Joan Bakewell talks to Sir David Frost about his landmark interviews with former United States president Richard Nixon.
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In the summer of 1977,
a British television host with a reputation for acerbic wit,
irreverent humour and searing interviews with society's villains
scooped the media across the globe with a series of programmes that rocked the political world
and had a ripple effect that went beyond its original expectations.
David Frost's interviews with disgraced American President,
Richard Nixon, three years after he resigned,
were landmarks in political broadcasting.
Eventually eliciting from the tough, legally-savvy politician
a confession implicating himself in a major obstruction of justice.
Of having, as he put it, let his friends down,
let the country down and let the American people down.
The programmes garnered sheaves of awards, even won plaudits from the grudging American press.
In 2008, the one-to-one personality challenge between the two men, Frost and Nixon,
was to be the subject of, first, a West End play
and then a film starring Michael Sheen as Frost
and Frank Langella as Nixon.
The film won five Oscar nominations, including one for Langella's performance.
I am here with Sir David Frost to find out the story behind the story.
But first, the background.
1972 was American election year.
Nixon had already served a first term and was campaigning vigorously for a second.
Then, in June '72, a few months before election day, police arrested five men
breaking into the offices of the Democratic Party in the Watergate building in Washington.
Their leader was James McCord, Security Director of Nixon's re-election campaign.
Those further up in the Republican Party denied all knowledge.
What I have said, that I have no prior knowledge of
and no involvement in the electronic bugging of the Watergate,
that's what I've said all along and it's still as true.
But the suspicion grew that the Republican Party had been trying to bug the Democrats.
But did Nixon himself know?
Was he even in collusion?
In the following months, two reporters from the Washington Post,
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, uncovered the fact that there was indeed a secret slush fund
to finance spying operations on the Democratic Party.
Nonetheless, Nixon went on to win the election by a landslide.
The next four years will be the time
that we will try to make ourselves worthy of this victory.
He was a President with major achievements to his name.
He had made a diplomatic breakthrough with his visit to China,
an agreement on nuclear missile reduction with Russia,
and was close to ending American involvement in Vietnam.
Yet the Watergate scandal did not go away.
There was strong evidence of an attempt to block the investigation and obstruct justice.
Slowly, the complex network of intrigue was uncovered,
finally implicating Richard Nixon himself.
He resigned to avoid impeachment and retired in disgrace.
As President, I must put the interests of America first.
Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency
effective at noon tomorrow.
David Frost, what made you think you could scoop this story?
What gave you the idea you could pull it off?
I don't know.
I think it started with the fact that he was clearly the most interesting
and in some ways mysterious figure to interview in the world at that particular moment.
The uniqueness of having to leave office but the drama that went with it.
To unearth that story was just irresistible.
And the fact that people said they thought it was impossible to do that made it even more irresistible.
I can imagine that! Because you had a soaring career at that time,
but you had really founded your career
in the comedy boom of the early '60s.
You were seen as a humourist.
You had been the entertainment at the White House one Christmas for President Nixon.
So it's possible to imagine he thought you were a lightweight?
Well, it may have helped him say yes, perhaps if he did think that.
But the thing is, by the time I had done the Nixon interviews...
the film deliberately wanted to make me an underdog
and implied that I'd done a couple of interviews in Australia before I interviewed Nixon.
But by the time I interviewed Nixon,
I had interviewed three or four thousand people by that time,
so it was a regular stint for me, in one sense, although this was the biggest one.
Tell me about the moment when you picked up the phone and started the process.
I started the process, really,
with a number of calls to people other than Nixon.
The key moment was when Clay Felker,
who created New York Magazine, great friend,
said to me, Swifty Lazar is in the Hamptons this weekend on his way into New York,
he's clearly been given an opportunity by Nixon now,
they had announced the book and so on, to do television.
So the first real call was really to Swifty Lazar, the legendary agent.
It's a great name, Swifty Lazar!
And that was because I think he got Humphrey Bogart three films in an afternoon
or something like that, anyway.
So you started asking around about what you would have to pay Nixon,
because this was going to be a done deal, wasn't it?
He wanted money. He needed money, didn't he?
The interesting thing about that is I think he was at that moment
very, very worried about money,
and I think the reason he was worried about money,
apart from general diffidence, sometimes, on those things,
but the main reason was, he wasn't sure that some of the 30 people or whatever
who had gone to jail, for short sentences but nevertheless gone to jail,
for doing what he'd asked them to do, might sue him.
And I think, in addition to anything else, he was worried about that.
As it turned out, nobody did sue him.
None of his loyal aides who went to prison for him did ever sue him,
so his fears were not fulfilled, but that was his fear at the time.
So you had to beat the networks at their own game,
and the three networks were in play, weren't they?
They all wanted to get this interview, and you were coming from behind, as it were.
The networks were in two minds because they were worried about paying for an interview and so on,
although, already, Lyndon Johnson had been paid for an interview
when he left office by CBS,
before this ever happened.
Anyway, when it came through to the semi-finals, as it were,
there was NBC and myself and NBC were offering at the end,
I think, 400,000 for two hours,
and I was offering 600,000 for six hours.
So, hourly rate, I got a better deal.
But on the other hand, the lesser amount of work would have been to take the NBC one.
And the thing that everybody said, which was really interesting about this,
was that, in fact, the NBC draft, which I'd obviously never seen,
didn't stipulate, as we did,
that a certain number of hours must be devoted to Watergate.
The truth of the thing is, because he was quite illusive about sitting down to Watergate, even with us,
with whom he had to, because of the contract,
that if anyone had signed him up and not got Watergate in black and white,
they would have a hell of a job of ever getting it.
We'll come to the terms in a moment,
but let's just deal with the fact that NBC might have bid
and, indeed, they had the money.
You bid more and you didn't have the money?
David, one of the rules of media behaviour is that you don't go ahead
with a programme until you know where the money's coming from!
Well, that's the ideal, certainly, and that's normally what I would do.
But in this particular case,
I reckoned I could raise the money, and in the end I did.
But it was quite hairy for a time in the middle,
particularly when, early on, one of the promised backers withdrew.
So it was quite hairy doing the interviews
and then going off to the phone to get the rest of the money to continue with the interviews.
And that was a bit of drama that I contained with myself and a few close colleagues.
But it was quite tense.
But how nail-biting was it?
I mean, you were busy doing these heavy interviews all day long,
and then heading off to try and raise money?
Well, I've always believed that you've got to be versatile
and that was a good example of being versatile, I guess.
29 hours of interviewing.
Was that difficult to establish from the start?
And what made you think it would take 29 hours?
-Yes, I don't think...
-It's longer than The Ring.
I don't think anyone else has ever been interviewed for,
more or less continuous, over four weeks.
I think, first of all, the daunting size of the agenda to be covered.
We were doing, basically, the Nixon presidency.
We weren't doing the early years
of Nixon or the later years of Nixon, or whatever.
It was such a dauntingly large subject
that I thought we needed 24 hours,
and we...got the 24 hours, after a bit of pressure.
But, basically, Swifty Lazar and Co were not really opposed to that.
I mean, "Do we really need that? Wouldn't 16 be enough?"
But I said, "No, 24."
Now, when we actually got into the sessions,
Nixon was not filibustering, but he was sometimes taking longer
to come to the point than he might have done,
so we were pleased with where we were getting to,
but we were going to run out of time, eventually.
And so I made a date to go and have lunch
with Jack Brennan, his Chief of Staff -
delightful guy. I mean, it was a great team
Nixon had for those interviews.
I mean, it was a team that, if they'd have been the closest to him
in the White House, he might not have got into all this trouble.
But anyway, so I had lunch with Jack Brennan
and did a bit of a Nixon trick on him,
saying we needed four more hours,
but we didn't have any more money to go from 24 to 28.
Jack, understandably, said,
"Oh, I don't know whether we could do that with no more money
"for an extra four hours. I mean..."
And I said, "Because you know the thing is that,
"if we can't get an extra four hours
"we'll have to drop two or three subjects... Like China."
And that was perfect, and Jack saw his way to saying yes.
29 hours of interviewing, David, is a marathon for the interviewer.
I mean, did you go into training, did you stay fit? Did you exercise?
I mean, how did you keep yourself on the ball?
Who was it who said that, of her husband,
"The only exercise he gets is jumping to conclusions."
I don't know, but maybe there's something of that in it.
But, basically, the thing was, it was on the very first day
it really was borne in on me that the first of, at that stage,
12 two-hour sessions,
which became two and a half hours after this later conversation,
and I suddenly realised that, forget for a minute about the 24 hours,
I've never interviewed anyone continuously for TWO hours.
It's quite a long time for a continuous non-stop interview,
and I thought, "I'm about to do this 12 times over."
I mean, that's when it really... it came home to me.
But then the first session went, among other things, very quickly
and one got into the pattern of doing two hours.
"Doesn't everyone do two hours?" Of course, they never do.
-It was like being an athlete?
-You had to stay fit, not over-eat, not indulge.
But you did go to parties and you did go to opening nights,
even while you were doing these interviews?
Yes, one was a premiere of a film I'd produced or co-produced,
'but, basically, one didn't go to very many social occasions
'in that period, from the last period
'when one's there preparing it and doing it. I had a birthday'
which I didn't suppress -
I had a birthday party and things like that - but, basically, it was,
I worked a damned sight harder than I ever did
for my degree at Cambridge.
Now, what was the Nixon team like?
What sort of negotiations did you enter into with them
before you started? Were they very exact?
Well, we could do several hours on that,
because there was a period when they were trying to hold off
doing, first of all, because they didn't want to mess up or interfere
with Haldeman and Ehrlichman's upcoming trials,
so they said, "We can't talk about Watergate until after that,"
and, of course, anything related to Watergate.
They started listing a lot more things that they couldn't talk about
until these trials were over and so on, and there was, in the end,
there had to be a crunch and one had to say,
"Well, look, you know, this is..." At one stage, Jack Brennan said,
"If you can't agree with that delay for Watergate, or whatever,
"the President would rather hand back the cheque
"and forget the whole thing."
And, you know, one had to say that, at that point, one was considerably
committed and, you know, that he would have to probably look forward
to a writ for about 20m, if he did that, you know, or more.
Did you have to threaten that?
Yes, yes, I did, but not in a threatening voice.
-A charming voice.
-Just in a legally-threatening voice.
So it really came to the edge, that they were on the point
of withdrawing, because of the timing of the interviews?
This is a very complicated thing, because there was the question
of whether the interviews were going to effect the actual trials
of Haldeman and Ehrlichman,
and so that, while one's sympathetic with that to a certain extent,
at the same time, we had these deadlines we had to meet and so on,
and that they knew about and had signed on for and so on,
so it would have been an outrageous breach of contract.
And it didn't happen and, as ever happened with all in the period
leading up to it with Richard Nixon, I said to one of his aides once,
"Why is it that Richard Nixon, when he finally agrees to something,
"has opposed it in such outright terms and so on,
"that he doesn't get the gratitude for agreeing at the end,
"because you've had such a struggle to get there, you know,
"and he's being a fool to himself, as it were", and so on.
"Well, that's the way he does things," they said.
-And Nixon had said at the start, "no holds barred", hadn't he?
-He had actually said that to you?
So you knew that it was combat to the death?
Well, yes, it was going to be.
Parts of it were certainly going... Obviously, the interesting thing
about the interviews is there's the conflict about Watergate,
and conflict about other subjects, the Houston Plan and so on,
but, of course, there were also,
in the 28 and three quarter hours, or whatever, there were also
sessions on China, where instead of being an interrogator,
one became, almost, Nixon's Boswell,
you know, Boswell to his Johnson, really, because the full story
of what happened in China was obviously not of adversary material.
It was something we all wanted to know about and most people
applauded as a good move, anyway, you know. So it was important to,
as it always is with interviews, to get the right tone,
and the tone on Watergate was different to the tone on China, for instance.
Do you regret that the Watergate part of the story
scooped the headlines and has made it famous,
and the interesting developments over China, which you gave
an excellent exposition of, have rather fallen by the wayside?
Yes, I think that was probably predictable,
in the sense that Watergate was the unsolved mystery
of who was the villain. People thought they knew,
but didn't know for sure, so I think that was always
going to be more dramatic and there were things...
One of the most memorable things in the interviews, about where I said,
"So you mean that if the President really feels
"it's an important enough issue, then he can do something illegal
"if national interest dictates?"
And Nixon said, "Well, if the President does it
"that means it's not illegal."
And, as he said those words -
in a session before the Watergate session,
not the Watergate session,
about the Houston plan and so on - as he said those words,
I mean, I just thought,
"Those words are going to resound from these interviews almost as much
"as the Watergate material." And, of course, that's true.
That quote has been played back so many times.
It was something that really particularly enraged
one's American friends, you know, who feel very strongly
about their constitution and it not being
invaded by a president and so on, and so that was just one exchange.
It wasn't as lengthy as Watergate, but it did have a tremendous impact.
Did you, when he made that remark,
which, as you rightly say, has become legendary,
did you notice a flicker on his face -
that he recognised that this was a hostage to fortune,
he'll never be able to retract that sentence?
I don't think so, I mean, that's a very interesting one.
I did get the impression...
the thing I thought when he said it was,
that I must say something to try and get him to carry on -
"This is gold, this is pure gold, even if he says nothing more.
"But if I can get him to talk about it..."
One, you try and look unsurprised by this remark, you know.
You don't go, "Yes! You've said it!" So that you look unconcerned.
And I said something like, "..as a matter of course."
And he said, "Exactly." So you were just trying to,
were trying to continue the golden trail a little bit longer.
Let's talk about your behaviour,
because this is where it gets really interesting, and when we see
the interviews played, it will be interesting to watch his expressions,
his body language and, indeed, yours, because this is gladiatorial stuff.
You weren't so much an interviewer as a prosecutor, David.
On Watergate, definitely, and, in fact, he himself in the interview
says something to the effect about my being the prosecutor,
and "You're doing it very well", and all of that.
And him being the defence and so on, so that was clearly prosecution
and defence, or at least, the first of the two days on Watergate was.
The second day, it's not right to say father-confessor,
-but I was there to push him and push him.
-Well, we'll get round to that.
Well, you certainly do that, but let's consider,
I mean, he has had a career as a lawyer and he's not called
Tricky Dicky for nothing. I mean, he was a very, very astute lawyer.
Did you come to recognise how brilliant a mind he had?
Yes, I think he did. It was very... And he'd been very smart
and he'd been taking no prisoners with various people in politics.
-Well, your approach was to do an enormous amount of research.
Very extensive research, over months, I think.
Yes, over a year, yeah. 12 months, yeah.
And, in fact, pieces of paper everywhere, ink everywhere,
-Caroline Cushing, your girlfriend...
-Including on my fingers, usually.
-She said you always had inky fingers everywhere.
-That's absolutely true.
Yes. Still do.
Still can't manage how you deal with a Pentel pen without getting it on.
Right, inky fingers and lots of research into the law.
We're going to look at a clip where Nixon tries to wrongfoot you
with his legal background and actually makes a fool of himself.
Now this is something that you had researched,
it's the statute on corruption, and just... You tell the story about
how you'd just researched it before you departed
to do the interview that day.
Well, it was. I raised it in the car, on the way down,
we all went down in the same car, and just said,
"Let's just go over that law and its implications again,
"let's just go through it."
And Bob and John and everyone, we went through it,
so it just so happened, magically,
that we'd discussed it just before the interview, on the very same day.
That very hour or so before the interview, you had spelled out
-what that statue was?
-And here is Nixon trying to wrongfoot you.
You used the term "obstruction of justice".
You perhaps have not read the statute,
-with regard to...obstruction of justice.
-No, I have.
Obstruction... Well, oh, I'm sorry,
of course, you probably have read it, but possibly you might have
missed it, because when I read it, many years ago,
er, perhaps when I was studying law,
although the statute didn't even exist then, because it is
'a relatively new statute, as you know.'
But in any event, when I read it in recent times,
I was not familiar with all of the implications of it.
The statute doesn't require just an act, the statute has
the specific provision, "..one must corruptly
-"impede a judicial manner".
-Well, a corrupt endeavour is enough.
A... All right. A conduct endeavour.
A corrupt endeavour, it was,
and you got the phrase right and he got it wrong.
I know. That was odd, wasn't it? Because that was a very legal thing
and he was so... I mean, and correcting himself
and trying to be gracious and, "Of course, you've probably read it",
and all of that, it was a... Yes,
in terms of when that's played, as it sometimes is, to an audience,
I mean, it is as hilarious a clip, in terms of the response
-it gets, as anything.
-Because it turned the argument against himself?
Now, in this encounter, he's obviously playing
a legal game, too. What sort of tactics did he employ
and how soon did you recognise what he was doing?
Well, one thing that one feared, as a possibility, of course,
would be that he would filibust through and take an eternity
to answer simple questions and so on,
and he never did that, really. What he only did sometimes was
he would sometimes, instead of people answering the question
and then maybe going off in another direction towards the end,
he would often start at the other end and come round,
but all the while meaning to, and coming around to
answering the question at the end.
It was his way of doing things, sometimes. Oddly enough,
if you watch the first two lines of it, you would think
he was getting away and off the subject, and it was only
if you watch the whole answer, you see it came round at the end.
But he would answer the questions in the end,
and he wouldn't filibuster, but sometimes he did start
away from the point and come to the point.
If it had been a filibuster,
he would never have got to the point at all, at the end.
Your researchers began to be anxious that he was putting up
quite a good case, and that, in fact, there was just
a tiny risk that Nixon himself would come out of this well and would be
reinstated in popular reputation. Did you ever have that sense?
No, I didn't. About halfway through the interviews,
there was this question about whether we were being tough enough
on one or two subjects and, oddly enough,
the discussion actually took place
two or three days after the famous quote we were just talking about
from the Houston Plan - "..and if the President does it
"that means it's not illegal", that quote.
So, no, I didn't share it, but I shared a concern, obviously,
that we were going to score in the end, as it were,
over the whole scene and, obviously, in terms of emphasising
the underdog thing - and it's a bit dramatic,
the film rather goes over the top about the fact of their worries
after two or three sessions and so on - but, I mean, no,
I never thought we would fail, but despite talking about raising money
earlier, I mean, whatever money one had, one wouldn't necessarily
have put it all on the fact that we were going to prevail,
-but I thought we would.
-In your book, you talk about
having that encounter, when you said to your team,
-"Look, anyone who thinks we're going to fail had better leave now."
-And there was...
-And nobody left!
-But it must have...
-Tense, as a moment.
Quite a tense moment. It's bad enough dealing with Nixon,
-than to have your own team feeling that you're being too soft.
What did you make of the allegation that you were too soft?
Well, I think it's the sort of thing that one's often felt over the years
since then, or occasionally felt it, in the sense that,
you mustn't confuse the style of voice with the intellectual content,
and that, whether it was Neil Kinnock or other famous interviews
with Margaret Thatcher and other people,
that I mean it's the content, the intellectual content, that matters,
and it's often better to keep it conversational,
rather than becoming hostile and aggressive,
because that can shut people up. Particularly, I guess,
if it's someone you've got to talk to for another 16 hours, you know.
So I wasn't worried about...
Of course, that was a point to be concerned about in terms of -
and to be relieved it hadn't happened at the end and so on -
but, basically, I always, somehow or other,
I thought we were going to get there.
But it's always been your technique to go in slowly, hasn't it,
and gently, and always being very polite,
but, nonetheless, with the killer punch coming?
That's the ideal. Yes, absolutely.
The words that John Smith, the former Labour leader,
in his last interview with us on Breakfast With Frost, said,
"You have a way of asking beguiling questions
"with potentially lethal consequences."
And I said, "Well, on balance, I'd be happy
-"to have that on my tombstone."
-29 hours of them.
There came a point at which, according to your book
and, indeed, in the film - I don't know whether it's true or not -
John Birt took you aside and said,
"You've got to start dominating the conversation now. You've got to move
"into a different style - physically dominate the interview."
-David, tell me how you physically dominate an interview?
I don't know exactly how one does it, but one knows afterwards
that one's done it. But he was absolutely right.
He'd seen it when we'd been doing the series together in England,
it had happened on occasions, and he felt that, as you say,
that, in fact, that you've got to take control of the conversation,
and part of that is a physical thing,
and it's obviously not as obvious as that, quite,
because that would be... But there's time for the person to be warned
as you make the journey across the room.
So it's not that, but it is a form of control,
in terms of a slightly more aggressive style of voice.
It's because so much, as you know, as an expert,
that interviewing, or so much of interviewing, is instinct,
and so a lot of that thing of taking physical control of the interview,
is instinct, you know.
Like with silences, for instance, in interviews,
that you've got to have the instinct.
There's a pause, a pregnant pause and, it's an instinct,
you've got to know either that the person, if you shut up,
will go much further, or that he's blind forgotten every word
he was about to say, and you'd better leap in
as fast as possible.
So it's instinct. So it's instinct with the physical control thing.
But I know what he means, and sometimes,
I can sometimes see an interview set up where the chairs
are just too far apart,
that you could never gain physical control of the interview.
But presumably Nixon's a huge man, isn't he?
A very broad, large man, and you're less broad and large,
-so it was quite a challenge?
We've got an example of your doing that,
and I wonder if you, perhaps when you've seen it,
you'll tell us exactly how you went into action
-to make that effective. Here it is.
'Six times I said,'
"You can't provide clemency." It's wrong, for sure.
I've never said though that you did provide clemency,
-nor was I talking about the long term.
-But my point is, without...
Let me quote to you then. I've been through the record,
I want to be totally fair
and let me read to you the last quote on the transcripts
that I can find about this matter.
You said, "Why didn't I go to the last one?"
I read 16 and I thought that was enough,
but we could have read many more, no doubt.
But the last thing in the transcripts
I can find about this subject was you talking on April 20th
and you were recollecting this meeting and you said that you said
to Dean, and to Haldeman, "Christ, turn over any cash we got."
That's YOUR recollection of the meeting, on April 20th,
when you didn't know you were on television.
-Look at all those gestures!
-Yes! I'm surprised.
Do you remember feeling, "I've got to really shout him down?"
No, I did, in the middle there, yes.
No, I wasn't consciously doing that, but I absolutely did
do that there, and yes, that was...
I think that the hand gesture was more me...
.doing the gesture for myself, really, rather than for Nixon.
I mean, a hand here was not going to be particularly fearsome.
I mean because it would never get...
Even if you've got a greater reach than Muhammad Ali.
I think that was just getting
a wee bit passionate myself
rather than probably trying to do that to Nixon.
But that was a good example of the cut and thrust
that there was often in the interviews.
But there was, and indeed he remained enormously in control of himself, didn't he?
He did occasionally get rather thoughtful, not surprisingly,
but he was a very controlled man.
Did you feel you ever got through to Nixon the human being?
Oddly enough it was at the end,
when we were leaving California, and so I went to take my leave
of Nixon to say thank you and so on, at Sacramento,
and Nixon said, "Hello, David".
Well, that was a first shock, because that was the first time in
the whole 28 and 3/4 hours that he'd used my Christian name.
-He'd always called you Mr Frost?
-Yes, Mr Frost.
So that was a surprise, but it was a cue for an incredible,
probably 20 minutes, when Nixon was, and this is a word
that I've never seen anyone use about him,
but he was on this occasion, carefree.
Nixon carefree, yes, Nixon carefree, for about 20 minutes,
and he welcomed us in and then he said to Caroline,
"Let me show you around,"
and took her along and around up to a room, and he said,
"Brezhnev used to sleep there.
"Great swordsman, of course, Brezhnev, and so on,
"but the Russians are, you know!" "Dostoevsky!"
And so around the place in that sense, and then came back into the main room
and said to his beloved, well, I suppose, Batman would be as good a word,
"Manolo, get out the caviar that Charles sent us for Christmas."
And interestingly he was still sending caviar,
and he was soon to leave office, of course, himself as well.
Anyway, he said, "Before you go, give us your impression
"of Henry Kissinger," so he did a hilarious impression of Henry Kissinger
and then he went off to get the caviar.
And it was just for about 20 minutes, Nixon as carefree,
and then after about 20 minutes, just because he was always affable,
he was not rude to people just as a point of nothing,
but these sort of transparent walls
went across and once more
he was still affable, but no longer intimate.
And that was an extraordinary glimpse of a Nixon
that you rarely saw.
Well, we get a glimpse of another Nixon, and probably
the true Nixon too, towards the end of the Watergate interviews
when you elicit from him what you had been hoping to hear all along.
He speaks in the course of the interviews of being a Quaker,
and you yourself come from a Methodist background,
your father was a Methodist minister,
and I feel there's a great quality of the religious confession
about this. We're going to see an extract of how you went about it,
but I wonder whether you felt that you had reached
a confessional point?
Yes, perhaps confessional isn't right...
but when you... Very much...
We're talking morals here, aren't we?
Yes, and in terms of...
There was a real sense of...
not of religious faith,
but religious sensibility in this, yes, and I think that he was...
Although he was certainly not a Catholic, but I mean that,
a sense of confession towards the end.
-And relieving himself of his guilt, to some extent?
I don't want to push the religious element too strongly,
but I think we can see that you have brought from him
the confession he thought he'd never make. Here it is.
'I would like to hear you say,'
I think the American people would like to hear you say, one is...
There was probably more
there was wrongdoing, whether it was a crime or not, yes,
it may have been a crime too.
And I'm saying this without questioning the motives, right?
I did abuse the power I had as president,
or not fulfilled the totality of the oath of office,
that's the second thing.
I put the American people through two years of needless agony
and I apologise for that.
And I say that,
you've explained your motives, I think those are the categories.
And I know how difficult it is for anyone, and most of all you,
but I think that people need to hear it,
and I think unless you say it,
you're going to be haunted for the rest of your life.
-Well, his face says it all, David.
Just watching that again,
and that sort of slight anguish throwing his head back,
and then of course the fact was that
I was waiting for him to respond,
and his first response was to say, as you know,
was to say, "Well, what word would you express?"
And that was really the most sort of
silence-grabbing moment that one experienced,
because suddenly one had, in a sense,
to formulate three points for him and so on.
And at the same time formulate them
in such a way that one avoided getting into words like crime
but using wrongdoing, and using these words
so as one kept with the kernel of what we were trying to say.
So after 29 hours, or something like,
you got to this point,
did you recognise the significance of it at the time?
Yes, I think one started to feel it in the last 20 minutes
as he addressed all of those three points that we just saw.
And, um...and yes, I think one was coming to that realisation
that this was really...keep...
or during that period, to keep it going,
to keep it moving on because there was more he had to say, one hoped.
And he did have more to say, so yes,
one did start to feel it towards the end, and afterwards there was...
It had been an extraordinary two and a half hour session or whatever,
and everybody there, really, our colleagues,
but his colleagues too, were knocked out by what they'd seen.
Did you ever feel any pity for him?
Well, it was very difficult to feel that for him at that time,
because the 30, or whatever it was, people who worked for him
who'd gone to jail because of what they did for him,
you know, and that made it sort of... The sympathy was split,
obviously, at the very least in that sense.
So 30 years later, that dialogue would be different
with nobody in jail and nobody had suffered for it,
but at the time it was very...
So one was able to feel a certain empathy
for this man who had so wanted to be great
and hadn't been, and so on. A certain empathy,
but not really a sympathy because of the people
who were casualties of his policies.
-And they make a film of it, they make a play about it.
And then they make a film of it.
You go to see the play, the audience falls silent as you enter
-the auditorium, and then they made a film.
Which garners huge, huge awards and nominations and so on.
What did you feel about the telling of the story
and the way that it was shown?
Were you conscious that Michael Sheen was at all like you?
I remember after the thing, when the play had been announced,
and going to Broadway and then the film had been announced.
Michael Sheen was on my Al Jazeera programme and he said
"Yes, do you realise I'm going to be playing David Frost
"for the next 12 months," and I said "That's a coincidence, so am I!"
But he was a delight to get to know,
and I thought they did a great job with the film.
-Can we just clear up one or two delicate matters of...
Fictional licence. You did not pick up Caroline Cushing on the flight over to America.
No, no, it was in Monte Carlo that we first met,
but I guess at that time, when they were doing the play in London
with a limited budget, it was a bit easier to have two airline seats
than have a Monte Carlo ball at the sporting club in Monte Carlo.
Also, did Nixon remark on your shoes?
Yes, he did, strangely enough.
We were talking on the way there, talking about this problem
about Nixon for the... He believes you shouldn't do anything other than small talk
for the first five minutes and then get down to the business,
and so we were going down there and thinking what would be
the subject that would come up before the five minutes were up.
And on this particular occasion, I just happened to say,
"Well, he'll probably ask about something non-interesting like my shoes,
I mean and somebody said, "Yeah, probably,"
This was absolutely unlikely that a president, or a former president,
would make a comment about someone's shoes,
and we sat down before the interview and the first thing Nixon said was,
"Where did you get those shoes?"
And I said, "They're Italian." "Oh, really?"
David, to be serious, finally, was it the toughest job you ever did?
It was tough in terms of living up to the story that
one had to try and get out of this.
The high point of your career?
Difficult to think of one that's more so, I think.
I can think of...
No, in that sense it...
There's still no-one else who's ever talked to anyone for 28 hours!
So in that sense, there are people I've done
an hour's interview with that has been absolutely memorable
and so on, but not 28 and 3/4 hours obviously,
and not with quite such a historical climax to come to.
-But this is...
-So one can certainly say that this was the most...
the toughest 28 and 3/4 hours I ever did with anybody.
It's also a tribute to your great variety of skills as an interviewer,
not least in your capacity to stay silent for the appropriate moment,
and this is the climactic moment when you stay silent.
'I just can't stand seeing somebody else cry,'
and that ended it for me...
..and I just, well, I must say, I sort of cracked up,
started to cry,
pushed my chair back,
and then I blurted it out...
And I said, "I'm sorry...
"I just hope I haven't let you down."
Well, when I said, "I just hope I haven't let you down,"
'that said it all, I had.'
I let down my friends...
I let down...
What did that moment feel like?
and one was not numb, but not numb at all,
but the impact of it was, well, as you mentioned just now,
it was very easy to stay silent when listening to that.
David Frost, thank you.
It was on the night of June 17th 1972
that five men were arrested breaking into
the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in Washington, DC.
It turned out later that the break-in had involved such key Nixon supporters
as Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy,
and had been planned by the President's own re-election committee
headed by former Attorney General John Mitchell
and his assistant Jeb Magruder.
Bob Haldeman, the President's Chief of Staff,
was with Mr Nixon in Florida when the break-in occurred.
They returned to the White House on June 19th
and they met on a number of occasions during the next few days.
Two meetings are regarded as key.
The first occurred on the morning of June 20th and included a discussion of Watergate.
A White House tape of that discussion
was later found to have been erased, the famous 18.5 minute gap.
The President met again with Haldeman on June 23.
In that conversation, Mr Nixon is told that the FBI
is moving into problem areas in its Watergate probe.
Haldeman suggests, and Nixon agrees, that the CIA be instructed
to ask the FBI not to proceed any further with its investigation of the burglary.
Mr President, to try and review your account of Watergate
in one programme is a daunting task,
but we'll press, first of all, through the sort of factual record
and the sequence of events
as concisely as we can to begin with.
Um... But just one brief preliminary question...
Reviewing now your conduct over the whole of the Watergate period,
with the additional perspective now, three years out of office and so on,
do you feel that you ever obstructed justice
or were part of a conspiracy to obstruct justice?
Well, in answer to that question,
I think that the best procedure would be for us to do
exactly what you're going to do in this programme,
to go through the whole record in which I will say what I did,
what my motives were,
and then I will give you my evaluation
as to whether those actions...
or anything I said, for that matter,
amounted to what you have called an obstruction of justice.
I will express an opinion on it,
but I think what we should do is to go over it, the whole matter,
so that our viewers will have an opportunity
to know what we are talking about,
so that in effect they, as they listen,
will be able to hear the facts and make up their own minds.
I'll express my own opinion, they may have a different opinion,
YOU may have a different opinion.
But that is really the best way to do it,
rather than to preclude it in advance and maybe prejudice their viewpoint.
I am very happy to do that, because I think the only way, really, to examine all these events
is on a blow-by-blow account of what occurred.
So, beginning with June 20 then,
what did Haldeman tell you during the 18.5 minute gap?
Haldeman's notes are the only recollection
I have of what he told me.
Haldeman was a very good note-taker,
because, of course, we've had other opportunities to look at his notes,
and he... He was making the notes for my presidential files.
The notes indicated...
PR offensive and blah, blah, blah.
That's right. Well, of course.
-Well, you've asked me what it was,
my recollection was that the notes... Check the EOB
to see whether or not it's bugged. Obviously, I was concerned about
whether or not the other side was bugging us.
I went on to say, let's get a public relations offensive
on what the other side is doing in this area and so forth,
and, in effect, don't allow...
build this up into...basically, blow it up into a big, political issue,
those were the concerns expressed.
And I have no recollection of the conversation except that.
But as far as your general state of knowledge, that evening,
when you were talking with Chuck Colson on the evening of June 20th,
it suggests that from somewhere,
your knowledge has gone much further.
You say, "If we didn't know better,
"we'd have thought the whole thing had been deliberately botched".
Colson tells you, "Bob is pulling it all together,
"thus far, I think we've done the right things to date",
and he says, "Basically, they're all pretty hard line guys",
and you say, "You mean Hunt?"
And you say, "Of course, we're just going to leave this where it is with the Cubans,
"at times I just stonewall it". And you also say,
"We've got to have lawyers smart enough to have our people delay."
Now, somewhere, you were pretty well informed by that conversation on June 20th.
As far as my information on June 20th is concerned,
I had been informed with regard to...
the possibility of Hunt's involvement,
whether I knew on the 20th or the 21st or 22nd, I knew...
I learned in that period about the possibility of Liddy's involvement.
Of course I knew about the Cubans and McCord,
who were all picked up at the scene of the crime.
Now, you have read, here, excerpts out of a conversation with Colson,
and let me say, as far as what my motive was concerned -
and that's the important thing -
my motive was in everything I was saying,
or certainly thinking at the time,
was not to try to cover up...
a criminal action,
but to be sure...
that as far as any...
or should I say "slopover", I think would be a better word,
any slopover in a way that would damage innocent people
or blow it into political proportions,
it was that that I certainly wanted to avoid.
So you invented the CIA thing on the 23rd as a cover?
No, now, let's use the word "cover-up", though,
in the sense that it should be used and should not be used.
If a cover-up is for the purpose of covering up criminal activities,
it is illegal.
If, however, a cover-up, as you have called it,
is for a motive that is not criminal,
that is something else again.
And my motive was not criminal.
I didn't believe that we were covering any criminal activities.
I didn't believe that John Mitchell was involved.
I didn't believe that, for that matter, anybody else was.
I was trying to contain it politically,
and that's a very different motive
from the motive of attempting to cover up
criminal activities of an individual.
And so there was no cover-up of any criminal activities,
that was not my motive.
But surely in all you've just said,
you have proved exactly that that was the case,
that there was a cover-up of criminal activity.
Because you've already said, and the record shows,
that you knew that Hunt and Liddy were involved.
You'd been told that Hunt and Liddy were involved.
At the moment when you told the CIA to tell the FBI to stop, period, as you put it,
at that point only five people had been arrested,
Liddy was not even under suspicion.
And so you knew in terms of intent,
and you knew in terms of foreseeable consequence,
that the result would be that in fact, criminals would be protected.
Hunt and Liddy, who were criminally liable, would be protected.
You knew about them. The whole statement says that we were going...
Haldeman says, "We don't want you to go any further on it,
"get them to stop, they don't need to pursue it, they've already got their case."
Walters notes that he said, "Five suspects had been arrested, this should be sufficient."
You said, "Tell them don't go any further into this case, period."
By definition, by what you've said and by what the record shows,
that per se was a conspiracy to obstruct justice
because you were limiting it to five people when,
even if we grant the point that you weren't sure about Mitchell,
you already knew about Hunt and Liddy and had talked about both.
-So, that is obstruction of justice.
-No, just a moment...
That's your conclusion.
-But now let's look at the facts.
The facts is that as far as Liddy was concerned,
what I knew was only...
the fact that he was the man on the committee,
who was in charge of intelligence operations.
As far as Hunt was concerned,
and if you read that tape, you will find
I told them to tell the FBI -
they didn't know apparently - and the CIA, that Hunt was involved.
And so there wasn't any attempt to keep them from knowing
that Hunt was involved.
The other important point to bear in mind
when you ask what happened and so forth
is that what happened two weeks later.
Two weeks later, when I was here in San Clemente,
I called Pat Grey, the then FBI director,
on the phone to congratulate the FBI
on a very successful operation they had in apprehending some hijackers
in San Francisco or some place abroad.
He then brought up the subject of the Watergate investigation.
He said that there are some people around you
who are mortally wounding you,
or might mortally wound you,
because they're trying to restrict this investigation.
And I said, "Well, have you talked to Walters about this matter?"
And I said, "Yes." I said, "Does he agree?"
He said, "Yes." I said, "Well, Pat..."
I had known him very well, of course, from over the years,
I did call him by his first name.
I said, "Pat, you go right ahead with your investigation."
He has so testified, and he did go ahead with the investigation.
Yes, but the point is that obstruction of justice
is obstruction of justice if it's for a minute or five minutes,
much less for the period June 23rd to July 5th,
when I think was when he talked to Walters and decided to go ahead,
the day before he spoke to you on July 6th.
It's obstruction of justice for however long a period, isn't it?
And also, it's no defence to say that the plan failed,
that the CIA didn't go along with it,
refused to go along with it, said it was transparent.
I mean, if I try and rob a bank and fail, that's no defence.
I still tried to rob a bank.
I would say you still tried to obstruct justice and succeeded for that period.
-They didn't interview Agario, didn't do all of this.
And so I would have said it was a successful attempt
to obstruct justice for that brief period.
Now, just a moment. You're again making the case,
which, of course, is your responsibility
as the attorney for the prosecution.
Let me make the case as it should be made,
even if I were not the one who was involved, for the defence.
The case for the defence here is this.
You use the term obstruction of justice.
You perhaps have not read the statute with regard to...
respect, er, er... obstruction of justice.
-Well, I have.
-Obstruction... Oh, I'm sorry,
of course you probably have read it,
but possibly you might have missed it,
because when I read it many years ago in...
..perhaps when I was studying law,
although the statute didn't even exist then
because it's a relatively new statute, as you know.
Er...but in any event, when I read it even in recent times,
I was not familiar with all of the implications of it.
The statute doesn't require just an act,
the statute has the specific provision,
one must corruptly...
..impede a judicial...
Well, a corrupt endeavour is enough.
A corr... All right, must...conduct an endeavour.
Corrupt intent, but it must be corrupt,
and that gets to the point of motive.
One must have a corrupt motive.
Now, I did not have a corrupt motive.
-My motive was pure political containment,
and political containment is not a corrupt motive.
-If so, for example, President Truman would have been impeached.
Yeah, but the point is that...
Motive can be helpful when intent is not clear.
Your intent is absolutely clear, it's stated again,
stop this investigation here, period.
The foreseeable, inevitable consequence if you'd been successful
would have been that Hunt and Liddy would not have been brought to justice.
How can that not be a conspiracy to obstruct justice?
No, wait a minute, stop the...
You would have protected Hunt and Liddy from guilt.
Stop the investigation. Er...
You still have to get back to the point that I have made previously,
that my concern there, which was conveyed to them,
and the decision then was in their hands,
my concern was having the investigation
spread further than it needed to.
-And as far as that was concerned
I don't believe...
As I said, we turned over the fact that we knew that Hunt was involved,
the possibility that Liddy was involved,
but under the circumstances...
-You didn't turn that over.
-You didn't turn that over.
-No, no, we turned over the fact that Hunt...
-You never told anyone about Liddy.
No, not at that point.
Now, after the Gray... after the Gray conversation,
the cover-up went on.
You would say, I think, that you were not aware of it.
I, I think, was arguing that you were a part of it
as a result of the June 23rd conversations,
but you would say that you were...
I was a part of it as a result of the June 23rd conversations?
-After July 6th when I talked to Gray?
I would have said that you joined a conspiracy which you therefore never left.
No. Well, then, we totally disagree on that.
But I mean, those are the two positions.
Now, you, in fact, however, would say
that you first learned of the cover-up on March 21st.
Is that right?
On March 21st was the date when I was first informed
of the fact, the important fact to me in that conversation,
was of the blackmail threat that was being made by Howard Hunt
who was one of the Watergate participants,
but not about Watergate.
So, during the period between those two dates,
between the end of June, beginning of July and March 21st,
while lots of elements of the cover-up as we now know were continuing,
were you ever made aware of any of them?
No, I don't know what you're referring to.
Well, for instance, your personal lawyer, Herbert Kalmbach,
coming to Washington to start the raising of 219,000 of hush money,
approved by Haldeman and Ehrlichman,
they went ahead without clearing it with you?
That was one of the statements that I've made,
which after all the checking we can possibly do,
and we checked with Haldeman, we checked with Ehrlichman...
I wondered, for example, if I had been informed,
if I had been informed that money was being raised
for humanitarian purposes to help these people with their defence,
I would certainly have approved it.
If I had been told that the purpose of the money was to raise it
for the purpose of keeping them quiet,
-I would have been disapproving.
The truth of the matter is that I was not told.
I did not learn of it until the March period.
But in that case, if that was the first occasion,
why did you say in, um... such strong terms
to Colson on February 14th,
which is more than a month before,
you said to him, "The cover-up is the main ingredients.
"That's where we've got to cut our losses, my losses are to be cut,
"the President's loss has got to be cut on the cover-up deal.
-Why did I say that?
Because I read the American papers.
And in January, the stories that came up,
not just from The Washington Post,
the famous series by some unnamed correspondents
who have written a best-selling book since then.
But The New York Times, the networks and so forth
were talking about hush money.
They were talking about clemency for cover-up and all the rest.
It was that that I was referring to at that point.
I was referring to the fact that there was a lot of talk about cover-up,
and that this must be avoided at all cost.
But there's one very clear self-contained quote,
and I read the whole of this conversation of February 13th
which I don't think has ever been published.
And there was one very clear quote in it that I thought was...
It hasn't been published, you say?
I think it's available to anybody who consults the records, but...
-Oh, I see.
-But people don't consult all the records necessarily.
-I just wondered if we'd seen it.
-Well, I'm sure you have, yes.
Where the President says this on February 13th.
"When I'm speaking about..." This is to Colson.
"When I'm speaking about Watergate,
"though that's the whole point of the election,
"this tremendous investigation rests...
"unless one of the seven begins to talk.
"That's the problem."
Now, in that remark, it seems to me
that someone running the cover-up
couldn't have expressed it more clearly than that, could they?
What do we mean by, "One of the seven beginning to talk"?
How many times do I have to tell you
that as far as these seven were concerned,
the concern...that we had,
certainly that I had,
was that men who worked in this kind of covert activity,
men who, of course, realise it's a dangerous activity to work in,
particularly since it involves illegal entry,
that once they're apprehended, they are likely to say anything.
And the question was, I didn't know of anybody at that point,
nobody on the White House staff,
not John Mitchell, anybody else,
that I believed was involved, criminally.
But on the other hand,
I certainly could believe that a man like Howard Hunt,
who was a prolific book writer,
or any one of the others, under the pressures of the moment,
could have started blowing
and putting out all sorts of stories to embarrass the administration.
And as it later turned out, in Hunt's case,
to blackmail the President to provide clemency,
or to provide money, or both.
I still just think, though, that one has to, uh...
go contrary to the normal usage of language
of almost 10,000 gangster movies,
to interpret, "This tremendous investigation rests
"unless one of the seven begins to talk,
"that's the problem,"
as anything other than some sort of conspiracy
to stop him talking about something damaging to the person speaking.
Well, you can state your conclusion and I've stated my view.
-So, now we go on with the rest of it.
What President Nixon knew of the cover-up before March 21st
is disputed, but there is no dispute that on March 21st
John Dean did lay out
many of the key elements of the cover-up for the President.
Dean recited the history of the break-in
and listed the criminal liability of top presidential aides
like Haldeman and Ehrlichman and Dean himself
for actions which followed the burglary.
Dean told the President that hundreds of thousands of dollars had been paid
to keep the Watergate burglars silent through their January trial.
He said further that with sentencing only two days away,
Howard Hunt was now demanding a payment of 120,000
for continued silence,
and Dean suggested that the price tag for blackmail
could total 1 million.
The period following the meeting on March 21st up to April 30th,
when Haldeman and Ehrlichman, resigned is crucial.
The President would later claim that he'd worked to get the truth out during this period.
His critics would claim that he continued to cover it up.
Looking back on the record now
of that conversation, as I'm sure you've done,
in addition to the overall details which we'll come to in a minute,
bearing in mind that a payment probably was set in motion
prior to the meeting and was certainly not completed
until late the evening of the meeting,
um...wouldn't you say that the record of the meeting
does show that you endorsed or ratified what was going on
with regard to the payment to Hunt?
No, the record doesn't show that at all.
In fact, the record, actually, is ambiguous, er...
..until you get to the end, and then it's quite clear.
And what I said...later in the day,
and what I said the following day,
shows what the facts really are
and completely contradicts the fact...the point that has been made.
And again, here's a case where Mr Jaworski in his book
conveniently overlooks what actually was done,
and what I did say the following day, as well as...
..other aspects of it.
Let me say I did consider the payment of 120,000
to Hunt's lawyer and to Hunt,
for his attorney's fees and for support.
I considered it not because Hunt was going to blow,
using our gangster language here, on Watergate.
But, because as the record clearly shows Dean says,
it isn't about Watergate but it's going to talk about
some of the things he's done for Ehrlichman.
As far as the payment of the money was concerned,
when the total record is read,
you will find that it seems to end on a basis which is indecisive,
but I clearly remember, and you undoubtedly have it in your notes,
my saying that the White House can't do it, I think was my last words,
-because I had gone through the whole scenario with the...
I laid it out, I said, "Look, what would it co...
"I mean, when you're talking about all of these people,
"what would it cost to take care of it for..."
-Well, no, I mean, I...
-They talked about a million dollars,
and I said, "You could raise the money,
"but doesn't it finally get down to a question of clemency?"
And he said, "Yes." I said, "Well, you can't provide clemency,
"and that would be wrong, for sure."
Now, if clemency is the bottom line,
then providing the money isn't going to make any sense.
But when we talk about the money,
the 120,000 demand that in fact he got 75,000 of that evening,
bearing in mind what you were saying earlier about reading that,
the overall context to the conversation,
is there any doubt when one reads,
reading the whole conversation...
One, you could get a million dollars and you could get it in cash, I know where it could be gotten.
Two, your major guy to keep under control is Hunt.
Three, don't you have to handle Hunt's financial situation?
Four, let me put it frankly,
I wonder if that doesn't have to be continued.
Five, get the million bucks, it would seem to me that would be worthwhile.
Six, don't you agree that you'd better get the Hunt thing?
Seven, that's worth it and that's buying time on.
Eight, we should buy the time on that, as I pointed out to John.
Nine, Hunt has at least got to know this before he's sentenced.
Ten, first you've got the Hunt problem, that ought to be handled.
11, the money can be provided, Mitchell could provide the way to deliver it, see what I mean?
12, but let's come back to the money,
they were off on something else here, bored to death with the continual references to money.
A million dollars and so forth and so on,
let me say that I think you could get that in cash.
13, that's why your immediate thing,
you've got no choice with Hunt but the 120 or whatever it is, right?
14, would you agree that this is a buy time thing?
You'd better damned well get that done but fast.
15, who's going to talk to him? Colson?
16, we have no choice, and so on.
-Now, reading as you've requested the thing...
-Yes, all right, fine.
Let me just stop you right there. Right there.
You're doing something here which I am not doing,
and I will not do throughout these broadcasts.
You have every right to. You are reading there out of context,
out of order, because I have read this
-and I know it better than you do.
I should know it better because I was there.
It's no reflection on you, you know it better than anybody else I know,
and you're doing it very well.
But I am not going to sit here and read the thing back to you.
I could have notes here. As you know, I participated
on all of these broadcasts without a note in front of me.
I've done it all from recollection. I may have made some mistakes.
You certainly have seen it and I agree, but it's your life we're talking about.
In this instance, the very last thing you read,
do you ever have any choice with Hunt?
Why didn't you read the next sentence?
-Why did you leave it off?
-Carry it on.
No, no, the reason... The next sentence says,
because I remember that so well,
but you never have a choice with Hunt.
Do you ever have one rhetorically?
You never have a choice with Hunt,
because when you finally come down to it, it gets down to clemency.
Now, why, after all of that horror story, and it was...
I mean, even considering that must horrify people.
Why would you consider paying money to somebody
who's blackmailing the White House?
I've tried to give you my reasons.
I was concerned about what he would do.
But my point is, after that, why not?
Why not you do what was not done by Mr Jaworski in his book,
what was not done by Mr Jaworski
before the Senate Judiciary Committee?
Read the last sentence, the last sentence which says,
"After that, you never have any choice with Hunt,"
because it finally comes down to clemency,
and I said six times in that conversation.
You didn't read that in your ten things.
Six times I said, "You can't provide clemency. It's wrong, for sure."
I never said there that you did provide clemency.
-Nor was I talking about the long-term...
-But my point is...my point is...
-Let me quote...
-My point is...
Let me quote to you... I've been through the record, I want to be totally fair,
and let me read to you the last quote on the transcripts
that I can find about this matter, then.
-You said, "Why didn't I go?" to the last one?
I read 16 and I thought that was enough,
but we could have read many more, no doubt.
But the last thing in the transcripts
I can find about this subject was you talking on April 20th,
and you were recollecting this meeting
and you said that you said to Dean and to Haldeman,
"Christ, turn over any cash we got."
That's YOUR recollection of the meeting,
on April 20th, when you didn't know you were on television.
Of course I didn't know I was on television.
On April 20th, it could well have been my recollection.
But my point is...
..I wonder why, again,
we haven't followed up with what happened after the meeting.
Let me tell you what happened after the meeting.
And you are, incidentally, very fair to point out,
and the record clearly shows,
that Dean did not follow up in any way on this.
The payment that was made -
Dean didn't know it, I didn't know it, nobody else knew it -
apparently was being made contemporaneously that day
through another source.
But the next morning, Mitchell told Haldeman that it had been paid,
and in a later transcript, you agree with Haldeman that he told you.
You say, "Yes, you reported that to me."
Yes. I understand.
-Let me point...
-You were very soon aware it had gone through.
That's right, but my point is,
the question we have is whether or not the payment was made...
..as a result of a direction given by the President for that purpose.
And the point is, it was not,
and the point is that the next morning
you talk about the conversation, and here again...
You probably don't have it on your notes here,
but on the 22nd, I raised the whole question of payments
and I said... And I'm compressing it all
so that we don't take too much of our time on this.
..I said, as far as these fellows in jail are concerned,
you can help them for humanitarian reasons,
but you can't pay...
but that Hunt thing goes too far.
That's just damn blackmail.
It would have been damn blackmail if Dean had done it.
Now, that's in the record,
and that's certainly an indication that it wasn't paid.
But later on that day, at some point,
according to your later words to Haldeman,
you were told that it HAD been paid.
That... I...I agree...
that I was told that it had been paid.
But what I am saying here
is that the charge has been made that I directed it
and that it was paid as a result of what I...
said at that meeting.
That charge is not true
and it's proved by the tapes, which in so many cases can be damaging -
in this case, they're helping.
There's two things to be said to that.
One is, I think that the...the...
My reading of the tapes tells me,
trying to read it in an open-minded way,
that...that the writing, not just between the lines
but on so many of the lines, as I quoted,
is very, very clear that you were, in fact,
endorsing at least the short-term solution
of paying this sum of money to buy time.
That would be my reading of it.
But the other point to be said is,
here's Dean talking about this hush money for Hunt,
-talking about blackmail...
..and all of that, I would say that you endorsed or ratified it,
-but let's leave that on one side...
-I didn't endorse or ratify.
Why didn't you stop it?
Because at that point...
..I had nothing...
..to...no knowledge of the fact that it WAS going to be paid,
I'd had no knowledge of the fact that...
what you have mentioned in the transcript of the next day,
where Mitchell said he thought it had been taken care of.
I think that was what the words were, words to that affect.
I wasn't there. I don't remember what he said.
That was only reported to me.
The point that I make is this.
it's a mistake that I didn't stop it.
The point that I make is that I did consider it.
I've told you that I considered it.
I considered it for reasons that I thought were very good ones.
I would not consider it for the other reasons
which would have been, in my view, bad ones.
But that night, though, the night of the 21st,
I mean, in the conversation with Colson after you'd been exchanging dialogue
about getting off the reservation and so on,
Colson said to you something about the fact that
it's the stuff AFTER the cover-up.
"I don't care about the people involved in the cover-up,
"it's the stuff after that's dangerous,
"Dean and other things, and the things that have been done."
And you said, as I'm sure you know,
"You mean, with regard to the defendants.
"Of course that was... That had to be done."
Brackets, laughs, whatever that means.
But, I mean, so that night you were saying that had to be done,
you were realising that doing something for the defendants
was a necessity?
No, I don't interpret that that way at all,
-I...I can't recall...
-How do you interpret it?
I can't recall that conversation
and I can't vouch for the accuracy of the transcription on that,
but I do say...
It's an exhibit at the Watergate trial.
The tapes that have been made public, on the 22nd,
with regard to my...
and the one on the 21st as well,
with regard to the whole payments problem,
I think are very clear with regard to my attitude.
But on the short-term point, that was an exhibit
and part of the basic file at the trial
was that conversation, Colson saying,
"It's the stuff after that's dangerous,"
and you saying, "You mean, with regard to the defendants.
"Of course that was... That had to be done." Brackets, laughs.
-I mean, that's absolutely on the record and authenticated and played publicly.
Well, I can't interpret it at this time.
One of the other things that people find...
very difficult to take
in the Oval Office, on March 21st,
is the...is the coaching that you gave Dean and Haldeman
on how to deal with a grand jury without getting caught
and saying that perjury is a tough rap to prove, as you'd said earlier,
just be damned sure you say,
"I don't remember.
"I can't recall".
Is that the sort of conversation that ought to have been going on in the Oval Office?
I think that kind of advice is proper advice for...one who,
as I was at that time,
beginning to put myself in the position
of attorney for the defence,
something that I wish I hadn't... had the...
felt I had the responsibility to do.
But I would like the opportunity, when the question arises,
to tell you why I felt as deeply as I did on that point.
when he talks to a witness who's going before a grand jury,
says, "Be sure that you don't volunteer anything,
"be sure if you have any question about anything,
"say that you don't recollect, be sure that everything...
"that you state only the facts that you're absolutely sure of".
Now, on the other hand,
I didn't tell them to say don't forget if you do remember.
That then would be suborning perjury.
-And I did not say that.
One of the things you repeated many times,
but I suppose most memorably,
or most clearly, on...
August...15th 1973, you said...
.."If anyone at the White House or high up in my campaign
"had been involved in wrongdoing of any kind,
"I wanted the White House to take the lead in making that known.
"On March 21st, I instructed Dean to write a complete report
"of all that he knew on the entire Watergate matter."
Now, when one looks through the record of what had gone on
just before and after March 21st,
on March 17th, the written statement from Dean,
"You asked for a self-serving goddamned statement
"denying culpability of principle figures,"
when he told you that the original Liddy plan had involved bugging,
you told him to omit that fact in his document
and state it was for...
the plan was for a totally legal intelligence operation.
March 20th, as I'm sure you know, you said,
you want a complete statement but make it very incomplete.
On March 21st, after his revelations to you, you say,
"Understand, I don't want to get all that goddamned specific,"
and Ehrlichman and you when you're talking on the 22nd,
and he's talking of the Dean report,
he says, "And the report says nobody was involved,"
and there's several other quotes to that effect.
Was that...? The Dean report that you described,
it wasn't the same as what you described on August 15th, was it?
Well, what you're leaving out,
which is in that same tape that you've just quoted from,
is a very, very significant statement.
I said that John Dean should make a report,
and I said, "We've..." or, "We have to have a statement,"
and then I went on to say,
"and if it opens doors, let it open doors."
-Now, with regard to the report being complete but incomplete,
what I meant was this, very simply.
I meant that he should state what he was sure of, what he knew,
because one day, he would say one thing,
another day, he'd say something else.
I didn't want him to answer,
and you'll find that also on one of the tapes.
I said, "Don't go into every charge that has been made.
"Go into only what you know."
And particularly go in hard on the fact
which he had consistently repeated over and over again -
no-one in the White House is involved,
that's what I wanted him to do.
But then you have a discussion
in the meeting with Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean
where you're deciding what the policy's going to be.
Is it going to be a hang-out, ie, is it going to be the whole of the truth,
and in the end, it's decided that it's going to be -
one of the great phrases of Watergate -
"a modified, limited hang-out",
which is why I suggest the other quotes that I've quoted to you are decisive.
And then Ehrlichman goes on to say,
"I'm looking at the future..."
And now we already know it's a modified, limited hang-out,
and you can't have a modified, limited version of the truth.
It's not going to be the whole of the truth.
"I am looking at the future,
"assuming some corner of this thing comes unstuck at some time.
"You..." That's you.
"..are in a position to say,
"'Look, that document I published is the document I relied on,
"'that is the report I relied on.'"
And you respond, "That's right."
Now, you've decided the documents are going to be modified,
it's going to be limited,
and then you're going to rely on that document,
and so you're going to be able to blame it on Dean,
and it seems to me that that is consistent
with all the quotes that I have quoted
and not the one door quote that you've quoted.
That's your opinion and I have my opinion.
Dean was sent to write a report, he worked on it,
and he certainly would have remembered a phrase that was,
let me say,
a lot more easy to understand than "modified hang-out",
or whatever Ehrlichman said.
He would have remembered, "If it opens doors, it opens doors."
I meant by that I was prepared to hear the worst as well as the good.
What I don't understand about... March 21st is that
I still don't know why you didn't pick up the phone
and tell the cops.
I still don't know, when you found out
about the things that Haldeman and Ehrlichman had done,
that there is no evidence anywhere of a rebuke,
but only of scenarios and excuses, et cetera.
Nowhere do you say, "We must get this information
"direct to whoever it is, the head of the justice department,
"criminal investigation or whatever".
And nowhere do you say to Haldeman and Ehrlichman,
"This is disgraceful conduct".
And Haldeman admits a lot of it the next day,
so you're not relying on Dean.
-Well, could I take my time now to...to address that question?
I think it will be very useful
that you know what I was going through.
It wasn't a very easy time.
I think my daughter Trisha once said that...
there really wasn't a happy time...
in the White House, except in a personal sense...
after April 30th, when Haldeman and Ehrlichman left.
You know, it's rather difficult to tell you,
four years later, how you felt,
but I think you'd like to know...
..I had been through a very difficult period
when President Eisenhower had the Adams problem.
And I'll never forget the agony he went through.
Here was Adams, a man that had gone through the heart attack with him,
a man that had gone through the stroke with him,
a man that had gone through the ileitis with him,
a man who had been totally selfless but he was caught up in a web.
I don't know.
I consider Adams then to be an honest man in his heart,
he did have some misjudgement,
but in any event,
finally, Eisenhower decided...
..after months of indecision on it -
and he stood up for him in press conferences over and over again,
and Haggerty did -
he decided he had to go.
You know who did it?
I did it.
Eisenhower called me in and asked me to talk to Sherm.
And so, here was the situation I was faced with.
Who's going to talk to these men?
What can we do about it?
Well, first, let me say that...
..I didn't have anybody that could talk to them but me.
I couldn't have Agnew talk to them...
..because they didn't get along well with him.
Bill Rogers wasn't happy with him either.
And so...not having a vice president or anybody else,
and Haldeman, my Chief of Staff, himself being involved,
the only man that could talk to him was me.
when I did talk to them,
it was one of the most...
..I would say, difficult periods,
Hard to use adjectives that are adequate.
..experiences of my life.
I never forget when I...
..heard...that on April 15th, from Henry Peterson,
that they ought to resign,
and Kleindienst thought they ought to resign,
and it took me two weeks...
I frankly agreed, incidentally, in my own mind that they had to go
on the basis of the evidence that had been presented.
But I didn't tell them that at that point.
I... When I say I agreed with it,
I didn't fully reach that conclusion,
because I still wanted to give them a chance to survive.
I didn't want to have them sacked as Eisenhower sacked Adams,
and Adams goes off to New Hampshire and runs a ski lodge
and was never prosecuted for anything.
Sacked because of misjudgement, yes,
but...an illegal act
with an immoral, illegal motive,
That's what I feel about Adams
that's the way I felt about these man at that time.
Now let me tell you what happened.
I remember Henry Peterson coming in on that Sunday afternoon.
Came in off his boat.
Er... He apologised for...
..being in his, er...
..sneakers and a pair of blue jeans and so forth,
but it was very important to give me the update
on what had...the developments that had occurred up till April 15th,.
And he said... He gave me a piece of paper
indicating that they had knowledge
of Haldeman's participation in the 350,000,
and they had knowledge of Ehrlichman's participation
in ordering... or what they indicated
that Ehrlichman had told Hunt to deep...
told the, er...
Gray to deep-six in papers and so forth and so on,
And he said, "Mr President, these men have got to resign,
"you've got to fire them."
And I said to him... I said, "But, Henry,
"I can't fire men simply on the basis of charges.
"They've got to have their day in court,
"they've got to have a chance to prove their innocence.
"I've got to see more than this
"because they claim that they're not guilty."
because he's very respectful,
a Democrat, a career in civil service, splendid man...
..sat back in his chair and he said...
"You know, Mr President, what you've just said...
"..that you can't fire a man
"simply on the basis of charges that have been made
"or the fact that their continued service
"will be embarrassing to you...
"..that you've got to have proof before you do that,"
he said, "that speaks very well for you...
"..as a man.
"It doesn't speak well for you as a President.
And in retrospect, I guess he was right.
So, it took me two weeks to work it out.
Tortuous, long sessions.
You've got hours and hours of talks with them,
which they resisted, we don't need to go through all that agony.
Then I remember the day at Camp David when they came up.
Haldeman came in first, standing as he usually does...
..not a dramatic Nazi storm trooper
but just a decent, respected, crew cut guy -
that's the way Haldeman was.
And he says, "I disagree with your decision totally."
He said, "I think, eventually,
"you're going to live to regret it, but I will."
Ehrlichman then came in.
I knew that Ehrlichman was bitter
because he felt very strongly he shouldn't resign,
although he'd even indicted that Haldeman should go
and maybe he should stay.
I took Ehrlichman out on the porch at Aspen.
You've never been to Aspen, I suppose?
That's the presidential cabin at Camp David,
and it was springtime, the tulips had just come out.
I'll never forget, we looked out across,
it was one of those gorgeous days when the...you know...
No clouds were on the mountain,
and I was pretty emotionally wrought up.
And I remember that I could just hardly bring myself
to tell Ehrlichman that he had to go,
because I knew he was going to resist.
I said, "You know, John, when I went to bed last night..."
He said, "I hoped..." I said, "..I hoped...
"I almost prayed I wouldn't wake up this morning."
Well, it's an emotional moment.
I think there were tears in our eyes, both of us.
He said, "Don't say that."
We went back in, they agreed to leave.
it was late, but I did it.
I cut off one arm, then cut off the other arm.
Now, I can be faulted, I recognise it.
Maybe I defended them too long. Maybe I tried to help them too much.
But I was concerned about them. I was concerned about their families.
I felt that they, in their hearts, felt they were not guilty.
I felt they ought to have a chance, at least,
to prove they were not guilty.
And I didn't want to be in the position
of just sawing them off in that way.
I suppose you could sum it all up
the way one of your British Prime Ministers summed it up, Gladstone,
when he said that the first... requirement for a Prime Minister
is to be a good butcher.
I think the great story, as far as summary of Watergate is concerned,
I did some of the big things rather well.
I screwed up terribly on what was a little thing and became a big thing,
but I will have to admit I wasn't a good butcher.
Would you go further than mistakes?
That you've explained how you got caught up in this thing,
you've explained your motives, I don't want to quibble about any of that.
But just coming to the sheer substance,
would you go further than mistakes?
The word...that seems not enough for people to understand.
What word would you express?
My goodness, that's...
I think there are three things, since you ask me,
I would like to hear you say,
I think the American people would like to hear you say.
..there was probably more than mistakes,
Whether it was a crime or not, yes, it may have been a crime too.
and I'm saying this without questioning the motives, right?
I did abuse the power I had as President
or not fulfilled the totality of the oath of office.
That's the second thing.
I put the American people through two years of needless agony and I apologise for that.
And I say that you've explained your motives, I think those are the categories.
And I know how difficult it is for anyone, and most of all you,
but I think that people need to hear it, and I think unless you say it,
you're going to be haunted for the rest of your life.
I well remember
that when I let Haldeman and Ehrlichman know
that they were to resign...
that I had Ray Price bring in the final draft of the speech
that I was to make the next night.
And I said to him, "Ray,"
I said, "if you think I ought to resign, put that in too,
"because I feel responsibly,"
even though I did not feel
that I had engaged in these activities consciously...
..insofar as the...
..knowledge of or participation in the break-in,
the approval of hush money,
the approval of clemency, et cetera,
the various charges that had been made.
Well, he didn't put it in.
And I must say that at that time
I seriously considered whether I shouldn't resign.
But on the other hand,
I feel that I owe it to history
to point out that from that time on April 30th
until I resigned on August 9th,
I did some things that were good for this country.
We had the second and third summits.
I think one of the major reasons I stayed in office
was my concern about keeping the China initiative,
the Soviet initiative, the Vietnam fragile peace agreement.
And then an added dividend,
the first breakthrough in moving toward not love,
but at least not war in the Mid East.
-And now, coming back to the whole point of...
..whether I should have resigned then,
and how I feel now...
Let me say I just didn't make mistakes in this period.
I think some of my mistakes I regret most deeply
came with the statements that I made afterwards.
Some of those statements were misleading.
I notice, for example, the editor of the Washington Post,
the managing editor, Ben Bradley, wrote a couple or three months ago
something to the effect that as far as his newspaper was concerned,
he said, "We don't print the truth, we print what we know,
"we print what people tells us...
.."and this means that we print lies."
I would say that the statements that I made afterwards
were, on the big issues, true,
that I was not involved in the matters that I have spoken about,
not involved in the break-in,
that I did not engage in and participate in
or approve the payment of money
or the authorisation of clemency,
which, of course, were the essential elements of the cover-up,
that was true.
But the statements were misleading
in exaggerating in that enormous political attack I was under.
It was a five-front war with a fifth column.
I had a partisan Senate committee staff,
we had a partisan Special Prosecutor staff,
we had a partisan media,
we had a partisan judiciary committee staff,
and the fifth column.
Under all these circumstances,
my reactions in some statements and press conversations after that,
I want to say right here and now,
I said things that were not true.
Most of them were fundamentally true on the big issues,
..going as far as I should have gone
in saying perhaps that I had considered other things
but had not done them.
-You mean the...
-For all those things, I have a very deep regret.
You got caught up in something and then it snowballed?
It snowballed, and it was my fault.
I'm not blaming anybody else.
-I am simply saying to you, that as far as I'm concerned...
..I not only regret it.
I indicated my own beliefs in this matter.
When I resigned, people didn't think it was enough to admit mistakes.
Fine. If they want me to get down and grovel on the floor, no, never.
Because I don't believe I should.
On the other hand, there are some friends who say,
just face them down, there is a conspiracy to get you.
There may have been.
I don't know what the CIA had to do...
Some of their shenanigans have yet to be told,
according to a book I read recently.
I don't know what was going on
in some Republican and Democratic circles,
as far as the so-called impeachment lobby was concerned.
However, I don't go with the idea
that what brought me down was a coup, a conspiracy,
et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
I brought myself down.
I gave them a sword,
and they stuck it in and they twisted it with relish.
And I guess, if I'd been in their position,
I'd have done the same thing.
But what I'm really saying is that,
in addition to the untrue statements that you've mentioned...
..could you just say, with conviction,
not because I want you to say it,
that you did do some covering up?
We're not talking legalistically now, I just want the facts,
I mean, that you did do some covering up,
but there were a series of times when,
maybe overwhelmed by your loyalties or whatever else,
but as you look back at the record,
you behaved partially protecting your friends, or maybe yourself,
and that, in fact, you were, to put it at its most simple,
a part of a cover-up at times?
No, I again respectfully
will not quibble with you about the use of the terms.
However, before using the term, I think it's very important for me
to make clear what I did not do and what I did do,
and then I will answer your question quite directly.
I did not, in the first place,
commit the crime of obstruction of justice,
because I did not have the motive required
for the commission of that crime.
-We've had our discussion on that.
-The lawyers can argue that.
I did not commit, in my view, an impeachable offence.
Now, the house has ruled overwhelmingly that I did.
Of course, that was only an indictment
and it would have to be tried in the Senate.
I might have won, I might have lost.
But even if I'd won in the Senate by a vote or two,
I would have been crippled in any event for six months.
The country couldn't afford having the President in the dock
in the United States Senate.
And there can never be an impeachment in the future
in this country
without a President voluntarily impeaching himself.
I have impeached myself. That speaks for itself.
How do you mean, "I have impeached myself"?
By resigning. That was a voluntary impeachment.
Now, what does that mean in terms of whether you're wanting me to say
that I participated in an illegal cover-up? No.
No. When you come to the period,
and this is the critical period,
but when you come to the period of March 21st on,
when Dean gave his legal opinion that certain things...
actions taken by Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell et cetera,
and even by himself,
amounted to illegal cover-up and so forth,
then I was in a very different position.
And during that period I will admit
that I started acting as lawyer for their defence,
I will admit that, acting as lawyer for their defence,
I was not prosecuting the case.
I will admit that during that period,
rather than acting primarily in my role
as the chief and law enforcement officer
of the United States of America,
or at least with responsibility for law enforcement,
because the Attorney General is the chief law enforcement officer.
But as the one with chief responsibility
for seeing the laws of the United States are enforced,
that I did not meet that responsibility.
And to the extent that I did not meet that responsibility,
to the extent that within the law,
and in some cases going right to the edge of the law,
in trying to advise Ehrlichman and Haldeman and all the rest
as to how best to present their cases,
because I thought they were legally innocent,
that I came to the edge.
And under the circumstances, I would have to say
that a reasonable person could call that a cover-up.
I didn't think of it as a cover-up.
I didn't intend it to cover up.
Let me say, if I intended to cover up,
believe me, I'd have done it.
You know how I could have done it so easily?
I could have done it immediately after the election
simply by giving clemency to everybody
and the whole thing would have gone away.
I couldn't do that because I said clemency was wrong.
But now we come down to the key point.
And let me answer it in my own way
about how do I feel about the American people? I mean...
How... Whether I should have resigned earlier.
Or what I should say to them now?
That forces me to rationalise now
and give you a carefully prepared and cropped statement.
I didn't expect this question, so I'm not going to give you that,
-but I can tell you this...
-Nor did I.
I can tell you this.
I think I said it all
in one of those moments that you're not thinking,
sometimes you say the things that are really in your heart,
when you're thinking in advance,
and you say things that, you know, are tailored to the audience.
I had a lot of difficult meetings those last days before I resigned.
And the most difficult one,
and the only one where...
..I broke into tears...
except for that very brief session with Ehrlichman up at Camp David.
It was the first time I cried since Eisenhower died.
I met with all of my key supporters
just the half hour before going on television.
For 25 minutes, we all sat around at the Oval Office,
men that I'd come to Congress with.
Democrats and Republicans, about half and half. Wonderful men.
And at the very end, after saying, well,
thank you for all your support during these tough years,
thank you particularly for what you've done
to help us end the draft, bring home the POWs
and have a chance for building a generation of peace,
which I can see the dream that I had possibly being shattered...
..and thank you for your friendship,
little acts of friendship over the years, you know,
remembering you with a birthday card and the rest...
Then suddenly you hadn't got much more to say
and half the people around the table were crying.
Les Arends, Illinois, bless him, he was just shaking, sobbing.
And I just can't stand seeing somebody else cry,
and that ended it for me.
And I just... Well, I must say, I sort of cracked up, started to cry,
pushed my chair back...
..and then I blurted it out.
And I said...
"I'm sorry. I just hope I haven't let you down."
When I said, "I just hope I haven't let you down,"
that said it all.
I let down my friends,
I let down...
I let down our system of government
and the dreams of all those young people
that ought to get into government
but will think it's all too corrupt and the rest.
Most of all, I let down an opportunity
that I would have had for two-and-a-half more years
to proceed on great...projects
and programmes for building a lasting peace,
which had been my dream, as you know,
from our first interview in 1968,
before I had any thought I might even win that year.
I didn't tell you I didn't think I might win, but I wasn't sure.
I let the American people down.
And I have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life.
My political life is over.
I will never yet and never again
have an opportunity to serve in any official position.
Maybe I can give a little advice from time to time.
I can only say that, in answer to your question...
..that while technically I did not commit a crime,
an impeachable offence...
These are legalisms.
As far as the handling of this matter is concerned,
it was so botched-up.
I made so many bad judgements.
The worst ones, mistakes of the heart rather than the head,
as I pointed out.
But let me say, a man in that top job,
he's got to have a heart.
But his head must always rule his heart.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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Joan Bakewell talks to Sir David Frost about his landmark interviews with former United States president Richard Nixon. The Nixon Interviews, first broadcast in 1977, gained record audiences and the high drama which surrounded them later became the subject of both a West End play and an Oscar-nominated film, Frost/Nixon.
Sir David tells Joan Bakewell about the fight to secure the interview and the struggle to raise the money to make it. He also recalls the negotiations with Hollywood super-agent Swifty Lazar, whom Nixon had retained to represent him, the intense discussions with Nixon's own team of advisers, and trying to come to terms with the hugely complicated personality of Richard Nixon himself.
At times the contest between the two men verged on gladiatorial, at others Frost almost seemed to be Nixon's confessor. It ended with Nixon's momentous apology to the American people.