HISTORY v RICHARD NIXON
"TITTER YE NOT"
What's the difference between Watergate and Zippergate?
At least this time,
there's no doubt about the identity of "Deep Throat."
A honeymoon couple is in the Watergate Hotel
The bride is concerned. “What if the place is still bugged?” The groom says, “I’ll look for a
bug.” He looks behind the drapes, behind the pictures and under the rug. “AHA!” Under the rug was a disc with four screws.
He gets a screwdriver, unscrews the screws, and throws the disc out the window. The next day, the hotel manager asks the newlyweds,
“How was your room? How was the service? How was your stay at the Watergate Hotel?”
The groom says, “Why are you asking me all of these questions?” The hotel manager says
“Well, the room under you complained of the chandelier falling on them!”
It is the 33rd
anniversary of the Watergate break-in.
That was a time when the president of the United States couldn’t be trusted to tell the American people the truth… thirty years ago… but it feels just like yesterday.
The Nixon White House tapes are audio recordings of the
communications of U.S. President Richard Nixon and
various Nixon administration officials and White House staff,
ordered by the President for his personal records.
The taping system was installed in selected rooms in the
White House in February 1971 and was voice activated. The
records come from line-taps placed on the telephones and
small hidden microphones in various locations around the
rooms. The recordings were produced on up to nine Sony
TC-800B open-reel tape recorders. The recorders were
turned off on July 18, 1973, two days after they became
public knowledge as a result of the Watergate hearings.
Nixon was not the first president to record his White House
conversations; the practice began with President Franklin D.
Roosevelt and continued under Presidents Harry S. Truman,
Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B.
Johnson. It also continued under Presidents Gerald Ford,
Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill
Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
What differentiated the Nixon system from the others,
however, is the fact that the Nixon system was automatically
activated by voice as opposed to being manually activated by
a switch. The Watergate tapes are interspersed among the
Nixon White House tapes. The tapes gained fame during the
Watergate scandal of 1973 and 1974 when the system was made public during the
televised testimony of White House aide Alexander Butterfield. Only a few White House
employees had ever been aware that this system existed.
On August 20, 2013, the Nixon Library and the National Archives and Records
Administration released the final 340 hours of the tapes that cover the period from April 9
through July 12, 1973.
On February 16, 1971, the taping system was installed in two rooms in the White House:
the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room. Three months later, microphones were added to President Nixon's private office in the Old Executive Office Building, and the following year microphones were installed in the presidential lodge at Camp David. The system was installed and monitored by the Secret Service, and tapes were kept in a room in the White House basement. Significant phone lines were tapped as well, including those in the Oval Office and the Lincoln Sitting Room, which was Nixon's favourite room in the White House. Only a select few individuals knew of the existence of the taping system. The recordings were produced on as many as nine Sony TC-800B machines using very thin 0.5 mil tape at the extremely slow speed of 15/16 inches per second. The tapes contain over 3,000 hours of conversation. Hundreds of hours are of discussions on foreign policy, including planning for the 1972 Nixon visit to China and subsequent visit to the Soviet Union. Only 200 hours of the 3,500 contain references to Watergate and less than 5% of the recordings have been transcribed or published.
"I would have made a good Pope."
"I would not like to be a Russian leader. They never know when they're being taped."
—President Richard Nixon
The existence of the White House taping system was first confirmed by
Senate Committee staff member Donald Sanders , on July 13, 1973, in
an interview with White House aide Alexander Butterfield. Three days
later, it was made public during the televised testimony of Butterfield,
when he was asked about the possibility of a White House taping system
by Senate Counsel Fred Thompson.
On July 16, 1973, Alexander Butterfield told the committee in a televised
hearing that Nixon had ordered a taping system installed in the White
House to automatically record all conversations; it was possible to
concretely verify what the president said, and when he said it. Only a few
White House employees had ever been aware that this system existed.
Special Counsel Archibald Cox, a former United States Solicitor General
under President John F. Kennedy, asked District Court Judge John Sirica
to subpoena nine relevant tapes to confirm the testimony of White House
Counsel John Dean.
President Nixon initially refused to release the tapes, for two reasons:
that the Constitutional principle of executive privilege extends to the tapes
and citing the separation of powers and checks and balances within the
Constitution, and second, claiming they were vital to national security. On
October 19, 1973, he offered a compromise; Nixon proposed that U.S.
Senator John C. Stennis , a Democrat of Mississippi, review and
summarize the tapes for accuracy and report his findings to the special
prosecutor's office. Special prosecutor Archibald Cox refused the
compromise and on Saturday, October 20, 1973, Nixon ordered the
Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, to dismiss Cox. Richardson refused
and resigned instead, as did Deputy Attorney General William
Ruckelshaus. Solicitor General and acting head of the Justice Department
Robert Bork discharged Cox. Nixon appointed Leon Jaworski special
counsel on November 1, 1973.
According to President Nixon's secretary, Rose Mary Woods , on
September 29, 1973 she was reviewing a tape of the June 20, 1972,
recordings when she said she had made "a terrible mistake" during
transcription. While playing the tape on a Uher 5000, she answered a
phone call. Reaching for the Uher 5000 stop button, she said that she
mistakenly hit the button next to it, the record button. For the duration of
the phone call, about 5 minutes, she kept her foot on the device's pedal,
causing a five-minute portion of the tape to be re-recorded. When she
listened to the tape, the gap had grown to 18½ minutes and she later
insisted that she was not responsible for the remaining 13 minutes of
The contents missing from the recording remain unknown to this day. It is
widely believed that the tapes recorded a conversation between Nixon and
Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman . Nixon said that he never heard the
conversation and did not know the topics of the missing tapes. Haldeman's
notes from the meeting show that among the topics of discussion were the
arrests at the Watergate Hotel. White House lawyers first heard the now
infamous 18½ minute gap on the evening of November 14, 1973, and
Judge Sirica, who had issued the subpoenas for the tapes, was not told until November 21, after the President's attorneys had decided that there was "no innocent explanation" they could offer.
BOW WOW WOW
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Woods was asked to replicate the position she took to cause that accident. Seated at a desk, she reached far back over her left shoulder for a telephone as her foot applied pressure to the pedal controlling the transcription machine. Her posture during the demonstration, dubbed the " Rose Mary Stretch ", resulted in many political commentators questioning the validity of the explanation.
In a grand jury interview in 1975, Nixon noted that he initially believed that only four minutes of the tape was missing. When he later heard that 18 minutes was missing, he said, "I practically blew my stack."
Nixon's counsel, John Dean, has said that "These recordings also
largely answer the questions regarding what was known by the White House about the reasons for the break-in and bugging at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, as well as what was erased during the infamous 18½-minute gap during the June 20, 1972, conversation and why."
A variety of suggestions have been made as to who
could have erased the tape. Years later, former White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig speculated that the erasures may conceivably have been caused by Nixon himself. According to Haig, the President was spectacularly inept at understanding and operating mechanical devices, and in the course of reviewing the tape in question, he may have caused the erasures by fumbling with the recorder's controls; whether inadvertently or intentionally, Haig could not say. In 1973, Haig had speculated aloud that the erasure was caused by an unidentified "sinister force". Others have suggested that Haig was involved in deliberately erasing the tapes with Nixon's involvement, or that the erasure was conducted by a White House lawyer.
Nixon himself launched the first investigation into how the tapes were erased. He claimed that it was an intensive investigation but came up empty. On November 21, 1973, Sirica appointed a panel of persons nominated jointly by the White House and the Special Prosecution Force. The panel was supplied with the Evidence Tape, the seven Sony 800B recorders from the Oval Office and Executive Office Building, and two Uher 5000 recorders . One Uher 5000 was marked "Secret Service". The other was accompanied by a foot pedal, respectively labelled Government Exhibit 60 and 60B. The panel determined that the buzz was of no consequence, and that the gap was due to erasure performed on the Exhibit 60 Uher. The panel also determined that the erasure/buzz recording consisted of at least five separate segments, possibly as many as nine, and that at least five segments required hand operation; that is, they could not have been performed using the foot pedal. The panel was subsequently asked by the court to consider alternative explanations that had emerged during the hearings. The final report, dated May 31, 1974, found these other explanations did not contradict the original findings.
The National Archives now owns the tape, and has tried several
times to recover the missing minutes, most recently in 2003. None
of the Archives' attempts have been successful. The tapes are
now preserved in a climate-controlled vault in case a future
technological development allows for restoration of the missing
audio. Corporate security expert Phil Mellinger undertook a project
to restore Haldeman's handwritten notes describing the missing
18½ minutes, though that effort also failed to produce any new
In April 1974, the House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed the
tapes of 42 White House conversations. At the end of that month,
Nixon released edited transcripts of the White House tapes, again
citing executive privilege and national security; the Judiciary
Committee, however, rejected Nixon’s edited transcripts, saying
that they did not comply with the subpoena.
Sirica, acting on a request from Jaworski, issued a subpoena for
the tapes of 64 presidential conversations to use as evidence in
the criminal cases against indicted former Nixon administration officials. Nixon
refused, and Jaworski appealed to the Supreme Court to force Nixon to turn over
the tapes. On July 24, the Supreme Court voted 8-0 (Justice William Rehnquist
reacused himself) in United States v. Nixon that Nixon must turn over the
In late July 1974, the White House released the subpoenaed tapes. One of those
tapes was the so-called "smoking gun" tape, from June 23, 1972, six days after
the Watergate break-in. In that tape, Nixon agrees that administration officials
should approach Richard Helms, Director of the CIA, and Vernon A. Walters,
Deputy Director, and ask them to request L. Patrick Gray , Acting Director of the
FBI, to halt the Bureau's investigation into the Watergate break-in on the grounds
that it was a national security matter. The special prosecutor felt that Nixon, in so
agreeing, had entered into a criminal conspiracy whose goal was the obstruction
Once the " smoking gun " tape was made public on August 5, Nixon's political
support practically vanished. The ten Republicans on the House Judiciary
Committee who had voted against impeachment in committee announced that
they would now vote for impeachment once the matter reached the House floor.
He lacked substantial support in the Senate as well; Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott estimated no more than 15 Senators were willing to even consider acquittal. Facing certain impeachment in the House of Representatives and equally certain conviction in the Senate, Nixon announced his resignation on the evening of Thursday, August 8, to take effect noon the next day. After Nixon's resignation, the federal government took control of all of his presidential records, including the tapes, in the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act of 1974. From the time that the federal government seized his records until his death, Nixon was locked in frequent legal battles over control of the tapes; Nixon argued that the act was unconstitutional in that it violated the Constitutional principles of separation of powers and executive privilege, and infringed on his personal privacy rights and First Amendment right of association.
The legal squabbling would continue for 25 years, past Nixon's death. He initially lost several cases, but the courts ruled in 1998 that some 820 hours and 42 million pages of documents were his personal private property and had to be returned to his estate. On July 11, 2007, the National Archives were given official control of the previously privately operated Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California. The newly renamed facility, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum , now houses the tapes and releases additional tapes to the public periodically, which are available online and in the public domain.
In an updated version of his song "Alice's Restaurant",
shortly after Nixon's death in 1994, musician Arlo Guthrie
recalls learning that Chip Carter had found a copy of the
original LP in the Nixon library, and later wondering
whether it was a coincidence that both the original
"Alice's Restaurant" track and the infamous gap in the
Nixon tapes were "exactly 18 minutes and 20 seconds
Joe Strummer references the Watergate Tapes in the
lyrics of the song "I'm So Bored With the U.S.A." by the
In the 2007 film National Treasure:
Book of Secrets,
protagonist Riley Poole mentions the missing segment
of the tapes in his conspiracy theory novel.
In the film Dick, Arlene records a love message to Nixon and sings a song for 18½ minutes, which Nixon later erases for fear of people thinking he was having an affair with a minor.
In the "Day of the Moon" episode from the television show Doctor Who, the Doctor tells Nixon he must record all conversations in his office in case he is under the influence of the Silence, aliens that could use post-hypnotic suggestion to make him do what they wanted. At the end of the episode the Doctor informs Nixon, who now believes the human race to be safe, that there are still other aliens out there wanting to destroy Earth, indicating this is the reason the tapes began and continued, in fear of aliens influencing him.
In "The Obsolescent Cryogenic Meltdown", an episode of the ABC Family series The Middleman, a previous Middleman is at a high-stakes card game where the only items in the pot are priceless objects; he stakes an old-fashioned tape recorder, claiming that it holds "the missing eighteen minutes".
In the film X-Men:
Days of Future Past, Nixon is featured as a character and it is suggested that the contents of the tapes relate to the US government's involvement with anti-mutant activities.
You must pursue this investigation of Watergate even if it leads to the president. I'm innocent. You've got to believe I'm innocent. If you don't, take my job.
Richard M. Nixon