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The Secret Plan to Force Out Nixon

In January 1974, House Minority Leader John Jacobs Rhodes posed a surprising question to Barber Conable, the fourth-ranking House Republican. He wanted to know what Conable thought “of the possibility of contingency plans in the event that it was disclosed that Richard Nixon in fact was personally involved in the cover up of Watergate affairs to the extent that he was in fact impeachable.”

Rhodes assured Conable that he didn’t know of any new, damning evidence, but with the Judiciary Committee set to convene the first impeachment inquiry in more than a century the following week, he was worried. Rhodes “felt we could ill afford not to consider the possibility that further disclosures would compromise the President beyond redemption,” Conable recorded in his diary. “The Republican members of the House,” Rhodes had told him, “were the only coherent group which could call on the President to protect his place in history, the welfare of the country, and the survival of the Republican Party, by resigning rather than facing an inevitable conviction in impeachment.”

In this previously unreported exchange, the leader of the House Republicans was apparently asking for his pledge that he would join him in pushing Nixon out of the White House. “I said to him,” Conable noted a little while later, “that if he was asking me if I would be willing to stand up and be counted among those who would go to the President and demand such a resignation, that he could count on me.” Rhodes admitted that this was all he was after at that point. “The whole thing was kept quite vague,” Conable recorded for history, “but I got the impression that he was testing me to find out if my willingness to stand up and be counted was sufficient so that he would be able to call on me when and if the time comes.”

Barber Conable died in 2003, but until now, his diary—including his many entries on Nixon, Watergate, and the impeachment crisis—has remained largely hidden from researchers. Conable shared parts of the diary with Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward for The Final Days, their book on the end of the Nixon presidency, and with a few other scholars in the years that followed. The full diary served as the basis for a biography of Conable by James S. Fleming in 2004. But, by coincidence, it was only fully opened to researchers at Cornell’s Kroch Library this November, just as Republicans are being asked, for the third time in American history, to impeach a president of their own party.