The selling of the ex-President

NIXON HEARS HIS COUNTRY CALLING AND PREPARES TO RETURN IN TRIUMPH

Charles Foley,William Scobie October 20 1975

The selling of the ex-President

NIXON HEARS HIS COUNTRY CALLING AND PREPARES TO RETURN IN TRIUMPH

Charles Foley,William Scobie October 20 1975

The selling of the ex-President

NIXON HEARS HIS COUNTRY CALLING AND PREPARES TO RETURN IN TRIUMPH

Charles Foley

William Scobie

The guard box behind the high, locked gates of the Casa Pacifica—House of Peace—is empty, but since the attempts on President Ford’s life protection has been quietly tightened. More than 30 Secret Service agents soft-shoe through the lushly tropical grounds of Richard Milhous Nixon’s San Clemente estate. Others, indoors, watch closed-circuit screens that signal the approach of strangers 24 hours a day. Behind the electronically monitored fence, the former Western White House is a ghost of its former self. Clumps of weeds scar the overgrown golf course, a gift from a now-defunct claque calling itself “The 76 Golfing Friends of the President.” Most of Mrs. Nixon’s rose trees have been uprooted and given away. There is no one to care for them.

And yet, more and more visitors to the Nixons’ spacious, 10room Spanish villa come away reporting a new mood of waxing optimism and hope at Elba West.” Little more than a year after his cataclysmic fall from power and near-fatal illness, the resilient former chief executive on what friends call “the comeback road.” The selling of Richard Nixon as an Elder Statesman has now begun.

A surge of telephone calls is going out to powerful Republicans as the battle for the party’s 1976 Presidential nomination warms up. Nixon has been on the line to scores of GOP workers, from such minor officials as Mrs. Margaret Block, a longtime activist with influence inside the party’s California arm, to Republican paladins such as Senator Barry Goldwater, Senator Hugh Scott, and Howard Calloway, the Nixon-appointed Secretary of the Army who is now Jerry Ford’s campaign manager. Nixon is trying to drum up support for the understudy he chose to carry on his policies. The old warhorse, sniffing the political air of’76, fears his candidate may be in trouble. Right-wing attacks on President Ford’s initiatives in the Middle East and elsewhere, Nixon warns his influential allies, are a gift to the Democrats, and “could turn the nation back to obsolete and dangerous isolationism.” He has repeatedly called Ford to offer hints on strategy. He is using his still considerable influence within the party’s trend-setting California wing, torn between Ford and Ronald Reagan for the nomination.

A steady flow of visitors is beating a path to his door. Even the ambitious Senator Charles Percy, a liberal Republican who dearly wants to be President, has paid a courtesy call. So have those celebrated Nixon proteges Henry Kissinger and General Al Haig, NATO supreme commander in Europe. “I’m 90% myself again,” Nixon says, when they inquire about the phlebitis that laid him low last winter.

The Nixons now emerge frequently, from their seclusion. Not long ago, at a favored eatery—a rather awful tourist restaurant near San Clemente called El Adobe—they gave a birthday party for Colonel Jack Brennan, who heads the exPresident’s personal staff of five. He had just sacrificed his Marine Corps career (and pension) to take on the job. It was Brennan who introduced Nixon to the Marine Corps golf course 10 minutes from Casa Pacifica, where they often play the 18 holes, or walk together on the privileged military beach below. Sometimes Nixon shakes a few tourist hands, or pats a surprised surfer on the shoulder for press cameras. He’s also been posing for a former White House photographer, who says he’s “getting bushy-tailed again.”

Nixon’s most pregnant contact with the outer world came late last summer. It was a painful confrontation on the issue that today concerns him above all else: his claim on the 880 tapes and 42 million documents—enough to fill three railroad boxcars—that were accumulated during his 5Vi years’ presidency. Only a handful of special prosecutors and White House staff have dipped into the hoard, now in their custody. An indignant Congress last year overturned President Ford’s decision to turn everything over to Nixon. Instead, a law was passed making it “U.S. property.” Like a gambler doubling his stakes, Nixon is spending a fortune ($200,000 so far, and no end in sight) in legal fees on a series of challenges to this act. It is, he claims, “punitive and unconstitutional.”

The latest round in the struggle brought a band of hostile lawyers to San Clemente to hear a deposition from the ex-President. Nine times, on his attorney’s advice, he refused to answer their questions. “That misses the point altogether!” he snapped at a questioner who thought copies of the material might satisfy the ex-President. “In my view, the principle of confidentiality, which I know is not in vogue these days, is indispensable for great decisions... I shall determine, not Congress; I shall determine what can be made public.”

It is the tapes not the documents that Nixon wants to pick over in privacy. Even his closest intimates can have only a fugitive impression of the contents of this electronic Pandora’s box. Merely to hear the tapes through, it is said, would require two full years. Washington lawyer William Dubrovier asked during the deposition how long the ex-President would need to review the recordings. Nixon responded tartly: “I can’t tell you yet. Most of them aren’t as audible as the one you played at that cocktail party.” (It was Dubrovier who played a subpoenaed tape at a 1973 Washington reception.)

The tapes, now in the White House vaults, have yet to go on the cocktail circuit, but already there have been tantalizing leaks. Among the targets of Nixon’s invective are known to be Jerry Ford, Henry Kissinger, Spiro Agnew, congressional leaders of both parties, and Judge John Sirica referred to as “that wop”). Others include appointees to the Supreme Court who had “let him down”—and who will now have the last word on the dispute.

Some of Nixon’s indiscretions in his chosen field of foreign affairs are already well known (“I don’t give a shit for the lira”), but the tapes also contain Presidential judgements on Edward Heath, Harold Wilson and the late Georges Pompidou that will raise .eyebrows in the chancelleries of Europe. Nor does Pierre Trudeau, for whom Nixon entertained a warm distaste, escape. There is derogatory reference to the Prime Minister in the Watergate-period tapes, and there is more on earlier recordings still to be transcribed. There exists a complete record of Nixon’s discussions with his palace guard about preparations and strategy for the Presidential visit to Ottawa in 1972. At the time, Nixon was furious with Trudeau for making an 11,000-mile goodwill tour of the USSR and openly criticizing U.S. policy in Moscow. It is public knowledge that Nixon and his men were debating ways of getting back at Canada, via cheque book politics: he and John Connally, then treasury secretary, agreed to slap a surcharge (over Trudeau’s protests) on imports from Canada and other foreign goods. There were also plans to offer tax breaks to U.S. subsidiaries that hit the Canadian economy by relocating south of the border. Connally, of course, had no idea his words were being recorded.

Small wonder that Nixon is fighting like a tiger to regain control of this “radioactive” material, as one of his former aides describes it. But trouble of another sort lies ahead in coming books on the Nixon years: one of them, Maureen Dean’s account {Mo: A Woman’s View Of Watergate, to be published in the United States by Simon & Schuster in November) will charge that Camp David, the Presidential retreat, “had all the dirty movies.” So, she says, Bob Haldeman told her husband when he went there to write his abortive report on Watergate for Nixon. Mrs. Dean, who was invited along, says there was a projectionist on duty 24 hours a day.

Nixon’s own memoirs are still at least a year from publication. In them, he will try to reconcile his conviction that he was guilty of nothing more than “mistakes and errors of judgement” with the evidence of the tapes which show clearly that there was obstruction of justice, concealment of felonies, interference with the Watergate investigation, and condonation of hushmoney payments. The first 200 pages of the memoirs are due within the next few weeks at the Beverly Hills office of his agent, Irving “Swifty” Lazar. They include a preface touching on Watergate that former White House speech-writer Raymond Price, one of the few to read the manuscript, calls “quite revelatory, with some very good analytical introspection.” Proceeding chronologically through his career, Nixon is now deep in the 1950s. What will probably be the first of two volumes is scheduled for publication late in 1976, when next year’s Presidential elections are over. Lazar says Nixon will easily make $2.5 million from the completed book. Already his publisher, Warner Paperback Library, has paid some fat advances, which may total $700,000 before the year is out.

Nixon rises every day at 7.30 a.m., breakfasts on wheat germ and melon, then leafs through the newspapers before leaving by canary-yellow golf cart for his small, prefabricated office in the Coast Guard complex adjoining his home. He tries to put in six hours a day on the memoirs, rising frequently to exercise his left leg—still slightly swollen from phlebitis—by walking about his study. He takes a daily anticoagulant pill, and tells friends that he may have to stay on medication for years. A half-hour swim at the end of the day’s work is followed by an evening drink and chat with the small court at San Clemente, which includes his servants, Manolo and Fina Sanchez, Cuban refugees, who took a cut in pay earlier this year rather than leave their master’s service. After dinner with Pat Nixon, and sometimes daughter Julie, they watch television. Now that his health is restored, Nixon entertains more often. Recent guests have included, millionaire Walter Annenberg, whom he sent to London as ambassador, and Ardeshir Zahedi, the Iranian envoy, who came bearing gifts of caviar from the Shah of Persia.

Nixon is resentful that many taxpayers—aware that his California home cost them $6.5 million to refurnish and make secure—believe that he is living in splendor at their expense. His legal fees could approach one million dollars before the score of civil suits being brought against him are settled. Rabbi Baruch Korff, chief Nixon defender and fund raiser, who recently paid out that $200,000 to lawyers handling the tapes battle, is no\ seeking another $250,000 for his “Nixor, Justice Fund.” Much of the money is being gathered through special mailings to thousands of sympathizers, many of whom were selected from the two million people who have written to the ex-President since his resignation. Huge piles of this mail remain unread, but Nixon’s staff is being helped by a band of conservative local ladies under the command of the police chiefs wife—volunteers all, and delighted to serve. To them, Nixon remains, as one fan letter put it, “A national treasure.”

Nixon’s apologists say he believes he will sometime, in some capacity, serve the nation again in foreign affairs. Poor Jerry Ford, the understudy, is doing his best— but the keen brain, the firm hand, are lacking. A scenario for Nixon’s return to public life is slowly being written. Americans are told he wishes to “revisit the scenes of his former diplomatic successes,” that he plans a leisurely trip abroad, perhaps next year, that he is receiving invitations from world leaders, such as the Shah, Leonid Brezhnev, Mao Tse-tung, King Hussein of Jordan. Nixon himself is said to be annoyed with Barry Goldwater for revealing earlier this year—after a chat at the Casa Pacifica—that the ex-President had mooted the possibility of becoming the first U.S. ambassador to Communist China. Barry, it is said at San Clemente, never did have a sense of timing. But in a few years’ time, when the rancor has faded from Watergate, and the public has heard Nixon’s side through a TV series and his memoirs, plus lectures abroad and stays with foreign heads of state ... who knows?

To Nixon’s friends such a “comeback” is not seen as beyond the bounds of reason. Couldn’t it be, the Bonapartists of Elba West argue, that in some great international crisis a weak and harassed President might falter, and the nation turn to the man who ended the 30 years’ war in Asia, and at the same time was able to befriend two bitter enemies, Russia and China? A tarnished image need not be fatal to such hopes; the tribe will want a cunning, unscrupulous man to do its thinking. And Nixon still believes, as he said in one of the Watergate tapes, that “people are out there waiting to believe. That’s the point, isn’t it