Bob Wood­ward pro­files the out­sider in Nixon’s in­ner cir­cle.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - RE­VIEW BY EVAN THOMAS

In 1974, Bob Wood­ward, to­gether with his fel­low Wash­ing­ton Post reporter Carl Bern­stein, pub­lished “All the Pres­i­dent’s Men,” about their role in ex­pos­ing the Water­gate scan­dal. Wood­ward has gone on to write 11 other No. 1 best­sellers and es­tab­lish­him­selfas­thebe­stre­por­ter­in­tow­nat get­ting top gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to spill their se­crets. The Wood­ward method is leg­endary: flat­tery, pa­tience and re­lent­less per­sis­tence.

In 2011, Wood­ward in­vited Alexan­der But­ter­field, the deputy as­sis­tant to Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon who re­vealed the ex­is­tence of the White House tap­ing sys­tem dur­ing the 1972 Water­gate hear­ings, to the week­end home he and his wife, Elsa Walsh, keep on the South River, near An­napo­lis. Three years later, But­ter­field sat down for 40 hours of in­ter­views with Wood­ward and turned over more than 20 boxes of doc­u­ments, some of them highly se­cret, that he had car­ried away from the White House in 1973.

“The Last of the Pres­i­dent’s Men” is the catchy ti­tle of Wood­ward’s lat­est book, but,

no­tably, But­ter­field was not one of the pres­i­dent’s men, in the sense that he was never a mem­ber of the palace guard of Nixon loy­al­ists. Wood­ward makes much of a pre­vi­ously undis­closedJan­uary 1972 memo, pro­vided by But­ter field, that shows Nixon an­grily writ­ing that U.S. bomb­ing had achieved “zilch” in Viet­nam. The doc­u­ment is in­ter­est­ing but not sur­pris­ing. Nixon was a blurter: On the White House tapes you can hear him re­peat­edly rail­ing about the fu­til­ity of the U.S. Air Force. Wood­ward’s book con­tains no real bombshells, but it does of­fer a cringe-wor­thy por­trayal of the 37th pres­i­dent, seen through the eyes of an aide who some­times wit­nessed the bet­ter side of Nixon but more of­ten, in Wood­ward’s telling, the worse.

Al­though But­ter­field han­dled the pres­i­dent’s day-to-day lo­gis­tics and much of his pa­per­work, he was al­ways a bit of an out­sider. He held him­self aloof from the hy­per-ef­fi­cient aides and ad­vance­men from Nixon’s po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns. When But­ter­field tes­ti­fied against the pres­i­dent be­fore the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee dur­ing the 1974 im­peach­ment hear­ings, Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s de­voted sec­re­tary, ha­rangued him over the phone. “You’re on the other side,” she said. “You al­ways were.”

It has been spec­u­lated that But­ter­field was a plant for the CIA or the Pen­tagon in­tent on spy­ing on Nixon. The con­spir­acy the­o­ries have never been proved, and But­ter­field told Wood­ward the more plau­si­ble story that he was just an am­bi­tious young man who wanted a White House job. A UCLA class mate of Nixon’ s chief of staff, H.R. “Bob” Halde­man (their wives had been soror­ity sis­ters), But­ter­field was hand­some, brave (he had flown 98 mis­sions in Viet­nam) and knew how to keep a clean desk. Halde­man hired him to be his “staff clone,” But­ter­field told Wood­ward — a car­bon copy of the chief of staff, ready to step in and do what­ever Nixon wanted.

There was just one prob­lem, Halde­man ex­plained to his new aide, a bit awk­wardly, when But­ter­field re­ported for duty in Jan­uary 1969. Nixon was un­com­fort­able with strangers. Halde­man tried to keep But­ter­field out of sight of the pres­i­dent for his first two weeks on the job. When the chief of staff fi­nally in­tro­duced his deputy to the pres­i­dent, Nixon was lit­er­ally speech­less. As Wood­ward ren­ders the scene:

“‘Ah, uh, hmm, ah, ahh,’ the pres­i­dent mum­bled, clear­ing his throat and ges­tur­ing to­ward Halde­man. ‘Urm, urm.’ His right hand went up to his mouth, cov­er­ing it briefly. He seemed about to speak, glanced at But­ter­field and mo­tioned to Halde­man. But still there were no words. Nixon be­gan to make lit­tle cir­cles with his hand as if to re­call some­thing to mind. ‘Urm, urm,’ he said.”

But­ter­field has told this story in a 2008 oral his­tory pub­licly avail­able at the Nixon Li­brary, but Wood­ward tells it more en­ter­tain­ingly — and harshly. To be sure, Nixon could be help­lessly awk­ward in so­cial com­pany, but he also could be cool and com­mand­ing, es­pe­cially when ne­go­ti­at­ing with heads of state. He was able to get along with Leonid Brezh­nev and Zhou En­lai be­cause he did not preach at them, he was well-pre­pared and he dis­cussed in­ter­ests, not ide­ol­ogy. He also got on fine with plenty of politi­cians and reg­u­lar peo­ple, in­clud­ing, on one mem­o­rable oc­ca­sion, Elvis Pres­ley, his fel­low anti-es­tab­lish­ment ar ian.

Wood­ward puts Nixon’s pet­ti­ness on vivid dis­play. On Christ­mas Eve of his first year in of­fice, Nixon spends 18 min­utes walk­ing around the White House to wish his em­ploy­ees a Merry Christ­mas. Wood­ward writes: “He found some­thing very dis­turb­ing. A num­ber of the of­fices promi­nently dis­played pic­tures of the late pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy. I want all those pic­tures down to­day, Nixon or­dered But­ter­field .‘ Down from the walls and off the desks. Je­sus Christ! If we’ve got this kind of in­festa

tion imag­ine what [Sec­re­tary of State] Bill Rogers has at the State Depart­ment.’ ”

But­ter­field de­scribes to Wood­ward a pa­thetic mo­ment aboard Marine One, the pres­i­den­tial he­li­copter. In the semi-dark­ness, Nixon awk­wardly pats the bare leg of a mini-skirted sec­re­tary, Bev­erly Kaye; she stiff­ens but says noth­ing. “I just thought, the poor, piti­ful son of a bitch,” But­ter­field tells Wood­ward. In later con­ver­sa­tion with Wood­ward, But­ter­field de­scribes the pat­ting as grand­fa­therly, but Wood­ward milks it for sev­eral pages.

But­ter­field does find some at­tributes to ad­mire in Nixon: “the work ethic, snatches of em­pa­thy, the de­ter­mined, fo­cused ef­fort so ev­i­dent in nearly every­thing he did.” But the pres­i­dent’s deputy as­sis­tant is grudg­ing and misses some cru­cial di­men­sions of his in­fin­itely com­plex and con­tra­dic­tory boss. But­ter­field of­fers a scene of Nixon ig­nor­ing his wife, Pat, and de­scribes the first lady as “bor­der­line abused.” Nixon, it’s true, could be em­bar­rass­ingly dis­mis­sive of Pat in pub­lic. But over a long and com­pli­cated mar­riage, he also showed ten­der­ness and de­pended on her, al­most des­per­ately, to stand by him in dif­fi­cult times. Any­one who ques­tions the depth of Nixon’s devo­tion needs only to Google the video of Pat Nixon’s funeral. Nixon is not just cry­ing; he is bawl­ing, dev­as­tated, ut­terly un­done. He was dead a year later.

In some ways, Wood­ward’s por­trait of But­ter­field is more in­trigu­ing than But­ter­field’s por­trait of Nixon. Why did But­ter­field re­veal the ex­is­tence of Nixon’s se­cret tap­ing sys­tem to Sen­ate in­ves­ti­ga­tors prob­ing Water­gate? Be­cause he was asked, is the sim­ple an­swer, but Wood­ward un­der­stands that But­ter­field’s mo­ti­va­tions were more com­plex. He quotes the spy nov­el­ist John le Carre’s 1979 thriller, “Smi­ley’s Peo­ple,” about the floor at head­quar­ters where the bosses had their of­fices: “Why did the fifth floor al­ways think that peo­ple had to have one mo­tive only?” Wood­ward notes that But­ter­field, a former Ea­gle Scout who car­ried the cross in church as anal tar boy, was re­sent­fulthat Nixon had pres­sured him into us­ing the Se­cret Ser­vice to spy on Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). Pos­si­bly, But­ter­field felt guilty that he had not re­fused to be used in this way.

“I had come to like him,” But­ter­field says of Nixon in one of his in­ter­views with Wood­ward, who de­scribed But­ter­field’s al­most tor­tured feel­ings to­ward his former boss: “‘We had tac­itly kissed and made up,’ from the early days in 1969. ‘But he was rude to me. He was clearly rude, but I soft­ened.’ Still, But­ter­field al­ways re­mem­bered. ‘Two or three times he was rude to me,’ he re­called, his eyes nar­row­ing as he thought back. There had never been an apol­ogy. . . . But­ter­field took snubs very per­son­ally, and by his own ac­count they tended to al­most live within him for years, even decades af­ter­ward.”

Nixon could be con­sid­er­ate with his aides. But­ter­field de­scribes a sweet scene of Nixon meet­ing with But­ter­field’s teenage daugh­ter, who had lost her teeth in a car crash. Nixon em­pa­thet­i­cally tapped his own front teeth, capped af­ter they had been bro­ken in an ac­ci­dent. He also could be cal­lous. In their own me­moirs, Halde­man re­called that Nixon never made an ef­fort to learn about his chil­dren, while his other top aide, John Ehrlich­man, wrote that Nixon some­times dis­tract­edly called him “Bob.” Nixon was at heart a lonely man. He paid for it.


Alexan­der But­ter­field, Nixon’s deputy as­sis­tant, gave Bob Wood­ward boxes of doc­u­ments and sat for hours of in­ter­views.

By Bob Wood­ward Si­mon & Schus­ter. 291 pp. $28 THE LAST OF THE PRES­I­DENT’S MEN

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