The Ervin Committee/The White House Tapes/Nixon’s Resignation

The United States Senate appointed a special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, to investigate the White House shenanigans. The Senate, via The Ervin Committee, headed by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina, started hearings related to the Watergate break in and other dirty tricks on May 17, 1973. The hearings were televised and the nation’s citizens were glued to their TV sets.

Two significant events occurred during the Ervin hearings. John Dean, White House counsel to the President, agreed to cooperate with the investigating authorities and provided detailed testimony regarding the dirty tricks. Throughout the events Dean had kept careful notes, and he told the Committee that Nixon was deeply involved in the cover-up. Perhaps more importantly, former White House appointments secretary, Alexander Butterworth, revealed that Nixon recorded all important Oval Office meetings in the White House. Obviously, therefore, whatever Nixon and his aides had said about Watergate in the Oval Office was recorded on tape. Thus, began an intense fight between Special Prosecutor Cox and White House lawyers over production of the White House tapes. (Carroll, Id.)

Archibald Cox issued a subpoena to the White House for the tapes. The White House refused to produce the material based on claims of executive privilege and national security. Judge Sirica had to decide if the White House had valid grounds for its refusal. He decided that the White House’s legal arguments were flawed, and he issued an order compelling production of the tapes.

The Nixon White House was not going to turn over the tapes that easily. It decided to appeal Judge Sirica’s ruling to the Supreme Court, and it tried to work out a compromise with Special Prosecutor Cox that it contended would protect legitimate White House concerns. Cox refused the Administration’s proposed compromise to protect executive privilege by providing summaries of the tapes. The White House reacted to Cox’s decision by ordering attorney general Elliot Richardson to fire him.

In what became known as “The Saturday Night Massacre,” Attorney General Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned rather than fire Cox. Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. He also refused and resigned. Nixon then ordered the solicitor general, Robert Bork, to fire Cox, which he did. (Carroll, pp. 140-163.)

On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court issued a ruling against Nixon and the White House on the question of the confidentiality of the tapes in United States v. Richard Nixon, saying “Neither the doctrine of the separation of powers nor the need for confidentiality of high-level communications, can sustain an absolute, unqualified, presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process.” (Carroll, p. 157.) The tapes had to be produced, and they confirmed Dean’s detailed testimony. Making matters worse for the President, as it turned out, two of the nine subpoenaed tapes did not exist and 18 minutes in one of the tapes was determined to have been deliberately erased by Nixon’s secretary, Rosemary Woods.

As a result of the matters revealed in the tapes, on July 27, 1974, the House of Representatives voted articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and refusal to relinquish the tapes. From then on, Nixon’s daily life became, like Tom T. Hall’s song title below, a non-stop ‘Watergate Blues.’

On August 9, 1974, Nixon became the first American president to resign from office. The following day Gerald Ford became the new president. (In an earlier unrelated matter, Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew resigned as a result of ethical problems, and Gerald Ford was appointed to succeed him. Thus, Ford succeeded Nixon as president per the constitutional successor regime.) Ford said, “Our long national nightmare is over.” Many of Nixon’s top aides went to prison (69 government officials were charged, and 48 were found guilty), but Ford pardoned Nixon.

“Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean, written by Bob Warren, sung by The CREEP (Committee to Rip-off Each and Every Politician) (1973) (, is a political parody that describes the Watergate-related roles of the named insiders to the Nixon administration. It takes some license with the facts, but it is basically accurate.

We’re Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean
The way we’ve been treated is really obscene
To think that a bug worth hardly shrug
Could end up getting us tossed in the jug

We all got the gate for no reason or rhyme,
You’d think we’d committed some horrible crime
Our minds may be dirty, but our hands they’re clean
We’re Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean

We’re Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean
Our job was to see that the White House stayed green
We might have had flaws, like bending the laws
But God only knows it was for a good cause

There’s no power shortage where we were concerned
And what little profit resulted, we earned
For lovelier fellows you’ve never seen
than Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean

We’re Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean
Our past has been fat, but our future looks lean
With backs to the wall, we’re taking the fall
But dammit, we only robbed Peter to pay Paul

Just when we getting well-to-do
The Watergate turned into our Waterloo
And now everything is out to demean
Poor Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean

Yes, we’re Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean
We’re perfectly willing to spill every bean
We’ve nothing to hide, with God on our side
He knows we were only along for the ride

But so it won’t come as a terrible blow
There’s one little thing we think you should know
Whatever we say, isn’t quite what we mean
We’re Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean

Oh yes, we’re Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean
Things won’t be the same when we’re gone from the scene
But people will still recall with a thrill
Our sell-out performance on Capitol Hill

It just isn’t fair to take all of the blame
When all we were doing was playing the game
Now all of Washington is caught in between
Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell and Dean

“Watergate Blues,written and performed by Tom T. Hall (1973), sums up the entire 1972 election, and the subsequent break in and wire-tapping of the Democratic National Committee that exploded into the political scandal of the century. Hall’s song was never a big hit, but it was a concert favorite during the time. (

McGovern said, “Boys, I think I’m gonna run
Got a lot of work to be done in Washington”
He talked to the poor folks, the blacks and the youth
Humphrey said, “George, I think you gonna lose”
He said, “I want that job myself”
There was Kennedy and Wallace and Muskie in mind
McGovern couldn’t seem to get his ducks all in line
Somebody shot Wallace in Jackson he cried
Muskie might have made it but he broke down and cried
I’ll tell you boys, it’s a hard life
But down in Miami McGovern got it all
A strange-lookin’ bunch of folks inside convention hall
McGovern said, “I need someone to carry the South
They picked poor Tom Eagleton but folks found him out
That liberal press, they gotta know it all
Well McGovern took Shriver and he started to run
Sarge said, “Eunice, let’s have a little fun”
They ran into trouble almost everywhere they went
There was a big committee to elect the President
I’ll tell you now, they were a smooth group
Well they broke into Watergate and tapped people’s phones
The FBI and CIA would not leave folks alone
The people in the White House were burstin’ with pride
When the votes were all counted it was a big landslide
The USA bought a new used car
Russia and Vietnam and China were cool
The American press, they could not find any news
So they dug into Watergate and the further they went
It seemed as if they might just run into the President
You know it was a big shock
Where there was Haldeman and Gray and Mitchell and Dean
A whole lot of folks were shakin’ on the White House scene
They patched up the cracks but the dam broke loose
Watergate was all you could read in the news
And Dicky said, “that’s news to me”
But there’s Lincoln and Roosevelt and Truman and Ike
All turnin’ over in their graves every night
And somehow my mind goes back to Betsy Ross
Nobody knows what this country has lost
I will repeat, it’s a hard life
Well somewhere in this country there’s a hard-workin’ man
Readin’ his paper as he tries to understand
Are there no honest people left anymore?
One might well heed hear a poundin’ on his door
If it gets that way, Lord help us all