WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Richard Nixon told a U.S. grand jury that he “practically blew my stack” when he learned of the long gap on White House tape sought in the Watergate scandal investigation, according to transcripts released on Thursday.
In one of the biggest political scandals in American history, much has been made of the famous 18-1/2 minute gap on tapes of Nixon’s White House conversations. The key question — did it include incriminating information about the break-in at Democratic National Headquarters by his campaign operatives?
Nixon spent hours before the grand jury on June 23 and 24, 1975, almost a year after he resigned, because of his campaign’s involvement in the attempt to bug his political opponents’ offices at the Watergate complex.
Nixon, who died on April 22, 1994, was pardoned a month after he left the White House by his successor, President Gerald Ford. He was interviewed by the Watergate Special Prosecution Force before two grand jury members in California.
Questions were raised over whether his assistant, Rose Mary Woods, had erased the conversation when she was transcribing the tapes, though Nixon told the grand jury that initially the tape had not been covered by subpoenas.
“Rose had thought it was four minutes ... and now the counsel have found that it is eighteen and a half minutes, and I practically blew my stack,” Nixon told the grand jury.
His testimony was released after noted historian Stanley Kutler, who has written extensively on the scandal and the former president, sued with others to get it released. Grand jury testimony is typically kept secret.
In office from 1969 to 1974, Nixon was the only U.S. president to resign, stepping down in the face of almost certain impeachment over a scandal that deeply damaged national trust in the White House and government.
Nixon also told the grand jury that he never heard the conversation that took place during the gap in the tape.
It has been widely known that the conversation was between Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, after the break-in. But the content of the conversation has never been revealed.
“You do sometimes come back to the same question without intending to be repetitive, but I am pointing out I have never heard this conversation that you have alluded to,” the former president said.
Nixon told the grand jury that he had the “most intensive investigation” to see who else may have been responsible for the erasure, including the Secret Service, but it came up empty.
Ultimately, when asked directly one last time about whether he had any other information about who was responsible or might have caused the erasure, Nixon flatly said “No, I have none.” He later described what happened as an “accident.”
At one point, Nixon tried to restrain himself from using curse words since he was widely known to swear frequently. But when one slipped out about finding out how the tape erasure happened, Nixon quipped “I am sorry, I wasn’t supposed to use profanity. You have enough on the tapes.”
In the middle of his deposition, Nixon received a dose of anti-coagulants. His doctor had said Nixon was unable to travel to Washington, D.C., for the questioning because of health reasons.
Throughout his interview, Nixon often noted that he could not recall specific events or conversations.
Some material was deleted from the testimony released on Thursday because it was deemed classified.
Editing by Ross Colvin and Jackie Frank