Monday, June 14, 1971 - 7:19pm - 7:22pm
Richard Nixon, John Mitchell, Henry Kissinger
White House Telephone

President Nixon: Hello?

John N. Mitchell: Mr. President?

White House Operator: The Attorney [General]--”

President Nixon: What is your advice on that Times thing, John? You would like to do it?

Mitchell: I would believe so, Mr. President. Otherwise, we will look a little foolish in not--”

President Nixon: Mm-hmm.

Mitchell: --”following through on our legal obligations and--”

President Nixon: Has this ever been done before?

Mitchell: A publication like this, or--”

President Nixon: No, no, no. Have you--”has the government ever done this to a paper before?

Mitchell: Oh, yes, advising them of their--”

President Nixon: Oh.

Mitchell: Yes, we've done this before.

President Nixon: Have we? All right.

Mitchell: Yes, sir. I would think that--”

President Nixon: How do you go about it? You do it sort of low key?

Mitchell: Low key. You call them and then send a telegram to confirm it.

President Nixon: Mm-hmm. And say that we're just--”we're examining the situation, and we just simply are putting you on notice.

Mitchell: Well, we're putting them on notice that they're violating a statute because--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Mitchell: --”we have a communication from--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Mitchell: --”[Defense Secretary Melvin] Mel Laird as to the nature of the documents--”

President Nixon: Right.

Mitchell: --”and they fall within--”

President Nixon: Right.

Mitchell: --”a statute. Now--”

President Nixon: Right.

Mitchell: I don't know whether you have even noticed it, but this thing was--”Mel was working [unclear]--”

President Nixon: [National Security Adviser] Henry [Kissinger] is on the other--”he just walked in, I'll put him on the other line. Go ahead.

Mitchell: Mel had a pretty good go up there before the committee today on it. And it's all over town, and all over everything, and I think we'd look a little silly if we just didn't take this low-key action of advising them about the publication.

President Nixon: Did Mel take a fairly hard line on it?

Mitchell: Yes, he [chuckles] gave a legal opinion that it was a violation of the law, which--”

President Nixon: Well.

Mitchell: --”of course puts us at--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Mitchell: --”where we have to get to--”

President Nixon: Well look, look, as far as the Times is concerned, hell, they're our enemies. I think we just ought to do it. And anyway, Henry, tell him what you just heard from [former National Security Adviser Walt W.] Rostow.

Henry A. Kissinger: Well, Rostow called on behalf of [former President Lyndon B.] Johnson. And he said that it is Johnson's strong view that this is an attack on the whole integrity of government. That if you--”that if whole file cabinets can be stolen and then made available to the press, you can't have orderly government anymore.

Mitchell: Well--”

Kissinger: And he said if the President defends the integrity, any action we take he will back publicly.

Mitchell: Well, I think that we should take this and do some undercover investigation and then open it up after your McGovern-Hatfield.2

President Nixon: Yeah.

Mitchell: We've got some information we've developed as to where these copies are and who they're likely to have leaked them. And the prime suspect according to your friend Rostow, you're quoting, is a gentleman by the name of [Daniel] Ellsberg--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Mitchell: --”who is a left-winger that's now at the Rand Corporation who also has a set of these documents.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Mitchell: So--”

President Nixon: Subpoena them. Christ, get them.

Mitchell: So, I would think that we should advise the Times. We will start our covert check and after McGovern-Hatfield, just open it up.

President Nixon: Right. Go ahead.

Mitchell: Does that--”does that agree with you?

President Nixon: Yep.

Mitchell: All right, sir, will do.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Right.


1 A transcript of this conversation appears in John Prados and Margaret Pratt Porter, editors, Inside the Pentagon Papers (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2004) pp. 105--“107. (↑)

2 Mitchell was referring to an upcoming Senate vote on a troop withdrawal timetable from Vietnam. (↑)

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