Friday, June 4, 1971 - 2:34pm - 2:54pm
Richard Nixon, Charles Colson
White House Telephone

President Nixon: Hello?
Charles W. Colson: Yes, sir, Mr. President.
President Nixon: Well, how are you getting along?
Colson: Well, I think we're having a good week.
President Nixon: A lot of fun with your friends?
Colson: I had the most refreshing experience, Mr. President, I've had in a long time, this week, with the group of Vietnam veterans who have organized for us.
President Nixon: It was a great job.
Colson: Oh! Well, they came in to see me after their--”after their press conference, which by the way, got remarkable coverage.
President Nixon: Yeah. [White House Chief of Staff H.R. "Bob"] Haldeman and I saw it.
Colson: And this boy [John] O'Neill who's . . . God, you'd just be proud of him. And there were ten of them. One of them, by the way, had been arrested for tearing down a Vietcong flag a year ago.1
President Nixon: That's great.
Colson: They're just marvelous kids, and 100 percent behind you. They talked about the drug problem in Vietnam. They said, don't . . . They said it's a problem, but no worse than in the high schools, and--”
President Nixon: That's what I think.
Colson: --”they're going out . . . in fact, the Marines in the outfit, in that group, said it was much less in Vietnam. He said that this is all another one of the press exaggerations. These fellows are going out speaking in various parts of the country for us, and--”
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: --”they were invited on Face the Nation this week for a debate with [John F.]Kerry, but Kerry turned them down, refused to debate, refused to debate O'Neill.2
President Nixon: Uh-huh.
Colson: Which is a point we'll get out to the press.
President Nixon: Yeah . . . yeah.
Colson: They're just a grand bunch, and they . . . a few more like this and I think we can--”
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: --”get people thinking in different terms.
President Nixon: Yeah . . . yeah. We can get them . . . well, of course, they can get equal time, I think, as they move around, and that's good. And Kerry may start to wear a little thin in time.
Colson: Well, there have been some fascinating stories about him, you know. There is one out now that his own organization is going to dump him. And [coughs] we've gotten out to the wire services the fact that he refused to debate O'Neill.
President Nixon: Mm-hmm.
Colson: I think he's beginning to tarnish. I think his image is tarnishing, and this . . . these young fellows, we've had some luck getting them placed.
President Nixon: Have you?
Colson: Yes, sir. They'll be on . . . We'll start seeing more of them.
President Nixon: Well, boy, that's great. And they really . . . they haven't given up, then, these guys?
Colson: They would give you the greatest lift. I told them that I couldn't recommend their going in to see you because--”
President Nixon: I know, it would look like it was a fix, but sometime I want to thank them.
Colson: I said that later in the summer, after they've done more of what they're doing, that they ought to come in, and I was thinking of it almost as much from your standpoint as from theirs, because--”
President Nixon: Sure.
Colson: --”they're just believers, and--”
President Nixon: They think we've done the right thing.
Colson: Doing the right thing, and--”
President Nixon: Right.
Colson: --”continue to do the right thing, and they claim that all of their friends . . . they said to me . . . O'Neill said to me, "I don't know how you fellows survive here in Washington," he said. "When you get out in the country, you'll find that people think like we think." And he said, "When you come here, and you watch what you have to watch every night, and you listen to this constant chatter and this constant bickering at you," he said, "but let me tell you, it just isn't that way out in the country."
President Nixon: Hmm. Isn't that something. Well.
[Personal returnable]
[Duration: 36s ]
Colson: I think the police news has moved very well this week.
President Nixon: [Laughs.] You know, I just talked to [Attorney General John N.] Mitchell, and I think that flap over [New York City Police Commissioner Patrick V.] Murphy made the story bigger. And actually, on Murphy . . . I wouldn't have the son of a bitch there because he'd taken [Washington, D.C., Police Chief Jerry V.] Wilson on. I didn't make the decision, but I was delighted that Mitchell decided he wouldn't have him because--”3
Colson: Mm-hmm.
President Nixon: --”he took Jerry Wilson on.4 I wasn't going to have him in that room.
Colson: Well, I heard from one of my old friends in Boston today, who--”
President Nixon: Mm-hmm.
Colson: --”Boston, Democratic, Irishman, the best--”
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: --”pol. I know. And he calls me every now and then when he really gets excited about something, and--”
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: --”he said, I . . . he said, I just wish that--”He called me after your welfare speech at Williamsburg--”
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: --”and said the same thing.
President Nixon: Uh-huh.
Colson: And he said, "I just wish you were running today, because," he said, "you'd take every Boston Irishman with you." They all love the cops and they hate the kids, and he said, "You [laughing]--”
President Nixon: You know, their police chief was fine in the meeting too, you know, the Boston police chief--”
Colson: Oh, sure.
President Nixon: --”he was really good. Those chiefs, they were refreshing. Goddamn, they're good Americans. They'd never been in the White House before, you know?
Colson: Isn't that something.
President Nixon: Well, you know, no president ever sat down with the police chiefs and sheriffs of the nation. Did you realize that?
Colson: No, and I think that's a story we--”
President Nixon: They told me that.
Colson: --”we ought to get that story--”
President Nixon: They said we have never had it. And we just didn't . . . we're just so overwhelmed that you'd invite us, and cared for us, and were willing to sit with us, and stand with us. Well, for Christ's sake, that's a hell of a note!
Colson: Yeah, it really is.
President Nixon: And boy, I'm telling you, we had them in there. We've had district attorneys in, and judges, and this and that, but never the chiefs. Never the sheriffs. Boy, they were just . . . and boy, they were gung ho.
Colson: Well, they did a great job for you--”
President Nixon: One of them said afterwards, the fellow says, "We had [Dwight D.]Eisenhower Democrats in Virginia in '52, now we're having Nixon Democrats." [Colson laughs.] You know, that sort of thing.
Colson: Well, they did a good job on television last night too. The--”
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: --”the head of the association who came on and said that you've done more for the police in this country--”
President Nixon: Mm-hmm.
Colson: --”and more for the police and for law and order than any administration in history.
President Nixon: Mm-hmm.
Colson: This is very powerful--”
President Nixon: We could just . . . we've got to keep repeating the story. Keep it around, you know. You make a little blip, and then it drops out like welfare or anything else, but we'll find a way. We've got to keep surfacing this story about once every month.
Colson: There are some kinds of stories that do carry themselves, and I think this one will. I think you--”
President Nixon: It will?
Colson: Yes, sir. You . . . not that we shouldn't keep doing things, we should. Timed-out properly, but . . . but people have--”people get an impression, and I think thanks to the press conference--”
President Nixon: Mm-hmm.
Colson: --”which is what my friend called about--”thanks to the press conference, the people will not forget which side you're on, on that issue.
President Nixon: Well, that probably had some effect, mainly because the press kept asking the question.
Colson: Oh, God. I--”
President Nixon: If they . . . if the press had dropped it, I mean, it would've just been one answer. But the bastards thought they were going to gig it, so they kept hitting it, and boy, I was delighted. The more they asked it, I was just hoping they'd ask it again.
Colson: I sat there gleeful because everyone around here was worried that, my golly--”
President Nixon: Oh.
Colson: --”they're trying to put him on the ropes. I said, "It's marvelous." You're making the point.
President Nixon: Sure.
Colson: And the more often you answer that question, the way you answered it--”
President Nixon: Mm-hmm. Stick to it--”
Colson: --”[Unclear.] the better.
President Nixon: That's right, you stick to it. No, sir. I don't . . . I never believe . . . We have to realize a little controversy sometimes is the only way you make the point. And cracking that one, we finally got across the point--”at least before a great number of people--”that we were strong on that issue. And I said it many other times, but this time they heard it.
Colson: Well, sometimes, a more lasting impression is made by whom you are against than whom you are for [President Nixon laughs], and being against the May Day vandals, as you put it--”
President Nixon: And against the press.
Colson: --”and being badgered by the press--”
President Nixon: That's right.
Colson: --”the combination of circumstances . . . there'll never be any doubt in the public's mind--”
President Nixon: Hmm.
Colson: --”where you stand on that issue, and--”
President Nixon: You don't think so, huh?
Colson: No, sir. And [Deputy Attorney General] Dick Kleindienst picked it up beautifully.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: He drew [Senator Edward M.] Kennedy [D-Massachusetts] out into an answer yesterday, which I think is just superb.
[Personal Returnable]
[Duration: 3m 49s ]
President Nixon: Also, we . . . we're still holding a 50 in approval, which isn't bad.
Colson: That's damn good--”
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: --”with the--”
President Nixon: With all . . . with the two drags--”
Colson: That's right.
President Nixon: --”the war and the economy. The economic thing, it will start turning. It's a little slower than we had hoped, but it'll . . . when it does move, it will move, in my opinion.
Colson: I think that's absolutely right. I think it's just . . . as I said to once you before, there is going to be a spark, and it will happen at some point when people--”
President Nixon: People--”
Colson: --”start buying again. And--”
President Nixon: They'll start--”
Colson: --”something will trigger it off, and it's nothing we predict. It'll--”
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: The public is very fickle about things like that. Now, I think--”
President Nixon: You can't talk them into it either.
Colson: Yeah. [Pollster Louis] Harris, by the way, agrees with me on a thesis I have about the validity of polls right now.
President Nixon: Does he?
Colson: The public sentiment is very, very hard to detect, and--”
President Nixon: Right.
Colson: --”and it's difficult, and it's volatile. It'll shift back and forth.
President Nixon: Mmm.
Colson: That the basic, serious question that people always have to answer in their own minds when they vote for President . . . is impossible to really assess right now. Right now they're beauty contests because there's no meaning to them.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: The moment you attach meaning to them, and people feel, well now, I'm . . . I've got to seriously exercise my franchise--”
President Nixon: Pick the leader, Yeah.
Colson: --”and pick a leader [coughs], a certain [coughs] . . . excuse me--” a certain degree of seriousness gets into it. It's easy to go to the racetrack and bet when you're not putting your money up--”
President Nixon: Mm-hmm.
Colson: --”and you can bet kind of recklessly. But when you've got to place that two dollars on the counter--”
President Nixon: Mm-hmm.
Colson: --”you get a hell of a lot more serious. And this is why I just pay no attention to these things. I think--”
President Nixon: Do you think the . . . both of these--”all these polls were taken before the SALT [Strategic Arms Limitation Talks ] thing and so forth--”do you think that has had any effect on public opinion?
Colson: Yes, sir.
President Nixon: Really?
Colson: Definitely.
President Nixon: I think it has on intellectuals, but I was telling Haldeman this morning that . . . and [National Security Adviser Henry A.]Kissinger, that I seriously doubt that it really affected the average guy. I don't think he knows what the hell it is.
Colson: Well, he doesn't have to know what it is, sir.
President Nixon: Well, but did it get enough play to really matter? The China thing didn't have much effect.
Colson: Nope--”
President Nixon: You know?
Colson: --”but it does it in a very subtle way. Now, the fellow that called me from Boston today, who has been an infallible political barometer for me for 20 years--”
President Nixon: Mm-hmm.
Colson: --”on sort of the attitudes of the man in the street.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: Very skilled politician. He's a heck of a lot more impressed by your answers in the press conference to the May Day thing--”
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: --”than he is to SALT.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: On the other hand, the fact that things are going on that people don't understand, that are going on a very high level, that maybe result in some lessening of world tensions, somehow people don't quite understand how or why, is very . . . very reassuring to them. And it's one of those things that registers in a less obvious and less dramatic way, but it nonetheless . . . it builds a confidence. It's a--”
President Nixon: Right.
Colson: --”it's a portion of the confidence-building--”
President Nixon: It may.
Colson: --”that people develop over a period of time, and it's nothing that they would go back--”
President Nixon: Is it--”
Colson: --”and point to.
President Nixon: Is it Harris's view that they help, or not?
Colson: Oh, he feels very strongly . . . of course, he's a . . . he's an intellectual, and--”
President Nixon: Yeah. But he thinks that kind of stuff helps?
Colson: He thinks so, and he thinks so . . .
President Nixon: Well, of course the thing is that the war so overrides the other international issues that--”I don't know. But we'll see.
Colson: Well, but that isn't going to remain that way, and--”
President Nixon: No, that's going to change. [Unclear.] we still have a few months left.
Colson: It's a pattern that needs to . . . that needs to emerge. And if people begin to feel, that well, there was a crisis in the Middle East but you handled it, and there has been something happening in disarmament and it's going well, and the Russians seem to be dealing with you, and things are quieting down elsewhere, this builds the kind of confidence that when they come to vote, they get very serious about . . . as distinguished from--”
President Nixon: Mm-hmm.
Colson: --”from their specific attitudes on specific points. . . . And I think that's very valid. I think it's the kind of thing that--”
President Nixon: I suppose that the only effect really polls is on the political types. They may get the impression that . . . you know, our congressional types that . . . if they see trial heats closer, that worries them. Although the approval thing may balance it off too. I don't know.
Colson: Well, the partisan . . . the partisans care. The partisans look at it--”
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: --”and it affects--”
President Nixon: Sure.
Colson: --”money and it affects how spirited your people are, and it--”
President Nixon: We don't have any problem with money.
Colson: None in that respect, and none in terms of the partisanship. So I--”
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: --”I think it . . . what it does is prove very divisive to the other side, and that's--”
President Nixon: [laughing] It's going to do that.
Colson: --”that's damn beneficial.
President Nixon: That's right.
Colson: Did Bob tell you about the Viacom development, Mr. President, with CBS?
President Nixon: Oh, yeah. Well, yes, that they didn't get it.
Colson: Well, it's been held up in a very peculiar way, and--”
President Nixon: Yeah . . . yeah.
Colson: --”I will [coughs] be seeing [CBS Chairman William S.] Paley in another week.
President Nixon: Yeah. . . . Yeah. Yeah. That's very interesting.
Colson: We'll just--”
President Nixon: Well, we had nothing to do with it--”
Colson: No.
President Nixon: --”the guy just wasn't there.
Colson: Well, our man left, which was the best of all worlds. I would kind of like to juggle that and, if you approve, at the right time, deliver it for them, but--”
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: --”with a clear understanding that we did deliver--”
President Nixon: The idea that first we didn't hold it up--”
Colson: Right.
President Nixon: --”but if they ask us to help--”but my God, they've got to help us a little.
Colson: Well, if they ask us to help, and then we in effect do help, then we have a right to look to them once in a while to be . . . to be a little reasonable.
President Nixon: A little bit, yeah.
Colson: They've been a hell of a lot better, I think, in the last--”
President Nixon: Do you really?
Colson: --”three weeks. Yes, sir. Definitely.
President Nixon: Why is that? Why do you think that? Because of this?
Colson: Oh, I think this is a good part of it, and I think they've gotten the signals, and they're just a little nervous that there is enough going on . . . Of course, with ABC, the CATV [cable television] thing . . . When you called [ABC President Leonard H.] Goldenson, that . . . God, that just did it. Twenty minutes later his lawyers called [chuckling] me, right after your call, and said how thrilled he was, and how appreciative, and--”
President Nixon: Mm-hmm.
NARA Excision
Category: Privacy
Duration: 27s
Colson: But I think the . . . I think all three of them have improved just a mite. We also have an answer going to Common Cause's program this week.5
President Nixon: Oh, I heard about that.
Colson: And it's just splendid. [Foreign policy adviser] Dolf Drodge is on, and he is just superb, and they've given us--”
President Nixon: Good.
Colson: --”given us Wednesday night here in Washington at 8:30, which is excellent time.
President Nixon: Great. Great.
Colson: That's going around the country, so I--”
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: --”we're getting a little bit--”
President Nixon: That's right. Get our side out.
Colson: We're getting more of it out.
President Nixon: Good.
Colson: I feel it's . . . you see it in little ways, and you see it with these--”
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: --”kids who come in, and--”
President Nixon: Yeah.
Colson: --”the more enthusiasm that they have now is a reflection of . . .
President Nixon: Another thing too about our side, the fact that the networks have been playing so heavily the negative stuff, makes our side new, and therefore, news!
Colson: Exactly.
President Nixon: And that . . . and therefore, people say, "Well, maybe there is another side," you know. There is always these things . . . there is always a counteraction to these things.
Colson: Yes.
President Nixon: And the networks have . . . they've so overplayed the other side, you know, that . . . the immoral war, and all that bullshit. You know what I mean.
Colson: Well, it builds the credibility of our side. Anybody who overplays their hand as much as they have, it's bound to have a reaction the other way.
President Nixon: Right.
Colson: [White House Consultant John A.] Scali has had good effect in talking with--”
President Nixon: Good.
Colson: He's worked in, on a quiet basis, a number of news items. He's been able to get . . .
President Nixon: He likes to do it too.
Colson: And he does it well. He--”
President Nixon: Right.
Colson: --”he sells them well.
President Nixon: Well, he's believable.
Colson: [laughing][Unclear.]
President Nixon: We'll always put him on things he can be believed on.
Colson: That's right.
President Nixon: [laughing] OK.
Colson: Fine, sir.
President Nixon: Bye.
Colson: Thank you, Mr. President.

1John O'Neill was a Vietnam veteran and the leader of Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace. ↑

2John F. Kerry was a Vietnam veteran and a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. ↑

3The White House had held a conference the previous day on police killings. New York City Police Chief Patrick Murphy had complained that he was not invited, but the head of International Association of Police Chiefs, Quinn Tamm, said it was his understanding that police chiefs from other cities had been invited. "Murphy Not Invited to Talks on Police Slayings," 3 June 1971, New York Times. ↑

4There had been mass arrests during the recent "May Day" demonstrations against the Vietnam War. "We arrested a hell of a lot of people," Nixon noted in Conversation 4-10, 1 June 1971, 9:51--“10:09 P.M. "In a strictly legal sense, it was not legal." Patrick Murphy had been D.C.'s director of public safety during the 1968 riots, when police made about 8,000 arrests in two days. "But," he noted in an interview following the May Day arrests, "we tried to comply very strictly with our mass arrest procedures. I understand that last week [in Washington] those procedures were not followed as strictly in some cases, and there may have been examples of people detained who should not have been detained." In other words, Wilson was excluded from the White House for saying in public what Nixon acknowledged in private to be true. "Murphy Defends Mass Arrests, But Cites Need To Protect Rights," 12 May 1971, New York Times. ↑

5Common Cause had produced a half-hour television program supporting a 31 December 1971 pullout date from Vietnam. "Common Cause Says 132 in House Back Vietnam Pullout by Dec. 31," 12 May 1971, Washington Post. ↑

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