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Authors: Anthony Summers

The Arrogance of Power

BOOK: The Arrogance of Power

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First published in the United States of America by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc., 2000
Published in Penguin Books 2001


Copyright © Anthony Summers, 2000 All rights reserved

Summers, Anthony.
Arrogance of power : the secret world of Richard Nixon /
Anthony Summers.
p. cm.
1. Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913—Psychology.
2. Presidents—United States—Biography. I. Title.
E856 .S86 2000
973.924'092—dc21 00–060012

Printed in the United States of America
Set in Sabon
Designed by Jaye Zimet

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

ISBN: 978-1-1011-9948-0

For Colm, Fionn, and Lara


en years ago, during a late-night conversation about investigative writing, Norman Mailer suggested I take on the story of Richard Nixon and Watergate. I barely gave it a thought until Nixon died in 1994. It struck me then that, even allowing for respect for the dead, most public commentary seemed excessively deferential to the memory of the first American president to have resigned in disgrace. Something did not connect. Who was this man in whom so many millions of Americans had placed their trust, who had broken that trust, yet who had achieved political resurrection time and again? One who knew him better than most, John Ehrlichman, said in an interview—with Mailer as it happened—that a Nixon biography was the toughest writing assignment he could imagine. Later, Ehrlichman told me he hoped for “a more solid history of that time, a history that would help our children to comprehend and move forward.” The president's former aide was right about the difficulties of the assignment, for the main protagonist was elusive, the evidence scattered—sometimes buried deep. In this book I have reached for the reality of Nixon, from birth in obscurity in California to the fall from the ultimate power of the presidency—for something approaching that “more solid history.”



When Nixon died I thought of the Shakespeare quote about the evil that men do living after them, and the good being interred with their bones. With Nixon the reverse was happening: They wanted the good to live on and the evil to be buried.

—John Rothmann, longtime supporter, 1996

pril 1994. On a hillside in Southern California two men, one much older than the other, checked their watches and stepped out of shelter into the rain. They had been waiting for nearly an hour. Then, as a convoy of limousines slid funereally slowly into view, a thunderclap split the clouds.

“That's the Lord, welcoming the President to His house of many mansions,” said the elderly man.

“You know what it sounds like to me?” responded his companion. “I think it's the Old Man saying, ‘Lord, I'm here now if you need any help.' ”

This was a rare moment of levity on a day of intense emotions and searing memories. Billy Graham, evangelist and friend to a string of presidents, and veteran Republican advance man Ron Walker had come to California to bury the thirty-seventh president of the United States, Richard Milhous Nixon.

The dominant American politician of the second half of the twentieth century had been felled the previous week by a massive stroke, at the age of eighty-one. He had spent his last active day working on a political speech at his home near New York City. Nixon had left instructions that should catastrophic
illness leave him totally incapacitated, he did not wish to be kept alive by artificial means. At the hospital the chief of neurology said Nixon had not wanted to go on living if he could not contribute, could not lead. He had taken his last chance to “exercise moral leadership.”

As president, two decades earlier, Nixon had specified that upon his death he wished to lie in state beneath the dome of the Capitol, as had national leaders since Abraham Lincoln. The man he had served as vice president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, his predecessor Lyndon B. Johnson, and his old rival John F. Kennedy, had all lain in state there. In old age, though, Nixon preemptively ensured that no one would be able to deny him the honor. He had ordered that his remains were instead to be flown directly to Yorba Linda, near Los Angeles, and “planted”—his wry word—beside his wife, Pat, in the shadow of the frame house where he had spent his childhood.

The air force brought Richard Nixon home in a simple mahogany coffin draped with American flags, aboard the same blue and white Boeing 707—once designated Air Force One—that had carried him to California in 1974, when he became the first U.S. president ever to resign in disgrace.

America's response to Nixon's dying would probably have surprised him. President Clinton, a Democrat, who as a young man had opposed Nixon and demanded that he resign over Watergate, declared a day of national mourning, closing Congress, the Supreme Court, and the New York Stock Exchange and suspending mail deliveries. Flags were to fly at half-mast at home, and at U.S. installations around the world, for a month. The funeral party left the East Coast to a twenty-one-gun salute and was met at the dead man's birthplace by thousands of people lining the streets. Citizens huddled under umbrellas, clutching wilted bouquets and American flags, in a freak storm that for the
New York Times
reporter covering the ceremony evoked the tempest scene in
King Lear.

That afternoon and into the night an honor guard stood sentry as citizens filed into the lobby of the Nixon Library, past photographs of the president in his glory moments. They saluted, doffed hats, or stood hand on heart before the closed coffin. The line was three miles long at one point, and by the time the doors were closed forty-two thousand people were estimated to have paid homage.

President Clinton, flanked by all four surviving U.S. presidents—Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush—bade farewell at the funeral “on behalf of a grateful nation.” “May the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career,” he urged, “come to a close.” Gerald Ford, who had replaced him after the resignation, that week declared himself more convinced than ever that he had been right to grant Nixon a blanket pardon for crimes he may have committed during the presidency.

Amid the mourners that day stood a phalanx of former secretaries of state, secretaries of defense, an attorney general, members of Congress, and representatives from eighty-five foreign countries. The governor of California, Pete Wilson, and Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole wept during their eulogies. The
guttural voice of Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state and national security adviser, cracked when he praised Nixon as “our gallant friend . . . one of the seminal presidents” in the conduct of foreign policy, whose “greatest accomplishment was as much moral as it was political.”

The funeral closed with full military honors. Air force fighters flew overhead in the missing man formation, howitzers boomed and rifles cracked, and a lone bugler sounded taps.

The president's surviving brother, Edward, who bore an almost eerie resemblance to his dead sibling, watched—awkward and lonely to one side—as the two American flags on the coffin were handed to Richard's daughters, Tricia and Julie. Then the coffin was lowered into the wet ground.

The Nixon faithful judged this final farewell a resounding success. Ronald Walker, who had organized it with the same efficiency and sense of drama he had once applied to Republican conventions, expressed himself “euphoric.” Ron Ziegler, the former press secretary who once had had to admit that previous statements made in Nixon's name were “inoperative,” walked away feeling “deep gratitude, in spite of all the shortcomings of Watergate.” Peter Flanigan, the former senior assistant who had striven at Nixon's behest to hobble public broadcasting, felt “uplifted. . . . What a story! To come from this depth, to being a senior statesman in the eyes of his countrymen, based solely on guts and intellect.” Len Garment, one of Nixon's Watergate attorneys, commented that Nixon had “won the battle . . . he had made his way back.” “The Old Man,” thought General Vernon Walters, Nixon's translator on foreign trips and his deputy director of the CIA, “must be looking down and taking a delicious revenge.”

A poll taken earlier that week, however, indicated that while 27 percent of those questioned thought Nixon would be remembered as a great president, more than 44 percent said he would be remembered as a dishonored leader. An accounting of some of the individuals who attended the funeral, and of some who chose not to, evokes doubts and dark mysteries that Nixonians would prefer forgotten.

On the night that Nixon suffered his fatal stroke, an old enemy had been celebrating his ninetieth birthday at a party in New York. Alger Hiss, the onetime senior State Department official whom Nixon pursued as a Communist and traitor—winning national prominence in the process—had outlived his nemesis. “I am not going to gloat,” said Hiss, acknowledging the irony. “There are a lot of things in that man's life that were left unatoned for. . . .”

The adviser who first guided Nixon in the use of the “Red smear” as a means to electoral victory, Murray Chotiner, was long since dead. He had been custodian of many of the man's secrets, including the truth about early support given to Nixon by mobsters.

Robert Maheu, once aide to the billionaire Howard Hughes, had never been thanked by Nixon for having helped extract him from political difficulty and to counter corruption allegations. “I've never believed that death gives
a man instant absolution of his sins,” Maheu had remarked to dinner companions the night Nixon died. He did not attend the funeral.

Nixon had once spoken casually to Maheu of the possible need to kill a troublesome foreign businessman. In retirement the former president denied having ever been involved in plots to murder foreign leaders. Yet violence and allegations of violence—from the beating of hecklers and demonstrators to assassination rumors—permeated Nixon's career. His first vice president, Spiro Agnew, claimed he resigned—rather than stay on to fight corruption charges—because of pressure by Nixon and what he interpreted as physical threats. “I feared for my life,” Agnew recalled, and, although he did attend the funeral, had never spoken to Nixon again.

Also present, and described as looking “more menacing than ever,” was G. Gordon Liddy, who had led the botched break-in of the Democratic party headquarters at the Watergate. At the time, according to the chief counsel of the Senate probe, Liddy said he regarded himself as a “prisoner of war” and refused to give more than the metaphorical equivalent of his name, rank, and serial number. Liddy served three years in jail for burglary and wiretapping. Now a maverick talk-show host, he saluted the coffin at the funeral.

Absent was E. Howard Hunt, Liddy's chief cohort, who remained convinced the president had ordered the break-in. He too had served time in prison and regarded Nixon as “despicable” for having saved himself at the expense of others. Not present, too, was James McCord, the security chief for Nixon's reelection committee, who had also gone to prison for his part in the raid. He too continued to believe that Nixon ordered the operation.

Of three senior aides most likely to have known the truth about Watergate and much else about Nixon, only one survived at the time of his death. Both John Mitchell, former attorney general and intimate friend, and H. R. Haldeman, chief of staff, predeceased him. Each had served time for obstruction of justice, as had domestic policy adviser John Ehrlichman. Ehrlichman felt the president had “completely duped” him during Watergate, and the two never spoke again after the resignation. He did not attend the funeral.

For all their differences with Nixon, both his closest aides had retained vast respect for his abilities. “His strengths lay in his intellect,” Ehrlichman had said. “He had a brilliant mind.” “I doubt if I would ever have served any other man in the office of the president,” said Haldeman. “I gained a tremendous appreciation and respect for the greatness in him. . . .”

Another senior White House aide, Charles Colson, was present at the funeral. This was the self-styled “kick-'em-in-the-nuts, anti-press, anti-liberal Nixon fanatic” and dirty tricks man whom Nixon used as liaison with the corrupt leaders of the Teamsters Union. Colson, who had been jailed for obstruction of justice, was moved to tears by Nixon's death.

Haldeman's assistant Gordon Strachan, also at the funeral, has been close-mouthed since 1974, when charges against him were dropped. Then, he
admitted having shredded potentially compromising documents and having delivered cash destined to be used as hush money.

The man Nixon denounced as “evil” because he blabbed to investigators, presidential counsel John Dean—yet another aide who went to jail—was not present to see Nixon buried. He was at the time embroiled in a lawsuit arising from a book that suggested he masterminded Watergate and that an alleged sexual element to the affair was somehow connected to the woman who was now his wife.

Nixon's personal attorney, Herb Kalmbach, who did time for campaign violations, stood among the mourners. He had controlled vast sums in secret cash deposits, was accused of selling ambassadorships, was present when the president signed a fraudulent tax return, and traveled around the country using false names while helping Nixon cover up the offenses exposed by Watergate.

Rose Woods, that most faithful of secretaries, had also come to witness the burial of the man she served for twenty-three years. Within months, as the darkness of Alzheimer's disease began to close around her, papers would surface revealing that Nixon's own attorneys had believed that she “intentionally, not accidentally,” erased the infamous eighteen and one-half minutes missing from one of Nixon's key Watergate conversations.

Nixon's closest friend, eighty-one-year-old Bebe Rebozo, was at the graveside. He had reportedly been at the hospital when the former president had taken his last breath. Rebozo, who had once covertly received bundles of cash from Howard Hughes on Nixon's behalf, was suspected of having used the bank he owned in Florida as a conduit for cash smuggled in from a Bahamanian casino. The Senate Watergate Committee had named Rebozo, along with Nixon's two brothers, as witnesses who obstructed its work.

Unlike many presidents, Nixon had never been suspected of being a philanderer. He had offered to support Marianna Liu, a former hotel hostess he had met in Hong Kong in the sixties, when she sued over press reports about their relationship. Liu, who had lived in Nixon's hometown after moving to the United States, visited his grave sometime after the funeral.

The Saudi millionaire arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi had cultivated Nixon before he became president, met with him while in office, and was said once to have given him a million-dollar campaign contribution, illegal because it came from a foreign donor. Khashoggi was at the funeral, seated in a privileged spot close to the relatives. There too was the former Empress Farah Diba, widow of the shah of Iran, with whom Nixon had an unusually close friendship and to whom—with almost no consultation within the U.S. government—he granted access to an almost unlimited amount of U.S. arms.

Those who extolled Nixon when he died almost all cited his achievement in extracting the United States from the Vietnam War. “The greatest honor history can bestow,” read the inscription on his black granite tombstone, “is the
title of peacemaker.” The line was taken from the president's first inaugural address.

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