“I let down my friends. I let down the country. I let down our system of government… most of all, I let down an opportunity that I would have had for two-and-a-half more years to proceed on great projects and programs for peace.”
Those words of former President Richard Nixon, spoken on this day in 1977 in an interview with British journalist David Frost, were excerpted from hours of recordings edited down to a 90-minute television program.
It was an apology of sorts — the closest the public would ever get from the president who resigned in disgrace, facing almost certain impeachment as a result of the so-called “Watergate scandal” that began developing three years earlier.
Before the Nixon television interview aired, Frost spoke with journalist Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, CBS News’ weekly TV news magazine.
The Nixon-Frost interview was openly contentious at times. Despite repeated references to known facts, Nixon never admitted to attempting to obstruct justice - one of the three charges that Congress was about to take up in an impeachment case at the end of July 1974.
Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, without ever admitting his guilt in the case. In particular, he resisted suggestions that he orchestrated a cover-up of the Watergate burglary in 1971 that targeted the opposition Democratic Party.
Nixon was emphatic in his denial to Frost that he was involved in covering up any trace of his involvement in the scandal:
“I didn’t intend a cover-up. Let me say, if I intended the cover-up, believe me, I would have done it.”
The historic televised meeting between the ex-president and the journalist was turned into a Broadway play in 2007. A year later, it was adapted into an award-winning movie by director Ron Howard, starring Michael Sheen and Frank Langella.
Watched by more than 45 million Americans, the Frost-Nixon interviews made compelling television, drawing one of the largest audiences ever to watch a political interview.