According to White House aide H. R. Haldeman’s 1978 book The Ends to Power (see February 1978), President Nixon phones Haldeman in a call that Haldeman will claim has remained “unknown to anyone but the president and me to this day.” Nixon wants to rr the jailed Watergate burglars (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). “Those people who got caught are going to need money. I’ve been thinking about how to do it,” Nixon says. “I’m going to have Bebe [Nixon’s millionaire friend, Bebe Rebozo] start a fund for them in Miami. Call it an anti-Castro fund.” [Time, 2/27/1978] But many observers, including Haldeman’s colleague John Ehrlichman, will describe Haldeman’s book as filled with errors (see March 6, 1978), thereby calling into question Haldeman’s account of the reported incident.
In his first interview session with former President Richard Nixon about Watergate (see April 13-15, 1977), David Frost moves from the erased Watergate tape (see November 21, 1973) to Nixon’s damning conversation with Charles Colson about “stonewalling” the Watergate investigation. This time around, Frost is far more prepared and ready to deal with Nixon’s tactics of obfuscation and misdirection than in earlier interviews (see April 6, 1977).
Surprise Information – Nixon is unaware that Frost knows about his conversation that same day with Colson (see June 20, 1972). Along with what is known about his conversation with Haldeman, the Colson conversation puts Nixon squarely in the midst of the conspiracy at its outset. More important than Frost’s command of the facts is Frost’s springing of a “surprise card” (Frost researcher James Reston Jr.‘s words) on Nixon at the beginning of the Watergate sessions. Nixon obviously must contend with the questions of what else Frost knows, and how he would ask about it. As Frost details excerpts from the Colson conversation, about “stonewalling” and “hav[ing] our people delay, avoiding depositions,” Reston watches Nixon on the monitor. Reston will later recall: “His jawline seemed to elongate. The corners of his mouth turned down. His eyes seemed more liquid. One could almost see the complicated dials in his head turning feverishly. It was a marvelously expressive face. The range of movement both within the contours of the visage and with the hands was enormous.” Frost concludes with the question, “Now, somewhere you were pretty well informed by this conversation, weren’t you?” After some fumbling and half-hearted admissions of some knowledge, Nixon begins justifying his actions in the conspiracy: “My motive was not to cover up a criminal action, but to be sure that as any slip over—or should I say slop over, a better word—any slop over in a way that would damage innocent people or blow it into political proportions.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 124-126]