Although taken slightly out of context, the above quote from Richard Nixon to interviewer David Frost (1939-2013) in 1977 was a salient response to a question on National Security. Still, it did little to convince an American public of his innocence in Watergate.
Forty-two years ago, Richard Nixon, the 37th U.S. President resigned from office “in the interests of the nation”.
Two years prior, in what seemed like an unfathomable lapse of protocol, several members of Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) broke into the Democratic National Committee’s Watergate headquarters, stole copies of top-secret documents and bugged the phones. Their initial efforts didn’t go according to plan, as the wiretapping was not successful. And on a return trip to the building, the determined bunch were caught by a security guard – though it wasn’t immediately clear they were connected to Nixon. In fact, Ronald Ziegler, Nixon’s press secretary called the Watergate break-in a “third-rate burglary.
After reassuring the general public he was not involved, Nixon was reelected in November of 1972. The victory was nothing short of a landslide – winning in at least 47 states and soundly defeating Democratic nominee George McGovern of South Dakota.
But the good times didn’t last long. Shortly after the break-in, Nixon arranged large amounts of “hush money” to find it’s way to the bungling break-in crew. If that wasn’t bad enough, he and his aides devised a plan to have the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) thwart the FBI’s investigation of the crime.
This was abuse of presidential power and deliberate obstruction of justice.
During this time, seven people from Nixon’s administration were indicted for their part in the Watergate crisis. At the urging of Nixon’s aides, five pleaded guilty and avoided trial; the other two were convicted. Charges included perjury, obstruction of justice and conspiracy.
As luck would have it, two reporters for the Washington Post; Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, suspected there was more going on. Their intrepid reporting, and shadowy meetings with ‘Deep Throat’ aka FBI Special Agent, Mark Felt did much to expose the truth. Prosecutor’s were hoping to get their mitts on Nixon’s tapes, when it became known he recorded every conversation in the Oval Office. By 1973, Nixon supposedly ordered the White House taping system disconnected.
Things unraveled in 1974. Nixon was ordered to turn over the tapes, which proved difficult. But the House of Representatives voted to impeach him for obstruction of justice and various other crimes. By August, the tapes were released and Nixon’s involvement was exposed. Although there was still the matter of an 18 ½-minute gap in one of the subpoenaed tapes.
A tearful Richard Nixon performed the final acts of his devastated presidency today, bidding sorrowful farewell to his Cabinet and aides, telling them that only a man in the deepest valley can know “how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.”
Then at 10:16 AM, he flew off to San Clemente, California in the “Spirit of 76”, the presidential aircraft that had taken him to so many memorable events in his 5 1/2 year presidency.
On August 9, 1974, Nixon became the first president to resign in a 24-minute speech on television. Gerald Ford became the 38th president and told the nation “our long national nightmare is over.”
The Watergate scandal became the top story for 1973, topping other stories, such as; the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst and the energy crisis.
But it wasn’t all bad… Hollywood made a cracking movie about the events.
And in 2003, the National Archives and Records Administration released 240 more hours of tape of the 37th president.