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Nixon with Haldeman, Kissinger, and Ehrlichman - photo: White House

After the Oval Office speech, Nixon retreated to his private quarters to wait for the telephone calls that typically followed his TV appearances. Bob Haldeman was the first to get through. Nixon was tired, distraught and may have been drinking. His speech was slurred.

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President Nixon: Hello?

Bob Haldeman: Hi.

RMN: I hope I didn't let you down.

BH: No, sir. You got your points over, and now you've got it set right and move on. You're right where you ought to be.

RMN: Well, it's a tough thing, Bob, for you and for John and the rest, but, Goddamn it, I'm never going to discuss the son-of-a-bitching Watergate thing again-never, never, never, never. Don't you agree?

BH: Yes, sir. You've done it now, and you've laid out your position. You've laid out-you've taken your steps.

RMN: But let me say you're a strong man, Goddamnit, and I love you.

BH: Well-

RMN: And, you know, I love John and all the rest, and, by God, keep the faith. Keep the faith. You're going to win this son of a bitch.

BH: Absolutely....

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After telling Bob Haldeman, "I love you like a brother," President Nixon took several more post-speech calls the night of April 30, 1973.

Secretary of State William Rogers called at 10:20 pm. Nixon fished for compliments.

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William Rogers: ...I thought it was superb. I don't know how you-I don't see how you could have done it any better. I think it's the best delivery I've ever seen you give. I thought the delivery-

President Nixon: What parts of it did you like, Bill?

WR: Oh, I liked all of it. I just thought it was great. I, ah-

RMN: You didn't mind the God bless America? That was my intuition at the last. I just sort of felt that way.

WR: No. I thought it was-I thought it was great. I suppose some of the, you know, Christ, the editorial writers may not like it, but the public is going to love it. That's what counts. And I thought the whole tone couldn't have been better. I didn't think it was-I didn't think it had any rough spots in it. I didn't think that you had any sackcloth and ashes or anything of that kind. No, I thought it was superb. I-I couldn't improve on it. I just thought it was great. Adele was watching.

RMN: What did Adele think?

WR: She thought the same thing. She thought it was critical.

RMN: She's a smart woman. You married a smarter wife than you are, you know, like I did.

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Evangelist Billy Graham, long a confidential advisor to U.S. presidents, called that night.

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President Nixon: ...I had to tell Haldeman and Ehrlichman to resign, which they wouldn't do voluntarily, and that was tough.

Billy Graham: Well, your sincerity, your humility, your asking for prayer, all of that had a tremendous impact.

RMN: Do you really think so, Billy?

BG: I really-I'm telling you the truth, and I'm not trying to just encourage you. I know you get all that. But I really mean it.

RMN: Well, that's good of you, Billy. You've been a friend...

In his speech, Nixon announced that Attorney General Richard Kleindienst was resigning to avoid a potential conflict of interest with the Watergate investigations. The president announced that his defense secretary, Elliot Richardson, would take the post. Richardson called the president at 10:34 pm. (Richardson resigned six months later rather than follow Nixon's order to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox).

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Elliot Richardson: And I won't let you down Mr. President.

President Nixon: Oh, I know that. I know that. That's why I named you. [Laughter]

ER: Well I gotta say that uh, I [pause]

RMN: Go ahead.

ER: I have the feeling that I think I can do it right. I really do.

RMN: Of course you can. Of course you can. Elliot, the one thing they're going to be hitting you on is about the special prosecutor.

ER: Yeah.

RMN: The point is, I'm not sure you should have one. I'm not sure but what you should say you assume the responsibility for the prosecution and maybe bring that nice fellow [first name unknown] Hastings or whatever his name is, say he's-but whatever you want. Good God, if you want, you know, to exhume [one Chief Justice] Charles Evans Hughes, do it, you know. I don't mind. [Laughter]

ER: Okay. Well, I'm thinking about it, and I met with Henry Petersen this afternoon.

RMN: Right.

ER: And I talked with him about it, and I'll think about it some more.

RMN: Do what you want, and I'll back you to the hilt. I don't give a damn what you do, I am for you. Do you understand? Get to the bottom of this sonofabitch.

ER: I do.

RMN: All right, Elliot.

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In this call at 11:04 pm, Hobart D. Lewis, Reader's Digest editor-in-chief and the president's friend, suggested Nixon would miss his closest aides, Haldeman and Erlichman.

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President Nixon: And they are great men.

Hobart D. Lewis: Of course they are.

RMN: But I had to do it.

HDL: Well, you're going to miss them.

RMN: Oh, well, the hell with missing them. I can-you can fill any position, Hobe.

HDL: Sure. Nevertheless, it was the only thing to do, just the only thing to do.

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Finally, presidential aide Charles Colson called at 11:24 pm. Colson was involved in many of Nixon's political dirty tricks, including a break-in at the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. Ellsberg had leaked the Pentagon Papers to news organizations, and the White House "plumbers" were supposed to stop leaks.

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President Nixon: ...Incidentally, on this-you know, all this business about, you know, the Plumbers operation, good God, that's totally justified, isn't it?

Charles Colson: Yes, sir.

RMN: Or is it?

CC: Well, I don't think there's any doubt about it. I don't intend to talk about it. They-I don't think they can make me, because that's, at least what I know about it, it's a national security operation, and Ehrlichman talked to me about that some time ago, and that was something that I wouldn't, I wouldn't discuss. I wouldn't have any reason to discuss it.

RMN: Right. You just say-but you say, "Look, we were protecting the security of this country."

CC: That's right.

RMN: Right, OK Chuck.

CC: Hell if they want to-well, God bless you, Mr. President.

RMN: Well, God bless you and keep your faith, boy.

CC: Mine's with you, Sir.

RMN: Fine.

CC: And the country's is, Mr. President.

Though Richard Nixon vowed to keep fighting, he later said the presidency lost all joy for him on the night of April 30, 1973.

"Within a couple of days of forcing out Haldeman and Ehrlichman he realizes that he will not be finishing out his term because now he is -according to Shakespeare - naked to his enemies," Stanley Kutler says. Kutler continues, "Haldeman and Ehrlichman were his chief line of defense. They are gone. There is no one there now but Nixon. What he doesn't know at that moment is that there is, within the confines of his office, the evidence that will incriminate him and force his resignation-- namely, the tapes."

On May 17, 1973 the U.S. Senate began its investigative hearings on Watergate. They were broadcast live across the nation. On July 16, former White House aide Alexander Butterfield broke the news: President Nixon had a secret taping system.

Nixon immediately pulled the plug, and no more recordings were made. Over the next months, the president lost a battle with Watergate investigators to keep his tapes private. Their revelations ultimately forced him to resign on August 8, 1974.

When Vice President Gerald Ford took over, he had the recording system removed. To public knowledge, that was the end of secret taping in the White House.


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