Monday, July 13, 2009

The Smoking Gun

The original "smoking gun" was discovered on this day in 1973 when White House aide Alexander Butterfield revealed that President Nixon tape recorded every word spoken in the Oval Office. When the transcripts were finally delivered to the senate committee, America learned that quite a few of those words were profanities, mixed in with racist abuse, ethnic slurs, vindictiveness and offhand paranoia. More importantly, everyone learned that the Watergate break-in had been ordered and subsequently covered up inside the White House.

The crucial conversation appeared to have been lost during a moment of gymnastic transcription and erasure by Nixon's loyal secretary, Rose Mary Woods, which she subsequently demonstrated for press photographers.

Just a year earlier Nixon had been enjoying his great foreign policy triumphs, visiting China and the Soviet Union, and cruising toward re-election. At the same time, his secret team of former spooks were planning their inept invasion of the Watergate offices of the Democratic Party chairman. Nixon had risen fast, becoming a young vice president at 40, losing a close race to JFK at age 47, then rebounding to win just as narrowly over Hubert Humphrey when he was 55. Nixon is our own Richard III, the complex, fascinating villain and hero ultimately undone by his own proclivities. Watergate became his defining moment. Nixon appears 12 times in A Book of Ages. Rose Mary Woods appears twice, as does loyal henchman, enabler and muse Henry Kissinger.

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