Last Batch of Nixon Tapes on Watergate Released
(CNN) — After he announced the resignations of four top officials in his administration in 1973, Richard Nixon swore he was done with talking about Watergate, according to the last batch of tapes released by the National Archives.
Gone were his chief of staff, H.R. “Bob” Haldeman; his domestic affairs adviser, John Ehrlichman; White House lawyer John Dean; and Attorney General Richard Kleindeinst, a longtime friend. Nixon broke the news in his first public address about the scandal that would eventually bring down his presidency — and as he tried to console the jettisoned Haldeman, he insisted it was his last.
“Well, its a tough thing, Bob, for you, for John, the rest,” he said after the April 30, 1973, speech. “But goddammit, I’m never gonna discuss this son of a bitch Watergate thing again. Never, never, never, never.”
Of course, like much of what he had just told Americans, it didn’t turn out to be true. Nixon would be forced to deal with Watergate over and over again in the next year or so, culminating with his own resignation in August 1974 — a development forced by the discovery of conversations like those released Wednesday by the National Archives.
The 340 hours of recordings are the last installment of a record that has kept historians busy for four decades. They run from April 1973 through that July, when the microphones were turned off after a probing Congress learned of the tapes.
The new batch includes calls of support from two future presidents following the April 30 speech: Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.
“We’re still behind you out here, and I wanted you to know that you’re in our prayers,” said Reagan, then governor of California and a rising conservative star.
“How nice of you to say that,” Nixon replied. “Well, let me tell you this. That we can be — all each of us has a different religion, you know? But goddammit, Ron, we have got to build peace in the world, and that’s what I’m working on.”
Bush, then the Republican Party’s chairman, told Nixon, “I was really proud of you, and my golly, I know it was tough, and I just wanted to tell you that.” Nixon replied, “Well, good for you, George.”
The Watergate scandal began to unravel with the June 1972 break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. Five operatives of the Nixon re-election campaign were arrested in the attempt to illegally wiretap phones at the offices, located in the Watergate office building in Washington.
The subsequent investigations revealed that within days of the arrests, Nixon had discussed warning FBI agents away from the burglary probe by having the CIA claim the break-in was part of a national security operation. Nixon resigned shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered him to turn over a recording of that conversation to investigators.
Other tapes out Wednesday include Nixon discussing China with National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and meeting with evangelist Billy Graham, the widow of baseball star Roberto Clemente and the Brazilian soccer legend Pele, who spoke of wanting to spread his sport to the United States. He’s heard speaking with a variety of world leaders, including West German Chancellor Willy Bradt and Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
The tapes captured a June 1973 summit meeting between Nixon and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, in which Brezhnev bemoaned complaints about the world’s two superpowers.
“There are some people who keep throwing in this idea of there being two superpowers in the world who are out to dictate their, as they say, dictate their will, to foist their will upon others, and so forth,” Brezhnev said. “Now, but, are we to blame for being big? Are we to blame for being strong? What can we do about it? That is the way it is.”
And Nixon talks of winding down the war in Vietnam and the return of American prisoners of war, justifying the December 1972 bombing raids on Hanoi that he credited with their release.
“The North Vietnamese had reneged on the agreement, they had attached conditions with regard to return of POWs, they had attached conditions on the return of civilians themselves,” he told Roger Shields, a Pentagon official working with the former prisoners. “We said no conditions. That’s why we had to bomb. One of the major reasons we had to bomb. And it worked.”
By Matt Smith, CNN
CNN’s Athena Jones and Brian Rokus contributed to this report.