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Francis Valeo on President Richard Nixon's Impeachment Trial

Frank Valeo

Francis Valeo served as Secretary of the Senate from 1966-1977. In an excerpt from an oral history interview he gave in 1985, Valeo describes the Senate’s preparations for the impeachment trial of President Richard Nixon. Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, before the House of Representatives’ impeachment vote.

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Valeo: Mansfield began to get very worried about Nixon in this period and what he might do in certain circumstances. One line that sticks in my head from what he said at the time was, "You have to be very careful with this fellow, Frank. If you get him in a corner you don't know what he'll do." That was one of his reactions. He said, "You have to treat him very, very carefully." Well, the thing kept building up and building up. Then everybody saw the significance of it, including me. I was one of the later ones, but I finally saw it. It began to get very close to impeachment on the House side. I think there were frequent meetings and regular discussions between Scott and Mansfield on the Senate side as it looked that way more and more. Finally, I got the order from Mansfield, but I'm sure he must have had Scott's concurrence in it, to start planning for the trial in the Senate, because it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that he would be impeached in the House.

So I began preparations. I met with the press. Mansfield had said, "This is one we will do with TV." He said, "We have to do this one on TV." He was not in favor of using TV in the Senate chamber prior to this. I guess for ceremonials he did not have any great objections, but he was opposed to the use of TV in the Senate. Still, he said this was one we would have to do. We got Doc Riddick to do the research, or he did it on his own initiative, on previous impeachment cases. I met fairly regularly with Darrell St. Claire to try to conceive of the physical arrangements that would be involved in it. We ordered from the company that makes these Senate pins and awards, Baldwin or Balfour or something like that, this was Darrell's suggestion, we ordered identification pins for people who would have the privilege of the floor during the trial in much the way you have people identified by a button as being part of a presidential party. We thought we needed something like that to make sure that nobody got on the floor who shouldn't be there. We began to discuss the matter with the press galleries and this brought in the sergeant at arms, I can't remember whether Nordy Hoffman was at that time sergeant at arms, or whether it was still Bill Wannell, but we had discussions with them. The arrangements were essentially being made in the secretary's office. We were prepared to go ahead with the trial. I mean, physically we had figured out what would be done by that time. But of course Nixon resigned and that changed the equations.

The behavior of the Congress, particularly, I think, the House, was excellent, and Ervin's behavior on the Senate side was very critical in keeping the country together in this period. Had they not handled the matter with the kind of discretion and yet honesty that it was handled there could have been very, very serious repercussions.