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How Minnesota Republicans came around on impeaching Nixon

President Richard Nixon
Courtesy of The Nixon Library and Museum
Over the spring and summer of 1974, evidence implicating President Richard Nixon in the Watergate cover-up began to mount.

Al Quie was “on the fence.” So were his House colleagues, Bill Frenzel and John Zwach,  according to Frank Wright. 

Wright, the Minneapolis Tribune’s Washington Bureau Chief, had interviewed the three Minnesota Republicans on August 3, 1974, just days after the House Judiciary Committee voted to bring articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon to the full House. Now, the three members of the president’s party faced the prospect of an uncomfortable impeachment vote on the House floor.

 “Quie, Frenzel and Zwach are typical of that large group of Republicans members who are withholding their support from Mr. Nixon but unwilling at this time to plunge their daggers into him,” Wright told his readers.   

On August 3, the daggers may not have been ready to plunge, but two days later, they were unsheathed when a White House tape recording, delivered to Congress on orders from the U.S. Supreme Court, showed that Nixon had, in fact, ordered a cover-up of the Watergate break-in. 

Initiating the inquiry

Six months earlier, the U.S. House of Representatives launched an impeachment inquiry in formal terms when it adopted House Resolution 803 on February 6. That action authorized the Judiciary Committee to determine whether there were sufficient grounds to impeach Nixon of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Minnesota’s Republican House members voted for the resolution, which passed with an overwhelming majority of 410 to 4.

Later in February, Frenzel, Quie and Zwach, along with Minnesota’s fourth House Republican, Ancher Nelson, used an interview with the Minneapolis Star’s Peter Vaughn to assure their fellow Republicans back home in Minnesota that their vote on H Res 803 did not represent a vote in favor of impeachment. The four congressional representatives told Vaugh that, while the inquiry might move ahead, they did not believe enough evidence had been gathered to justify an impeachment action by the full House. 

Al Quie
Al Quie
Zwach, then in his final House term, was the most outspoken, “Would I vote for impeachment on what I know now? I say a resounding ‘no.’”  

Quie was more circumspect, saying that he would keep an open mind until Judiciary Committee reported to the full House. He and Frenzel both indicated their discomfort with the view of many impeachment advocates who maintained that the president should be held accountable for the illegal actions of his subordinates. Both believed that criminal actions by subordinates should not be considered an impeachable offense.

Earlier in the month, in a separate interview with the Tribune’s Findlay Lewis, Frenzel said he thought the Democratic-controlled House would vote to impeach Nixon but he would vote against it, “I would like to see a bill first,” Frenzel said.” But my own inclination, based on the evidence and my own narrow definition of an impeachable offense is that I would vote ‘no.’“ 

Mounting evidence

Over the spring and summer of 1974, evidence implicating Nixon in the Watergate cover-up began to mount, adding to the discomfort of moderate Republicans like Frenzel and Quie. In March, a D.C. grand jury indicted four of the president’s closest advisors. The four men — John Mitchell, H.R. Haldeman, John Erlichman and Charles Colson — were charged with conspiracy, obstruction of justice and lying under oath. 

Bill Frenzel
Bill Frenzel
Then, on July 24, the U.S. Supreme Court, rejecting Nixon’s claim of executive privilege, ordered the White House to turn over to Congress audio tapes subpoenaed by  the House Judiciary Committee. For two weeks the White House withheld the tapes, which recorded Nixon’s conversations with his top aides about Watergate. On August 5, the administration reluctantly complied with the court order and  delivered the tapes to Capitol Hill. They provided the smoking gun that impeachment advocates had long sought — indisputable evidence that Nixon had ordered the FBI to abandon its investigation of the Watergate break-in.

Even before the smoking gun was revealed, a nationwide survey conducted by Gallup in early August indicated that 64 percent of the American people favored Nixon’s impeachment, a 13 percent percent increase from a similar poll taken earlier in the summer. While 76 percent of Democratic voters called for impeachment, even 41 percent of Republican voters supported this move.

By now, Nixon’s support from even his most steadfast congressional allies was evaporating. Only days earlier, the Minnesota’s Republican House members had equivocated when asked if they supported impeachment. On August 6, the Minneapolis Star’s Jim Shoop reported  that the state’s four Republican House members — Quie, Frenzel, Zwach and Nelson — were “moving strongly” in that direction. Of the four, Quie was the most direct, telling Shoop, “We have been given the final evidence that the Judiciary Committee was looking for, of obstruction of justice, which is an impeachable offense.” Frenzel maintained that Nixon had, “in effect, pleaded guilty to Article I (obstruction of justice) and probably Article II, as well. I don’t see how anyone in the House could vote against it.”

John Zwach
John Zwach
Zwach signaled that he was also leaning toward a “yes” vote. “If there is hard factual evidence that he (Nixon) tried to cover up, then my constitutional oath would  demand it. But I am a juror in this thing and I want to see the hard evidence for myself.” Even Ancher Nelson, formerly a staunch opponent of impeachment, indicated that he was changing his view. He issued a statement, saying “it appears to be necessary for all of us to reassess our position relative to the presidents’ case.” 

Finally,  on August 9,  the four Minnesotans and their House Republican colleagues were spared  a painful vote on the House floor when Nixon resigned, becoming the first and  the only U.S. President thus far to take that step.

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Tom West on 10/08/2019 - 12:24 pm.

    Members of Congress often lead from behind. They constantly balance doing what they think is right against what their constituents want. Support for Richard Nixon was never as strong among his supporters as it has been for Donald Trump. Plus, thanks to the Arab oil embargo, the economy in 1974 was in recession whereas today it continues to grow. The result was that support for Nixon collapsed. That hasn’t happened this time — at least not yet. Why? In part, it is because everyone recognizes breaking and entering is a crime, and a presidential cover-up of such acts is also seen as criminal. When Clinton was impeached, the GOP tried to make it be about lying to the grand jury, but most people saw it as a guy having a sexual affair. As Trump’s election also proved, many voters have greater concerns than someone else’s illicit fling. Plus, the economy was strong. A vote in the House to impeach Trump is nowhere close to being 410-4. Democrats like Minnesota’s Collin Peterson are in a tough spot representing districts that have strong Trump support. If the election were held today, Trump may not win Minnesota, but I would guarantee he would carry the 7th District. It doesn’t matter what the polls say nationally; what matters is how the constituents of each member of Congress feel. Maybe if Democrats can prove a quid pro quo in Trump’s request for a favor from Zelensky, that may change, but given the polarization, and the Dems’ failure to prove collusion with the Russians, it’s more likely Trump supporters will see impeachment for any reason not as a crime, but as just one more partisan witch hunt.

    • Submitted by Robert Lilly on 10/09/2019 - 02:30 pm.

      You have to turn off your critical thinking skills to say there was no quid pro co in that call. Trump was already blocking approved funds for Ukraine and when the subject of US Military aid is brought up Trump replies with “Do me a favor though”. It’s also damning when our ambassador to Ukraine calls this out for what it is, in a text message and the reply back is “call me”.
      It’s amazing that so many can’t see this guy for what he is, even though he tells them and shows them what he is, over and over.

  2. Submitted by Andy Briebart on 10/08/2019 - 03:05 pm.

    Nothing is really happening with impeachment process so far. No formal proceedings yet. Just more mystery whistle blowers. This is Mueller 2.0.

    I read the text of the conversation, what was wrong?

    • Submitted by Brian Nelson on 10/08/2019 - 06:29 pm.

      “It is absolutely illegal for anyone to solicit, accept or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with any election in the United States.”
      –Ellen Weintraub, FEC Chief

      Trump was actively soliciting.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/09/2019 - 10:42 am.

      Try reading the text of the conversation again, but this time, substitute “Barack Obama” for “Donald Trump.” Read it that way in conjunction with 52 U.S. Code section 30121 (a)(2). How does it look now?

      BTW, the whistleblowers are entitled by law to their anonymity at this stage of the proceedings. As the impeachment inquiry proceeds (yes, the House is looking into this, rather than pulling a Gingrich and just rushing in to vote for impeachment), the need for formal proceedings may become more evident.

      • Submitted by Lauren Hebert on 10/09/2019 - 04:33 pm.

        Seems to me we only have a memo summarizing the call… No actual text or recording.

        The memo in and of itself is troubling.

  3. Submitted by Curtis Loewe on 10/08/2019 - 03:30 pm.

    Tom West is mostly correct but I believe when Congress passes foreign aid for military purposes it does so with regard to the best interests of American foreign policy and in support of efforts to help the country fend off a well armed predator . To hold up the military aid to Ukraine to help fight Russians is unconscionable and all for the need to create of dig up dirt on his major Democrat opponent Joe Biden. If President Obama did the same thing the howls from the GOP would have made a chorus. But with our “Bully in Command” the GOP shrink like little mice before the throne. Yes, it took awhile for the Congress to accept Richard Nixon was the skunk in the woodpile. What we have now in White House is far worse. Readers should ask themselves how many more communications has President Trump done with other foreign leaders that the transcripts or summaries of the conversations have had to be hidden. What else has Trump bullied that could be illegal ?

  4. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 10/10/2019 - 01:10 pm.

    Let’s listen to Lindsey Graham explain why Nixon was impeached. This is in the context of Bill Clinton but could apply today just as well.

    • Submitted by Lydia Lucas on 10/11/2019 - 01:40 pm.

      It would certainly be interesting to play that clip back to Graham now, substituting “Donald Trump” for “Richard Nixon,” and see how he would respond.

  5. Submitted by Lydia Lucas on 10/11/2019 - 01:50 pm.

    The latest Smithsonian Magazine has an interesting article by David Samuels on the unmasking of New York Mayor William O’Dwyer as the “point man” in a nexus of city scandals in the 1940s, despite (apparently) living a relatively modest lifestyle. In wrapping up the article, the author made this observation: “Defining ‘corruption’ as a personal hunger for luxuries or stuffing cash in one’s pocket, as Americans often do, is to mistake the essence of the offense, which is to destroy public trust in the institutions that are supposed to keep people safe.” Looks more and more as though we are witnessing a President who is bound and determined to do precisely that.

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