On August 9, 1974, President Richard Nixon became the first American President to resign.
He did not have to resign because, despite campaign promises before he was elected in 1968 and his challenge not to re-elect him if he didn’t, he did not end the war in Vietnam in his first term.
He did not have to resign because he directed the FBI to bug the phones of five reporters in 1969 to identify leaks, leading the FBI source who became known as “Deep Throat” to warn reporters he spoke to not to trust their phones.
He did not have to resign because he started bombing Cambodia secretly in March 1969, invaded Laos and Cambodia to interrupt the North Vietnamese supply line, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but didn’t tell the American people until April 30, 1970.
My husband’s reaction, an Army lieutenant in Vietnam at the time, was “Who is he keeping it a secret from? The Cambodians know they’re being bombed.”
He didn’t have to resign because of the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, which mostly revealed lies from previous administrations about the Vietnam war.
But, he fought their release and ultimately lost to the Supreme Court.
Congress finally ended U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war on August 15, 1973, with the Case-Church Amendment, which said the President would have to get Congressional permission to resume American involvement.
Nixon did not have to resign because Congress ended the draft on June 30, 1973, three and a half years after the lottery had been introduced, on December 1, 1969.
He had been pushing for an all-volunteer Army for several years, drawing down U.S. troop involvement in Vietnam. Military pay had been increased to encourage volunteers.
He did not have to resign because he established relations with Communist China in February 1972, though he’d run and won a vicious campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas for a Senate seat in California in 1950, accusing her of having Communist sympathies.
He did not have to resign because he and Kissinger encouraged the Chilean military to unseat their democratically-elected President Salvador Allende, a Marxist.
General Augusto Pinochet took power in a violent coup on September 11, 1973, during which Allende was killed.
He did not have to resign because of the 1973 oil crisis and gas rationing, caused by an embargo by Arab nations upset that the U.S. had supplied arms to Israel during the October 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Egypt and Syria had attacked Israel. Israel retaliated by recovering all the territory it lost, then pushing back so deep they were within 25 miles of Syria’s capital and 63 miles of Egypt’s capital.
The U.S. and the Soviet Union, by proxy, came as close to nuclear war as they had since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Subsequently, Nixon was the first President to visit Israel and the first to visit Egypt since 1967.
And Russia and the U.S. agreed on two non-proliferation treaties, SALT and Anti-Ballistic Missiles (ABM).
Nixon did not have to resign because he imposed price controls, which he had earlier opposed, twice, in 1971 and 1973, to tame the inflation he had inherited.
It didn’t work, despite the war’s drawdown and the unpopular price controls were abandoned.
He did not have to resign even when Congress overrode his veto of the 1972 Clean Water Act and he impounded the funds they appropriated, though he did establish the Environmental Protection Agency.
Nixon won the November 7, 1972 election in a landslide, losing only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
He did not have to resign because Americans found out he’d been bugging all the visitors to his office, without their knowledge, presumably for an historical record. It was something several Presidents had done, though not as extensively.
Earlier systems were turned on or off manually, when a President wanted to record a meeting. Nixon’s system was voice-activated, recording whenever anyone in the room was talking.
He did not have to resign because Americans learned he was coarse and racist in those recorded meetings, even though he, not his guests, knew he was being taped.
It had been coming since Americans found out the summer of 1972 that his staff had bugged the Democratic headquarters in advance of the 1972 election to steal intelligence on Democratic strategy.
The initial theft, orchestrated by his closest aides, paid for out of campaign funds, and the cover-up that followed, which he authorized himself, came to be called Watergate.
Every Presidential scandal since has been named –gate.
He had to go because, after stiff opposition, he had to turn over those incriminating tapes.
But, before he did, someone erased a critical 18 minutes.
He did not have to resign because he ordered two Attorneys General in a row to fire the Special Prosecutor investigating Watergate and they refused, in what came to be known as the Saturday Night Massacre, in October, 1973.
On October 10, 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned ahead of charges of money laundering, tax evasion and bribery.
This made way for a mild, honest, well-respected Gerald Ford, Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, to take the office of Vice President, appointed by Nixon.
On November 17, 1973, Nixon took a question from the press on television and responded with the now-famous, “I am not a crook.”
He had to go because his aides had been bugging the offices of his political enemies.
He had to go because he had been using the FBI, the CIA and the IRS to harass his political enemies.
He had to go because his aides lied about their activities when they were caught and jailed.
On August 5, 1974, Nixon’s office released what is now called “The Smoking Gun” tape, on which his aides told him about the Watergate burglary a few days after it happened and he authorized them to cover it up.
Republican Congressional leaders told him soon after that he was about to be impeached in the House and the Senate would convict him.
He had to go because the American people no longer trusted him.
He resigned, effective at noon on August 9, 1974, after a televised speech telling the country what he was about to do the night before.
Ford was sworn in at noon as President after Nixon’s helicopter took him away from the White House grounds.
As one reporter described it, Nixon was President when he took off in the helicopter and no longer President when he landed.
On September 8, 1974, President Ford pardoned him for any crimes he did or might have committed.
Americans finally found out on June 7, 2012, that “Deep Throat,” the source for Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who broke the Watergate story, Mark Felt, was the second-highest official at the FBI, which had been charged with investigating the Watergate break-in.
Whether, as some have charged, he was just angling for the number 1 FBI job, or, as some have speculated, trying to establish more independence for the FBI from the President, or just doing his duty as he saw fit as a citizen, it’s clear why this whistle-blower remained anonymous all those years.
And, that by staying anonymous, the focus, and the pressure, stayed on Nixon.
Carol Covin, Granny-Guru