Post-CSI: Watergate Tape Mystery Remains

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootbearwdc/2166009504/">dbking</a>/Flickr

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Two years ago, Mother Jones reported that amateur historian Phil Mellinger had made an intriguing discovery about one of the great political mysteries of the 20th Century: the 18 ½ minute gap in the Watergate tape of the meeting in which President Richard Nixon first discussed the break-in with his chief of staff, H.R. “Bob” Haldeman.

After examining Haldmen’s original handwritten notes of the meeting, Mellinger saw that these two pages contained little information corresponding to the erased portion of the Watergate tape. Which was odd, because Haldeman took copious notes of his sessions with Nixon. There seemed to be a gap in the notes that matched the gap in the tape. This suggested that pages of notes might have been removed. And Mellinger had an idea: a forensic procedure known as impressions analysis—under which a page is examined to determine what had been written on the preceding page—might determine if indeed pages had been removed and perhaps even reveal what had been written on them.

Mellinger raised this idea with the National Archives, which holds the Watergate papers and tapes, and officials there thought he was on to something. They initiated the process he had proposed, hoping that they could finally solve this mystery.

Two years later, on the 39th anniversary of the Watergate caper, the National Archives has revealed its findings in a nifty video. And…it did not answer this enduring question.

The CSIers retained by the Archives determined there is indented writing on the second page of the notes. It looks like a signature, but it is illegible. They also found that a date written on the top of the first page and the page number written on the top of the second page were written in different ink than the rest of the notes. The Archives declined to draw conclusions from this, but this could mean that the notes were tampered with and that a page number was written on the second page to cover up the removal of notes.

So the famous gap remains empty. And the Archives, which had previously explored using high-tech methods to recover audio from the tape, notes that in the future “additional work” may be able to be done on the tape itself. But for now, this central part of the Watergate cover-up is intact.

Here’s the National Archives video. It shows all the procedures used to analyze the Haldeman notes. It was an impressive exercise.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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