Nixon's deeds in office continue to haunt him ON POLITICS

JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

December 14, 1992|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

WASHINGTON -- Why are we not surprised that Richard Nixon, as reported in the New Yorker and confirmed by former political henchman Charles Colson, tried in 1972 to tie George Wallace's would-be assassin to the George McGovern campaign?

Longtime Watergate sleuth Seymour Hersh reveals in the magazine that after Arthur Bremer Jr. wounded Wallace at a shopping center in Laurel, Md., Nixon told Colson to send Howard Hunt, soon to be a central figure in the Watergate break-in, to break into Bremer's apartment and plant McGovern campaign materials there.

The plot didn't come off, according to Colson, because by the time Hunt got to the apartment, it had been sealed off by the FBI, to Nixon's chagrin. Hersh pieced the story together from Colson and available Watergate tapes -- tapes that a judge recently ruled belong to Nixon and for which he has to be compensated.

There was a time, when Colson in the White House was saying things like he would run over his own grandmother if necessary to do his job, that testimony from him about anything would have been dismissed out of hand. But since serving time for his Watergate involvement, he has found religion and spends his time helping to rehabilitate the convicted.

It is quite an irony that the taxpayers are going to be obliged to pay Nixon what appraisers say may be millions of dollars for the tapes that were critically instrumental in his political downfall, and continue to reveal his penchant for political dirty tricks.

One of the places where researchers will not find the story of the attempted election-year smear of McGovern only months before he became the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee is the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, Calif. The only tapes you can listen to there are those that are offered to listeners in a way contrived to make the case that Nixon was sandbagged by those two other newspaper sleuths, the Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

The Nixon Library, you will recall, is privately financed, unlike all those of former presidents not named by a special prosecutor, as Nixon was, as an unindicted co-conspirator or pardoned by their successors in the White House. After hefty contributions for construction of the library from the Nixon family trust ($1 million) and such old Nixon cronies as insurance magnate W. Clement Stone and aerosol inventor Robert Abplanalp, the operation has been sustained by the public through the purchase of admission tickets.

Judging from a report the other day that the Nixon Library is running in the red, you can surmise that tourists haven't been beating the doors down to get Nixon's version of Watergate, or anything else that is featured in the handsome, rambling exhibition halls. A Nixon spokesman at the library attributes the shortfall to the fact that the economy is in bad shape and the many other wonderful attractions competing for the tourist dollar.

Well, what if Nixon takes the dough he gets from the taxpayers for the Watergate tapes held by the National Archives and pumps it into the financially ailing Nixon Library? Wouldn't that make things even -- sort of?

It's not beyond the realm of possibility that Nixon might do that. To his credit, some time ago he stopped taking federal funds for maintenance of his office, as well as Secret Service protection to which he was entitled as a former president.

Then again, the former world leader turned author has made a small fortune writing books on what's wrong with the world and how to improve it, as well as reminding the American public in his unintentionally revealing tome, "In the Arena," of the curious mix of self-congratulation and insecurity that makes up the man.

With the income from these, Nixon could probably keep the library in the black, even if the tourists choose to go to nearby Disneyland.

In any event, the latest revelation about Nixon's trying to tie the McGovern campaign to Wallace's assailant is yet another reminder that history, and not self-serving libraries or presidential memoirs, is the best informer of the worth and achievements of public figures.

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