Thursday, June 17, 1971 - 2:22pm - 2:37pm
Richard Nixon, Charles Colson
White House Telephone

President Nixon: Yeah. Hello?

Charles W. Colson: Yes, sir.

President Nixon: Yeah. Well, how are things going?

Colson: Well, I think--”

President Nixon: They got--”they did some good votes yesterday, didn't they?

Colson: Sure did. And I think we'll have another good one this afternoon on the Nedzi-Whalen--”I think that'll go down by a resounding vote in the House.1 So that's a--”

President Nixon: You do, huh?

Colson: Yes, sir, I think it's--”I was pleased with yesterday. It came better than I expected it to, really.

President Nixon: The 55--“40, yeah.2

Colson: I thought we might lose a few more than that.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: It's so close to last year that it's encouraging.

President Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Colson: Damned encouraging.

President Nixon: What was it last year?

Colson: 55--“39, so--”

President Nixon: This was 55--“42?

Colson: Forty-two, so we lost three--”really three votes from last year, which is not bad considering the passage of another year.

President Nixon: Yeah. Three against, yeah.

Colson: And the pressures.

President Nixon: Yeah, that's right.

Colson: And the lobbying, which was pretty [unclear]--”

President Nixon: Oh, the lobbying, well my goodness, they threw everything. They had the lobbying, the veterans, the lawyers, the New York Times ran that thing for that purpose.3

Colson: Sure.

President Nixon: No question about it.

Colson: Well, I think the Times, actually I think the Times story probably lost us two or three votes. I think [Senator Herman E.] Talmadge, [D-Georgia] a fellow like that, was influenced by that.

President Nixon: Do you?

Colson: Yes, sir. As a matter of fact, he indicated that to some people we had working on him trying to bring his vote back into line. He--”

President Nixon: Mm-hmm.

Colson: He just said that had discredited everything that they had done in the past, which of course is exactly why the Times did it. Exactly why--”

President Nixon: They thought--”did Talmadge think we'd put it out?

Colson: Oh, hell, no, no. He just meant that it had discredited the--”

President Nixon: No. Oh, the nation, what the nation had done in the past.

Colson: Well, the justification for going in in the first place had been discredited.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: Which, of course, is what the doves want to use.

President Nixon: Well, that's the way that, I mean, actually if you read the Times stories that's--”it discredits it if you read it from the viewpoint of the guy that wrote the statement--”

Colson: That's right.

President Nixon: --”but he's left-wing fellow.

Colson: Exactly.

President Nixon: Although, I don't know. I'm--”I think the--”what was your opinion as to the--”how are the--”are we beginning to get any proper coverage on the Times thing? Are we getting a few editorials the other way, or what?

Colson: We are, yes, sir. It's been tough. We've talked to an awful lot of people and--”

President Nixon: They don't want to take them.

Colson: Well, an awful lot of them don't want to take on the issue of freedom of the press, which is not the issue, but--”

President Nixon: Of course not.

Colson: Our job is to articulate the distinction.

President Nixon: Why don't you get this line, which would be a very simple way to do it: The Times is guilty of publishing . . . of knowingly publishing stolen goods.

Colson: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: --œKnowingly publishing stolen goods.-- [Senator John L.] McClellan [D-Arkansas] brought that up when he came in today. He said they had a case down there that they're working on now in his committee. He said, --œNow, when an individual, any individual who, you know, that receives stolen goods is guilty.--

Colson: That's right.

President Nixon: He says, --œHere the Times received stolen goods, stolen documents.--

Colson: Knowingly--”

President Nixon: Knowingly.

Colson: That's right.

President Nixon: That the Times knowingly published stolen goods.

Colson: We have--”

President Nixon: I think it's got to be hit on that. The other thing is not--”I've already--”I know [Chief Domestic Policy Adviser John D.] Ehrlichman is now trying to get this thing pulled together. But the other thing is, that from the attack standpoint, is to constantly hammer the fact that this is the --œKennedy-Johnson-- papers.4 Is that--”are we getting that across?

Colson: Not yet, Mr. President. I don't think we have well enough. We--”I met with Ehrlichman for two hours this noon, and we've gone over a whole plan of things that we think need to be done. And I think that without any question we've got to keep saying that. And all of our people on the Hill have got to say that. And be damn sure that people understand that we're not covering up something of this administration [unclear].

President Nixon: Why hasn't [that] been said? It's the obvious thing. [White House Press Secretary Ronald L.] Ziegler supposedly did say it, I think--”

Colson: Yes, sir.

President Nixon: --”he said it about ten times, but--”

Colson: It's being said--”

President Nixon: What is the trouble?

Colson: Well--”

President Nixon: They aren't carrying it.

Colson: No, I think they're carrying it. The trouble is that on an issue like this, it takes a while for the--”it comes out as a big blur to the public. They're not focusing yet on what we're covering up. In other words, we're being accused of covering up; the public isn't yet focusing on what it is. And we have to make that point by continually talking about the Kennedy-Johnson, and trying to get people from that period to talk about it.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: They should be--”

President Nixon: God, yes [unclear].

Colson: Fighting, and of course they're all in hiding, cowardly. Or like [former Defense Secretary] Clark Clifford, probably privately cheering.

President Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

Colson: [AFL-CIO President] George Meany has a very tough statement, and has agreed to give it tomorrow in which he really takes the Times apart. And I think that'll help, because that might stiffen the backs of a few of the--”

President Nixon: Well, who the hell's going to get it out, though? I mean, he may say it but they may not print it.

Colson: Well, I think--”no, I think they'll have to print it. It's a tough statement.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: I wrote it with [AFL-CIO International Affairs Director] Jay Lovestone this morning. So I think if he gives it as it is, it'll get out. Now, we have some tough speeches up on the Hill that we've written, and [White House Congressional Liaison] Clark [MacGregor] is getting those out. This is an issue that will stay around for a while.

President Nixon: Well, the point is: I'm not concerned about the issue. I'm not concerned about, I mean, I don't want, I told [White House Chief of Staff H.R. (Bob)] Haldeman this morning, I don't want everybody around here to think, well, isn't it too bad?

Colson: Oh, no.

President Nixon: By God, let's make something out of it. It's an opportunity.

Colson: This issue, Mr.--”

President Nixon: Listen, the New York Times, believe me, the New York Times can be discredited for, indefinitely as a result of this.

Colson: That's right--”

President Nixon: In fact, I'm going to, as long as I am where I am, the New York Times will never, never, never have another opportunity to have any stolen goods, I'll tell you that.

Colson: In my opinion, Mr. President, you need--”

President Nixon: Yeah. They chose to take this on, and now we'll do it. Now, it isn't just the Times, but it goes beyond that. It goes to all of the disloyal people in government who do--”who are tempted to get out and peddle a paper here and there.

Colson: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: Either for profit or because they don't believe in a program.

Colson: Right.

President Nixon: It goes also to the integrity of government. It's far beyond the war. This is a terrible thing.

Colson: Well, imperiling people's lives.

President Nixon: But I think--”I think the Times--”imperiling lives, imperiling our sources, imperiling our lines of communication, imperiling the President's right to have honest advice from his advisers.

Colson: That's right.

President Nixon: Why, it destroys it all.

Colson: Well, I think, Mr. President--”

President Nixon: And somebody's got to say it. They got to get it out. It hasn't been said simply enough and often enough, yet.

Colson: Well--”

President Nixon: I don't know what the trouble is.

Colson: Repetition is the key. You just put your finger on it when you said --œoften enough.-- The--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: We're saying it. It is being said, and you can read it, but you have to look for it. But the more often it can be said--”

President Nixon: And you've got to get [unclear]--”

Colson: --”the harder it can be hit. And--”if people keeping reading it--”you know, you're judged not only by who favors you, but by your enemies, and the New York Times, I think, is one of the best natural enemies we can have. I think, to be fighting the New York Times, you're on the side--”especially on this kind of an issue--”this isn't an issue of editorial judgment. This is an issue of violating a law--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: --”and publishing stolen goods here.

President Nixon: Publishing stolen goods.

Colson: And its--”to--”

President Nixon: Put it that way.

Colson: --”to be--”

President Nixon: Knowingly publishing stolen goods. Now, I want you to get that line--”

Colson: Yes, sir.

President Nixon: --”used--”I want it used. Get it to ten senators and congressmen this afternoon, will you?

Colson: Yes, sir. I'll do it.

President Nixon: Knowingly published--”get somebody to get it out on television. Now, that's the kind of thing. Get somebody to put in an editorial.

Colson: Well, that's the kind of thing people--”

President Nixon: And then mail that around the country. Put it--”put it--”get it on some sort of print and mail it to a hundred thousand people. --œKnowingly publishing stolen goods.--

Colson: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: Why--”why--”why aren't they guilty of something?

Colson: That--”that reduces it to something that is simple enough for pub--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: --”for the people to understand.

President Nixon: --œKnowingly publishing stolen goods.-- And endangering the security of Americans.--

Colson: Right.

President Nixon: Enda--”that's the second line: --œEndangering the security of Americans.--

Colson: Yes, sir.

President Nixon: Third--”well, people don't care about the presidency and all that sort of thing, but nevertheless, the--”--endangering the security of Americans.--

Colson: Ehrlichman is working on some very good lines for you tomorrow and of course, I think that will, if you choose to use them at Rochester, is a marvelous opportunity--”

President Nixon: Well, it is--”

Colson: --”[unclear]--”

President Nixon: --”except the problem, Chuck, I have--”I am inhibited to a great extent, I'm afraid, by the fact that the thing is in court. Don't you think so, or not?

Colson: I don't, Mr. President, but--”

President Nixon: Why not?

Colson: --”that subject has to be thought through. For this reason: That what is in court is not an issue of someone's guilt or innocence. It is not an issue of someone's rights being tried on the merits. [With Nixon indicating assent throughout] It is an injunction as to which the executive branch of government must enforce the law and must use every resource to enforce the law, and therefore comments by the chief executive of the United States, who is charged with enforcing the laws about an injunctive action where you are seeking to enforce the law is quite different than commenting on the merits of a case that's being tried before a jury as to whether someone's guilty or innocent. That's a totally different thing. And I think that--”

President Nixon: Yeah, maybe.

Colson: I think the public would respect the fact that the President of the United States is going to use every possible resource to prevent--”

President Nixon: Defend.

Colson: --”a newspaper from violating national security.

President Nixon: Mm-hmm.

Colson: And even if--”it's the fact that it's an injunctive proceeding that makes me feel that you're not treading on--”well, it's . . . it's got to be done carefully, and I think John's--”

President Nixon: Well, anyway, stir up some people on that and we get them going.

Colson: Well, I'll get this--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: I still have Lovestone in the building. I'll get this line about stolen goods into the--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: --”Meany statement and I'll get it up on the Hill this afternoon.

President Nixon: Get it used, repeated by everybody. --œKnowingly publishing stolen goods.-- That's the way to do it. Not stolen--”see, our--”our people don't know how to say anything in simple ways.

Colson: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: Not in terms of knowingly publishing stole--”I mean, stolen--”stolen secure documents. That's--”

Colson: Right.

President Nixon: --”the way [National Security Adviser] Henry [A. Kissinger] would put it. No, that's correct, but the way to--”--knowingly publishing stolen goods--.

Colson: That's it.

President Nixon: People will get that.

Colson: People will understand it.

President Nixon: Sounds like a thief. Sounds like something wrong.

Colson: Well, that's what it is and I think that--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: --”as I say, I think we'll come out--”

President Nixon: And goods that belong to the people. I mean, now basically [unclear]. . .

Colson: [Clears throat.] I think we'll come out on the right side of that issue because I think the--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: --”the New York Times will lose on this. I'm always reminded of [Governor of California Ronald W.] Reagan's comment when he was first running for governor when he was told that the New York Times had endorsed his opponent, and he said, --œWell, they've--”they've only endorsed two people out of state. One is my opponent and one is [President of Cuba Fidel] Castro.-- Fidel Castro. And it just had a hell of a good affect. I just think the Times is a great--”

President Nixon: Yeah. Well--”

Colson: --”enemy to hit on this and I think they deserve it.

President Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. Don't worry, we're going to hit them, as far as this administration is concerned, as long as we live. We are going to hit them.

Colson: Well, I--”

President Nixon: I mean, they're never going to have another opportunity.

Colson: I cheer that. I--”

President Nixon: It's got to be done.

Colson: Yes, sir.

President Nixon: Be done, and they asked for it and now this is the way it's going to be.

Colson: We've been covering the country with editors. We've gotten a good reaction. I must say, I--”

President Nixon: There are some, huh?

Colson: --”I didn't mean to sound negative on that.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: We're about 50--“50. A lot of them say, --œWell, this is a delicate issue when you're talking about----”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: --”--the press----”

President Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

Colson: --”--and freedom of the press----”but others have--”

President Nixon: Some must be outraged. Good God, they wouldn't--”some of them wouldn't publish such a darn thing.

Colson: No, that's right. A lot of them would though. A lot of them wouldn't have published.

President Nixon: Better--”I mean it isn't the war. Good God, there are a lot of people that are against the war that wouldn't do this.

Colson: That's right.

President Nixon: I mean, you could be against the war but you don't break the law. And also, the other idea, breaking the law--”

Colson: Right.

President Nixon: --”is never justified regardless of the cause.

Colson: Right.

President Nixon: No cause justifies breaking the law. And I'd put that one down, will you?

[Telephone in the background rings.]

Colson: Yes, sir.

President Nixon: No cause which--”to which . . . anti-war justifies breaking the law.

Colson: [writing] --œNo cause justifies breaking the law,-- right.

President Nixon: Yeah, and let's--”let's try to get at them. Well, you certainly have a couple of stars in those two young guys.

Colson: They--”

President Nixon: They look, incidentally, that their the two youngest looking 25 year-olds I ever saw.

Colson: [Laughing] Well, they--”

President Nixon: But--”

Colson: --”they look that way to me and I--”

President Nixon: --”but they are--”but they are really attractive. My God, they--”they ought to just come on like gangbusters.

Colson: This fellow [John M.] O'Neill, I--”he was so in awe--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: --”of you, Mr. President, that he just couldn't come on as strongly as he does. He--”I waited with him--”

President Nixon: He came on strong enough.

Colson: Well, he is just so eloquent, but he was--”he walked away--”after that meeting, by the way, he walked away, saying, --œThat's--”that's the finest man. I love that man. I'll do anything for him. I've got--”[laughing] can I start campaigning for him?-- And if you could see that boy on television, you'd--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: --”you'd be awful proud of him. Gosh, he's--”he's--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: --”he's good on his feet. But--”

President Nixon: Let's get him on.

Colson: We'll keep him on. We'll--”

President Nixon: Get him on.

Colson: --”we had him on Face the Nation. We'll have him on--”

President Nixon: Anything you can.

Colson: --”[David] Frost's show, and we're--”we're getting a lot of forums for him.5

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: He's very much in demand.

President Nixon: That's right. That's right.

Colson: But you did a--”

President Nixon: We--”

Colson: --”you did a marvelous job of picking his spirits up. He was about ready to quit. He just--”

President Nixon: Yeah, I know, he's idealistic, but there's no reason for him to quit. That's when you start fighting harder.

Colson: Well, you got him with that one when you were--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: --”quoting about it's important--”it's more important to be right than to be on the winning side. He--”

President Nixon: That's right. And that--”that's the way to be on the winning side, too. But nevertheless, they--”they are two great guys and he's just--”just something. And I think, too, that we'll just keep hammering this. You see, Chuck, I look upon this Times thing as an opportunity. Sure it puts the war--”

Colson: Me too.

President Nixon: --”on the front pages. Of course it does. On the other hand, have in mind this: It's a story that is not having the impact on the country, I lay you money, that it is having here.

Colson: That's true.

President Nixon: Despite the fact that it was on television so much. You know what I mean. The television--”

Colson: That's right.

President Nixon: --”people make a lot--”but it's too confusing to the average guy. New York--”the only problem is that it's getting across--”the television tries to get it across as if we were covering up something about the war.

Colson: Right.

President Nixon: We're not covering up anything about the war. We're covering up who was responsible in that period. It's a fight between Johnson and Kennedy and McNamara and those people.

Colson: Exactly. Exactly.

President Nixon: And they've just got to say that.

Colson: Well, that's the line that eventually will come out, Mr. President. I'm convinced of that.

President Nixon: OK. Hit it hard.

Colson: We'll be doing it, sir.


1 Representative Lucien N. Nedzi, D-Michigan, and Representative Charles W. Whalen Jr., R-Ohio, had also proposed a Vietnam withdrawal deadline. New York Times, 17 June 1971, --œSenate, 55 to 42, Defeats McGovern-Hatfield Plan. (↑)

2 The Senate defeated a proposal to set a deadline for the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. Ibid. (↑)

3 Nixon was referring to the Pentagon Papers series in the Times. He believed, without any evidence, that the Times had published this week to influence the vote on the withdrawal deadline. (↑)

4 Nixon wanted the news media to refer to the Defense Department study of Vietnam decision-making by the names of his two Democratic predecessors as president. (↑)

5 David Frost was the host of the television show Frost On America. (↑)

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