On this day in 1974, President Richard Nixon announces to the public that he will release transcripts of 46 taped White House conversations in response to a Watergate trial subpoena issued in July 1973. The House Judiciary committee accepted 1,200 pages of transcripts the next day, but insisted that the tapes themselves be turned over as well.
In his announcement, Nixon took elaborate pains to explain to the public his reluctance to comply with the subpoena, and the nature of the content he planned to release. He cited his right to executive privilege to protect state secrets and stated that the transcripts were edited by him and his advisors to omit anything “irrelevant” to the Watergate investigation or critical to national security. He invited committee members to review the actual tapes to determine whether or not the president had omitted incriminating evidence in the transcripts. “I want there to be no question remaining,” Nixon insisted, “about the fact that the President has nothing to hide in this matter” and “I made clear there was to be no cover up.”
In June 1972, five men connected with Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) had been caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C. A subsequent investigation exposed other illegal activities perpetrated by CREEP and authorized by senior members of Nixon’s administration. It also raised questions about what the president knew about those activities. Nixon vigorously denied involvement in the burglary cover-up, infamously proclaiming “I am not a crook.” In May 1973, the Senate convened an investigation into the Watergate scandal amid public cries for Nixon’s impeachment. In July 1974, the Supreme Court rejected Nixon’s claim of executive privilege and ordered him to turn over the remaining tapes. On one of them, the president could be heard ordering the FBI to end its investigation of the Watergate break-in; this came to be known as the “smoking gun” that proved Nixon’s guilt.
On August 8, 1974, Nixon avoided a Senate impeachment trial by becoming the first American president to resign from office. He was later pardoned by his successor, President Gerald Ford, “for all offenses against the United States which he committed, or may have committed.”