The President took his case to the country some 10 hours after announcing that he had accepted the resignations of his chief White House advisers, H.R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman, along with Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst.
He also announced that he had fired his counsel, John W. Dean III, who was by the ironies of the political process a casualty of the very scandal the President had charged him to investigate.
The dramatic news of the dismantling of the White House command staff that served Mr. Nixon through his first four years in the presidency was the most devastating impact that the Watergate scandal has yet made on the administration.
The President immediately set into motion a major reshuffling of top administration personnel to fill the slots of the Watergate causalities. Defense Secretary Elliott L. Richardson was appointed to replace Kleindienst and to take over responsibility for “uncovering the whole truth” about the Watergate scandal.
He said last night that he was giving Richardson “absolute authority” in handling the Watergate investigation -- including the authority to appoint a special prosecutor to supervise the government’s case.
As temporary successor to Dean, the President chose his special consultant, Leonard Garment. Mr. Nixon said Garment “will represent the White House in all matters relating to the Watergate investigation and will report directly to me.”
Last night Gordon Strachan, whose name has been linked to the Watergate case, resigned as general counsel to the United States Information Agency. The USIA said the former aide to Haldeman resigned “after learning that persons with whom he had worked closely at the White House had submitted their resignations. . .”
The immediate reaction to yesterday’s White House announcement was a mixture of relief, especially among congressional Republicans, at the prospect of internal housecleaning. But there was also some dismay at the President’s failure to appoint a special prosecutor for the Watergate inquiry.
Senate Republican Leader High Scott (Pa.), in a characteristic flourish of rhetoric, proclaimed that “a lack of grace in power has led to a fall from grace. This rotten vine of Watergate has produced poisonous fruit, and all nourished by it should be cast out of the Garden of Eden.”
House Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-Mich.) called the resignations “a necessary first step by the White House in clearing the air on the Watergate affair . . . I have the greatest confidence in the President and I am absolutely positive he had nothing to with this mess.”