Texas Two-Step: Nixon nominates Connally as VP in 1973

It has been well documented over time how much Richard Milhous Nixon, the unloved, unhappy 37th President of the United States, admired John Connally. Admired? Nay, adored Connally. John Connally was everything Nixon was not, a brash, outspoken, smooth Texas cowboy with cojones that Nixon wished he had. The funny thing is, Nixon did have a lot going for him, but his personality, shaped by the hard years of the Depression where his father didn't care much for him and his mother was always caring for his ill brothers, never allowed him to utilize his talents to their true potential. He was tough, but because he longed for love, and could not find it in quantities enough to satisfy his longing, the toughness appeared in the worst possible way.

This won't read like my other timelines. I'm not going to create pages of dialogue, but I will strive to make it readable and accessible to all of you. I hope you enjoy it, find it plausible, and chime in with your own thoughts as it progresses.
 
October 9, 1973
Spiro Theodore (Ted) Agnew, Vice President of the United States, stood before the bar of the District Court in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, and pled nolo contendere to one count of felony tax evasion for the year 1967. Agnew's plea was the result of negotiations with Attorney General Eliot Richardson and U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland George Beall, and those negotiations led him to this moment in time, standing like a common criminal in front of a judge. Agnew seethed inside at his fall, at never having the chance to become President now, at being felled by the same sort of mundane wheel-greasing that a thousand Democratic officials had done for the better part of the last century. It infuriated him, but he'd had no choice. There were records, unfortunately, meticulously kept by the head of the Maryland Road Commission, and the money Agnew received didn't stop after he moved to Pennsylvania Avenue. There was the rub. To say you took bribes as a local official would be unsavory and evidence of corruption, but wouldn't put you in jail or remove you from office. The party men would stand by Agnew, say that this was how things worked, look at all the money those Democrats took from the Mob in New York and Philadelphia, or from the Kennedys in Boston.

What the party men couldn't do, wouldn't do, would be to defend bribes taken on the grounds of the White House. That was Ted Agnew's fatal error, the one that made Nixon back away, the one that guaranteed that he would never see the presidency or finish out his term. Impeachment, already starting to threaten Nixon himself, would quickly swirl around Agnew and then envelop him like a boa constrictor, squeezing away every drop of his dignity before consuming him whole. Agnew knew all this, and so he went before the judge and took a spoonful of medicine. There was no press inside the court, no photographs, and so Agnew could hold onto those shreds of dignity that sustain a man when he has nothing else left to do so.

Forty miles away, inside the Old Executive Office Building, Richard Nixon sat inside of his hideaway office. The only President to make use of OEOB (as far as history has recorded), he would spend hours of "executive time" writing out pages upon pages of ideas on yellow legal pads while hiding from the world. Nixon was a strange creature, one who never quite fit into politics, yet reached its pinnacle. It was a strange witches brew that conjured up this man, all bluster and toughness to the outside world, while his confidants knew he was afraid of confrontation and barely could stand regular conversation with most people. That's why he had this office. He could say what he felt on his legal pads, dash off memos to Haldeman and Ehrlichmann and Kissinger, his "Germans," who would then duly carry them out or ignore them if the Boss had taken a step too far into the realm of danger.

Nixon was not a tactical person, which is why he'd gotten himself into water too deep for him to navigate. He thought in terms of strategy, grand ideas, world-changing events. He longed to be compared to Churchill and de Gaulle, men of vigor, men of action, men that history loved. They were all gone now. Churchill and de Gaulle were in their graves, along with Nixon's second father of sorts, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike was a true legend of the century. How many men would oversee the greatest invasion force in history, rise to five-star rank (a rarified air in and of itself), then become president of an Ivy League school, resign to become the first NATO Commander, and then twice elected President in a landslide? In 16 years, Eisenhower had achieved more than most men could dream of doing in 64 years. Richard Nixon adored Ike, and yet Ike never took to Dick Nixon. Ike wanted him gone before the Checkers speech saved him, a move that Ike never forgave Nixon for (and quite likely was an unspoken factor in the barbed "Give me a few minutes and I might think of something he did for this administration"). Ike tried to ease Nixon out of the VP slot in 1956, and Nixon stood his ground, further exacerbating the divide. Nixon did everything he could to make Ike like Dick, and it never succeeded. When Eisenhower died at Walter Reed Medical Center in March 1969, Nixon wept openly at the loss, yet would also bitterly recall every last slight that the great man made him feel.

The irony here was that Nixon, somewhat consciously, went out of his way to make Agnew feel the exact same way that Ike had made him feel: worthless. The one and only role Agnew had was to give speeches around the nation about the insidious media bias against conservatives, and, when the time called for it, appear at a state funeral or two. Agnew fell into Nixon's old role, constantly trying to please the President and gain entrée into the inner circle, all to no avail. Nixon's fear of confrontation meant that Haldeman, Ehrlichmann, and occasionally others, all deflected old Ted back to his office in OEOB. Nixon wouldn't dare inflict the wounds himself, but he made sure they were inflicted nonetheless. Agnew had represented a doubling down of Nixon's "law and order" theme of 1968, and now, with his self-immolation complete, Nixon was free to replace him without the exigencies of electoral politics.

The list was short, really: Either Jerry Ford or John Connally would be Nixon's nominee. The pages of yellow paper were covered with pros and cons for each, comparisons of the effect each of them would have on every single member of Congress (who was required to confirm the replacement VP per the parameters of the 25th Amendment), and comparisons against each other. Ford's best qualities were loyalty and pleasantness, the sort of man that no member of Congress had personal issue with, because of his essential decency and honesty. Jerry Ford was just so nice that even when he conducted business that wasn't nice at all, like leading the charge to impeach liberal Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas on nothing more than innuendo, nobody held it against him. Loyalty was something the men of Congress understood.

John Connally, though, he was a man. A swashbuckler, swaggering through Texas politics in a hurry, going from advance man to Secretary of the Navy to Texas Governor to Secretary of the Treasury. Connally was the only one who had the balls to shove through the end of the gold standard in the United States, and did so deftly enough that, along with Arthur Burns' clever goosing of the economy from his perch at the Federal Reserve, the economy moved along well. Jobs were still plentiful, money easily had, and the scars of the 1960s were starting to heal just a bit. It'd been done with power reminiscent of FDR, the use of wage and price controls, but it had been done and worked, which is why Nixon still got to sit in this darkened office with the blinds shut and make his notes. Connally had gone home to Texas last year, changed his party affiliation to Republican this year, earning him the wrath of state Democrats and the admiration of Nixon. Connally stood tall and took the arrows from his former compatriots without so much as a sharp inhale.

When it came down to it, Ford's best quality was his easy ability to be confirmed. Connally would be more of a fight to get confirmed, with the opposition from the Democratic rank and file that held grudges against the Texan for kicking them while they were down expected to be substantial. Ford was an easy choice, Connally was not. Haldeman and Ehrlichmann were gone now, swept away by the rising tides of Watergate, so their voices against Connally would not be heard. It all came down to one thing, really: Richard Nixon wanted to show that he was tough, that he wasn't afraid of a fight no matter what his political state was, and if he wanted something, by God, he'd get it. Nixon wrote a memo to Haig, telling him to have the paperwork drawn up. Tomorrow, when Spiro Agnew handed his resignation to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon would immediately submit the name of John Bowden Connally Jr. to the United States Congress as his nominee for Vice President.
 
October 10, 1973
The State Department was a monumentally large building, very sparse on the outside but filled with grandeur on the inside, from the murals and large oil paintings to the dark walnut of the seventh floor, where the top officials sat, including Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Kissinger's pseudo-royal bearing was appropriate for State. Where Defense was all modernity and marble, on its top floor State resembled some of the grandest rooms at Buckingham Palace or Versailles, with its chandeliers, columns, and classically patterned furniture. On this Wednesday, Vice President Spiro Agnew rode the elevator to the seventh floor to deliver, as required by the Constitution, his letter of resignation from the government of the United States. His office had already been cleaned out, the movers working with the same efficiency as they did on Inauguration Day whenever a new administration took over. When Agnew left, the motorcade he rode in would take him back to his house in Chevy Chase, deposit him there, and he would become, to the US government, a non-entity.

That gnawed at Agnew as he walked down the corridor to the Secretary's large office, passing by the formal reception room and secretary's desk, opening the double doors to see Kissinger seated there. Henry looked up at his visitor with barely concealed scorn, then rose from the desk to greet Agnew, if the word can be used. "I've got your letter, Henry," Agnew told the much shorter Kissinger. The Secretary of State took the envelope and opened it, reading the following:

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"It is correct. Good luck to you, Mr. Vice President," Kissinger said in his now-famous heavy German accent. The two men shook hands, and then Agnew walked out of the State Department and into political oblivion. Before his motorcade had even left, Kissinger had dialed the President's office, where Kissinger informed Nixon that he had the resignation letter in hand, and so he could proceed with his next move. At the White House, Ron Ziegler took the podium in the press room, an action that had become a growing chore as Watergate crept ever closer to the President's hold on the office, and informed the gathered reporters that the Vice President had indeed resigned. This, of course, led to an explosion of questions that the former Disneyland tour guide labored to keep orderly. One of those, of course, was who the President planned to replace Agnew as VP. Since this would be the first use of the 25th Amendment, there was an unusual excitement over a rather mundane action. Agnew wasn't a first, and so his resignation mattered less than who would replace him, and whether Nixon could, in fact, get anyone confirmed by a hostile Congress. With Democrats firmly in control of both houses, why, they could impeach Nixon and replace him with Speaker of the House Carl Albert. That thought consumed Nixon, not to mention his aides that possessed a degree of political acumen and were nearly panicked at the thought of the tiny, vacillating Albert as President of the United States.

After the initial blitz of questioning, CBS' Dan Rather asked the big one: Who was Nixon choosing as Agnew's replacement? At that moment, letters had been transmitted to the leadership in both houses so that by the time Ziegler went on, they would have them in hand and know the answer. Ziegler informed the gathering that the President had chosen a "skilled, honorable man that would have no issues being confirmed: John Connally." The room exploded again in questions.

On Capitol Hill, Connally's nomination landed like a mortar round in a crowd. Leadership on both sides of the aisle were convinced that Gerald Ford, House Minority Leader, would get a promotion to VP, none more so than Ford himself. He had felt, after a mere twelve seat pickup in the 1972 elections despite Nixon's record landslide victory, that he would never get to be Speaker of the House, the goal he'd had for over ten years now. If he wasn't going to be Speaker, retiring as VP didn't seem like a bad idea. Ford was bitterly disappointed, but he was a loyal Republican, so once more, he'd go into battle for Richard Nixon, his friend and his President. On the Senate side, Minority Leader Hugh Scott was relatively unconcerned with getting the majority votes. He doubted Majority Leader Mike Mansfield could keep his caucus together on this one, since Connally remained popular amongst the Dixiecrat crowd, as was Nixon himself, who'd frequently turned to them to get legislation passed. Mansfield held a 57-43 majority with the independents split between the two, and Scott only needed to peel off eight Senators to get Connally confirmed. John Sparkman, James Allen, James Eastland, John Stennis, John McClellan, Harry Byrd, probably freshman Lloyd Bentsen (a Texas man from what had been Connally's more conservative wing of the Democrats in that state), maybe Scoop Jackson. If so, that would indeed be eight and give a narrow 51-49 confirmation win to Connally.

Scott wasn't without worry, however. Edward Brooke, Howard Baker and Robert Griffin were definitely Republicans that could defect on this vote. Baker had asked the famous question during the Watergate hearings that summer, "What did the President know and when did he know it?" He'd also quietly gotten a 24-hour patrol of his house by Capitol police after a break-in soon after the hearings; a break-in that saw his safe cracked and the contents laid out on butcher paper on a sofa for Baker to find when he came home. He clearly found it to be a message sent by Nixon, but was afraid to publicize it. Scott felt Baker's vote would come down to whether he trusted John Connally to replace Richard Nixon if Nixon were impeached. Brooke and Griffin, two liberal Republicans, might like Connally's politics, but they were unsure whether he was trustworthy, and both men already had plenty of reason to distrust Nixon, so why vote for a VP that shared the same inclinations?

A tough battle laid ahead, made tougher by soon-to-come events that would threaten to rip America apart.
 
October 13, 1973
Finances were always a sore subject for Richard Nixon. Growing up the son of a poor grocer (as he loved to say whenever his current level of wealth was discussed), who grew up amongst wealthier families in Whittier, California and then went to law school at fledgling Duke Law School (amongst wealthier students, again, since Duke is a private university), he loathed the mention of money. The Checkers speech grew out of that loathing, when the fund that was established to make Nixon look upper-crust was exposed by the media, Nixon fired back with a detailed recounting of how little wealth he had. It was humiliating, something that Pat Nixon reportedly never got over, and Nixon himself felt sick afterwards about the whole ordeal, but it worked. He brazened his way past Eisenhower's backhanded objections, stayed on the ticket, and became VP.

The scars always remained, hidden just below the surface, one of the many resentments that the President held onto over the last twenty years, and even after winning the biggest landslide in history, the man could not relax. He was caught on the Oval Office recorder with Chuck Colson talking about crushing their enemies, getting back at every reporter who'd written bad about him. Richard Nixon by late 1972 was caught in an awful feedback loop of hate and resentment that his aides were far too happy to nurture, especially ones like Colson, who had no business being in a White House with his sadist mentality.

Because of that, in part, Watergate wasn't going away, and Nixon was inching ever closer to his doom. Yesterday's subpoena of his tax returns by the House Judiciary Committee had put him over the edge, leading Nixon to launch into a tirade on a day where Connally and he were to go in front of the media. That event was nearly cancelled because Nixon was so angrily over the edge. To Ron Ziegler's relief, Al Haig was able to talk Nixon down and the event went on, albeit with Nixon refusing to take a single question and standing scowling in the background as John Connally stood at the microphone and disarmed the reporters with Texas charm oozing out of him. The questions were still tough, but the tone was decidedly lighter by the end of the event. Nixon had even lightened up by the end of it, slapping Connally on the back and smiling as he left the press room.

With the Yom Kippur War in its sixth day and the Israelis continuing to counterattack, Nixon went for a lengthy briefing in the Situation Room, also attended by Connally. The Sixth Fleet had moved in closer to shore, this time with the Israelis fully notified (nobody wanted a repeat of the attack on the USS Liberty from the 1967 war, an event many Pentagon officials still believed was deliberate on the part of the Israelis to leave the U.S. deaf and blind while they expanded their territory), to protect the resupply effort that Nixon had approved the day before. Operation Nickel Grass, one of those horribly named missions assigned by the random name generator installed under Robert McNamara's tenure as SecDef, involved C-141 Starlifters and C-5 Galaxies airlifting everything from M-16 rifles to M60 Patton tanks, with A-4 Skyhawks and F-4 Phantoms being flown straight from the McDonnell-Douglas factory line in St. Louis. Two things had informed Nixon's decision: the first was the Soviet resupply of Egypt and Syria with hundreds of MiG-21s, T-64 tanks, and SAM batteries. The second was far uglier; on the 9th, the day Agnew pleaded out on his tax evasion charge, the Israelis had hastily armed Phantoms and Jericho missiles with a total of thirteen 20-kiloton warheads to use on Egypt's forces, the Golan, Damascus and Cairo. The advance by the Syrians had especially alarmed Golda Meir and her cabinet, and the fear showed in their decision to prepare nuclear warheads for use.

Connally whistled when he was informed of the scale of the U.S. airlift. Nixon left Connally to continue to be briefed as he wandered off for more "executive time" in his OEOB hideaway, planning how to deal with the subpoenas for his tax returns and also deal with the persistent demands of Archibald Cox, the special counsel appointed by Eliot Richardson for Watergate. Cox kept asking for Nixon's Oval Office tapes, which Nixon considered the ultimate betrayal of his privacy, worse than the tax return subpoenas. Nixon would spend most of the day listening to the tapes, making notes, calling for new reels, and basically removed himself from governing. The public was told none of this, of course. Two-thirds of the "Germans" might be gone, but the Berlin Wall inside the White House held.

Connally had brought his own thoughts with him to the White House. He was as astute a reader of the political tea leaves as anyone, and there was a quote attributed to the recently deceased Lyndon Baines Johnson, one that, if Nixon were aware of it, he'd either appreciate it or be horrified at what it implied. Johnson had told George Ball, former Undersecretary of State, "Connally could leave more bodies lying in the field with less remorse than any politician I've ever known." John Connally may have been the apple of Richard Nixon's political eye, but that Johnson quote's deeper meaning was that Connally played the game for Connally. He would be perfectly happy if Richard Nixon were impeached, because it would mean that he would ascend to the Presidency. To do that, he had to be confirmed as vice president, and he was not going to leave his confirmation in the hands of this White House. The silver-haired, smooth-talking Texan knew, above all else, how to cut a deal, and he was going to cut some deals on Capitol Hill.
 
October 16, 1973
John Connally's first trip to Capitol Hill to meet with both House and Senate leadership had the air of a state visit, or perhaps the red carpet at the Oscars. News photographers and television cameramen followed the Texan, gray hair slicked to perfection, as he walked up the steps of the Capitol on a balmy 71° day in Washington, D.C. Connally had read the stories in the Post and Times about threats by the Arabs to America's oil supply, and thought to himself that it would make the perfect image for the newsmen if he walked from his suite at the Willard InterContinental Hotel to the Capitol. It was just over a mile, the weather was beautiful, and it'd demonstrate "leadership." Connally knew it didn't matter a damn to oil prices whether he walked or whether he took a small motorcade for a drive, but it looked good, and he hadn't been a great advance man for LBJ because he wore nice suits.

The first stop he made was to Gerald Ford's office. The media took their obligatory pictures and then left so the two could meet. Connally told the House Minority Leader that he would've made a great vice president, and that he didn't want there to be any friction between the men. "Jerry, I know my fate is in your hands, and that I need you to get me confirmed on this side. If you're not able to get enough Democrats on board, I won't be VP, so whatever I can do to help you, please tell me and I'll be glad to do it," Connally said. Ford was gracious in his reply, promising he'd get the votes for Connally, then proceeded to ask him a few questions, mainly around whether he had any financial entanglements or anything else of concern, since the FBI was going to be asked to look into his background, and the IRS would be auditing his last seven years of tax returns, dating back to his time as governor of Texas. Connally assured Ford that he was as clean as a hound's tooth, and that he would put all of his investments into trusts if he were confirmed as vice president. Ford said that if Connally came across anything he'd forgotten about, or if something happened, to just let him know as soon as possible so he could go into action to contain the issue. Connally agreed to that, and the two men shook hands again, and the Texan proceeded to House Speaker Carl Albert's office. A number of House Democrats had already come out and said that they were raring to question Connally about all number of things from his time as Treasury Secretary. Others had said they would never vote for the man because of the perfidy he'd committed in leaving the party in its time of need. Those threats were very much on the mind of Connally as he entered the Speaker's Office.

"Carl, it's good to see you, even if your Sooners did beat the piss out of the Longhorns," Connally said as he extended his hand to Albert, who he towered over by nearly a foot. The remark was in reference to the University of Oklahoma's 52-13 blowout of the University of Texas on Saturday, the annual Red River Shootout football game. "Same to you, John, and I can't say I'm sorry that we went Boomer Sooner on your cowboy butts." The diminutive Speaker grinned as he showed Connally to a chair. Connally folded himself into it, thinking that Albert must've bought chairs for his office based on people as small as he was, then chuckled internally as he thought of the large Majority Whip, Tip O'Neill, trying to fit in these chairs. "Carl, before we begin, I have a small favor to ask. Can you call Mansfield and have him come over too? I want to say something, and I think it's best if he's here for it," Connally asked the Speaker. Albert didn't even ask why, he just picked up the phone, dialed the office of Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, and told the Montanan what was going on. Mansfield agreed to come over posthaste. It would be a few minutes, as, strangely enough, the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders had offices in the Capitol Building itself, while the Speaker of the House (higher in the line of succession to the Presidency) was relegated to the Rayburn House Office Building. If the houses were truly equal, some Speakers had groused, they'd have an office down the hall from the Senate leaders, or some similar arrangement.

When Mansfield arrived, he gave Connally a quizzical look before taking the seat adjacent to the VP nominee. With both Democratic leaders in place, Connally launched into the selling phase of the deal he was offering. "Gentlemen, listen. I had the great fortune to resign as Treasury Secretary five days before those morons broke into the Watergate, so I can't claim any inside knowledge of anything that happened, and quite frankly, I'm appalled at the whole business. There's plenty of ways to beat the fella you're facing without reading his mail and listening to his phone calls. That's dirty pool, and while I play for keeps, there's got to be honor in this business, and that matters to me. With that in mind, I have a proposal for you gentlemen. It's not something I can say publicly, and for reasons I'm sure you'll realize soon enough, you won't want to publicize it either. You can, however, use it to sway those who wouldn't vote for me elsewise. If I, for any number of reasons, should ascend to the Presidency, I promise you that there will be no pardon of Richard Nixon. If you all impeach him, that's his problem. If he quits, that's his problem. If Cox tries to charge him with a crime, well, I don't think that's legal, but again, I'm not going to pardon him. I think it's pretty clear that he got himself into some deep horseshit, and I consider the man a friend! If I, as his friend, think he screwed up, I can only imagine how those who aren't so charitably inclined might feel."

"Now, I gotta tell you, if I don't get confirmed, and Dick does nominate Jerry on the next go-around, I think Jerry is too nice of a guy to let Dick suffer if he steps down or is removed. I think Jerry would pardon the man, and then this country is going to go straight to hell with the amount of blood that'll get spilled if that happens. Jerry's a good man and he's loyal, fine qualities that I admire, but that loyalty might lead him to do something ill-thought out. I figured I'd get ahead of it with the two of you now. I am still happy to work with y'all. I didn't leave the party because I'm mad at y'all, I just didn't feel comfortable with how far left people are getting, especially the platform last year? Good God, that was an embarrassment to any Southerner, let alone all the good union folks in Detroit and Cleveland and Chicago. Anyway, that's my solemn oath to you, and I don't think anyone alive could say that I go back on my word." Connally folded his hands in his lap and looked at the two leaders. Albert and Mansfield looked at each other. Mansfield asked the shared question. "What's in this for you, John? You think this is how you get to be President? Did you accept the nomination because you expect us to impeach Nixon?"

Connally put a hurt look on his face as he rebutted the implied accusation. He told them he always believed in serving his country. He served JFK even though he had been LBJ's campaign manager in 1960. He'd served in Nixon's cabinet despite being a Democrat [at the time]. He believed in America and answering the call of your President, regardless of party, and that he'd been planning to run in 1976 when the President called and asked him to become VP. Connally looked at the two men, oozing sincerity, and said that he didn't think he had any chance of getting it with Ford being in the running, since everybody loved Jerry, but the President had chosen him, and he was going to serve if confirmed. Albert asked the VP nominee how the hell he could square what he'd just said with his proposal, and Connally retorted that just because he was promising to not give Richard Nixon any special treatment or a soft cushion to land on if he were charged, impeached, or resigned did not mean he couldn't serve the President and the nation. In fact, he thought that it proved he put country first by doing such a thing.

Albert asked Connally to step into the lobby while he and Mansfield talked for a minute. The two leaders wondered aloud when the VP nominee was out of the office whether this was something they could get into, making a sort of backroom deal to tip the scales on Connally's behalf. Carl Albert was, in the eyes of many, a weak Speaker, lacking the political backbone of Sam Rayburn, John McCormack, or Hale Boggs, his deputy. Much of that reputation stemmed from his horrendous lack of leadership at the 1968 convention, which he was chairman of. Mike Mansfield, on the other hand, was many things, but nobody had ever considered him weak. He was the epitome of Teddy Roosevelt's maxim, "Speak quietly and carry a big stick." Mansfield had no problem wielding the big stick, and he'd kept a firm grip on his majority since replacing Lyndon Johnson in 1961. He had had just turned 70, and showed absolutely no sign of slowing down or relenting in his use of the big stick, which is probably why he was first to see the upside. Connally, the Senate Majority Leader explained, had some potential legal issues out there. Milk money, allegedly given to Connally in return for his support to the dairy industry as SecTreas. Now, who knew if it were true, Mansfield continued, but what matters is that if it is, we have the power to hold him to his word on Nixon, by choosing to let our committees investigate the charge or tug on the leash. Albert wasn't sure, but he did like having a chit to call in, so he agreed to the maneuver. [1] The two leaders called Connally back in, and told him they had a deal, but they weren't going to use it unless his confirmation was in doubt. Connally shook their hands, then went to see Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, who had no inkling of the deal, nor would he ever. Better that the patrician Scott not feel that Connally was putting one over on the party, even though Connally was just doing as he always had: look out for himself.


[1] Later historians would claim that this deal was completely out of character for Mansfield, and insist that there was no way that a man with his integrity would come up with such a scheme. Those historians would surmise, despite no evidence of his presence during the meeting, that Tip O'Neill must have masterminded it. In light of later events, though, it is hard to find another convincing explanation for Mansfield's actions.
 
Good update. One question: when are you updating End of Watch (no offense, because I love this story so far)?
Just saw this. I'm taking a short break. Writing the apocalypse for so long is mentally draining, I think especially because I internalize so much of it.
 
October 19, 1973
The world was spiraling apart.

The Sixth Fleet was being shadowed aggressively by the Soviet Mediterranean Fleet, so much so that the Admiral in command of the US fleet estimated there was a forty percent chance they would attack any day now. The Arab oil-producing nations had drastically raised the prices of oil as punishment for the American resupply of Israel's war effort. And now, today, the President of the United States had just blown a hole in the separation of powers by publicly rejecting a court order to hand over his Oval Office tapes to special counsel Archibald Cox. Richard Nixon ordered White House counsel Fred Buzhardt and Alexander Haig to tell Attorney General Richardson and Cox that they would implement the Stennis plan, and nothing else. An idea cooked up by the White House team, the Stennis plan would have elderly Dixiecrat Senator John Stennis listen to the tapes, and compare them against the transcripts typed up feverishly in the past weeks by the White House secretarial pool. Buzhardt knew the tapes were of, at times, atrocious quality, and Stennis hardly had the best hearing. The plan was half-cooked at best, and Cox was fast to reply that he absolutely refused to accept.

Stuck in the middle of this impending disaster was the Attorney General, Eliot Richardson, and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus. Richardson was a Boston Brahmin, much like Nixon's running mate in 1960, Henry Cabot Lodge III, with all the courtliness and dignity that the Brahmins possessed. He had given Cox his word when he was hired that there would be no political interference, and Richardson meant it. He told Haig that he would resign if the President fired Cox as special counsel, to which Haig alternately tried to talk him down and bully him with the sort of pretentious patriotism that had marked every day of Nixon's presidency--the idea that loyalty to the President was patriotic, regardless of how wrong he may be. It wasn't Haig's fault, not really. A lifetime of military service meant that he believed in fealty to the chain of command, and the President was his commander in chief, right or wrong, and it was Haig's duty to serve him as ably as possible. The Attorney General, however, did not share Haig’s view, and by Friday night, had drawn up a letter of resignation. Ruckelshaus was prepared to join his boss, and would resign if the order to fire Cox were given. While Richardson ruminated over what would potentially come in the next couple of days, Republican Party chairman George Bush visited his house to try and reason with him as well. The party couldn’t afford to lose a man of his principles during this critical time. He had disagreements with the President, but the President had the legal right to give the order. Bush came from the same Ivy League circles as Richardson, a Yale man from Connecticut, whose father was an investment banker and then Senator. Bush had become party chair after resigning as UN Ambassador when Nixon won reelection, replacing Senator Bob Dole in the position. Unfortunately for Bush, he’d inherited a disaster whose scope had become abundantly clear in the past few days, and Richardson could tell that, deep down, Bush’s heart wasn’t in his argument. It was the nature of working for a man like Richard Nixon. Even those who were most slavishly loyal would be worn down by the task.

Eventually, Bush left, and Richardson was left to his own devices. He thought about warning Cox, but what if he did, only to have Nixon change his mind and not fire the special counsel? Then he would have tainted the investigation, and would potentially be in a position to have to fire Cox for something Richardson did wrong. The Attorney General sighed heavily. He would stay quiet.

At the White House, John Connally had come to see Nixon in his third floor study about the Cox situation. He had gotten wind of the Stennis Plan and came to tell the President that politically, it was a loser. Connally said the smart thing would’ve been to destroy the tapes before the Ervin Committee had called witnesses. If there were no tapes, then people could only guess what was on there. He could be accused of destroying evidence, but without knowing what was taped and when, it would be hard to make a charge stick. Connally, so far, had been describing something that speechwriter Patrick J. Buchanan had told the “Old Man,” as Buchanan affectionately called him, months ago. Then came the wrinkle.

Connally told Nixon that both JFK and LBJ, as president, had also taped meetings and phone calls. Connally knew of this from a discussion he’d had with LBJ in 1967, when LBJ railed about the cowardice of his cabinet officials who told him one thing to his face and another in public. The then-governor of Texas asked LBJ how he knew this for certain, and Johnson told him, “Because I’ve got those sons of bitches on tape, that’s why, just like Jack did during the Cuba thing in ’62.” Both men were dead, so perhaps Nixon could muddy the waters, inform the media that he’d done no differently than those two had, and nobody had subpoenaed their tapes as evidence into investigations about Vietnam. Nixon sat in his easy chair, listening with rapt attention. The VP-designate continued on with his idea. “Now, maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. It’s hard to tell what the public would think at this point, whether you were holding on to your tapes out of self-preservation or out of principle. If it gives you any cover at all, though, that would be useful for you. In fact, if you go ahead and fire Cox, you can tell the media that you did it to preserve the same executive privilege that your predecessors had with their tapes. They were there for a complete record of events, that national security events were routinely discussed, and you couldn’t possibly turn them over without a proper screening to a lawyer who lacks the requisite clearances.”

Nixon got up and began to pace, turning it over in his head. Then he stopped and looked at his nominee. “John, that’s a great idea, and I’m going to go ahead and do it. I’ll make sure those bastards in the press understand that their great heroes were no different than I am, except I’m a Republican and they love to kick me around.” Connally smiled. “Of course they do. They resent your success,” the Texan said, “and they want to see you fall. I do have a couple of suggestions to add on, though. First, I would recommend appealing this issue further. Don’t fire Cox right away. A higher court could easily tell him to sit down and shut up. If you feel differently, though, fire him yourself. Don’t ask Richardson to do it. The man is a squish, and ultimately, Cox reports to you as an official of this branch. You don’t need your Attorney General’s consent or permission to do it, so don’t give him the chance to waffle. Finally, keep my name out of this, please, or I’ll never get confirmed. I can serve you best if I get through the vote, and if Congress hears that I advised you on this, they’ll shoot me down faster than a lame horse.” Nixon gruffly gave his assent. He understood completely, and he wanted his favorite politician in the number two slot. Strength. Nobody understood it but him and John. They’d show the bastards.
 
October 20, 1973
Richard Nixon awoke in the morning, went through his usual breakfast of grapefruit and cereal, and headed down to the Oval Office. The situation in the Med was getting worse, and Kissinger was getting nervous, so Nixon told him to fly to Moscow and tell the Soviets directly that they needed to back down before things got out of control. The Israeli counterattack was in full force, as they daringly had gone straight down the middle of the Egyptian line and crossed the Suez in force, despite the potential risk to their flanks from the Egyptian Army. The Israeli commanders considered the Egyptian Army to be a spent force at this point, and wanted to make the point that they were keeping the Sinai. On the Golan, the Syrian advance that had caused Israel to go to its version of DEFCON 1, with armed nuclear warheads ready to turn the Middle East into a funeral pyre, had been blunted, with Israel driving into Syrian territory along a narrow axis. That drive had been counterattacked by Saudi, Iraqi and Jordanian forces sent to aid Syria, causing the Israelis to withdraw to the Heights. The entire war was turning into a bloody stalemate now, despite Israeli attempts to break the Arabs. For the first time in the 35-year history of the Israeli nation, the Arabs had struck first, and were receiving steady resupply from the Soviets. The Israelis had better training and tactics, but the numbers were making a difference for the Arabs. The big question was whether the Soviets would directly intervene to protect their client states, and the level of activity by their Mediterranean fleet continued to grow. There had already been several close calls where Soviet planes and ships caused near-collisions with their tactics.

Meanwhile, Fred Buzhardt was feverishly trying to get Cox to change his mind on the tapes issue. Buzhardt had already gotten the agreement of Sam Ervin and the Watergate committee, because Ervin and Stennis were friends, and collegiality ruled in the Senate. The House Judiciary Committee was filled with firebrands elected the year before on the Democratic side, and while chairman Peter Rodino was trying to compromise with the White House, it was unlikely that he could bring his members into line. A failure to do so would mean that articles of impeachment would follow, something Buzhardt did not want at all. Carl Albert watched over this with a worried eye, thinking about his conversation with Connally and the agreement they had. If Nixon pushed too hard, the caucus might just refuse to confirm anyone, and then Albert himself would ascend to the Presidency, something he had no desire to do, as he felt the nation wouldn’t stand for it. Why risk a congressional majority over something so rash?

Buzhardt didn’t know about Connally’s talk with Nixon the night before, nor did Haig. Buzhardt had to work alone, because Haig and Kissinger’s deputy as National Security Adviser, Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft, were trying to manage Operation Nickel Grass (the resupply of Israel). When Buzhardt went to see the President around noon, he did so lacking knowledge that might have changed his presentation and recommendation to Nixon. As it were, he suggested that the President abandon the Stennis Plan and, instead, ask Richardson to review the tapes first for excisions before turning them over. The Attorney General was trusted by everyone as an honorable man, and Buzhardt wanted to play on that, use the man’s honor, show the world that the President would comply while ensuring that irrelevant portions of tape were not released. Meanwhile, as Richardson reviewed the tapes, Buzhardt could appeal the order from Judge John Sirica to the DC Court of Appeals and ask for a temporary stay of Sirica’s order while the appeal was heard. It was, as things went, a pretty good idea. It was also exactly what Nixon didn’t want to hear. The President had been bucked up by last night’s talk with his VP nominee, and was determined to demonstrate a show of strength. He told Buzhardt that he would not comply with the order, and that he was to tell Cox that, and file the appeal immediately. No tapes, no transcripts. If the Democrats didn’t want to work with him, they could go to hell. Nixon ordered Buzhardt to send letters to the Kennedy and Johnson estates demanding that their tapes be turned over to the government as well, so they could be reviewed for wrongdoing.

Buzhardt was appalled at the request. He pleaded with Nixon to change his mind, saying that it would destroy any hope of managing the situation. The President held firm. He was not going to give some old Kennedy coatholder his private conversations. Buzhardt relented and left. Nixon then called for Haig to come to the Oval Office. The four-star general walked in, ramrod straight, ready to update the President on the situation in the Med. Before he got the opportunity, Nixon told him that he was going to fire Cox today, bypassing Richardson. He wanted Ray Price, his best speechwriter, to draft the statement for Press Secretary Ron Ziegler, announcing the firing of Cox. Nixon also told Haig to call new FBI Director Clarence Kelley and order him to seal the special counsel’s office the moment the firing was announced. The chief of staff did his best not to turn pale at this order, which went directly against everyone’s advice. It put the VP confirmation at risk, and would imperil the President’s chances of surviving the moment. Haig went to raise an objection, and Nixon cut him right off. “I’m doing this. I’m the President, and it’s my decision to make. This has gone on long enough. I’m going to expose Kennedy and Johnson for their own taping and I’m going to protect the office of the presidency, because that is my duty!”

Haig saluted, unable to help himself from falling into his military training in that moment, and left the office. He didn’t even sit down in his office before picking up the phone and calling Buzhardt and White House Counsel Leonard Garment, Nixon’s “house liberal” and friend from New York law practice. He wanted them to know what he’d been ordered to do and whether he faced any legal exposure for carrying out Nixon’s orders. Buzhardt took everything well, while Garment was at least slightly shocked. “Al, this is going to ruin him. At least let me talk to him first before you go ahead with this,” Garment said. Haig shook his head. “Len, he didn’t even let me get a word out. He’s determined. I’m curious who told him that Kennedy and Johnson had tapes, though. He seemed certain on that point, more so than his usual complaining about Democrats.” “Let’s see, maybe Moynihan, Connally, hell, maybe Henry knew somehow. He was playing both sides of the street in ’68,” Garment replied. Haig pondered this. “I bet it was Connally. He was the only one close enough to Lyndon to know that….Christ, what did he tell the President?” The three men looked at each other. They had no clue at all.

Around two that afternoon, Ziegler joined Nixon in the Oval to go over the statement Price had hurriedly drafted. Ziegler did not pass along Price’s muttered “Holy shit!” when he was given the directions from Haig to write up a speech. It was only supposed to be a statement for Ziegler, but somewhere between giving the order and receiving the text, the President had decided he was going to go to the press room himself and take all the slings and arrows from the reporters. Aides in the West Wing joked that the President had turned into the Incredible Hulk from the comics. While some of them worried about whether they were going to all lose their jobs when he got impeached for this, others were discussing how to get into the room when Nixon laid this bomb down. There were only a few reporters hanging around when Ziegler sent an intern down at 1 pm to tell them the President would be making a statement at three. That set off a scramble by the wire reporters to get the word out, and every newsroom across the country went on high alert. White House correspondents who weren’t there rushed to change into suits and make it to the West Wing in time. The three network presidents got on a conference call to quickly discuss running a live feed. ABC was on rotation at the moment, and ABC President Elton Rule said he’d make it happen. Walter Cronkite at CBS, Harry Reasoner at ABC, and John Chancellor at NBC also were roused from their weekend routines (in Cronkite’s case, he was enjoying a post-lunch nap that he did not enjoy being woken from) and driven to their respective studios.

At 3 pm sharp, college football games across the nation were interrupted, with the anchors informing their viewers that the President was about to give a statement regarding the tapes that a court had ordered he turn over to the Watergate prosecutor. For many Americans, who over the years had become accustomed to the President’s use of speeches to go above the heads of the news media, it was an unwelcome intrusion into football. For others, especially around the capital, it was a moment of high anxiety. Nixon took the podium in the press room and said the following:

“Good afternoon. My fellow Americans, as you are well aware, yesterday the District Court of Washington, D.C., issued an order for me to surrender tapes made of conversations between myself and my staff in the Oval Office to the special counsel, Archibald Cox. I have always been a stalwart defender of the law as an attorney and in public office. However, the court’s decision yesterday is an unlawful intrusion into the separation of powers, all the more so because Mr. Cox is an employee of the executive branch. He has no legal authority to compel any documents or other items from the office of the President, whom he ultimately reports to. He asked for the tapes, and I informed him that I could not do that, because there is no way to filter out classified and sensitive information on the tapes from what he seeks to discover. Furthermore, Mr. Cox’s demands, for that is what they are, would shatter the ability of any President to receive unhindered, honest advice from their staff. Those staff members would forever be worried that their words could be misconstrued, that advice they gave could be somehow used to prosecute them for the most minute of crimes, and their utility would be at an end. As President of the United States, I have to defend this office and protect its constitutional prerogatives.

Therefore, I have decided upon the following course of action. Pursuant to my authority as head of the executive branch, I am dismissing Archibald Cox as special counsel for the Watergate investigation, effective immediately, along with all attorneys hired for the purpose of working for his office. The special counsel’s offices are being sealed at this moment by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s inspector general’s division, all career agents with no political ties. These men will properly secure all documents and will convey all of those documents to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. Those committees have constitutional jurisdiction, and they can see every piece of evidence that Mr. Cox and his team have collected. However, I will not surrender any tape recordings made, as they are covered under executive privilege. Congress is free to issue subpoenas for any documents they wish to see, and I will direct my attorneys to do my best to comply within the boundaries of the law and the security of this nation.

Watergate has gone on for far too long with no resolution, and I intend to see this issue resolved as quickly as possible. We cannot afford drawn-out investigations, partisan divisions, and diminutions of our Constitution to continue. At this time, I will take questions for a brief period.”

Richard Nixon had managed to stun the entire nation into silence, it seemed. There was a lull of at least ten seconds before Dan Rather of CBS popped up to ask the first question.

Mr. President, what about the court order to surrender your tapes? Are you saying you are above the power of the federal court system? (Rather)

No, I believe that the three branches of government are co-equal. However, as I said already, the court has no constitutional power to intercede in an executive branch dispute. Mr. Cox worked for me, and his only recourse to obtain any items of interest was to go through the Attorney General. He chose to ask another branch of government to determine an executive branch debate, and that is not in the law, and so because he took this route, I had no choice but to terminate his employment in this administration. (Nixon)

Mr. President, why do you feel empowered to tell the District Court they have no authority in this case? (Helen Thomas)


Helen, the District Court should have dismissed the request. The decision of Judge Sirica to take it up was incorrect, and his ruling in Mr. Cox’s favor was even more erroneous. If Congress wants to do something about it, they have the prerogative to do so. This is why, in a show of good faith, I am giving their committees all of Cox’s documents collected so far. Those committees are not comprised of people who have my back, so to say, but since they are the constitutionally empowered office for oversight, they can request items, and we will provide whatever we think is appropriate. (Nixon)

[Fred Buzhardt, Leonard Garment, and Al Haig all enter at this point, standing alongside the wall to Nixon’s right.]

Mr. President, if I understood you correctly, you are saying that you will not give Congress everything it asks for either. How does this not mean you find yourself to be above the law? (David Broder)

Look, if Congress subpoenas items I believe they have no right or need to have, then they, and only they, can ask the courts to adjudicate the matter. If the courts say I have to turn over the requested items to Congress, then of course I will comply, because that is the constitutional way, and as a member of the bar, I am required to comply with the law, even if I disagree. The courts, as part of the separation of powers, can decide disputes between the other two branches. What they cannot do is tell the President that he is required to give a subordinate whatever that subordinate asks for. That would lead to chaos, and this nation has had enough chaos over the past several years already. I will obey the law and the Constitution, because this President is not a crook. (Nixon)

Mr. President, how will Congress know that they have received all of Mr. Cox’s gathered evidence? There has been testimony from former FBI Director [L. Patrick] Gray that he destroyed evidence himself. How can we trust the FBI to not do the same in this instance? (R.W. “Johnny” Apple)


What Mr. Gray did was wrong, and he was removed from his position upon admitting his actions. Director Kelley is one of the most honest men in America, and Congress confirmed him quickly, so they clearly trust him too. The Inspector General’s office is free from politics, nonpartisan men chosen for their integrity, and I am quite sure they will not withhold any items from Mr. Cox’s office. When I made my decision this morning, Director Kelley was immediately informed and moved to ensure no items were lost or taken. If we cannot trust our government in any matter, then we might as well pack up and go home, all of us, for America will be lost at that point. (Nixon)

[Haig whispered to Ziegler to end it, and Ziegler rushed the podium so fast that he almost knocked over the President]


Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. A transcript will be available later this evening.

At the Justice Department, Eliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus looked at each other in shock. Richardson had been completely bypassed by Nixon, and felt that he no longer was in charge of his own department. He decided there was only one way to handle the matter, and that was to resign immediately. If the President could publicly humiliate him in this fashion, he would not be able to exert any authority over the department, in which case he would be useless as an Attorney General. Ruckelshaus told Richardson that he would resign as well, but Richardson managed to talk him out of it after nearly twenty minutes of back and forth. The argument Richardson gave him was that he, Ruckelshaus, had not been overruled, for as a deputy, he was not directly involved in the manner. Furthermore, Richardson said he didn’t want Robert Bork, the Solicitor General, taking over the department, because it would be too likely to act as Nixon was under Bork’s supervision, and the nation couldn’t have that. Finally, the AG said, Nixon had violated the agreement and likely angered half of the nation, but he had not exceeded his constitutional authority, and it seemed that he would cooperate with Congress, so Ruckelshaus had no need to resign in protest. What it came down to was that he’d given his word and seen it broken by his boss, without any warning whatsoever. The Deputy AG yielded to Richardson’s wishes, agreeing to stay on and assume the title of Attorney General (acting) until the President made a decision on how to proceed.

By five pm, Eliot Richardson was at the White House, where he insisted upon seeing the President. Haig tried to resist, but Richardson threatened to walk straight into the press room and tell them what he was going to tell Nixon, so Haig gave way and had the Attorney General admitted to the Oval Office. Nixon, surprised at the intrusion, but expecting it, looked over his AG without getting up from his chair. “What is it, Eliot?” he said. The AG replied, “Mr. President, I can no longer serve this nation as Attorney General after your decision. I gave my word to Archie Cox and to the Congress, and your actions caused me to break my word with no foreknowledge of what you planned to do. Therefore, you have my resignation.” Richardson handed over the letter he’d typed. “Eliot, there’s no need to resign. You are a fine Attorney General, and one of my ablest Cabinet members. I’m sorry that your pride was hurt, but this was my call, and it was the right one. I won’t apologize for defending the Constitution,” Nixon said.

The Attorney General became angry. “Mr. President, this has nothing to do with my pride. It has everything to do with my integrity and the integrity of the Department of Justice, and if you cannot see that, sir, then there truly is a cancer at the heart of this presidency, and it lies within you and everyone else who thinks it is okay to perpetuate this charade. I am convinced that you knew about the Watergate a hell of a lot sooner than you have told the American people, and this is why you are behaving in this fashion. That’s fine, you can do that, but I refuse to be a part of it. Good day, sir.” Richardson spun on his heel and walked out of the Oval as fast as he could, while Nixon sat there, slightly slack-jawed at the accusation leveled by the now-former Attorney General.

Eliot Richardson was completely accurate in every word he said.
 
Actually, no. Jordan sent a token force to join the Saudis and Iraqis while cooperating behind the scenes with Israel because they didn't want to get burned like they did in 1967 when they threw in with Nasser and lost the West Bank as a result.

King Hussein played both sides of the street from the moment the Palestinian Black September tried to oust him in 1970. It's why Jordan has stayed peaceful in a nasty neighborhood since.
 
There's no way this can go wrong...
This is easily the longest post I've ever written, but it was necessary to get the chess pieces in place on the board.

ITTL, Nixon decides that he's going to create a showdown between him and the Congressional leadership. Carl Albert is a squish, while Mike Mansfield and Tip O'Neill are not. Albert was determined to not have a sort of institutional coup, where with no VP Dems take over the executive.

Now Nixon has thrown down the gauntlet and dared Congress to impeach him, essentially. This puts Albert, given his reservations, in a tenuous spot. Nixon has pretty well guaranteed Connally gets confirmed, but the price will be an accelerated push towards impeachment as soon as the first clash over tapes begins. We're also going to see a different counsel (a couple actually) in place of Jaworski, since the Democrats will have different ideas about who takes point for them. Expect a joint committee to do the legwork and then the Judiciarys to do the voting.

Connally, meanwhile, is ultimately happy, I suspect, (warning: subject to change) by this turn of events, since the right is energized by Nixon's "constitutional" defense and actions. By using the language of the law to wrap up a pure power move in more palatable clothing, all the strict constructionist types (i.e. the Reagan crowd) are aroused and there will be a little less support for impeachment, at least for a couple of weeks. Like I said, the tapes battle and what comes out of it will shape a lot of what is to come.

The events of the next few days in the Mediterranean will be interesting...
 
By the way, as I'm deeply well-versed in this time period, I'd be happy to have more discussion about everything going on and the background items that haven't been written about yet. :)
 
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