Final Nixon tapes released to public span Soviet summit, Watergate


President Richard Nixon (L) shakes hands with Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State, in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 1, 1973.

The Nixon Presidential Library and Museum has released 3,700 hours of audiotapes of phone calls and private meetings captured by the former President Richard Nixon's secret recording system. The recordings cover a key period between February 1971 and July 1973.

It is the final installment of the "Nixon Tapes," some 340 hours of recordings, was made public on Wednesday by the National Archives and Records Administration, in addition to more than 140,000 pages of documents.

Hundreds of hours of those tapes still remain sealed due to national security and for Nixon's privacy.

The tapes span Nixon's second term which was plagued by the Watergate scandal and covers a historic summit in June 1973 with then Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, as well as, intense diplomatic negotiations with rival China.

"This release really captures some of the greatest achievements and some of the moments of greatest despair of the Nixon administration," Luke Nichter, an expert on the Nixon tapes at Texas A&M University, told the Wall Street Journal.

The tapes reveal Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, then Cold-war rivals, chatted warmly before the start of the historic seven-day Soviet Summit of 1973 which paved the way for detente.

Other highlights includes phone calls from two former presidents who phoned Nixon after his first televised Watergate speech on April 30, 1973.

Soon after the speech, then California Gov. Ronald Reagan called to say "My heart was with ya. You can count on us."

George H.W. Bush, then head of the Republican Party, also called to say "I really was proud of ya, and my golly, I know it was tough."

Bush later told Nixon he thought he should resign.

The tapes include a number of conversations between Nixon and his aides which reveal his knowledge of the Watergate burglary and capture his attempts to cover it up.

On April 18, 1973, Nixon finally told chief of staff H.R. Haldeman to destroy the tapes:

Nixon: Most of it is worth destroying. Would you like — would you do that? Haldeman: Sure. Nixon: You know, as a service to the (Nixon) Library and so forth and so on. Haldeman: Sure. Nixon: (Unclear.) Then I think I’ll keep the damn machine (unclear), you know what I mean?

The tapes were obviously never destroyed.

Nixon remains the only president in the history of the United States to resign.

A little over a year after the tapes end, Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974 amid the Watergate scandal, facing both possible impeachment and a criminal indictment.

His successor then Vice President Gerald Ford later pardoned him.