(5 of 9)
Frost's citing of this tape stuns Nixon, who seems hardly to believe he said such things. Frost then starts to unreel a bit of the Feb. 13 tape. Nixon interrupts, asking apprehensively: "It hasn't been published yet, you say?" Replies Frost: "No, I think it's available to anybody who consults the records." A smile breaks onto Nixon's face, but vanishes suddenly. "Oh, I just wondered if we'd seen it," he says.
In fact, Nixon has never seen this transcript. (After the session, he asked his aides: "What was that tape? I'm sure I never heard that tape before. Find out about that tape." They immediately tried to locate a transcript in Washington.) The two Colson tapes, of course, contradict Nixon's assertion that he first learned of the cover-up on March 21. They unsettle Nixon.
Moments later, Frost has Nixon in full retreat in a sharp exchange over Frost's repeated assertion that the tapes do, indeed, show Nixon knew a cover-up was under way more than a month before he has always claimed he learned of it. This round ends tartly. "You could state your conclusion and I've stated my view." Nixon says. "So now we go on to the rest of it."
Frost ignores the suggestion. With rapid-fire intensity, he reads a devastating litany of quotes from the March 21 tape, in which Nixon clearly sanctions the payment of hush money to Hunt. On this tape, as it was introduced in the House Judiciary Committee hearings on Nixon's possible impeachment, Nixon says such things as: "You could get a million dollars. You could get it in cash ... Don't you think you have to handle Hunt's financial situation damn soon? ... We have to keep the cap on the bottle that much ... That's why for your immediate things you've got no choice but to come up with the $120,000, or whatever it is. Right? ... Would you agree that's a buy-time thing that you damn well better get that done? ... Get the million bucks, it would seem to me that would be worthwhile ... You'd better damn well get that done, but fast."
Frost barks out quote after quote. Finally Nixon has heard enough. "Let me, let me just stop you right there," he interrupts. "Right there."
The man who once held the most influential leadership post in the free world is being verbally assaulted by a normally mild-mannered television interviewer. Nixon turns more defensive.
"I could have notes here," he says, gesturing toward Frost's clipboard. "As you know, I've participated in all these broadcasts without a note in front of me." As this type of pounding comes to a merciful end, Nixon looks like a beaten man.
Unknown to television viewers, the Watergate show is the result of two separate tapings. All the above exchanges occurred on April 13; the rest of the Watergate program was recorded two days later. According to one of his associates, Nixon did not review his Watergate briefing papers between the two sessions —he was concerned about broader questions. "Much of the detail had been covered on Wednesday," says the aide. Nixon presumed the Friday session would be the toughest of all, since this would be Frost's final chance.