Alex Kreger

Nixon Grand Jury Testimony

Many assumed that the former President Nixon would tell the truth in his Grand Jury Testimony, and take the opportunity to attempt to regain some of the honor he had lost in the drawn out Watergate Saga. However, I believe that these people misread Nixon and assumed that he wanted the Grand Jury, and eventually the general public, to know the truth when Nixon really wanted to continue to cover his tracks. From his antics we can learn important lessons about the limits of power and the power of the Constitution to punish those in power that act unethically.

What I found to be most interesting in the reports on the Grand Jury Testimony was the contradiction between the quote that began the page, that Watergate “should have warned us of the vital purposes of politics and government… the warning stands,” and Avi McClelland’s note that “reporting on the release of the Grand Jury testimony, Fox News stated that ‘On Watergate, Nixon reaffirmed what historians now generally believe: that he did not order the infamous break-in that triggered his fall from power, and did not have any advance knowledge that it would be carried out.’” The hope of many historians and Nixon scholars is that people will recall the Watergate Saga as a lesson on both the effectiveness of the Constitution and as a reminder to other politicians that may want to subvert the law as President Nixon did. We hope that the warning does actually stand. However, as McClelland’s note demonstrates, Nixon’s claims do still have some power in society, despite that they have been proven false over and over again. In fact, major news networks such as Fox have carried stories that completely miss the important lessons of the Nixon testimony.

As multiple accounts of the testimony from nixondetached.org demonstrate, the President didn’t really clear up anything in his testimony. On the contrary, for the majority of the tape, “he wandered and filibustered all over the map.” I don’t believe that this was because Nixon couldn’t keep track of his thoughts or was accidentally wandering in his speech. Instead, it seems that Nixon used wandering speech as simply another tact to hide the truth from the members of the Grand Jury. As Joel Antwi points out, Nixon wasted time as a way to obstruct the truth further, and so he could control the conversation and the subject of discussion. Nixon also effectively “claims not to remember anything that happened during his administration.” By simply asserting that he could not recall any information, the President continued to cheat the Grand Jury and the American People of the truth.

This makes it even harder to understand how Fox News’s major take away from the release of the Nixon Grand Jury Testimony was that it vindicated President Nixon. However, they weren’t the only news agency that did not cover the story the way I think it should have been. In fact, other news agencies, including The Washington Post, failed to cover the story of the release of the tapes in any depth, as Palak Gosar and Julianne Martin point out. This highlights just how important it is for historians and Nixon scholars to continue to teach about the wrongdoings of the Nixon Administration. There are very important lessons on the limits of power that should be learned from the Watergate Saga that every American should know and remember. Only by truly understanding the Nixon Testimony, and the actions Nixon took as President, can we effectively stop such actions from taking place again.

Abby Fennewald

As James Madison said, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” Although Nixon’s grand jury testimony in the Watergate case produced no real breakthroughs in our understanding of his involvement, it is still important to have access to these documents.

Stanley Kutler, the historian who requested the documents, recognized this. “The grand jury after that testimony had a chance to sit and indict but they did not…so I don’t expect it to be that important,” he said to the AP, adding that it was another victory for transparency in public life.

Nixon, of course, would have been furious. He believed more than anything that he should be able to keep his secrets, and that being president gave him the power to do that. There is no way that when he was giving his testimony he thought there was even the slightest chance that what he said would come to light, but even with that assumed protection, he didn’t let his guard down and tell the truth.

The kind of openness that the release of these documents represents is a vital part of our democracy. If Nixon had been forced to tell the truth about the bombing of Cambodia from the outset, the war in Vietnam would have had a completely different outcome. There are many stories like this in American history. Allowing for public discourse on government action can make politicians think about their decisions in a new light. The only way this can happen, however, is if we know what the government, especially the executive branch, is doing.

James Madison was an early champion of this kind of transparency. Today, FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) release all kinds of government documents to those willing to read them and look for valuable information. Every president can give new directives about how to interpret and enforce this law, as what documents are released has a direct impact on how the public views a president. Under President George W. Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft recommended a very strict interpretation on what documents should be released. If one of the exceptions to FOIA applied, he wanted executive agencies to use it, even if releasing the documents wouldn’t harm any government operations.

When President Obama took office, he pledged more transparency from these agencies. The implementation of this, however, has seen limited results. Certainly we know more about how many agencies function within the executive branch than during Nixon’s administration, but there is still progress to be made. Nixon’s grand jury testimony might not have the answers we are looking for, but it is still important that they be available. There are many groups today that can help with online FOIA requests, and this is a very valuable service. Government transparency may not have been able to prevent Watergate from happening, but it could potentially have made the risk too great for Nixon to carry out some of his other “dirty tricks,” and would have changed his perspective on what information could potentially be made public.

Alisha Dingus

Stanley Kutler described Nixon’s grand jury testimony as a “virtuoso performance” [4]. For Nixon, it was his last opportunity to convince the world that “he was no worse than anyone else” [2]. It was his last opportunity to remind people that he “was not just Watergate” [2]. “He seemed to be saying…I was important, difficult, tough national security issues and I dealt with them well” [2]. It was his last chance to play Revisionist in Chief on such a public scale. And because of that, he had to give the performance of his political career. Much like his Checkers speech, this was a political Hail Mary. With the Checkers speech, if he did not convince the American public that he was not a crook, to steal a catchphrase he coined many years and scandals later, his political career was all but over. He would have been kicked off the Republican ticket and disgraced before even making it into the White House. With his grand jury testimony, here it was, his last chance to point the finger at anyone but himself. But this scenario was a bit more dangerous, because the entire time, he was at the risk of committing perjury, so he could not do what he did best and blatantly lie about the Watergate affairs. He had to be tricky about his lies, which was why he adopted the “I cannot recall” strategy. But for the entire testimony, he had to be careful not to slip and tell an actual lie (or worse, slip and tell the truth). He was walking a tightrope the entire testimony, which was why the performance was even more stunning.

Nixon was smart. He knew the grand jury would tire of his “do not recall” [4] answer, his non-denial denial. So he “repeatedly reminded his questioners that he had been preoccupied with grave matters of state, including the war in Vietnam” [4]. This was perfect, because it accomplished his goal of reminding everyone that he was not just Watergate. He reminded everyone that he was dealing with real, national security issues while “these clowns” [4] broke into the Watergate. Nixon was “preoccupied with foreign policy” [3] which was his way of taking responsibility for the Watergate scandal. He said “one of the weaknesses I have…and it is a strength in another way: I am quite single minded…I do one thing at a time, and in the office of the Presidency I did the big things and did them reasonably well and screwed up on the little things” [3]. Nixon was too busy doing the “big things” [3] well to worry about the White House plumbers and for that, he was sorry. He was sorry that he put national security above everything else.

Nixon had to remind the people “there were two Richard Nixons” [2] and one of those Nixons “did some very positive things” [2], so positive “that he should not be defined by the events that led to his resignation” [2]. The world he lived in “was not just Watergate and Watergate related episodes” [2]. And to do that, he had to create a villain greater then himself and he chose the prosecutors. “We were really sort of an enemy to him,” [2] said Richard Davis, who questioned Nixon during his grand jury testimony. Throughout the entire testimony, he “slipped in little digs at the prosecutors” [1]. He “applauded them for their hard work and criticized them as being part of an effort to take him down” [1] because, remember, “he was no worse than anyone else” [1]. He accused the prosecutors of “having a double standard” [1] and then gave them a bit of advice: “taking the double standard is going to make you much more popular with the Washington press corps, with the Georgetown social set…but on the other hand, think of your children-they are going to judge you in the pages of history” [1] because in Richard Nixon’s world, history will judge him kindly. He was “subjected to some of the most brutal assaults” [3] but he was the only one forced to resign for, in his mind, simply playing the same game Kennedy and Johnson played before him. He told the grand jury “it is time for us to recognize that in politics in America…some pretty rough tactics are used” [3]. He was aware that his campaign was not “pure” [3] but as someone who had been in politics for “the last 25 years” [3] he could assure everyone “that politics is a rough game” [3]. He was just doing what everyone else did. He just made the mistake of trusting “a group of amateur Watergate bugglers, burglars-well they were bunglers” [4] whereas Kennedy used “the F.B.I, used the I.R.S…against…a man who had been vice president of the United States, running for governor” [4]. It really was a beautiful performance, maybe the finest of his career. Not once did he overtly commit perjury. Not once did he slip up and tell the truth. And most importantly, he continued to paint himself as the victim in the entire ordeal.

I do hope someone writes a play about Nixon’s grand jury testimony because it was the performance of his political career.

________________________________________________________

1. “Nixon shed no light on gap to grand jury.” AP.

2.Bell, Melissa. “Nixon’s testimony: the grand jury prosecutor recalls a tormented president on the stand.” The Washington Post.

3. Farrell, John. “Nixon to grand jury: $100,000 cash contributions and rewarding donors with ambassadorships.” The Center for Public Integrity.

4. Nagourney, Adam & Shane, Scott. “Newly Released Transcripts Show a Bitter and Cynical Nixon in ’75.” The New York Times.

Conor Daniels

Nixon’s Grand Jury Testimony

 The unsealing of Nixon’s Grand Jury testimony was a seminal moment not only in the saga of Watergate, but a fascinating window into the mind of a very complicated man. For eleven hours, the disgraced former president sparred with prosecutors in what could be described as classic Nixon fashion.  The tapes display a remarkable portrait of Nixon after he left office, bitter about his fall from grace and cynical about politics generally. He seems to present himself as a victim of governmental abuses by his enemies during his career in politics, and said that prosecutors were out to destroy him in order to validate their actions during the scandal’s early days.

At the same time he is arguing that his White House did nothing out of the ordinary, he simultaneously seems to compliment JFK’s administration asserting that it had directed the I.R.S. and other government agencies to discredit him as he ran for governor of California. He says:

“They were pretty smart, I guess,” he said. “Rather than using a group of amateur Watergate bugglers, burglars — well they were bunglers — they used the F.B.I….”

This is a great microcosm of the tension that existed within Nixon’s psyche. He had the propensity for law breaking, seeing it as a necessary component of the political game, and at the same time had convinced himself that he was not responsible for the actions he was taking.

Another interesting point raised by Professor Chris Edeldson was the implication of Nixon’s testifying only after he had resigned. It would have raised an interesting constitutional situation surrounding the separation of the executive branch. Had Nixon still been the sitting president, one could only imagine he might have refused to testify before the Grand Jury at all. Obviously U.S. v Nixon made clear that this viewpoint was flawed, as so many of Nixon’s were, however it would have been interesting to watch unfold.

Nixon even directed some humor at himself, as he recalled telling an advisor to look into the 18 ½-minute gap on the White House tapes. “I said to him, ‘Let’s find out how this damn thing happened,’ ” Nixon said. “I am sorry, I wasn’t supposed to use profanity. You have enough on the tapes.” This ability of Nixon to be self-deprecating is almost necessary in a man so profoundly awkward on the national stage. And from the pages of transcript I have read, his awkwardness and missed attempts at humor are present throughout. It made for a great read.

Avi McClelland

First Thoughts on the Grand Jury Testimony:
A Case Study on Selective Memory Loss

There was not a single answer in the Nixon testimony that did not involve either the phrase “I do not recall” or extended ramblings about why he could not, despite the fact that the events in question took place only a few years prior. Nixon claimed to have been preoccupied with the Chinese initiative, Americans being killed in Vietnam, etc, etc, etc. Nothing much new, and no lies because, well, it’s impossible to prove that “I cannot recall” is a lie.

The blank pages left in place of “classified information” are the most intriguing parts of the testimony. If the public had access to the actual evidence—the lists of names and the notes kept by senior officials like Ehrlichman, for example—perhaps the full story of Watergate truly would emerge. The people on the lists or mentioned in the notes could be tracked down and asked what they know about what happened. This, of course, raises privacy concerns, but it would seem that someone accountable only to the public should be able to see the entirety of the evidence—not government officials who may have their own reasons for keeping the information secret (perhaps orders from above?), or grand jurors who saw the evidence before many of the Watergate players had been given the opportunity to tell their sides of the story and before many of the tapes had been reviewed and released. The people named in the classified pages were likely questioned at the time of the investigation, but evidence that has been exposed in the years since may shed a new light on the entire case.

The conspiracy theorist in me loves to speculate; the realist in me knows that even if the classified evidence was made public, it would likely be of little consequence to the scandal itself, as those who were going to go down for the crimes already have, and most relevant stones were turned during the highly publicized, widely observed investigation.

It would be quite the story if the Bilderberg Group had ordered Nixon to spy on the DNC, or if Jimmy Hoffa had erased the tapes and been aided in his disappearance four years later by Nixon himself. But Watergate, as it stands now, is still a gleaming monument to conspiracy theories proved true, a vindication for “conspiracy theorists” everywhere. Watergate provides a solid example of a situation in which an outrageous story—wrought with espionage, government malfeasance, courtroom drama, and celebrity, with plenty of Good Guys and Bad Guys to root for and against—turns out to be even more twisted and complex than first thought, with even more powerful players—and entirely true, to boot! Best of all, the bad guy goes down in the end (kind of).

So for Watergate, let us both mourn and give thanks: we mourn that Nixon was never truly brought to justice and that the tale cannot continue, but we give thanks that we had such an intriguing story, one that gave us the strength to continue believing that Jimmy Hoffa is buried at Giants Stadium and Elvis bought a popsicle in Central Park last week—or at least, to continue salivating at the rumor.

I avoided the news media while writing my initial analysis, but I must include an addendum. In reporting on the release of the Grand Jury testimony, Fox News stated that “On Watergate, Nixon reaffirmed what historians now generally believe: that he did not order the infamous break-in that triggered his fall from power, and did not have any advance knowledge that it would be carried out.”[1] I find it almost sad that Nixon is no longer around to see that his dubious version of the truth is not being ignored, but has in fact been adopted by a major media outlet—and, consequently, a section of the American public.

Mark Anthony Dunham

The release of these materials shows a very different side of the 37th President of the United States– Richard M. Nixon. As a president, he was a master of public manipulation and keen on utilizing his image as a means of keeping himself above the fray; however, in the Grand Jury testimony, this Nixon is very different. Sardonic, sarcastic, intellectually sharp-tongued, and combative – Nixon shows his unwillingness to have his reputation sullied by “the tragedy of Watergate.” The results of this surly figure who utilizes wit, passive aggressive speech, and head-on confrontation to make his point are some funny and uncomfortably awkward moments with people who are clearly still in tacit awe of the task of possibly indicting a president. To be a part of history is an interesting adventure; yet, they do still have moments of levity, even in the most serious of circumstances.

Joel Antwi

Nixon Grand Jury Review

The release of the Grand Jury Testimony of Richard Nixon is perhaps the most significant development in the history of the Watergate scandal. This testimony is made up of the sworn statements of the 37th President. More importantly, this testimony was the opportunity for Richard Nixon to tell the truth, and in so doing reclaim some honor as a former U.S. President.

The testimony is nothing short of remarkable. Not in the sense that it provides amazing new details of Watergate, but that it exhibits the final, and perhaps most obstructionist behavior of Nixon. When speaking to the Grand Jury, it was commonly assumed that Nixon may have told the truth, this credit to Nixon was displaced. The testimony showcases immense stonewalling. During these efforts, Nixon claims not to remember anything that happened during his administration. He discusses the general principals and processes used to make decisions, but not who those decisions involved, third parties involved or situations in which the protocol was broken – the key components of what the Grand Jury was looking for.

The second “Nixon tactic” used was to waste time. With each topic asked, Nixon attempted to burn through time by going on long tangents wherein he provides multitudes of irrelevant information and particularly unnecessary background. By providing much background information on each question, Nixon uses up multitudes of time on each question while never getting to real answers. Furthermore, while burning up time, he consistently says he knows that he is giving too long a response and wants to leave time for “other questions,” implying the questioner move on.

Nixon, amongst wasting time, and “forgetting” vital information, also burned time and avoided questions through twisting words and complaining of ambiguous ideas and definitions. One such example occurred during the questioning of Nixon about the appointment of Ambassador deRoulet to Jamaica. During this line of questioning, Nixon is asked how a deal was struck for Ambassador deRoulet’s appointment (a nomination that was made in exchange for $100,000 in campaign contributions). Nixon questioned the definition of the word “commitment”, and tried to re-define it in a political sense.

This brings to mind a statement by Stanley Kutler, who had voiced his greater amount of respect for Nixon’s handling of an investigation than Clinton’s handling of his. He had this opinion because of the mockery he felt that Clinton had made of the process. Such games played before the Grand Jury such as congregating the words “to be” are viewed by Kutler as a level of disrespect not shown by Nixon. However, the testimony brings to light games played by Nixon just as disrespectful of the grand jury. The same word games, and avoidance is obvious.

The Grand Jury testimony of Richard Nixon was the last opportunity of the shamed President to tell the truth to the American people, and show, through action, that the American justice system is just. However, Nixon chose to lie, stonewall and avoid questions by the Grand Jury in a last-ditch effort to avoid the truths of his administration and his failures to operate appropriately in the American form of government.