Did Richard Nixon get drunk after famous 1973 Watergate speech?
Ronald Reagan’s call to embattled president reveals rambling words and
slurring speech revealed on newly-released tapes
- The tapes include intimate discussions between President Richard Nixon, his aides and his colleagues in politics regarding the Watergate scandal
- He defiantly declares to Kissinger that he will not resign over the scandal that ultimately ended his presidency
- Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush called Nixon after his April 1973 speech on Watergate to show their support
- Of his adviser Leonard Garment, Nixon said: ‘Goddamn his Jewish soul!’
- The fascinating recordings were made public today by the National Archives and Records Administration today
- Some 3,700 hours of taped conversations were released spanning February 1971 and July 1973
On April 30, 1973, Richard Nixon admitted to the nation that the Watergate scandal that had tainted his administration and undermined confidence in the White House.
Later that night, the embattled president was strangely high-spirited when he took a call from then-California Governor Ronald Reagan. The recording, which reveals Nixon rambling and at times slurring his words, has led some to suggest that the president got drunk after his national Watergate speech.
Nixon greets Reagan’s phone call with the upbeat response that he ‘couldn’t be better.’
The California governor offers his support for his fellow native Californian, and Nixon responds by complimenting Reagan on his wife, Nancy.
Give my greatest love to Nancy – How-How’d you ever marry such a pretty girl? My God!’ Nixon said.
‘I’m lucky,’ Reagan, clearly slightly uncomfortable, says.
Steve Scully, the political editor for C-SPAN, was the one of the first observers to point out Nixon’s strange manner, asking ‘Was the president drinking?’
Mediaite ponders whether Nixon was ‘wasted’ on the phone call.
The fascinating conversation was just one excerpt from audio recordings that were made public last week by the National Archives and Records Administration. They capture some 3,700 hours of taped conversations between February 1971 and July 1973, with the most interesting of those containing conversations about the scandal that did, ultimately, see Nixon’s head roll.
President Nixon is also heard in the tapes, referring to the media as ‘a law to themselves’ with regards to the leaks. ‘Press gets so concerned about this… bugging… why should they be a law to themselves? Why should they have a license to steal?’
The recordings reveal that, in the hours after Nixon delivered a public Watergate address as the scandal exploded, two future presidents called him to express their private support – Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.
The April 30, 1973, calls were captured on a secret recording system that Nixon regularly used to tape discussions with colleagues in Washington as well as his foreign counterparts.
The final chronological installment of those tapes — 340 hours — were made public by the National Archives and Records Administration, along with more than 140,000 pages of text documents. Seven hundred hours remain sealed for national security and privacy reasons.
Reagan, then-California Governor, called late in the evening of April 30 to support Nixon after the 37th president delivered a landmark speech about the Watergate scandal, which was rapidly ensnaring him.
Two top White House staffers and close Nixon confidants, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, had resigned earlier in the day, as well as Attorney General Richard Kleindienst as the scandal picked up speed. White House counsel John W. Dean III was also fired that day.
Reagan told Nixon the speech was the right one to make and sympathized with the staff exodus.
‘I just want you to know, we watched and my heart was with you. I know what this must have been and what this must have been in all these days and what you’ve been through,’ Reagan said.
‘You can count on us, we’re still behind you out here and I wanted you to know that you’re in our prayers.’
Reagon went on: ‘I know how difficult it was, and I know what it must be with the fellows having to do what they did-‘ before Nixon cut him off: ‘That’s right, they had to get out.’
At the end of the call, Reagan added to the President: ‘This too shall pass,’ to which Nixon responded ‘Everything passes.’ But it didn’t.
That same evening, George Bush Sr., who had recently been appointed chairman of the Republican National Committee, called to say he had watched the speech with ‘great pride.’
This time, however, an angry and exhausted-sounding Nixon complained to Bush about the reaction from TV commentators.
‘The folks may understand,’ Nixon said, before adding later: ‘To hell with the commentators.’
Other interesting quotes pulled from the tapes by Nixon biographer John Aloysius Farrell include a conversation between the President and Kissinger in which they discussed what J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI, would have done had he been alive for Watergate.
Kissinger said: ‘If J. Edgar Hoover had been alive he would have handled Watergate for you in a way in which it would never have surfaced.’
To which Nixon replied: ‘Hoover would have had these clowns nailed for misdemeanors and given them a few weeks in the hoosegow and out!’
Kissinger then added: ‘And started blackmailing a few newsmen and this thing would have worked out.’
‘Yeah. He (Hoover) blackmailed,’ Nixon responded.
Of his adviser Leonard Garment, Nixon is heard saying: ‘Goddamn his Jewish soul!’
Wednesday’s tapes also include topics such as Vietnam, energy and a lengthy recording of Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev chatting warmly in the Oval Office before a historic summit in June 1973.
Nixon and Brezhnev met one-on-one with only an interpreter present for an hour on June 18 and chatted about personal topics, including their families.
The conversation happened before the start of a historic seven-day summit that was part of Nixon’s larger strategy of detente with the Soviet Union.
‘We must recognize, the two of us, that … we head the two most powerful nations and, while we will naturally in negotiations have some differences, it is essential that those two nations, where possible, work together,’ Nixon told Brezhnev.
‘If we decide to work together, we can change the world. That’s what — that’s my attitude as we enter these talks.’
The conversation is remarkable because of the camaraderie that is evident, said Luke Nichter of Texas A&M University-Central Texas in Killeen, who runs a website cataloging Nixon’s secret recordings. Both men discuss their children and Brezhnev even talks about his grandson’s attempts to pass college entrance exams.
‘These are Cold War archenemies who are talking like old friends,’ he said. ‘This is very unusual.’
The recordings were released at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda and cover April 9, 1973, to July 12, 1973, the day before the existence of the covert recording system was revealed to a Senate committee probing Watergate.
Previous tape releases show the president as a paranoid man who was not afraid to use bare-knuckle tactics to crush the enemies he saw all around him.
Tapes released in 2009 show, in particular, Nixon’s obsession with the Kennedy family. He considered Ted Kennedy such a political threat, for example, that he ordered surveillance in hopes of catching him in an affair.
Nixon’s second term was quickly overrun by the Watergate scandal, which began in 1972 when burglars tied to his re-election committee broke into the Democratic headquarters to get dirt on his political adversaries.
Faced with impeachment and a possible criminal indictment, Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974 — a little more than a year after the tapes end — and retreated to his native California, where he was pardoned a month later by his successor, Gerald Ford.
The Nixon Foundation released a statement regarding the release of the latest installment of tapes defending his presidency.
‘Today’s release of White House Records from the National Archives offers a classroom on major achievements of the Nixon Presidency,’ the Foundation wrote.