In my write-up today on volume 2 of Richard Nixon's memoirs, I'll talk about Watergate, and also the resignation of Spiro T. Agnew, who was Nixon's first Vice-President.
1. For my first item,
I'll use as my starting-point the resignation of Nixon's Attorney
General, Elliott Richardson, who refused to fire Watergate Special
Prosecutor Archibald Cox, in violation of President Nixon's wishes.
When the Assistant Attorney General refused to fire Cox and resigned,
Solicitor General Robert Bork was next in line. Bork fired Cox.
According to Nixon, Bork himself was against firing Cox, but Bork
realized that he had a constitutional duty to follow President Nixon's
Nixon had a variety of problems with Cox. For one, Cox
was a staunch Democrat and was anti-Nixon. Second, Cox's investigation
was not limited but could probe any activity in the 1972 Presidential
election. And, third, Cox wanted for Nixon to turn over the Executive
Branch's tapes of Nixon's meetings, and Cox did not accept a compromise
in which the esteemed (in Washington, D.C.) John Stennis would listen to
the tapes and summarize them for release, taking care not to divulge
national security secrets. Nixon narrates that he (Nixon) was
frustrated that Richardson would not fire Cox (and Nixon refers to
Agnew's claim that Richardson had presidential ambitions), contending
that this had international implications: in a time when the Middle East
was in turmoil, would the Soviets respect Nixon if he could not even
get his own Attorney General to comply with his wishes?
Why was Nixon against releasing the tapes? Nixon
narrates that he was actually contemplating destroying the tapes,
except for the ones that pertained to national security. But Nixon
decided against that because (according to him) the tapes refuted former
White House counsel John Dean's testimony, which Nixon says
portrayed Nixon as one who was involved in a deliberate cover-up soon
after the Watergate break-in, while attempting to distance Dean somewhat
from the cover-up. Nixon equivocates about whether or not he (meaning Nixon) was
technically involved----Nixon seems to acknowledge that he was involved,
on some level----but Nixon believes that the tapes demonstrate that he
was not as sinister as Dean was alleging. For example, on page
439, Nixon says that Dean testified that everyone from the beginning
knew that Jeb Magruder was involved in the Watergate break-in and
perjured himself, whereas (according to Nixon) the March 22 and March 26
tapes indicate that Dean himself was not sure of these things.
but that only makes me want to ask my question again: Why was Nixon
against releasing the tapes? If they showed that Dean was lying, why
didn't Nixon want to release them? On page 453, Nixon quotes what
President Andrew Jackson said when Congress requested "a White House
staff document that had been read at a Cabinet meeting" (Nixon's words):
"As well might I be required to detail to the Senate the free and
private conversations I have held with those officers on any subject
related to their duties and my own." Nixon's desire to keep his private
conversations private seems to be one reason that he did not want to
release the tapes. But, second, Nixon in bringing up Andrew Jackson is
saying that executive privilege is a tradition in the United States.
Nixon earlier in this volume of his memoirs stresses the importance of
the separation of powers. Nixon argues that Senator Sam Ervin, who was
leading an investigation into Watergate, was actually a hypocrite on
this. When Senator Mike Gravel (remember him from 2008?) read
the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record, Ervin argued in a
friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court that another branch of
government could not compel someone from the legislative branch----in
this case, Gravel's aide----to divulge information. When Ervin asked
Abe Fortas about a conversation that Fortas had with President Lyndon
Johnson, Ervin then backed off, saying "I will not insist upon your
answer because it is a prerogative of communications in the executive
branch of the government" (Nixon's quotation of Ervin on page 446). Yet,
here Ervin was, demanding information from the executive branch. And
Nixon narrates that he (meaning Nixon) was largely willing to comply,
for he "waived all executive privilege and permitted members of the
White House staff to submit to the Ervin panel's questions" (page 445).
Nixon did not want to release the tapes, however.
Nixon's Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, was alleged to have accepted
kickbacks in exchange for granting contracts to certain contractors. On
page 478, Nixon relates Agnew's side of the story:
particularly embittered by what he considered the hypocrisy of the
members of Congress who had formerly served as governors. He repeated
his belief that most of the governors in other states had followed
practices such as those common in Maryland. He emphasized that he had
always awarded contracts on the basis of merit, and he felt that the
amounts he had received had been so small that no reasonable critic
could claim that they could have influenced him to make a decision that
contravened the public interest."
As far as Nixon's view of Agnew
in this situation was concerned, Nixon narrates that the evidence
against Agnew looked pretty bad for Agnew! Yet, Nixon presents himself
as compassionate towards Agnew. It's interesting, however, to read wikipedia's article on
Agnew, which states: "In 1980, Agnew published a memoir in which he
implied that Nixon and his Chief of Staff, Alexander Haig, had planned
to assassinate him if he refused to resign the Vice Presidency, and that
Haig told him to 'go quietly…or else', the memoir's title" (see here).
to Nixon, finding Agnew's replacement was a delicate political
situation. The Democrats in Congress did not want someone with
Presidential aspirations, Nixon narrates, since that person would have
the advantage of incumbency in the 1976 Presidential election. That
would exclude Ronald Reagan, Nelson Rockefeller, and John Connally.
Nixon selected Gerald Ford. And, even then, Nixon says, Congress was
holding up Ford's confirmation when Nixon was not doing what it wanted.
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