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Almost 45 years ago, to the day, then US President Richard Nixon, argued that US House Judiciary Committee subpoenas would damage the presidency: “that the institution of the Presidency itself would be fatally compromised.” Unlike Trump, Nixon was somewhat cooperative, though not completely so. On August 9, 1974, Nixon resigned, and the institution of the presidency remained.

Tape recorder from President Nixon’s Oval Office, as seen in the Museum’s display on the events called “Watergate”. Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

Nixon to Rodino
May 22, 1974
In response to two subpoenas issued by the Judiciary Committee for tapes of presidential conversations and the President’s daily diary, President Richard Nixon wrote to Chairman Peter Rodino of New Jersey outlining the reasons why he would not comply.

On February 6, 1974, the House voted to authorize the Judiciary Committee to conduct what became known as the Nixon impeachment inquiry. The committee was granted broad subpoena power, including “without limitation, books, records, correspondence, logs, journals, memoranda, papers, documents, writings, drawings, graphs, charts, photographs, reproductions, recordings, tapes, transcripts, printouts, data compilations from which information can be obtained . . . tangible objects, and other things of any kind.”

On April 11, 1974, the committee sent the first-ever subpoena to a U.S. President for material related to an inquiry into impeachment charges against him. As Nixon’s letter stated, he turned over transcripts and conversations in response. However, as the committee began presenting evidence and considering whether grounds for impeachment existed, it believed that Nixon had not fully complied with the first subpoena.

The committee subpoenaed additional material on May 15. Nixon responded with exasperation: “It is clear that the continued succession of demands for additional Presidential conversations has become a never-ending process, and that to continue providing these conversations in response to the constantly escalating requests would constitute such a massive invasion into the confidentiality of Presidential conversations that the institution of the Presidency itself would be fatally compromised.”

Nixon never turned over the materials requested in the May 15 subpoena. During the committee’s impeachment debate in July, Members considered whether to charge the president with contempt of Congress for his refusal, and it was approved as the third article of impeachment. Following the release of tapes that made clear his involvement in the cover-up of the Watergate scandal, and facing ebbing public and congressional support, Nixon resigned the presidency on August 9, 1974, before the full House could vote on the articles of impeachment. https://history.house.gov/Records-and-Research/Listing/c_053/

Nixon letter to US House Judiciary Chair Rodino

The great cleanup which followed: