NEW YORK -- Richard Nixon, in an interview to be televised next week, recalls his career from the Checkers speech to his resignation, belittles Dwight Eisenhower and says he knew his presidency was over when George Wallace refused his plea for help to avoid impeachment.
And he reports that when he descended from the White House family quarters to the Oval Office to sign his letter of resignation on the night of Aug. 8, 1974, he heard demonstrators outside chanting 'Jail to the chief. Jail to the chief.'
'Didn't bother me,' he says. 'I'd been heckled by experts.'
In a candid series of interviews that took place over 38 hours recently and of which 1 hours will be televised by CBS in two parts, on '60 Minutes' Sunday night and 'American Parade' Tuesday night, Nixon answered questions from his long-time associate, Frank Gannon.
CBS is reported to have paid $500,000 for the 90 minutes it culled from the total. Nixon was paid an undisclosed fee for the interviews and will share in the profits from the worldwide sale of the tapes.
During the 1952 presidential campaign, Nixon came under a cloud for having accepted private contributions from Los Angeles businessmen.
In the interviews, Nixon says he accused Eisenhower of indecision on whether to ask him to withdraw as his vice presidential candidate.
Eisenhower suggested Nixon go on television to explain himself in what came to be known as the 'Checkers speech' because Nixon spoke of the 'little dog Checkers' a supporter had given to his two daughters.
Nixon told his interviewer he asked 'Ike' if he would make a decision after the broadcast. Eisenhower replied that he thought 'we should take three or four days to see how it goes,' Nixon related, continuing:
''Well, general,' I said, 'the problem here is the indecision.' I said, 'We've really got to get it decided.' ... And then I sort of blew my top a bit and I said, 'You know, there comes a time when you have to shit or get off the pot.''
Nixon at the time was a 39-year-old first-term senator, and 'to say this to the supreme commander of Europe forces, a great war hero whom I admired enormously, a presidential nominee who was going to be president, was pretty shocking,' he says now.
Asked about Watergate, Nixon said, 'The way we handled it took what was basically a misdemeanor -- a break-in in which nobody was hurt - and made it the crime of the century.'
'Whatever the stupidity of Watergate,' he said, 'the original break-in, or attempt to break-in I should say, which failed, was ... exceeded by our reaction to it. It was stupidity at its very highest.'
During a discussion of the Judiciary Committee consideration of impeachment proceedings that followed a year of investigations and hearings and trials, Nixon said his chief of staff, Alexander Haig, suggested calling on Wallace to help persuade Alabama Democrat Walter Flowers, a member of the committee, to vote against impeachment and perhaps influence other conservative Democrats to do the same.
'Well, I decided to call him,' Nixon recalled. 'He said, well, he hadn't had a chance to really study this whole matter. Said, 'I'm praying for you.' He says, 'I am ... very sorry that this ordeal had to be brought upon you. But I don't feel that I can really talk to Flowers, because -- he might resent my doing so.'
'The call had taken only 6 minutes,' Nixon said. 'But as I hung up the phone I knew it was all over. I turned to Al Haig; I said, 'Well -- there goes the presidency.''
Wallace aide Elvin Stanton confirmed Thursday in Montgomery, Ala., that the conversation took place. 'I would say that is the gist of the way the governor has described it,' Stanton said. 'He (Wallace) mentioned it several times.'
Nixon also described the intervening weeks as he approached the final decision, and how he broke the news to his family that he had decided to resign. His daughter Tricia, he said, 'put her arms around me, kissed me on the forehead, and, tears coming into her eyes, she said, 'You're the most decent man I've ever known.'
'And I said, 'Well, I just hope I haven't let you down.' But I knew I had,' Nixon said.
Asked why he never said he was sorry for Watergate and the turmoil that followed in America, Nixon replied:
'There's no way that you could apologize that is more eloquent, more decisive, more finite, or to say that you are sorry, which would exceed resigning the presidency of the United States.
'That said it all.'