There is no question that former top FBI guy Mark Felt's decision to provide information to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in the early '70s was one important part of what led to Richard Nixon's eventual resignation from office in August of 1974. But, not surprisingly, the corporate media have left out the decisive factor which led to that result: the sentiments and the actions of the U.S. American people at the grassroots.
From the fall of 1973 to the fall of 1974 I was one of the national coordinators of the National Campaign to Impeach Nixon (NCIN). Over the course of a few short months, this effort grew to include working local contacts in 33 states and over 100 cities and towns. During the three months of February, March and April of 1974, we organized a national lobby-in in Washington, D.C., a national conference in Chicago and a national demonstration of 10,000 people in D.C. on April 27th that received widespread media coverage.
Looking back over thirty years later, it's easy to think that Nixon's resignation was a foregone conclusion once Woodward and Deep Throat hooked up and the organized cover up of widespread illegality on the part of the Nixon administration began to be revealed. But this was not the case.
There were prominent liberals, for example, who publicly opposed impeachment on the grounds that it would be better to have a weakened Nixon in office than an empowered Gerald Ford, Nixon's Vice-President. This was the argument made by Nicholas Von Hoffman, a Washington Post columnist, in a piece published on December 26th, 1973.
My NCIN co-coordinator, Kitty Tucker, and I wrote a response to Hoffman that was printed in the January 12th, 1974 Post. We said there that, "We believe the key to 'those same interests' [that both Nixon and Ford represented] being strongly opposed, the key to a Congress becoming responsible, is a movement of citizens in the cities and towns of this country. This movement sees the protection of our constitutional rights as the most important priority. Congress was forced to move on impeachment because of the massive outpouring of protest after Mr. Nixon fired Special Prosecutor [Archibald] Cox on October 20, 1973.
"We believe that to allow Richard Nixon's abuses of power to go unprosecuted would set an ominous precedent for future Presidents. . . In the process of impeaching Richard Nixon certain gross abuses of power would have to be pinpointed. . ., thus making the same thing more difficult in the future. And if, in the process of impeachment, a movement is built which refuses to accept imperial rulers or undemocratic regimes, 'those same interests' which Ford represents will find it more difficult to get their way."
Nixon was under great pressure to resign as 1974 evolved and various underlings were indicted and some were convicted. But he had more than a few defenders, right wing political commentators and organizations who were doing what they could to paint the efforts to impeach him as little more than a vast, left wing conspiracy to weaken the office of the Presidency. A group called "Americans for the Presidency," for example, with sponsors like Norman Vincent Peale and Bob Hope, took out full-page ads in close to 50 Sunday newspapers.
And these efforts were having an effect. Following the Cox firing, Representative Thomas Rees of California was receiving mail that was 80-20 against Nixon. By mid-April of 1974 it was 60-40 in support. Rep. Don Riegle of Michigan's mail went from overwhelmingly pro-impeachment to 50-50.
In a press release issued by the National Campaign to Impeach Nixon right before its April 27th march on Washington, we said, "The impeachment of President Nixon is necessary, but it is not necessarily happening. As the House Judiciary Committee's investigation drags on, past every deadline, it becomes increasingly clear that the legal and moral issues of impeachment are being overridden in Congress by the concerns of partisan politics. Republicans view impeachment with one eye on the ballot box, and Democrats realize they can only benefit by having Richard Nixon in office to kick around for two more years. If Congress allows the legal maneuvers of the White House to drag on through the summer, there's a good chance Nixon will be permitted to finish his term."
Fortunately, the combination of continuing popular and legal pressure and, soon after our demonstration, the exposure of the Oval Office tape recording system which eventually led to the erased 18 key minutes on one of them, eventually forced Nixon to resign.
In a different political environment, the recent exposure of the 2002 Downing Street memo should have the same effect as those Oval Office tapes. This proof of the White House's criminal intention to wage war against Iraq for no legally justifiable reason should prompt a new impeachment movement. It is these connections to Watergate that we who struggle for justice and peace must be making.
Ted Glick works with the Independent Progressive Politics Network (www.ippn.org) and the Climate Crisis Coalition (www.climatecrisiscoalition.org). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1132, Bloomfield, N.J. 07003.
Other Articles by Ted
Other Articles by Ted Glick