The final 94 Watergate tapes are being released to the public by the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, CA. This includes the period from April 9 to July 12, 1973 when the existence of the tapes were revealed by White House aide Alexander Butterfield, during testimony he gave at the Senate Watergate Select Committee on that date.
At that point the pertinent question asked by Senator Howard Baker, “what did the President know, and when did he know it?” had an answer.
From then until President Nixon resigned, and even afterwards, the control, discovery process and release of the contents of the tapes, were guarded and fought in the courts by him for years. Even the contents released by the President during the last months of his administration were scrubbed by him under the guise of executive privilege.
It has been almost 20 years since he died and over that time, his estate and the library have slowly released the tapes into the public domain.
Historians have poured and will continue to pour over the this treasure trove of documentation related to discussions over the historical events of the time, such as, the opening of China, ongoing talks with the Soviets, decisions made on ending the Vietnam War and the great economic issues of the day.
The tapes have and will continue to reveal the dark side of a conflicted man, who felt an extraordinary persecution complex about the media, political opponents and those he felt were out to destroy him and the country, like students, liberals, Daniel Ellsberg, and other “anti-Americans”. Yet, his brilliance on foreign affairs peaked through at the most critical times of our history, as well.
But the biggest area that will be researched, analyzed, studied and discussed for many years to come will be the Watergate conversations between the President, HR Haldemann, his chief of staff, and others involved, either directly or indirectly, in the planning and execution of the Watergate break-in and its subsequent coverup.
As one who studied history and political science, I am envious of those men and women who will be invited to study President Nixon from the unique perspective of not having lived the times involved as current events, with the influence of the media, both pro and con, tainting their review. Instead, they will be able to see his presidency in toto, both good and bad, and provide a sober report of how he and his administration may have benefited the American experience.
After all, isn’t that the fair and honest way to see history? Soberly?