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Nixon 'smoking gun' tape released

Most of the Nixon tapes in the latest release are from the first half of 1972.
Most of the Nixon tapes in the latest release are from the first half of 1972.  

From Mike M. Ahlers
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Thirty-one years after President Nixon began surreptitiously recording White House conversations, some 500 hours of previously unreleased tapes are getting their first public exposure.

George Wallace, China and Watergate -- the scandal that consumed Nixon's presidency -- are among the topics covered in the tapes, which the National Archives released on Thursday. And, for the first time, the public is getting to hear the "smoking gun" conversation about Watergate, including what was said before and after the 18-and-a-half minute erased portion of the tapes.

The tapes are the fifth such release and the largest in a continuing series of releases under the terms of an agreement between the government and the Nixon estate.

The bulk of the tapes in this release are from January 1972 to June 1972 -- a period in which Nixon traveled to China, the North Vietnamese waged a major offensive, presidential hopeful George Wallace was shot in an assassination attempt, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover died.

Summaries released by the National Archives show the White House tapes capture moments from the mundane to the spectacular. Archivists say much of the China trip conversations concern logistical matters, but Nixon also converses with French statesman and poet Andre Malraux, who was invited to the White House to share his insights on China.

Nixon also is heard talking about the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a young Vietnamese girl running from a napalm attack.

 Tape releases to date:
  • 1996: "Abuse of governmental power" tapes, 201 hours.
  • 1997: Cabinet Room tapes, recorded between February 1971 and July 1973, 154 hours.
  • 1999: First chronological segment of the tapes; recorded between February 1971 and July 1971, 445 hours.
  • 2000: Second chronological segment; recorded between August 1971 and December 1971, 420 hours.
  • 2002: Third chronological segment; recorded from January 1972 to June 1972, totaling 426 hours. Also, Cabinet Room tapes previously withheld for security reasons, totaling 69 hours.
  • To come: The National Archives is set to release a fourth chronological segment, covering July 1972 to October 1972, and a fifth and final chronological segment, recorded between November 1972 and July 1973.
  • In other tapes, Nixon talks to aides about planting leftist literature in the apartment of Wallace shooter Arthur Bremer in an effort to link him with anti-war protesters.

    Also on the tapes, then-Treasury Secretary John B. Connally Jr. recollects the assassination of President Kennedy. Connally was governor of Texas and was wounded when shots were fired on the presidential motorcade.

    The most contentious tapes were already released. In 1996, the archives made public the so-called "abuse of governmental power" recordings relating to the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at Watergate.

    The investigation of that break-in led directly to the Nixon re-election campaign and reverberated within the White House. That scandal eventually led to Nixon's resignation from office in 1974.

    Four additional conversations about the Watergate break-in will be released Thursday, but they are not expected to greatly contribute to the public's knowledge.

    But one object of curiosity is the complete tape containing the famous missing 18-and-a-half minutes. Previously, the archives released the 18-and-a-half minute "hiss," but not the conversation on either side.

    When the archives first released tapes several years ago, researchers, news organizations and others were allowed to transcribe tapes, but were prohibited from duplicating or broadcasting them. The only people who could hear the tapes were those who traveled to the National Archives facility in College Park, Maryland.

    More recently, the archives and the Nixon estate have permitted copying and broadcast of the tapes. News organizations will be permitted to duplicate the tapes being released Thursday.




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