CSI: The Watergate Version


Next week will be the 35th anniversary of the very final days of President Richard Nixon. On the evening of August 8, 1974, he announced he would resign the presidency the next day at noon. Shortly after his resignation took effect, he boarded a helicopter on the White House lawn—and was gone.

What made Nixon’s resignation unavoidable was the release of the so-called “smoking gun” tape, which had captured a conversation he had with his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, six days after the Watergate break-in of 1972. On the tape, Nixon and Haldeman could be heard plotting to block the Watergate investigation by encouraging the CIA to tell the FBI that national security issues were involved. With this tape public, many of the Republicans still supporting Nixon gave up the ghost.

Nixon departed the White House and was subsequently pardoned by President Gerald Ford. And he left behind several mysteries, including what the Watergate burglars were after (if anything specific) and how involved Nixon was in the caper. Another big mystery was the 18 and a 1/2 minute gap on the tape of another meeting between Nixon and Haldeman, this one held just three days following the break-in. The missing minutes, a panel of audio experts found, were the result of several deliberate erasures.

What was wiped out? Did these passages further incriminate Nixon or explain the break-in? The National Archives a few years ago tried to use new technology to coax that conversation back to life–and had no luck. Now, as I report, the Archives, thanks to the prodding of a Watergate hobbyist, is weighing a new approach. It’s considering using a CSI-ish procedure to recover what might be missing Haldeman notes from this infamous meeting. David Paynter, the archivist in charge of the Watergate collection says, “Here’s another avenue to shed light on an important episode in history. It’s very exciting.

Read all about it here.

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  • David Corn

    David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief and an on-air analyst for MSNBC. He is the co-author (with Michael Isikoff) of Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. He is the author of three New York Times bestsellers, Showdown, Hubris (with Isikoff), and The Lies of George W. Bush, as well as the e-book, 47 Percent: Uncovering the Romney Video that Rocked the 2012 Election. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter and Facebook.