Forty years ago this Friday, Richard Nixon became the first and only president of the United States to resign from office. He signed his resignation agreement, boarded a helicopter for San Clemente, Calif., and largely retreated into the shadows of history.
A decade later, he sat down with former White House aide Frank Gannon to share his own account of his final days in the Oval Office. Segments culled from those 30 hours of interviews were aired publicly just once, on CBS News. This week, The Richard Nixon Foundation and the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum are releasing a series of clips of those interviews in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the resignation.
In the first installments of the video series entitled “A President Resigns,” the disgraced president recalls learning that the infamous tape that became known as “the smoking gun” had been released. The tape revealed that Nixon had been aware of the break-in at the Watergate, despite his repeated denials.
“This was the final blow, the final nail in the coffin. Although you don’t need another nail if you’re already in the coffin – which we were,” Nixon said in the interview a decade later.
The smoking gun tape was released on August 5, 1974, the day Nixon took one final evening cruise on the presidential yacht, the USS Sequoia.
“It turned out to be a rather eerie ride, I might say. We talked about everything but what Tricia [Nixon’s eldest daughter] has called ‘the subject,’ ” Nixon recounted.
When the call came saying that the tape had been released and that it was in fact as incriminating has had been anticipated, the first lady began to pack, Nixon said in a segment released Tuesday.
Nixon publicly announced his resignation on August 8, 1974, and Vice President Gerald Ford was inaugurated as the 38th president of the United States the following day. Mr. Ford granted Nixon a full presidential pardon one month later.
The library will release additional installments of the series each day this week, leading up to August 9, the day Nixon resigned. On August 10, the interviews will return to the archive once again.
“This is as close to what anybody is going to experience sitting down and and having a beer with Nixon, sitting down with him in his living room,” said Mr. Gannon, now a writer and historian in Washington, according to the Associated Press.
“Like him or not, whether you think that his resignation was a tragedy for the nation or that he got out of town one step ahead of the sheriff, he was a human being,” Gannon said.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.