The Smoking Gun That Took Down Nixon: One From the History Booksby
The latest revelation that former FBI Director James Comey kept notes of his conversations with Donald Trump has sparked a fury over whether the president tried to shut down an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The White House denies there was any attempt to halt the inquiry.
Some Democrats asked whether such actions might amount to obstruction of justice, and it calls to mind the most famous example of presidential meddling.
On June 23, 1972, President Richard Nixon met with H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, his chief of staff, and discussed the progress of the FBI’s investigation into the Watergate break-in, particularly efforts to trace money used by the burglars. The recording of that meeting became known as the "smoking gun” tape. Nixon wasn't prosecuted but resigned in August 1974 as the House of Representatives considered impeachment. Haldeman was convicted of obstruction of justice, among other charges.
In the meeting in the Oval Office, they propose asking the CIA to pressure the FBI to shut down the Watergate investigation by saying the break-in was a national-security operation. Haldeman said then Acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray III couldn’t control his agents.
What follows is a transcript of that meeting, from the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.
June 23, 1972
HALDEMAN: okay -that's fine. Now, on the investigation, you know, the Democratic break-in thing, we're back to the-in the, the problem area because the FBI is not under control, because Gray doesn't exactly know how to control them, and they have, their investigation is now leading into some productive areas, because they've been able to trace the money, not through the money itself, but through the bank, you know, sources - the banker himself. And, and it goes in some directions we don't want it to go. Ah, also there have been some things, like an informant came in off the street to the FBI in Miami, who was a photographer or has a friend who is a photographer who developed some films through this guy, Barker, and the films had pictures of Democratic National Committee letter head documents and things. So I guess, so it's things like that that are gonna, that are filtering in. Mitchell came up with yesterday, and John Dean analyzed very carefully last night and concludes, concurs now with Mitchell's recommendation that the only way to solve this, and we're set up beautifully to do it, ah, in that and that...the only network that paid any attention to it last night was NBC...they did a massive story on the Cuban...
PRESIDENT: That's right.
HALDEMAN: That the way to handle this now is for us to have Walters call Pat Gray and just say, "Stay the hell out of this...this is ah, business here we don't want you to go any further on it." That's not an unusual development,...
Then later in conversation:
PRESIDENT: When you get in these people when you...get these people in, say: "Look, the problem is that this will open the whole, the whole Bay of Pigs thing, and the President just feels that" ah, without going into the details... don't, don't lie to them to the extent to say there is no involvement, but just say this is sort of a comedy of errors, bizarre, without getting into it, "the President believes that it is going to open the whole Bay of Pigs thing up again. And, ah because these people are plugging for, for keeps and that they should call the FBI in and say that we wish for the country, don't go any further into this case", period!
PRESIDENT: That's the way to put it, do it straight (Unintelligible)
HALDEMAN: Get more done for our cause by the opposition than by us at this point.
PRESIDENT: You think so?
HALDEMAN: I think so, yeah.