Reagan and Bush's Calls of Support to Nixon Hours after He Denies Watergate; SECRET TAPES REVEAL FUTURE PRESIDENTS TRIED TO RALLY ROUND SCANDAL-HIT LEADER

Article excerpt


US President Richard Nixon had just delivered his first national address on Watergate when calls of support began pouring in.

Audio tapes, released for the first time, show within hours of the speech on April 30, 1973, he heard from Ronald Reagan, George H W Bush and evangelist Billy Graham.

The calls were captured on a secret recording system Nixon used to tape 3,700 hours of calls and meetings in his executive offices between February 1971 and July 1973.

The final instalment, 340 hours long, was posted online by the US National Archives as part of a release that also includes more than 140,000 pages of text documents.

Another 700 hours of tapes remain sealed for security reasons.

Since 2007, the National Archives has released hundreds of hours of recordings, offering the public a view of the inner workings of Nixon's administration and an insight into his musings on everything from Watergate to Vietnam.

The tapes show the strain on Nixon in the summer of 1973 with the growing Watergate scandal stemming from the 1972 break-in at Democratic headquarters by burglars tied to the president's re-election committee.

The day Nixon gave his speech, two top White House staffers, H R Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, had resigned as well as Attorney General Richard Kleindienst.

In the address, Nixon, who would later resign, said he was not aware of or connected to the Watergate raid.

He added he supported punishment for those involved and accepted responsibility for ceding the authority of his campaign to others whose "zeal exceeded their judgment and who may have done wrong in a cause they deeply believed to be right".

White House counsel John W Dean III was also fired that day, a Senate committee to probe the scandal was being formed and a prosecutor would be assigned within weeks.

Reagan, who called late that night, reassured Nixon the speech was the right one to make during the crisis.

He said: "You can count on us, we're still behind you and I wanted you to know you're in our prayers."

At the end of the call, Reagan added: "This too shall pass."

That evening, Bush, who had recently been appointed chairman of the Republican National Committee, called to say he had watched the speech with "great pride".

But an angry Nixon complained to him about the reaction from TV commentators.

He said: "The folks may understand, to hell with the commentators."

The next year Bush would write Nixon a letter urging him to resign, which he did on August 9, 1974.

Politicians weren't the only ones who checked in.

Graham dissected the network TV coverage and briefed the president on CBS's footage, which he deemed the most negative.

He added: "I felt like slashing their throats. But, anyway, God be with you." Ken Hughes, a researcher for the University of Virginia, said the calls are significant because they show the pressure Nixon was under and how keen he was for validation.

He added: "It was one of the worst nights of his life and even two people as upbeat as Reagan and Bush were unable to cheer him up. …