Nixon tapes released on resignation’s anniversary
YORBA LINDA, California (AP) — Almost a decade after Richard Nixon resigned, the disgraced former U.S. president sat down with his one-time aide and told the tale of his fall from grace in his own words.
Starting Tuesday, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, portions of the tapes will be published each day by the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum and the private Richard Nixon Foundation.
The postings begin with Nixon recalling the day he decided to resign and end Saturday — the date of his last day in office — with the 37th president discussing his final day at the White House, when he signed the resignation agreement, gave a short speech and boarded a helicopter for San Clemente, California.
The segments were culled from more than 30 hours of interviews that Nixon did with former aide Frank Gannon in 1983. The sections on Watergate aired publicly once, on CBS News, before sitting at the University of Georgia for more than 30 years.
“This is as close to what anybody is going to experience sitting down and having a beer with Nixon, sitting down with him in his living room,” said Gannon, now a writer and historian in Washington, D.C.
Nixon, who died in 1994, had hoped that providing his own narrative would help temper America’s final judgment of him.
He didn’t avoid the tough questions.
The tone of the tapes contrasts with the sometimes adversarial tone of the well-known series of Nixon interviews done in 1977 by British journalist David Frost. Nixon appears relaxed in the tapes. He smiles occasionally, speaks fondly about his two daughters and wife and seems emotional while recalling the final days of his administration, as pressure mounted for his impeachment over a 1972 break-in at Democratic headquarters by burglars tied to the president’s re-election committee who were trying to get incriminating information about his political rivals.
Nixon denied knowing about plans for the break-in beforehand, but an 18 ½-minute gap in a recording of a post-Watergate White House meeting led many to suspect a cover-up.
Faced with impeachment and a possible criminal indictment, Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974. The following month he was granted a pardon by President Gerald Ford.
The decision to release these friendly interviews now might not be a coincidence, said Luke Nichter, a Nixon expert and professor at Texas A&M University. With the passage of time, he said, every former president sees their legacy re-examined and recast, and Nixon may be no different.
“Watergate’s never going to go away,” Nichter said. “Nixon’s role in that and the cover-up is so well-documented. But I think what we’re trying to say here, 40 years later, is Nixon doesn’t have to be all bad or all good. He can be a combination of the good, bad and ugly.”
In the final interview segment to be released Saturday, Nixon recalls his last day at the White House.
After a fitful night, he awoke at 4 a.m. and went to the kitchen, where he was surprised to find a kitchen staffer already there.
The staffer told Nixon it was 6 a.m., not two hours earlier — the president’s watch had stopped overnight.
“The battery had run out, wore out at 4 o’clock the last day I was in office,” Nixon said ruefully. “By that day, I was worn out too.”