Date Published: October 13, 2015
Source: RAFL Liberty Library
Date Read: January 3-5, 2019
2019 Nixon Reading List
Bob Woodward exposes one of the final pieces of the Richard Nixon puzzle in his new book The Last of the President’s Men. Woodward reveals the untold story of Alexander Butterfield, the Nixon aide who disclosed the secret White House taping system that changed history and led to Nixon’s resignation. In forty-six hours of interviews with Butterfield, supported by thousands of documents, many of them original and not in the presidential archives and libraries, Woodward has uncovered new dimensions of Nixon’s secrets, obsessions and deceptions.
The Last of the President’s Men could not be more timely and relevant as voters question how much do we know about those who are now seeking the presidency in 2016—what really drives them, how do they really make decisions, who do they surround themselves with, and what are their true political and personal values?
Butterfield's role was the outsider turned insider that never felt like or was treated as a true insider. Maybe that's why he had no problem throwing down the most important piece in the Watergate investigation - the fact that there was a recording system in the Oval Office. Butterfield didn't have the loyalty to the Republican party or Nixon specifically, so when asked the right question, he had no qualms about spilling all the knowledge about the tapes.
This is Butterfield's story, starting from his time as the military aide to the US ambassador in Australia wanting to get back to Vietnam to command an USAF wing or to go to the Pentagon/White House as a military advisor. Unfortunately Alexander Haig got the ear of Haldeman first, so Haig was named as military advisor; however, Haldeman had another role for Butterfield to fill and Butterfield accepted the position and retired from the military to be a White House aide, directly working for Haldeman and Nixon. It was Butterfield's task with getting the recording system in place via the CIA IT department.
Butterfield had no love for Nixon then or now. Nixon was an awkward, rude, paranoid, emotionally unstable man-child and was out for vengeance against anyone who ever slighted him. Butterfield's discussion of the Nixon marriage was something new to me, but seems right in line with Nixon's relationship with anyone. Poor Pat Nixon, being married to a guy who had no problem neglecting her/emotionally passive-aggressive on a daily basis. There was only a slight mention of Spiro Agnew and that was when Agnew was banished to the far side of office buildings as per Nixon's direct orders....the relationship between president and vice-president was almost non-existent. Nixon's relationship with Henry Kissinger on the other hand got several (short) chapters. There is also an account of Nixon making an awkward intimate pass on a White House secretary while traveling from Camp David to the White House - it made me cringe that if not directly a MeToo moment, was certainly uncomfortable for all those involved.
After four years, Butterfield wanted out and went to FAA. He was not part of the Watergate break-in or cover-up, but his spilling the recording system secret made him part of the investigation. After all was said and done, Butterfield was shunned by most Republicans, including Gerald Ford, who went looking for a way/reason to boot Butterfield from the FAA.
This was a quick read and a shorter than meets the eye due to an appendix of nothing but White House documents from Butterfield's time. These documents were explained in the text, but don't add anything that the reader couldn't get from the text. The documents do add another 50 pages to the book - that's it. I do think this book is needed in the Watergate library as a rebuttal to the biographies of Haldeman, Kissinger, and Nixon.