Johnson Tapes

Lyndon B. Johnson Tapes

LBJ Seeks Robert E. Lee for Civil Rights Commission

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Participants: Lyndon Johnson, William Mitchell                   
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Johnson wanted to fill an opening on the federal Civil Rights Commission with a moderate Southerner. Here, Johnson lobbied William Mitchell, an Arkansas attorney and friend of powerful Arkansas Congressman Wilbur Mills, comparing Mitchell's choice to one faced in a previous century by Robert E. Lee.

LBJ and McNamara on Vietnam

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Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara                  
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LBJ and Dick Russell discuss Panama

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Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Richard Russell                  
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Senator Richard Russell urges an aggressive foreign policy to President Johnson in Panama, and supports the use of force if necessary in the Canal Zone.

Gatecrashing the White House (Telephone)

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Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Abe Fortas                  
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Future Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas, on a secret mission to Puerto Rico at President Johnson's behest, gives the President an update on the latest efforts to bring peace and stability to the Dominican Republic. Because the calls were coming in over an unencrypted line, Fortas and Johnson used a variety of ad hoc codes in an attempt to disguise at least to some degree the topics of their conversations. Part way through, the call is gatecrashed by some uninvited guests, and Fortas tries desperately to get their attention and get them off the line.

The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King

LBJ and MLK | Courtesy of LBJ Library

President Johnson's tapes provide a remarkable inside look at city, state, and federal government officials struggling to establish control over the civil unrest in large, urban cities such as Detroit, Washington DC, and Chicago in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Dr. Martin Luther King, LBJ, and JFK

LBJ and MLK | Courtesy of LBJ Library

For Black History Month we have released some new transcripts of conversations between Dr. Martin Luther King and President Johnson from 1965.

Troop Levels

LBJ and American SoldierOn December 1, 2009, President Obama addressed the nation on the issue of troop levels for the war in Afghanistan, announcing that he was sending around 30,000 more troops Afghanistan, a move that amounts to a significant escalation of the U.S. military presence in the region.

Sending troops into harm's way is arguably the most difficult decision a president confronts. The White House tapes of presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon capture remarkably intimate and candid behind-the-scenes views of presidents agonizing over this decision in another war fought in distant lands for complex geo-political reasons.

JFK Assassination Tapes

LBJ Being Sword in as President On Air Force One Following JFK's AssassinationOn November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. During the course of our work we have accumulated a wealth of material related to the aftermath of JFK's assassination. Below are some highlights, including a selection of calls from Air Force One enroute from Dallas to Washington. The plane was carrying a newly sworn-in President Lyndon B. Johnson along with the slain former president's body. 

Congressional Coordination

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Participants: Lyndon Johnson, George Smathers                  
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George Smathers, a Florida Democrat and Secretary for the Senate Democratic Conference, was a close friend of the President and his family who often had frank exchanges with Johnson. In this call, President Johnson gave Smathers a colorful analysis of the workings of Capitol Hill, voicing his concern about the parliamentary skills of fellow Democrats. Johnson was extremely upset about the Senate's handling of yesterday’s Food Stamp bill passage, particularly the Senate Democratic leadership's inability to derail Republican Jack Miller's amendment to prohibit the use of Food Stamps to purchase Australian meat. This addition to the bill meant that the legislation now had to go back to Judge Smith's House Rules Committee before it could go to the floor for concurrence. Smith kept it bottled up until August 11. The House passed it that same day. Johnson signed it into law on August 31.

Larry O'Brien's Secret to Legislative Success

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Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Larry O'Brien                  
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With a vote imminent in the House of Representatives on the signature legislation of the War on Poverty, Special Assistant to the President for Congressional Affairs (and Johnson's 1964 campaign director) Larry O'Brien revealed his secret to legislative success: "if we can just keep the boys that should be sober, sober, and the ones that should be drinking, drinking, that's our job for the afternoon."

The House had just passed the Southeast Asia Resolution (also known as the Tonkin Gulf Resolution) by 414-0.

Hiring People to Hurt Him

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Participants: Lyndon Johnson, John Macy                  
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Johnson complained to Civil Service Commission Chairman John Macy about leaks of information related to hiring for the newly created Department of Transportation.

A Bipartisan Transportation Bill

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Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Anderson                  
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In this call, Johnson spells out his troubles on getting the Transportation Bill passed to a republican ally, Robert Anderson. The effort to consolidate over 30 separate agencies into one department headed by a Cabinet level official was bipartisan, having been proposed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower just before he left office in 1961; likewise, opposition to the bill was bipartisan, with Democratic congressmen from districts with shipping ports yielding to pressure from maritime unions. Robert Anderson had served as U.S. Secretary of The Treasury in the second Eisenhower administration, from 1957 through 1961. He was also a fellow Texan and had sold a Texas radio station to Johnson's wife, Lady Bird, in 1943.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara Dies

Robert McNamara

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Strange McNamara passed away on July 6, 2009. He was one of the most frequently recorded participants in the Kennedy and Johnson tapes. Of particular note are discussions recorded during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam War. Below is a small sampling of the hundreds of recorded conversations that involved or discussed McNamara.

Senator Edward Kennedy and the JFK, LBJ, and Nixon White House Tapes

We have posted a collection of transcripts of conversations involving and directly related to the long Senate career of Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy. Drawing from the JFK, LBJ, and Nixon tapes, it includes calls between the newly elected Senator and his older brother, President John F. Kennedy; calls with President Johnson during the 1964 election campaign while bedridden recovering from a broken back suffered during a plane crash; and President Nixon's efforts to spy on Kennedy in the leadup to the 1972 election.

 

Vietnam: More War or More Appeasement

Transcript+Audio Clip
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Participants: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara                  
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Johnson had given a speech at UCLA that accused the Vietnamese of engaging in a "deeply dangerous game" in Southeast Asia. Reaction had not been favorable. Internationally, the U.S.S.R. warned the United States against extending the war to North Vietnam. Domestically, Mansfield reiterated his public and private calls for a negotiated settlement leading to the neutralization of Southeast Asia in the face of a widespread popular impression that the United States was preparing to begin a psychological campaign against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). In further fallout from the perceived stiffening of policy, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Roger Hilsman announced his resignation. Although the stated reason was a desire to return to academia, the New York Daily News claimed that Hilsman departed under pressure because of his approach to Vietnam policy, a assertion that Hilsman's memoirs confirmed.

In this discussion with McNamara, Johnson seemed to backtrack from both his public and private statements on Vietnam and to reconsider the wisdom of escalation. In the process, he displayed a level of assertiveness on an issue where heretofore he had deferred to his advisers or avoided discussing the broad outlines of policy. The major issue here was Johnson's criticism of the announced withdrawal of 1,000 troops from South Vietnam, a move that many commentators cite as evidence that President Kennedy would not have escalated the war in Southeast Asia.
The immediate reason for the call concerned the shaping of remarks for this night's congressional reception at the White House.

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