NixonAired October 15, 1990
The enigmatic nature of the Nixon presidency combined comparatively progressive legislative initiatives with a flagrant abuse of presidential power and the public trust. Even today, decades after his death, Richard Nixon inspires divided passions in America. Nixon was a self-made man who rose from modest Quaker beginnings in California to the most powerful office in the world. His story is filled with unlikely successes — a staunch anti-communist, he improved U.S.-Soviet relations and surprised the world by opening up relations with Communist China. Some credit him with ending the war in Vietnam. But Nixon's career was ultimately undone by his own actions. He abused the power of the office, resigned in humiliation, and tainted the presidency in the process. Admired and reviled, loved and hated, the man and his life continue to fascinate us.
Cast and Crew
Part One: The Quest
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Part Two: Triumph
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Part Three: The Fall
Produced and Directed by
Marilyn H. Mellowes
Co-Produced and Edited by
Part 1: The Quest
Geoffrey C. Ward
Part 2: Triumph
Geoffrey C. Ward
Part 3: The Fall
Geoffrey C. Ward
Marilyn H. Mellowes
For THE NIXON PROJECT
Original Music Composed by
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Joy Conley, Great American Stock
Thaxton Green Studios
Stephen E. Ambrose
Stanley I. Kutler
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Part One: The Quest
Narrator: Richard Nixon was one of the most important American presidents of the second half of the 20th century -- and also the most controversial.
Interest in him seems only to increase with time. Nixon books abound. He himself wrote ten and largely about himself. He has been described and dissected by historians, political scientists, political biographers, psychobiographers, and by other politicians. There's been a Nixon opera and a Hollywood film, with Anthony Hopkins in the title role.
This program is the first full-scale documentary biography, a three hour film drawn from archival footage and interviews with the real people.
This is the actual story of the president who rose to power as a strident anti-communist and who, once in office, reached out to the two great communist powers of the world, the Soviet Union and China. He was puzzling, contradictory, very difficult to know, heartily disliked, and acclaimed by the American people in two elections. He was also the first and only president to resign from office. His tragic unmaking, of course was Watergate. But why? How could it have happened to someone so politically astute and by reputation, so keenly intelligent?
Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher of the sixth century B.C., said, "A man's character is his fate."
MILITARY AIDE: [Farewell Press Conference, August 9, 1974] Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States of America and Mrs. Nixon, Mr. and Mrs. David Eisenhower, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Cox.
NARRATOR: On August 9, 1974, Richard Milhous Nixon became the first President in the history of the United States to resign from office. His staff gathered in the White House to bid him farewell, as millions of Americans watched on television, some in sorrow and disbelief, others glad to see him go. Richard Nixon had accomplished great things as President and had been reelected overwhelmingly, but he was also widely distrusted, sometimes ridiculed, even despised.
President RICHARD MILHOUS NIXON: [August 9, 1974] You are here to say goodbye to us and we don't have a good word for it in English. The best is au revoir. We'll see you again.
JOHN EHRLICHMAN, Nixon Campaign Staff: Richard Nixon was studiedly different to different people. And I don't think there's any one person, including his wife probably, who could sit down and write the definitive explanation of Richard Nixon. We all saw him differently.
NARRATOR: He was a tireless campaigner, a survivor of more than a quarter of a century of political battle, yet so self-conscious that he disliked shaking hands and found it hard to look anyone in the eye.
Mr. NIXON: [campaigning for Congress] And I intend to continue to expose the people that have sold this country down the river until we have driven all the crooks and the Communists and those that defend them out of Washington, D.C.
NARRATOR: He rose to power as a crusader against Communism, only to make his most lasting mark building bridges to China and the Soviet Union.
He had millions of admirers all over the world, but trusted almost no one and in the end was left to face his enemies alone. The advice he offered his staff in his last speech as President stirred the thick August air with admonitions that seemed to apply most aptly to Nixon himself.
Pres. NIXON: [August 9, 1974] Always give your best. Never get discouraged. Never be petty. Always remember others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them and then you destroy yourself.
ELLIOTT RICHARDSON, Nixon Cabinet Member: It struck me from time to time that Nixon, as a character, would have been so easy to fix, in the sense of removing these rather petty flaws. And yet, I think it's also true that if you did this, you would probably have removed that very inner core of insecurity that led to his drive. A secure Nixon almost surely, in my view, would never have been President of the United States at all.
Part One: The Quest
NARRATOR: Richard Nixon was born in the tiny Southern California desert town of Yorba Linda in 1913. He grew up among the people he would one day call "forgotten Americans," and "the silent majority," hard-working, church-going people, farmers, shop keepers, people with an inbred respect for authority and an unyielding belief in the American Dream.
Pres. NIXON: [August 9, 1974] I remember my old man. I think that they would have called him a sort of a little man, a common man. He didn't consider himself that way. You know what he was? He was a streetcar motorman first and then he was a farmer and then he had a lemon ranch and then he was a grocer. But he was a great man.
NARRATOR: "Richard had his father's fire," his mother, Hannah Milhous Nixon once said, "and my tact." She seemed the opposite of the loud, aggressive husband her Quaker family always believed beneath her: soft-spoken, tightly controlled, never allowing anger to get the better of her. She insisted her second son be called "Richard," not "Dick," taught him to read before he entered school and made sure he said his prayers daily and went four times to Quaker meeting on Sundays.
SECOND-GRADE TEACHER: I taught Richard Nixon in the second grade here in Yorba Linda. He sat in the back seat and always came to school with a white starched shirt with long sleeves. He was always a quiet, dignified little fellow and a very good student.
NARRATOR: He was clumsy, but dogged at games, shy but gifted at reciting poetry and full of his father's enthusiasm for politics.
MERLE WEST, Cousin: Dick was politically inclined as a kid. I remember walking to school and I think it was when Harding was running for President and old Dick was there on a stump, saying why everybody should vote for Harding.
NARRATOR: The Nixons moved to nearby Whittier when Richard was nine. Founded by Quakers in 1887, it was a sober, industrious community, no liquor stores, no bars, no dance halls. Frank Nixon bought a gas station along the highway and soon added a general store where the whole family worked, often 16 hours a day seven days a week.
Mr. NIXON: One thing my mother and dad always used to say when we were growing up -- I don't mean my mother because she was a little biased -- but my dad used to say when we were growing up, he said, "You know, you boys" -- speaking to me particularly -- "you boys have got to get out and scratch. You're not going to get anywhere on your good looks."
NARRATOR: When Richard was 12, his younger brother Arthur suddenly fell ill and died. And within eight years, Harold, the eldest brother and family favorite, would succumb to tuberculosis. Hannah Nixon recalled, "It was Arthur's passing that first stirred within Richard a determination to help make up for our loss by making us very proud of him. He may have felt a kind of guilt that Harold and Arthur were dead and he was alive," she remembered.
Pres. NIXON: [August 9, 1974] My mother was a saint and I think of her, two boys dying of tuberculosis, nursing four others and seeing each of them die and when they died, it was like one of her own. Yes, she will have no books written about her, but she was a saint.
NARRATOR: "I would like to study law and enter politics for an occupation," Nixon wrote in the eighth grade, "so that I might be of some good to the people." Nixon worked hard for everything he got and his sober, industrious air sometimes put off his contemporaries. When he ran for class president at Whittier High, he lost to a candidate he later dismissed as "an athlete and personality boy." He would not lose another election for 30 years.
Both Harvard and Yale invited Nixon to apply for scholarships, but his dream of a prestigious Eastern university was frustrated. It was 1930, the Great Depression and Harold was in the midst of his long struggle with tuberculosis. "We needed Richard at home," Hannah Nixon remembered. Nixon had to settle for Whittier College just down the road and later said he'd never felt disappointed. He soon became a big man on the small campus.
He was an ambitious student politician, an accomplished actor, a champion debater. The Whittier student body elected Nixon president in 1933. He was both admired and resented for what one student called, "an almost ruthless cocksureness." The exclusive Franklin Club denied Nixon membership. He helped organize a competing club, the Orthogonians or square-shooters, students who took pride in working their way through college. They wore no ties, served spaghetti and beans and attracted the college's best athletes.
Nixon later denied there was any class distinction between his shirt-sleeved Orthogonians and the tuxedo-ed Franklins, but throughout his life, he would emphasize the differences between his own modest beginnings and the wealthy, privileged backgrounds of his political opponents.
The Important Thing is to Win
NARRATOR: Duke Law School was Nixon's next training ground in persistence, success and frustration. His classmates called him "Gloomy Gus." He lived frugally, studied endlessly and never walked away from a classroom confrontation.
LYMAN BROWNFIELD, Duke Classmate: We had a professor of torts, Douglas Maggs who was so intimidating that most people backed down. The first person in our class that I remembered that stood up to him and kind of barked back was Nixon. And he had the-- he'd stand there, kind of flat-footed and you could just see he was dug in. And he was just standing up to Maggs, kind of almost shaking in his shoes, but by gosh, he wasn't going to back down.
NARRATOR: Nixon graduated third in his class, hoping for a job with an East Coast law firm or the FBI, but his applications were rejected. He went back home to Whittier. Nixon's mother helped him get a job in a friend's law office, but small-town law bored him and he was still too young and inexperienced for state politics.
Then, while auditioning for a local play, he fell in love. Pat Ryan was a truck farmer's red-haired daughter, ten months older than he and even more accustomed to hard work and hardship. She had worked her way through college as a switchboard operator, salesgirl and movie extra before taking a teaching job at Whittier High. "Don't laugh," Nixon told her, even before their first date, "but someday I'm going to marry you." He pursued Pat for over two years, even driving her to Los Angeles on weekends when she had dates with other men, then waiting around to take her home again. He married her in June of 1940, but his political ambitions would have to wait five more years. The world was at war.
Eight months after Pearl Harbor, Nixon joined the Navy and as a lieutenant commander, was sent to the Solomon Islands. He was best remembered for his skill at scrounging food and liquor and supplies for the grateful men, who called him "Nick." And he learned to play poker, not just to fill the time, but to make some extra money.
JAMES STEWART, Navy Officer, World War II: He said to me, "Do you think that there's any sure way to win?" And I said, "Well, if you don't think you have the best hand going in, get out. Drop. Don't ante up." I said, "The trouble with that is that you'll probably drop three or four hands out of five and it's very boring and I haven't got the patience to do it." Well, to our intense surprise, he did exactly that. And he won quite more frequently than he lost and he sent home to California a fair amount of money, I have no idea exactly how much, but my estimate was between $6,000 and $7,000.
NARRATOR: It was his poker winnings that helped finance Nixon's first political campaign. At war's end, he was approached by a group of Republican bankers and businessmen from Whittier who sought a candidate to unseat the five-term Democratic congressman, Jerry Voorhis. Voorhis, a Yale graduate from a wealthy family, was anathema to Whittier Republicans. He supported labor, opposed big oil and big banking and championed the social welfare programs of the New Deal. Lieutenant Commander Nixon jumped at the opportunity to run against him.
Leading Republicans around Whittier were confident they finally had found the man to defeat Jerry Voorhis. "Nixon comes from good Quaker stock," a local banker wrote, "He is a very aggressive individual." Another partisan said, "This man is saleable merchandise." In his first campaign, Nixon developed an approach that remained remarkably consistent through nearly three decades. The candidate presented himself as a family man from a long tradition of work and service, a firm believer in individual initiative, a champion of the forgotten man. And at the same time, he proved to be a fierce, no-holds-barred combatant, accusing Voorhis of ties to Communist organizations distorting Voorhis' record in Congress.
JERRY VOORHIS: [1971 Interview] Just before the election, a good many people came and told me, "Do you know about the telephone calls that were being made?" and I said no, I didn't. "Well," they said, "I was called on the phone by an unidentified person, who simply said that, "Do you know that Jerry Voorhis is a Communist?" and "You should vote for Mr. Nixon because of this fact."
NARRATOR: The character of Nixon's campaign surprised many of his friends. "Of course, I knew Jerry Voorhis wasn't a Communist," he later told a Voorhis aide, "but I had to win. That's the thing you don't understand. The important thing is to win."
Mr. VOORHIS: All the stops were pulled and Mr. Nixon beat me. He was a good debater, he was a clever debater. I wouldn't deny that at all, but I still feel that there were a good many below-the-belt blows struck in the campaign.
NARRATOR: Nixon was swept into office with 60 percent of the vote, part of a nationwide Republican surge. His boyhood goal to enter politics had been achieved.
The Concealed Enemy
1st NEWSCASTER: Capitol Hill in Washington is again the nation's focal point as the 80th Congress convenes during one of the most crucial periods in the nation's history. The Republican-controlled Congress takes the helm in the House.
NARRATOR: As the Nixons posed beneath the cherry blossoms with baby Tricia, it was a heady time for a young Republican. The GOP controlled both houses of Congress for the first time in 20 years and the fervent anti Communism that had helped Nixon win the election was well-suited to the times.
2nd NEWSCASTER: Soviet Russia was expansively stabbing Westward, knifing into nations left empty by war. Already, an iron curtain had dropped around Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria.
MAN: [testifying before HUAC] I am not now a communist--
NARRATOR: And in the United States, the House Committee on Un-American Activities searched for Soviet sympathizers. Congressman Nixon soon became the junior member of that controversial, headline-making body.
And on August 3, 1948, shortly after the birth of Nixon's second daughter, Julie, an unlikely drama began that would make the issue of Communist subversion front-page news and make Congressman Nixon a national figure almost overnight.
[Chambers taking oath]
A strange, self-confessed ex-Communist and editor of Time Magazine, named Whittaker Chambers, appeared before the committee to make a sensational charge. Alger Hiss, protege of Oliver Wendell Holmes, aide to Franklin Roosevelt at Yalta and one of the organizers of the United Nations was, said Chambers, a Communist intent upon infiltrating the highest offices of government.
WHITTAKER CHAMBERS: [testifying] Mr. Hiss represents the concealed enemy against which we are all fighting and I am fighting.
ALGER HISS: [testifying] My contacts with any foreign representative who could possibly have been a Communist have been strictly official.
NARRATOR: Most observers found Hiss persuasive, but Nixon had learned through Father John Cronin, a Catholic priest with FBI connections, that Hiss had been under suspicion for years. Nixon insisted the hearings continue.
3rd NEWSCASTER: "Who's the liar?" might well be the title of the drama which unfolds before a packed caucus room where the House Un-American Affairs Committee members swear in Alger Hiss.
NARRATOR: The hearings were high drama. Rumors spread that Chambers was a psychopath. Hiss claimed never to have known him. President Truman denounced the proceedings as politically motivated and ordered government agencies to refuse to cooperate. Nixon charged that the Democrats were mounting a cover-up. The freshman congressman from Whittier had put himself in the center of it all.
RALPH de TOLEDANO, Early Nixon Biographer: Nixon realized that once he had committed himself, that if everything collapsed, if Hiss was exonerated or if the charges were not proved to the hilt, he would be badly hurt. Now, I don't think he would have been permanently hurt, but certainly, I think if that had happened, Richard Nixon would never have become a senator and never would have become President of the United States.
NARRATOR: "He immersed himself in the case with an absorption that was almost frightening," Pat Nixon remembered. When others were ready to drop the case, Nixon and chief investigator Robert Stripling talked them out of it. They were sure Hiss was lying when he claimed not even to have known Chambers and they set out to prove it.
ROBERT STRIPLING, Chief Investigator, House Committee on Un-American Activities: We went up and got Mr. Chambers, put him in the grand jury room, we put him under oath and we said, in effect, "You claim you know Mr. Hiss? Tell us all about him. What did he call his wife? What did she call him? Did they have a dog? Dc they have a veterinarian? Did they have a doctor? Did they have a cook? Give us the housekeeping details, beginning at the front door." And he'd rattle on for two hours. It was very obvious that he, indeed, did know Mr. Hiss and quite well.
Mr. RALPH de TOLEDANO, Early Nixon Biographer: There was also another factor and which I think is very important and that was a kind of personal animus. Hiss was arrogant on the stand and he rubbed Nixon the wrong way and he snapped at Nixon a couple of times and so on. And it became, I think, also a personal thing for Nixon. He saw that it could be a big issue and his whole temperament made him want to pursue it.
Mr. CHAMBERS: [testifying] I believe that I was first introduced to Mr. Hiss by Harold Ware and J. Peters.
NARRATOR: Chambers, now fighting a libel suit, leveled a still more sensational charge, one he had not yet shared with the committee. He claimed that Hiss had actually been a spy before the war, copying secret State Department documents which Chambers himself had passed on to a Soviet contact. Nixon was furious that Chambers had been holding out on him. He ordered any evidence Chambers might have subpoenaed, then left with his wife on a long-delayed Caribbean vacation.
4th NEWSCASTER: In the latest sensational turn of the Red espionage probe, the Maryland farm of the magazine editor becomes the focus of attention.
NARRATOR: From a hollowed-out pumpkin, Chambers produced apparent proof of espionage: microfilm of stolen documents. Nixon made the nation's front pages when he was plucked from mid-ocean and flown back to Washington for a press conference.
Representative NIXON: I am holding in my hand a microfilm of very highly confidential, secret State Department documents. These documents....
NARRATOR: The microfilm, thereafter known as "The Pumpkin Papers," provided the evidence and the publicity Nixon needed. Finally, after two controversial trials, Hiss was found guilty of perjury and imprisoned. The Hiss case polarized American opinion about Richard Nixon. To conservatives, he had fearlessly rooted out a dangerous subversive, but in the eyes of many liberals, Nixon had destroyed an honorable man and set the stage for more unscrupulous Communist hunters. But there was no doubt that, at the age of 35, the congressman from Whittier had become a national figure.
The Pink Lady
NARRATOR: 1950. The Russians had exploded an atomic bomb of their own. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were charged with giving the Soviets atomic secrets. Communists took control of mainland China. In Korea, Communist troops poured across the 38th parallel and American soldiers were sent to stop them. Senator Joseph McCarthy charged that Communists in government were responsible for it all.
Senator JOSEPH McCARTHY: And call the roll. And call the roll of the traitors who plunder.
NARRATOR: And Congressman Nixon had his sights on the Senate. His opponent was three-term Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas. Like Herry Voorhis, she was wealthy, well-educated and an outspoken New Dealer. She condemned the fear of internal Communism as "irrational" and opposed the very existence of the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
Politicians in both parties called the former actress "a bleeding-heart liberal, a do-gooder, a Hollywood parlor pink." Congressman John F. Kennedy quietly gave Nixon $1,000 to help defeat her, saying, "It won't break my heart if you can turn the Senate's loss into Hollywood's gain."
Mrs. Douglas was a perfect target for what Nixon called his "rocking, socking style" of campaigning. Implying the congresswoman was pro-Communist, he distributed a flyer on pink paper, showing Mrs. Douglas had voted with the controversial left-wing Congressman Vito Marcantonio 354 times. The fact that most Democrats and a good many Republicans had voted the same way was ignored. Nixon charged that his opponent was "pink right down to her underwear." Mrs. Douglas fought back hard, calling Nixon "a peewee who is trying to scare people into voting for him," and she gave him the nickname he would never entirely shake, "tricky Dick."
HELEN GAHAGAN DOUGLAS: [1979 Interview] When Richard Nixon ran for the House of Representatives and unseated Jerry Voorhis, it was the same kind of campaign as he waged against me in 1950, but the essence of that kind of campaign is this: to avoid the issues, you work up bogus issues, trying to play on the fears of people because if you talk about the real issues, you may lose votes. It's as simple as that.
NARRATOR: Other candidates employed scare tactics that year, but few were more blatant than Richard Nixon's. "People react to fear," he once told an aide, "not love. They don't teach that in Sunday School, but it's true." Nixon defeated Mrs. Douglas by almost 700,000 votes, the largest plurality won by any Senatorial candidate in the country.
Senator NIXON:  A lot of people probably wonder how it is possible for a candidate to be elected to any office in California when he is a member of the Republican Party. I have just had that experience and I should like to point out the reason for our election victory. It's because in this particular election, the issues, rather than the partisan labels of the candidates, were what governed the electorate.
ROGER MORRIS, Nixon Biographer: Richard Nixon does not simply defeat Jerry Voorhis for the Congress or defeat Helen Gahagan Douglas for the Senate in 1950, he destroys these people politically and very nearly personally. And he does that in such a way as to leave a great legacy of bitterness among their supporters and even among onlookers, people who were sort of neutral observers on the side.
A Nixon Republican
5th NEWSCASTER: Chicago is a city divided, as thousands of delegates and observers stream into the city for the 25th Republican Convention. Partisanship runs high and the trappings of the Grand Old Party dominate the scene before the serious business gets under way.
NARRATOR: After only a year and a half in the Senate, Nixon was a leading candidate for the vice presidential nomination.
5th NEWSCASTER: And here comes "Mr. Republican" himself, Senator Robert Taft.
NARRATOR: Taft partisans, mostly conservative and isolationist, applauded Nixon's fervent anti-Communism, while General Eisenhower's more liberal, internationalist backers were attracted to Nixon's support of the Marshall Plan, his commitment to rebuilding post-war Europe. The California delegation was pledged to its favorite son, Governor Earl Warren, but behind the scenes, Nixon lobbied hard for the nomination of Eisenhower.
Mr. RALPH de TOLEDANO, Early Nixon Biographer: He was a man with no set ideology, no set -- real deep-down principles. He wasn't a Taft Republican, he wasn't an Eisenhower Republican, he was a Nixon Republican.
6th NEWSCASTER: With New York's big block of votes, the issue is no longer in doubt and a wildly-cheering convention hails its nominee, Dwight D. Eisenhower, soldier and statesman.
NARRATOR: Away from the convention floor, Eisenhower huddled with Nixon. The young senator represented the growing power of the West Coast and he was a rough-and-tumble campaigner. The general offered him the vice presidency.
Sen. NIXON: [1952 Republican Convention] And as we contribute to the Republican cause, what we will do is to forge a great victory for the Republican Party next November, but a victory which will be a victory not only for the Republican Party, but what is more important, it will be a victory for America and for the cause of free peoples throughout the world.
NARRATOR: Eisenhower intended to keep to the high road, he told his new running mate. It was up to Nixon to flail the Democrats and their presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson.
Sen. NIXON: [campaigning] There is no question in my mind as to the loyalty of Mr. Stevenson, but the question is one as to his judgment.
Many good Americans are concerned by the way that President Truman and Governor Stevenson have both attempted to ridicule and pooh-pooh the Communist threat within the United States.
You read about another bribe, you read about another tax-fix, you read about another gangster getting favors from the government. The people are sick and tired of it. They're outraged and they want something done about it and they're tired of an Administration which, instead of cleaning up, is covering up the scandals in Washington at the present time.
NARRATOR: Suddenly, Nixon faced a scandal of his own. The New York Post reported that wealthy supporters had set up a secret fund for Nixon's personal use.
Sen. NIXON: And if that were true, let me say, first of all, that I should never have accepted the nomination to the vice presidency of the United States and if it were true, I would get off the ticket right away, but it is not true.
NARRATOR: In fact, the fund was not secret and was earmarked exclusively for political expenses, but the damage had been done. Aides urged Eisenhower to drop Nixon from the ticket. Even Republican newspapers demanded he resign.
HANNAH NIXON, Mother: When those headlines first came in the paper, I just wanted to hide that paper. I didn't want anyone to see it. I couldn't eat and I knew that it wasn't true, but what could I do?
PATRICK HILLINGS, Campaign Staff: Well, when the world seemed the blackest and the whole Nixon campaign had halted in Portland, Oregon, I got a telegram from his mother. I took it into him and gave it to him and he was sitting in a large chair with his arms on the side, almost like the Lincoln statue that you see in Washington, the Lincoln Memorial. And I handed him the telegram and he read it and he dropped it on his-- in the chair and his head fell forward and the tears came down his eyes. And it was obvious that he'd been terribly moved by what all this meant, that it was so important to him to prove to his mother that he'd never done anything wrong.
NARRATOR: Was Nixon on or off the ticket? General Eisenhower had been frustratingly silent. Finally, after three days of waiting, a weary, anxious Nixon received Eisenhower's phone call.
TED ROGERS, Nixon Television Adviser: And he said, "General," he said, "I'm just Richard Nixon." And he said, "I'm just a very young guy that doesn't know you very well. But," he said, "I must tell you, General, that there comes a time, even in your life, when you have to shit or get off the pot."
Mr. PATRICK HILLINGS, Campaign Staff: And there was this dead silence and we didn't know whether the ballgame was over right then or not, but Eisenhower seemed to take it as it was meant to be given and came to the conclusion, as he told Nixon on the phone -- he reported to us after the conversation -- that Nixon should go to California and make a nation-wide speech explaining all the details of this so-called "secret fund" and that he would authorize the National Committee to pay for the cost.
NARRATOR: Nixon secluded himself in Los Angeles and prepared to use the young medium of television as it had never been used before. He would bypass the press, bypass even Eisenhower and plead his case directly to the American people. This primetime broadcast would come to be known as the "Checkers" speech and widen the gap between Nixon's admirers and his detractors. To some, he seemed humble, honest, sincere; to others, self-righteous and shamelessly manipulative.
Sen. NIXON: ["Checkers" speech] My fellow Americans, I come before you tonight as a candidate for the vice presidency and as a man whose honesty and integrity has been questioned. And so now, what I am going to do and incidentally, this is unprecedented in the history of American politics -- I am going at this time to give to this television and radio audience a complete financial history, everything I've earned, everything I've spent, everything I owe.
KENNETH BALL, Whittier Neighbor: I don't remember talking to his mother, but his father, he thought that he really did all right. He said, "I hated to hear him say some of the things he said, but he told the truth and that's what the people wanted to hear and that did the job for him."
Sen. NIXON: ["Checkers" speech] First of all, we've got a house in Washington which cost $41,000 and on which we owe $20,000. We have a house in Whittier, California which cost $13,000 and on which we owe $3,000. My folks are living there at the present time.
NARRATOR: His wife asked him, "Why do you have to tell people how little we have and how much we owe?" "People in political life have to live in a goldfish bowl," he answered, "but I knew it was a weak explanation for the humiliation I was asking her to endure."
Sen. NIXON: ["Checkers" speech] I should say this, that Pat doesn't have a mink coat, but she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat. And I always tell her that she'd look good in anything.
NARRATOR: The "cloth coat" remark was aimed at the Truman Administration, then plagued by mink-coat bribery charges. Next, Nixon borrowed a technique from Franklin Roosevelt. He talked about his dog.
"Using the same ploy as FDR," he wrote in his memoirs, "would irritate my opponents and delight my friends."
Sen. NIXON: ["Checkers" speech] We did get something, a gift after the election. It was a little cocker spaniel dog, black and white spotted. And our little girl Tricia, the six-year-old, named it Checkers.
And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're going to keep him.
[Republican Rally, Cleveland, Ohio] I would do nothing that would harm the possibility of Dwight Eisenhower to become President of the United States and for that reason, I am committed to the Republican National Committee, tonight through this television broadcast, the decision which is theirs to make. Wire and write the Republican National Committee whether you think I should stay on or whether I should get off and whatever their decision is, I will abide by it.
General DWIGHT DAVID EISENHOWER: [defending Nixon] I have been a warrior and I like courage. And tonight, I saw an example of courage.
GOP CHAIRMAN: [Cleveland Rally] All those in favor of Nixon continuing as a candidate will say aye!
Mr. LYMAN BROWNFIELD, Duke Classmate: I had called some Republican friends of mine and had asked them to send telegrams to Nixon, saying, "Don't drop off the ticket," and they had refused. And I was with some of them when I watched the "Checkers" speech and afterwards, every one of them sent a telegram to Nixon, saying, "Great job, stay on the ticket."
NARRATOR: Nixon stayed on the ticket that was swept into office in November, the first Republican administration in two decades.
Mr. PATRICK HILLINGS, Campaign Staff: During the Eisenhower years, Nixon became the point man. Eisenhower never expected to have to get into too much political discussion, but that was one of the reasons he put young Senator Richard Nixon on the ticket, because he could do that. So all the tough political assignments usually were given to Nixon.
Sen. NIXON: [campaigning] All a Democratic Congress offers, if elected this year, is a return to the policies of the Truman Administration.
Mr. ROGER MORRIS, Nixon Biographer: He's a very partisan creature, after all, and he becomes for the first time really, the focus of genuine criticism in the press. He has enjoyed enormous immunity in the press in Southern California and nationally up until the '52 campaign. And he suffers his first tarnish in the fund episode and that gets worse and worse, until Herblock begins to give him a heavy beard in cartoons in the Washington Post and he comes under sometimes vicious, often very telling and accurate, attack in the national media.
7th NEWSCASTER: A stunned nation hears that its President is stricken with a heart attack.
NARRATOR: Nixon's detractors held their breath during Eisenhower's illness in September 1955, but the Vice President surprised even his most severe critics. For nearly two months, Nixon was a cautious substitute president, standing in for Eisenhower, while not calling attention to himself.
Vice President NIXON: The American people can be assured that the business of government will go ahead as usual, despite the President's illness. Under the President's leadership, a team has been developed in Washington which will carry out the very well-defined foreign policies and domestic policies that the President himself has laid down during his first two and a half years in office.
NARRATOR: Fully recovered, Eisenhower announced he would seek reelection, but did not guarantee Nixon a place on the ticket. Privately, he thought him immature, a political liability. But Nixon refused to consider the President's offer of a cabinet position instead of the vice presidency.
He finally forced Eisenhower's hand.
Vice Pres. NIXON: I met with the President this afternoon in the White House and at that time, I informed him that in the event that he and the delegates to the Republican National Convention decided that it was in the best interests of the Republican Party and his Administration for me to continue in my present office, that I would be honored to accept renomination as the Republican candidate for vice president.
PRESS SECRETARY: And the President has asked me to say that he was delighted to hear of the Vice President's decision.
Vice Pres. NIXON: [1956 Republican Convention] No man could be more highly honored than to be selected as the running mate of such a great President. I accept this nomination in that spirit.
NARRATOR: Nixon was less aggressive in 1956 than in earlier campaigns. The press began to write of a "New Nixon," but the Vice President remained the Democrats' favorite target.
ADLAI STEVENSON, Democratic National Candidate 1956: I must say bluntly that every piece of scientific evidence we have, every lesson of history and experience indicates that a Republican victory tomorrow would mean that Richard Nixon would probably be President of this country within the next four years. I say frankly, as a citizen more than a candidate, that I recoil at the prospect of Mr. Nixon as custodian of this nation's future, as guardian of the hydrogen bomb, as representative of America in the world, as commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces.
8th NEWSCASTER: As evening returns come in, the trend is unmistakable. It's Eisenhower by a landslide, with 457 electoral votes to 74 for Stevenson and a nine-million vote plurality.
Vice President NIXON: I, Richard M. Nixon do solemnly swear--
NARRATOR: Nixon was a survivor. He had overcome Eisenhower's indifference, a sometimes hostile press and bitter partisan attacks. He entered his second vice presidential term as the Republican heir apparent.
The Bronze Warrior
NARRATOR: Richard Nixon was favorite to win the Republican presidential nomination in 1960. Events of the last four years had made him one of the most visible Vice Presidents in history. During a tour of South America, he had faced down angry leftist mobs that spat upon him and his wife and attacked their motorcade. Maintaining his composure throughout the ordeal, Nixon returned home to a hero's welcome. And in Moscow, he had confronted the leader of the communist world, Nikita Khrushchev, in an impromptu televised debate.
Vice Pres. NIXON: There must be a free exchange of ideas. There are some instances where you may be ahead of us, for example, in the development of your-- of the thrust of your rockets for the investigation of outer space. There may be some instances -- for example, color television -- where we're ahead of you, but in order for both of us-- [Khrushchev interrupts] for both of us to benefit-- for both of us to benefit-- you see, you never concede anything.
NARRATOR: Nixon's combination of toughness and humor played well back home. In July 1960, Republicans embraced him as their presidential candidate.
MAN: --that Vice President Richard M. Nixon has been unanimously nominated to be the candidate of the Republican Party for the office of President of the United States.
NARRATOR: Just 14 years after he was tapped by a group of small-town businessmen to run for Congress in California, Richard Nixon stood at the top of his party. As he mapped out an ambitious 50-state campaign, he was challenged by his opponent, John F. Kennedy, to a series of televised debates, the first in American history. Even when hospitalized for two weeks with a knee injury, Nixon remained confident, anxious for the debates to begin, eager once again to use television to talk directly to the voters.
HERB KAPLOW, NBC News: At the time, there was a feeling that this, overall, might be a mismatch. Nixon was the candidate who had more prominence, who had been a member of the House, a member of the Senate and the Vice President of the United States. Kennedy, he didn't have a particularly strong reputation in Congress. There was some feeling that he was, to some extent, a playboy, that he wasn't too serious a senator and so, I think people felt that Nixon had the edge and I think Nixon felt that he had the edge.
HOWARD K. SMITH, Moderator: The candidates need no introduction: the Republican candidate, Vice President Richard M. Nixon and the Democratic candidate, Senator John F. Kennedy. According to the rules set by the candidates themselves each man --
NARRATOR: The Nixon-Kennedy debates would forever change the way Americans chose their Presidents. Political rallies and old-fashioned hand-shaking became much less important than the image on the television screen.
Mr. TED ROGERS, Nixon Television Adviser: You must understand that Nixon himself had said, "I don't want any makeup on for these particular debates." What I tried to explain to Dick was he has these certain characteristics of his skin where it's almost transparent. And it was a very nice thought to say, you know, "I don't want any makeup," but that he really needed to have what we would have called even an acceptable television picture. And of course, JFK, here he'd been riding in motorcades all over California with the top down. He looked like a bronze warrior when he came into Chicago. He really did.
Senator JOHN FITZGERALD KENNEDY: [Nixon-Kennedy debate] Mr. Nixon comes out of the Republican Party. He was nominated by it. And it is a fact that through most of these last 25 years, the Republican leadership has opposed Federal aid for education, medical care for the aged.
Vice Pres. NIXON: I know what it means to be poor. I know what it means to see people who are unemployed. I know Senator Kennedy feels as deeply about these problems as I do, but our disagreement is not about the goals for America, but only about the means to reach those goals.
NARRATOR: The first debate was costly to Nixon. The radio audience thought he had won, but the largest television audience in history had seen the Vice President haggard and drawn and had been given its first sustained look at the Kennedy style.
HERB KLEIN, Nixon Press Secretary: Kennedy had a great charm for not only the voters, but also for the press. The press corps had sort of a love affair with Jack Kennedy and no matter what things we might do to make things better -- we could serve a hot meal, they would serve a cold meal and the press liked cold better -- and so that he felt he was running up against impossible odds.
Vice Pres. NIXON: And I say we can't afford to have the White House as a training ground for an inexperienced man who is rash and impulsive.
Sen. KENNEDY: This Administration has failed to recognize-- has failed to recognize that in these changing times, with a revolution of rising expectations sweeping the globe, the United States has lost its image as a new, strong, vital revolutionary society.
Vice Pres. NIXON: I have been to Russia and I've seen it. I've been to the United States and I've seen it. And there is no need for a second rate psychology on the part of any American.
1st REPORTER: Mr. Vice President, what did you think of your reception today?
Vice Pres. NIXON: Well, of course, it was the greatest of the campaign and I think this means that we're on the way to victory in New York.
1st REPORTER: [to Pat Nixon] How about you? Do you agree?
PAT NIXON: Oh, it was wonderful.
NARRATOR: Election night, Nixon remembered, was the longest night of his life. It appeared at first to be a Kennedy sweep, then became too close to call, then edged back toward Kennedy again.
Vice Pres. NIXON: [1960 election concession speech] And I--please, please. And I-- as I look at the board here, while there are still some results still to come in, if the present trend continues, Mr. Kennedy-- Senator Kennedy will be the next President of the United States.
I just -- and I want--excuse me.
SUPPORTERS: [chanting] We want Nixon! We want Nixon! We want Nixon!
Vice Pres. NIXON: Thank you very much.
NARRATOR: In the end, it proved to be one of the closest elections in history. Kennedy won by only 100,000 votes and charges of Democratic fraud were widespread. Much of the winning margin came from Lyndon Johnson's Texas and Richard J. Daley's Chicago, but Nixon refused to demand a recount.
"If it failed to change the results," he wrote "charges of 'sore loser' would follow me through history and remove any possibility of a further political career."
Mr. ROGER MORRIS, Nixon Biographer: Richard Nixon is forever embittered by the experience and -- taken with the example, I think -- feels that never again will he be caught short, never again will his opponents outdo him and never again will he trust the ordinary, normal and honest devices of American politics to function as they're supposed to.
NARRATOR: In his last official act as Vice President, Nixon presided over a joint session of Congress on January 6, 1961 and announced his own defeat.
Vice Pres. NIXON: I now declare that John F. Kennedy has been elected President of the United States and Lyndon Johnson Vice President of the United States.
President-Elect KENNEDY: [taking oath of office] I, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God.
Mr. PATRICK HILLINGS, Campaign Staff: Well, he handled it surprisingly well. In fact, he cheered us up a good deal of the time. He was still a very young man. I'm sure he had thoughts of the future. The biggest problem was that the fellow who defeated him was a young man and all of us thought that meant at least eight years for Jack Kennedy and what is Nixon going to do for eight years?
Vice Pres. NIXON: [announcing gubernatorial candidacy] I shall not be a candidate for President of the United States in 1964. I shall be a candidate for governor of the State of California in 1962.
NARRATOR: But Nixon had been out of touch with his home state for too long. The campaign against incumbent governor Pat Brown was bitter and exhausting. Nixon was soundly defeated. Reporters in Los Angeles were told the losing candidate had left and would not make a statement, but Nixon, his anger toward the press building for years, resolved to have the last word.
Vice Pres. NIXON: For 16 years, ever since the Hiss case, you've had a lot of fun, a lot of fun. And you've had an opportunity to attack me and I think I've given as good as I've taken. I leave you gentlemen now and you will now write it, you will interpret it, that's your right. But as I leave you, I want you to know-- just think how much you're going to be missing.
You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore. Because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference and I hope that what I have said today will at least make television, radio, the press, recognize that they have a right and a responsibility, if they are against a candidate, give him the shaft, but also recognize, if they give him the shaft, put one lonely reporter on the campaign who will report what the candidate says now and then. Thank you, gentlemen and good day.
NARRATOR: An angry, resentful Richard Nixon strode from the Beverly Hilton on November 7, 1962, seemingly bound for political oblivion. "Barring a miracle," said Time Magazine, Richard Nixon's political career was over.
Part Two: Triumph
NARRATOR: Less than six months after his humiliating defeat in California, Nixon appeared on The Jack Paar Show, playing a tune he had written himself. Although no one in the audience could have known it, this was the beginning of one of the most remarkable comebacks in American political history.
JACK PAAR, Host: Can Kennedy be defeated in '64?
Vice Pres. NIXON: Well, which one? Just to be very serious, I know, of course, you're referring to President Kennedy and I under no circumstances would speak disrespectfully even of him or of his office.
Mr. PAAR: Aren't you kind of friends? Were you kind of friends at one time?
Vice Pres. NIXON: Oh, certainly. We came to the Congress together--
Mr. PAAR: I know you were.
Vice Pres. NIXON: --and we were low men on the totem pole on the Labor Committee together. And we remained low men until he ran for President. Now he's up and I'm down.
Mr. PAAR: My little daughter said today that-- you know, she said, "Is Mr. Nixon going to be on?" I said, "Yes." She says, "I do hope that man finds work."
NARRATOR: Nixon found work as a Wall Street lawyer, determined to succeed at what he called "the fast track." Pat Nixon had never been happy with the constant demands of politics and welcomed the prospect of a more normal existence. "I hope we never move again," she told him when they settled in New York. But politics had been Nixon's whole life, all he had ever known. He soon told friends he would die of boredom if he stayed in private life.
9th NEWSCASTER: Here is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas.
NARRATOR: To some, it seemed that Kennedy's assassination might open the way for Nixon in the next election, but sensing the mood of the country, Nixon concluded that Lyndon Johnson, the new President, would be unbeatable in 1964.
2nd REPORTER: Are you writing yourself off at this point as a political candidate, as a presidential candidate at any time?
Vice Pres. NIXON: Well I've made it clear that I am not a candidate for public office. I shall not become a candidate in this year, 1964, and I certainly have no plans to become a candidate in the future. I also want to make it clear at the same time, however, I'm not writing myself off as a political leader in the United States.
NARRATOR: As Nixon expected, President Johnson overwhelmed Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 and the party lost disastrously in Congress. But in the ruins of that defeat, Nixon saw his way back to power. He worked the Republican congressional circuit tirelessly, traveled to 35 states, barnstormed for 105 candidates. And when the party made a dramatic comeback in 1966, there was hardly a Republican who didn't owe Nixon a favor.
LEONARD GARMENT, Law Partner: He was uncomfortable with all of the obligatory activities of politics. Those were the dues one paid in order to gain admission to the arena and he paid them. He flinched on occasion, but he paid them. He learned to do what he had to do.
Vice Pres. NIXON: [campaigning] Hey, how are you doing, boys?
VOTER: Good to see you. Good to see you.
Vice Pres. NIXON: Get this boy in now. You got to get him in.
VOTER: We're going to.
Vice Pres. NIXON: You know, this is your old district. You get him in now.
VOTER: We're going to get him in.
NARRATOR: Nixon promised his family a moratorium on politics in 1967, but immediately took off on a grueling tour of four continents. Traveling as a private citizen, the former Vice President could still command a crowd in the most remote reaches of the globe. His trips kept him in the news and strengthened his grasp of foreign policy. Once again, Richard Nixon was aiming for the presidency.
Mr. JOHN EHRLICHMAN, Nixon Campaign Staff: He had this absolutely core fire that he wanted to be President of the United States, I think for several reasons: probably to prove a lot of things to himself, but also because he sincerely wanted to take the country in a direction that he felt was the right direction.
NARRATOR: As Nixon officially announced his candidacy in February 1968, the events of that tumultuous year moved him closer to the office he had sought for so long. In Vietnam, Communist guerrillas fought their way to the very doorstep of the American embassy in Saigon. Never had the prospects for victory looked more bleak. At home, anger over the war tore the country apart and forced Lyndon Johnson to withdraw from the presidential race. Robert Kennedy was just beginning to emerge as the Democratic front runner when he was killed an assassin's bullet. Race riots following the murder of Martin Luther King turned many cities into battlegrounds. The country had not suffered such upheaval since the Civil War. Many American yearned for a leader who promised safety and stability.
In Miami Beach, safe from the crises that engulfed the country, the Nixon family watched as Republicans chose their candidate.
Vice Pres. NIXON: [at hotel] There. We worked for those. Ha ha.
WISCONSIN DELEGATION LEADER: [1968 Republican National Convention] When the strongest nation in the world can be tied down for four years in a war in Vietnam with no end in sight, when the nation with the greatest tradition of the rule of law is plagued by unprecedented lawlessness, when a nation that's been known for a century for equality of opportunity is torn by unprecedented racial violence, then it's time for new leadership for the United States of America.
NARRATOR: Republicans once again pinned their presidential hopes on Richard Nixon. To them and to many in the press, he seemed a "new Nixon," better prepared than the man who had lost in 1960. But the Democratic front runner, Hubert Humphrey, said he'd seen it all before.
Senator HUBERT HUMPHREY, Presidential Candidate: They started the renewal job in 1952, a "brand-new" Nixon. There was some reason for it, too. Then they had another renewal job in 1956. Then they had another renovation operation in 1960. Then, when he went to run for governor in California in 1962, they renewed him again. And then, in 1964, another touch-up. And now, I read about the "new Nixon" of 1968. Ladies and gentlemen, anybody that had his political face lifted so many times can't be very new.
NARRATOR: Boating in the Florida keys, Nixon was relaxed and confident. He was running far ahead of Humphrey in the polls and the Vietnam War was splintering the Democrats.
ANTI-WAR DELEGATES, 1968 Democratic National Convention: [chanting] We want peace now. We want peace now. We want peace now.
NARRATOR: At their convention in Chicago, the anti-war wing of the party pressed for an end to the bombing and a negotiated withdrawal of U.S. troops, but Humphrey stuck by President Johnson's policy.
Sen. HUMPHREY: [1968 Democratic National Convention] And I think that withdrawal would be totally unrealistic and would be a catastrophe.
NARRATOR: As the Democrats fought over Vietnam, Nixon avoided the issue, promising only that he would find "an honorable end" to the war. Along with millions of Americans, he watched on television as anti-war protests outside the convention hall exploded into violence. In the chaos, Nixon saw an opportunity. A few days later, he moved through the same streets in a motorcade. Four hundred thousand people turned out to cheer him. He chose the city which had seen open war among the Democrats to sound one of the central themes of his campaign.
Vice Pres. NIXON: [1968 campaign] This is a nation of laws and as Abraham Lincoln has said, "No one is above the law, no one is below the law," and we're going to enforce the law and Americans should remember that if we're going to have law and order.
NARRATOR: The emphasis on law and order appealed to millions of Americans. Nixon's television commercials hammered it home.
Vice Pres. NIXON: [television commercial] In recent years, crime in this country has grown nine times as fast as population. At the current rate, the crimes of violence in America will double by 1972. We cannot accept that kind of future for America. We owe it to the decent and law-abiding citizens of America to take the offensive against the criminal forces that threaten their peace and their security and to rebuild respect for law across this country. I pledge to you--
NARRATOR: To the Democrats, Nixon's call for law and order played to the worst in Americans.
Sen. HUMPHREY: But you can't vote your anger, you have to vote your hopes. You can't vote your hates, you have to vote your hopes.
The preamble to the Constitution doesn't just say "Double the rate of convictions," it doesn't just say, "Law and order," it says, "To ensure justice." And if Mr. Nixon hasn't read it, then I'll send him a copy.
NARRATOR: But Nixon had a feel for the issues that moved the middle American voter. They were the same issues that moved him. Blaming liberal Democrats for the upheaval in the country, he sought to rally a new Republican majority.
Vice Pres. NIXON: The new voice that is being heard across America today. It is not the voice of a single person, it's the voice of a majority of Americans who have not been the protesters, who have not been the shouters. The great majority finally have become angry, not angry with hate, but angry, my friends, because they love America and they don't like what has been happening to America for the last four years.
3rd REPORTER: You've just heard Richard Nixon refer to you, among all these people, as the "forgotten Americans." What do you think he's referring to?
MAN ON THE STREET: Well, I sort of think he's talking about the people that are paying the taxes, that are supporting the schools, the churches, the people that are-- they are sort of forgotten because everything's aimed at welfare and things like that.
NARRATOR: Nixon's call to the "forgotten Americans" appealed to a bread band of voters, mostly white middle class, hawkish, patriotic. It was a group that felt ignored and excluded in the upheavals of the 60s. And the strategy seemed to be working. Nixon held his strong lead into the fall.
Then, just before the election, President Johnson suddenly stopped the bombing of North Vietnam. Humphrey surged in the polls.
Sen. HUMPHREY: We're going to have the biggest election surprise that America's known in 20 years. We're going to win this election! Thank you very much.
NARRATOR: By election night, Nixon and Humphrey were dead even. Nixon prepared his family for the possibility of still another defeat.
WALTER CRONKITE, CBS News: We see that Nixon has closed a little bit in the last few tabulations there.
GENE BARRY, Actor, Humphrey Supporter: I think before the morning is out, Hubert Humphrey will be the next President of the United States.
Mr. Cronkite: And there have been no changes. None of those bit states have fallen yet, the ones we are waiting for.
NARRATOR: All night long, the lead shifted back and forth. The results weren't announced until 8:00 the next morning.
Mr. CRONKITE: With the 26 electoral votes in Illinois, Richard Nixon goes over the top with 287 electoral votes, he needed 270 to win and that seems to be the 1968 election.
COMMENTATOR: [at victory party] And he is beaming, Pat Nixon is beaming. One can't help but think back to 1960, when a tearful Pat Nixon was choking back the emotions. It was a totally different scene, of course, then. Here is possibly one of the most fantastic political comebacks in American history.
Pres. NIXON: I saw many signs in this campaign. Some of them were not friendly. Some were very friendly. But the one that touched me the most was one that I saw in Deshler, Ohio at the end of a long day of whistle-stopping. A teenager held up the sign, "Bring us together," and that will be the great objective of this Administration at the outset, to bring the American people together.
NARRATOR: Nixon spoke of unity, but his margin of victory had been extremely narrow. He had not reached out to blacks or the poor or opponents of the war. And a nation as badly divided as America in 1968 would not be easy to lead.
NARRATOR: At age 56, after 22 years of political battle, Richard Nixon had become the most powerful man in the world. He envisioned nothing less than a new world order with himself as its architect.
Pres. NIXON: [Inaugural Address] The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of "peacemaker." This honor now beckons America.
If we succeed, generations to come will say of us now living that we mastered our moment, that we helped make the world safe for mankind. This is our summons to greatness.
Mr. ELLIOTT RICHARDSON, Nixon Cabinet Member: And there's no question at all that Nixon aspired to greatness. He would talk constantly about he "generation of peace" that he hoped to contribute to building, that would indeed be his bequest to the United States and the world.
NARRATOR: As Nixon took power, he assembled a staff that would leave him free to carry out his ambitious plans and whose loyalty had already been demonstrated.
H.R. HALDEMAN, White House Chief of Staff: The White House staff, as it evolves, I think you will find will be smaller than it's been in the past.
NARRATOR: H.R. Haldeman, a former advertising executive who had been at Nixon's side since 1956, was made Chief of Staff. He was proud, he once said, to be Richard Nixon's "son of a bitch." John Ehrlichman, a lawyer and top aide during the campaign, would handle much of domestic policy.
Together, he and Haldeman would tightly control access to the President.
Those whom they excluded called them "the Berlin Wall." Behind that wall, Nixon could focus on his main interest, foreign policy, bypassing the State Department to work closely with his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger.
Pres. NIXON: Dr. Kissinger is perhaps one of the major scholars in America in the world today in this area. He has never yet had a full-time government assignment and he will bring to this responsibility a fresh approach.
Mr. ROGER MORRIS, Kissinger Aide and Nixon Biographer: They organized the government to concentrate power in the hands of these two men in the White House. And it's not accidental that he appoints an old friend, but a decidedly weak practitioner in Bill Rogers in the Department of State or essential a Wisconsin Dells politician, Melvin Laird, as Secretary of Defense. There are no strong figures in his cabinet and there are no strong foreign policy figures anywhere in the higher echelons of the government.
It is to be Richard Nixon's foreign policy and it is to be carried out with sophistication and some subtlety by Henry Kissinger.
NARRATOR: Looming over the new Administration was the war in Vietnam. American troops had been fighting for four years on behalf of South Vietnam against the Soviet-backed Communist forces of the North. The war had already taken the lives of 30,000 Americans and over a million Vietnamese.
And destroyed one President. Nixon was determined not to let it destroy him. Even before his inauguration, Nixon had Kissinger began secret contacts with the North Vietnamese in an attempt to move the stalled Paris peace talks forward and soon, the two men developed a strategy they hoped would get the U.S. out of the war without abandoning America's ally, South Vietnam.
Pres. NIXON: We have adopted a plan which we have worked out in cooperation with the South Vietnamese for the complete withdrawal of all U.S. combat ground forces and their replacement by South Vietnamese forces on an orderly, scheduled timetable. This withdrawal will be made form strength.
NARRATOR: Confident that this policy would end America's involvement in Southeast Asia by the end of 1970, Nixon and Kissinger turned their attention to global strategy, reshaping America's entire relationship with the Communist world.
Mr. ROGER MORRIS, Nixon Biographer: And they both began, in 1969-1970, with a notion that only lately has become fashionable in Washington and that is that the post-war is really over, that the cold war ought to be a thing of the past.
They are, in that sense, almost 20 years ahead of their time.
NARRATOR: Recognizing that the Soviet Union had nearly caught up to the U.S. in nuclear strength, Nixon and Kissinger dispatched a team of negotiators to work out a treaty with the Soviets. For the first time in the history of the nuclear age, the two superpowers sat down to discuss setting limits on nuclear weapons. At the same time, they began secret contacts with the other great Communist power, China. There were few more forbidding and isolated places in the world in 1969, but Nixon believed that China, with its vast population and growing nuclear arsenal, would soon be too powerful to ignore.
Mr. ROGER MORRIS, Nixon Biographer: Here, for the first time in the 20th century, we have two men at the very pinnacle of the American government who have some clear notion, not only of what the world is doing out there, what's happening in the world, but of where they want the United States to fit in. We are not a nation that practices its foreign policy by design, for the most part and Nixon and Kissinger are an exception to that rule.
NARRATOR: In the summer of 1969, Nixon announced the first American troop withdrawals from Vietnam. Arms control, China, Southeast Asia. He seemed to be moving steadily toward becoming a peacemaker.
Mr. Nixon's War
GEORGE C. SCOTT, Actor: [in "Patton"] Ten-hut!
NARRATOR: Richard Nixon loved the movie Patton and watched it again and again in the White House. General George Patton was a man of action, contemptuous of his critics, uncompromising, determined to win at all costs.
Mr. SCOTT: Be seated. Now, I want you to remember Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time and I wouldn't give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That's why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans.
NARRATOR: Richard Nixon was determined not to be the first American President to lose a war. He might simply have brought the troops home and blamed Vietnam on the Democrats, but Nixon, like many of his contemporaries in both parties, believed that abandoning South Vietnam to the Communists would be a defeat that invited further aggression, a sign that America could no longer be counted on by her allies. Despite mounting pressure for immediate withdrawal, he stuck to his gradual course, while trying to negotiate what he called "an honorable end" to the war. But the months dragged on. Casualties mounted and Nixon's policy seemed only to prolong America's agony.
DANIEL PATRICK MOYNIHAN, Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs: And I said, with respect to Vietnam, I said, "The war in Vietnam is lost and the sooner you get out, the better we will be." It was lost, but they-- he, for some reason, kept at it. It wasn't his war and it seemed to me that just him handling a presidency, you stick around with a war for two years and it's your war. And it became his war. And in the end, half the country seemed to think he started it.
NARRATOR: In October 1969, the largest anti-war demonstrations in the nation's history, collectively known as "the moratorium," were held in cities all over the country. Critics of the war had waited nine months for Nixon to make good his pledge to end the conflict, but now, the honeymoon was over.
Pres. NIXON: I understand that there has been and continues to be opposition to the war in Vietnam on the campuses and also in the nation. As far as this kind of activity is concerned, we expect it. However, under no circumstances will I be affected whatever by it.
Mr. JOHN EHRLICHMAN, Nixon Campaign Staff: The moratorium itself was seen by Richard Nixon as 200,000 people out there on the Mall, protesting his foreign policy while at the same time, the polls were showing that 58-59 percent of the American people supported him in his foreign policy. And he would look out the window and he would say, "I simply cannot permit foreign policy to be made in the streets of Washington."
DICK GREGORY, Comedian, Vietnam War Protester: The President of the United States said nothing you young kids would do would have any effect on him. Well, I suggest to the President of the United States, if he want [sic] to know how much effect you youngsters can have on the President, he should make one long-distance phone call to the LBJ Ranch and ask that boy how much effect you can have.
NARRATOR: The fate of Lyndon Johnson did haunt Richard Nixon. He felt he had to demonstrate that most Americans still supported him and that it would not benefit Hanoi to stall peace negotiations. "Don't get rattled.
Don't waver. Don't react," he told himself as he went to work on a speech to respond to the protests. Insisting on writing it himself, he distinguished his supporters, "the forgotten Americans," from the vocal minority in the streets, with a new catch phrase.
Pres. NIXON: [November 3, 1969] To you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans, I ask for your support, for the more divided we are at home, the less likely the enemy is to negotiate at Paris.
Let us be united for peace. Let us also be united against defeat because let us understand: North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.
NARRATOR:It was the most effective speech of Nixon's presidency. Eighty thousand telegrams and letters arrived at the White House. Nearly all supported him. His approval rating soared. But the war continued and with it, the protests.
Mr. ROGER MORRIS, Nixon Biographer: I think Richard Nixon came to office expecting, if not a quick fix in Vietnam, expecting a kind of responsiveness in the war. He had made certain speeches, he had offered certain gestures, he had proffered, both secretly and publicly, what he thought were promising initiatives in negotiations. None of that had yielded anything. There was a palpable sense of frustration in the Administration about how long this war was going to drag on. Out of the Oval Office began to flood memoranda that were stream-of-consciousness renditions of the President's fears and ambitions in Southeast Asia. His image of this whole contest as a kind of challenge being issued not only by the parties on the ground -- by the Cambodian rebels and the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong -- but ultimately by more formidable and distant forces -- the Soviet Union, by China, by his enemies -- testing him, measuring his mettle as a man and as a leader.
Mr. JOHN EHRLICHMAN, Nixon Campaign Staff: He took me aside and he said, "I'm going to be out of the play for ten days here. I won't be able to handle any domestic decisions for ten days. So come back this afternoon and tell me all the things that need to be decided for the next ten days and then I won't be able to see you because I'm going to be focusing on this business of Vietnam. We're going to try and bring it to a head."
NARRATOR: At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Laird waited for the President. After days of tense deliberation, Nixon was about to announce an attack on enemy sanctuaries across the Vietnam border in Cambodia and he would do so over the objections of many White House advisers.
Mr. ROGER MORRIS, Nixon Biographer: We thought the invasion was a bad idea and that it was one more round of escalation on the pattern, on an old pattern in Vietnam which would cost lives and national treasure and really only prolong the suffering and do nothing to affect the larger outcome of the war.
NARRATOR: But the military and Kissinger recommended the action and Nixon wanted to go ahead. He was convinced that destroying the North Vietnamese hiding places in Cambodia would relieve Communist pressure on the South. And he wanted to take some dramatic action to demonstrate that neither Hanoi nor the anti-war movement could intimidate the United States or its President.
Pres. NIXON: [April 30, 1970] If, when the chips are down, the world's most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world. It is not our power, but our will and character that is being tested tonight.
NARRATOR: As Nixon spoke, American troops moved into Cambodia. His critics were outraged. The President who had promised to end the war seemed to be widening it, moving into a country perceived as neutral. Three members of Kissinger's staff, including Roger Morris, resigned in protest.
Nixon was unmoved.
Pres. NIXON: I would rather be a one-term President and do what I believed was right than to be a two-term President at the cost of seeing American become a second-rate power and to see this nation accept the first defeat in its proud 190-year history.
NARRATOR: Early the next morning, Nixon went to the Pentagon for a firsthand briefing. The military was reporting success. Nixon was encouraged and praised American soldiers fighting in the jungles of Southeast Asia. The wife of one of those soldiers reached out to shake his hand. Nixon drew a sharp contrast between the troops in Vietnam and the student protesters at home.
Pres. NIXON: You know, you see these bums, you know, blowing up the campuses. Listen, the boys that are on the college campuses today are the luckiest people in the world and here they are, burning up the books, I mean, storming around about this issue, I mean, you name it. Get rid of the war, there'll be another one.
NARRATOR: Nixon's remarks further infuriated students already protesting over Cambodia. After three tense days of demonstrations at Kent State University in Ohio, nervous National Guardsmen opened fire. Four students were killed. "My child was not a bum," said the father of one dead girl. American campuses exploded. Hundreds of colleges and universities closed down. Governors in 16 states called out the police and National Guard. Nixon's supporters took to the streets as well. At New York's City Hall, construction workers struggled to raise the flag which the mayor had lowered to honor the dead at Kent State. Nixon's move into Cambodia and his dividing of Americans into bums and heroes had set off a national firestorm.
Angry protesters returned to Washington. As tensions rose, the Secret Service ringed the White House with a barricade of buses.
CHARLES COLSON, Special Counsel to the President: It was like living in a bunker in the White House. I mean, we'd look out in the streets and see thousands of people protesting. You literally were afraid for your life. There were times when I can remember saying, "I can't believe this is the United States of America, a free country," and here we are in the White House with barricades up and buses around the White House and tear gas going off and thousands, hundreds of thousands of protesters out in the streets and troops sitting here.
NARRATOR: An embattled Nixon faced the press, as anti-war demonstrators continued to flock to Washington.
HERB KAPLOW, Reporter: [White House press conference] What do you think the students are trying to say in these demonstrations?
Pres. NIXON: They're trying to say that they want peace. They're trying to say that they want to stop the killing. They're trying to say that they want to end the draft. They're trying to say that we ought to get out of Vietnam. I agree with everything that they're trying to accomplish. I believe, however, that the decisions that I have made will serve that purpose.
NARRATOR: That night, protesters circled the White House with chants and candles. Inside, a sleepless Nixon made more than 40 phone calls to friends and supporters around the country. Near dawn, he called for a car and asked to be driven to the Lincoln Memorial, where protesters had gathered. White House aide Egil Krogh followed him.
EGIL KROGH Jr., White House Aide: It was-- I guess it was almost a surreal atmosphere. It was almost like dreamlike, "Is this really happening?" Walking up the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial and there was the President, sort of standing in the middle of a group of young people who were wearing combat fatigues with peace symbols and bandannas and all of the clothing of the 60s and the 70s and trying very hard to communicate to them.
LAUREE MOSS, Student Protester: I think I said, "Well, what are you going to do about the Kent State killings? What are you going to do about the war?" He said, "I'm really not here to talk about that right now. We're trying to handle things." So it was a one-way, you know, conversation or a one-way street. Yeah, because he was there, trying to be very conversational and casual, and we were there, outraged and angry and scared.
Mr. EGIL KROGH Jr., White House Aide: One student basically told him, he said, "I hope that you realize that we are willing to die for what we believe in." And I think-- as I recall, the President's response was, "Well, I understand that, but we're trying to build a world where people will not have to die for what they believe in."
NARRATOR: When he appeared as the guest of honor at a Billy Graham crusade in Tennessee, Nixon had been in office 16 months. A majority of Americans still backed his Vietnam policy, but the furor over Cambodia had deepened the divisions Nixon had promised to mend. Even here, surrounded by thousands who supported him, the President could not escape the ceaseless storm of protest.
Pres. NIXON: [Billy Graham crusade] And if we're going to bring people together, as we must bring them together, if we're going to have peace in the world, if our young people are going to have a fulfillment beyond simply those material things, they must turn to those great spiritual sources that have made America the great country that it is. I'm proud to be here and I'm very proud to have your warm reception. Thank you very much.
NARRATOR: Throughout the next year, Nixon continued to try to rally his supporters, while denouncing his opponents, calling some among the protesters "thugs and hoodlums," blaming his critics in Congress and the press for failing to support the war. All U.S. troops left Cambodia by the end of June, as Nixon had promised. He insisted that the military action which had caused such turmoil had eased the pressure on the troops in Vietnam. Withdrawals continued on schedule, but more American lives had been lost. There was no break-through in the peace talks. And in the White House, an increasingly frustrated and suspicious Nixon urged intensified surveillance of the anti-war movement. He grew distrustful even of his closest advisers and installed hidden microphones in his own office, in part so that his aides could not later claim to have disagreed with his decisions. But the taping system would eventually trap the President himself.
NARRATOR: On June 12, 1971, the White House staff prepared for a wedding in the Rose Garden. The President's elder daughter, Tricia, was to be married to a young law student, Edward Cox. Rain threatened the ceremony and Nixon spent much of the afternoon on the phone to Air Force weathermen.
Finally, there was a prediction of a 15-minute break in the weather.
Pres. NIXON: I got to get dressed. You know, I got to get-- let's see, all my things, my hair done.
ART LINKLETTER, TV Personality: [at wedding reception] I saw the President more relaxed and more happy and more like a typical American father than I've seen him in a long, long time.
5th REPORTER: He looked like he was doing a great job out on the dance floor, too.
Mr. LINKLETTER: Yes. And he doesn't dance all that often, you know.
NARRATOR: "It was a day that all of us will remember," Nixon later wrote, "because we were beautifully and simply happy." The next morning, Nixon picked up The New York Times. In the left corner was an account of Tricia's wedding. Across the page was another headline, the first installment of what came to be called the "Pentagon Papers," a secret Defense Department study which revealed past government deception about the war in Vietnam. Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department employee who had turned against the war, had given the top secret documents to the press.
DANIEL ELLSBERG, former Defense Department Employee: I can no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public.
NARRATOR: Although the Pentagon Papers contained nothing about the Nixon policy in Vietnam, it was a leak of enormous magnitude. The President and Henry Kissinger saw it as a disturbing precedent and a threat to there secret diplomacy.
MR. CHARLES COLSON, Special Counsel to the President : There was panic in the White House and I remember being in meetings with Henry Kissinger that day, in which he said, "This could cause the collapse of American foreign policy. This could undermine our initiatives with China and the Soviet Union." And don't forget that, at that time, people did not know that we were negotiating secretly with the Chinese. They did not also know that we were conducting secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese to end the war in Vietnam. And so, a lot of things were going on that we knew, but the public didn't.
NARRATOR: Just five weeks later, the Times published another leak, this one potentially damaging to Nixon's foreign policy. It revealed U.S. negotiating tactics in upcoming arms talks with the Soviets and it seemed to confirm Nixon's worst fears about the press.
Mr. EGIL KROGH Jr., White House Aide: I had seen him angry in meetings in the past, but I had never experienced this kind of fury, where he was basically walking around the room, slamming his fist in his hand, saying that, "This cannot be tolerated, we cannot let this go on."
Mr. CHARLES COLSON, Special Counsel to the President : Nixon became obsessive about the press coverage. We had a daily news summary that was prepared by a young man in the White House.
By the time I got to the White House, the President had already read it and had marked on the columns, "John Chancellor last night said this. Respond today. Call up so-and-so. Look at this. You can't trust these people.
Newsweek has done it to us again." I'd get Nixon's news summary with all these comments down the side. And so, you had the idea when you went to work in the morning, you were going to war with the press.
NARRATOR: A sense of being under siege pervaded the White House, fueled by the leaks, the constant anti-war demonstrations and intensifying criticism in the press. In this atmosphere of "us versus them," Colson's office began an ever-expanding list of Nixon's critics, the "enemies list."
Its object was to "screw our political enemies." Reporters and politicians, educators and entertainers were barred from the White House. Some were targeted for tax audits, others were trailed by private detectives.
Mr. CHARLES COLSON, Special Counsel to the President: And it was very shortly thereafter that Nixon authorized the "plumbers" and the creation of a special group to stop leaks and they began to take extra-legal steps and put into motion the mechanism which ultimately resulted in the downfall of the Administration.
NARRATOR: In a White House memo regarding the "neutralization" of Daniel Ellsberg, the plumbers discussed how they might "destroy his public image and credibility." In search of damaging information about Ellsberg's private life, they arranged a break-in at the office of his psychiatrist.
Mr. EGIL KROGH Jr., White House Aide: They apparently broke a window on the way in and, realizing that it could no longer be viewed as a covert operation, changed courses and decided to make it look as if it had been entered by a burglar looking for drugs or some other substances. Basically, they smashed up the office, took pictures of the damage. I was shocked at these pictures, went to see John Ehrlichman and he was, if anything, more shocked than I was and said, "Shut it down as of now."
NARRATOR: The plumbers were eventually disbanded, but some of the agents were reassigned to work behind the scenes for the newly-formed Committee to Re-Elect the President. Reelection had become Nixon's consuming concern. From the first day of his presidency, he had fought to hold onto his silent majority and had shaped his domestic policies, in part, to win their votes. But those voters were slipping away. Unemployment and inflation were up, racial divisions had deepened and still, week after week, the dead came home from Vietnam. Nixon's popularity had fallen so low that he had begun to fear he would not even be renominated in 1972.
To the Summit
11th NEWSCASTER: Good evening. The 37th President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, is in China, the first American chief executive ever to visit the world's most populous country.
NARRATOR: On February 18, 1972, Richard Nixon began still another remarkable comeback, with a stunning foreign policy success.
12th NEWSCASTER: President Nixon's motorcade is now sweeping toward the City of Peking.
13th NEWSCASTER: Here comes the motorcade now, as you see.
NARRATOR: The world watched as Richard Nixon drove through a city that few outsiders had seen for nearly a quarter of a century. "He knew," said The New York Times, "that for this journey, no matter what else occurred, he would always be remembered." That afternoon, Nixon was abruptly summoned to see Mao Tse Tung. American television was unaware of the meeting. The only coverage was by Chinese cameramen with black-and-white film. This encounter between Nixon, the career anti-Communist, and Chairman Mao, the leader of the largest Communist revolutionary movement in history, shocked Nixon's old conservative allies. They accused him of surrendering to international Communism. But for Nixon, it was all part of his global strategy. By visiting China, he was beginning to exploit the divisions in the Communist world.
WINSTON LORD, Kissinger Aide: One of Nixon's primary objectives in opening up with China was to give him more leverage with the Soviet Union. These relations were essentially stalled, but soon after the opening with China, the Soviet Union became much more flexible on several fronts. They agreed to a summit meeting with us in 1972 and they began to be more reasonable on various arms control issues.
Mr. CHARLES COLSON, Special Counsel to the President: Nixon enjoyed the power game, probably as much as any President in modern times. He played it very hard and very cleverly and very carefully on the world scene. And he was always thinking strategically and that's one of the qualities that someone has to have in foreign policy.
I mean, you cannot make decisions in foreign policy based on today's circumstance. You've got to think about its ramifications for 5, 10, 15, 20 years down the road. And its' like a chess player. You're anticipating six moves ahead if you're a good chess player.
NARRATOR: In the spring of 1972, the North Vietnamese suddenly launched a massive offensive. South Vietnam's forces were overwhelmed.
Thousands fled. If the offensive were not stopped, the war would be lost and with it, Nixon feared, the presidency. But if he ordered a U.S. counterattack, the Soviets might cancel the upcoming arms control summit in Moscow, a vital part of Nixon's grand design. Most of his advisers urged Nixon not to take any action that might jeopardize the summit. Once again, Nixon overruled them.
Mr. WINSTON LORD, Kissinger Aide: His view was that it would be embarrassing for him to go to Moscow without responding to the North Vietnamese aggression, that he would look weak -- he's talking to Soviet leaders who are providing arms to the North Vietnamese troops who are killing American troops -- so he didn't think the summit was worth it unless he could also show that he was strong within Vietnam itself.
NARRATOR: Nixon ordered the most drastic escalation of the war since 1968, massive sustained bombing of Hanoi and the mining of Haiphong Harbor, risking a full-scale confrontation with the Soviets by putting their supply ships in peril. After explaining his decision to the American people, he made a direct appeal to the Kremlin.
Pres. NIXON: [May 8, 1972] Our two nations have made significant progress in our negotiations in recent months. We are near major agreements on nuclear arms limitation, on trade, on a host of other issues. Let us not slide back toward the dark shadows of a previous age.
We do not ask you to sacrifice your principles or your friends, but neither should you permit Hanoi's intransigence to blot out the prospects we together have so patiently prepared.
NARRATOR: Nixon's gamble paid off. The Soviets did not cancel the summit. On May 22, 1972, Richard Nixon became the first American president ever to set foot inside the Kremlin. Nixon had done what none of his predecessors had been able to do. He had negotiated a treaty in which the two superpowers agreed to slow an arms race that had been accelerating for more than a quarter of a century. It was his greatest achievement.
Two days later, five burglars working for the Committee to Re-Elect Richard Nixon entered the Watergate complex in Washington. They broke into the office of the Democratic National Committee, placed bugs on the telephones and made their escape. But the microphones failed to work. They would have to go back.
Nixon returned from Moscow in triumph. He had almost completed the withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam, opened the door to China and signed the first nuclear arms limitation treaty since the dawn of the atomic age. He had often said that all he wanted was a life with one more victory than defeat. Now, that victory, a second term as President, seemed his for the asking.
GARRICK UTLEY: [June 17, 1972] Five men wearing white gloves and carrying cameras were caught early today in the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington. They apparently were unarmed and nobody knows yet why they were there. But I don't think that's the last we're going to hear of this story.
Part Three: The Fall
GARRICK UTLEY: [June 17, 1972] Five men wearing white gloves and carrying cameras were caught early today in the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington. They were caught by a night watchman and they did not resist arrest when the police came. They apparently were unarmed and nobody knows yet why they were there. The film in the camera hadn't even been exposed. In any case, they're being held.
NARRATOR: "On Sunday morning, June 18th," Richard Nixon later wrote, "I left for Key Biscayne. When I got to my house, I could smell coffee brewing in the kitchen and I went in to get a cup. There was a Miami Herald on the counter and I glanced over the front page. The main headline was about the Vietnam withdrawals. There was a small story in the middle of the page on the left-hand side."
14th NEWSCASTER: The Watergate Apartment Hotel/Office Complex in Washington has a fortress-like appearance, but the burglars penetrated that security.
15th NEWSCASTER: Four of the men arrested were Cuban nationals now living in Miami and the fifth, James McCord, was a former FBI and CIA agent recently employed as a security aide by the Republican National Committee and the Committee to Re-Elect the President.
HOWARD K. SMITH: Presidential press secretary Ron Ziegler today called the incident, "a third-rate burglary and nothing the President would be concerned with."
NARRATOR: But the President was concerned. On June 23rd, he met with his Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldeman.
Mr. H.R. HALDEMAN, White House Chief of Staff: [Nixon White House tape] Now, on the investigation, you know, the Democratic break-in thing, we're back to that problem area because the FBI is not under control--
NARRATOR: To thwart the FBI investigation, Haldeman suggested that the break-in could be made to look like a CIA operation.
Mr. H.R. HALDEMAN, White House Chief of Staff: [Nixon White House tape] And that will fit rather well because the FBI agents who are working the case, at this point, feel that's what it is. This is CIA.
NARRATOR: There is no evidence that Nixon had ordered the break-in, but his aides had. The President approved the plan to divert the FBI.
Pres. NIXON: "Just say this is sort of a comedy of errors" -- and that they should call the FBI in and say that we wish for the country, don't go any further into this case, period.
NARRATOR: "I saw Watergate as politics, pure and simple," Nixon wrote in his memoirs. "We were going to play it tough. I never doubted that was exactly how the other side would have played it."
Mr. JOHN EHRLICHMAN, Nixon Campaign Staff: Richard Nixon pulled it into the White House. He couldn't leave it alone. And so, within a week after the break-in, or maybe two weeks, he had personally involved himself in the intrigue of the whole thing. So Nixon sealed his fate six days after the break-in.
NARRATOR: Miami Beach, August 1972, two months after the Watergate break-in, a triumphant Richard Nixon took command at the Republican National Convention. Narrowly elected four years earlier, Nixon now wanted to win the biggest landslide in presidential history.
Pres. NIXON: [1972 Republican National Convention] Tonight, I again proudly accept your nomination for President of the United States.
And let us pledge ourselves to win an even greater victory this November in 1972.
NARRATOR: Nixon's campaign amassed huge sums of money. Skillful television ads appealed to Democrats, blue collar workers, the South. Nixon had always campaigned hard for other Republicans. Now he abandoned them, even dropped the party label. Richard Nixon campaigned as "the President."
WOMAN: You're great.
Pres. NIXON: Thank you. Well, you're great.
NARRATOR: As the President pursued victory, the White House continued to deny involvement in Watergate. A few reporters followed the story, but most voters dismissed the break-in as a campaign caper.
Watergate never threatened Nixon's big win. Nixon overwhelmed his Democratic rival, Senator George McGovern. He carried every state but Massachusetts. But his victory was not complete. The Democratic opposition retained control of both the House and the Senate.
DAVID S. BRODER, Reporter, "The Washington Post": It turned out to be a lonely landslide. He monopolized all of the resources, all of the money, all of the political talent in the Republican Party and anything else that he could annex for his own personal victory and didn't share the wealth and the opportunity with his party. It was an extraordinarily selfish victory, in my view.
NARRATOR: On Election night, Nixon watched the returns with two of his closest aides, Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and Special Counsel Chuck Colson.
Mr. CHARLES COLSON, Special Counsel to the President: And I couldn't feel any sense of jubilation. It was just sort of a very depressed atmosphere in the room. And here we were, supposedly winning and it was more like we'd lost. And it was more-- the attitude was kind of, "Well, we showed them, we got even with our enemies and we beat them," instead of, "We've been given a wonderful mandate to rule over the next four years." There was-- we were reduced to our petty worst on the night of what should have been our greatest triumph. And that's indicative of kind of the paradox of the Nixon years.
NARRATOR: "I'm at a loss to explain the melancholy that settled over me on that victorious night," Nixon later wrote. "To some extent, the marring effects of Watergate may have played a part, to some extent, our failure to win Congress and to a greater extent, the fact that we had not been able to win the war in Vietnam. Whatever the reasons, I allowed myself only a few minutes to reflect on the past. I was confident that a new era was about to begin."
Mr. JOHN EHRLICHMAN, Nixon Campaign Staff: The next morning after the election, Nixon came in the Cabinet Room. The Cabinet-- some of the White House staff were there. Everybody stood and then applauded and he sat down and immediately wanted to get down to work. And work was, "By golly, we're going to change this government and everybody's going to give me his resignation. Bob Haldeman here will tell you what I have in mind where that's concerned. I thank you all for your support. You did a wonderful job. I appreciate it." And he got up and left. And then Haldeman got up and said, "The President wants everybody's resignation."
RAY PRICE, Speechwriter: And this hit like a cold slap in the face.
It wasn't intended that way. What he wanted to do was to give his second -- have his second Administration start fresh, a fresh beginning.
NARRATOR: Nixon left Washington and for the next two months remained in virtual isolation.
Pres. NIXON: One constantly has the problem of either getting on top of the job or having the job get on top of you. I find that up here on top of the mountain, it is easier for me to get on top of the job.
Mr. DAVID S. BRODER, Reporter, "The Washington Post": This was a period that is so Nixonian. I mean, you could just focus on that and say, "This is the essence of man." Instead of savoring the victory, instead of reaching out and embracing people, he withdrew within himself.
NARRATOR: Alone on his mountaintop, Nixon brooded over the issue that had haunted his first term and now threatened his second: the war in Vietnam. The Paris peace talks were again stalled. Re-elected by an overwhelming margin, he now resolved to use overwhelming force to break the deadlock once and for all. In December, Nixon ordered the most intensive bombing of the entire war. It became known as the "Christmas bombing." The raids went on for 12 days. Ignoring the pleas of his closest aides, Nixon gave no public explanation for his action.
Mr. PRICE: He thought it was diplomatically vital that he make this look as cold an operation as possible and so he would not explain it. He held himself apart up on the mountaintop at Camp David, knowing his silence would make it more effective.
NARRATOR: The New York Times denounced what it called "Nixon's Stone Age barbarism." The massive, unexplained destruction alarmed even his loyal supporters.
6th REPORTER: You were quoted recently as saying that the President had taken leave of his senses.
Senator WILLIAM SAXBE,(R) Ohio: I feel that he's done things here that a reasonable man would not have done. And I can't find an explanation for it.
NARRATOR: The bombing stopped, the controversy subsided and shortly thereafter, all sides returned to Paris. Nixon believed the Christmas bombing had driven Hanoi back to the bargaining table. Two weeks later, in a quiet ceremony, they signed an agreement. Nixon's critics charged he could have had the same terms months before. But after 20 years of American involvement, the loss of over 50,000 American lives, the conflict that had torn apart the nation at long last came to a close.
Pres. NIXON: [January 1973] A cease-fire will begin at 7:00p.m. this Saturday, January 27, Washington time. Within 60 days from this Saturday, all Americans held prisoners of war throughout Indochina will be released. During the same 60-day period, all American forces will be withdrawn from South Vietnam.
NARRATOR: In Vietnam, the fighting later resumed, but in America, the weary troops and the prisoners of war were finally coming home.
U.S. SOLDIER: I have three words for America: God Bless America.
NARRATOR: H.R. Haldeman recalled that the day the war ended, Richard Nixon had never looked so happy. His popularity soared to the highest point of his entire career. Almost 70 percent of the American people supported the President. It was not to last.
NARRATOR: One month before the Watergate burglars went on trial, a 737 crashed in Chicago. Among the dead was Dorothy Hunt, wife of Watergate burglar Howard Hunt. Her purse, found in the wreckage, contained $10,000 in cash. Later, it would be revealed that Mrs. Hunt had acted as a courier, delivering money drawn from secrete White House funds, hush money used to buy the burglars' silence. From the moment they were caught, the burglars lied to conceal their ties to the White House. Questioned by the FBI, G. Gordon Liddy, who'd planned the burglary, and James McCord, former CIA agent, who'd helped to carry it out, insisted they had acted on their own.
So did the President's men.
Nixon's campaign manager and former attorney general, John Mitchell, who had approved the break-in, denied responsibility. The President's Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldeman, authorized hush money payments totaling more than $350,000. The President's domestic adviser, John Ehrlichman, lied to the FBI and grand jury investigating the break-in. The President's counsel, John Dean, withheld evidence, coached witnesses and monitored the FBI investigation. The cover-up was holding, but by early '73, it was consuming the time and attention of Nixon's closest aides, Haldeman and Ehrlichman.
By February, John Dean had assumed more responsibility for managing the cover-up. He began to meet frequently with the President.
JOHN DEAN III, Counsel to the President: When I first started dealing with the President, my first concern was whether I should eve be dealing with him on this because I felt that not only had I been compromised, I thought Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, all of us had because by now, I didn't have to be a criminal lawyer. I knew we were in the midst of something bad. I mean, this is a cover-up. There is no doubt in my mind.
NARRATOR: Nixon noted in his diary, "I'm glad that I'm talking to Dean now, rather than going through Haldeman or Ehrlichman. I think I've made a mistake in going through others when there is a man with the capability of Dean I can talk to directly." Both Nixon and Dean sensed growing danger from Capitol Hill. The Senate, under Democratic leadership, was forming a special Watergate Committee to investigate the break-in and the conduct of Nixon's re-election campaign.
But the most immediate threat came from Watergate burglar Howard Hunt. Despairing over the death of his wife, concerned over the fate of his children, he now demanded $120,000 or he would reveal, he said, the "seamy things" he had done for the Nixon White House.
Mr. JOHN DEAN III, Counsel to the President: This is the first time one of these threats had ever been brought directly to me and I didn't like being in that role 'cause I had never-- I knew about the money out there, but I'd never been a conveyer of messages back and forth. And now, suddenly, I'm just right in the middle of another ugly side of this.
NARRATOR: Hunt's demand was a turning point for John Dean. The White House could no longer control the cover-up. On March 21st, a worried Dean tried to persuade Nixon to end the conspiracy. He described the cover-up as a "cancer" on the presidency and warned that Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Dean himself had broken the law.
Mr. JOHN DEAN III, Counsel to the President: And he just-- the President started knocking down every one of these horribles I kept raising. Finally, I got around to saying, "Well, you know, these guys want a lot more money to remain quiet. And there's just, you know, no telling how much they want." And he said, "Well, how much could they want?" And I pulled out of thin air what I thought was a pretty astronomical number and I said, "Well, it could cost a million dollars." And he looked at me and he said, "John, I know where we can get a million dollars."
NARRATOR: Nixon approved more hush money. He let the cover-up continue. Two days later, the cover-up blew wide open.
ROGER MUDD, Newscaster: [March 23, 1973] Good evening. There was a major break in the Watergate trial today. On this day of sentencing, one of the defendants, James McCord, promised to reveal hidden details about the bugging of the Democratic headquarters.
NARRATOR: In a letter to the judge presiding at the trial, James McCord admitted that the Watergate burglars had not acted on their own. His testimony implicated the White House and galvanized the national press.
Even before McCord's letter, Nixon had ordered John Dean to write a report that would exonerate the White House of wrongdoing.
Mr. JOHN EHRLICHMAN, Nixon Campaign Staff: The President asked him to reduce his understanding of the whole problem to writing. He asked him to do that four or five times and nothing happened. And finally, the President sent John Dean to Camp David in the middle of March, to sit down, do nothing but write a report for the President on what this Watergate business was all about, who was involved, who was at fault, all of that. While Dean was up there, he had an epiphany, which was that he was in deep trouble, or so he says.
Mr. JOHN DEAN III, Counsel to the President: Well, it was clear-- it was much clearer after the fact, but I suspected at the time I was being set up. And the whole plan was to give the President this report so he could say, "This is all I've ever known and my counsel lied to me, clearly." And I just wasn't going to be a part of that.
NARRATOR: The cover-up was disintegrating and Dean feared that he might become Nixon's scapegoat. In early April, he telephoned Haldeman to say that he was talking with the prosecutors. Haldeman cautioned him, "I think you ought to think about it because once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it's hard to get it back in." "If Dean is totally out of control," Ehrlichman told Nixon, "you could get an article of impeachment." Haldeman later remembered that Nixon looked stunned. In private, the President continued to search for a scapegoat and struggled to salvage the cover-up.
In public, he acted as if he were upholding the law.
Pres. NIXON: I can report today that there have been major developments in the case, concerning which it would be improper to be more specific now, except to say that real progress has been made in finding the truth. I condemn any attempts to cover up in this case, no matter who is involved. Thank you.
NARRATOR: Events were spinning out of Nixon's control. John Dean, bargaining for immunity with Watergate prosecutor Earl Silbert, made a stunning revelation.
EARL SILBERT, Assistant U.S. Attorney: Dean's lawyer said, "Dean has one more thing to tell you that you might want to know about." And Dean, at that point, said-- we're standing in the hallway and Dean is in the office.
He said, in substance, that Liddy and Hunt were involved in a break-in into the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist, Dan Ellsberg's psychiatrist. That was -- I know my jaw must have fallen down to the floor. That was a bombshell of information.
NARRATOR: For two years, the burglary of Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office had remained one of the most closely-guarded secrets of the Nixon White House. Now, Dean's revelation suggested that the Watergate break-in was not an isolated event. It was part of a web of illegal activities ordered by the President's men.
Vacationing in Key Biscayne, Nixon knew Dean had talked to the prosecutors, but he still hoped to appeal to Dean's loyalty not to reveal any more. On Easter Sunday, Nixon called Dean.
Mr. JOHN DEAN III, Counsel to the President: And he said he'd been out with the family to Easter Sunday or what-have-you and he said, "I want you to know, John, you're still my counsel." And I thought to myself,"B.S.," you know. "I'm about as close to being his counsel now as the man in the moon." And it was just-- he just was keeping little feelers out there and-- but I made it pretty clear to all the-- all the word I was putting back to everybody, I wasn't making any deals, I wasn't interested in any deals.
Mr. JOHN EHRLICHMAN, Nixon Campaign Staff: I think Nixon hoped that he could make a bargain with Dean and say, in effect, "You have to protect your President." But the much stronger voice that Dean was hearing was the prosecutor, saying, "Boy, I'm going to nail you to the wall unless you give me all the dirt."
NARRATOR: As Dean and other aides scrambled for immunity, rumors swirled about the White House, coming ever closer to the Oval Office. In April, accusations against Haldeman and Ehrlichman dominated the headlines. The two men had protected the President, guarded his privacy, shared his ambitions. But now, Nixon would sacrifice his closest aides. The last Sunday in April, he summoned them to Camp David.
Mr. JOHN EHRLICHMAN, Nixon Campaign Staff: The first thing he said to me was, "When I went to sleep last night, I prayed that I would not wake up this morning." And he began to really cry. He began to really cry and I didn't know what to do 'cause I had just never seen him out of control this way. He finally said, basically-- the words have gone, I've forgotten-- I went back and made very careful notes so that somewhere I have notes of this conversation, but the gist of it was that the accusations were so serious that he couldn't keep us on. He thought maybe we could stay on, Bob and I, as-- on a leave of absence or some such form. But he saw that he had to cut it off, that he was going to fire Dean at the same time, he was going to fire the attorney general at the same time.
At some point, he asked me if there was anything that he could do for me. I said, "Yeah, I'd like you to explain this all to my kids, because I'm having trouble explaining to them why you would do this." And he didn't respond to that. So we ended up in a hug. We hugged each other and I could see that he had said everything that he could and that was the end of it.
I Am Not a Crook
NARRATOR: In May, the President and Mrs. Nixon welcomed the returning POW's to the White House.
Pres. NIXON: It is always the custom at a dinner at the White House to have a toast to the honored guest. The difficulty tonight is that there are so many honored guests that we would be drinking all night and into the day. Somebody just said, "What's wrong with that?"
NARRATOR: New Watergate charges were erupting daily, but the POW's remained loyal to their commander-in-chief.
FORMER POW: And sir, I would like to state for all of us that we never lost faith in your integrity or your courage and we are proud to be citizens of the United States.
NARRATOR: But the public's faith in the President would soon be severely tested. The Senate Watergate Committee began hearings that would keep the nation spellbound throughout the summer.
PETER JENNINGS, ABC News: The historic Caucus Room was jammed today with cameras, newsmen, 200 seated spectators and more standing.
NARRATOR: One of the largest audiences in television history watched on May 17th as Senator Sam Ervin opened the investigation of Nixon's re-election campaign and the Watergate break-in.
Senator SAM ERVIN, (D) Chairman, Watergate Committee: The committee will come to order.
NARRATOR: Even the President' staff watched as a parade of witnesses implicated Haldeman, Ehrlichman and others high in the Administration and the Nixon campaign. But in the first month of testimony, the President himself escaped direct charges of wrongdoing. Then the committee summoned its star witness, John Dean. In a seven-hour opening statement, Dean described the atmosphere of the Nixon White House.
Mr. JOHN DEAN III, Counsel to the President: [testifying] The Watergate matter was an inevitable outgrowth of a climate of excessive concern over the political impact of demonstrators, excessive concern over leaks, an insatiable appetite for political intelligence, all coupled with a do-it-yourself White House staff, regardless of the law.
SAM DASH, Chief Council, Senate Watergate Committee: He spoke in almost a monotone as he began to tell some of the most outrageous stories about what had occurred. And coming from a monotone, it was the facts, rather than his personality that came out at the public.
NARRATOR: Dean described his meeting on March 21st, when he warned Nixon about the burglars' escalating demands.
Mr. JOHN DEAN III, Counsel to the President: [testifying] I told the President about the fact that there was no money to pay these individuals to meet their demands. He asked me how much it would cost. I told him I could only make an estimate, that it might be as high as a million dollars or more. He told me that that was no problem. He also looked over at Haldeman and repeated the same statement.
Mr. DASH: That story came out. It was the very first time in the hearing, the very first time any evidence came forward that really put the President in on the obstruction of justice, the President who said he knew nothing about these things, the President who said he had started an investigation to find out who was involved. And here was an eyewitness, a person who was involved, who was testifying to the President's very deep involvement in the obstruction of justice and the cover-up.
NARRATOR: It was now the word of the President against his 34-year-old former counsel. The White House tried to undermine Dean's testimony by spreading rumors about his credibility and character. With no way to determine who was telling the truth, Nixon believed he would prevail.
Then, on July 16th, everything changed for Richard Nixon.
ALEXANDER BUTTERFIELD, former White House Aide: My name is Alexander Porter Butterfield.
Sen. ERVIN: Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the President?
Mr. BUTTERFIELD: I was aware of listening devices, yes, sir.
Mr. DASH: And so that if either Mr. Dean, Mr. Haldeman, Mr. Ehrlichman, Mr. Colson had particular meetings in the Oval Office with the President on any particular dates that have been testified before this committee, there would be a tape recording with the President of that full conversation, would there not?
Mr. BUTTERFIELD: Yes, sir.
Mr. DASH: One last question. If one were, therefore, to reconstruct the conversations at any particular date, what would be the best way to reconstruct those conversations, Mr. Butterfield?
Mr. BUTTERFIELD: Well, in the obvious manner, Mr. Dash: to obtain the tape and play it.
Mr. DASH: I have no further questions, Mr. Chairman.
NARRATOR: Nixon was in the hospital with viral pneumonia when he learned about Butterfield's testimony. He wrote on a bedside pad, "Should have destroyed the tapes after April 30th." Nixon knew controlling the tapes was the key to his survival. He would appeal to historical precedent and argue that the tapes were like presidential papers. They belonged to the President, not to Congress or the courts. They President had a right to keep them private.
The battle for the tapes began with the President rallying the White House staff.
Pres. NIXON: I was rather amused by some very well-intentioned people who thought that, you know, some of the rather rough assaults that any man in this office gets from time to time brings on an illness and that after going through such as illness that I might get so tired that i would consider either slowing down or even, some suggested, resigning. Well, now, just so we set that to rest, I'm going to use a phrase that my Ohio father used to use. "That's just plain poppycock." We're going to stay on this job till we get the job done. And let others wallow in Watergate, we're going to do our job.
NARRATOR: The continuing investigations placed new pressures on the White House. The Watergate Committee issued a subpoena for the President's tapes. Nixon refused to comply and risked being found in contempt of Congress. But even that was not his biggest concern. Pressured by Congress, Attorney General Elliott Richardson agreed to appoint an independent special prosecutor. He chose Archibald Cox and gave him sweeping powers to investigate the Nixon White House.
7th REPORTER: What if this trial leads into the Oval Office at the White House?
ARCHIBALD COX, Watergate Special Prosecutor: Well, as I replied then, the trail should be followed wherever it leads.
NARRATOR: Nixon later described Cox as "the partisan viper we had planted in our bosom."
Mr. PRICE: We saw Archie Cox in political, rather than legal terms.
He was sort of the high guru of the Kennedy government-in-waiting in Cambridge. And the idea that these Kennedy government political operatives were going to be demanding to run barefoot through all the most private files of the Nixon White House was utterly appalling and absolutely outrageous.
NARRATOR: Cox and his staff requested sensitive White House files. Nixon reluctantly complied. Cox also demanded nine of the President's tapes. Nixon refused. Cox took his case to court.
Mr. COX: As I have said before, I'm sure that the President's legal position is presented in good faith. I think it's quite wrong.
NARRATOR: By the end of summer, Nixon's refusal to turn over the tapes and John Dean's testimony had badly eroded the public's support for the President. But after months of unrelenting press coverage, Nixon sensed that Americans were growing weary of Watergate. He moved to take the offensive. For the first time in 14 months, Nixon held a televised news conference and tried to turn the persistent questioning to his advantage.
8th REPORTER: Did-- at any time during the Watergate crisis, did you ever consider resigning and would you consider resigning if you felt that your capacity to govern had been seriously weakened and in that connection, how much do you think your capacity to govern has been weakened?
Pres. NIXON: The answer to the first two questions is no. The answer to the third question is that it is true that, as far as capacity to govern in concerned, that to be under a constant barrage 12 to 15 minutes a night on each of the three major networks for four months tends to raise some questions in the people's mind with regard to the President and it may raise some questions with regard to the capacity to govern. The point that I make now is that we are proceeding as best we know how to get all those guilty brought to justice in Watergate. But now, we must move on from Watergate to the business of the people. And the business of the people is continuing with the initiatives we began in the first Administration.
9th REPORTER: Mr. President--
Pres. NIXON: Just a moment. We've had 30 minutes of this press conference. I have yet to have, for example, one question on the business of the people, which shows you our-- how we're consumed with this.
NARRATOR: But events overwhelmed the President's counter-offensive.
In a scandal unrelated to Watergate, Nixon's Vice President, Spiro Agnew, was under investigation for bribery, tax evasion and extortion.
SPIRO AGNEW, former Vice President: [October 10, 1973] Gentlemen, I believe you have all received copies of the prepared statement that I read to the court.
NARRATOR: On October 10th, Agnew pled "no contest" to tax evasion and resigned. Agnew's departure made Nixon more vulnerable. Unlike Agnew, his new Vice President and potential successor was popular with Republicans and Democrats alike.
Pres. NIXON: Our distinguished guests and my fellow Americans, I proudly present to you the man whose name I will submit to the Congress of the United States for confirmation as the Vice President of the United States, Congressman Gerald Ford of Michigan.
NARRATOR: On Capitol Hill, Gerald Ford was already seen as a viable alternative to the President himself. That same day, the Court of Appeals ruled that Nixon must yield the tapes to Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox.
But Nixon saw that ruling as an opportunity for a showdown with Cox. He made an offer he thought would sound reasonable to the public, but that he was certain Cox would reject. Nixon would turn over summaries of the tapes, but not he tapes themselves and he ordered Cox to not ask for any more material. As Nixon expected, Cox refused.
JIM DOYLE, Special Prosecutor's Office: [on telephone] This is Jim Doyle from Archibald Cox's office. I have a long statement. Are you ready? "In my judgment, the President is refusing to comply with the court decrees."
Mr. COX: I think it is my duty to bring to the court's attention what seems to me to be non-compliance with the court's order.
NARRATOR: Within hours, Nixon ordered Elliott Richardson to fire Archibald Cox. But Nixon had miscalculated. Richardson refused.
Mr. ELLIOTT RICHARDSON, Nixon Cabinet Member: And he said, "Do you realize, Elliott, that Brezhnev may conclude that I'm losing control of my own Administration?" But I said, "Mr. President, I am committed to the independence of the special prosecutor and for me to have acquiesced in his being fired would be a total betrayal of that commitment." He said, "I'm sorry that you choose to prefer your purely personal commitments to the national interest." Mustering all my self-control, I said in as level a voice as I could, "Mr. President, it would appear that we have a different assessment of the national interest."
NARRATOR: The events that followed became known as "The Saturday Night Massacre."
JOHN CHANCELLOR, NBC News: Good evening. The country tonight is in the midst of what may be the most serious Constitutional crisis in its history. The President has fired the special Watergate prosecutor, Archibald Cox. Because of the President's action, the attorney general has resigned. Elliott Richardson has quit, saying he cannot carry out Mr. Nixon's instructions. Richardson's deputy, William Ruckelshaus, has been fired.
Ruckelshaus refused, in a moment of Constitutional drama, to obey a presidential order to fire the special Watergate prosecutor. And half an hour after the special Watergate prosecutor had been fired, agents of the FBI, acting at the direction of the White House, sealed off the offices of the special prosecutor, the offices of the attorney general and the offices of the deputy attorney general.
MAN: --six FBI agents present, impeding our operations right now--
CHANCELLOR: All of this adds up to a totally unprecedented situation, a grave and profound crisis in which the President has set himself against his own attorney general and the Department of Justice.
Nothing like this has ever happened before.
More than 50,000 telegrams poured in on Capitol Hill today, so many, Western Union was swamped. Most of them demanded impeaching Mr. Nixon.
Representative MORRIS UDALL, (D), Arizona: These come from Republicans and businessmen and people, most of whom begin their statement by saying, "I've supported the President, I've never believed in impeachment, but he's now gone too far and we want the Congress to take strong action."
Representative MARGARET HECKLER, (R) Massachusetts: In my three district offices in the one Republican area, my phone calls were 100 to one in favor of pursuing the path of impeachment, which was rather shocking to me.
Mr. GARMENT: I was terribly surprised, which says something about that very weird thing that happens when you're in the middle of a cocoon of a crisis within a protected environment and you have a great desire for things to happen as you want them to happen.
NARRATOR: On Tuesday, Nixon learned that 21 resolutions calling for his impeachment had been introduced on Capitol Hill. Stunned by the ferocity of the public reaction, Nixon retreated. He appointed a new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski and agreed to release the nine subpoenaed tapes. But two tapes turned out to be missing. The White House said they never existed. A third tape contained an 18-1/2 minute gap. The erased section was a conversation between the President and H.R. Haldeman three days after the break-in. The President's counsel, Fred Buzhardt, explained the gap to a skeptical press.
10th REPORTER: You now believe it could be accidental?
FRED BUZHARDT, President's Counsel: Yes.
10th REPORTER: How?
NARRATOR: The White House claimed that the President's secretary, Rosemary Woods, had accidentally erased the tape while transcribing it.
11th REPORTER: Is that logical for that to happen accidentally? I mean, is that believable?
Mr. BUZHARDT: Well, yes.
NARRATOR: Questions now arose about every aspect of the President's life: campaign contributions, taxes, friendships, vacation homes.
Everything seemed fair game. The President struggled to defend himself against assaults that came from all sides.
Pres. NIXON: I want to say this to the television audience. I made my mistakes, but in all of my years of public life, I have never profited, never profited from public service. I have earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice. And I think, too, that I can say that in my years of public life, that I welcome this kind of examination because people have got to know whether or not their President's a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got.
The Last Campaign
NARRATOR: In March 1974, Nixon went to the Grand Ole Opry, to the South where his support remained the strongest. "In the end," he later wrote, "it would come down to a campaign, but this time, I would be campaigning for my political life."
Pres. NIXON: [at the Grand Ole Opry] If you'll join us in this song, I think you'll recognize it when I start it. Just let me get a chord. [Richard Nixon plays on the piano "Wild Irish Rose]
NARRATOR: But seven of Nixon's closest aides had been indicted by the Watergate grand jury and the aftershocks of the Saturday Night Massacre continued to reverberate in the courts and in Congress. On Capitol Hill, the House Judiciary Committee was debating Nixon's impeachment, investigating charges ranging from illegal wiretaps and break-ins to abuse of power and obstruction of justice. Pursuing their investigations, they demanded more tapes and set a deadline of April 30th. On April 29th, with less than 24 hours to go, facing a citation for contempt of Congress, Nixon tried to do again what had worked so well for him in the past: bypass his opponents and appeal directly to the public.
Pres. NIXON: [April 29, 1974] Good evening. I have asked for this time tonight in order to announce my answer to the House Judiciary Committee's subpoena for additional Watergate tapes. In these folders that you see over here on my left are more than 1,200 pages of transcripts of private conversations--
NARRATOR: Nixon announced he was releasing edited transcripts of the tapes to the committee and the public simultaneously. The President himself had supervised the editing.
Pres. NIXON: In giving you these records, blemishes and all, I am placing my trust in the basic fairness of the American people.
NARRATOR: Nixon had gambled and lost. He badly misjudged the public reaction. The transcripts, said Time magazine, showed a President "creating an environment of deceit and dishonesty, of evasion and cover-up." Even Republican leaders denounced them as "shabby, disgusting, immoral." A majority of Americans now felt the President should resign or face impeachment. Soon after the transcripts were delivered to Capitol Hill, the Judiciary Committee voted that the President had failed to comply with their subpoena. They continued to demand the tapes. In the White House, Nixon secluded himself, listening to the recordings over and over. Not only was Congress demanding the tapes, so was the new special prosecutor. Nixon had exhausted all his legal appeals but one. He took his case to the Supreme Court. It would become known as The United States v. Richard Nixon.
As his lawyers prepared to argue his case, the President took his campaign abroad, hoping to build on the diplomatic triumphs of the past. First, to the Middle East, where just months before, his persistent diplomacy had helped bring about a fragile peace between Arabs and Israelis. Then to the Soviet Union where the glittering ceremonies mirrored the President's past success. But the summit achieved little. Leonid Brezhnev sensed that Nixon's power was eroding fast.
Returning home, Nixon landed at a small Air Force base in Maine where the military crowd gave him a warm welcome. But the extraordinary journey that had taken Richard Nixon all the way from Yorba Linda to the White House, to Peking and Moscow, from humiliating defeats to the pinnacle of world power seemed to be coming to an end. Most Americans had lost faith in the President. They saw a man who had repeatedly lied to cover up his crimes, had subverted the political process and undermined the Constitution.
Mr. BUTLER, Judiciary Committee: There are frightening implications for the future of our country if we do not impeach the President of the United States. If we fail to impeach, we have condoned and left unpunished a course of conduct totally inconsistent with the reasonable expectations of the American people.
NARRATOR: On Capitol Hill, the Judiciary Committee prepared to vote on three articles of impeachment. They charged the President with obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress.
Representative LAWRENCE HOGAN, (R) Maryland: The thing that's so appalling to me is that the President, when this whole idea was suggested to him, didn't, in righteous indignation, rise up and say, "Get out of here, you're in the office of the President of the United States. How can you talk about blackmail and bribery and keeping witnesses silent? This is the presidency of the United States." But my President didn't do that. He sat there and he worked and worked to try to cover this thing up so it wouldn't come to light.
NARRATOR: The committee took its first vote July 27th. Nixon was swimming at San Clemente as they rendered their verdict.
Representative PETER RODINO, (D) Chairman, Judiciary Committee: Those in favor, signify by saying "Aye," all those opposed, "No."
CLERK: --say aye, all those opposed, no. Mr. Flowers.
Mr. FLOWERS: Aye.
CLERK: Mr. Mann.
Mr. MANN: Aye.
CLERK: Mr. Drinan.
Mr. DRINAN: Aye.
NARRATOR: Nixon later wrote, "I was getting dressed in the beach trailer when the phone rang and Ziegler gave me the news. That was how I learned that I was the first President in 106 years to be recommended for impeachment, standing in the beach trailer, barefoot, wearing old trousers, a Ban-Lon shirt and a blue windbreaker emblazoned with the presidential seal."
CLERK: Mr. Rodino.
Mr. RODINO: Aye.
CLERK: Twenty-seven members have voted "Aye." Eleven members have voted "No."
Rep. RODINO: And pursuant to the resolution, Article I, that resolution is adopted and will be reported to the House.
NARRATOR: Just days before, the Supreme Court had ruled in the case of The United States v. Richard Nixon. "The President must turn over the tapes to the special prosecutor." Not even a President, said the court, could withhold evidence in a criminal trial. Nixon returned to Washington, still calculating the odds. He knew the House of Representatives would vote to indict him. There was a chance he might survive a trial in the Senate as long as there was no irrefutable evidence that he had personally committed a crime. But Nixon himself possessed that evidence, a tape that plainly showed he'd obstructed justice. His conversation with H.R. Haldeman on June 23, 1972, when Nixon ordered his aides to divert the FBI.
Pres. NIXON: [on tape] --they should call the FBI in and say that we wish for the country, don't go any further into this case, period.
NARRATOR: Nixon would soon have to release this tape, along with others covered by the Supreme Court ruling. With nothing left to lose, he decided to release a transcript of the tape. It became known as "the smoking gun."
The night following the release of the transcript, Nixon sat alone in the Lincoln Sitting Room, then retired to bed. His daughter Julie had left a note on his pillow. "The White House, August 6th. Dear Daddy: I love you. Whatever you do, I will support. I'm very proud of you. Go through the fire just a little bit longer. You're so strong. I love you. Mills support you. Julie."
On August 8th, Nixon announced he would address the nation. Outside the White House, crowds gathered, watching, waiting.
Pres. NIXON: [August 8, 1974] I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body, but as President, I must put the interests of America first.
Therefore, I shall resign the presidency, effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.
NARRATOR: On August 9th, the President bid farewell to the White House staff.
Pres. NIXON: [August 9, 1974] You are here to say goodbye to us and we don't have a good word for it in English. The best is au revoir. We'll see you again. I had a little quote in the speech last night from T.R. As you know, I like to read books.
I'm not educated, but I do read books. And there's another one I found as I was reading my last night in the White House. And this quote is about a young man. He was a young lawyer in New York. He'd married a beautiful girl and they had a lovely daughter. And then suddenly, she died. And this is what he wrote. This was in his diary. He said, "She was beautiful in face and form and lovelier still in spirit. As a flower, she grew and as a fairer young flower, she died. And when my heart's dearest died, the light went from my life forever." That was T.R. in his 20s. He thought the light had gone from his life forever, but he went on. And he-- not only became President, but as an ex-President, he served his country, always in the arena, tempestuous, strong, sometimes wrong, sometimes right, but he was a man.
It's only a beginning, always. The young must know it. The old must know it. Because the greatness comes not when things go always good for you, but the greatness comes and you're really tested when you take some knocks, some disappointments, when sadness comes. Because only if you've been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.
Always give your best. Never get discouraged. Never be petty. Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then, you destroy yourself.
NARRATOR: On September 8, 1974, President Gerald Ford granted Richard Nixon a full and absolute pardon. Over 70 others were found guilty of criminal acts and punished. The contradictions of Nixon's career -- his triumphs and defeats, grand vision and petty grievances -- have left their imprint on America, but his legacy remains ambiguous. "The judgment of history," Nixon has said, "depends on who writes it."