Thursday, June 17, 1971 - 6:38pm - 6:45pm
Richard Nixon, Charles Colson
White House Telephone

President Nixon: [aside to White House Press Secretary Ronald L. Ziegler] Now, any foreign trip of mine they're never to be on in the future--”just cut off. Yeah?

White House Operator: [White House Political Operative] Mr. [Charles W. --œChuck--] Colson, sir. There you are.

President Nixon: Yeah?

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

President Nixon: What success has [former Counsellor to the President] Bryce [Harlow] had, if any, with [former President Lyndon B.] Johnson? This is terribly important, and--”

Colson: Oh, I think it is.

President Nixon: --”Johnson's got to step up to this, and he's got to step up to it on the basis that there is a hell of a lot going to come out on a lot of other things, too.

Colson: Well, that's right. He--”

President Nixon: For the good of the country. If I have to step up, he's got to.

Colson: Well, I think, Bryce called, he got Mike Manatos on the phone with him. Mike was very close with [Lyndon B. Johnson] LBJ as you know and they called Tom Johnson. Johnson called back and they passed that message on that they felt very strongly that he had to defend himself and hold a press conference, that his silence could be misinterpreted.

President Nixon: Right. Particularly after what Senator Hubert [Humphrey] [D-Minnesota]1 said, that horrible thing.

Colson: That's right. They--”

President Nixon: Also, why don't they tell him it'll help his book?

Colson: That's right.

President Nixon: Good God.

Colson: They got a call back and they said that [Walt W.] Rostow2 had been working with President Johnson on this and that Rostow was against his saying anything while the case was pending.

President Nixon: Well, the case--”Oh, no, no, no, that's just an excuse.

Colson: It's an excuse.

President Nixon: Because Rostow just doesn't want to get him involved and put all the blame on us, that's all.

Colson: Exactly.

President Nixon: That's all. [sounds of ice in a glass]

Colson: Harlow and Manatos called back again at four o'clock this afternoon and they said that they felt as friends of LBJ's that is was imperative that he defend himself immediately and that he--”

President Nixon: It will not effect the case.

Colson: That's right. And they've been--”

President Nixon: He's been condemned in the public press. Right now he is a villain.

Colson: That's right.

President Nixon: If he doesn't defend himself, he'll go down in history and by God, I'll quit defending him. If he doesn't get this message across, if he doesn't defend himself, I can no longer defend him.

Colson: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

President Nixon: Now, I want--”have you got that down?

Colson: Yes, sir.

President Nixon: He must be told that I cannot defend him. Of course, tomorrow in Rochester I've got to defend him. But I can't do it if he won't defend himself.

Colson: I think that's a very good point. Bryce can get that across to him tomorrow. Bryce is going to call him personally--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: --”in the morning. Give him over night to think about it--”

President Nixon: Just got--”got to make it clear. Tell Bryce to call him tonight. He's got to call him tonight. This is--”

Colson: All right.

President Nixon: He's got to get ready. He's got to say --œlook, the President is going to Rochester tomorrow. He is going to speak out on this thing. But the President cannot defend you unless you will defend yourself.--

Colson: All right. That will suggest to LBJ that you talked to Bryce, but that's all right.

President Nixon: That's all right. That's all right that I talked to him and I think he's got to defend himself. I'm willing to--”I'm going to defend him but, he's got to defend himself or I can't do it. I can't sit up here and take the brunt of all of this without his defending himself.

Colson: Well, I--”

President Nixon: Nobody else is speaking up. [Clark] Clifford3 isn't speaking up.

Colson: [Unclear.]

President Nixon: [Robert S.] McNamara4 isn't speaking up. Bundy5 is cracking him. Humphrey is slaughtering him--”

Colson: Right.

President Nixon: [Senator Edmund S.] Muskie [D-Maine] is killing him.

Colson: [Dean] Rusk6 is refusing to talk. [Edward M.] Teddy Kennedy [D-Massachusetts] is saying go ahead and release the papers.

President Nixon: Rusk isn't talking? What is Teddy saying?

Colson: Teddy says, --œI don't mind. Go ahead and release all the papers involving my brother. It won't bother me. Let history come out. Let the chips fall,-- he said. Being the [unclear]--”

President Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Because he knows damn well the New York Times will suppress the type on Bob--”on Teddy that will hurt him.

Colson: That's right. That's right. Exactly.

President Nixon: On his brother.

Colson: On Jack.

President Nixon: Son of a bitch.

Colson: Well, it's a--”

President Nixon: It's really a cruel thing. But we're going to get out some papers. I read the act to [National Security Adviser] Henry [A. Kissinger] and he is going to get out the stuff on the murder of Diem7 and we're going to put it out.

Colson: Henry has that and we should find a way to get it out at the right--”

President Nixon: Well, he doesn't have it. He doesn't--”he has it but it doesn't want to put it out. He's embarrassed.

Colson: Well, there'll be ways that will get out. I heard today, which is strictly grapevine, that the Washington Post had all of this and intended to start publishing, so that may well happen.

President Nixon: What? On the [unclear] on?

Colson: On the next chapters, the next sequels.

President Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

Colson: One way or another, that will get out, Mr. President, I'm sure. We'll see that it does.

President Nixon: What a depraved thing that these papers would just publish things without regard to the national interest.

Colson: Well, it is. We . . . the Teamsters are seriously considering--”this is very off the record--”

President Nixon: Mm-hmm.

Colson: They are seriously considering stopping delivery of delivery of the New York Times if--”

President Nixon: Oh God, if they could that would be great.

Colson: Wouldn't that be marvelous? Well, they're giving it some very serious thought, and--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: That just might have a hell of an effect. If--”

President Nixon: [Unclear.]

Colson: Their argument is that the New York Times can judge what's national security, so can the Teamsters.

President Nixon: Well, tell them that, let them know that, you know, in a confidential way--”

Colson: In a nice way.

President Nixon: --”nothing will be more appreciated.

Colson: Well, I--”

President Nixon: Believe me, there is nothing that could be more effective. I mean, stop these bastards. Put it to the--”let them know that the folks are not on their side.

Colson: Well, that would show that the people aren't going to just put up with this. I think we have a chance of getting them to do it. They seem pretty receptive.

President Nixon: That's right. But now we've got to get Johnson to go on the press conference. I'm not going to--”I can't continue to defend him. I'm defending him.

Colson: No, I agree. I--”

President Nixon: [Treasury Secretary John B.] Connally said in this NSC today, he says --œthey aren't blaming Johnson. He's down in Pedernales.8 They're blaming --˜the President.'--

Colson: That's right.

President Nixon: They don't know who the hell is president.

Colson: That's correct.

President Nixon: And this thing has not gotten across, you know. [White House Press Secretary Ronald L.] Ziegler said it but nobody's gotten it across that this has all happened to Johnson. This is not us.

Colson: Well, exactly. And that's exactly why this morning why I got very worked up about this over this and talked to Bryce. Because it seems to me that if Johnson starts defending it, at least it shifts the focus back to the Johnson administration.

President Nixon: He's got to defend it. He's got to defend it. Or, put it this way to Johnson: either he defends himself or I have no choice but to take another--”but to let the chips fall where they may. Just use those terms.

Colson: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: I have no choice. He's got to defend himself.

Colson: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: Because I cannot do it. I cannot carry this load unless he will do it himself. He has got to defend himself. I don't want to blame him for the war. I don't want to blame him for these decisions. But if he doesn't, I have no choice but to go in the other direction. Put it that way.

Colson: I kind of think that will have an impact on him because I'm sure--”

President Nixon: Right, right.

Colson: --”according to Bryce, he is terribly upset. The Texas papers are giving it very heavy play and he's apparently reading the papers--”

President Nixon: Right.

Colson: --”and throwing them around the office--”

President Nixon: Yeah.

Colson: --”and just upset as hell.

President Nixon: But he has got to say that the President wants to defend you.

Colson: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: I defended him--”I'll defend him in regard into getting into the war. I defend the fact that whatever he knew that he wasn't lying. I don't think he lied. I think this is just a contingency plan. But if he will not defend himself, I will have no choice but also to refuse to defend him, and I don't want to do that. But he's got to step up and defend himself Saturday or--”and I've got to know before I appear before the press on Friday afternoon.

Colson: Sure.

President Nixon: Now, I got to know by tonight. Now you tell Bryce to get off his ass and do this now.

Colson: I'll do it.

President Nixon: OK.

Colson: And then I'll get the message back to you, sir.

President Nixon: Fine.


1 Senator Humphrey was vice president under former President Johnson. (↑)

2 Walt W. Rostow was the national security adviser under former President Johnson. (↑)

3 Clark Clifford was secretary of defense under former President Johnson from 1968 to 1969. (↑)

4 Robert S. McNamara was secretary of defense under former Presidents Kennedy and Johnson from 1961 to 1968. (↑)

5 McGeorge Bundy was national security adviser under former Presidents Kennedy and Johnson from 1961 to 1966. (↑)

6 Dean Rusk was secretary of state under former President Johnson. (↑)

7 Ngo Dihn Diem was the first president of South Vietnam. (↑)

8 The LBJ Ranch near Johnson City, Texas, bordered the Pedernales River. (↑)

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