The meeting took place in Mr. Nixon’s Executive Office Building suite on June 20, 1972, just three days after discovery of the break-in and bugging at Democratic National Committee headquarters here. According to former Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox’s subpoena, “there is every reason to infer that the meeting included discussion of the Watergate incident.”
Dismayed at the report of another missing coversation, Judge Sirica gave the President until Monday to submit all the extant recordings that Cox subpoenaed for safekeeping at the U.S. courthouse here.
If Mr. Nixon is unwilling to do that voluntarily, Sirica said, he would ask Watergate prosecutors to issue a fresh subpoena for the full reels of tape containing the disputed conversations.
Judge Sirica said he was taking the step “not because the court doesn’t trust the White House or the President,” but “in the interest of seeing that nothing else happens” to the still-secret tapes.
Sirica had been planning to leave the original recordings in White House custody until a panel of experts completed a series of tests for any signs of tampering, a process that is expected to take several weeks.
Buzhardt said the June 20 discussion breaks off into what he described as “an audible tone and no conversation” for an 18-minute interval. He said there was conversation between the President and Haldeman both at the beginning and at the end of the unrecognizable portion.
Watergate prosecutors who briefly monitored the recording before yesterday’s hearing said it is “partially obliterated.”
Buzhardt did not contest that description. The White House lawyer said he was told that whatever was said between the President and Haldeman in those 18 minutes has been lost forever. “It is my understanding that it cannot be gotten back,” Buzhardt told reporters after the hearing.
The startling new disclosure came just one day after Mr. Nixon assured the Republican Governors Association in Memphis that the GOP would not be hit with any more bombshells in the Watergate case.
“If there are any more bombs, I’m not aware of them,” the President told the governors Tuesday at their winter conference.
Buzhardt acknowledged that the President knew of the problem with the June 20 tape when he made that remark. The White House lawyer said the missing segment was discovered last Wednesday, Nov. 14, when he and other attorneys for the President were playing back a copy of the original tape to compile an analysis and index that had been ordered by the courts.
The President, Buzhardt said was told “shortly thereafter.”
Buzhardt’s remarks indicated that the White House at least briefly contemplated taking the legal position that the June 20 meeting with Haldeman was not covered by the Cox subpoena because of what Buzhardt called its “ambiguity.”