I have never read a complete and true account about the confirmation of a taping system in the Oval Office over the past 43 years. I have given Rufus Edmisten the whole story and expect it to be included in his book, soon to be published.
The week after our discovery, Time magazine (which never interviewed me) said it was a “throwaway question” by my minority counsel, Don Saunders.
It was not.
Unfortunately, Don died many years ago. I’m sure he would back me up. The assigned staff investigator (who always led off at witness interviews) questioned Butterfield for three hours and 15 minutes. He never touched on the subject of tape recordings.
Don and I worked very well together. His relationship
When taking little pieces of real evidence, every good lawyer compares and correlates them to what he/she already knows in order to ask the most productive question for a true conclusion.
These are the pieces of evidence I had gotten in advance of the Butterfield interview and was shared by me and Don that led to the discovery of the Nixon tapes that day, Friday, July 13, 1973:
- John Dean had already told us in an interview that, on the day of the “Smoking Gun” meeting in the Oval Office, Nixon was asking him, one after the other, leading questions, calling for either “yes” or “no” responses. Being a lawyer himself, Dean told us, “I was being asked leading questions in the Oval Office. One after the other. I felt like I was being tape recorded.”
- I had previously asked the Nixon lawyers to give me copies of all daily writings that Nixon had made and kept. We knew he, unlike other presidents, did not keep a diary as such. I was given copies of what they called “the daily press reports.” These were one or two sheets with an outline of the most important press events of the day. In the right-hand column next to each report of what was going on, Nixon would simply write the initial of his various staff member who he assigned to report in full to him about each of the “events.”
- Thirdly, I subpoenaed Nixon’s “desk calendar” for the past 18 months to learn who he met with each day, names of all who were present, the sequence of dates, how long the meeting lasted, who came and went, etc.
Of course, Dean’s remark, “I felt like I was being taped,” led to the obvious suspicion Don and I initially had: was there a little handheld, Radio Shack tape recorder being used that day by Nixon in the Oval Office?
But the other two findings fit in and led to the subject on July 13.
The daily calendar (number two) had all the information I sought. But added to most of the entries dating back 18 months was a handwritten addition giving the subject of each meeting (or many of them). The handwriting was consistent in every entry and pretty much “proof” that it had been added at a later time.
Anyone with a curious mind
There is no question about mine and Don’s suspicions. We never dreamed of a then rather highly sophisticated tape and locator system in four more places than the Oval Office.
But what led to the truth and, without a doubt, directly to the resignation of the President of the United States was not a throwaway question or accidental: it was the result of what was in the minds of a retired FBI agent Saunders as well as a trial lawyer with 17 years of experience in fact-finding investigation, witness testimony, cross-examination, and official/corporate/government “intrigue.”
The procedure for each Watergate team at interviews was: (1) the field investigator who is supposed to know the most goes first; (2) the minority counsel is given the courtesy of being second; (3) the majority counsel in charge is to fill in any blanks as to questions and other evidence.
After three hours and 15 minutes of very little, it was Don’s turn. After a few questions came what really was more a comment than a question. “Mr. Butterfield, is there anything to what we have been hearing about a tape recording in the Oval Office?”
This opened the door, and there was little need for much follow-up. Butterfield said we thought this subject would come up. We talked about this with the
Butterfield most went forward and told about the “tape and locator system,” not just in the Oval Office but in the Cabinet Room, Executive Office Building, Aspen Cabin, etc. He told the whole story, complete and straightforward.
My only follow-up that I recall was due to my fear of a secret recording system in the Aspen Cabin at Camp David. Only a few months before, the premier of the Soviet Union for the first time had visited the U.S.
My follow-up included little and was only, “Had we secretly recorded the premier of Russia?” But Butterfield quickly replied, “No, when the president is not at Camp David, the system is not activated.” Nothing ever came of this. It was apparently true.
Frankly, all of us were in a hurry to get out and report to Ervin, Baker, Dash, Thompson, and Edmisten.
I headed for Raleigh, late for my birthday party I missed the day before. I feared a press leak or a leak from North Carolina that I would get the blame for. We knew who one of the biggest staff leakers was.
I bought the D.C. paper Saturday morning and saw that there was no leak. On Sunday morning, I went again to the mall and got the Bernstein/Woodard D.C. newspaper—still no leak. When I headed to D.C. at 6 a.m. Monday morning and got the paper, there was still no leak.
Ervin and Baker had changed the witness schedule over the weekend and told Butterfield to show up Monday afternoon to testify on TV to the world.
The press was suspicious. As I headed to the Caucus Room, a group of reporters
Seeing me and knowing my position on the committee, they came up and stopped me. “Boyce, you look like you know something. What’s going on?” I stumbled out, “When I told you ‘Good morning,’ that is all that I know.”
The rest is history, with one important fact, for historical consideration.
My stenographer, a most loyal, dedicated, and hard-working
One year and 27 days later we heard the infamous, “I hereby resign the Office of President of the United States.”