Ben Stein says he made a dramatic, eleventh-hour bid to have Richard Nixon apologize for his Watergate crimes and save his presidency — but the nation's 37th commander-in-chief was too emotionally far gone to go along with the plan.
As the 40th anniversary of Nixon's resignation approaches, Stein — an actor and economist who served as a speechwriter for the president — revealed the tense, behind-the-scenes efforts to try to save his reputation from total ruin.
"They came to all of us speechwriters and they said, 'do any of you have an idea of a last-ditch Watergate speech, that would save the Nixon presidency?'" Stein said Thursday on "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.
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"And I said, yes, I think Mr. Nixon should say, 'I'm sorry I did the things in terms of obstruction of justice I'm accused of doing. They're very small things compared to what President [John F.] Kennedy or President [Lyndon] Johnson did, but I acknowledge I did them.'
"'But look at the peace I brought to the world. Look at the accomplishments I brought to the world. Please try to see this in realistic terms. Nobody's perfect and I'm nowhere near perfect and I don't claim to be perfect, but I claim to have brought a lot of peace to the world a lot of security to the United States of America.'"
Stein said he wanted Nixon to ask Americans to factor his good deeds in with his crimes and forgive by imploring, "'there's still much more to do and I'd like you to be forbearing and give me the opportunity to do that, to build an even more lasting generation of peace for your children and grandchildren….'"
But Nixon's mental state was too fragile at that point to grasp such a blanket admission of guilt, nor did his aides agree with it, according to Stein.
"Americans appreciate apology and … we should've had an apology, but Nixon at that point was in a very, very emotional state, very, very, very emotional state,'' he said.
"I don't think anyone knows except [Nixon's children] Julie and David and Trisha and Mrs. [Pat] Nixon [knew] how emotional he was.
"But I happened to learn just by chance just how far gone he was emotionally, so it wasn't going to happen that he was going to be able to make a rational decision like that.''
Nixon resigned on Aug. 9th, 1974, after the House Judiciary Committee charged him in its bill of impeachment with "high crimes and misdemeanors" relating to the burglary of Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate hotel.
The Judiciary Committee said during a subsequent cover-up, Nixon wrongfully used government agencies such as the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Internal Revenue Service.
Stein said the day Nixon resigned and the following day, "were the two worst days of my life. It was just horrifying.''
"I would say I worshiped the man and I consider him the bravest president of the 20th century, second only in terms of his bravery to Abraham Lincoln ever in American history,'' Stein said.
"I consider him the greatest peacemaker that's ever been in American history. As a Jew, I consider him the best friend the Jews have ever had. The thought that this man was driven from office by a lot of wormy, dishonest, horrible little guys and gals just makes me sick.''
Stein, who writes for Newsmax and whose movies include "Ghostbusters 2" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off,'' fondly remembered Nixon's love of sports.
"I will tell you a funny story about Richard Nixon, funny and sad. When he moved from Southern California back to the east to be near his daughters, there was a farewell party for him at his house,'' Stein said.
"He greeted everyone rather perfunctorily and then just went right back to his room, his living room to watch the Dodgers. I happened to just be heading in there to use the bathroom and Mr. Nixon said, 'sit down Ben watch the game.'
"He was a huge, huge sports fan, gigantic and in fact, one of his major speeches, I forget, I think on Vietnam – a huge, huge [speech was changed] so it wouldn't conflict with the Super Bowl.''
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