- Historic Sites
I. The Hour Of The Founders
In which a President fails to fulfill his constitutional duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” And a reluctant Congress acts.
June/july 1984 | Volume 35, Issue 4
Back on July 24, the day the Judiciary Committee began its televised deliberations, the Supreme Court had ordered the President to surrender sixty-four taped conversations subpoenaed by the Watergate prosecutor. At the time I had regarded the decision chiefly as an auspicious omen for the evening’s proceedings. Only Richard Nixon knew that the Court had signed his death warrant. On August 5 the President announced that he was making public three tapes that “may further damage my case.” In fact they destroyed what little was left of it. Recorded six days after the Watergate break-in, they showed the President discussing detailed preparations for the cover-up with his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman. They showed the President and his henchman discussing how to use the CIA to block the FBI, which was coming dangerously close to the White House. “You call them in,” says the President. “Good deal,” says his aide. In short, the three tapes proved that the President had told nothing but lies about Watergate for twenty-six months. Every one of Nixon’s ten Judiciary Committee defenders now announced that he favored Nixon’s impeachment.
The President still had one last evasion: on the evening of August 8 he appeared on television to make his last important announcement. “I no longer have a strong enough political base in Congress,” said Nixon, doing his best to imply that the resolution of a great constitutional crisis was mere maneuvering for political advantage. “Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. ” He admitted to no wrongdoing. If he had made mistakes of judgment, “they were made in what I believed at the time to be in the best interests of the nation.”
On the morning of August 9 the first President ever to resign from office boarded Air Force One and left town. The “system” had worked. But in the watches of the night, who has not asked himself now and then: How would it all have turned out had there been no White House tapes?