In his debut book, professional archivist and Richard Nixon scholar Koncewicz mines vast research material to illuminate Nixon’s tenure from a fresh angle: his determination to violate laws for political advantage and the appointees who refused to obey.
At times, the author draws convincing, explicit comparisons to the Trump presidency. His first case study focuses on Nixon’s plan to use the Internal Revenue Service to illegally audit the tax filings of political enemies and then harass those enemies with findings from the audits. IRS commissioner Johnnie Walters, appointed by Nixon, refused to cooperate. Koncewicz additionally explains how Walters’ direct supervisor, Treasury secretary George Shultz, a key member of Nixon’s Cabinet, shielded the IRS from the president. Both Walters and Shultz knew they would be facing Nixon’s wrath and that they might be fired. But neither man wavered, and the author considers them courageous. Next, Koncewicz focuses on Nixon’s order to his freshly created Office of Management and Budget to illegally halt federal subsidies to elite universities. (For most of the chapter, the author narrows the focus to MIT.) Three assistant directors within the OMB—Kenneth Dam, William Morrill, and Paul O’Neill—banded together to resist Nixon’s order, and the author skillfully relates their saga. In the final chapters, Koncewicz highlights the best known of the resisters within the Nixon administration: Elliot Richardson, a highly visible appointee who played roles in the State Department, the Defense Department, and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare before agreeing to serve as Nixon’s attorney general. When Nixon’s self-created Watergate scandal led to the appointment of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, a showdown seemed inevitable. When Nixon tried to halt the Watergate investigation via Cox’s firing, Richardson refused to dismiss Cox, and that stand led to what has become known as the Saturday Night Massacre.
Brief but scholarly in all the right ways—and excruciatingly timely.