Tuesday, April 20, 1971 - 7:45pm - 7:57pm
Richard Nixon, Charles Colson
White House Telephone


President Nixon: Hello?
Operator: I have Mr. [Charles W. “Chuck”] Colson for you.
President Nixon: Yeah
Operator: There you are.
President Nixon: Well, what's new on your front?
Charles Colson: Well, we have a few things going, Mr. President.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: We have Mr. Saxbe, Senator [William B.] Saxbe [R-Ohio], going on the television, on the Today Show in the morning to—
President Nixon: Good.
Colson: —pick up a little more of the McCloskey line and talk a little bit more about his conversion, which I think is—1
President Nixon: Yeah. Good.
Colson: —very healthy. I thought you'd be interested, we've had quite a fascinating reaction to your Williamsburg speech.2
President Nixon: Mm-hmm.
Colson: I've had calls from people outside, who are pretty good political barometers for me around the country, who say that that one really, really just scored points. The . . .
President Nixon: You mean the welfare thing?
Colson: The welfare thing. It just hit a nerve. I had a friend of mine from Boston call me [unclear]—
President Nixon: Well, how'd they see it, though? Did they read about it or hear about it or what?
Colson: Read about it, saw it on television. Got the basic line about people working.
President Nixon: Mm-hmm.
Colson: For example, a friend of mine in Boston, who's a darn good politician, said that it was just a topic of conversation everywhere today. One of those speeches that catches hold and . . . I was surprised because I didn't think from the initial press that we'd get that kind of reaction, but—
President Nixon: Well . . . Hmm.
Colson: —excellent reaction. Just—
President Nixon: Well, it's the right thing. You see, HEW [Health, Education and Welfare] was against it. All of our little, you know, people in the staff were against it because, “Oh, you're going to make all the welfare recipients mad,” and I said, “To hell with them. They're wrong, so we'll do it.”
Colson: Well, it's the kind of thing where every now and then you have to be against something that is very unpopular, and people who don't work are just damned unpopular.
President Nixon: Right.
Colson: And I think the way you did it, apparently as I say, I was surprised that today to get so many calls from people on the outside—
President Nixon: Right.
Colson: —who reacted as strongly as they did.
President Nixon: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Colson: Which I thought was excellent.
President Nixon: Good.
Colson: I've had good playback from the—
President Nixon: Hard-hats?
Colson: —from the hard-hats. Yes, sir.
President Nixon: That's good.
Colson: Going up there tonight. They're having a little gathering, an after dinner gathering.
President Nixon: You're going up? Good.
Colson: I'm going up to meet with them, spend some time with them. But the reaction to last night's meeting, that closing line of yours really gave them a lift.
President Nixon: Well, tell them to stand firm.
Colson: Well—
President Nixon: Have you found out who these veterans are that are coming in? Does anyone—
Colson: Yes, sir, we had some reports today that . . . there's—well, I had two reports from two people who are infiltrated. One is that there are three to four hundred veterans and the balance, which is maybe six or seven hundred, are nonveterans and the kids who have bought fatigue uniforms, military jackets. I've had another—
President Nixon: Could you find one that had and get . . . Will any press man play the fact that one guy bought a fatigue uniform to look like a veteran?
Colson: We arranged, Mr. President—
President Nixon: God, that would be great, if just one, just one did.
Colson: Well, we arranged today for an AP reporter to go in, and we identified some people for him to talk to. We also did the same thing with a Baltimore Sun reporter.
President Nixon: Right.
Colson: And, hopefully, if these fellows are honest, they'll start picking some of this up. We've also got a couple of kids on the inside who are going to go up to the cameras and say, you know, “This is a phony deal and I'm leaving here.” Now, whether the media picks it up or not, we've done the things that'll at least encourage them.
President Nixon: Good.
Colson: And so I'm hoping that'll come out. There has been some, there's been a little bit of this. Every now and then one of the wire stories will talk about the fact that there's a large gathering of nonveterans included. Both veterans' organizations are coming to Washington Thursday. The—
President Nixon: [Unclear.]
Colson: The VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] and the American Legion to have a joint press conference, which they've only done once before in their history.
President Nixon: What are they going to say?
Colson: Disavow this completely and say that if these veterans want to turn in their medals, that—
President Nixon: Why don't they say that more than half these people are nonveterans?
Colson: Well, they plan to. [Administrator of Veterans Affairs] Don Johnson is briefing them tomorrow, Mr. President, on this.
President Nixon: Who is?
Colson: Don Johnson.
President Nixon: Yes.
Colson: He's giving them the intelligence.
President Nixon: Good.
Colson: And both of the commanders will say that these are not veteran organizations, they don't represent veterans' sentiment, and they're heavily infiltrated.
President Nixon: TV's giving them quite a play, aren't they?
Colson: Yeah, they have. I must say I've been a little . . . it's bothered me. I've—everybody else that I've talked to today, it hasn't bothered them.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: [White House aide] Dick Moore didn't think it was getting much play.
President Nixon: Well, he doesn't know.
Colson: My own reaction was that they've gotten more press than they deserve. That's for sure.
President Nixon: Maybe we should go forward with that, I mean, you know, we worry about whether or not we go forward with the TV antitrust thing. Why not?
Colson: Well . . .
President Nixon: No, really, in a sense, what the hell? I mean, so it's said we're going to try to silence the TV. So, what the hell?
Colson: Well, they're very much on the defensive, and everything we've called them on . . . I don't know whether CBS has retracted that business about the Providence rally on Sunday or not, but we called them on it.
President Nixon: Mm-hmm.
Colson: Because the police estimates were five to six thousand people.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: And—
President Nixon: [Dan] Rather said 25 thousand.
Colson: Rather said 25. But—
President Nixon: Mm-hmm.
Colson: They've been good when we've called them, like when we called them today and said we wanted Saxbe, they went right ahead and [unclear].
President Nixon: Well, in any event, let's play it that way for the moment and tell them that you've got this suit and you're trying—tell them you're holding it back. That's the thing to do. OK?
Colson: Yes, sir.
President Nixon: And just say, “Well, look, the President doesn't want to embarrass you and this and that, and he's talked to the attorney general, and we're holding it back and . . .” But just tell them that the shoe may fall.
Colson: Well, they know the economic leverage and . . .
President Nixon: That's all that matters.
Colson: It is. That's right. Exactly. The hearings open tomorrow on [Senator Edward] Kennedy's committee, as you know.3
President Nixon: Yes. [Rep. Paul N. “Pete”] McCloskey [R-California] will be the first witness?
Colson: McCloskey's the first witness. Then [Deputy Assistant Secretary of State William C.] Sullivan and State go up the next day.
President Nixon: Well—
Colson: But hopefully Saxbe, if he does a good job in the morning, will take a little sting out of it. And I don't think McCloskey has caught on. I don't think that he's made much with this [Laotian refugee] issue.
President Nixon: You don't?
Colson: No. I really don't.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: I think he's—
President Nixon: We had a meeting with some of what were supposed to be our . . . you weren't there, were you?
Colson: No. I talked to [White House Congressional Liaison] Clark MacGregor after our meeting last night and asked him to boost their spirits a bit.
President Nixon: What? You talked to him what?
Colson: Did they come in uplifted at all?
President Nixon: [Laughing] No. They were all, [Senator] Howard Baker [R-Tennessee] and [Senator Edward J.] Gurney [R-Florida], particularly, were saying the main thing is to get out of, you know, stop the war, that it's a terrible thing, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. You know, that sort of thing. Well, hell, I know that. The real question is these guys, you know, got to realize that we're doing some things that are, that the people are supporting. And they hadn't heard about the poll or anything and, you know, nothing. It was—
Colson: Is that so?
President Nixon: No, Clark hadn't done a very good job on it. I want you to take it up in the morning meeting, why he hadn't got the poll around to them.
Colson: Well, I talked to him last night about getting these fellows on a little bit of an upbeat note and coming in to you and saying, “What can we do for a change to help the President?”
President Nixon: Not one of them said that. Not one.
Colson: Isn't that something?
President Nixon: Mm-hmm.
Colson: Well, I will raise that in the morning meeting because we—
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: —discussed it after I left here last night.
President Nixon: It was—actually, it was interesting, but I mean, Clark must know that I know everybody wants to end the war. I don't need to hear that. You know. And we are ending it. But, I think Clark sort of has the feeling that I've got to know what they think. Christ, I know what they think.
Colson: Mm-hmm.
President Nixon: I don't need to be told.
Colson: No. You've been around that game long [unclear]—
President Nixon: He may really feel that, don't you think?
Colson: Yeah, he's, well—
President Nixon: That I don't really know what they're thinking. Well, Christ, I know more what they think than they do.
Colson: Mm-hmm. Of course you do and, of course, Clark comes out of that environment, and that always is a—
President Nixon: I know. But he's great. He's fine. He's doing the best he can, but, you know what I mean, he reflects them and they're all bitching and raising hell and this and that and—but this is a group that, I mean, I don't mean they should support everything we do, but I think they've got to realize that there are some things going right at the present time. You know what I mean.
Colson: That's right.
President Nixon: The economy is going right. The China thing went right. The—and also, the speech of April 7 went right. It had quite an effect on the country, as the polls show. You know?
Colson: That's exactly right.
President Nixon: They hadn't heard of the polls. They hadn't seen that, strangely enough.
Colson: Well, that's disappointing, because I know I talked to Clark on Friday about, I think it was, getting that one hand-delivered to the Senate, because they were back in. And—
President Nixon: All right. Raise that in the meeting. Are you going to meet in the morning?
Colson: Yes, sir. I'll be at the 8:15 meeting.
President Nixon: At the 8:15 meeting, I want you to go in and say, “Now, why was it that none of the senators knew about the change in reaction to support of the President and what he was doing to end the war?”
Colson: Mm-hmm.
President Nixon: And on the other things. What happened? Put it right to him. Say, “Now, look here. This is a fall-down. If he doesn't do it, you do it. Right?”
Colson: Mm-hmm. Yes, sir.
President Nixon: Because I think so—as a matter of fact, others, I mean, oh, [Senator John G.] Tower [R-Texas] naturally, and [Senator Henry L.] Bellmon [R-Oklahoma] and others were still, you know, standing firm.
Colson: Mm-hmm.
President Nixon: But Baker's a bellwether, and so is Gurney. They were reflecting what they were hearing. And they hadn't heard anything about our polls.
Colson: Baker is, of course—Baker's up next time and he's getting nervous politically.
President Nixon: Mm-hmm. Well, we'll take care of Baker. He'll be all right. He'll be all right. But he isn't going to be all right if he, you know, just sort of joins the doves. If he does that, he'll be finished.
Colson: Oh, I would think in Tennessee he would—
President Nixon: Well, he doesn't think so. He says everybody in Tennessee is all against it, you know, but that isn't true really. I mean, he's hearing from people that are, but . . .
Colson: Well, I, of course, I hear a lot of kind of—I have a lot of contact with people on the outside and—
President Nixon: Yeah?
Colson: I sense a better feeling, a better mood, Mr. President, than—
President Nixon: Do you?
Colson: —than we've had and it's just, it's really since the break in the Calley case, which I felt was at the time, and feel today, was a great opportunity to demonstrate presidential leadership of the right kind.4
President Nixon: None of them mentioned that, of course.
Colson: Isn't that interesting.
President Nixon: Which was—not one—that was the right thing to do. It took the sting out of it and it helped.
Colson: Oh, it helped. It helped and it galvanized our people, but it also showed you acting in a very responsible way in a time of national turmoil, and since then things have quieted. And attitudes are better.
President Nixon: One thing you ought to emphasize in the morning is that they've got to really stand up against these demonstrators. They must not, you know, run with those folks.
Colson: The demonstrators?
President Nixon: Yes, sir.
Colson: Right.
President Nixon: Don't run with them.
Colson: You know, it's interesting, Mr. President, we can't get Kennedy to—.
President Nixon: Say what he thinks?
Colson: —[unclear] about it. We can't get [Senator Hubert H.] Humphrey [D-Minnesota] to—
President Nixon: Humphrey, really?
Colson: They're being amazingly quiet and—
President Nixon: And you have tried. I noted a memo to the effect that you'd tried and they wouldn't say, huh?
Colson: We keep calling their offices, asking—reporters do—asking, and they won't issue any statements. Same thing on China, by the way. Not one of them has spoken on China. Neither [Senator Edmund S.] Muskie, [D-Maine] [Senator George S.] McGovern, [D-South Dakota] Humphrey, and yet they'll crow about—they'll carp about negative things, but can't even get a statement out of them on China.
President Nixon: Mm-hmm.
Colson: Which I think is kind of a fascinating story in itself.
President Nixon: Of course, on the plus side, the economy helps us now. The—I mean, people argue about how much, but it's still moving in the right direction.
Colson: Yes, it is.
President Nixon: And we ought to get people to . . . but let's get a good, strong movement, but beyond that, we've got to get a better system of getting what polls we take to our people.
Colson: Mm-hmm.
President Nixon: On an individual basis. And don't mail it to them. Call them on the phone. Say, “Here it is, boys.” See what I mean?
Colson: If you call a few key people, they love to talk about it.
President Nixon: That's right.
Colson: No question about that.
President Nixon: Well, let's see that, all right, because they—
Colson: They have to—
President Nixon: Some of these figures haven't been put out. You raise it with [White House Chief of Staff H.R. “Bob”] Haldeman in the morning, at the meeting and say—
Colson: Sure.
President Nixon: “Now, let's find a way to get this out to these people.”
Colson: I'll do it.
President Nixon: OK.
Colson: Fine, Mr. President. Thank you, sir.
1 Representative Paul N. “Pete” McCloskey, Jr., R-California, opposed the Vietnam War. (↑)
2 In a 19 April 1971 speech to the Republican Governors Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia, Nixon had termed the welfare system “disastrous” and called for reform. (↑)
3 Edward Kennedy [D-Massachusetts] chaired the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on refugees. (↑)
4 Lt. William L. Calley, Jr., war court-martialed for murder in the My Lai massacre, but the White House announced that Nixon would review the matter. (↑)

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