The story of President Richard Nixon and those who fought against him comes to life in this insightful and accessible nonfiction middle grade book from the author of Fly Girls and Fighting for the Forest.
The Watergate scandal created one of the greatest constitutional crises in American history. When the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon and the Supreme Court ruled that he had to turn over to Congress the tapes that proved the claims against him, he realized his support in the Senate had collapsed. He resigned rather than face almost certain conviction on abuse of power and obstruction of justice.
We know the villain’s story well, but what about the heroes? When the country’s own leader turned his back on the Constitution, who was there to defend it?
Conspiracy is about the reporters, prosecutors, judges, justices, members of Congress, and members of the public who supported and defended the Constitution when it needed it most.---from the publisher
288 pages 978-1534480032 Ages 11- 15
Keywords: president, politics, government, Constitution, leaders, values, narrative nonfiction, 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old, 14 year old, 15 year old
“And in your dreams, you can see yourself as a prophet
Saving the world, the words from your lips
‘I am not a crook’
I just can’t believe you are such a fool”
-- Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention singing about Richard Nixon (1974)
“Trump believes in a purely transactional version of life. If he scratches your back--or appoints you to the Supreme Court--you are expected to return the favor. He calls his judicial appointees ‘my judges,’ and has referred to judges appointed by his predecessor as ‘Obama judges.’ It’s a label Chief Justice John Roberts and other judges have pushed back against.”
-- Huffington Post (10/24/19)
“The Supreme Court smacks down Trump’s last hope of an election lawsuit from Texas”
-- The Young Turks (12/11/20)
Trump repeatedly expressed confidence that, if necessary, the Supreme Court would have his back. Back in the Seventies, Richard Nixon had similarly misplaced expectations about the willingness of GOP lawmakers and GOP-appointed judges to condone his and his subordinates' lawlessness. Considering that Nixon had appointed FOUR of the nine justices who, at that time, constituted the Supreme Court, it was fortunate for America that the system worked. Like Trump, Nixon was repeatedly smacked down, beginning with the judge who handled the trial of the Watergate burglars.
“[Judge John] Sirica wasn’t one of those rich-family elite, Ivy League lawyers or judges Niixon despised. John Sirica had grown up poor in a two-room apartment with his immigrant parents. As a teenager, he worked for a garbage collector to help his family pay the bills. Eventually, he went to Georgetown University Law School while earning tuition money as a boxing instructor. He even boxed professionally for a short time before practicing law. That was the kind of toughness Nixon admired.
But John Sirica was more than tough and a conservative. He also believed wholeheartedly in the law. As the trial date drew nearer, he surprised Nixon and his men.”
CONSPIRACY is a riveting work of narrative nonfiction recounting the history of the Watergate scandal that ended the presidency of Richard Nixon. Impeccably researched by a former history teacher-turned-author, this thrilling blow-by-blow account of the two-year Watergate scandal is eye-opening American history. P. O’Connell Pearson makes the story accessible to middle grade and middle schoolers by including questions and answers that clarify complexities in our system of government and in the judicial process.
CONSPIRACY is a particularly interesting book for today, because the crimes and dirty tricks committed by Nixon and company were comparable to those later engaged in by the Trump administration. Late last year, an article in the NY Times revealed the way that Erik Prince, whose war criminal employees were pardoned by Trump, ”has in recent years helped recruit former American and British spies for secretive intelligence gathering operations…” The operations “included infiltrating Democratic congressional campaigns, labor unions, and other groups considered hostile to the Trump agenda.” These dirty tricks were similar to those used by Nixon’s people to torpedo Edmund Muskie’s 1972 presidential primary campaign. As a result, a weaker Democratic candidate won the Democratic nomination.
I wonder whether recordings from Trump’s Oval Office meetings will ever see the light of day. When the Supreme Court required Nixon to turn over the tapes of his meetings, there was confirmation of the multitude of crimes recounted by John Dean, James McCord, and other defendants-turned-witnesses. Eventually, the bombshell--that Nixon was in on the crimes from the start--led directly to Nixon’s resignation.:
“Six days later, on Monday August 5, Nixon released three more tapes. They were tapes he had kept hidden not only from the special prosecutors, his staff, and the House Judiciary Committee, but also from his own lawyers. One was from June 23, 1972--six days after the Watergate break-in. During a long meeting, Nixon’s chief of staff brought up several issues. At one point he said,
‘Now, on the investigation...the Democratic break-in thing, we’re back in the problem area because the FBI is not under control...they’ve been able to trace the money...The way to handle this now is for us to have [the CIA] call [the FBI] and just say, ‘Stay...out of this--we don’t want you to go any further.’
Nixon replied, ‘Right, fine.’ Then he suggested phony excuses the CIA could use to stop the FBI’s investigation.
That was it--the smoking gun, the ultimate witness.”
In CONSPIRACY: NIXON, WATERGATE, AND DEMOCRACY’S DEFENDERS, we learn about the characters involved in the crimes and about democracy’s defenders. There are highlights of the Senate Watergate Committee hearings, the special prosecutor’s grand jury process, and the House Impeachment committee hearings.
The author underlines the lesson that elected and appointed officials ultimately work for the citizenry. Too many of the officials in Nixon’s orbit got carried away. It’s stunning to read the long list of illegal actions to which John Dean and James McCord admitted. Their fervor for Nixon had caused them to do things that they’d known were illegal.
Now that the Constitution has survived another criminal administration, one that in many ways paralleled Nixon’s, let’s hope it won’t be tested again for a while.
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA