Twisting in the Wind
October 1973 brought the whirlwind that eventually swept Richard Nixon from office. A confrontation had been developing since James McCord had changed his mind about remaining silent, and once the prosecutor’s demands for evidence turned into a showdown, Nixon was left with few options. But the Watergate investigation was only one part of the misery that washed over the White House that autumn. The world did not stand still while the president resisted Archibald Cox’s demands.
The month began with more aggressive pursuit of the tapes. On October 1, Cox subpoenaed a number of recordings of White House conversations, including a June 20, 1972, discussion between Nixon and Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman. Nixon’s choices were to accede to Cox’s demands or to continue a public fight in the courts. He decided to negotiate with the Senate Watergate Committee and the court for limited release of the conversations, hoping that Cox would accept the fait accompli once all other parties had approved the compromise. Cox, he knew, wanted access to any relevant tapes and gave every indication that he would not yield. Before a confrontation developed, however, two major events drew Nixon’s and the public’s attention away from Watergate.
On Saturday, October 6, Syrian and Egyptian forces massed along the Israeli border in preparation for another conflict. Both U.S. and Israeli intelligence at first interpreted the troop movement as routine maneuvers. It was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement—the holiest day on the Hebrew calendar—when all business activity in Israel was supposed to come to a halt while worshipers gathered in synagogues. The Israeli military was not on high alert. Both intelligence services were wrong. The Arabs meant to fight another war. This time, however, there would be no rapid victory as there had been with the Six-Day War in June 1967.