On this 17th day of November in 1973, in the midst of the Watergate scandal that eventually ended his presidency, President Richard Nixon tells a group of newspaper editors gathered at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, that he is “not a crook.”
Nixon made the now-famous declaration during a televised question-and-answer session with Associated Press editors. Nixon, who appeared “tense” to a New York Times reporter, was questioned about his role in the Watergate burglary scandal and efforts to cover up the fact that members of his re-election committee had funded the break-in.
Nixon replied “people have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook. I’ve earned everything I’ve got.” He did, however, admit that he was at fault for failing to supervise his campaign’s fund-raising activities.
At one point during the discussion, Nixon gave a morbid response to an unrelated question about why he chose not to fly with back-up to Air Force One when traveling, the usual security protocol for presidential flights. He told the crowd that by taking just one aircraft he was saving energy, money and possibly time spent in the impeachment process: “if this one [plane] goes down,” he said, “they don’t have to impeach [me].”
Nixon was trying to be funny, but in fact the scandal was taking a toll on his physical and mental health.
In Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s book All the President’s Men, Nixon is described at this time as being “a prisoner in his own house—secretive, distrustful… combative, sleepless.”
Nixon’s protestations of innocence with regard to the Watergate cover-up were eventually eroded by a relentless federal investigation.
Richard Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974.