Released tapes shed light on Nixon bid to dodge scandal
Late ex-US president suggested former aide avoid Watergate questions by asserting national security
Luke A Nichter, a Texas A&M University professor co-authoring a book on the tapes, said there would never be another release like this one. “The tapes show us the highs and lows of the Nixon White House, the achievements and a burgeoning sense of despair,” he said.
The tapes include conversations with Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger, Alexander M Haig jnr, Brent Scowcroft and George P Shultz, as well as world leaders like Willy Brandt of West Germany and Pierre Trudeau of Canada.
Nixon and his aides discussed the Vietnam peace settlement and the China opening. His session in June 1973 with Leonid Brezhnev in the Oval Office is the only Russian-US summit meeting ever recorded on a presidential taping system.
Once again, Nixon is at his most raw. Brandt, he told one cabinet officer, is “a jerk”. The Chinese, he said, are subtle, “not like the Russians, who of course slobber at flattery”. He confided in another discussion that he had a “bombshell” deal in the works with the Soviets to renounce nuclear weapons.
The phone calls after his April 1973 Watergate speech pull back the curtain further on Nixon’s handling of the affair. He had just forced HR Haldeman and John D Ehrlichman, his trusted aides, to resign, and fired his counsel, John W Dean III. Richard G Kleindienst stepped down as attorney general.
Eager for reaction to his speech, Nixon worked the phone in the Lincoln Sitting Room until nearly midnight, with his daughter Tricia Cox and his son-in-law David Eisenhower helping to screen and place calls. He thought Kissinger was “rather guarded”, but otherwise was heartened by effusive praise.
Graham, the preacher, told Nixon that it “was your finest hour” and reported that his wife thought the scandal was all “a communist plot”.
Bush, then the Republican Party chairman, expressed “great pride” in Nixon and dismissed media critics as “arrogant bastards”.
Before picking up the phone to talk with Reagan, then governor of California, Nixon could be heard muttering about him “running for president”. Reagan told him, “We’re still behind you out here, and I wanted you to know you’re in our prayers.”
Despite pushing him out, Nixon talked twice with Haldeman. Nixon was clearly pained about the loss of his two confidants, but also expressed irritation to others that they did not volunteer to resign on their own, a point he did not raise with Haldeman.
“Well, it’s a tough thing, Bob, for you and for John, the rest,” Nixon said. Then, with a string of expletives, he vowed “I’m never going to discuss this” issue again. “Never, never, never.”
New York Times