1974 July 24

Supreme Court Orders President Nixon to Turn Over Tapes; Resignation is Near


In United States v. Nixon, a landmark decision on the scope of executive privilege, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected President Richard Nixon’s claim of the privilege and ordered him to turn over audio tapes of 64 White House conversations related to the Watergate Scandal. The court upheld the principle of executive privilege, but not Nixon’s use of it in this case. The recordings revealed that Nixon attempted to obstruct justice in the Watergate scandal; the release of the tapes led to his resignation as President on August 9, 1974. The most famous and incriminating tape was the so-called “Smoking Gun” recording of June 23, 1972, in which Nixon clearly plotted with one of his top aide how they might end the FBI investigation of the Watergate burglary.

The Watergate burglary on June 17, 1972, touched off a national scandal that gripped the nation for 15 months from the day of the original Watergate burglary to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. The burglary set in motion investigations that uncovered other abuses of power by President Nixon and several members of his administration. These included the famous “enemies” list of critics of the administration who were targeted for retaliation (August 16, 1971), and the White House “Plumbers” unit that burglarized the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist on September 9, 1971. Nixon was impeached by the House of Representatives on July 27, 1974, and he resigned in disgrace on August 9, 1974. President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon on September 8, 1974, for any crimes he may have committed while president.

The Court: “Neither the doctrine of separation of powers nor the need for confidentiality of high-level communications, without more, can sustain an absolute, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances.”

Listen to Nixon’s White House Tape Recordingshttp://whitehousetapes.net/transcript/Nixon

Watch the famous Nixon interview with David Frost (this is part 8; search for the other parts):  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkcZAB4_wd4

Listen to the oral argument in the case: http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1974/1974_73_1766

Learn more: Mark Rozell, Executive Privilege: Presidential Power, Secrecy, and Accountability, 3rd ed. (2010)

Read: Stanley Kutler, The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon (1990)

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