Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Watergate and President Nixon's Resignation

President Nixon Resigns
President Nixon resigns for his involvement in the Watergate scandals

Type of Activity
Political Resignations
Washington DC
Date of Activity
9 August 1974
38°53'51.2"N 77°02'20.9"W

It was shortly after the 1972 Presidential Election that things started to unravel for the Nixon White House.

The Watergate break-in was the beginning of the end of the Nixon Presidency and over the next two years the country listened to the relentless pursuit of proving the guilt that the White House was involved with the a cover-up of this and other illegal activities known as Watergate..

The Watergate Break-in

Early in the morning of June 17, 1972, several burglars were arrested inside the office of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), located in the Watergate building in Washington, D.C.

The Watergate Complex in Washington DC
The Democrat National Headquarters in the Watergate Complex
The Watergate break-in occurred about a month prior to the Republican Convention: Miami Beach, FL August 21 to 23, 1972 and I never paid much attention to the incident because the Key Biscayne Detachment was concentrating on setting up communications required for the Convention. We were also working with the Committee for the Re-election of the President (CREEP) at the Doral Hotel with communications which we found out that the burglars were also working for CREEP. When the Convention ended we removed all of the temporary equipment at the hotels and villa’s where the staff stayed. We then got ready for a busy fall as the election campaign of 1972 began!

The 1972 Presidential Election

On November 7, 1972 the Nixon/Agnew ticket was reelected in one of the largest landslides in American political history, taking more than 60 percent of the vote and crushing the Democratic nominee, Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota. The President and his family visited Key Biscayne the day after the election to relax and celebrate the overwhelming victory! The Family along with Mr.’s Rebozo and Abplanalp spent the weekend aboard the Coco Lobo III and visiting the Ocean Reef Club at Key Largo FL. The President then returned to Washington to start his second term. The Nixon’s would return and spend Christmas at Key Biscayne and just prior to the inauguration.

President Nixon’s second Inauguration January 20, 1973
The second inauguration of Richard Nixon as the 37th President of the United States was held on January 20, 1973. The inauguration marked the commencement of the second term (which lasted approximately one and a half years) for Richard Nixon as President and the second term (which lasted approximately nine months) for Spiro Agnew as Vice President.

The Watergate Scandal 1973

1973 for us in Key Biscayne could pretty much as observers although the Watergate break-in and cover-up was daily news. We never knew what happened that day; but it was common knowledge to us that recording devices were being used in the White House as well as other locations, This was nothing new, LBJ had all of them removed from the White House in 1968, so the new Nixon administration would not know that LBJ recorded many of his conversations. As a routine set up for all visits to Key Biscayne we would place a recorder coupler and IBM dictating machine on telephones used by senior staff that always stayed in villas at the Key Biscayne Hotel. These machines were connected to start up as soon as the phone was in use and since one party knew about the call was being recorded no BEEP tone was present.

In Feb.1973 I was sent to Jacksonville FL. for a couple of days to install a radio base station for the Secret Service who was supporting Julie Nixon Eisenhower while she visited the city on official business. This visit was very low key, no staff, no press, just Secret Service support. All I had to do was to install a “Charlie” FM Base station and a remote console in the residence where she was staying.

Also in February of 1973 The Senate voted (77-0) to create the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities. The Committee is chaired by Senator Sam Ervin (Democrat, North Carolina). Ervin cultivated a folksy image as a country lawyer, but his supervision of this committee is crucial to the outcome. His deputy is Senator Howard Baker (Republican, Tennessee).

The Senate Watergate Sub-committee Sam Ervin Chairman and his Deputy Howard Baker
In Late March of 1973 James W. McCord who was the head of the Watergate burglars wrote a letter to Judge John Sirica in which he claims that the defendants had pleaded guilty under duress. He says they committed perjury and that others are involved in the Watergate break-in. He claims that the burglars lied at the urging of John Dean, Counsel to the President, and John Mitchell, the Attorney-General. These allegations of a cover-up and obstruction of justice by the highest law officers in the land blew Watergate wide open.

I had met John Dean and his wife in October of 1972 when they came to Key Biscayne on their honeymoon. I was at home, trying to enjoy a weekend that no visitors were scheduled to come to town when I received a phone call from our CO. I was sent to the Key Biscayne compound to pick up a stereo system and take it over to one of the Senior Staff villas at the Key Biscayne Hotel and install it for Mr. and Mrs. Dean. When I arrived I was greeted by Mr. Dean and escorted to the living room where I installed and tested the system. We would always provide stereo equipment as part of the set up on all trips when the villas were occupied. When I left that day I would never see the Dean’s again until they appeared on national TV during Watergate.

In early April 1973 John Dean, the White House Counsel, began to co-operate with the Watergate prosecutors, and President Nixon announces that senior White House staff will appear before the Senate Committee. He promises “major new developments” in the investigation, saying there will be real progress towards finding the truth. An official statement was released from the White House claiming President Nixon had no prior knowledge of the Watergate affair.

A month later President Nixon would appear on national television to announce the dismissal of John Dean, and also announced the resignations of Robert Haldeman and John Erlichman, describing them as two of his “closest advisers”. The Attorney-General, Richard Kleindienst, also resigns and is replaced by Elliot Richardson. The President would then appoint Gen. Alexander Haig as his Chief of Staff replacing Robert Haldeman.

The Senate Watergate Committee began public hearings on May 17, 1973, and began its nationally televised coverage the next day. Our lives began to change as we watched the daily broadcasts. 

The President made frequent visits to Key Biscayne and Bahamas until the day I was discharged from the military. No one could anticipate how bad things would get! John Dean would become the prosecutor’s chief witness. The Washington Post reported that John Dean has told Watergate investigators that he discussed the Watergate cover-up with President Nixon at least 35 times.

In June of 1973 while testifying before the Senate Watergate Committee, John Dean claims that Nixon was involved in the cover-up of the Watergate burglary within days in June 1972. In a seven-hour opening statement, he details a program of political espionage activities conducted by the White House in recent years.

John Dean with his wife Moreen
John Dean is sworn in at the Watergate hearings
The most damaging testimony however: came from a most unsuspected source and would expose WHCA to very close scrutiny! Alexander P. Butterfield, a former presidential appointments secretary, informed the Senate Committee of the White House taping system. He said that since 1971 President Nixon had recorded all conversations and telephone calls in his office and other locations where these recording systems were presumably set up by the White House Communications Agency and serviced by the Secret Service. Butterfield also revealed that President Nixon was recording all conversations in the oval office with his staff and others. The recordings were secret and very few people knew about them.

President Nixon struggled to protect the tapes during the summer and fall of 1973. His lawyers argued that the president’s executive privilege allowed him to keep the tapes to himself, but Judge Sirica, the Senate committee and an independent special prosecutor named Archibald Cox were all determined to obtain them. When Cox refused to stop demanding the tapes, Nixon ordered that he be fired, leading several Justice Department officials to resign in protest, (These events, which took place on October 20, 1973, and are known as the Saturday Night Massacre.) Eventually, Nixon agreed to surrender some—but not all—of the tapes.

During this period of time the President frequently visited Key Biscayne and made several trips to the Bahamas and Grand Cay. Nothing had changed in our preparation for his visits except they were generally only over a weekend and then they would return to Washington.

During late summer dark clouds were forming around the Vice President about illegal activities performed while he was the Governor of Maryland. Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew resigned after pleading no contest to a charge of income tax evasion. He was sentenced to three years of unsupervised probation and a $10,000 fine.

On October, 12 1973 President Nixon nominated Gerald Ford, Republican Minority leader in the House of Representatives, as the new vice-president.

I was nearing the end of my career with WHCA and would leave on December 20, 1973 so my knowledge the events that occurred in 1974 are only obtained from the various news outlets.

Early in 1974, the cover-up began to fall apart. On March 1, 1974 a grand jury appointed by a new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski indicted seven of President Nixon’s former aides on various charges related to the Watergate affair. The jury, unsure if they could indict a sitting president, called Nixon an “unindicted co-conspirator.”

In July, 1974 the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to turn over the tapes. While the president dragged his feet, the House of Representatives voted to impeach him for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, criminal cover-up and several violations of the Constitution. Finally, on August 5, 1974 Nixon released the tapes, which provided undeniable evidence of his complicity in the Watergate crimes. The tapes revealed President Nixon's knowledge and cover up of Watergate and brought down his Presidency.

The Nixon’s say goodbye to the White House Staff
President Nixon’s Letter of Resignation
In the face of certain impeachment by the Senate, the president resigned on August 8, 1974. As he flies out of Washington on August 9 1974 in route to his San Clemente estate, Richard Milhous Nixon resigns as the 37th President of the United States, the first President ever to do so. His resignation letter is submitted to the Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, at 11:35 am and Gerald Ford is sworn in as President shortly afterwards. Gerald Ford becomes the 38th president. Later, he nominates the former Republican Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, as vice-president. They became the nation’s first unelected presidential duo.

Gerald Ford is sworn in as the new President 
On November 11 1974 only about six weeks after the new president Gerald Ford was sworn in, he made a surprise Sunday morning announcement, President Ford granted a “full free and absolute” pardon to Richard Nixon for “all offenses against the United States” committed between January 20, 1969 and August 9, 1974.
President Ford pardons ex-President Nixon
Richard Nixon’s Pardon
Some of Nixon’s aides were not so lucky: They were convicted of very serious offenses and sent to federal prison.  Ex-President Nixon himself never admitted to any criminal wrongdoing, though he did acknowledge using poor judgment. His abuse of presidential power had a negative effect on American political life, creating an atmosphere of cynicism and distrust. While many Americans had been deeply dismayed by the outcomes of the Vietnam War, Watergate added further disappointment in a national climate already soured by the difficulties and losses of the past decade.