Nixon vs. The Truth

The Claim: LBJ bugged Nixon’s campaign plane in 1968

“The F.B.I. was at one point directed (by President Lyndon Johnson) to bug my plane.” FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover “once told me that they did.”

The Real Story: Nixon was not bugged.

Nixon authority John Hughes of the Miller Center writes: “After the election, Director J. Edgar Hoover told Nixon that Johnson had ordered the FBI not only to wiretap (Nixon operative Anna) Chennault, but also to bug the Republican candidate’s plane. Hoover was, as his deputy, Cartha “Deke” DeLoach, later wrote, ‘embellishing.’ The FBI never did bug Nixon’s plane.”

David Greenberg

DavidGreenbergProfessor at Rutger’s University 

“I guess the way I would put it is there’s a certain grandiosity to Nixon.  He always had this enormous ego that was paired with enormous insecurity—which is often in the case with people in great power.

This irony with Nixon is that as much thought and energy he puts into the performance, he’s actually pretty bad at it and people can seethrough it. He comes across as transparent and phony. He’s trying to be so smart with these prosecutors. Who’s he fooling really?”  (International Business Times)

Stanley Kutler

31kutler2-190Watergate Historian, author of “The Wars of Watergate,” and guest lecturer at our Watergate class

“If you know the voice of Richard Nixon, it’s a virtuoso performance—from the awkward attempts at humor to the moments of self-pity.  It’s just terrific stuff.” (New York Times)

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“Judge Lamberth is a very conservative man; he’s a Republican but you won’t know what he’s going to do … He points out grand jury minutes are secret, but there are exceptions and he discusses them in terms of the law … It turns out he’s a Watergate buff.”  (International Business Times)

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“This doesn’t reverse or change or undermine anything that we’ve already known about Richard Nixon.  This was a blow against official secrecy.”  (International Business Times)

Tim Naftali

 220px-Timothy_Naftali_2012_04Director of the Nixon Library from 2007-2011

“The grand jury testimony sheds more light on President Nixon’s personality and character than it does on the remaining puzzles of Watergate.  Even under the protections of grand jury secrecy, which was inviolate at that point, the president, it appears, was unwilling to be more forthright about his role in what the House Judiciary Committee determined were abuses of government power.”  (New York Times)

Associated Press

“(Historians) were determined to bring to light all facets of that extraordinary episode of presidential disgrace. The fact that the testimony was released counted for more than its contents, they said, because it helps establish a precedent for lifting the veil of secrecy over grand jury proceedings when matters of great historical significance are involved.”

More Commentary

Below are links to articles we recommend about Nixon’s grand jury testimony, Watergate and Nixon in general.

Newly Released Transcripts Show a Bitter and Cynical Nixon in ’75,” New York Times, Nov. 10, 2011:

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Nixon’s testimony: The grand jury prosecutor recalls a tormented president on the stand,” Washington Post blog; Nov. 11, 2011:

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Nixon testimony: 18 1/2-minute gap an accident,” Politico, Nov. 10, 2011:

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Nixon shed no light on tape gap to grand jury,” Associated Press (USA Today) Nov. 10, 2011:

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The Center for Public Integrity:  The White House:  Profiles in Patronage:

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New York Times, Times Topics:  Richard Milhous Nixon:

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The Washington Post, “The Watergate Story.

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Watergate:  The Mary Ferrell Foundation:

Alex Kreger

Nixon Grand Jury Testimony

Many assumed that the former President Nixon would tell the truth in his Grand Jury Testimony, and take the opportunity to attempt to regain some of the honor he had lost in the drawn out Watergate Saga. However, I believe that these people misread Nixon and assumed that he wanted the Grand Jury, and eventually the general public, to know the truth when Nixon really wanted to continue to cover his tracks. From his antics we can learn important lessons about the limits of power and the power of the Constitution to punish those in power that act unethically.

What I found to be most interesting in the reports on the Grand Jury Testimony was the contradiction between the quote that began the page, that Watergate “should have warned us of the vital purposes of politics and government… the warning stands,” and Avi McClelland’s note that “reporting on the release of the Grand Jury testimony, Fox News stated that ‘On Watergate, Nixon reaffirmed what historians now generally believe: that he did not order the infamous break-in that triggered his fall from power, and did not have any advance knowledge that it would be carried out.’” The hope of many historians and Nixon scholars is that people will recall the Watergate Saga as a lesson on both the effectiveness of the Constitution and as a reminder to other politicians that may want to subvert the law as President Nixon did. We hope that the warning does actually stand. However, as McClelland’s note demonstrates, Nixon’s claims do still have some power in society, despite that they have been proven false over and over again. In fact, major news networks such as Fox have carried stories that completely miss the important lessons of the Nixon testimony.

As multiple accounts of the testimony from nixondetached.org demonstrate, the President didn’t really clear up anything in his testimony. On the contrary, for the majority of the tape, “he wandered and filibustered all over the map.” I don’t believe that this was because Nixon couldn’t keep track of his thoughts or was accidentally wandering in his speech. Instead, it seems that Nixon used wandering speech as simply another tact to hide the truth from the members of the Grand Jury. As Joel Antwi points out, Nixon wasted time as a way to obstruct the truth further, and so he could control the conversation and the subject of discussion. Nixon also effectively “claims not to remember anything that happened during his administration.” By simply asserting that he could not recall any information, the President continued to cheat the Grand Jury and the American People of the truth.

This makes it even harder to understand how Fox News’s major take away from the release of the Nixon Grand Jury Testimony was that it vindicated President Nixon. However, they weren’t the only news agency that did not cover the story the way I think it should have been. In fact, other news agencies, including The Washington Post, failed to cover the story of the release of the tapes in any depth, as Palak Gosar and Julianne Martin point out. This highlights just how important it is for historians and Nixon scholars to continue to teach about the wrongdoings of the Nixon Administration. There are very important lessons on the limits of power that should be learned from the Watergate Saga that every American should know and remember. Only by truly understanding the Nixon Testimony, and the actions Nixon took as President, can we effectively stop such actions from taking place again.