Journalist Tim Weiner pored through the tens of thousands of recently declassified documents about the Nixon White House and Watergate. He shares his findings in his new book, One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon.
Weiner on why Nixon recorded himself – and why he didn’t destroy the tapes:
“He did it because he planned to write a post-presidential memoir that would make him millions of dollars and that he and only he would have access to the tapes. And, in fact, for 20 years only he had access to all but a handful of these tapes. He also planned to use them as a defense against the inevitable memoirs of Henry Kissinger — no one writes a memoir in which he comes out looking like a fool or anything less than wise man. He thought it would be a unique resource that would be worth millions.
Why didn’t he destroy the tapes? Because he wrote himself a memo soon after their existence was revealed at the Watergate hearings, “Should’ve destroyed the tapes.” He could have and he probably could’ve gotten away with it because there were only nine tapes under subpoena at that time, but the problem is, as all his presidential counselors and lawyers agreed, who was going to strike the match? It would have to be the president himself, and he probably could’ve gotten away with it, although there would’ve been a hell of a constitutional cataclysm.
But who was going to strike the match? One of them jokingly said, “King Timahoe?” who was the president’s not-very-faithful Irish setter.”