For Journalists Covering the Richard Nixon Grand Jury Testimony Opening on Thursday, November 10

Wednesday 09 November, 2011 at 9:06 am Ken 4

On Nov. 10, 2011, we finally get to find out what Richard Nixon told the Watergate grand jury and special prosecutors.

Why’s this a big deal?

The former President’s June 23  & 24, 1975, testimony was America’s best shot at getting the truth about Watergate out of him, at least on questions that can’t be answered by listening to his secretly recorded White House tapes.

Nixon couldn’t plead his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, since Gerald Ford had already pardoned him for all the crimes he committed during his presidency. Ford’s pardon, however, didn’t protect Nixon from prosecution for any crime he might commit after his resignation on August 9, 1974. So Nixon couldn’t lie while being questioned under oath without running the risk of a perjury charge.

That doesn’t mean that Nixon told the truth necessarily while testifying under oath, just that it was riskier for him to lie.

After two days of questioning Nixon looked pale and shaken, according to a contemporary report.

He was asked about:

    • The 18 1/2-Minute Gap. The grand jury, like everyone else in America, wanted to know who erased this segment of the June 20, 1972, conversation between the President and White House Chief of Staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman. Haldeman’s handwritten notes on the meeting show that the two of them discussed Watergate.
      Soon after Nixon testified his lawyer publicly stated that the former president had denied responsibility for the erasure under oath.
  • The White House Transcripts. When Nixon still hoped to avoid turning over tapes subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee, he released transcripts made by his own staff as a substitute. After the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the President had to turn over tapes to the Watergate Special Prosecutor, discrepancies between the recordings and the White House transcripts emerged. Nixon, again according to that contemporary report, was asked about “alteration” to the transcripts.
  • Physical Attacks on Demonstrators. Although in his public statements Nixon said the right things about Americans having the right to peacefully protest, his private response to his most unpopular critics, the anti-war demonstrators, was sometimes violent. He was rather creative about fomenting mayhem, as this April 14, 1971, telephone conversation with White House dirty trickster Chuck Colson makes perfectly clear:

Colson: We have some pretty good tricks in our bag that we’ve been working on this week on the demonstrations. You know, the hard hats [i.e., construction workers] are gonna be here at the same time.

President Nixon: I hope they realize how important this is. Do they?

Colson: Well, we, we kinda thought we’d, uh, pass some leaflets around when they’re here about, uh, “Join the—”

President Nixon: Mm-hmm.

Colson: “ — Demonstration and End the War” and have some long-haired kids, uh —

President Nixon: Well now, the other thing you can do is to attack the hard hats.

Colson: That’s, uh –

President Nixon: You see what I mean?

Colson: Yeah.

President Nixon: Why not have, why not have something that throws off on them? I mean, “The Hard Hats Are Not,”—with an ugly, ugly picture in pamphlets—“The Hard Hats Are Not America,” and then, “We Are.” You know, or something like, you see, a little of that?

Colson: Mmm. That’s the other twist.

President Nixon: You see?

Colson: I hadn’t thought of that. That’s a good one. That’s excellent. I was thinking of trying to get them to join the demonstration. If they come down and watch that guerilla theatre that this group is bringing out next week, uh, God, they’ll go in and clean ‘em out.

The National Archives and Records Administration lists other things Nixon was questioned about under oath in its press release.

Credit for prying the grand jury transcript from the government’s hands goes chiefly to historian Stanley Kutler and Public Citizen. Two of the public interest group’s legal eagles, Allison Zieve and Julian Helisek, deserve special mention. The American Historical Association, American Society for Legal History, Organization of American Historians, and Society of American Archivists all joined in petitioning the court to unseal the transcript. I was one of many historians who provided the court with reasons why Nixon’s testimony should be released.



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  • Lynx Grill says:

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  • 4 comments

    1. Lynx Grill Comment:November 10, 2011 at 4:32 am

      Great! Thanks for the share!


    2. Nixon on the 18 1/2 Minute Gap: “I Don’t Know How It Happened” Pingback:November 10, 2011 at 3:18 pm

      […] Here’s some background on Nixon’s testimony. […]


    3. Neil Warren Comment:December 6, 2011 at 11:18 am

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