November 17, 2020

“I am not a crook!”

In retrospect, it’s ironic that one of the slogans used by Richard M. Nixon during his first presidential campaign in 1968 was: “The ‘I’ in Nixon stands for integrity.”

Today, the more remembered “slogan” is the one used against Nixon during the 1972 presidential election, a quip attributed to comedian Mort Sahl: “Would you buy a used car from this man?”

Of course, Nixon managed to beat Democrat George McGovern in the November 1972 election by a landslide.

But the pesky scandal that came to be called “Watergate,” which started with the bungled break-in at the Democratic National headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C. on June 17, 1972, got steadily worse after Nixon was reelected.

By the summer of ‘73, a Congressional Committee and Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox were conducting official investigations to find out if Nixon was involved and determine whether he had tried to cover up his involvement.

Naturally, Nixon denied it for as long as he could.

On November 17, 1973, during a televised press conference, Nixon tried to make it seem like he welcomed the Watergate investigations and uttered one of his most famous quotes: “I am not a crook.” (Sometimes given as “I’m not a crook.)

“I made my mistakes,” Nixon said, “but in all my years of public life, I have never profited, never profited from public service. I’ve earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice. And I think, too, that I can say that in my years of public life, that I welcome this kind of examination because people have got to know whether or not their President’s a crook. Well, I am not a crook.”

Most observers found the welcoming part especially hard to believe. Just a few weeks earlier, Nixon had fired Archibald Cox and abolished the Office of the Special Prosecutor, in the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre.”

But the Congressional Watergate investigation continued and the dominoes kept falling for Nixon. It became clear that covert operatives working for him had conducted the Watergate break-in and that he and his administration had tried to cover it up. Eventually, to avoid impeachment, Nixon become the first U.S. president to resign, on August 9, 1974.

Shortly after Nixon announced his resignation, his Vice President, Gerald Ford, was sworn in as president. Ford’s brief acceptance speech that day included another famous political quotation: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

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