In the case of the United States vs. Richard Nixon, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the United States ordering the subpoenaed tapes to be turned over to the prosecutors. A constitutional basis for executive privilege was substantiated by this ruling. This ruling also found that the president is required to turn over the evidence needed for a criminal investigation. Rather than withhold the evidence as executive privilege allows, when the evidence is top secret and involves National security.
During the 1972 presidential campaign between Richard Nixon and Democrat George McGovern. The Democrat headquarters were broken into. Investigation by the Washington Post found that the break-in could be traced to the Nixon administration. These charges were covered up by the administration. Archibald Cox, special prosecutor, was appointed to look into the accusations. A subpoena was filed by Cox to have the secret tapes that were recorded in the oval office secured by the courts. This subpoena was refused by President Nixon and Cox was fired. A new special prosecutor Leon Jaworski was appointed to the investigation.
The Watergate cover-up was in full swing in the spring of 1974. President Nixon denied being involved in the cover up. On March 1, 1974 United States Attorney General, along with a nineteen person federal grand jury, indicted John N. Mitchell for obstruction of justice in U. S. v Mitchell. The members of (CREEP) the senior Whitehouse officials and committee to re-elect President Nixon were also included in this indictment. Also included in this indictment, as an un-indicted co-conspirator, was President Nixon. Leon Jaworski, special prosecutor, was in charge of the investigation, which began April 18, 1974. Jaworski requested that Judge Sirica issue a subpoena ordering President Nixon produce “transcripts, papers, memoranda, certain tapes, and other information” to the courts by May 2, 1974. So that it would be used in the trial which was set for September 9, 1974.
President Nixon turned over all of the information with the exception of the tapes. He hoped that the court would be satisfied and no longer require the tapes. The courts were not satisfied and Judge Sirica ordered the president to turn the tapes over to the court by May 24, 1974. On June 6, 1974 Jaworski requested that the Supreme Court take the case by “by-passing” the court of appeals to avoid lengthy litigation so that a fast decision could be attained. This request was granted by the Supreme Court on June 15, 1974.
United States Supreme Court
President Nixon and his attorney James D. St Claire were confident that President Nixon was within the guidelines of Executive Privilege. However on July 24, 1974 the Supreme Court ruled that President Nixon turn the Watergate tapes over to the courts. The courts ruled that executive privilege did not grant the President immunity from presenting the tapes when they were instrumental in court proceedings.
The Nation at the Time
The Nation was in an uproar over the Watergate tapes. President Nixon and his administration claimed that they did not have to turn over the tapes because President Nixon was acting under the executive order of the Constitution. The legal issue at the time was whether or not the president was subject to the court subpoenas. Both sides agreed that the case should be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Article II of the Constitution gives the President executive power. However it does not grant the president immunity. The Article states: “the executive power shall be vested in a president of the Unites States of America to take care that the laws be faithfully executed”. Many Presidents have claimed executive privilege. George Washington refused the House the right to see the papers related to the Jay Treaty. Private letters were withheld by Thomas Jefferson regarding The Aaron Burr treason charges. President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote a directive on the presidential power stating that conversations between executive branch employees must be confidential. This directive was brought about because of Senator Joe McCarthy’s bullying questions in hearings on communism in the United States. However, it was ruled that the term executive power did not protect the executive branch from honest legislative investigation in the 1927 Supreme Court case McGrain v Daughtery. The argument was that the Watergate tapes and papers were not a part of national security and President Nixon should be required to turn in the tapes.
The proceedings and verdict of U.S. v Richard Nixon set the precedence that executive privilege is recognized but is not a privilege covering all presidential communication. The president must comply when evidence is needed for a criminal proceeding. It also proved that Separation of Powers is an effective way to govern and that no one man is above the law, even the President of the United States.
President Nixon turned the tapes over to Supreme Court Justice Sirica. The tapes revealed that President Nixon had been involved in the Watergate burglary cover-up. Nixon was head telling the CIA to “stop the FBI’s investigation of the burglary” on one of the tapes. Knowing that his Presidency was doomed and Congress was about to impeach him, President Nixon resigned from office August 9, 1974.