Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Scrambling on Last Nixon Tapes ; President Shown Planting Seeds of Cover-Up after He Vowed 'No Whitewash'

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Scrambling on Last Nixon Tapes ; President Shown Planting Seeds of Cover-Up after He Vowed 'No Whitewash'

Article excerpt

The 340 hours of secretly taped conversations are the final ones scheduled to be made public by the Nixon presidential library.

Just hours after a national address promising "no whitewash" of Watergate, President Richard M. Nixon privately urged his new attorney general not to appoint a special prosecutor and suggested that a former aide avoid questions by asserting national security.

A series of secret tapes released on Wednesday, the final ones to be made public, shed new light on Nixon's efforts to stanch the mushrooming scandal in the spring of 1973. On the same night that he pushed out top aides and gave his first speech on the episode, Nixon stayed up late making and taking a series of phone calls that planted the seeds for further cover-up.

While he received supportive calls from the likes of Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Billy Graham, Nixon also made a point of talking with Elliot L. Richardson, his choice to take over as attorney general. In the prime-time speech, Nixon told Americans that he had granted Mr. Richardson "the authority to name a special supervising prosecutor." But now on the phone, he privately told Mr. Richardson not to do so.

"The one thing they're going to be hitting you on is about the special prosecutor," Nixon said. "The point is, I'm not sure you should have one." Instead, Nixon said, Mr. Richardson should "assume responsibility for the investigation" himself.

He later talked with Charles W. Colson, his former special counsel, who assured Nixon that he would not talk about the anti- leak plumbers operation. "You say we were protecting the security of this country," Nixon advised.

Mr. Richardson ultimately rebuffed Nixon's recommendation and appointed Archibald Cox as special prosecutor, only to resign months later rather than follow the president's subsequent order to fire Mr. Cox. Mr. Colson later pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and served seven months in prison.

The back-to-back phone calls on the night of April 30, 1973, were among 340 hours of taped conversations released by the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in California on Wednesday. Forty years after Nixon turned off his secret recording system, the treasure trove of historic recordings has provided an unparalleled window into the workings of one of the nation's most tumultuous presidencies.

Nixon's tapes were the means to his undoing as they captured his involvement in the Watergate cover-up, but they have given historians a deeper understanding of triumphs like the diplomatic opening to China as well as the darker side of the nation's 37th president.

"Because of the tapes, the fiercely secretive Nixon has wound up running the most open White House in history," said Gary J. Bass, a Princeton scholar whose new book, "The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide," is based partly on the tapes. "You can listen in on top-secret, obscenity-filled, blunt conversations and reconstruct how Nixon's decisions really got made in a way that's totally unequaled for any other administration."

Luke A. Nichter, a Texas A&M University professor co-editing a book on the tapes, said there would never be another release like this one. "The tapes show us the highs and lows of the Nixon White House, the achievements and a burgeoning sense of despair," he said.

The final tapes cover conversations from April 9 to July 12, 1973, after which the taping system was dismantled when a Nixon aide, Alexander Butterfield, disclosed its existence to Congress.

The tapes include conversations with Gerald R. Ford, Henry A. Kissinger, Alexander M. Haig Jr. …

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