Today in Supreme Court History

Today in Supreme Court History: August 5, 1974

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

8/5/1974: Shortly after the Supreme Court decided United States v. Nixon, President Nixon released the "smoking gun" tape recorded in the Oval office.

President Richard Nixon

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  1. Contrary to the narrative always presented in history, the “smoking gun” tapes were not really that. I would encourage anyone who has never read a full and complete history of Watergate to do so. The actual case is much different then how it is portrayed in popular history.

    1. You are trying to hard to resuscitate Nixon, or revise history, or change the narrative, or something. Whether they were the smoking gun or the glove that fit, the tapes had a huge effect and a lot to do with changing public perception of Nixon. They doomed him.

      1. No I simply said go back and read the history of Watergate, and the “smoking gun.” That was all. Most people assume it contains Nixon saying something that he never said and the two seconds popular history dedicates to Watergate also portrays it as such.

        So, do a little personal enlightenment today, and read the Wikipedia page on the tapes. You will learn some nuances to history that you might have never read before.

        1. After Republican senators refused to keep their oath and remove Trump I do think Nixon looks a little better. What Nixon did wasn’t a big deal compared to what Trump did but we still had giants in the Senate that wanted to show how powerful they were and so they gave Nixon a good spanking. Nixon as president was a total joke giving everything to everyone which is why he won such a big victory in 1972…W Bush apparently found the Nixon playbook and used it to win in 2004.

          1. LBJ made Nixon look like a blushing virgin.

            1. Doesn’t exonerate Nixon.

              1. Stating that his predecessor was worse does not exonerate Nixon.

              2. Nixon’s presidential malfeasance is overshadowed by LBJ, FDR, JFK, and BHO.

            2. 1899 Democrat: McKinley did x and y and that is terrible.

              1899 Republican: Yeah, but that Grover Cleveland…

          2. Other than tweet mean things a lot Trump generally behaves like a centrist Republican. Its only that many people frankly don’t think for themselves and just absorb the negative opinions of others which is 99% based on the media wringing their hands and writhing on the floor over Trump saying mean things on social media rather than learning to pick through the factual information themselves.

            You’re right in that what Nixon did probably isn’t a big deal compared to what other politicians do on a regular basis. But again I don’t see what makes Trump stand out among others other than he doesn’t bow to PC pressure and tweets mean things.

            1. If you ignore everything Trump says and does, he doesn’t seem different than any other politician.

              The same people who say, “Oh, it’s just tweets; ignore them” never apply that to any Democrat or Democratic supporter.

              1. I would be fine with Dems actually limiting themselves to just being crazy on social media but thats far from the truth as anybody watching the covid spreading protests, cancel culture, and the state of Dem run cities can attest.

                1. Democrats are crazy.

                  Republicans are poorly educated, superstitious bigots.

                  Where is the hope for America, AmosArch?

            2. What Nixon did was big thing. What Trump did with Ukraine was also a big thing.

              1. No, what Biden did….

                1. Are you suggesting it’s wrong for an office holder to condition government funding on political advantage and personal enrichment?

                  How else do you expect Democrats to maintain their elected offices?

        2. Sigh. The smoking gun was Nixon approving the payment of hush money to a Watergate co-conspirator.

          And Nixon’s problem was he had lied about it. Nixon dug his own grave by fighting it out and putting on a defense based on lies. He could have easily survived Watergate had he just told the truth from the beginning, especially since for all of his other faults he did not order or have knowledge of the burglary plot.

          In the end, members of his own party convinced him he had to quit.

          1. Barry Goldwater was right — Nixon should have asked the networks for an hour of TV time and told the people “what the hell happened.”

            FNixon was paranoid because JFK had stolen the 1960 election.

            1. Some of Nixon’s greatest hits:

              Billy Graham: “This stranglehold (of Jews in the media) has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain.”
              Nixon: “You believe that?”
              Graham: “Yes, sir.”
              Nixon: “Oh, boy. So do I. I can’t ever say that but I believe it.”
              Graham: “No, but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something.” (1972)

              “Goddamn it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get them. The way I want that handled is…just to break in. Break in and take it out! You understand? … You are to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them out…Just go in and take it! Go in around eight or nine o’clock. And clean it up.” — ordering his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, to break into the Brookings Institute (1971)

              “I want to make sure he is a ruthless son of a bitch, do what he’s told, that every income tax I want to see I see, that he will go after our enemies and not our friends. Now it’s as simple as that. If he doesn’t he doesn’t get the job.” — on appointing an IRS commissioner

              “Going after all these Jews. Just find one that is a Jew, will you …” —July 2, 1971

              “The Jews are born spies. You notice how many of them are? They’re just in it up to their necks. … Also, an arrogance, an arrogance that says—that’s what makes a spy. He puts himself above the law.” —July, 5, 1971

              “Bob, please get me the names of the Jews, you know, the big Jewish contributors of the Democrats. … All right. Could we please investigate some of the cocksuckers?” —Sept. 13, 1971

              “What about the rich Jews? … You see, IRS is full of Jews, Bob. … That’s what I think. I think the reason they’re after [the Rev. Billy] Graham is the rich Jews.” —Sept. 14, 1971

              “This is national security, you bet we have. We’ve got all sorts of activities because we’ve been trying to run this town by avoiding the Jews in the government, because there were very serious questions.” —March 29, 1973

              Apparently, there is no recording of the conversation in which Nixon ordered Fred Malek to ‘count the Jews over there. . . get me a list,’ after which Malek delivered a list of employees with ‘Jewish-sounding names’ at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

              1. I guess Nixon refused to visit Yosemite.

  2. Nixon, in a private conversation, and after some hesitation, approved Haldeman’s suggestion that the CIA be approached so as to lean on the FBI to cool it on the Watergate investigation. Clearly obstruction of justice by Nixon and clearly impeachable. Nobody disagreed in either party disagreed. That was the “smoking gun”.

    Trump, on national TV, freely admitted to Lester Holt as to firing James Comey so as to terminate the Russian investigation.

    1. Apparently Hillary was ecstatic when Trump fired Comey…and then her loser advisers told her to be more somber. Comey and McCabe did a little Keystone Cops routine and it ended up helping Trump win…they are typical incompetent Republicans like pretty much everyone in the W Bush administration.

    2. Watergate involved an actual crime — B&E.
      Russiagate was a CIA fabrication.

      Big difference, not to mention that Comey himself was obstructing justice.

      1. 1. June 3, 2016: Trump acquaintance Rob Goldstone emails Donald Jr. saying he can connect him with a Russian government official who has dirt on Hillary Clinton. Donald Jr. said fine. They firmed things up on June 6 for a meeting on June 9.

        2. On June 7 in a post-primary victory speech Trump Sr. announces he will be giving a “major speech on probably Monday of next week” with some “very, very interesting” news about Hillary Clinton.

        3. The meeting on June 9 was attended by Natalia Veselnitskaya who was the person Goldstone was talking about. But she only wanted to discuss international adoption issues.

        My question to you: What was Trump referring to in his June 7 speech? It sure looks like he was involved in the deal, doesn’t it?

        1. The problem with your narrative is Mueller didn’t buy it.

          1. He explicitly declaimed any final determination. All we know is that Mueller didn’t think the above met the criminal elements beyond a reasonable doubt.

            1. Is any decision not to charge “final”? To me, Mueller’s explicit decision not to charge Trump with conspiracy or any other underlying crime closes that part of the case absent any new evidence (the obstruction of justice part remains open).

              1. He dropped a footnote saying he made no determination.

                1. Mueller wasn’t charged with clearing Trump. That is not what prosecutors do. Sometimes (very rarely) they will make such a public announcement, but a good prosecutor almost never does as doing so may foreclose the possibility of prosecuting in the future if more evidence becomes known.

                  It is really a red herring to say “Mueller did not clear Trump” because it wasn’t his job to do so.

                  1. True, but the decision to charge or not is a close enough proxy.

                2. Citation?

        2. “On June 7 in a post-primary victory speech Trump Sr. announces he will be giving a “major speech on probably Monday of next week” with some “very, very interesting” news about Hillary Clinton.”

          As opposed to any of the OTHER “very, very interesting” news about Hillary Clinton??? Like the stuff at the U-Ark library? Etc…

          1. If someone’s son steals a bag of money, and the next day his boss is walking down the street with it . . . I supposed it could have fallen out of an armored car and he was just walking past and picked it up. . .

          2. It wouldn’t surprise me if Trump sat on some pretty good Hilary stuff. A lot of people think he had a ton of dirt that he held off from using in the election. There was a rumor floating that his campaign had a full backup of “the server” but were hesitant to deploy that do to national security questions. And I’m sure if Trump sent a few PI’s to do more digging they were probably able to find some 90’s Clinton operatives who are now living off grid that might have decided 2016 was as good of a time as any to do a knowledge dump. Even though the Clinton body count would suggest they were good at tying up loose ends I’m sure a few slipped past the noose.

            1. You forgot to mention the pizza store through which she was arranging child sex slaves.

              1. For Bill on Orgy Island?

      2. Russiagate was a CIA fabrication.

        False, and also irrelevant.

        “Actually, I’m innocent” is not a defense to obstruction of justice. You’re not allowed to destroy evidence or lie to investigators just because you didn’t commit the underlying offense.

    3. If the Republicans decided to investigate Pizzagate with a Dem in office about whether he raped little girls. And all they did is drag the investigation out as long as possible offering no solid evidence but just making bold headline announcements every couple weeks based on nothing (ie Biden visiting the pizza shop once in the 80s or another anonymous official stating their opinion that Biden is a pedophile) designed to make news cycle after news cycle dragging the President down. And after years they still had no real evidence to offer other than to pretend with their all their media allies that Biden being a pedo who rapes little girls in Pizza shops was as obvious as the sky being blue. You’d be cheering in the stands if they publicly shutdown the investigation too.

    4. Nixon’s firing was to cover up illegal activity. Trump’s narrative, such as it is, was that the investigation itself was fraudulent and out to get him politically.

      In either case, as the President has the constitutional power to do this, the downside is the suffering of the political consequenses, including impeachement and removal.

      Both apparently read the room accurately.

  3. I always liked Henry Kissinger’s explanation for how Watergate happened: “Some damn fool came out of the Oval Office and had no better sense than to do as he’d been told.”

  4. Nixon should have burned the tapes the moment their existence was revealed.

    Not ruthless enough.

    1. You’re like a lot of Americans. You admire politicians who lie to you. You see it as a sign of toughness, I suppose.

  5. Gees…all this because I encouraged people to actually read the history of Watergate. When I said that up top all I meant was “read the history of Watergate.” It is interested and nuanced. The details are different then how the story is told in popular history and media. That does not mean Nixon didn’t do bad things or he wasn’t flying a little close to the sun. It just means READ THE HISTORY.

    And for those who don’t recall the 1970’s, it is worth reading some of the background of what those days were like. it sets the scene well for why Nixon was doing what Nixon did which I think a lot of modern talking heads miss. The only one I have seen acknowledge the times of the 70’s in their writings about Nixon was Buchanan. David Frum has a really good one which does a nice job of capturing the zeitgeist of that era. One commentator sums up the 70’s pretty well. “It was like America was on a huge drunken bender in the 60’s and then was hungover because of that pretty much the whole way through the 70’s…” Most people equate social change to the 60’s, but most of it didn’t start taking shape until the early 70’s.

    1. Perhaps you can fill us in on your reading of the history that suggests the common-wisdom reading of it (*) is wrong.

      (*) Nixon was paranoid and wanted to destroy his political enemies. He created the plumbers to carry out those wishes. Among other things, they bugged the DNC headquarters in the Watergate. After they got caught, Nixon willfully and unlawfully chose to cover up their illegal actions.

      1. Well to start of Nixon was not paranoid in the mentally ill fashion. He was concerned that there were political forces at play which might target him and his administration. (And he was probably right.) There was a lot of political intrigue going on behind the scenes in the 60’s and 70’s. A ton of people had agendas and would go to many ends to see it happen. Nixon (and many others) believed that the assassinations of the 60’s were probably part of those plans and that those same tactics might be used against him and his allies. Hence why he was so concerned about his “enemies list.”

        Whether or not Nixon actually ordered the Watergate operation has largely been unanswered. Most likely he was at least aware these things were happening. But, it is unclear if he actually ordered it. I don’t discount that the order might have come from the top, but it always seemed more like a middle level operational decision to gain intelligence and was bungled like it was one too.

        Did Nixon OK a cover up? The answer I think is yes, but was he concerned about it other then a “get it done” attitude, probably. I doubt he cared about the details especially because at first it was just a bungled low end political espionage type operation. The culprits were going to take the fall and that was that for the first year or so of Watergate.

        1. I don’t think out interpretations of history are too far apart.

          I agree Nixon wasn’t clinically paranoid, but I think his creation of the plumbers demonstrate an unprecedented fear of his enemies.

          I doubt Nixon ordered Watergate, but that misses the point that the plumbers were given carte blanche to act in ways that undermined the rule of law.

          And I agree Nixon approved the cover up (the smoking gun tape) in a “get it done” manner without caring about the details (much the same with the plumbers), but that just demonstrates he didn’t think the rule of law applied to himself.

          On the other hand, it is very wrong to characterize Watergate as just a bungled low-end operation. It was part and parcel of the mission of the plumbers, whose mission goes to the very heart of Nixon’s lawlessness.

          1. The reason why I called it a low end political operation is because that type of “smash and grab” was pretty low end. And Watergate was sloppy as hell (which is why they were caught.) Perhaps it was part of a larger political espionage campaign, but the operation itself was mostly just to get some donor records.

            Was Watergate illegal? Sure. No doubt about that. Was it “politics as usual” especially in the 60’s and 70’s? More or less. What it was to many people at the time was dirt on Nixon. That is what the Democrats wanted and needed to get rid of him. They HATED him. Doesn’t change the fact that Watergate, in of itself, was a low end bungled job.

            1. It’s not right to characterize Watergate in and of itself. It was part of a larger political espionage that wasn’t politics as usual.

              1. Do you know anything about politics during the 60’s and 70’s. There was tons of this stuff going on at all levels of government.

            2. Jimmy, didn’t most Bar Ethics stuff come out of Watergate?

  6. HOW did I become Dr. Ed 2???????


    1. Sounds like a sequel to a bad original movie. Dr. Ed 2 – The Re-Eddinating.

  7. The most interesting person in the whole Watergate affair was G. Gordon Liddy. Others may perceive him in other terms than Interesting.

    He claimed in and interview that he interpreted Nixon’s stated frustration with WP columnist Anderson as a request to kill him. And that he left Nixon’s WH office with the intent to do so and was already formulating a plan as he walked down the hallway. It was only the panicked realization of Nixon’s aides of his intentions and their hurried instructions to cease the plan that saved Anderson.

    The interview – with David Frost IIRC – had a lot of interesting bits of info. But, you also have to take into account the source. Liddy was known to take liberties with the truth and which facts he chose to reveal.

    1. Years ago I met G Gordon Liddy in a small group setting and talked to him for a good portion of an evening. I got the impression that he did play fast and loose with the facts and liked embellishing them, not to the point of outright lying, but definitely complete exaggeration. He also liked to play both the hero and victim in many of his tales.

      I’m sure during Whitewater and the Nixon Whitehouse he does have many good stories. But I don’t know how accurate his retelling of those necessarily are in actuality.

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