Papers and secret audio recordings released today by the Nixon Presidential Library present a complicated picture of Richard Nixon as sharp-witted and paranoid, combative and compassionate, and supporting equal rights for women even as he cynically pushed for the GOP to try to recruit attractive women candidates.
The tapes and papers document a time during Nixon's second term when he faced a rising tide of criticism as more and more of his connection to the Watergate break-in was being revealed and when he was struggling with the war in Vietnam.
More than 150 hours of taped audio, primarily recorded during January and February 1973, were released online. In addition, some 30,000 pages of documents were published at the National Archives in College Park, Md., and the Nixon library in Yorba Linda, Calif.
Taped six months after the June 17, 1972, break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate office complex, Nixon was recorded speaking about the brewing scandal that would eventually lead to his political downfall.
"I am not going to comment on the case while it is still in the courts and on appeal, do you get my point?" he said.
Speaking to a press aid, he worked out possible answers to Watergate questions.
"I've already stated that I don't approve of espionage and burglary and all that," he said.
Included with the released documents is an Oct. 21, 1973, handwritten note in which Kenneth Cole, Nixon's domestic policy adviser, outlined a possible strategy to connect with Southern Democrats and GOP lawmakers to quell thoughts of impeachment.
In a nine-page memo, Cole discussed the so-called "Saturday night massacre," when Nixon fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox and faced the resignations of the two top Justice Department officials, who had quit rather carry out the order to fire Cox.
Cox had pressed relentlessly for Nixon's White House tape recordings as he investigated the president's involvement in the Watergate cover-up. Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned when the White House pressured him to fire Cox. His deputy, William D. Ruckelshaus, took the same path.
In the memo, Cole recommended attacking Cox's reputation as a way of discrediting his work on the Watergate investigation.
"Cox wanted to keep this an unending crisis of the body politic," Cole wrote, laying out an argument for Nixon partisans to hammer away at in the media.
"Cox threw down the gauntlet -- at a time when we don't need some 4th Branch of gov't telling [the president] to go to hell," Cole wrote.
In other documents, Nixon aides suggested that the president would eventually be exonerated and Congress should act cautiously.
Recordings Highlight Vietnam War
Aside from the Watergate break-in, the tapes highlight Nixon's focus on the Vietnam War. He was recorded talking to South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger about the war and hopes for a possible peace agreement.
Nixon spoke of Kissinger leading peace talks in Paris to get the United States out of the war with honor.
"It occurred to me that we really ought to have somebody with Henry when he's over there, you know?" he said. "To tell him not to smile and things of that sort."
Kissinger succeeded on his Paris mission, and when Nixon heard the news, he called his wife, Pat Nixon.
"Kissinger's on his way back and we got the agreement," he told her. "I'm going to announce it at 10 tonight on television."
"Oh, great. Isn't that marvelous. It's wonderful," his wife replied.
In one letter, he states his firm support for the Equal Rights Amendment. For 20 years, he says in the letter, "I have not altered my belief that equal rights for women warrant a constitutional guarantee."
Despite his support, the amendment failed.
But that support for women's rights is in odd juxtaposition to what he says in a taped conversation with George H.W. Bush, who was the GOP chairman at the time.
In the recorded conversation, Nixon pushed for the party to recruit pretty women to run for office, after two women caught his eye in the South Carolina Legislature.
"Let's look for some," he said. "And understand, I don't do it because I'm for women. But I'm doing it because (a) woman might win some place where a man might not."
Other issues that the tapes document are the return of American prisoners of war from Southeast Asia, efforts to maintain U.S. access to oil in the Middle East, and the Supreme Court's decision to legalize abortion with the Roe v. Wade ruling.
More than 2,200 hours of secretly taped conversations from Nixon's presidency have been released since 1980, and there are still more to come.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.