Nixon accused of smear ploy

THE FORMER president, Richard Nixon, who left office in 1974 in disgrace over the Watergate break-in, is facing allegations that he tried to use the 1972 shooting of George Wallace, a trailing Democratic hopeful in that year's presidential race, to smear his main rival for the White House, George McGovern.

The charges, which have stirred a new flurry of controversy over the depth of political malice in the Nixon administration, appear in a report by the journalist Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker magazine. He writes that White House tapes held in the national archives carry recordings of Mr Nixon musing with his special counsel, Charles Colson, on how they might capitalise from the attempted assassination of Mr Wallace.

A spokesman for Mr Wallace, the former Alabama governor who was left paralysed in the legs after the attack and now is in poor health, yesterday demanded the release from the archives of all the Nixon tapes with any bearing on the shooting. Mr Wallace has long voiced suspicions that 'higher-up officials' plotted the attack on him, the spokesman said.

According to Mr Hersh, the tapes reveal that Mr Nixon and Mr Colson agreed shortly after Mr Wallace was hit to dispatch a former CIA agent, Howard Hunt, to the Milwaukee flat of the man who fired the gun to place in it political literature of the McGovern campaign. The apparent intention was to link Mr McGovern with the assassination attempt. The plan was abandoned, however, when the FBI sealed the apartment before Mr Hunt could get there.

Though Mr Hersh has not said whether he has listened to the relevant tapes, the report includes an interview with Mr Colson in which he confirms that the recordings capture 'the black side to our natures. It was both of us. We were spontaneous combustion'.

Mr Nixon has fought successive appeals for the release of the tapes. So far he has been successful, and access to them is theoretically limited to staff of the national archive.

'Nixon is winning one of the most significant battles of his life after Watergate: keeping the full story of what happened in his White House from the public,' Mr Hersh concludes. So far, lawyers for Mr Nixon have not commented on the New Yorker story.

The hidden tapes are also said to carry recordings of Mr Nixon talking about selling ambassadorships in return for political contributions, with a specific price for each post, and improperly discussing upcoming Supreme Court decisions with the then chief justice, Warren Burger.

The CIA agent, Mr Hunt, was among the group that broke into the offices of the Democratic Party in the Watergate complex two months after the attempt on Mr Wallace's life. It was Mr Nixon's involvement in trying to cover up the bungled break-in that eventually led to his flight from office two years later, just in time to avoid impeachment by Congress.

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