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I hated to be the guy who had to tell of the Watergate tapes, Butterfield says

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps. Fifty years ago, five men were arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. As a Senate committee looked into the break-in, a Republican staffer named Alexander Butterfield blew the lid off the investigation. Butterfield revealed that he had overseen the installation of a recording system that taped President Richard Nixon's White House conversations. Butterfield talked with his friend Tom Johnson about what led to his testimony.

TOM JOHNSON: Tell me about the Nixon that you saw.

ALEXANDER BUTTERFIELD: Nixon was a very controlled person. He was so disciplined. He had a lot of hatreds and resentments of people. But he kept all that quite contained. Now and then, he erupted, but it was very seldom. He did like me at one time.

JOHNSON: Yeah.

BUTTERFIELD: I'm afraid it didn't end up that way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SAM ERVIN: Subcommittee will come to order. Mr. Butterfield, will you stand and raise your right hand?

JOHNSON: How did you decide to reveal the White House tapes?

BUTTERFIELD: Well, I knew I would not lie. People were lying...

JOHNSON: Yes.

BUTTERFIELD: ...Right and left. I knew that. So I said if they asked me an absolutely direct question, I feel I will have no choice but to answer directly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRED THOMPSON: Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?

BUTTERFIELD: I was aware of listening devices. Yes, sir.

I hated to be the guy who had to tell about the tapes. But I saw these guys I really liked and admired going off to jail. And I realized Nixon exploited their loyalty.

JOHNSON: Yes.

BUTTERFIELD: They were ensnared by the glitter of the presidency, like it is easy to do. And he really - he didn't care. That was a bad part of Nixon. So I went back a year later and testified as the first witness during the impeachment deliberations. And I contradicted a couple things Nixon had said. I said, yes, he was not consumed with the affairs of state. He was consumed by Watergate. That's all the meetings were all - he met off the record with the attorney general almost every night.

So there are a lot of people that don't speak to me today. And what hurts most are the Air Force officers. I love being in the Air Force. I love flying fighters. But military guys - their loyalty is to the commander in chief, the president. And I looked like someone who had been disloyal to the president. And they didn't know the circumstances. So that bothers me.

JOHNSON: But we teach our children to tell the truth.

BUTTERFIELD: Yeah. Yeah, we do. It was a big thing in my house.

JOHNSON: Yeah - even though it's painful to your friends and even to your...

BUTTERFIELD: Yeah.

JOHNSON: ...President. I mean, who can ask for more but to tell the truth and to keep your integrity intact?

BUTTERFIELD: Means a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Former Air Force colonel and deputy assistant to President Nixon, Alexander Butterfield. The recordings he revealed eventually forced Nixon to resign. He talked with his friend Tom Johnson for StoryCorps. Their interview is archived at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kerrie Hillman