Too many nice guys
Richard Nixon, Bob Haldeman, John Erhlichman
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Editors' Note: An earlier version of this transcript appeared in Stanley Kutler, Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes, (New York: Free Press, 1997), pp.112ff
The original conversation number is 760-009.
President Nixon: What in the name of God are we doing on this score? What are we doing about the financial contributors? Now, those lists are maintained there. Are we looking over [George] McGovern∇’s financial contributors? Are we looking over the financial contributors to the Democratic National Committee? Are we running their income tax returns, or is the Justice Department checking to see whether or not there’s any antitrust suits? Do we have anything going on any of these things?
Bob Haldeman∇: Not as far as I know.
President Nixon: We have—we better forget the goddamn campaign right this minute, not tomorrow, but now. That’s what concerns me. We have all this power and we aren’t using it. Now, what the Christ is the matter? In other words, what I’m really saying is this: I think we’ve got to get it out. Now, I’m just thinking about, for example, if there’s information on Larry O’Brien. If there is, I wouldn’t wait. I’d worry the sons of bitches now, because after they select somebody else, it’s irrelevant, even though he’s still in the campaign. It’s much more relevant now that then they drop him because . . . see what I mean?
Haldeman: Yeah, well, but what—
President Nixon: What could you get out on him?
John Ehrlichman∇: That’s not—
Haldeman: I don’t know. But—
President Nixon: You’ve got the facts. Did they check the other side of the facts? What is being done? Who is doing this full-time? That’s what I’d like to know. Who is running the IRS? Who is running over to the Justice Department and so forth? What I meant is, with all the agencies of government, what in the name of God are we doing about the McGovern contributors?
Ehrlichman: I—the short answer to your question is “nothing.” And . . .
President Nixon: We aren’t. Boy, they’re doing it to us.
Ehrlichman: No question. No question on it.
President Nixon: And it’s never happened that way before.
Ehrlichman: I could give you—
President Nixon: [Lyndon] Johnson screwed everybody. [Unclear.] And when we were out, in 52, the Truman people were kicking the hell out of me.
President Nixon: In 62 they kicked the hell out of me. In 1960 the bureaucracy leaks up on my visit with [Nikita] Khrushchev. The—our—the Eisenhower [administration] bureaucracy. Now, that the—part of the problem is the bureaucracy, but part of the problem’s our own goddamn fault! There must be something that we can do.
Ehrlichman: I don’t disagree with that at all.
President Nixon: Now, where’s [Tom Charles] Huston∇? Is he around? Can we enlist him or anybody to do this kind of work? I think the trouble is we have too many nice guys around [chuckling] who just want to do the right thing.
Ehrlichman: Well, it’s very interesting—
Haldeman: Well, we tried to do it and failed, really. Isn’t that . . ?
Ehrlichman: We’ve got a guy who’s a pluperfect bastard. He’s a loyalist, he’s a fanatic loyalist in the IRS. And . . .
President Nixon: He’s with us?
Ehrlichman: One—He’s our guy. One Treasury secretary after another, starting with [David] Kennedy, [John] Connally∇, now [George] Shultz∇, has said, “Oh, Jesus, can’t you get this guy out of there? Can’t you just take him out of this? He’s making all kinds of trouble for us. He’s too partisan. He’s too, he’s too”—
President Nixon: Well, one thing about Shultz is that Shultz is not long for this life, in my opinion, because he’s not being political enough. I don’t care how nice a guy he is. I don’t care how good an economist he is. We can’t have this bullshit.
Ehrlichman: Well, the interesting thing is, that as political a guy as Connally played the same tune. And—
President Nixon: I know. Connally was sitting on top of it not knowing the bureaucracy.
Haldeman: Oh, Connally knew the bureaucracy up one side and down the other. Connally wouldn’t play it. And he played it off as a problem with the IRS commissioner and all that, but that wasn’t . . .
President Nixon: Well, this guy…
Haldeman: He had the lid on it. And Connally was playing—I’ll tell you, I’ll bet you Connally has got plenty of IRS files.
President Nixon: Took them with him, huh?
Haldeman: Yeah. Because he spent a lot of time studying the sensitive reports.
President Nixon: Probably. Probably. I wouldn’t be surprised and so forth and so on. All right, another aspect—
Haldeman: He has a lot of friends in the soup.
President Nixon: What, if anything, have we done on the Democratic candidate? I mean, for example, on McGovern, on this income thing, on [Lawrence] O’Brien? Have we done anything further on that, Bob?
Haldeman: I don’t—not to my knowledge. And the problem that we’ve had, as I understand it, going back to the 70 and 71 period when there were efforts made to do this, is--
President Nixon: If we get caught.
Haldeman: If we get caught. That every—that they come back with the thing of, “We can’t pull a file because there’s got to be a reason to pull a file.” And you’ve got to—we did pull files, anyway, but that gets flagged at the district office or something like that.
President Nixon: Yeah, [unclear].
Haldeman: Well, he runs out and tells—
President Nixon: That’s IRS, OK. Then is there any other agency of the government [unclear]?
President Nixon: What is the goddamn Justice Department doing? Can’t we investigate people? Is there anything we can do?
President Nixon: Anything?
Ehrlichman: And it’s kind of interesting, the problem that you have with this.
President Nixon: [Unclear.]
Ehrlichman: I sent to the department of defense for McGovern’s service [unclear: jacket / stack] because I was curious about what his bombing experience had been and that kind of stuff.
President Nixon: [Unclear.]
Ehrlichman: And I got it. But Jesus, the grief I took in getting it is unbelievable. Carl Wallace called me from [Melvin] Laird∇’s office and . . . . Finally, the way I got it was that Dave Young went over there and he has contacts as a result of the [Daniel] Ellsberg∇ case and some other cases, and he went in and got it for me and brought it over here. But guys like Laird, like Shultz, like [Richard] Kleindienst∇, are just touchy as hell about cooperating with us on this kind of thing.
President Nixon: Goddamn it, they want win the election.
Ehrlichman: They’re scared of their asses, is what they’re scared of. They don’t want to read their—
President Nixon: [Unclear.]
Ehrlichman: They don’t want to read their names in the paper. And that’s the whole name of this game. Now Abe Fortas played this game.
President Nixon: [Unclear] find out about Shultz.
Ehrlichman: Abe Fortas played this game, and before he left his service with [Lyndon] Johnson, he salted a lot of bright young guys into IRS, into the Justice Department, and into the Treasury. And there are still Fortas guys in there—
President Nixon: Yeah. Watch them.
Ehrlichman: —that are sealed in. And this is part of our problem, because the minute you go near one of these file cabinets—
Haldeman: Lyndon Johnson knows that we found that out.
President Nixon: Let me say one thing that we can do, certainly. As I told you, I—and I—people don’t think I meant it. But [Fred] Malek has got to have, or his successor—have got to have that list of every stinking son of a bitch that we appointed. Did we appoint [Phillip S. “Sam”] Hughes, for example?
Ehrlichman: No, that’s the General Accounting Office.
Haldeman: We let Hughes go.
Ehrlichman: Sam Hughes?
President Nixon: No.
Haldeman: We let him go from the Budget Bureau.
Ehrlichman: The guy that’s doing this fund business?
President Nixon: [Unclear] fund.
Haldeman: Yeah, that’s the guy.
Ehrlichman: We fired him out of the Bureau of the Budget.
Haldeman: He’s the guy who used to be the Budget Bureau guy that we let go. He retired. We treated him very nicely on his retirement thing so that he would get his proper retirement pay or something, and now he’s come back into the service [unclear].
Ehrlichman: Elmer Staats hired him.
President Nixon: Well, Elmer Staats is [unclear].
Unclear, short exchange.
President Nixon: [Unclear] Bryce Harlow.
President Nixon: Bryce Harlow’s judgment on that sort of thing isn’t worth shit.
Haldeman: That was one we fought and lost.
President Nixon: I think some of us did—