the networks breaking in), with (Drew reports) "hundreds" of Department employees looking on and giving him sustained applause when he arrives.

Inside the White House, however, they now know that the jig is up: it's time to surrender, at least to some extent.

Sirica, not knowing that and expecting a confrontation, enters the court that afternoon and begins by reading the Circuit Court decision.


Sirica: Are counsel for the president prepared at this time to file with the court the response of the president to the modified order of the court?

Charles Wright: Mr. Chief Judge, may it please the court. I am not prepared at this time to file a response. I am, however, authorized to say that the president of the United States will comply in all respects with the order of August twenty-nine as modified by the Court of Appeals.

(Emery adds: "there was silence, then gasps...Judge Sirica, as if debelieving"):

Sirica: You will follow the decisions or statements delineated by me?

Wright: In all respects.


As Drew notes, this isn't a full surrender. Nixon's lawyers still maintain that the Senate will not get the tapes (although the real issue, soon, will be the House). Acting Attorney General Robert Bork, that afternoon, formally abolishes the office of the special counsel. And Nixon's lawyers are still saying that this is a one-time exception; they still intend to fight against any further demands.

But even that won't hold for long. The next day, Senate Republicans publicly demand a new Special Prosecutor.

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