The Impeachment of Richard Nixon
Jude Wanniski
January 13, 1999


Memo To: A Newsweek columnist
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Comparing impeachments

In response to my recent memo to him on the impeachment, a columnist I have long admired, Jonathan Alter, wrote: "Dear Jude: A question occurs to me when you mention that you were a Nixon diehard. If you could go back to that time knowing what you know now from the recently released tapes would you still be a Nixon diehard? Or would you believe that we needed to cleanse the office?" After reading the following answer to him, Jonathan said he did find the history interesting and would read carefully the Blumenthal testimony:

I was not a Nixon diehard. In January 1974, Bob Bartley, editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, asked for a volunteer at the paper to be devil's advocate for President Richard Nixon. I was the only one on the editorial board who admitted he didn't know enough to convict Nixon then and there. Everyone else wanted to throw him overboard, including Bartley. In the months that followed, I drove Bartley crazy, because every time he wanted to write an editorial condemning Nixon, my defense cooled him down. I read the available tape transcripts from cover to cover at least 20 times, until I practically morphed into Nixon himself. I knew what Nixon knew and I knew when he knew it, which was not possible to anyone who learned almost everything after it had already happened. In other words, I could follow his thought process from beginning to end.

When the "smoking gun" tape surfaced, I immediately knew that Nixon was a dead duck, not because it was evidence to me that it was an evil act, which it was not, but that only in a Senate trial could it become evident that Nixon did nothing criminal. And I knew that the country could not stand a long trial that one would have taken a long time because of the complexities of the defense. We were still in a Cold War, and the economy was collapsing because of the cascading effects of Nixon taking us off gold in 1971. I was in Washington when I read the transcript of the "smoking gun" tape and knew it was hopeless trying to persuade Bartley not to write the editorial he had been itching to write for months. So I stayed in DC for three days and never called the office.

The tape told me that Nixon believed his political allies in the Cuban exile community had done something politically stupid and that he exile community had done something politically stupid and that he could save them from trouble by having the CIA ask the FBI to not make a big deal out of it. When the FBI head called him a few days later and said it was serious, Nixon told him to forget the CIA warning and go ahead. The "smoking-gun" cover-up lasted a few days. In his memoirs, Nixon wrote about how he tried to put some of this into his resignation statement, but he was told by his lawyers that it was too late to make that case, so it was not included. It is included in the memoirs  as he wrote it at the time.

This is why Nixon never really apologized, because he believed in his heart he did no evil thing. I thought it a great act of statesmanship that he resigned rather than fight for vindication in a Senate trial. Years later, I asked Nixon in his Foley Square office if it ever occurred to him that he would not have been impeached if he had not taken us off the gold standard. He replied immediately: "It's true that it is very rare in history for a political leader to be touched by scandal and be brought down in an expanding economy." I've used that quote many times since, but this anecdote has never made the public prints. You can use it if you like.

It is rare, as Nixon said, but not without precedent. Caligula was brought down during an expanding economy in Rome, but he was evil personified.

You must remember about conservatives that in the Nixon crisis, they were among the first to call for his head, afraid he had sullied the party. George Will was among the first to denounce Nixon and was rewarded for his impartiality by getting a column in The Washington Post and then a seat on the David Brinkley show. Republicans were in the ascendance and they feared what Nixon had done would usher in another four-term Democrat. Now, conservatives are on top, having recaptured Congress and are pulling the Democratic President toward the center. It is the Democrats who are clinging to Bill Clinton. If they can't hold the Oval Office in an economic boom, what is to become of them?

It is because of my respect for the presidency and my appreciation of his talent and contributions that I defended President Clinton throughout. Look at the memo archive in my website , and you will find the record of my defense. We are all sinners. But we are not all criminals. And even if all he did was lie about consensual sex, in agreement with Monica, I still would defend him. But what he did with Sidney Blumenthal was evil, and when I heard it I was filled with revulsion. When Henry Hyde said we had to cleanse the office, I told my wife, Patricia, I was ready to volunteer to fumigate the place.

The American President is at the top of the world, a political pyramid of six billion people. Everyone on Earth is beneath him. If he can remain in office having committed an evil sin, with the Congress saying it is okay, we will have to chalk one up for Satan. Do you see what I mean?