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Impeachment process against Richard Nixon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Impeachment process against Richard Nixon
Nixon's farewell to his cabinet and members of the White House staff - NARA - 194597.tif
President Richard Nixon's farewell speech to White House staff on the morning of August 9, 1974, after his resignation was announced shortly before it became effective.
DateOctober 30, 1973 (1973-10-30) – August 20, 1974 (1974-08-20)
VenueO'Neill House Office Building
LocationWashington, D.C.
CauseWatergate scandal
TargetRichard Nixon, 37th President of the United States
Organized byUnited States House Committee on the Judiciary
Participants38 members of the Judiciary Committee, Peter Rodino, chairman; also, Lead counsel John Doar, Attorney James D. St. Clair, among others
OutcomeResolution containing three articles of impeachment adopted July 30, 1974; resolution became moot August 9, 1974 when President Nixon resigned from office
ChargesAdopted: obstruction of justice, abuse of power, contempt of Congress
Rejected: usurping congressional war powers, tax fraud
On August 20, 1974, the House of Representatives took recognition of the Judiciary Committee's articles of impeachment and of former President Nixon's resignation, officially accepting the committee report and authorizing its printing. This action brought the impeachment process against Richard Nixon to a formal close.[1]

An impeachment process against Richard Nixon began in the United States House of Representatives on October 30, 1973, following the "Saturday Night Massacre" episode of the Watergate scandal. The House Judiciary Committee set up an impeachment inquiry staff and began investigations into possible impeachable offenses by Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States. The process was formally initiated on February 6, 1974, when the House granted its Judiciary Committee authority to investigate whether sufficient grounds existed to impeach President Nixon[2] of high crimes and misdemeanors, primarily related to Watergate. This investigation was undertaken one year after the United States Senate established a select committee to investigate the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and the Nixon Administration's attempted cover-up of its involvement.

Following a subpoena from the Judiciary Committee, in April 1974 edited transcripts of many Watergate-related conversations from the Nixon White House tapes were made public by Nixon, but the committee pressed for full tapes and additional conversations. Nixon refused, but on July 24, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered him to comply. On July 27, 29, and 30, 1974, the Committee approved three articles of impeachment against Nixon, for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress, and reported those articles to the House of Representatives. Two other articles of impeachment were debated but not approved. At this point Congressional leaders believed that there were more than the necessary majority of votes to impeach Nixon in the House and that the number of who would vote to convict him in the Senate was approaching the necessary two-thirds mark.

On August 5, 1974, before the House could vote on the impeachment resolutions, Nixon publicly released a transcript of one of the additional conversations, known as the "Smoking Gun Tape", which made clear his complicity in the cover-up. With his political support completely eroded, Nixon resigned from office on August 9, 1974. It is widely believed that had Nixon not resigned, he would have been impeached by the House and removed from office by a trial before the United States Senate.

Nixon is one of four U.S. presidents who have been the subject of formal impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives. The other three are: Andrew Johnson (in 1868) and Bill Clinton (in 1998), who were impeached but later acquitted after trials in the Senate, and Donald Trump (in 2019), who is the subject of an ongoing impeachment inquiry. To date, the impeachment process against Nixon is the only one to culminate in the departure from office of its target.[3][4]

Pre-Watergate impeachment efforts

On May 9, 1972, Representative William Fitts Ryan (D-NY) submitted a resolution, H.Res. 975, to impeach President Nixon. The resolution was referred to the Judiciary Committee.[5] The next day, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) introduced a similar resolution, H.Res. 976.[6] On May 18, 1972, Conyers introduced his second resolution, H.Res. 989, calling for President Nixon's impeachment. The resolutions, introduced before the break-in at the Watergate complex, were referred to the Judiciary Committee, where they did not progress.[7]

Representative Robert Drinan (D-MA) introduced a resolution calling for the president's impeachment on July 31, 1973, though not for reasons related to the Watergate scandal. Drinan believed that Nixon's authorization of the bombing of Cambodia (recently revealed) was illegal, and as such, constituted a "high crime and misdemeanor".[8] The resolution was received with little enthusiasm by the House Democratic leadership. As House Majority Leader Tip O'Neill later stated,

Morally, Drinan had a good case. But politically, he damn near blew it. For if Drinan's resolution had come up for a vote at the time he filed it, it would have been overwhelmingly defeated – by something like 400 to 20. After that, with most of the members already on record as having voted once against impeachment, it would have been extremely difficult to get them to change their minds later on.[9]

Still, it earned Drinan, who would go on to play an integral role in the subsequent investigation of Nixon administration illegal activities, a place on Nixon's Enemies List.[9]

Early Watergate impeachment efforts

The Watergate scandal began with the June 17, 1972, break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and the Nixon administration's attempted cover-up of its involvement. In January 1973, the burglars each went on trial separately before U.S. District Judge John Sirica; all pleaded or were found guilty. In February, the U.S. Senate voted 77–0 to create a special investigative committee to look into the scandal. The resultant Senate Watergate hearings of May 1973, broadcast gavel-to-gavel nationwide, aroused great public interest. It was during these hearings that the existence of the Oval Office voice-activated taping system became known. Therefore, most of the president's Oval Office conversations were on tape.[10]

Even so, by September 1973 there was a general sense that Nixon had regained some political strength, as the American public had become burned out by the Senate Watergate hearings and Congress was not willing to undertake impeachment absent some major revelation from the Nixon White House tapes or some egregious new action by the president against the investigation.[11]

There was sufficient public and congressional demand for information about impeachment during these months, however, that the Judiciary Committee prepared a 718-page book on the topic. Published in October 1973, it traces the origin of the impeachment power, cites all the instances in which that power had previously been used by Congress and gives a detailed description of Andrew Johnson's 1868 Senate impeachment trial.[12] A second volume, containing additional historical and parliamentary material was published in January 1974.[13]

As inquiries into the Watergate Scandal continued to gain velocity, the president was buffeted by additional allegations of impropriety, including that, since taking office, he had greatly underpaid what he owed the IRS in taxes. Though confidential, Nixon agreed in December 1973 to publicly release his returns covering the years 1969 through 1972. He also asked Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation to examine his personal finances. The committee's report, issued in April 1974, found several problems with Nixon's returns, and stated that he owed $475,431 including interest for unpaid taxes over the four years.[14]

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, President Nixon, vice-presidential nominee Gerald Ford, and White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig in the Oval Office, October 1973

On September 30, 1973, the American Civil Liberties Union became first national organization to publicly call for the president's impeachment and removal from office.[15] Six civil liberties violations were cited as grounds: "specific proved violations of the rights of political dissent; usurpation of Congressional war‐making powers; establishment of a personal secret police which committed crimes; attempted interference in the trial of Daniel Ellsberg; distortion of the system of justice and perversion of other Federal agencies."[16] One month later, after the House of Representatives began an impeachment inquiry against him, the organization released a 56‐page handbook detailing "17 things citizens could do to bring about the impeachment of President Nixon."[17]

Three weeks later, on October 20, the president ordered the firing of Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, precipitating the immediate departures of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus in what became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre".[18] Congressional and public reactions to Nixon's actions were both negative against the president, and momentum towards impeachment grew rapidly as a result.[a]

Demonstrators in Washington demanding that Congress impeach President Nixon, two days after the "Saturday Night Massacre"
Demonstrators in Washington demanding that Congress impeach President Nixon, two days after the "Saturday Night Massacre"

On October 23, 1973, a landslide of resolutions calling for impeachment, impeachment investigations, and appointment of a special prosecutor were introduced against Nixon.[20] The introduction of these resolutions continued for several days, but the Judiciary Committee was reluctant to start a formal investigation, especially with the Vice Presidency vacant after the resignation amid scandal of Spiro Agnew on October 10, 1973.

Overall, as the Watergate scandal developed into a constitutional crisis during 1973, Carl Albert, as Speaker of the House, referred some two dozen impeachment resolutions to the House Judiciary Committee for debate and study.[21]

Impeachment inquiry

Congressman Peter Rodino, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee
Congressman Peter Rodino, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee

Congressional Democrats found themselves under considerable pressure to hold hearings on Nixon's alleged abuse of presidential powers. Representative Peter W. Rodino of New Jersey, a Democrat, had only been Judiciary Chairman for a few months when his committee began to hear the case for Nixon's impeachment. Until the Watergate scandal, Rodino had spent his political career largely below the radar screen. Watergate put Rodino front and center in the political limelight. "If fate had been looking for one of the powerhouses of Congress, it wouldn't have picked me," Rodino told a reporter at the time.[22] But Speaker Albert thought Rodino and his committee had done a fair and thorough job during the confirmation hearings for the vice-presidential nomination of Gerald Ford as Agnew's replacement, and Albert was content for all the impeachment resolutions to go through the Judiciary Committee.[23]

After the Saturday Night Massacre, Rodino began his committee's investigation. On October 30, 1973, the House Judiciary Committee began consideration of the possible impeachment of Richard Nixon.[24] The initial straight party-line votes by a 21–17 margin that established an impeachment inquiry were focused around how extensive the subpoena powers Rodino would have would be.[25]

Over the next two months, as the impeachment investigations began, there was speculation in Washington that Nixon might resign. Despite several attempts to do so, Nixon had not been able to put Watergate behind him, and the momentum of events was against him.[26] At one point during November 1973 he felt forced to say, "People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook."[27] There were rumors in Washington that Nixon was in poor mental and physical shape; in December 1973 Senator Barry Goldwater wrote a private note that said, "I have reason to suspect that all might not be well mentally in the White House. This is the only copy that will ever be made of this; it will be locked in my safe."[28]

The Judiciary Committee set up a staff, the Impeachment Inquiry staff, to handle looking into the charges, that was separate from its regular Permanent staff.[29] Based upon the recommendations of many in the legal community, John Doar, a well-known civil rights attorney in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who was a long-time Republican turned Independent, was hired by Rodino in December 1973 to be the lead special counsel for the Impeachment Inquiry staff.[30] Doar shared with Rodino a view that the Senate hearings had gone overboard with leaked revelations and witnesses compelled to testify under immunity grants; they were determined to do things in a more thorough and objective process.[23]

Albert E. Jenner, Jr. was named in January 1974 as top counsel on the Impeachment Inquiry staff for the Republican minority on the committee.[31]

The four Senior Associate Special Counsels to the Impeachment Inquiry staff were Joseph A. Woods, Jr., Richard Cates, Bernard W. Nussbaum, and Robert D. Sack[32] (who originally served as Associate Special Counsel).

Much research needed to be done, as there had not been an actual impeachment of any kind in the House since that of Judge Halsted L. Ritter in 1936.[33] House Librarian Emanuel Raymond Lewis provided critical historical references to guide the committee in its work.[34]

Impeachment inquiry staff develops the case

On February 6, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee was authorized to launch an impeachment inquiry against the president. The House approved the resolution, which was not a measure of actual impeachment sentiment, 410–4.[7] During the debate over this measure, Chairman Rodino said, "Whatever the result, whatever we learn or conclude, let us now proceed with such care and decency and thoroughness and honor that the vast majority of the American people, and their children after them, will say: This was the right course. There was no other way." House Republican leader John J. Rhodes said that Rodino's vow was "good with me".[35]

The move came one week after Nixon, during his January 30, 1974 State of the Union address, asked for an expeditious resolution to any impeachment proceedings against him, so that the government could function fully effectively again.[36] He told Congress that "one year of Watergate is enough" and asserted that he had no "intention whatever" of resigning.[37]

March 1, 1974, the federal district court grand jury that had been empaneled in July 1972 to investigate the Watergate break-in handed up indictments against seven Nixon aides, including Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell.[38] Moreover, President Nixon named as an "unindicted co-conspirator" in a sealed addendum to their other indictments;[39] news of this action was not revealed to the public until a June 6 report in the Los Angeles Times.[39] As prosecutors informed the grand jury that the Constitution likely prohibited the indictment of an incumbent president, thus making impeachment the only Constitutional way to hold Nixon accountable for his role in the Watergate conspiracy, jurors recommended that that the evidence supporting the criminal case against the president be turned over to the House Judiciary Committee.[40][41] The documentation, which had been gathered by Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski, consisted of a 55-page index that enumerated testimony, tapes, and other items of evidence, but omitted legal analysis and offered no conclusions regarding whether there were impeachable actions in Nixon's behaviors.[42] The action by the grand jury, which was an unprecedented move enabling Jaworski to get around the legal restrictions preventing him from handing the evidence directly to Congress, was challenged in federal court, but permitted to proceed under seal.[42]

The material, which became known as the "Road Map", played a key role in guiding the House Judiciary Committee investigation.[42] Both Rodino and Doar felt that the existing case against Nixon consisted mostly of broad practices of abuse on the part of the administration, but was lacking in specific items that could be tied to direct presidential knowledge or actions. For this, they needed the tapes.[43][b]

Nixon released edited transcripts of White House tapes on April 29, 1974, in an attempt to defuse the demand for the tapes.

On April 11, 1974, by a 33–3 vote, the Judiciary Committee subpoenaed 42 White House tapes of key conversations.[46] A week later, Jaworski also placed subpoenas for tapes, in this case for 64 additional recordings.[46] Nixon initially wanted to refuse these requests completely, but the president's counsel, James D. St. Clair, and other aides said such a stance of complete concealment would not be tenable politically; instead Nixon and his staff embarked on an approach of partial turnover with certain passages edited or removed.[47]

Nixon thus ordered transcripts of the tapes to be prepared. After a cursory inspection of the transcripts, Nixon, shocked at viewing several profanity-laced discussions amongst the White House's inner-circle, ordered that every use of profanity be replaced by "[EXPLETIVE DELETED]".[48]

On April 29, President Nixon appeared on national television to state that he was giving to the Judiciary Committee edited transcripts of the conversations they wanted. Some 1,250 pages of transcripts were made public on April 30, the following day. But the president refused to hand over requested tapes and other documents to Jaworski.[49] Of what was released, Nixon conceded some of it would be embarrassing to him and his administration.[50] Nevertheless, he said that although there were some ambiguous passages, the transcripts as a whole would "tell it all" and vindicate his narrative of his actions in Watergate.[50] The Judiciary Committee, however, rejected Nixon's edited transcripts, saying that they did not comply with the terms of the subpoena.

The transcripts themselves quickly dominated the news and even popular culture landscape. A few newspapers printed the transcripts in full, and two quickly produced paperbacks contained the same, resulting in sale of over a million copies. There were broadcasts on radio and television in which actors played out the transcript, taking the parts of Nixon and the key aides.[51] The phrase "expletive deleted" entered the pop lexicon, found innumerable humorous uses, and soon became a catchphrase of Watergate.[48] Most of all, the transcripts represented a turning point in support for the president, with the crudity of what was revealed beginning the erosion of support among Republicans.[52]

As the impeachment process went on, Nixon attempted to get past it with a pair of diplomatic trips. Here with President of Egypt Anwar Sadat and their wives in June 1974.

Talk of possible impeachment included considerations of how it might affect U.S. foreign relations. During the spring of 1974, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger publicly proclaimed his expectation that the president would neither be impeached nor resign, but privately he worried that the country's ability to deal with foreign problems would be significantly damaged by an impeachment.[53] Kissinger later said this fear manifested itself during Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II) negotiations in April 1974, when the Soviet Union's Foreign Minister, Andrei Gromyko, asked him how the U.S. government would function if impeachment came to pass. Kissinger assessed that the Politburo was unlikely to extend concessions given the uncertainty.[54]

In January 1974, Nixon, anticipating that the House would likely move forward with an impeachment inquiry, wrote in his diary that his main approach to defending against such a move would be to "act like a president" with respect to foreign and domestic duties.[55] attempted to showcase the presidential aspect of being in his foreign policy element during this time, traveling to the Middle East in June 1974, going in particular to Egypt where he met with President Anwar Sadat, where Nixon was cheered by millions as a result of Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy earlier that year.[39] Unknown to the public at the time, Nixon was suffering a potentially fatal case of phlebitis.[39][56] White House doctors reportedly tried to persuade Nixon to forego the trip, but he insisted; some Secret Service agents even thought Nixon was deliberately courting death by insisting on going, believing that dramatic end preferable to suffering further Watergate troubles and possible impeachment.[57] Nixon then went to a summit meeting with the Soviet Union in Moscow. The White House tried to portray these trips as his presidency having "turned the corner" from Watergate and the impeachment process.[39]

There were six special elections for House seats during 1974 that supplied a measure of voter sentiment regarding Watergate; Democratic candidates won five of them.[58][59] One such turn was in Michigan's 5th congressional district, which Gerald Ford had long held before being appointed Vice President. Another special election was in Michigan's 8th congressional district, a traditionally Republican district. Nixon campaigned for the Republican candidate, but in small towns only, to avoid demonstrations.[60] The Democratic candidate's win in April 1974 was widely seen as a political defeat for the president.[59] Most impactful of all, the special election results told Republicans on the Judiciary Committee that it would be possible for them to vote for Nixon's impeachment without suffering a political penalty at the ballot box.[61]

Cover, 1974 Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment report

The Impeachment Inquiry staff hired 34 counsels reporting to Doar or the other senior lawyers on the staff.[32] One who later became well-known was William Weld.[32] He worked on researching case law regarding what constituted grounds for presidential impeachment.[62] This was requested since it was over a hundred years since the last such effort had taken place and representatives desired guidance on the matter;[63] even the last impeachment of a federal judge had been almost forty years earlier.[33] Weld also worked on studying whether impoundment of appropriated funds was an impeachable offense.[62] Another staff member was Hillary Rodham.[64] Under the guidance of Doar and Nussbaum,[65] Rodham helped research procedures of impeachment and, like Weld, the historical grounds and standards for impeachment.[64][62] As part of this she wrote a brief supporting Rodino's belief that during initial evidentiary hearings to determine whether potential grounds for impeachment exist, the target of the possible impeachment has no right to representation by counsel at the hearings.[29]

"Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment", the 64-page report that Weld, Rodham, and others wrote about the historical basis and standards for impeachment, reached deep into the drafting of the American constitution and even further back, to the history of impeachment in the United Kingdom dating to the 1300s.[63] The staffers concluded that a president did not have to commit a literal crime in order for Congress to justify the measure of impeachment.[66] Their report stated, "The framers did not write a fixed standard. Instead they adopted from English history a standard sufficiently general and flexible to meet future circumstances and events, the nature and character of which they could not foresee."[63][c]

Altogether there were 44 lawyers on the staff, of whom only 3 were women, and close to a 100 total people when researchers, clerks, typists, and other support personnel were enumerated.[67] The committee staffers generally worked long, sometimes tedious hours.[67] Rodham and some of the other women on the staff had to post a sign telling the male staffers that they were not there to make coffee for them.[68]

The committee spent eight months gathering evidence and pushed Nixon to comply with a subpoena for conversations taped in the Oval Office.[69][d] Its quarters were in the old Congressional Hotel,[67] which had become the O'Neill House Office Building. Security guards patrolled the halls and the work was done in rooms with closed blinds.[23]

Members and staff of the House Judiciary Committee in 1974
Members and staff of the House Judiciary Committee in 1974

The case was put together on more than 500,000 five-by-seven-inch notecards that were cross-indexed against each other.[66] Mastering this filing system became a requirement of anyone working on the inquiry.[23] Doar ran a regimented ship and insisted that everyone be neat and orderly in their process; in a typically humorless instance, he told a staffer who had broken a filekeeping rule that "The greatest tribute to a man would be that if he died someone could come into his office the next day and pick up where he left off."[23]

A constant worry among committee leaders was that developments from their research, deliberations, and preliminary conclusions would leak to the press; Doar in particular had the junior lawyers on the inquiry working on isolated areas so that only a few of the senior counsels knew the big picture.[33] Opinions differ as to how successful they were at preventing leaks, with some saying they were[66][70] and some saying that they were not.[69] Later, in 2005, Doar said of Rodino:

He was able to impose discipline on the staff. He insisted that there be no leaks to the press. There were no leaks to the press. He insisted that it be bipartisan, it not be partisan. There was no partisanship on the staff. In fact, it was remarkably non-partisan. And that is the result of good leadership. And although Congressman Rodino was a quiet man, he had the knack of leading, of managing, and he did it very well, in my opinion.[70]

In sum, the committee was able to develop much of its case in private before ever presenting it in a public fashion.[71]

Impeachment hearings

The Judiciary Committee's impeachment hearings received intense press attention and portions were broadcast live on television.
The Judiciary Committee's impeachment hearings received intense press attention and portions were broadcast live on television.

The House Judiciary Committee opened its formal impeachment hearings against the President on May 9, 1974. The first twenty minutes were televised on the major U.S. networks, after which the committee switched to closed sessions for the next two months.[72] Altogether, there were seven days of public hearings: May 9, and July 24–27, 29–30.[73] During the first phase of their closed session deliberations, May 9 – June 21, the committee's impeachment inquiry staff reported their evidence on Watergate and other related topics. The committee also heard from other witnesses, with committee counsel Doar and the president's counsel St. Clair asking most of the questions.[74] Minority members and the president's counsel were permitted to name witnesses they wanted to hear from and devise subpoenas they wanted issued, but any such requests had to be approved by the full committee, meaning the majority had an ability to block said requests if they wanted.[71]

The Committee primarily focused on Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, which specifies the grounds upon which a president can be impeached: "treason, bribery, and other high Crimes and Misdemeanors". During the course of the hearings there was fervent debate about the nature of an impeachable offense under Article II, whether only criminally indictable offenses qualified or whether the definition was broader.[75][76] There was strong evidence that the president had obstructed the investigation of the criminal break-in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters conducted by his re-election campaign.

Focus was also on allegations of misuse in a discriminatory manner of the Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies.[77] Impoundment of appropriated funds, related to funds allocated by Congress that Nixon chose not to spend because he did not like the associated goals, in particular, for the Clean Water Act, was also considered by the impeachment inquiry team.[62][78] However the staff decided that, even though some courts had ruled such impoundments illegal, it was not an impeachable offense.[79] Consequently, no article along these lines was brought up for a committee vote.[62]

On July 9, the Judiciary Committee released its own version of eight of the White House tapes that Nixon had previously issued his own transcript of. The Committee transcripts were both the beneficiary of superior playback equipment and restored some of the potentially damaging statements that Nixon staffers had removed or heard differently.[80]

This was quickly followed by the July 12 Committee release of its accumulated evidence on the case, which ran to 3,888 pages.[81] For the first time, St. Clair acknowledged publicly that a committee vote in favor of impeachment was likely, but Press Secretary Ziegler said that the president remained confident that the full House would not impeach.[81]

Ray Thornton of Arkansas, William L. Hungate of Missouri, and Jack Brooks of Texas were part of a group of three southern Democrats and four moderate Republicans who drafted the articles of impeachment adopted by the Committee. Nixon later called Brooks his "executioner".[82]

During the hearings, President Nixon attempted to preserve his support in the House by wooing senior figures there, including some conservative Democrats, by inviting them to White House functions or evening cruises on the presidential yacht USS Sequoia.[83] At the same time, statements from White House officials grew increasingly more scathing, the overall impeachment inquiry was derided as a "partisan witch-hunt" and the committee's proceedings derided as "a kangaroo court."[84]

Representative Barbara Jordan (left) became nationally known for her eloquence during the Judiciary Committee's impeachment hearings
Representative Barbara Jordan (left) became nationally known for her eloquence during the Judiciary Committee's impeachment hearings

The televised coverage of committee hearings resumed on July 24.[85] The commercial broadcast networks televised the evening sessions while PBS broadcast the morning and afternoon sessions as well;[86] this was after considerable debate about whether such broadcasts were a good idea.[85] The first broadcast was an evening session of the committee on the evening of the 24th and started two days of televised opening-statements by committee members. In total there were six days of 13 hours-per-day of televised coverage, watched by millions of Americans.[86] On the afternoon of Friday, July 26, television viewers watched live as the first Article of Impeachment was read into the record against the President.

On July 25, 1974, Texas Democrat Barbara Jordan delivered a fifteen-minute televised speech before the Judiciary Committee in support of impeachment.[87] Her denunciation President Nixon's abuses of power stirred the nation[88] and earned her national praise for her rhetoric, genuineness, and insight.[87] The speech placed 13th on a 1999 list of the 100 best (American) political speeches of the 20th century.[89][e]

Representative Walter Flowers of Alabama, a conservative Democrat, was considered to be leaning against impeachment. After a long struggle, which caused an ulcer to recur, Flowers indicated he would vote for impeachment. The congressman said "I felt that if we didn't impeach, we'd just ingrain and stamp in our highest office a standard of conduct that's just unacceptable."[84] Coming from a state which had supported Nixon in 1972, he was seen as influential even with some Republicans. He told the undecided Republicans on the committee, "This is something we just cannot walk away from. It happened, and now we've got to deal with it.[84]

Republican Representative M. Caldwell Butler of Virginia explained his vote in favor of impeachment by saying, "For years we Republicans have campaigned against corruption and misconduct. ... But Watergate is our shame."[27] Representative Lawrence Hogan of Maryland, another Republican, said, "After reading the transcripts, it was sobering: the number of untruths, the deception and the immoral attitudes. By any standard of proof demanded, we had to bind him over for trial and removal by the Senate."[27] Hogan became the only Republican to vote for all three of the approved articles of impeachment; previously a Nixon supporter on many issues, his votes were considered a bad blow by the White House.[91] After much internal and external anguish, another Republican, Representative Tom Railsback decided as well to vote in favor of impeachment.[92]

Representative Elizabeth Holtzman of New York, a young Democrat, also drew national media attention as a member of the committee.[93] Another Democratic representative from New York, Charles Rangel, became a force in the House in subsequent years. Rangel had a more positive take on what transpired: "Some say this is a sad day in America's history. I think it could perhaps be one of our brightest days. It could be really a test of the strength of our Constitution, because what I think it means to most Americans is that when this or any other President violates his sacred oath of office, the people are not left helpless."[27]

One of the arguments that Nixon supporters on the committee often made was that the charges and the questions being asked about them needed more "specificity".[94] In that respect they challenged those who would impeach to come up with more details in purposeful conversations to be linked together as part of a concerted plan of action.[95] Republican Charles E. Wiggins of California was Nixon's most stalwart defender on the committee.[96] Wiggins consistently argued that no specific piece of evidence directly linked Nixon to any criminal act.[97] Standing steadfast with him were fellow Republicans David W. Dennis of Indiana[98] and Del Latta of Ohio.[97]

Likewise, Republican Charles W. Sandman, Jr. of New Jersey defended Nixon throughout the proceedings, often to the point of caustic stridency.[97] The New York Times described him as: "a heavyset man with glasses on the end of his nose, a pencil grasped between his hands, heaping sarcasm and scorn upon the arguments of those who would impeach the President".[98] He was one of those most vocally demanding "specificity".[95] At one point during the hearings, Sandman angrily told his New Jersey colleague on the committee, Chairman Rodino, "Please, let us not bore the American public ... you have your 27 votes", referring to the 27 affirmative votes for the first article of impeachment against Nixon. Sandman denied that emotion was the key behind his defense, saying "My role is not one of defending the President – that's for sure. I believe in a strict construction of the Constitution. If somebody, for the first time in seven months, gives me something that is direct, I will vote to impeach."[98] Contradicting his viewpoint, President Nixon's apparent agreement to make blackmail payments to the Watergate burglary team was regarded by the majority as an affirmative act to obstruct justice[99] (depending upon how Nixon's remarks on released White House tapes were interpreted).[f]

St. Clair represented Nixon before the House Judiciary Committee as they considered the impeachment charges against him. He said in explanation of his role, "I don't represent Mr. Nixon personally. I represent him in his capacity as president." He also argued the case of the United States v. Nixon before the U.S. Supreme Court on July 8, 1974.[100] This line dovetailed with Nixon's argument that he was motivated by a desire to protect the presidency and not by any urge for self-preservation.[100] St. Clair's defense was centered around the notion that while Nixon had made a number of statements that looked bad, he had committed no crimes.[100]

There was heightened internal tension between the committee's chief minority counsel, Albert E. Jenner Jr. and minority legal staff attorney Sam Garrison, who previously had been staff counsel and legislative liaison to Vice President Agnew.[101] Once Jenner came out in favor of impeachment, saying the evidence for it was persuasive, he was removed from his role as the minority's chief special counsel.[102] Garrison was chosen to replace him on July 22,[103] and had to put together on a last-minute basis his own defense of the president.[101][104] Garrison later said that the stress of his position caused him to collapse from anxiety at one point.[104]

Law professor Raoul Berger was a popular academic critic of the doctrine of "executive privilege" and was viewed as playing a significant role in undermining Nixon's constitutional arguments during the impeachment process.[105]

As the July 24 date for the resumption of deliberations approached, a Harris Poll showed that 53 percent of Americans supported Nixon's impeachment by the House. The same poll showed that 47 percent thought he should be convicted in a Senate trial and removed from office, and 34 percent thought he should be acquitted (19 percent were undecided).[84] A Gallup Poll taken around the same time revealed that Nixon's favorability rating had fallen to 24 percent of the population.[84]

The seven-month-long impeachment inquiry reached its climax July 27, 1974, when the Committee voted on the first article of impeachment.[106] As the Committee prepared to vote, Chairman Rodino said, "We have deliberated. We have been patient. We have been fair. Now the American people, the House of Representatives and the Constitution and the whole history of our republic demand that we make up our minds."[70]

Articles of impeachment

Over the course of four days, July 27–30, the Judiciary Committee debated five articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. There was sharp disagreement during the proceedings about what constitutes an impeachable offense, whether only criminal act qualify or whether non-criminal activity could qualify as well.

Three articles were approved by the Committee, each one premised on abuse of the powers of the presidency, although the first Article also involved a criminal allegation.[107][75] In addition to these three articles, the Committee considered two others, which were rejected.[108] One charged Nixon with encroaching on the powers of Congress by ordering the bombing of Cambodia without authorization and by largely concealing information about these bombing operations.[109] The other charged Nixon with tax fraud for improvements made to his private homes at San Clemente and Key Biscayne at government expense, and failure to pay necessary taxes.[109][110]

The first presidential impeachment recommendation in more than a century, these articles were a sharp and bipartisan rebuke of the president's "course of conduct or plan" to obstruct the investigation of the Watergate break-in and to cover up other unlawful activities.[22][106] In a 1989 interview with Susan Stamberg of National Public Radio, Rodino recalled that after the committee finished its work on the five impeachment articles, he went to a room in back of the committee chambers, called his wife and cried. He also stated:

Notwithstanding the fact that I was Democrat, notwithstanding the fact that there were many who thought that Rodino wanted to bring down a president as a Democrat, you know, he was our president. And this is our system that was being tested. And here was a man who had achieved the highest office that anyone could gift him with, you know. And you're bringing down the presidency of the United States, and it was a sad, sad commentary on our whole history and, of course, on Richard Nixon.[70]

Articles adopted

Article I, charging Nixon with obstruction of justice,[111] alleged in part that:

On June 17, 1972, and prior thereto, agents of the Committee for the Re-election of the President committed unlawful entry of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, District of Columbia, for the purpose of securing political intelligence. Subsequent thereto, Richard M. Nixon, using the powers of his high office, engaged personally and through his close subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or plan designed to delay, impede, and obstruct the investigation of such illegal entry; to cover up, conceal and protect those responsible; and to conceal the existence and scope of other unlawful covert activities.[112]

Article I vote, July 27, 1974[111][113]
Adopted 27–11  Democrats: 21 yes, 0 no
 Republicans: 6 yes, 11 no

Article II, charging Nixon with abuse of power,[114] alleged in part that:

Using the powers of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in disregard of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, impairing the due and proper administration of justice and the conduct of lawful inquiries, or contravening the laws governing agencies of the executive branch and the purposes of these agencies.[112]

Article II vote, July 29, 1974[113][114]
Adopted 28–10  Democrats: 21 yes, 0 no
 Republicans: 7 yes, 10 no

Article III, charging Nixon with contempt of Congress,[115] alleged in part that:

In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, contrary to his oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives on April 11, 1974, May 15, 1974, May 30, 1974, and June 24, 1974, and willfully disobeyed such subpoenas. The subpoenaed papers and things were deemed necessary by the Committee in order to resolve by direct evidence fundamental, factual questions relating to Presidential direction, knowledge or approval of actions demonstrated by other evidence to be substantial grounds for impeachment of the President. In refusing to produce these papers and things Richard M. Nixon, substituting his judgment as to what materials were necessary for the inquiry, interposed the powers of the Presidency against the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives, thereby assuming to himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the sole power of impeachment vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives.[112]

Article III vote, July 30, 1974[113][115]
Adopted 21–17  Democrats: 19 yes, 2 no
 Republicans: 2 yes, 15 no

Articles rejected

Article IV, charging Nixon with usurping the powers of Congress,[116] alleged in part that:

In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, contrary to his oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and to the best of his ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and in disregard of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, on and subsequent to March 17, 1969, authorized, ordered and ratified the concealment from Congress of the facts and the submission to Congress of false and misleading statements concerning the existence, scope, and nature of American bombing operations in Cambodia and derogation of the power of Congress to declare war. ...[110]

Article IV vote, July 30, 1974[110][116]
Rejected 12–26  Democrats: 12 yes, 9 no
 Republicans: 0 yes, 17 no

Article V, charging Nixon with tax fraud,[116] alleged in part:

In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, contrary to his oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and to the best of his ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and in disregard of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, did receive emolument from the United States in excess of the compensation provided by law ... and did willfully attempt to evade the payment of a portion of Federal income taxes due and owing by him for the years 1969, 1970, 1971, and 1972 ... [115]

Article V vote, July 30, 1974[110][116]
Rejected 12–26  Democrats: 12 yes, 9 no
 Republicans: 0 yes, 17 no

While no one argued that the president had not committed the actions specified in Article IV,[116] it failed in part due to the history of the secret bombing, in which a few key members of Congress of both political parties had been privy to the information and had neither said anything to the rest of Congress nor done anything about it; in part because it would drag in the emotionally controversial subject of role of the U.S. military in the Vietnam War; and in part because disputes about congressional versus executive authority in this area had already been addressed by the War Powers Resolution, passed over Nixon's veto in 1973.[117] This was the only article that Chairman Rodino voted against.[110]

Article V failed on the emoluments aspect because the facts around whether the property improvements were legitimate requests of the U.S. Secret Service were unclear; and failed on the taxes aspect because there was insufficient evidence to prove an intent to defraud, and because some members felt the alleged crime was not an impeachable offense as it did not involve an abuse of presidential power.[75][117] In addition, from a strategic perspective, some committee members favoring impeachment felt that adding articles beyond the first three would be a distraction from the core constitutional issues being raised and would only confuse the discussion and prolong the impeachment process.[118]

Nixon's support in Congress evaporates

Even with support diminished by the continuing series of revelations, Nixon hoped to fight the impeachment charges. He was closely studying the possible vote counts that impeachment in the House or trial in the Senate would get; Kissinger later sympathetically described the president at this time as "a man awake in his own nightmare".[119] Republican leaders in Congress were also estimating vote counts: during a July 29 private meeting between House Minority Leader John Rhodes and Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, Rhodes estimated that impeachment in the House would get as many as 300 votes, well more than the majority of 218 it needed, and Scott felt that there were 60 votes for conviction in the Senate, a little short of the two-thirds of 100 it needed. Both felt that the situation was deteriorating for the president.[120]

According to Senator Jacob Javits, a Senate trial was not likely to start before November 1974 and might run to late January 1975 before there was a verdict.[121] The House and Senate both agreed to full television coverage of each chamber's proceedings, and technical preparations and discussions of specific ground rules were underway.[86] Because Nixon might be forced to be in attendance during the Senate proceeding, Kissinger came up with plans to form a small group to manage the government in the president's place, to be composed of a few top Cabinet officers and Congressional leaders as well as White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig.[121]

While these behind-the-scenes plans were being discussed, dramatic events unfolded on Capitol Hill. First, on July 24, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in United States v. Nixon that all Nixon White House tapes, not just selected transcripts, must be released to the special prosecutor.[122] Next, on July 27, the Judiciary Committee adopted the first article of impeachment.[123]

Nixon Oval Office meeting with H.R. Haldeman "Smoking Gun" Conversation June 23, 1972[124]

When Nixon released the tapes on August 5, 1974, a previously unknown conversation between the president and then-Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman on June 23, 1972, only a few days after the break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices, proved that Nixon's assertion of having had no involvement in the coverup of the burglary was a lie.[125] The tape, later known as the ""smoking gun" tape, documented the initial stages of the coverup. It revealed Nixon and Haldeman meeting in the Oval Office and formulating a plan to block investigations by having the CIA falsely claim to the FBI that national security was involved. This demonstrated both that Nixon had been told of the White House connection to the Watergate burglaries soon after they took place, and that he had approved plans to thwart the investigation. In a statement accompanying the release of the tape, Nixon accepted blame for misleading the country about when he had been told of White House involvement, stating that he had a lapse of memory.[126] Initially Nixon said he would not step down but rather that the process defined by the Constitution should play out.[127]

The release of the "smoking gun" tape dealt a fatal blow to Nixon's public defense of his actions in Watergate over two years,[128] and it destroyed Nixon politically. Representative Wiggins in particular dropped his support for Nixon after the revelation of this tape. Haig had invited him to review the transcripts prior to their release. However, when Wiggins read them, he concluded that they in fact proved the president had broken the law.[129] Wiggins said later on August 5 that "the facts then known to me have now changed," and that it was now obvious Nixon had a "plan of action" to cover up the break-in. He believed that as a result, "these facts standing alone are legally sufficient in my opinion to sustain at least one count against the President of conspiracy to obstruct justice."[97] Wiggins believed that even if Nixon could offer an explanation for his actions in the Senate, an impeachment trial would not be in the national interest. For that reason, he warned Nixon that unless he resigned and handed power to Ford, he would vote to impeach Nixon for obstructing justice. However, he said he would vote against the other articles, arguing that they would "constitute unfortunate historical precedents if allowed to stand."[130]

The importance of Wiggins, who had been Nixon's ablest defender in the Judiciary Committee, was emphasized by The New York Times front-page headline the next day: "Wiggins for Impeachment; Others in G.O.P. Join Him".[96] The ten representatives who voted against all three articles of impeachment in the Judiciary Committee all gave indication that they would vote to impeach Nixon for obstruction of justice when the vote was taken in the full House.[127] These included staunch supporters such as Sandman, Dennis, and Latta.[97] In his remarks, Dennis said that the president had "destroyed his credibility" with his defenders on the committee. Along similar lines, Latta said that it was clear that "we certainly weren't given the truth."[97] Minority Leader Rhodes also announced he would support impeachment, saying that while he admired Nixon's accomplishments, "coverup of criminal activity and misuse of federal agencies can neither be condoned nor tolerated." According to Rhodes' obituary in the Post, the decision of the House leader of Nixon's own party to publicly break from him was the "coup de grace for the Nixon presidency."[131]

Senators Scott and Goldwater and Representative Rhodes hold an informal press conference following their August 7 meeting with the president
Senators Scott and Goldwater and Representative Rhodes hold an informal press conference following their August 7 meeting with the president

During the late afternoon of August 7, 1974, Senators Goldwater and Scott and Representative Rhodes met with Nixon in the Oval Office and told him that his support in Congress had all but disappeared.[132] Rhodes told the president that he would face certain impeachment when the articles came up for vote in the full House.[132] For example, by Majority Leader O'Neill's estimate, no more than 75 representatives were willing to vote against the obstruction-of-justice article.[131] Goldwater and Scott told the president that there were not only enough votes in the Senate to convict him, but that no more than 15 or so Senators were willing to vote for acquittal – not even half of the 34 he needed to avoid removal from office.[132][133] They did not pressure Nixon to resign, but simply made the realities of the situation clear. Goldwater later wrote that as a result of the meeting, Nixon "knew beyond any doubt that one way or another his presidency was finished".[134]

Resignation and conclusion

Nixon's announcement that he would resign, August 8, 1974
President Nixon and the first lady leaving the White House, accompanied by Vice President Ford and the second lady (at left), August 9, 1974, shortly before Nixon's resignation became effective
President Nixon and the first lady leaving the White House, accompanied by Vice President Ford and the second lady (at left), August 9, 1974, shortly before Nixon's resignation became effective

Nixon met with Vice President Gerald Ford the following morning, August 8, to inform Ford of his (Nixon's) intention to resign from office; the president informed the nation of the decision that night.[125] In that speech, Nixon stated his hope that, by resigning, "I will have hastened the start of that process of healing which is so desperately needed in America." He also expressed contrition saying, "I deeply regret any injuries that may have been done in the course of the events that led to this decision."[123]

On the morning of August 9, 1974, Nixon signed a letter of resignation addressed to Secretary of State Kissinger.[125] His presidency officially ended at 11:35 am, when Kissinger received the letter.[135] In doing so, Nixon became the first, and so far only, president to resign. A short while later, Gerald Ford was sworn into office, declaring "our long national nightmare is over."[123]

Following President Nixon's resignation, the impeachment process against him was closed.[1] On August 20, the House voted to accept the final Judiciary Committee report by a vote of 412 to 3.[136] The 528‐page report, published on August 22, laid out in detail what it called the "clear and convincing evidence" against Nixon. It also contained a statement from the committee's Republican members who had originally opposed impeachment, stating for the record that Nixon had not been "hounded from office" but rather had destroyed his own presidency through his patterns of deceit.[137]

Epilogue

Though Nixon had not faced full House impeachment or a Senate trial, criminal prosecution was still a possibility both on the federal and state levels.[138] Concerned about Nixon's well-being, and worried that the "ugly passions" aroused by the Watergate scandal would rise again during a lengthy Nixon prosecution, on September 8, 1974 President Ford granted Nixon a "full, free and absolute pardon" for all crimes that Nixon had "committed or may have committed or taken part in" as president.[123][136][139]

Nixon proclaimed his innocence until his death in 1994. In his official response to the pardon, he said that he "was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate, particularly when it reached the stage of judicial proceedings and grew from a political scandal into a national tragedy".[140]

Nationwide, the 1974 mid-term elections were a watershed for Democrats. In the U.S. House, Democrats won 49 seats previously held by Republicans and increased their majority above the two-thirds mark. Altogether, there were 93 freshmen representatives in the 94th Congress when it convened on January 3, 1975 (76 of them Democrats). Those elected to office that year later came to be known collectively as "Watergate Babies".[141]

The legacies of several House Judiciary Committee members were greatly affected by the Nixon impeachment proceedings. Rodino's forty-year career in the House would become mostly remembered, in a positive light, for his role during the impeachment hearings.[142] Jordan's eloquence on the committee enhanced her national reputation and in 1975, she was appointed by Albert to the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. Jordan was mentioned as a possible running mate to presidential nominee Jimmy Carter.[143] She instead delivered the keynote address at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, the first African-American woman to do so.[143]

Wiggins's advocacy for Nixon almost cost him reelection in 1974.[144] He was elected one more time before retiring from Congress. Hogan ran in the Republican primary in the 1974 Maryland gubernatorial election but lost; his defeat has been attributed to his support of impeachment having been unpopular among dedicated Republican party members.[91] Sandman's reputation was severely tarnished by his performance in the televised hearings. He was soundly defeated by Democrat William J. Hughes, his opponent in the 1974 general election, and never returned to Congress.[27]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ In the view of Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan, who had been privy to Nixon's thinking, the president had known this would be the likely outcome of dismissing Cox.[19]
  2. ^ Jaworski's report remained sealed until October 11, 2018, when a federal judge ordered its release with limited redactions.[44][45]
  3. ^ The 1974 Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment report remains one of the best analyses written on the origins and extent of the U.S. impeachment procedure; it would go on to be used as one basis for later presidential impeachment inquiries, against Bill Clinton in 1998 and against Donald Trump in 2019.[63]
  4. ^ The lead counsel for the regular, non-impeachment staff of the Judiciary Committee, Jerry Zeifman, decades later made charges that the committee had intentionally dragged out the impeachment process, hoping to keep a politically wounded Nixon in office for his full second term and thus facilitate the election of Ted Kennedy to the presidency. Zeifman also claimed that Rodham had behaved unethically on the committee and that he had fired her. The claims regarding Rodham have been debunked and those regarding delaying the process lack supporting evidence.[29][32]
  5. ^ 137 leading scholars of American public address were asked to recommend speeches on the basis of social and political impact, and rhetorical artistry.[90]
  6. ^ At the time of the impeachment investigations, it was not known if Nixon had known and approved of the payments to the Watergate defendants earlier than a variously-interpreted March 21, 1973 conversation with John Dean. Previously unreleased White House tapes made public in 1996 included several conversations that established that Nixon had. In particular, in a conversation with Haldeman on August 1, 1972, Nixon states: "Well ... they have to be paid. That's all there is to that. They have to be paid." See Kutler, Stanley (1997). Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. xiv, xvii–xvii, 111.

References

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  2. ^ "H.Res.803 – 93rd Congress, 1st Session". congress.gov. Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  3. ^ Crary, David (September 24, 2019). "Past impeachment proceedings: 2 acquittals, 1 resignation". MSN. Associated Press. Retrieved September 29, 2019.
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  47. ^ Woodward and Bernstein, The Final Days, pp. 124ff.
  48. ^ a b Language Log: Discussion of Nixon's use of profanity
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External links

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