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Angry Nixon: New tapes reveal an overwrought president in grips of Watergate

President Richard Nixon answers questions about the Watergate scandal in the East Room of the White House on October 1973 in Washington. David Hume Kennerly / Getty Images Contributor

Newly released White House and Camp David recordings from 1973 reveal an angry, often overwrought and anti-Semitic President Richard Nixon coping with the Watergate crisis that would force his resignation a year later.

As in previous recordings, Nixon uses profanity and prejudiced language to mock his political foes and Washington rivals.

In a July 12, 1973 conversation with chief of staff Al Haig, Nixon discusses future judicial nominations, insisting on finding "meanest right-wing” nominees. He adds emphatically, “No Jews. Is that clear? We've got enough Jews. Now if you find some Jew that I think is great, put him on there."

One of the tapes features an awkward, disjointed phone conversation from April 30, 1973, with California Gov. Ronald Reagan, who had called the president to offer his support after Nixon’s dramatic address announcing the resignations of four of his closest aides: chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, domestic policy aide John Erlichman, White House counsel John Dean and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst.

2:26

“We’re still behind you out here and I wanted you to know you’re in our prayers,” Reagan tells Nixon, who replies, “How nice of you to say that,” and then adds, “We can be – each of us is of different religions, you know? But God damn it, Ron, we have got to build peace in the world, and that’s what I’m working on … .”

In his July 12 conversation with Haig, Nixon is heard raging at the investigation being pressed that summer by the Senate Watergate committee.

“The president of the United States can’t be kicked around by a God-damned senile senator,” Nixon tells Haig. The chairman of the Senate Watergate committee was Sen. Sam Ervin, D-N.C. who was 76 at the time.

The final installment of the Nixon recordings – 2,905 conversations totaling approximately 340 hours – spans the period from April 9 to July 12, 1973; a time when the cover-up of the break-in at the Watergate headquarters of Democratic National Committee, carried out in June of 1972 by operatives of the Committee to Re-Elect the President, had begun to fall apart and Nixon’s closest aides were forced to resign.

At their July 12 meeting, Haig and Nixon are heard discussing the strategy they should use to rebuff a request from the Senate committee for White House documents relating to the break-in and the cover-up.

2:24

The Watergate committee had sent a letter to Nixon that day requesting a meeting between the committee and White House officials to discuss documents Nixon had refused to hand over to the committee.

“I could simply say, ‘there’s nothing involving criminal activity,’ maybe put that out,” Nixon suggests to Haig.

“You could say that,” Haig agrees, and he adds, “You have turned witnesses loose to testify under oath” without any invocation of executive privilege.

Nixon also mocks the Senate questioners, adopting a wheedling voice as if acting out the part of a committee member or counsel, “'Now what does this mean, Mr. Haldeman? What does this mean?' Screw it!"

Nixon also voices his disdain at what he saw as the disloyalty of two Republican members of the Watergate committee: Sens. Howard Baker of Tennessee and Lowell Weicker of Connecticut: “Baker will not be in this office again. You understand me? Weicker will not be in this office again.”

Nixon also gripes about statement made by Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., that he thinks have undercut him. “I’m not going to see Goldwater on this issue,” he tells Haig. “Goldwater has been a pluperfect ass.”

In a recorded phone call with Haldeman about an hour after the April 30 speech in which he told the nation that Haldeman and others were resigning, Nixon is heard telling Haldeman, “It’s a tough thing, Bob, for you, for John, the rest, but God damn it, I never want to discuss this son of a bitch Watergate thing again. Never, never, never, never.”

0:19

Nixon expressed bitterness about only one Cabinet officer calling him to express support after the speech.

“The only cabinet officer that has called – and this is 50 minutes after the thing is over – is Cap Weinberger, bless his soul. All the rest are waiting to see what the polls show. God damn strong Cabinet, isn’t it?”

Nixon also tells Haldeman: “You’re a strong man, God damn it and I love you and I love John … . Keep the faith, keep the faith. You’ve got to win this son of a bitch.”

A few minutes after the Haldeman phone call, Secretary of State William Rogers calls Nixon to praise the speech “I thought it was superb. I don’t see how you could have done any better, I think the best delivery I’d ever seen you give.”

Nixon tells Rogers, “I've been through a hell of an experience. I was just reading (Sherman) Adams' memoirs and Adams, you know, to his credit did come in and say ‘I'll resign’ – but Haldeman and Erlichman didn’t and I had to tell them they had to resign. And that was a God damn tough son of a bitch."

Sherman Adams was President Eisenhower’s chief of staff, who was forced to quit in 1958 after accepting gifts from a Boston textile manufacturer who was under federal investigation.

Haldeman, Erlichman and Dean would all eventually serve time in federal prison for their roles in the conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Kleindienst pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to testify accurately to a Senate committee about Nixon ordering him to drop Justice Department antitrust proceedings against the International Telephone and Telegraph Corp. Kleindienst paid a small fine and was given a 30-day suspended sentence.

Pete Williams, Alicia Jennings, Carroll Ann Mears, and Abigail Williams contributed to this report.