by Ron Kenner
American Reporter Correspondent
September 28, 2007
IT WAS BEGINNING OF THE END FOR NIXON'S PRESIDENCY
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Thirty-four years ago, Sept. 24, 1973, marked the beginning of the endgame of the presidency of Richard M. Nixon, the only president to resign the office.
On that day in 1974, President Nixon's lawyers filed a significant brief with Judge John J. Sirica, Chief Judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia -- which Sirica would soon reject. The brief sought a summary judgment to let Nixon avoid providing Sen. Sam Ervin Watergate committee the now-famous tapes that were secretly recorded Nixon throughout his six years in the Oval Office.
The same week, on Sept. 28, Watergate committee lawyers filed a brief arguing that Nixon had no right to withhold possible evidence of his own wrongdoing.
A day later, a spokesman for Nixon announced that two of the nine most controversial Watergate tapes were missing, apparently including the one with an 18-minute "gap" that became the focus of controvery for the next 20 years.
Several days later, on Oct. 1, a young Nixon campaign employee, Donald Segretti - charged with three misdemeanors that came to be known as the "dirty tricks" - during the 1972 Florida Democratic primary - pleaded guilty before Federal District Judge Gerhard A. Gessell in Washington. In exchange for limited immunity, Segretti was ordered to testify before the Watergate grand jury and Sam Ervin hearings on the break-in of Democratic National Committee offices at the posh Watergate Hotel in Washington. He agrred.
That same day, Oct. 1, as part of an inquiry into the "plumbers;" break-in at the Beverly Hills office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis J. Fielding, a Los Angeles grand jury transcript of top Nixon aide John Ehrlichman's testimony was released.
That was yet another major blow to the President's desperate effort to stay in office, as the transcripts revealed that Ehrlichman told the grand jury that Nixon had authorized covert tactics and had actively supervised the "plumbers," an ersatz group of former CIA people, would-be commandoes and Cuban-American security "experts" that worked out of a basement office in the White House and reported directly to the Erlichman and other top aides.
Of course, the "plumbers" were trying to plant a bug in the psychiatrist's office to dig up any dirt on Ellsberg, the Defense Dept. consultant who had stolen and copied the Pentagon Papers. They had also tried to plant a "bug" in the Democratic campaign offices in Watergate, but were arrested at the Watergate Hotel - not by the FBI or police but thanks to an alert night watchman. Later Nixon would claim that the inciodent was nothing more than "a third-rate burglary."
It would take almost another year before Nixon resigned, but his presidency was rolling downhill fast, picking up momentum with every one of many new scandals involving high-level Nixon Administration figures.
On Oct. 10, 1973, came the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew, a former Baltimore County administrator and later Governor of Maryland who was popular with political conservatives and among GOP fundraisers fior his rousing speeches and highly alliterative phrases - he called liberals "natterin nabobs of negativism," for instance, and Vietnam War protestors "merchants of hate" and the press "an effete corps of impudent snobs."
Agnew resigned after pleading no contest to a single charge of failing to report a $29,500 bribe he received in 1967 on his income tax. He had been under investigation for months by the U.S. attorney in Baltimore, allegedly for taking payoffs from engineers who sought contracts from him as a Baltimore county executive but actually made the payments when he was elected governor.
On Oct. 12, President Nixon appointed a new Vice President, the popular and respected House Minority Leader, Rep. Gerald R. Ford, of Grand Rapids, Mich. He became President when Nixon announced his resignation in a tearful speech to White House workers on Aug. 9, 1974, and shortly afterwards made New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller his Vice-President.
There should have been a law - and there still isn't one - that a sitting President cannot appoint a Vice President who might later pardon him. But pardon me, for asking.
AR Correspondent Ron Kenner, a book editor based in Los Angeles, has edited a number of prize-winning books. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.