July 16, 1973.
It was afternoon, during the hearings of the Senate Watergate Committee.
Suddenly there was a not previously scheduled witness brought forth.
He was, surprisingly, questioned by Minority Counsel Fred Thompson.
His name was Alexander Butterfield.
He was at that moment, administrator of the FAA.
He had previously been an assistant to White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman, with knowledge of the communications systems in the White House.
And then we heard this:
That was the beginning of the end for Nixon.
Both the Senate and the Special Prosecutor wanted the tapes.
Nixon was determined not to release them.
When Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox insisted on pursuing subpoenas for 8 specific tapes to see if they confirmed the testimony of John Dean, Nixon refused.
Then on October 20th the Watergate scandal exploded.
Nixon ordered AG Elliot Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refused and resigned.
He ordered Deputy AG William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. He refused and was fired.
The only remaining high official in the Department who had been confirmed by the Senate was prepared to resign, but Richardson and Ruckelshaus told him to stay, that one way or another Cox was a goner. So it was that Solicitor General Robert Bork fired Cox, in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre.
On Monday, multiple articles of impeachment were introduced against Nixon.
Public pressure forced him to appoint a replacement Special Counsel, Leon Jaworski. Among other things, a Federal Judge ruled that the firing of Cox was illegal.
Jaworski also wanted tapes.
Nixon instead offered a compromise of having Sen. John Stennis of MS listen to them.
Jaworskin issued subpoenas.
Nixon released edited transcripts from which we learned a new expression,
expletive deletedbecause the transcripts omitted the many obscenities to which Nixon was prone in his informal conversation.
The issue of the subpoenas went to the Supreme Court which ruled 8-0 that Nixon had to turn over the tapes.
Eventually among the tapes were found an extended erasure of one key tape, for which Nixon's personal secretary Rosemary Woods tried to take responsibility. And also found was the "smoking gun" tape on which Nixon was heard clearly actively involved in the coverup, prima facie evidence of obstruction of Justice.
That entire chain of events, culminating in Nixon's resignation in August of 1974, began when Senate Committee Staff interviewed Butterfield on July 13.
And on the afternoon of July 16, all who were watching the ongoing hearings - including me - heard in real time that Nixon had been taping his conversations.
It was the beginning of the end for Richard Milhous Nixon.
Subpoenas were issues for specific tapes, because