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"The final nail in the coffin": When Richard Nixon knew it was over

Ben Tracy takes a look at a rare, decades-old interview in which former President Nixon describes his final days in the White House
A look back at Nixon's resignation 02:24

YORBA LINDA, Calif. - It was 40 years ago Tuesday that President Richard Nixon made public the "smoking gun" in the Watergate scandal - the transcript of a tape recording that showed he approved the cover-up of the Watergate break-in.

Four days later, Nixon resigned in disgrace.

On Tuesday, his presidential library put out Nixon's candid reflections on the scandal recorded a decade later.

"I'm a fighter. I just didn't want to quit," Nixon said in 1983, nearly 10 years after his historic farewell on the White House lawn.

Richard Nixon waves goodbye after resigning the presidency. CBS News

"I can remember that hazy, hot, humid Aug. 9 40 years ago," said Frank Gannon.

Gannon was one of Nixon's aides. He spent 36 hours interviewing the former president, who was then 70 years old

What surprised him most about Nixon's response?

Richard Nixon's resignation speech 19:09

"I was surprised about how raw he was in expressing feelings and emotions and exposing private things about the family which he had never talked about before," said Gannon.

Nixon had already decided to resign before the release of the White House tapes, the smoking gun that showed he knew about the Watergate cover-up.

"That was the final blow. The final nail in the coffin. Although you don't need another nail if you're already in the coffin, which we were," Nixon said in the 1983 interview.

Nixon gathered his family for a photo the night before he resigned. CBS News

Nixon gathered his family for a photo the night before he resigned. A week earlier, he told his daughters and reluctant first lady Pat Nixon that it was over.

"She came down very emphatically against resigning," Nixon said of his wife. "She was a fighter to the last."

Nixon said he found a note on his pillow from his daughter Julie:

"Daddy, I love you, whatever you do, I will support. Please wait a week or even 10 days before you make this decision. Go through the fire just a little bit longer -- you are so strong, I love you."

Richard Nixon received a letter from his daughter Julie urging him not to resign. CBS News

On Aug. 9, Nixon signed a one-line letter of resignation and said goodbye.

"As the helicopter began to rise, I heard Mrs. Nixon, who was sitting in the seat next to us, speaking to no one in particular, but to everyone," Nixon recalled. "And she said, 'It's so sad, it's so sad.'"

The former president said he then closed his eyes as the White House faded from view.

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