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Nixon: the sequel

Like Freddy Krueger and Frankenstein's monster, Richard Nixon keeps coming back even in death.

On Halloween, we were treated to freshly unearthed transcripts of secretly recorded tapes from the Nixon White House. For inveterate Nixon-watchers, the tapes added only a dollop of detail to what we already knew from previous releases. But for the very young and the very forgetful, the tapes provide a startling view of the most paranoid, tormented and felonious president ever to lurk in the dark recesses of the White House basement.

Here is Nixon on June 30, 1972, after learning G. Gordon Liddy volunteered to be fall guy for the Watergate break-in: "We'll give him _ we'll take care of him, too. Well, it's good to have some people like that. . . . He's breaking into the Democratic Committee, Christ. That's no blot on a man's record."

Here is Nixon on April 27, 1973, in a late-night conversation with Press Secretary Ron Ziegler. Nixon is aggravated with the press _ and with his dog, King Timahoe:

N: "That goddamn press."

Z: "They didn't call for impeachment. They referred to it, you know, the wording."

N: "Christ, impeach the president on John Dean _ on John Dean's word. . . . King! . . . goddamn, get off me! . . . Look, if we went in in sackcloth and ashes and fired the whole White House staff, that isn't going to satisfy these goddamn cannibals. They'd still be after us. Who are they after? Hell, they're not after Haldeman or Ehrlichman or Dean; they're after me, the president. They hate my guts."

Other tapes reveal Nixon arranging a slush fund of diverted campaign contributions, selling ambassadorships to the highest bidder and giving orders to "go after everyone who's a member of this conspiracy" he perceived against him. Any doubt that Nixon was deeply involved in the criminal conspiracy surrounding the Watergate break-in is washed away by his own bitter words.

Washington's current campaign finance scandal has obvious parallels to Watergate _ the diversion of funds, the favors to big contributors, the apparent corruption of corporate executives and labor leaders. However, the new Nixon tapes are a reminder that the current scandal must sink much lower to reach the squalid depths of Watergate.

Bill Clinton was an especially lucky man this week. He got to spend a couple of days standing alongside Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Then he was able to step back and let Washington's attention turn to the Nixon tapes. Like the boy who goes to the dance with his homely friends, Clinton knows how to look good by comparison.

As for Nixon, he may be dead and gone, but he'll be baaaaack!!!

More tapes will turn up. Or new memoirs will appear. Just wait.

Until next Halloween.