Tuesday, June 15, 1971 - 6:21pm - 6:27pm
Richard Nixon, Charles Colson
White House Telephone

White House Operator: Mr. President--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

White House Operator: I have [Special Counsel to the President] Mr. [Charles W. --œChuck--] Colson for you.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Charles Colson: Yes. Yes, sir, Mr. President.

President Nixon: I was thinking on our, this New York Times thing, that maybe you could generate some support from some of our constituent groups on this, you know. Like for example, I think veterans and--”

Colson: Yes, sir.

President Nixon: --”and a fellow like [AFL-CIO President George] Meany ought to pop up on this one, you know.

Colson: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: I mean, this and also, I think that on the congressional side, that what is really needed--”here's a great opportunity for a young congressman, or a rigorous congressman and/or a senator or so--”to really go all out on a thing like this. You know, now, they have the privilege of--”what they have is, of course, they can say anything they please on the floor even though the case is going to be in the courts.

Colson: Right.

President Nixon: We're going to be stuck with it. But on the other hand, we can't say much. But . . . but I think it's very important to build a backfire on these people. Understand, I personally think that if we cast this in the right direction, Chuck, this could backfire on the Times. I think--”

Colson: Oh, I think absolutely, Mr. President.

President Nixon: They're playing to their own constituency. Now, we've got to get across several points. One, it's the Kennedy-Johnson papers.

Colson: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: Basically, that's what we're talking about, the Kennedy-Johnson papers, and that gets it out of our way. Second, it's a family quarrel. We're not going to comment on them.

Colson: Yes, sir.

President Nixon: But what we have is the larger responsibility to maintain the integrity of government.

Colson: Wholly unrelated to--”

President Nixon: That's right.

Colson: --”these papers.

President Nixon: And--”wholly unrelated [unclear] integrity of government, like as [Secretary of State William P.] Rogers said in his press conferences, he had inquiries from foreign governments today as to whether their papers were classified, or, you know.

Colson: Right.

President Nixon: And that this also involves . . . it really--”it really does involve this. I mean, it really involves the ability to conduct government. How the hell can a president or a secretary of defense or anybody do anything?

Colson: That's right.

President Nixon: And, how can they make a contingency plan if it's going to be taken out in a trunk and given to a goddamn newspaper?

Colson: Well, I don't think there's any question, Mr. President, that it'll--”my own feeling is that it will backfire against the New York Times and we can help generate this. I--”a matter of fact, we have a meeting going on at the moment that I--”

President Nixon: Oh, good.

Colson: --”that I--”

President Nixon: All right.

Colson: --”came out of to talk to you but--”

President Nixon: All right, fine. Well, then--”

Colson: --”it's--”

President Nixon: --”go ahead and meet.

Colson: No, no. The purpose of it is to generate some editorials in the--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: --”other newspapers that are highly critical, like the Chicago Tribune ought to give us a good play. The New York Daily News should.

President Nixon: Sure, well, Hearst papers refuse to print it--”

Colson: That's right.

President Nixon: --”and they subscribe. They ought to take it on. But the papers, the newspaper establishment ought to come--”they've got to say whether they're going to approve this kind of thing. Also, I think a [television] network ought to step up to this one.

Colson: Strangely enough, one of the most outspoken fellows in the meeting that we've just been holding on this very subject is [White House speechwriter] Ray Price. He thinks that--”

President Nixon: Does he?

Colson: The newspapers are--”he thinks that the New York Times is totally irresponsible.

President Nixon: Well, he's a decent man--”that's the reason. He's a man of integrity.

Colson: That's right. But I--”We can certainly get the veterans' groups, I think--”

President Nixon: You know, I think some of them should--”they ought to cast this . . . Listen, the main thing is to cast it in terms of doing something disloyal to the country.

Colson: That's right.

President Nixon: That this risks our men, you know, just all that sort of thing. Secret things that [give] aid and comfort to the enemy. I mean after all . . . Jesus, it's a--”

Colson: I think the Times' position is indefensible. I think that it's distinguishable from any other case, in that here we went to them and said, --œyou can't publish that, it's a violation of security.-- And they said, --œto hell with you, we're going ahead and publish anyway.-- So we would have been very, very remiss in our duties had we not taken whatever legal means were available to prevent it. And--”

President Nixon: That's right.

Colson: I think we--”I think you'll find a great deal of popular support for--”

President Nixon: If we can generate. Now they're--”they're running the line, Chuck, of --œright to know.-- Raise that with Price. Ask him how do you answer --œright to know?-- That's of course a goddamn code word, --œright to know.-- The public has no right to know secret documents.

Colson: Well, we've been--”

President Nixon: I don't want to know.

Colson: No, of course not. And . . . you can make the point that--”

President Nixon: Mm-hmm.

Colson: --”--right to know-- does not include things--”

President Nixon: Right.

Colson: --”which will compromise the--”either the security of the nation--”

President Nixon: Which will injure the country.

Colson: --”or--”

President Nixon: And right--”and freedom of the press does not--”is not the freedom to destroy the integrity of the government, to print . . . well.

Colson: There's never--”in these kinds of issues, Mr. President, you never get into the argument of degree. It's--”

President Nixon: Nah.

Colson: You're either a little bit pregnant or you're not.

President Nixon: That's right.

Colson: And if it were the battle plan for the withdrawal of troops next week that could subject boys to attack--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: Well, there would be no argument about it.

President Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

Colson: Now the integrity of the system as a whole is at stake.

President Nixon: That's right.

Colson: You simply cannot allow a newspaper to publish classified documents.

President Nixon: If they justify this, then in any future case, then the publisher of a paper will put himself--”that was really what Alger Hiss did, you see.

Colson: That's right.

President Nixon: He put himself on a higher pedestal and said, --œWell, the Russians are entitled to know this.-- And he passed the information, and the New York Times, incidentally, was among the papers that supported him in that.

Colson: That's right.

President Nixon: Now the point is that here, what the Times has done, is placed itself above the law. They say, --œthe law provides this, but we consider this an immoral war. It's our responsibility to print it.-- Now goddamnit, you can't have that thing in a free country.

Colson: Yeah. That's irrelevant. And a --œright to know-- issue doesn't really come in there.

President Nixon: Yeah. Well, pour it on them.

Colson: We'll, we'll pour it on. We're coming up with--”

President Nixon: Get some congressmen stirred up.

Colson: We'll get the Congress, and some editorials, and a few of our groups.

President Nixon: Yeah. And [unclear]. Good.

Colson: Yes, sir.


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. 108--“111. (↑)

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