From here on out, my write-ups on volume 2 of Richard Nixon’s memoirs will most likely focus on the Watergate scandal, for, as I glance at the remainder of the book, that appears to be the main subject. There may be some exceptions to that, though, for Nixon also comments every now and then about foreign affairs. I will try to make my posts diverse, however, rather than rehashing the same details about Watergate.
For today’s post, I’d like to use as my starting-point an interaction that Nixon discusses on page 320. My quotation will appear rather elliptical, but I’ll provide context for it, without getting too wonky:
“As for the payments up to this time, I said that our cover story was going to be that the Cuban committee had taken care of the defendants through the election.
“‘Well, yeah. We can put that together,’ [White House counsel John] Dean said. ‘That isn’t of course quite the way it happened, but—-‘
“‘I know, but it’s the way it’s going to have to happen,’ I said.”
The context is this: Nixon aide Bob Haldeman told Nixon about something that Dean had discussed with him (Haldeman). $350,000 of cash had been taken from 1972 campaign funds to “help pay for such political projects as public polling” (Nixon on page 310). When that money was not used, Haldeman reported, it was returned to the Committee to Re-Elect the President. But Dean later told Nixon a different story: that he (Dean), Haldeman, and John Ehrlichman did not return the money unused to the Committee to Re-Elect the President, but rather drew from it to “make payments to the [Watergate] defendants” (Nixon on page 315). Later in the book, on page 355, Nixon says that he did not think that Haldeman and Ehrlichman were trying to “suppress information based on firsthand knowledge of guilt”, that is, to give the defendants payments in order to silence them “about the guilty involvement of others”; rather, Nixon believes that Haldeman and Ehrlichman were paying the attorney fees of the defendants and helping out the defendants’ families so that the defendants wouldn’t become bitter and hurl accusations.
So, on page 320, Nixon narrates that he agreed with Dean that Dean, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman used money to make payments to the Watergate defendants. The story that Nixon wanted to tell, however, was that a Cuban committee helped out the defendants (perhaps because most of those who broke into the Watergate hotel were Cubans). Nixon, according to his very own account, desired to tell a story that he did not believe was true. He sought to lie (my word, not his).
It’s interesting to me that Nixon in his very own account does not come off smelling like a rose in the Watergate scandal. Nixon essentially says that he was going to release a story that he knew was not true, which I understand to be lying. Why was Nixon so candid? While Nixon in his memoirs does present some of the shady things that he did, he also, on some level, tries to exonerate himself. He denies that he was aiming to obstruct justice, for example. Perhaps he hoped that we would see him as an honest narrator of what truly happened: if we could accept that he was honest on the basis of his candid acknowledgements of the shady things that he did, perhaps we’d believe what he says when he defends himself.