It was plainly obstruction of justice, and Al Haig knew it immediately.
It must also be noted, however, that, as the president tried to cover his tracks, Al Haig was given orders by Nixon to help him do it. In that capacity, for instance, Haig helped arrange the wiretaps of government officials and reporters (Gearan).
He played a key role in attempting to persuade Nixon to resign. Most believe it was Haig who first suggested to Gerald Ford that he pardon Nixon for his crimes while in office. It was this advice and Ford's acceptance of it that is believed to have cost Ford the presidency in 1976.
In "Nixon: An Oral history of His Presidency," (Strober & Strober, 2003), Haig says this:
"It is totally untrue that I raised the question of pardon with Ford...a series of options was given to him, including pardons...There were five options written by Fred Buzhardt..." And former President Ford, in the same book, confirms that Haig presented him with "five or six different options" (Strober and Strober, p. 474-475)
For years after Nixon's resignation, Haig was hounded by reporters and repeatedly questioned about his role as "Deep Throat" -- the inside source who guided the Washington Post's reporters to break the Watergate story. He denied it steadfastly, and, many years later was proven correct when Mark Felt was identified as "Deep Throat" (Gearan).
Tricia Nixon Cox, daughter of the former president, said, immediately after Haig's passing in February, 2010, that:
"General Haig embodied the spirit of 'duty, honor, country' and the Country had no better servant in war or in peace."In times of crisis, he was a loyal tower of strength for my father and America," she said. "We mourn his passing and are grateful for his distinguished service"(Gearan).
When she spoke of "times of crisis," she was referring to those Watergate years when her
father needed Haig so desperately. One would not think Nixon's own daughter would have specifically referred to Haig's service during this time with such glowing praise were it not true.
Public outcry lasted a long time and beliefs were held quite deep by a good portion of Americans that Ford should not have pardoned Nixon. Two months after Nixon resigned, so did Haig. He left to become supreme allied commander in Europe of all NATO forces. His tenure as an adviser to presidents and his "political" career was over -- or so he may have thought at the time.
Controversy followed him to this new position as well. He disagreed with President Carter over the handling of the Iranian hostage crisis which went on for 444 days, and resigned from his NATO post after four years, retired from the military and served as president of United Technologies for about a year. but, he had great successes at NATO as well. As NATO commander, he, along with Irving Brown, the AFL-CIO representative in Europe, worked behind-the-scenes with Lech Walesa when he was emerging as the Communist arch-rival in Poland.
A little known fact about Haig's tenure as NATO commander was the assassination attempt on his life. It seems Haig, perhaps in a day when political assassinations were not as evident as they are now, always took the same route to his office every day. It was a pattern that the Red Army Faction (RAF), a terrorist group, noticed. In June, 1979, they detonated a land mine under a bridge and under Haig's car. The blast missed Haig, but wounded three of his bodyguards in a following car. It is not known if he alternated his routes to work after that. There had been so much animosity and back-biting over Carter's policies, not only about the hostage crisis, but over what Haig called Carter's "namby-pamby appeasement of the Soviet Union, that he received a call as soon as he arrived back at his office after the assassination attempt. It was Secretary of Defense Harold Brown who deadpanned to Haig, "Al, I just wanted you to know we didn't do it" (Kralev).
The "Haig for President" committee was both formed and dissolved in 1980 as Haig made a feeble run at the White House. He would later make a more serious attempt in 1988, but that would not get off the ground either. In the same "Nixon: An Oral History," Haig was quite vivid in his description of his run for office and his ever-after distaste for politics: "Not being a politician, I think I can say this: The life of a politician in America is sleaze...As Nixon once told me -- and he took great pride in it -- 'Al, I never took a dollar. I had somebody else do it'" (Gearan).
Secretary of State
As he took office in January, 1981, President Reagan asked Haig to become his Secretary of State. He was confirmed in the Senate with an overwhelming positive vote -- just six senators voting against his confirmation.
Besides his infamous gaffe about being in control when Reagan was shot, Haig was also known for what was called "Haig-speak." His nouns became verbs as in: "I'll have to caveat my response, Senator." In Al Haig's world, it meant to say something with a warning that it might or might not be true. He would say: "There are nuance-al differences between Henry Kissinger and me on that," and, "Some sinister force" had erased one of Mr. Nixon's subpoenaed Watergate tapes, creating an 18 1/2-minute gap. In his ongoing battle with the English language he would use terms such as "careful caution," "epistemologically-wise," and, "saddle myself with a statistical fence" (Weiner).
He would serve as Reagan's Secretary of State for 18 months. He declared himself the "vicar of American foreign policy," and marked his short service with continuous turf wars with other administration officials (Gearan).
As we have said, as secretary of state, he is remembered for his "I am in control" statement after Reagan was shot. He later attempted to defend that statement by saying that he wasn't talking about the official presidential line of succession, but "about the executive branch -- who is running the government" (Kralev). It was the beginning of the end for Haig as a member of Reagan's cabinet.
It must be said that, despite his turf wars with various members of the president's staff -- most notably defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and national security adviser William Clark -- he seems to have received quite solid praise from professional diplomats regarding his attempts to solidify a more stable relationship with the Soviet Union (Gearan).
Weinberger described Haig as having a strong personality, as one might expect with the positions he held and his military command background. But Weinberger thought that might have been the reason Haig found it not so easy to adjust to the civilian lines of authority particularly after having been Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. Weinberger would quip that, "Someone said it was a great mistake to give anybody a position with the title of 'supreme' in it" (Gearan).
Probably the biggest international situation Haig faced as Secretary of State was the Falklands war in 1982. He tried desperately to avoid the confrontation between Great Britain and Argentina over these tiny islands. Haig attempted to mediate, flying back and forth between London and Buenos Aires. Though he had little chance of success anyway, it is known that his efforts to successfully avoid the war were undermined by support for the Argentinean cause from U.S. ambassador to the UN, Jeane Kirkpatrick (Jackson).
Haig would later comment that, "The war was caused by the original miscalculation on the part of the Argentinean military junta that a western democracy was too soft to defend itself." Haig also admitted at the time that he thought his failure to avert the conflict "ultimately cost me my job as secretary of state" (Jackson).
Whether or not that caused Haig his job or not, it is known that he became angrier and angrier, at least according to other Reagan officials at the time. He offered the president his resignation on more than one occasion. Reagan finally accepted it.
George Schultz, Haig's successor at State, has said that, despite all the rancor and turf wars, Haig did everything possible to ensure a smooth and effective transition. Haig, with his command background, had put in place succession policies and operational plans that Schultz said he could use and build on. Upon his death, Schultz referred to Haig as a "patriot's patriot. No matter how you sliced him," Schultz said, "it came out red, white and blue" (Eyman).
Haig died from complications from an infection at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore on January 28, 2010. President Obama praised him as a public servant who "exemplified our finest warrior-diplomat tradition of those who dedicate their lives to public service" (Eyman).
He had spent his later years as chairman and president of Worldwide Associates, Inc., an international consulting firm. He spoke often on foreign policy issues and…