YORBA LINDA, Calif. — In the hours after President Richard Nixon delivered his first major national address about Watergate, two future presidents called him to express their private support, according to audio recordings released Wednesday.
The April 30, 1973, calls with Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were captured on a secret recording system that Nixon used to tape conversations from February 1971 to July 1973.
The final chronological installment of those tapes — 340 hours — was made public by the National Archives and Records Administration, along with more than 140,000 pages of text documents. Seven hundred hours remain sealed for national security and privacy reasons.
Reagan, governor of California at the time, called late in the evening of April 30 to support Nixon after the 37th president delivered a landmark speech about the Watergate scandal, which was rapidly ensnaring him.
Two top White House staff members and close Nixon confidants, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, had resigned that day, as had Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. Also, White House Counsel John W. Dean III was fired that day.
In the speech, Nixon defended the integrity of the White House and said he was not aware of or connected to the Watergate break-in. He stressed that he supported punishment for those involved in possible criminal actions and said he accepted responsibility for ceding the authority of his campaign to others whose “zeal exceeded their judgment and who may have done wrong in a cause they deeply believed to be right.”
Reagan told Nixon that the speech was the right one to make.
“I just want you to know, we watched and my heart was with you. I know what this must have been and what this must have been in all these days and what you’ve been through,” Reagan said.
“You can count on us, we’re still behind you out here and I wanted you to know that you’re in our prayers.”
That same evening, Bush, who had recently been appointed chairman of the Republican National Committee, called to say he had watched with “great pride.”
Nixon complained to Bush about the reaction from TV commentators.
“The folks may understand,” Nixon said, before adding later: “To hell with the commentators.”
The following year, Bush would privately write Nixon a letter urging him to resign.
The tapes also included a recording of Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev chatting warmly in the Oval Office before a historic summitin June 1973.
Nixon and Brezhnev met one-on-one with only an interpreter present for an hour on June 18 and chatted about personal topics, including their families.