Friday, June 10, 1966
Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara updated President Johnson on conversations he had had to bring the chief of the US Army of Engineers, Lieutenant General William Cassidy, into line on the White House's position on the Department of Transportation Bill.

Cassidy had recently recommended that preference be given to developing shared oil tanker and pipeline facilities closer to coastal channels rather than invest in further development of harbor and channel dredging. "There is no doubt that in more and more places along our seacoasts, the limits of channel enlargement are already in sight, and we must seek alternatives," he told the audience at the annual tanker conference of the American Petroleum Institute in mid-May. Oil exectives endorsed the recommendation.1

The House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries was also holding hearings on U.S. maritime policies. On June 8, President of the National Maritime Union Joseph Curran had accused Johnson and McNamara of aiding the Soviet Union "in its drive for mastery of the seas" by not investing adequately in American merchant marine capabilities.2 The following day, President of the Shipbuilders Council of America Edwin M. Hood struck a similar theme, accusing McNamara of reneging on a 1962 program to which he had agreed of an increase in the number of ships built to accommodate both military and civilian needs.3

The conversation has already begun when the recording starts.

Robert McNamara: I told him [William Cassidy] exactly what you asked me to. I told him that there was evidence that the [Army] Corps [of Engineers] was subverting the Transportation Department bill, and you wanted it stopped and stopped immediately. He said he couldn't believe that it had been. He himself had spoken in favor of it. And I said [that] whether he believed it or not, it was true, that I myself had gotten evidence of that last night, and that I thought it was absolutely essential that he issue orders today to all of his staff to immediately get behind it and positively support it. He said he would.

Secondly, I said I wanted a written statement from him immediately as to what had to be done to satisfy these barge operators. We talked about what had to be done. We agreed on what his statement would say, and he's going to dictate it. And he'll take it with him to a 2:00 [P.M.] meeting at the White House that's already been set by Joe Califano to discuss this subject. [There are] a number of other details I don't have to go into with you.

[John] McClellan sent word to Cassidy [that] he wanted Cassidy to stop talking in favor of the bill. So tempers are rather high, that's clear.

It's very clear the standards have to be changed, Mr. President. It's probably also clear that Section 7 should be dropped and that it can be dropped without any penalty, because most of what it asks for can be done by executive order anyhow. But that's another question. The one thing that is absolutely clear is that the standards have to be changed if you're going to reduce this barge pressure on the Senators and Representatives.

President Johnson: I agree with that. Thank you.

They told you about they jumped all over this morning about my cancelling your briefing yesterday because he had an urgent meeting in the White House?

McNamara: No, sir, they didn't mention it.

President Johnson: Well, the--

McNamara: You didn't have a damn thing to do with it.

President Johnson: I never heard of it.

McNamara: And the briefing wasn't cancelled. [Deputy Secretary of Defense] Cy[rus Vance] took it.

President Johnson: [David] Kraslow of the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post man said, "Why did you call--lie to us about McNamara coming to the White House at 3:00 yesterday?" And we said we didn't. They said, "We called over after he cancelled his 3:00 briefing and asked why he was over there and you told us he wasn't, and now we see he was." And we said, "No, he came last night, and the President just saw him and told him he wanted him to come."

McNamara: And the backgrounder wasn't cancelled, Mr. President. And, moreover, Cy had it at 3:00 and I met with the press at 5:15. And, as a matter of fact, they had a birthday gift for me, so I spent a half an hour with them then.4

President Johnson: Well, I think that you ought to find out who told them that you were here for that purpose.

McNamara: I'll be happy to.

President Johnson: Because they're blaming us. They say we lack credibility. They call over here and want to know why we made you come at 3:00.

McNamara: [chuckling] Well, absolute lie. I'll find out.

President Johnson: Thank you.

McNamara: Right.

  • 1. Werner Bamberger, "3 Companies Back Sharing of Ports," New York Times, 16 May 1966, p.58.
  • 2. "Curran Assails Maritime Policy," New York Times, 9 June 1966, p.72.
  • 3. "33 Ships a Year for Cargo Urged," New York Times, 10 June 1966, p.72.
  • 4. McNamara had celebrated his 50th birthday on 9 June.

Original tape courtesy of LBJ Library. This transcript is a working draft. Please let us know if you find important errors.