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Yorba Linda, Calif. • In the hours after President Richard Nixon delivered his first major national address about Watergate, two future presidents called him to express their private support, according to audio recordings released Wednesday.
The April 30, 1973, calls with Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were captured on a secret recording system that Nixon used to tape 3,700 hours of conversations between February 1971 and July 1973.
The final chronological installment of those tapes 340 hours were made public by the National Archives and Records Administration, along with more than 140,000 pages of text documents. Seven hundred hours remain sealed for national security and privacy reasons.
Reagan, governor of California at the time, called late in the evening of April 30 to support Nixon after the 37th president delivered a landmark speech about the Watergate scandal, which was rapidly ensnaring him.
Two top White House staffers and close Nixon confidants, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, had resigned earlier in the day, as well as Attorney General Richard Kleindienst as the scandal picked up speed. White House counsel John W. Dean III was also fired that day.
In the speech, Nixon defended the integrity of the White House and said he was not aware of or connected to the Watergate break-in. He stressed that he supported punishment for those involved in possible criminal actions and said he accepted responsibility for ceding the authority of his campaign to others whose "zeal exceeded their judgment and who may have done wrong in a cause they deeply believed to be right."
Reagan told Nixon the speech was the right one to make and sympathized with the staff exodus. That same evening, Bush, who had recently been appointed chairman of the Republican National Committee, called to say he had watched the speech with "great pride."
Tapes released Wednesday also included a lengthy recording of Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev chatting warmly in the Oval Office before a historic summit in June 1973.
Nixon and Brezhnev met one-on-one with only an interpreter present for an hour on June 18 and chatted about personal topics, including their families. The conversation happened before the start of a historic seven-day summit.
The conversation is remarkable because of the camaraderie that is evident, said Luke Nichter of Texas A&M University-Central Texas in Killeen, who runs a website cataloging Nixon's secret recordings.