May 25, 2013
Journalism Was Only a Bit Player in Exposing Watergate Crimes
Posted on Jun 14, 2012
Nixon’s tapes, which he fought bitterly to retain, are an alphabet of woe that is at the heart of the historical record against him. It was the tapes that made the case against Nixon at the time; it is the tapes, the gift that keeps on giving, that drives more nails into the case against him. We are far beyond the famous “smoking gun” conversation in which Nixon tried to use the CIA to thwart the FBI investigation. The tapes released in 1997 clearly reveal Nixon’s knowledge of “hush money” payments. The burglar Howard Hunt told presidential aide Charles Colson that it was time for the White House to “start to give, uh, some creative, uh, thinking to the affair.” After all, he added, “we were protecting the guys who are really responsible.” Bob Haldeman told Nixon that Hunt was “happy”—and at “a considerable cost,” the president said in regard to payments to Hunt.
John Dean left the Oval Office at noon on March 21, 1973, following the “cancer on the presidency” conversation that reviewed the events of Watergate and in which Dean labored to urge Nixon to move in front of the story. An hour later the president summoned his trusted secretary, Rose Mary Woods, to ask about unrecorded cash she held, money provided by a “contributor.” Later that afternoon, Nixon and Haldeman had a lengthy discussion in which Dean’s information offered no surprises or meaning, and they continued to talk about payments to others. Then the cover-up continued; Nixon understood the necessary course of action—“the cover-up is the main ingredient,” he told Charles Colson. “That’s where we gotta cut our losses. …The President’s losses gotta be cut on the cover-up deal.” Nixon well knew the stakes. “I don’t give a shit what happens,” “stonewall it,” “plead the Fifth Amendment,” “cover up”—anything to “save the plan,” he defiantly said.
The Watergate break-in itself is best remembered for parting the veil for what Attorney General John Mitchell called the “White House Horrors.” Mitchell’s 1973 Senate testimony referred to the catalog of abuses of power, including impeachable crimes, that eventually could be traced to the president’s own complicity. After the myths of journalism, after the president’s men, and even after the president’s “enemies” inevitably fade deeper into the mists of history, we will still have Richard Nixon—to remember or to “kick around.”
Stanley Kutler is the writer with Harry Shearer of “Nixon’s the One,” a television comedy series airing in Britain and forthcoming in the United States. W.W. Norton has published a 40th anniversary edition of Kutler’s “Wars of Watergate.”
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