Sunday, March 17, 2013

Why Nixon Did Not Destroy the Tapes

Nixon releasing tape transcripts (Photo: pimall.com)
One of the enduring mysteries of the Watergate scandal has been the reason why Nixon did not destroy the tapes containing incriminating conversations against him. Thanks to the astute analysis of Gary Allen, we know the answer – Nixon simply was not in a position to destroy them.

Even special prosecutor Leon Jaworski admitted that without the tapes, he had no case against Nixon. This statement comes from a man who fabricated evidence and suborned perjury to convict an innocent man of murder during World War 2. Jaworski’s case was so foul that years later a review board would castigate it as a gross miscarriage of justice .
The common argument at the time of Watergate was that had Nixon destroyed the tapes, he would have saved his presidency, even at the risk of a dark cloud hanging over his administration for the remainder of its term. Without evidence there is no case. The predicate of the argument is false. It assumes that Nixon had full control over the taping system which he did not.

The two key figures to understanding the taping fiasco, which started when Alexander Butterfield, White House liaison to the Secret Service and CIA informant or agent, casually but oh so deliberately mentioned the tapes to the Senate Watergate committee in July 1973, are Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig.
Kissinger established the plumbers after agitating Nixon incessantly about leaks, a situation which was exacerbated by the staged Pentagon Papers leaks, a report drier than saw dust and about 5 years old by the time CIA operatives leaked it. But it’s the principle of the thing, as the old saying goes.

Kissinger’s paranoia was not restricted to hiring the CIA Plumbers. He installed extensive wiretaps on all of his staff and several journalists, a fact known at the time of Watergate but never once reported in the major press. Kissinger skated through Watergate without a singed hair – something which was not accidental.
Butterfield was in charge of the taping system which had been installed in the White House at the suggestion of Lyndon Johnson when Nixon assumed office. Our recollection is that it did not become operational until around 1971, with an improvised system in place in the mean time. In any event, the system in place at the time of Watergate was transparent in that it was voice activated and operated without Nixon’s involvement. Butterfield monitored Nixon’s movements and conversations from his White House office.

In addition to much of the foregoing analysis, Gary Allen presented two compelling explanations about Nixon’s inaction over the tapes, neither of which has anything to do with Nixon greed or vanity, both of which are common explanations. Allen suggests that Nixon did not have control of the tapes and that there were multiple copies of them, meaning that destruction of one tape would still leave others available. And not knowing their locations, the task becomes like trying to stomp out cockroaches.
This is where Alexander Haig, the man who butchered Nixon without the latter having a clue, comes in. Allen points out that the investigating staffs seemed to know exactly where in the many miles of tapes all of the incriminating evidence was. The only people with such access were Butterfield, Haig, and Robert H. Taylor, the secret service chief whom Bob Haldeman fired and who later went to work for Nelson Rockefeller as head of his security. But Haig and Butterfield were colleagues from previous assignments. Thus when Butterfield left the White House, Haig became the keeper of the tapes archives.

Apparently Haig, with advice from Butterfield, fed the precise location - down to the second - of the damning evidence to the Watergate Committee and Special Prosecutor. There is no way in the world anyone could have traversed those tapes and made sense of them in so short a period of time without knowledgeable help which Haig was only too happy to provide. Even today, we still do not have all of the tapes transcribed.
Nixon was a caged animal trapped by men who were supposed to be working for him, but who were in fact working for their true boss, Nelson Rockefeller. The implications of Nixon's downfall are staggering, but a topic we will continue to cover in future postings.

Reference
Gary Allen, Rockefeller File, 1976

Copyright 2013 Tony Bonn. All rights reserved.

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