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Woodward, Bernstein, and the Five Wars of Richard Nixon

The corruption of the Nixon administration was far deeper than the Watergate scandal, reporting legends Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein told host Marvin Kalb Monday night.

“You listen to the tapes, and the hate and the rage and the using the power of the presidency to settle scores goes on endlessly,” said Woodward, referring to the secret presidential tapes that he and Bernstein have listened to over the years.

Marking the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, Woodward and Bernstein talked with Marvin Kalb on an edition of The Kalb Report to try to understand what motivated Nixon’s crimes and what it took for the Washington Post reporters to conduct their investigation.

Coming just the day before the passing of former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, both Woodward and Bernstein said how essential he was to their investigation.

“Ben was the boss,” Woodward said. “He knew how to motivate and interrogate us.”

“Ben’s politics was about the truth,” Bernstein said. “He was tough on us, as he should have been.”

The program at the National Press Club, which was co-sponsored by University of Maryland University College, can be seen in its entirety here:

“You hear the vengeance toward those he [Nixon] perceives are his political enemies or those he believes constrain his ability to do what he wants to do as president, beginning with the anti-war movement,” Bernstein said.

To counter the anti-war movement, he said, Nixon set up an illegal apparatus to wiretap, break in, and put anti-war leaders under surveillance.

“We hear him on the tapes saying, we know this is illegal, but we have to do it,” Bernstein said.

Kalb said he was the CBS diplomatic correspondent at the time, yet he made it onto Nixon’s enemies’ list.

“To this minute, I don’t have a clue as to why,” Kalb said. “He tapped my phone. He ordered an investigation into my income tax. He had people break into my office, twice. Why? Was it because I was a reporter who criticized his Vietnam policy? Or was there more going on?”

Woodward said he believes Nixon was conducting five wars. One was against the anti-war movement. A second was against the press. A third was against the Democrats, where to win the presidency he set up a massive sabotage and espionage effort that went far beyond Watergate. The fourth was against the system of justice. And the fifth was against history as he tried to dismiss these scandals as a misunderstood blip.

A year to the day before the Watergate break in, Woodward said, Nixon can be heard on the tapes ordering his aides to break into the Brookings Institution and crack the safe where he believes damaging information about Lyndon Johnson is stored.

“Not once in all the tapes, does Nixon or his aides say, what would be good for the country?” Bernstein said.

This edition of The Kalb Report marks the beginning of its 21st season. It is a joint project of the Club’s Journalism Institute, University of Maryland University College, The George Washington University, Harvard University, and the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. It is underwritten by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.