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It was too late for that. The tape was the last straw; it provided the pretext for waverers to commit themselves to impeachment and for others to abandon Nixon. By now there had been too many shocks; everybody wanted to get it over with.
I was flooded with phone calls asking for my comments. I refused them. There were hints that I should condemn Nixon and thus force his resignation. I rejected them. I would not turn on Nixon. Privately I would steer him gentlyif that was possibletoward resignation.
By that night, the reaction on which Haig told me the President's decision would depend had become plain for all to see. The Senate Republican whip, Robert Griffin, asked for Nixon's resignation. Vice President Ford dissociated himself, saying: "The public interest is no longer served by repetition of my previously expressed belief that on the basis of all the evidence known to me, the President is not guilty of an impeachable offense."
I was approached by many concerned people urging me to bring matters to a head by threatening to resign unless Nixon did so; a few even suggested I invoke the 25th Amendment and declare the President incapacitated. It was unthinkable. It was not only that a presidential appointee had no moral right to force his President to resign; it would also be an unbearable historical burden for a foreign-born to do so. I was convinced that Nixon would do the right thing and that it was important for the nation that he be perceived as having come to this conclusion on his own.
Tuesday morning, Aug. 6, the Cabinet met at 11. It was obvious that as far as the Cabinet was concerned, Nixon was on his way out. Cabinet members crowded around Fordnot the usual scene at such meetings, where the Vice President is treated politely but as a supernumerary. I was sitting in my place to the right of the presidential chair when Nixon walked in. I had spent too many hours with him not to sense his panic.
Nixon began by saying that he wanted to talk about the most important subject before our nation; it wasbizarrelyinflation. Abruptly he switched to the subject on everybody's mind. He was aware what a blow the tape of June 23, 1972, was to his case. He asked for nothing from his Cabinet officers they might find personally embarrassing or contrary to their convictions. As for him, he was aware that there was sentiment for his resignation. He had gone through difficult times before; he also had some achievements to his credit. If he resigned under pressure, he might turn our presidential system into a parliamentary one in which a President could stay in office only so long as he could win a vote of confidence from the legislative branch.
That was hardly the issue. Impeaching a President was not the same as a parliamentary vote of noconfidence. What Nixon sought in his oblique way was a vote of confidence, an expression of sympathy for his plight, a show of willingness to continue the fight. All he encountered was an embarrassed silence.