Timothy Noah

I Read The Nixon Grand Jury Transcript So You Don't Have To (Though You Should, Because It's Fun)

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From the newly-released Watergate grand jury testimony of former President Richard Nixon (June 23 and 24, 1975).

On big things and little things: 

"One of the weaknesses I have, and it is a strength in another way, I am quite single-minded. Some people can play cards and listen to television and have a conversation at one time. I can't. I do one thing at a time, and in the office of the Presidency I did the big things and did them reasonably well and screwed up on the little things, partly because the staff didn't bring them to me." (Page 99.)

On the 18-minute gap in the Watergate tapes:

"If you are interested in my view as to what happened, it is very simple. It is that it was an accident. My view as far as [my secretary] Miss [Rose Mary] Woods' role it that I believe her totally, but I guess I would be expected to because she has been with me so long and she is deeply religious, but she doesn't wear it on her sleeve; she has it here in her heart, and she would never lie to me, and under these circumstances when she said that she didn't erase anything, that she didn't hear anything, she doesn't know what is on it, I believe her. I realize that is not evidence, but it is at least my opinion, but the other point that I make is that with regard to the others, anybody else, I don't know of anybody else, [chief of staff ] General [Al] Haig doesn't know of anybody else, [my lawyer, J. Fred] Buzhardt doesn't know of anybody else, and also the important thing is that the panel of experts could not really find a basic agreement as to how it occurred. They do, up to a point, but there are so many, from having cursorily, giving a cursory reading of the report, there are so many loopholes that they just aren't going to get caught on that. I don't know how it happened." 

Nixon is then asked if he's saying the gap was caused by an accident that Woods had reported to him (which Woods said involved only four minutes).

"No, I am not saying that at all. I am saying that I think whatever occurred, and assuming that it was an erasure, which I think could be assumed based on the fact that the experts did find scraps of words--Miss Woods says she doesn't like the word erasure because she said she didn't hear anything, and of course I believe her. My point is as far as anything she did, it was an accident. As far as the balance of it, she could have done it all and it would have been accidental, some malfunction of the machine. She could have. She doesn't think so. She says it was only four and a half to five minutes. This is what she testified to, and that is what she told me personally. As far as some third person, another person getting to it and erasing it, I, first, I know of no such person, and, second, I know of no motive, particularly when you look at these notes [i.e., chief of staff H.R. Bob Haleman's notes of the meeting]. I mean I wish we could find it." (Pages 114-116.)

On auditing the income tax returns of Democratic National Chairman Larry O'Brien:

Q. So, if I understand, sir, when you discussed using "our powers," that was to use the powers in the White House to get the Internal Revenue Service to audit Mr. O'Brien, is that right?

A. You are putting words in my mouth there that I did not say. What I am saying is, and I am looking at these notes--I am refreshing my recollection about an event that occurred two years, three years ago, when I was engaged in activities that in my view were far more important than this type of activity, and from the notes and from my recollection and to the best of my recollection, I can only say that I was suggesting that in the campaign that we should be as effective in conducting our investigations as they had been effective in conducting their investigations. 

Q. Now, sir, on this--

A. As you noted, it says, "Better they drop him now," whatever that means.

Q. I was just about to ask you, sir, you indicated that you don't recall that. Do you believe that that was a discussion about talking to the Democratic party or someone representing the Democratic party and urging that they drop him, meaning that they drop Mr. O'Brien?

[Dumb question. Of course there wasn't. There was a discussion about smearing O'Brien so the Democrats would have to drop him. Nixon moves in for the kill.]

A. You know, many times, Mr. Horowitz, people think that a president of the United States running for re-election, with a good chance to be re-elected, has a great deal of power, but even the suggestion that I or one of my representatives could have influence within the Democratic party to get them to drop their national chairman is so absurd that really I am not going to dignify it with a comment. (Pages 182-183.)

On being blackmailed by FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover:

"At no time did Mr. Hoover, directly or indirectly, ever threaten that, look unless you keep me on I am going to blow the whistle on you. At no time did he ever say, look, unless you keep me on, I am going to pull down the whole temple, including you. I considered Hoover to be a patriot. I don't question that I talked this way, but as far as what I believed is concerned, it is best indicated by what I did. I kept him on until he died, and delivered a rather good eulogy on his death, and so when we talk about his possibly using the fact that he had these tapes to blackmail, it was something that was brought to my attention. Mr. [John] Ehrlichman[, domestic policy advisor,] thought he might; Mr. [John] Mitchell[, Attorney General and later chairman of the Committee To Re-Elect the President,] apparently thought he might. Obviously [G.] Gordon Liddy, [White House "plumber,'] whom I didn't know--I don't believe I ever met him, as far as I can recall--thought he might, but as far as I was concerned, I had to weigh what my closest advisers thought. I still stuck with him, because with all of his weaknesses, even in his advanced age, I didn't know of a better man for the job." (Pages 261-262.)

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