Question for Discussion: How
did President Nixon
and the Watergate scandal threaten American
Reading: "Nixon's Enemies List" handout;
"Watergate" (web); What
were the Watergate Crimes?
David Frost Interview with Richard Nixon
Assignment: Make a list
of the most absurd
examples of people who are on Nixon's
enemies list, people who Nixon thinks are
a threat to the nation but are in no way such
The Nixon Presidency
The Watergate Criminal Conspiracy
1. President Nixon and his
2. The Collapse of the Nixon Presidency
1. What can we conclude about President Nixon's
understanding about American democracy and rights based on the names
on his enemies list?
2. According to Schell, why was President
Nixon so concerned about covering up the Watergate break-in?
3. What does Schell mean when he observes
that "the public had grown accustomed to deception and evasion
in high places, but not yet to repeated, consistent, barefaced lying
at all levels"?
4. Why was President Nixon spying on and harassing
5. What does Schell mean when he argues that
"the President's drive to take over the federal government
was going well"?
6. Do you agree with Schell's conclusion about
the growing threat posed by President Nixon's abuse of power: "Either
the Nixon Administration would be survive in power and the democracy
would die or the Administration would be driven from power and democracy
would have another chance to live"?
7. Do you agree with Schell that President
Nixon was on the verge of undermining our Constitutional democracy
and creating a Presidential dictatorship?
8. According to the House Judiciary
Committee, what are the major crimes that President Nixon has committed
that led it to conclude that he should be impeached?
you to be proud of what you have done. We want you to continue to
serve in government, if that is your wish. 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."
Richard Nixon, August 1974
The best place to start a discussion
about how President Nixon and the Watergate scandal affected American
democracy it to look at the specific crimes committed by the President
and his top aides. This list is taken from the Watergate
is now an all-encompassing term used to refer to:
1. political burglary
4. wiretapping (phone tapping)
6. obstruction of justice
7. destruction of evidence
8. tax fraud
9. illegal use of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA.)
10. illegal use of the Federal Bureau of Investigations
11. illegal campaign contributions
12. use of public (taxpayers') money for private purposes
These Watergate crimes began from the
moment President Nixon took office and continued until he was forced
to resign the Presidency in August 1974. The larger question we
must now ask is what would the President of the United States and
his top advisors engage in the above list of crimes. As some of
my students pointed out, these crimes are usually associated with
organized crime and criminal conspiracies. Why in the late 1960s
and early 1970s, as David Frost asked Nixon, "did it go so
rotten so fast."
The answer lies in Nixon's confusion
between himself, the office of the Presidency, and the United States.
Upon taking office, Nixon promised himself he would not let the
anti-war movement and critics of the government undermine his Presidency
as they had President Johnson's. Nixon believed that because he
was elected President he knew what was best for the nation. Anyone
who hated him, who challenged his policies, who questioned his leadership
was therefore a threat to the nation. Nixon believed because he
as President represented the United States, anyone challenged him
was thus a threat to the nation. Nixon confused people's dislike
of him and his Presidency with disloyalty to the nation; he confused
personal threats to his own self-esteem with threats to the Nation's
health. Nixon concluded because he was the President, anyone who
challenged him was a threat to the nation and he could use the power
of the government to crush his enemies. One of Nixon's top aides
put it this way:
"It didn't matter who you were
or what ideological positions you took. You were either for us or
against us, and you were against us we were against you."
The crimes of Watergate were thus committed
because Nixon confused his self and his Presidency with the nation.
But by concluding that disloyalty to Nixon was disloyalty to the
nation, President Nixon threatened to become, as Schell agues, a
dictator, undermining the basic rights and freedom that Americans
have to shape and control their government and their society.
When he was elected President in 1968,
Nixon promised to end the war in Vietnam. But in his first years
as President far from ending the war, he expanded it and increased
the killing. This caused many Americans to become angry and bitter
at Nixon, with many critics calling him "tricky dickey."
They felt that Nixon had lied to them and was now purposely going
against the will to the people who wanted an end to the Vietnam
war. Facing increasing anger and hatred from increasing number of
Americans in the late 1960s, President Nixon began to feel he was
under siege. He feared that there "was a domestic conspiracy
against his Presidency." In his interview with David Frost,
Nixon argues that America during his Presidency was at war with
itself just as it was during the Civil War. Feeling under siege
and threatened, President Nixon had his top aides draw up an enemies
list. Nixon decided that this domestic conspiracy against his Presidency
had to be crushed, and he was determined to use all the power at
his disposal to crush his enemies.
In order to understand Nixon's growing
paranoia and criminal activities we need to look closely at who
was on his enemies list:
Judith Martin (AKA "Miss Manners"),
Joe Namath, Jane Fonda, Dick Gregory, Carol Channing, Gregory Peck,
Edward Kennedy, Edmund Muskie, Harold
Hughes, Walter Mondale, William Proxmire, Birch Bayh
The Presidents of Yale, Harvard Law
School, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the World Bank,
the Ford Foundation, the Rand Corporation, the National Education
Association, Philip Morris, and the National Cleaning Contractors
Dan Rather, Dan Schorr, James Reston,
Julian Goodman, Marvin Kalb, Rowland Evans, Joseph Kraft, Jack Anderson
The American Civil Liberties Union,
the National Organization for Women, Americans for Democratic Action,
and the Urban League.
The above are just a few of the more
than 200 individuals and 18 organization on Nixon's enemies list.
What all these people have in common is they are powerful mainstream
Americans from the Democratic party, liberal organizations, Hollywood,
and the news media. In many ways these people are part of the American
political and social establishment. The question we are now forced
to ask is this: Why did President Nixon conclude that mainstream
establishment America was his enemy and therefore an enemy of the
In 1969 and 1970, President Nixon tried
to get the FBI to neutralize his enemies just as they had neutralized
the Black Civil Rights movement, the student movement, and the anti-war
movement. If they could neutralize and crush these groups, Nixon
argued, why couldn't they crush his enemies--mainstream establishment
America? However, the FBI concluded that it could not afford to
neutralize Nixon's enemies because they were so powerful they could
destroy and crush the FBI if they found out about this; the director
of the FBI feared that Congress and the media would destroy the
FBI if they were caught. Nixon was frustrated and angry with the
FBI's refusal. He was forced to hire his own private counterintelligence
team to neutralize his domestic enemies. Nixon hired former FBI,
CIA, and policemen and created his own "Internal Security Division"
to harass and neutralize his enemies. So, imagine for a moment,
the President's own secret team bugging, harassing, intimidating,
stealing documents, and following leading Democratic politicians,
the news media, Hollywood actors, and leaders of prominent liberal
organizations. This is what Watergate was really all about.
The problem Nixon now faced was that
he couldn't fund these illegal activities using government money.
If he used government money, Congress and the press might find out
about this criminal conspiracy against innocent Americans. Nixon
was thus forced to raise the money to fund his Internal Security
Division illegally. Between 1970 and 1972, President Nixon raised
over $60 million dollars from large corporations by asking them
to pass huge amounts of money under-the-table in return for government
favors. Nixon was actually making the government for sale. Those
companies that agreed to pass large amounts of money to Nixon would
be given government support and benefits. Instead of running the
government to protect the interest of the American people, Nixon
was selling government services to the largest bidders.
Let's look at some of the illegal deals
Nixon made with corporate America. Billionaire Howard Hughes gave
Nixon $100,000 to prevent the federal government from investigating
his buying hotels in Las Vegas. The Dairy Industry gave Nixon $2
million dollars to ensure high price supports for milk, which forced
Americans to pay higher milk prices. ITT gave Nixon $400,000 dollars
in order to stop the Justice Department from filing antitrust charges
against it. And giant energy companies such as Ashland Oil and Gulf
Oil gave Nixon millions of dollars for political favors. In addition,
defense contractors such as Northrup and Goodyear gave Nixon large
amounts of money for political favors and support. By making the
government for sale to these large companies, President Nixon was
violating his primary responsibility to the American people--to
defend and protect their interests.
In the end, as Schell concludes, by
trying to destroy his domestic enemies and limiting free speech
and debate, Nixon was amassing dictatorial powers. Just as the United
States believed it had the right to control the internal affairs--the
politics and economics--of other countries, so too was Nixon trying
to control the internal affairs of the United States. If Nixon had
succeeded in his efforts to neutralize his domestic enemies he would
have become just like one of the dictators that the United States
supported in Third World countries. Just as Nixon and other President
believed that only strong, authoritarian rulers could govern and
protect backward peoples, President Nixon was on the verge of becoming
such a ruler himself. Let's now look as his larger "plan"
to amass such power by destroying his domestic enemies.
By 1970, Nixon had concluded that the
Democratic party and its leaders were a threat to the nation because
they were challenging his Presidency. Nixon believed that because
he was the President, and he knew what was best for the nation,
he must be re-elected President and his Democratic opponents neutralized.
In effect, Nixon tried to rig the 1972 national election to make
sure he was re-elected President. Nixon and his top aides drew up
an elaborate plan to divide the Democratic Party, sow dissension
between the top Democratic candidates for President, and ensure
that the weakest Democratic candidate was nominated, which would
guarantee that Nixon would be re-elected. Nixon, his aides, and
his Internal Security Division were largely successful at neutralizing
the Democratic candidates for President in 1972.
In 1971, according to Nixon aide, Patrick
Buchanan, their primary objective was to "prevent Muskie from
sweeping the early primaries." Nixon's people felt that Senator
Muskie was the greatest political threat to Nixon's re-election.
Nixon's men hired agent to infiltrate the Democratic candidates
campaign, steal documents, bug phones, spread slanderous and false
stories, and undermine their candidates' character. These agents
sent false memos on campaign stationary accusing their Democratic
opponents of adultery, homosexuality, drunkenness, and consorting
with prostitutes. They also called press conferences and set up
meetings with prominent political groups and didn't tell their candidates,
so that the press and these groups would think they had been slighted.
In addition, they threw smoke buns at Press conferences, created
and sold derogatory bumper stickers, and even hired a woman to run
outside of Muskie's hotel room naked, shouting "I love Muskie."
As you can imagine all these mysterious activities soon took their
toll on the candidates. Everything seemed to being going wrong for
their campaigns, and they just couldn't figure out why. Nixon's
agents planted false news stories in a New Hampshire newspaper accusing
Muskie's wife of being an alcoholic, being a lewd woman, and slandering
French Canadians. This was the last straw for Muskie, he was furious.
He called a press conference and couldn't control his anger and
began to cry. This ruined his chances to be elected President, because
the press and the media accused him of being unstable. If they only
knew what was really going on.
After getting rid of Muskie, Nixon's
agents focused on undermining the campaigns of Humphrey, Jackson,
and Bayh. As Patrick Buchanan again wrote: "We must do as little
as possible at this time to impede McGovern's rise." In fact,
Nixon and his Republican agents actually succeeded in helping McGovern
win the Democratic nomination for President. They then ran against
McGovern, charging that he was a dangerous radical who supported
"abortion, amnesty, and acid." But Nixon's men didn't
stop with destroying all the Democratic candidates but McGovern.
They were now becoming really cocky and aggressive.
Nixon wanted to make sure that he was
re-elected, so his men now targeted the Democratic Party and the
Democratic Convention. They drew up plans to wiretap the convention,
bug the hotel rooms, bug prominent Democrat's phones, and steal
campaign documents. In May 1972, one of Nixon's team went into the
Democratic National headquarters in the Watergate building and planted
bugs on all the phones and copied and stole campaign documents.
But by mid-June one of the bugs they had planted had stopped working,
so they sent in a team to replace the bug and steal more documents.
But this time, on June, 17, 1972, Nixon's men were caught. Five
men were charged with breaking into Democratic headquarters and
two other men were caught inside the Watergate building and also
charged. President Nixon now had a real problem: How could he explain
the fact that seven men who worked on his campaign to re-elect the
President (CREEP) were caught breaking into Democratic Party headquarters?
On June, 23, 1972, Richard Nixon ordered
a cover-up of the Watergate break-in, telling John Mitchell, the
attorney general of the United States:
"I don't give a shit what happens,
I want you to stonewall it...save the plan."
Throughout the summer of 1972, President
Nixon and his top aides tried to use all the powers of the government
they could to undermine the investigation into the Watergate scandal.
Despite the fact that some of his own campaign workers were in jail
facing felony charges, Nixon was able to get re-elected in a landslide.
But, as we now know, Nixon's election was in fact rigged; through
illegal dirty tricks Nixon had ensured his own re-election. The
1972 election was in no way a free and fair election.
From the summer of 1972 on, President
Nixon and his top aides were conspiring to derail the Congress's
and the court's investigation into the illegal actions committed
by the President and his men. They raised millions of dollars of
illegal hush money to try to buy the silence of the Watergate burglars.
They tried to use the CIA to force the FBI and the Justice Department
to end their investigations into Watergate. They destroyed and altered
government documents and the tapes that Nixon had made of all his
conversations in the White House. But Congress and the courts persisted
in their investigations.
Faced with the determination of Congress
and the courts, Nixon tried to find someone to become the scapegoat,
someone to admit that all these criminal activities were their fault
and no one else's. At first, Nixon wanted James McCord, a former
CIA agent and Nixon counterintelligence agent, now languishing in
jail because he was caught in the Watergate break-in, to take the
fall, admitting that it was all a top-secret CIA conspiracy. But
when McCord refused and started to talk to investigators to save
himself from a long prison term, Nixon then looked to John Dead
to become the scapegoat. When Dean refused, declaring that if he
was going down he would take Nixon's top aides Ehrlichman and Hadelman
with him, Nixon then tried to get Ehrlichman and Hadelman to become
the scapegoats. He forced them to resign in April 1973, hoping that
this would stop the investigations. But it didn't, facing long prison
terms Nixon's top aides began to talk to Congress and investigators
about the larger criminal conspiracy organized from the White House.
Faced with increasing pressure, President
Nixon fired the special government prosecutor, Archibald Cox, who
was hired to investigate the Watergate scandal. After Nixon fired
Cox, millions of Americans concluded that he was in fact guilty.
Faced with this increasing scandal, President Nixon in November
1973 gave a speech in which he declared that "I am not a crook."
He hoped that by stating that he wasn't a crook, and getting the
charges out in the open, that Americans would believe him. After
all, if he was a crook, would he call attention to the face by declaring
he wasn't a crook?
But Nixon was faced with additional
problems. In October 1973, his Vice President, Spiro Agnew, was
forced to resign from office after admitting that he took bribes
while in office. Agnew's resignation forced Nixon to appoint a new
Vice President. Faced with the increasing threat of impeachment,
Nixon tried to find someone to be his Vice President that Congress
would not trust to be President. If they didn't want an incompetent
to be President, Nixon hoped, they would not force him to resign
from office. In October 1973 Nixon appointed Congressmen Gerald
Ford as his Vice President. According to one of his top aides: "Nixon
picked Ford because the Congress knew Ford so well that they would
never impeach Nixon if it meant Ford would become President."
Ford was thus Nixon's impeachment insurance.
However, by the summer of 1974, Nixon
was under increasing pressure to resign as President. The Supreme
Court ruled that he must turn over all the tapes he made of his
conversations in the White House. After hearing the first batch
of these tapes, the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach President
Nixon for crimes committed against the American people. The tapes
clearly implicated Nixon as the leader of the Watergate criminal
conspiracy. Faced with the realization that the House would impeach
him and that the Senate would find him guilty of crimes and force
him from office, President Nixon resigned the Presidency in August
But the Watergate scandal didn't end
there. In early September 1974, President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon
for all crimes committed while President. With this pardon, Nixon
would not be tried and forced to go to jail for the crimes he committed.
Ford claimed he was pardoning Nixon for the "good of the American
people," believing that Americans were already too traumatized
by the Watergate scandal to endure a formal trial of former-President
Nixon. But many Americans rejected Ford's argument for pardoning
Nixon; they thought that in return for the Presidency Ford had agreed
to pardon Nixon. It seemed to many that Ford's pardon was just another
part of the larger criminal conspiracy of Watergate. In fact, we
know today that Nixon's aides talked to Ford's aides and received
some assurances that Ford would pardon Nixon before Nixon appointed
him as Vice President. So Ford's pardon probably was just another
part of this larger criminal conspiracy.
In 1977, former-President Nixon gave
a TV interview with David Frost trying to justify the crimes he
committed as President. Just as he had during office, Nixon defended
himself and argued that the crimes he committed and actions he took
were necessary to protect the nation. Nixon argued that America
was at war in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and as a result America
was torn apart, and he took the actions he did to save America.
Just as Lincoln took extraordinary actions during Civil War, Nixon
argued, so too was he forced to take extraordinary actions to save
the nation from the divisions and anger created by the Vietnam War.
Nixon concluded that sometimes crimes committed by the President
in the name of "preserving the nation" are necessary and
are in fact not crimes. By watching Nixon during these interviews
we can see once again that Nixon his confusing himself and his own
Presidency with the health and the security of the Nation. Nixon's
own paranoia and inability to distinguish between his self and the
nation helped destroy his Presidency and undermine American's faith
and trust in their government.
But Americans still haven't gotten
over the Watergate scandal. In that last few years, more and more
of the President's Watergate tapes were forced to be released to
the public. These tapes once again remind Americans of the vicious
criminal that President Nixon became. For a look at some of this
recent material, see the Watergate
Coverup surfaces in newly public tapes and internet
sites. When all these tapes are finally released, and President
Nixon is revealed to be the criminal he was, the American people
will be forced to conclude that he was the most corrupt and criminal
politician in American history.