Summary of Testimony Regarding
The 18 ½ Minute Gap
Pages 74-136 of the Testimony
Page 76 starts off with a continuation of a conversation regarding President Nixon’s first interaction with Chief of Staff Haldeman after the break-in. Nixon interrupts the question to explain at length that, while the meeting featured on the tape was the first meeting in the White House following the break-in, it was not the first time the two had spoken, as Haldeman was in Florida with the President when he was notified of the break-in and subsequent arrests. Finally, Nixon allows the questioning to continue: “Well, I guess it is unimportant to your investigation. You want to find out what happened on the tape, so you can get on with your question.”
Nixon is asked if he recalls the content of the conversation in question, the beginning of which was recorded on the tapes but 18 ½ minutes of which was later erased; Nixon responds in the negative. When asked if he had recalled the content of the conversation at the time the tapes were initially subpoenaed, he again answers no. Asked if he recalled anything from the conversation prior to June 17th in which he and Haldeman had discussed the break-in, Nixon responds hostilely, saying he does not recall any conversation even occurring.
Questioning turns to the tape transcripts and Rose Mary Woods as Nixon is asked if he had listened to the tape prior to asking Miss Woods to transcribe them. He responded, with much hospitality, by saying he had not heard the recording at all and that they could continue to ask him but that he would give them the same answer. The jurist tried to clear up the conversation by saying the earlier conversations were about whether he recalled the conversation, and now they are asking about the tapes themselves. President Nixon responded once more with a long-winded rant about how he understands that it is the prosecutors’ job to entrap him, however, he was not going to change his answers.
Questioning continues as to the purpose of having Ms. Woods listen to the tapes. At the time Nixon asked her to transcribe the tapes, the deal with Senator Richardson had been proposed and the Ms. Woods’ goal was to give the President a summary of what the tapes contained. Nixon and the jurist continue to discuss the President’s meeting with Miss Woods to talk about the tapes at Camp David and on other occasions.
Nixon asks to go off the record, saying he knows there is no actual means to do so, to talk about his meeting with Senator Percy. The contents of the meeting are not discussed.
Nixon’s mantra of “I do not recall” has a strong presence in these pages, including three times, in various forms, in a single sentence.
Nixon consistently states that he had never spoken with Rosemary Woods about her testimony or her role in the tapes. However, he also states that Rosemary Woods was the one who broke the news about the altered tape: she told him at Camp David that there was a minute “buzz” or gap on one of the tapes that had been subpoenaed, but Nixon had believed the gap was on non-subpoenaed tapes so there was nothing to worry about. It was clear that Nixon did not want to give any more tapes up, especially the one with the gap in it, because he stated that he already had weakened the Presidency by giving out too much “confidential” information to the courts. Nixon highlights how troubled Woods was about this and describes how his staff tried to recreate the missing information, unsuccessfully, and all they could produce were notes from Hadleman that Nixon called “benign.”
Throughout this section Nixon tried to recall the content of conversations about the tapes with persons ranging from Mr. Haig to Mr. Buzhardt, and in the process, tells the Grand Jury that an hour and a half long conversation in a car with Haldeman was about Agnew and nothing else.
Amid discovery of the Watergate scandal, several unanswered questions about Richard M. Nixon’s involvement in the break in prevailed. Among them is the missing eighteen and a half minute gap in one of the tapes. The gap generated questions about what those minutes contained and why the erasure occurred. Pages 106-120 of the Grand Jury Testimony released recently focused primarily on questioning Nixon about the missing gap and his knowledge of what content may have been erased.
Nixon acknowledges that his former secretary and longtime staff member, Rosemary Woods, admitted to accidentally erasing a portion of the tapes. Nixon continuously claims to know nothing about why the incident occurred but admits that he believes Ms. Woods was not responsible for any intentional wrongdoing.
Nixon is then questioned about the potential for Ms. Woods to have erased things in the past, to which he joked about his own technological abilities and concedes that it is possible that she was responsible. He then quickly retracted his statement to avoid faulting Ms. Woods, and instead insists that he sincerely trusts her and does not believe she is to blame. He also cited several occurrences when he allegedly tried to investigate the gap, including when the FBI participated in an investigation.
In addition to addressing the eighteen and a half minute gap, a portion of this testimony on these pages dealt with Nixon’s two top aides at the time of the Watergate break-in—Haldeman and Erlichman. The two now-notorious men were both fired after the break-in was revealed in the press. There had been a lot of speculation that the two aides, both of whom were known to be extremely close to Nixon, would both be let go. This specific questioning was regarding a withdrawal from Nixon’s reelection campaign fund to give money to Haldeman and Erlichman after their firing. The money had been suspicious as a potential ‘pay off’ mechanism, but Nixon was quick to explain that he had withdrawn the money for them because they are good friends. He explains that they “have children who are going to college” and that therefore the money was not a payoff but rather a charitable gesture to be considerate of their familial financial needs.
While this portion of the testimony does not reveal much new or previously unknown material about the Nixon, it does provide some useful insight into his ability to field questions and address allegations. Throughout these pages, he is able to dodge any suggestive statements and emerges having upheld his initial contention that he was not responsible for the eighteen minute gap, and had no intention of bribing his former aids.