002-040

Date: 
Monday, April 26, 1971 - 7:40pm - 7:49pm
Participants: 
Richard Nixon, John Ehrlichman
Location: 
White House Telephone
Listen: 


 

Music plays in the background.
Operator: [Chief Domestic Policy Adviser] Mr. [John D.] Ehrlichman, sir.
President Nixon: Hello?
John Ehrlichman: Yes, sir.
President Nixon: John, are you home or at the office?
Ehrlichman: No, still at the office.
President Nixon: Oh, that's too bad, too bad. With regard to this matter [White House Chief of Staff H.R.] Bob [Haldeman] just raised with me just before I came over to the house, with regard to the—what we do on the things tomorrow, my own feeling is that we should not anticipate the trouble and move for legislation before something happens.1 I'd like to get it snarled up a bit and then move strongly. Now that's just my hunch, but the thing is that last week the thing having not been handled too well, my judgment may not be very good. I didn't really handle it last week, as you know. I didn't know to. I just assumed [Attorney General John N.] Mitchell and all the rest were doing it, and it wasn't too well. What's your hunch? What do you think?
Ehrlichman: Well, that's what—
President Nixon: Now, I must say that the reaction of [Senator] Russell Long [D-Louisiana] was so violent about this thing today that I think, just let these guys take a little—
Ehrlichman: Yeah.
President Nixon: —little digging. What do you think?
Ehrlichman: They showed up as a very raunchy outfit on the television tonight.
President Nixon: How did it come off?
Ehrlichman: Well, not very well. I—
President Nixon: Well, the television, of course, was trying—just a second. [Pause as the President lowers the volume of the music.] I was going to say, I bet Bob a dollar the television wouldn't show the raunchy ones.
Ehrlichman: Well, they showed some of them, but they softened it a good deal. They didn't—
President Nixon: Yeah.
Ehrlichman: —describe the profanity in the gallery and any of that sort of thing.2
President Nixon: Well, there you are. Yeah.
Ehrlichman: But did show them in the halls and all that sort of thing up there. I—
President Nixon: So they came off rather well on television, huh?
Ehrlichman: I think they came off better than they should have, considering what they pulled. We just had a meeting on this, as you may know, down [in] Bob's office.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Ehrlichman: I think the general conclusion that we've all come to is that we should not seek an injunction or anything of that kind at all.
President Nixon: Right.
Ehrlichman: That we should not call out troops—
President Nixon: No, God, no!
Ehrlichman: And that we would—
President Nixon: Don't let us have martial war about the war or this and that.
Ehrlichman: That's right.
President Nixon: Hell, no!
Ehrlichman: We just leave this to [Chief] Jerry Wilson and the Police Department to conduct their affairs in the normal way. And he feels that he can handle this with uniformed officers within reasonable limits.
President Nixon: They arrest people that obstruct traffic, don't they?
Ehrlichman: That's right. That's right.
President Nixon: Good.
Ehrlichman: And they get off with a ten dollar fine or something of that kind. Now if there's violence or anything of that sort, then you respond.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Ehrlichman: And the chances are that the Congress would respond, at that point with a stiffer law.
President Nixon: Well, let me say this. There's no damn congressman, senator going to vote against it.
Ehrlichman: That's right.
President Nixon: Except [Senator] Birch Bayh [D-Indiana], maybe.
Ehrlichman: Well, you see, these fellows will get off with a misdemeanor. It's anywhere from 10 to 25 dollars for obstructing traffic.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Ehrlichman: But—and that's not much of a deterrent. Matter of fact, their directions to their protesters say that they should not post bail and that they should try and clog up the jail facilities.
President Nixon: That's great.
Ehrlichman: So this gets to be a little contest as to how many jails we can find within 50 miles, you know.
President Nixon: We'll find them.
Ehrlichman: But we can find plenty of them. And my feeling is that Jerry Wilson ought to be told that this is a police problem, we have a lot of confidence in him, and that we just—
President Nixon: Right. Exactly.
Ehrlichman: —you know—
President Nixon: And that we'll back him up.
Ehrlichman: Sure, and that he would handle this as he would handle any similar difficulty.
President Nixon: Right. Yeah, but let's face it, it isn't as bad as Berkeley has had or San Francisco has had, yet.
Ehrlichman: I think that you can expect that these people will be in very massive numbers and that probably this police department will be swamped. They will not be able to handle the numbers.
President Nixon: What do you mean “massive numbers”?
Ehrlichman: Oh, I think—
President Nixon: A thousand?
Ehrlichman: In any one of these 20 intersections you'll have anywhere from 700 to 1,000, 1,500 something of that kind.
President Nixon: Who's organizing them? This is the—
Ehrlichman: It's a highly structured operation, and it's quite beautifully organized actually by Rennie Davis and a whole group of more or less professional organizers that have been at this for a long time.
President Nixon: Why did [Senator Hubert H.] Humphrey [D-Minnesota] take what had seemed to me a rather soft line in trying to clear the galleries then if it was Rennie Davis and that group?
Ehrlichman: I don't know. I don't know. He later went out on the lawn and talked with them, and they made a fool of him.
President Nixon: How'd they do that?
Ehrlichman: Well, they—
President Nixon: That wasn't on television, though?
Ehrlichman: Yeah, it was. He was standing talking to them and some fellow came up and made a “V” sign over his head, and he looked like a rabbit, you know.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Ehrlichman: And they, they continued to do that, and they were all laughing at him behind him and, of course, he couldn't see it while he was playing to the camera.
President Nixon: You know, it's rather ironic that [Senator James L.] Buckley [Conservative Republican-New York] should be the one in the chair when they cleared the galleries, of all people.
Ehrlichman: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. The expecta—of course the Senate is now out until Thursday. They've adjourned until Thursday.
President Nixon: Oh.
Ehrlichman: And the expectation is that they'll bear down pretty hard on the House tomorrow.
President Nixon: Well, the House's rules are tougher.
Ehrlichman: Yeah.
President Nixon: Aren't they?
Ehrlichman: Well, I think they are. I think—
President Nixon: I think.
Ehrlichman: —the Speaker will not brook any nonsense, you know.
President Nixon: Throw them the hell out of there.
Ehrlichman: Yeah. But that just may precipitate this thing so that by the time the Senate comes back Thursday or Friday the thing will be up to a point, you know, and the Congress will do something.
President Nixon: Do you anticipate this sort of thing all week, John? Because I'm trying—
Ehrlichman: Yes.
President Nixon: —to [think in terms of] the press conference [unclear].
Ehrlichman: Yes, I think so. I think so.
President Nixon: I think I've got to go forward with the press conference. I think it—
Ehrlichman: I agree. I—
President Nixon: Don't you?
Ehrlichman: And matter of fact, I think it would be very opportune because you'll get some questions about this and I think you get a chance to whack it.
President Nixon: Right. Right. Whack it hard and not praise the other one.
Ehrlichman: That's right.
President Nixon: Just simply say that I think this kind of demonstration is, you know, unconscionable, and we're not going to be affected by it.
Ehrlichman: The question in my mind is whether you can afford to be away on Monday, because that's the first day of the obstructions, when they plan to block the bridges and so forth.
President Nixon: Think I should come back?
Ehrlichman: I'm inclined to think you should. I think you should be here, and that seemed to be the consensus at the meeting just now.
President Nixon: I'm all for it.
Ehrlichman: [White House Counsel] Dick Moore—
President Nixon: Well, could I come back—
Ehrlichman: Sunday night, something of that—early Monday morning, maybe?
President Nixon: But I don't have to be here all day Monday, do I?
Ehrlichman: The blockage would be from 7:00 a.m. until noon. And—
President Nixon: And then I should come back Sunday night?
Ehrlichman: Well, I think if you were simply to announce your itinerary about now so that it was obvious that you were planning to come back Monday all the time.
President Nixon: Right.
Ehrlichman: Then it wouldn't matter too much what time you got in on Monday.
President Nixon: Yeah. I'll be back Monday, right. That let's me, I'd like to have a couple of days off in California Saturday and Sunday.
Ehrlichman: Sure. Sure. But I think if you—
President Nixon: And then get on the plane Monday morning—
Ehrlichman: Right.
President Nixon: —and get back here, and get back about three or four in the afternoon—
Ehrlichman: And by the time you get here, why the thing will have had its first spasm.
President Nixon: Good, I'll do it. I'll be back.
Ehrlichman: And we can then take a—
President Nixon: I'd just as soon be back here. I like to be in the fight.
Ehrlichman: Well, I think symbolically, particularly if you have to go to the Congress for relief, you ought to be here.
President Nixon: Good, I'm delighted. I couldn't agree more with it. Did you talk to [Treasury Secretary John B.] Connally by any chance?
Ehrlichman: Yes, I did.
President Nixon: What did he say?
Ehrlichman: And he knew about [General Electric Chairman Fred J.] Borch's opposition and he had already begun to build a backfire on it.
President Nixon: Good.
Ehrlichman: Because Borch needed some help from the Ex-Im Bank for some country to buy his generators.
President Nixon: Right. All right. [laughs]
Ehrlichman: And Connally has to sign off on it.
President Nixon: Good for him.
Ehrlichman: So he's already at work. And he may be able to damp it off.
President Nixon: But he's for going ahead with what we're doing.
Ehrlichman: He feels we have to. He doesn't feel we have any alternative.
President Nixon: Well, let's do it, John. Sail right on.
Ehrlichman: Yeah, I indicated to him that my call was in no way a second guess on that.
President Nixon: No, no, no, no.
Ehrlichman: It was simply to advise him of what the problems were.
President Nixon: That's right. And that I had no second guesses, too.
Ehrlichman: Yeah, well, I didn't even intimate that you did. You know.
President Nixon: You were simply informing him that Borch had called you-–
Ehrlichman: That's right.
President Nixon: —so you would know.
Ehrlichman: That's right.
President Nixon: And he was hard-line and firm?
Ehrlichman: Yep.
President Nixon: Good.
Ehrlichman: Yep. He just doesn't see any way around it.
President Nixon: Let me ask you this, the Cabinet meeting tomorrow, what is scheduled?
Ehrlichman: Well, we're going to have [Health, Education and Welfare Secretary] Elliot Richardson for ten minutes presenting the White House Conference on Youth report, and then the balance is [Labor Secretary] Jim Hodgson talking about the various steps we're taking on unemployment and manpower training. And he's got quite a good, quite an interesting and somewhat hopeful presentation.
President Nixon: Mm-hmm.
Ehrlichman: And factually very helpful in understanding what the problem is in words.
President Nixon: Right. What about having somebody go on at the end about this demonstration thing. Just let it—or is that—
Ehrlichman: Well—
President Nixon: Or the Cabinet's likely to have silly ideas?
Ehrlichman: Yeah, I'm afraid so, and I think perhaps the only thing would be if you would tie it up at the end by simply saying that you don't feel it's appropriate for anybody to speak out on this, that we ought to maintain a position of rectitude on it and so on and just lie low.
President Nixon: I tell you what I'd like to do. I'll throw it to you. You make this statement.
Ehrlichman: All right.
President Nixon: Tell them that you have studied it through at my request as, you know, counsel and all that and that we feel it's very important now that everybody say nothing and let it be handled at this level.
Ehrlichman: All right.
President Nixon: And clear it with [Attorney General] John Mitchell so he backs you up, will you?
Ehrlichman: All right, I sure will.
President Nixon: Good. That's good. OK, John. That's fine.
Ehrlichman: All right, sir.
President Nixon: This is fine. We'll go back Sunday.
Ehrlichman: Very good.
 
1 The large-scale “People's Lobby for Peace and Justice” demonstration was also underway in Washington, DC, during which protesters had occupied the offices of several lawmakers. (↑)
2 Capitol police had cleared the Senate gallery of shouting demonstrators. (↑)

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