Thursday, June 17, 1971 - 7:37pm - 7:45pm
Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger
White House Telephone

President Nixon: Hello.

White House Operator: [National Security Adviser] Dr. [Henry A.] Kissinger.

Henry Kissinger: Mr. President.

President Nixon: Hello, Henry. I think it's important that you give [Walt] Rostow a call.1 Let me tell you the problem. He's advising [former President Lyndon B.] Johnson against doing a press thing. I think Joh--”they've got to be told very directly that tomorrow I'll have 200 press in Rochester, that I am prepared and I intend to defend Johnson on this whole thing, but that I can't do it unless he's prepared to defend himself. And that--”What they're trying to do, Henry, is just to let us take the heat on this thing. None of their people are speaking up. Now you call him and you tell him that I think that--”

Kissinger: I think he's in Newport right now.

President Nixon: I don't care where he is. Call him and tell--”who is? Johnson?

Kissinger: No, Rostow.

President Nixon: You call Rostow. He ought to get ahold of Johnson. He's advising Johnson against this. Johnson ought to have a press conference. Now, we need it for reasons that you are, I'm sure, quite aware of.

Kissinger: Well, I'm aware of it, Mr. President. But I talked to [former U.S. delegate to the Paris Peace Talks] Bill Jordan and [LBJ Aide] Tom Johnson yesterday on the same topic.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: And I just don't think the information is quite so correct. But I'll call Rostow this minute.

President Nixon: You don't think it's correct that he's--”

Kissinger: I do not--”

President Nixon: I don't think he's going to have one.

Kissinger: I believe he has no intention of having one. But I don't believe that Rostow is the chief obstacle. I just don't think that he wants to have one.

President Nixon: Why?

Kissinger: I will call--”

President Nixon: Why won't he have one?

Kissinger: Well, I didn't discuss a press conference. I said that there should be some statements and some activity from them, and they said since they were--”

President Nixon: Well, you ought to tell Rostow this: That unless he has a press conference, I'm not prepared to defend him. Now just as cold as that. They've just got to know. I'm not going to defend him, why should I?

Kissinger: Well, I don't think you should defend Johnson anyway. I think you should defend the presidency. I don't think you should get into the issue of what Johnson did.

President Nixon: I'm not going to. But on the other hand, it amounts to a defense of Johnson, you know, when you really get down to it. They say --œI don't think this is proper, you know, to put one side of the whole case out and not of the whole case and that sort of thing.-- That's defending Johnson.

Kissinger: Sure, Mr. President, I will call Rostow about the press conference thing, but I think you should concentrate on the theft of document and on the unconscionable way of attacking somebody without giving him any chance of rebuttal, explaining where the documents came from and so forth. That I think is unanswerable. When we say --œout of context,-- then they'll say, well, why don't you supply the context?

President Nixon: Well, I'd chat with Rostow a bit about it, see if he is--”

Kissinger: I will chat with Rostow.

President Nixon: --”[former Nixon adviser Bryce N.] Harlow's report is that Rostow's advising against it, so let's see what he says. OK?

Kissinger: I will call him.

President Nixon: Because Johnson should go to the mat on this. He really should.

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: He should speak up. Don't you think so?

Kissinger: Well . . .

President Nixon: Not for his interest, but for ours.

Kissinger: Frankly, I think they're also eager to . . . well, it would certainly get a tremendous brawl started between Johnson and the press.

President Nixon: That's right, and it'd get off of us. You see what I mean?

Kissinger: Well, it would get it off us on the immediate problem, but it would also drag the whole issue down to the level of --œwas Johnson guilty or not--?

President Nixon: That's a hell of a lot better than having whether I was guilty or not, Henry, that's my point. We've got to get the--”

Kissinger: I believe, I honestly believe that this episode can be turned into an asset if we go on the offensive and say that these people are deliberately undermining confidence in government and that that's what it's all about. That what you're resisting is the flaunting of laws and the principle that the ends justify the means and the so-called higher morality. I simply don't find this--”I just had Jerry Schecter in here from Time. Now, I know they never write it the way they talk.

President Nixon: Yeah, that's for sure.

Kissinger: Well, I immediately go on the attack. I always--”I said, --œNow, I just don't understand how you people can even--”-- He began by saying, --œHow do we know you people aren't doing the same thing?-- And I said, --œDon't you give me that language.-- I said, --œHow do I know you're not stealing papers all over the place?-- And they don't feel at all confident of themselves. I have yet to meet a newsman who really is sticking to the Times for anything other than guilt loyalty. But I may not see a representative sample.

President Nixon: Well, I just want to be sure Rostow doesn't--”

Kissinger: But I will talk to Rostow and tell him--”

President Nixon: Well, chat with him about it. See what he thinks and let me know what he says. OK?

Kissinger: Right, Mr. President.


1 Walt W. Rostow was President Lyndon B. Johnson's national security adviser. (↑)

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