Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Butterfield Reveals Tapes

Transcript by Patrick Garrity, Ken Hughes, Erin Mahan, and Keri Matthews

“Nixon Bugged Own Offices,” the Chicago Tribune marveled on its front page 40 years ago, responding to the astonishing revelation by Alexander P. Butterfield, a little-known White House aide called to testify on July 16, 1973, before the Senate Watergate Committee during a nationally televised hearing. The Secret Service, at President Richard M. Nixon’s behest, had installed a voice-activated recording system that automatically recorded his Oval Office conversations, meaning that the Watergate-era question of “What did the President know and when did he know it?” could be answered objectively. For Nixon, it was the beginning of the end. After he lost a long legal struggle to keep his tapes from Watergate investigators, a transcript of one of them revealed that he had illegally obstructed the FBI’s investigation of the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office and apartment complex. Nixon resigned soon after. 

Nixon had some sense of the risks he was taking with the tapes, as is shown by the following transcript of one from the first day of secret recording, Feb. 16, 1971. It comes from a forthcoming collection of transcripts by the Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings Program to be published by Rotunda, the University of Virginia’s digital imprint. It will focus on Nixon’s first week of secret recording. On the first day of it, he resolved firmly: “I will not be transcribed.” 

Click through to read the transcript.