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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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
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."
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.
Click here for other excerpts by Richard Nixon.
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