Richard Nixon in The Presidential Transcripts (the Nixon Tapes)

On Principles & Values: 1973: Agreed to pay blackmail to "keep cap on Watergate"

Nixon, during a lengthy meeting in the Oval Office on Mar. 21, 1973, said "you have no choice but to come up with the $120,000" demanded as blackmail payment by one of the Watergate burglars. The taped transcript reveals that Nixon, on his own initiative discussed accommodating blackmail demands on at least a half-dozen occasions during the meeting without once suggesting that paying the men for their silence would be wrong. Instead, Nixon repeatedly discussed different methods by which as much as $1 million could be paid to the burglars without the payments being traced to the White House. The purpose of such payments, in the President's own words, would be "to keep the cap on the bottle," to "buy time."

Nixon repeatedly has said that he believed payment of hush money would be wrong. But at no point in the 103-minute meeting did Nixon suggest that his aides simply testify fully before the then-existing Federal Watergate grand jury, tell the whole truth and accept the consequences.

Source: Presidential Transcripts, by Woodward & Bernstein, p.xi-xiii May 1, 1974

On Principles & Values: Tapes: never considered telling whole truth on Watergate

The President and the White House have characterized Mr. Nixon's actions, before March 21, 1973, as being designed to quiet a political problem and not to obstruct justice. Unless there is uncontradicted evidence that the President did obstruct or otherwise broke the law, Nixon and his advisers have contended, he cannot be impeached.

The President's response to Dean's information about Strachan on March 13 is consistent with other instances recorded in the transcripts in which Nixon received or discussed the possible criminal involvement of his aides.

At no time in the conversations before March 21--and rarely in those after that critical date--did the President or his advisers even discuss telling the whole truth to either the public or law enforcement authorities.

Instead, the tapes reveal discussions of alternatives ranging from public relations offensives to total silence to the possibility of extending executive clemency to the Watergate burglars.

Source: Presidential Transcripts, by Woodward&Bernstein, p.xxiv-xxv May 1, 1974

On Government Reform: OpEd: Nixon treated Watergate as public relations problem

At one point [on the Watergate tapes], Nixon turns to his men and asks, "How do you handle that PR wise?" A not unusual question for a President to ask in this age of images & public relations campaigns.

Watergate, too, it now seems clear from reading the 1,254 pages of Nixon transcripts, was regarded by the President and his most trusted advisers as essentially a PR problem. Traumatic and troubling, yes, but basically a problem to be handled by seizing the initiative, by minimizing the public impact, by bold and vigorous counterattacks. The Nixon men had a phrase for it: getting out in front. If successful, they would put the President "on top" and out of reach.

As the drama slowly unfolds inside the White House, the Nixon men continually debate their PR and political strategies. They weigh the consequences of each possible move, rehearse their public statements, and constantly changing "scenarios," draft imaginary news accounts to determine the public reaction, check and counter-check.

Source: The Presidential Transcripts, by H. Johnson, p. xxxi-xxxiii May 1, 1974

On Principles & Values: 1974: Claimed that tapes showed no Nixon involvement in plot

The Nixon Watergate papers are massive in content. 1,254 pages of the secretly recorded conversations of crucial Watergate-related meetings from September, 1972, through April, 1973. The first segment, made public in the morning after the President's nationally televised address, was in the form of a White House summary of the conversations--in effect, an official "white paper" on the Watergate affair.

Its tone was that of a lawyer's brief, strongly arguing that the public disclosure will establish, once and for all, the President's innocence. "In all of the thousands of words spoken," the White House summary said, "even though they often are unclear and ambiguous, not once does it appear that the President of the US was engaged in a criminal plot to obstruct justice."

Source: The Presidential Transcripts, by Haynes Johnson, p. xvii May 1, 1974

On Homeland Security: Urged "national security" defense for Watergate defendants

The conversations show Nixon discussing at length raising blackmail money; discussing the merits of offering clemency or parole; suggesting how to handle possible perjury or obstruction of justice charges; urging the adoption of a "national security" defense.

The tapes are candid beyond any papers ever made public by a President. They contain occasional profanities & harsh judgments on individuals. They also contain disclosures of a kind that are certain to inspire even stronger future controversy about Nixon's role.

The conversations are laced with references to "laundering" money and cash payments, to "coded" phone conversations and burglaries and break-ins and even, in one instance, to a Mafia-type operation. In that conversation, Dean had complained that the people at the White House were not "pros" at "this sort of thing. This is the sort of thing Mafia people can do."

Nixon: "That's right."

Dean: "It is a tough thing to know how to do."

Nixon: "Maybe it takes a gang to do that."

Source: The Presidential Transcripts, by Haynes Johnson, p. xviii May 1, 1974

On Principles & Values: Tapes: Nixon lied about ordering a full investigation

Nixon's assertion that he began "intensive new inquiries" into the Watergate affair on March 21, 1973, personally ordering "to get all the facts" is not supported by the edited transcripts of recorded White House conversations.

What the transcripts show instead is that the President & senior White House officials tried to gather information primarily for internal strategy purposes, rather than to turn over new information to the prosecutors, and to put together the semblance of a record, for later Nixon's assertion that he began "intensive new inquiries" into the Watergate affair on March 21, 1973, personally ordering "to get all the facts" is not supported by the edited transcripts of recorded White House conversations.

What the transcripts use, if necessary, to show that they had attempted to learn what happened.

In his televised speech of April 30, 1973, Nixon said, "On March 21, I personally assumed the responsibility for coordinating intensive new inquiries into the matter, and I

Source: The Presidential Transcripts, by L. Meyer, p. xxvii-xxviii May 1, 1974

On Principles & Values: Nixon knew of Watergate in 1972, but lied and said 1973

Dean has testified that Nixon was aware of the Watergate cover-up as early as Sept 15, 1972 when he had his 1st conversation with Nixon about Watergate. Nixon has claimed that he wanted the full story of Watergate told, that he struggled to have it made public and that he knew nothing of the cover-up until Dean told him about it in detail on March 21, 1973. In addition, Nixon raised the issue of clemency Feb. 28, 1973. Nixon also was told by Dean on March 13, 1973, that former Attorney General John Mitchell and special presidential counsel Charles Colson also could be involved in the Watergate affair.

On Sept. 15, 1972, the transcript shows Dean telling Nixon: "3 months ago I would have had trouble predicting there would be a day when this would be forgotten, but I think I can say that 54 days from now [election day] nothing is going to come crashing down to our surprise."

Source: The Presidential Transcripts, by Lawrence Meyer, p. xx-xxi May 1, 1974

The above quotations are from The Presidential Transcripts, with commentary by the Staff of the Washington Post.
Click here for other excerpts from The Presidential Transcripts, with commentary by the Staff of the Washington Post.
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Page last updated: Feb 26, 2019