Richard Nixon said he wanted his administration to be "the best chronicled in history." But when Alexander Butterfield disclosed the existence of a voice-activated taping system to a Senate committee in July 1973, Nixon's White House and its recordings quickly became the most infamous in American history. The tapes dominated the final two years of Nixon's presidency, and almost single-handedly forced his resignation. But only 60 hours were actually made public in the 1970s. Many thousands of hours remained secret and in Nixon's hands, and he fought fiercely to keep them that way right up to his death. Finally, thanks to a lawsuit brought by historian Stanley I. Kutler with the advocacy group Public Citizen, a landmark 1996 settlement with the Nixon estate and the National Archives is bringing over 3,000 hours of tapes to light. The initial release in November 1996 of over 200 hours of material comprised all those conversations concerning abuse of power - every Watergate-related tape, as well as those concerning many other campaign misdeeds and some Pentagon Papers discussions. Finally, the full story of Nixon's downfall can be told. Packed with revelations on almost every page, the Abuse of Power tapes offer a spellbinding portrait of raw power and a Shakespearean depiction of a king and his court. Never have the personalities of Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Colson, Haig, Kissinger, Dean, and Mitchell been so vividly captured with the spoken word. And never has an American President offered such a revealing record of his darkest self.
Sadly, but conclusively, the transcripts reveal not only the criminality of the man, but his obsession with destroying other people. Day by day, there is a complete absence of ideas, of policy debate, or historicity or interest in truth. Nixon is revealed as obscene, petty, tyrannical,racist , and sacrilegious. He is at one with the instincts of his close life-long friend, the gangster, Bebe Rebozo, whose wealth was accumulated directly from criminal syndications.
Granted, this work is still incomplete. Only 3,000 hours of tapes have been brought to light. (Nixon himself only released 60 hours, and only involuntarily.)
The two-term leader of the Republican Party destroyed the Party from the inside. His own words are monuments of abuse of power and obstruction of justice. The "immoral tone", in Billy Graham's words, infected the entire White House and administration. [xv]
The selections in this book chronicle the year after the Watergate break-in. Many of the remarks infer many miscreant deeds of which little is known. [Nixon remarks that E. Howard Hunt, should disappear since he had "done a lot of things". xv]. These transcripts ignite a large battery of smoking guns.
Having pointed out that the transcripts reveal the truth that the Presidency and much of America had fallen into the hands of a political thug, it is also important to see how heroic those were who struggled to keep the concept of "public service" intact. Although indirectly -- none of the righteous were invited into the sanctum -- the transcripts also show us the courageous of people who stood up for the Constitution and resisted the infectious crook and his party henchmen revealed here.
Ironically, Nixon was a man of many dark secrets, but the tapes he had installed behind his own burning chair, provide a record of his unguarded moments. This is unprecedented in history.
Having read the stenographic recordings of Hitler's negotiations and phone calls, and having worked with Nixon's attorney in Newport Beach, the record of Nixon's daily business has a personal dimension for me.
Nixon acknowledges "we are the party of the rich and the fact that the prices are high" [136, "our businessmen" 137]. Every day he and the staff devote themselves to cynical plays, often snickering and boasting of "fucking" the Democrats and the public.
We knew then, in the early 1970s, that our political institutions were riddled with corruption. Here, the irrefragable proof. Sadly, even Gerald Ford, the pre-arranged successor to Nixon, is complicit in at least four conspiracies alluded to by the staff and Nixon himself. [22, 150 ff, 243, 285, 552 ff, 582, 638].
Will we ever be able to forgive ourselves for failing to clean up the house he turned into a latrine? The biggest criminal investigation in the country was stalled by his Party allies for years, and only after being finally abandoned by the entire Republican caucus in August 1974 did Nixon himself choose resignation over impeachment.
Will we forgive our generation for permitting the present generation to forget?