Naughty Nixon White House Tapes Show Disgraced President’s ‘Criminal Abuses Of Power’
Watergate isn’t all that Richard Nixon tried to hide. For 22 years, he and his heirs fought to keep secret what White House tapes show: that he thanked a Greek businessman for providing hush money, set a $250,000 price on ambassadorships and had Sen. Edward M. Kennedy tailed in search of scandal.
Newly published transcripts of Nixon’s tapes show an administration wilting under the Watergate scandal that began with the White House-directed 1972 break-in at Democratic headquarters. They also lay bare activities far beyond anything mentioned in Congress’ investigations of more recent allegations.
They show that as Watergate began to unfold, Nixon insisted he could hold on to office. He considered himself indispensable. He was sure a forced resignation would undermine the American political system.
“If I walk out of this office, you know, on this (expletive deleted) stuff, why it would leave a mark on the American political system,” he told chief of staff H.R. Haldeman in May 1973. “But the other thing is … if they ever want to get up to the impeachment thing, fine, fine. … My view is then, fight like hell.”
The transcripts shed new light on one of the lingering questions surrounding Nixon: Given that so much damning evidence was on the tapes, why didn’t he destroy them? Ultimately, they provided evidence of his involvement in the Watergate cover-up and caused him on Aug. 9, 1974, to become the only president in history to resign.
The explanation: Nixon thought he could use the tapes selectively to prove his innocence if he were put on trial. Moreover, historian Stanley Kutler said, Nixon thought he could make money from them. “The tapes had monetary value which could only increase in time,” Kutler said.
It was Kutler who filed the lawsuit that ultimately forced Nixon’s heirs to agree to the release of 201 hours of tapes. Scratchy and hard to hear, they were made public at the National Archives a year ago.
He hired a company to listen - over and over, for hours - and transcribe them. The result is published in “Abuse of Power,” a book coming to bookstores. A copy was made available Friday to The Associated Press.
The tapes, Kutler said, “reveal a president deeply and intimately involved in sometimes criminal abuses of power, both before and after the Watergate break-in.”
Nixon invited wealthy Greek American businessman Thomas Pappas to the Oval Office in 1973 to thank him for providing the money that was used to buy the Watergate burglars’ silence. Pappas was a major contributor with ties to the colonels who then ran Greece. Said Nixon: “I want you to know that … I’m aware of what you’re doing to help out in some of these things that Maury’s people (a reference to Maurice Stans, a Nixon fund-raiser) and others are involved in. I won’t say anything further, but it’s very seldom you find a friend like that, believe me.”
Nixon also told Pappas that Stans was “clean” and so was Attorney General John N. Mitchell. “A few pipsqueaks down the line did some silly things. … But it’s down the line. Down the line they’re all guilty.”
Earlier, when Haldeman told Nixon what Pappas wanted in exchange for his hush money - the retention of Henry Tasca as U.S. ambassador in Athens - Nixon replied: “No problem. Pappas has raised the money we need for this other activity.”
Nixon insisted that people who were offered ambassadorships be required to pay. “My point is,” he told Haldeman in a conversation on June 23, 1971, “that anybody that wants to be an ambassador wants to pay at least $250,000.” Said Haldeman: “I think any contributor under $100,000 we shouldn’t consider for any kind of thing.”
And, talking about wealthy contributors, Nixon brought up Charles Bluhdorn, former chairman of Gulf & Western Industries, and said, “I want him to be bled for a quarter of a million, too.”
Nixon also insisted that three large dairy farm groups be pressed to make big contributions to his re-election campaign after he promised the dairymen an increase in federal milk price supports.
According to The Washington Post, which also made transcripts from the tapes, Haldeman resisted, reminding Nixon the industry had already committed to giving $1 million. But Nixon insisted. “We’re doing more than they ever expected,” he said, adding that Treasury Secretary John B. Connally is used to “shaking them down and maybe he can shake them for a little more. You see what I mean?”
In a conversation with Nixon, chief domestic adviser John D. Ehrlichman expressed a need to conceal “the shadowing of Teddy Kennedy for eight or nine months” - shadowing that he called “extracurricular activities” that were “not too savory.”
Said Nixon: “Oh, yeah. We don’t want to get into that.”
Ehrlichman looked on the bright side: “It’s to our credit … that we didn’t have the FBI do it.”