Excerpt: Elizabeth Drew’s ‘Washington Journal’

Newspaper stories began to appear hailing Richard Nixon’s latest comeback—reminiscent of all the times in his career when he was down and seemingly out and pundits would call on him and return to announce a “new Nixon.”

But in just three years, disturbed by the seamier side of New York and worried about its effects on his grandchildren, on whom he doted, Nixon moved again, this time to the quieter, suburban Saddle River, New Jersey. And he still wasn’t done: now there was a new generation to cultivate. So he held a series of cocktails and dinners at his new home for journalists who hadn’t yet come of age during Watergate and presumably had no preconceptions. Nixon set out to impress them with his worldly knowledge, and most came away awed. In 1984 and 1988 he went to the belly of the beast, and addressed conventions of newspaper editors and publishers in Washington, D.C. Each time, he was asked to opine on the upcoming presidential election, and though he sometimes got it wrong (his predictions were evidently questionable at the time) he received standing ovations from people who had driven him from office.

A bona fide ex-president would in the normal course have his own library, and Nixon was determined to have one as well, despite his - unusual circumstances. A library would guarantee immortality and present a proper picture of his presidency—as he saw it. Since the government wasn’t going to pay for a library for him, he and his wealthy backers had to raise the money. The library would be located in Yorba Linda, where Nixon was born and spent his early years. (His modest birthplace was to stand in its original place, on the grounds of the library.) Because his presidential papers belonged to the federal government in Washington, the library would be essentially a museum. Under the control of his family and allies, the Nixon Library downplayed Watergate by darkening the room that housed its display—his daughter Julie explained to Larry King that the purpose was “so that you want to move on.” The record was adjusted. The text of the transcript of the crucial “smoking gun,” the August 23, 1972, conversation in which Nixon told Haldeman to instruct the CIA to call the FBI off its investigation, the one that sealed Nixon’s fate, was doctored. The library declared the entire Watergate episode a “coup” perpetrated by Nixon’s “enemies.”

Nixon’s faux library was given a grand opening in July, 1990, a ceremony solemnly attended by President George H.W. Bush and former Republican presidents Ford and Reagan. Later, in early 1994, after a great deal of controversy, congress passed a law that provided federal funds for Nixon’s Library, and in time, transcripts of the tapes were transferred there from the Archives. But though the library was now technically under the control of the Federal Government, Nixon’s family and allies kept a strong hand in its management through the Richard Nixon Foundation, which was officially given a voice in its operation. Inevitably this collision of interests caused difficulties: the first director, Tim Naftali, a respected historian of the Cold War and a former employee of the National Archives, collided with the Foundation over his inviting speakers who had been critical of Nixon. And then, a protracted

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