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The Last of the Watergate Tapes Show Just How Weasely Nixon Was

Nixon's public declarations and his private communications were a bundle of contradictions.

smithsonian.com

The last of the secret Watergate tapes that will be made public—released Wednesday and covering April 9 to July 12, 1973—show that former president Richard Nixon spent his final days in the Oval Office multitasking. One minute he was promising transparency to the American public; the next he was begging his allies to keep some details of the emerging scandal hush-hush, the New York Times reports.

Nixon’s public declarations and his private communications were a bundle of contradictions. For example:

Just hours after a national address promising “no whitewash” of Watergate, President Richard M. Nixon privately urged his new attorney general not to appoint a special prosecutor and suggested that a former aide avoid questions by asserting national security.

On the same night he pushed out top aides and gave his first speech on the episode, Nixon stayed up late making and taking a series of phone calls that planted the seeds for further cover-up.

Nixon also made a point of talking with Elliot L. Richardson, his choice to take over as attorney general. In the prime-time speech, Nixon told Americans that he had granted Mr. Richardson “the authority to name a special supervising prosecutor.” But now on the phone, he privately told Mr. Richardson not to do so.

These are just a few snippets of the 340 hours of secret tapes most recently released, the Times writes. While these “top-secret, obscenity-filled, blunt conversations” reveal Nixon’s conniving tendencies towards self-preservation over honesty, they are also an unparalleled treasure trove of information for historians.

While these are the last secret tapes the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum plans to release, Nixon fans and opponents alike can look forward to 2026, when a batch of secret personal papers kept by a chief justice on the Watergate scandal will be released.

More from Smithsonian.com:

When Nixon’s Troubles Began 
Nine Historical Archives That Will Spill New Secrets

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