President Nixon: Hello.
White House Operator: General [Alexander] Haig∇, sir. Ready.
President Nixon: Hello.
Alexander M. Haig, Jr.: Yes, sir.
President Nixon: Hi, Al. How—what about the [Vietnam] casualties last week? You got the figure yet?
Haig: No, sir, but I think it’s going to be quite low. It should be as—
President Nixon: Should be.
Haig: —as last week or better.
President Nixon: Yeah, because it should be less than 20, I would think, yeah.
Haig: This will be very—
President Nixon: When do you get that, do you—will you know?
Haig: We don’t get it officially until Monday afternoon, but we can get a reading on it.
President Nixon: Right, well, Monday afternoon officially? Well, let’s wait until then. Fine. OK. Nothing else of interest in the world today?
Haig: Yes, sir, very significant, this goddamn New York Times exposé of the most highly classified documents of the [Vietnam] war.2
President Nixon: Oh, that. I see.
Haig: That, that—
President Nixon: I didn’t read the story, but you mean that was leaked out of the Pentagon?
Haig: Sir, the whole study that was done for [former Defense Secretary Robert S.] McNamara and then carried on after McNamara left by [former Defense Secretary Clark M.] Clifford and the peaceniks over there. This is a devastating security breach of the greatest magnitude of anything I’ve ever seen.
President Nixon: Well, what’s being done about it, then? I mean, I didn’t—
Haig: Well, I called—
President Nixon: Did we know this was coming out?
Haig: No, we did not, sir.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Haig: There are just a few copies of this—
President Nixon: Well, what about the—
Haig: —12-volume report.
President Nixon: Well, what about the—Let me ask you this, though, what about the—what about [Defense Secretary Melvin P.] Laird∇? What’s he going to do about it? Is—
Haig: Well, I [unclear]—
President Nixon: Now, I’d just start right at the top and fire some people. I mean, whoever—whatever department it came out of, I’d fire the top guy.
Haig: Yes, sir. Well, I’m sure it came from Defense, and I’m sure it was stolen at the time of the turnover of the administration.
President Nixon: Oh, it’s two years old, then.
Haig: I’m sure it is, and they’ve been holding it for a juicy time, and I think they’ve thrown it out to affect Hatfield-McGovern∇.3 That’s my own estimate. But it’s something that is a mixed bag. It’s a tough attack on [President John F.] Kennedy. It shows that the genesis of the war really occurred during the ’61 period.
President Nixon: [laughing] Yeah. Yeah. That’s Clifford. I see.
Haig: And it’s brutal on President [Lyndon B.] Johnson. They’re going to end up in a massive gut fight in the Democratic Party on this thing.
President Nixon: Are they?
Haig: It’s a—there’s some very—
President Nixon: But also, massive against the war.
Haig: Against the war.
President Nixon: But it’s a Pentagon study, huh?
The conversation was cut off at an unknown time before 12:42 P.M.
A “telcon,” a transcript of this telephone conversation made by NSC∇ secretaries, exists. “The President-General Haig,” 13 June 1971, 12:20 P.M., “Haig Telcons—1971 [2 of 2]” folder, National Security Council Files, Box 998, Alexander M. Haig Chronological File, Nixon Presidential Materials Project, National Archives and Records Administration. The following passage comes from this telcon, with minor corrections of spelling and punctuation.
Haig: Done by McNamara. When I came back from Vietnam, he asked me to do the military portion, and I refused because I knew what it was going to be.
President Nixon: Who in the Pentagon? I will fire the SOB’s.
Haig: They are all gone now. Clifford, [former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Morton H.] Halperin∇, [former Director of Policy Planning and Arms Control for International Security Affairs Leslie H.] Gelb∇.
President Nixon: How did they get the classified material out?
Haig: I don’t know. It has 4,000 highly classified documents from the Eisenhower days on through the end of the Johnson administration.
President Nixon: They won’t affect Hatfield-McGovern, this sort of thing. I would like to know if there are any other people of this type around.
Haig: I would suppose not at this point, but you can’t be sure. Everybody is attacked in this thing. [Former U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Henry Cabot] Lodge∇ is brutally attacked.
Haig: They haven’t touched on it yet, but I am sure they have it.
President Nixon: That attacks Kennedy hard. They won’t put that out, huh?
Haig: It’s the most incredible thing. All of the White House papers, [former National Security Adviser Walt W.] Rostow∇ papers, communications with ambassadors, JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] studies.
President Nixon: We have been more careful, haven’t we? We have kept a lot from State, I know, and enough from Defense.
Haig: Your White House papers are in very good shape.
President Nixon: That’s why we don’t tell them anything.
Haig: Actually, we are clean. Let them tear themselves apart. I told [White House Press Secretary] Ron Ziegler∇ to keep out of that. It will keep Vietnam in the headlines for weeks. They are going to run a series on it.
President Nixon: Are they?
Haig: Yes, they are. It was really a sabotage act to McNamara. He wanted to have all the documents pulled together and minimize the analysis. As soon as he left, the peaceniks in the Pentagon got started.
President Nixon: Mainly nonmilitary people?
Haig: Yes, but there was a military guy in the study. They tried to show covert escalation without congressional liaison. Nothing has been said about what the enemy has been doing in the meantime.
President Nixon: They only carry it up to the time we came in.
Haig: Yes, sir. Nothing of ours. I told Ron he should take the position you inherited this thing and you have been trying to wind it down.
President Nixon: Yes, and to accomplish our goal. Let’s say, “Apparently this is a fight within the Democratic Party and we are not going to get into it.”
Haig: I have people coming in to analyze the report now.
President Nixon: Do you think the Times has it all?
Haig: I think they have.
President Nixon: Can we allow this sort of thing?
Haig: No. I think this is most serious.
President Nixon: Let’s cut off the Times ourselves for doing this thing. Don’t you think so?
Haig: Yes, sir.
President Nixon: Where is [National Security Adviser] Henry [Kissinger∇]? Has he gone to the West Coast?
Haig: Yes, he will call as soon as he gets there.
President Nixon: That’s all right. I don’t need to . . . When will he get back?
Haig: He will be back tomorrow.
President Nixon: I think we ought to be awful rough on the New York Times in terms of future leaks. They can’t be trusted. OK, fine, Al.
2 Haig was referring to publication in the New York Times of the first installment of a series on the Pentagon Papers, a classified Defense Department study of Vietnam War decision-making. (↑)
3 The Senate was soon to vote on a proposal by Senator Mark O. Hatfield, R-Oregon, and Senator George S. McGovern, D-South Dakota, that would have required the President to bring the troops home from Vietnam by the end of the 1971. (↑)
4 Nixon was referring to the 1963 overthrow and assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. (↑)