Editors' Note: The sound quality of this recording is poor.
President Nixon: Hello?
White House Operator: [National Security Adviser] Mr. [Henry A.] Kissinger∇, sir. There you are.
President Nixon: Well, you all—
Henry A. Kissinger: Mr. President.
President Nixon: —all ready for your trip?1
Kissinger: I’m getting ready. I just got home from the office a little while ago and just getting things together.
President Nixon: Well—
Kissinger: I’ll look in on you in the morning before I go away. I won’t leave actually until ten, ten thirty.
President Nixon: Well, [unclear].
President Nixon: I’m not going to be a goddamn bit conciliatory on this [unclear]. “Mike, you should know [unclear] just hope this is not going to give the enemy the wrong impression.”
Kissinger: [Unclear.] Because what these people have done is unconscionable. One looks at the combination of [former Defense Secretary Clark M.] Clifford, the [Pentagon] Papers, and now this.3 It is unforgivable, because everyone who wanted to make a record had a chance to do it upon McGovern∇-Hatfield.4 So they had their chance at it, and if it had stopped at that point we would have been in good shape.
President Nixon: Well, we played it the best way we could.
Kissinger: We had no choice, I mean we—
President Nixon: [Unclear] misinterpreted [unclear] the negotiations.
Kissinger: That’s right. But I’m beginning to wonder whether as a basic strategy, at least from the way the foreign policy side looks to me, Mr. President, we had them on their knees last October, and whatever it was that didn’t get us all the votes [unclear] I think it had more to do with the economy.
President Nixon: Oh, it did, yes [unclear].
Kissinger: [Unclear.] Then we let them off the hook.
President Nixon: Yep. Well, we’ll have more—
Kissinger: But we can still—
President Nixon: We’ll have more—
Kissinger: We still have this big whole card.
President Nixon: We’ll have them on their knees again.
President Nixon: [Unclear] from now on [unclear] them a damn thing and just do it.
President Nixon: [Unclear.]
Kissinger: But we have to start hollering “treason” a little bit.
President Nixon: Yeah, I guess so. Oh, I think so. I think so. When I think—you say, “we.” I really can’t do it.
Kissinger: No, no, but [Vice President Spiro T.] Agnew could it. And some of our people could do it, and then they’d have to defend themselves.
President Nixon: I wonder if Agnew shouldn’t say something about that on Friday [unclear] speech [unclear].
Kissinger: I think it’d be a good occasion.
President Nixon: [Unclear.]
Kissinger: I think he should give a rip-snorter of a speech pointing out what happened this month. And [White House Speechwriter Patrick J.] Buchanan∇ could probably do it.
President Nixon: In the morning, why don’t you tell Buchanan what you think he ought to include [unclear] making a speech on Vietnam to the Young Republicans’ convention. And it’s just as good a place as any.
Kissinger: I think [unclear]—
President Nixon: It doesn’t make a difference what the forum is. He just lays it out there.
Kissinger: I think so, Mr. President. Of course, they have a desire to lose. They couldn’t bear the thought that we bring this—they’re not so worried about our getting out. They’re worried about our getting out without Saigon going Communist.
President Nixon: [Chuckles.] Yeah. They’re afraid it—they want us to get out and have it go Communist, though.
Kissinger: Oh, yes. Absolutely.
President Nixon: Mainly because they want us to [unclear].
Kissinger: Because that means you have failed, and they can say they would have done it faster.
President Nixon: Doing their best.
Kissinger: Well, except these [Pentagon] Papers are not helping them, Mr. President.
President Nixon: I don’t think they are, either.
Kissinger: I don’t know. And in fact, I’ll make such a tough fight [unclear].
President Nixon: What?
Kissinger: Our public relations people don’t like the fight we’re making, but our making it makes it clear that we’re not behind these revelations. I mean, even [Sen. Edward M. “Ted”] Kennedy [D-Massachusetts] is getting tarred now.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Kissinger: I mean, these were the great [President John F.] Kennedy people who did all of this.
President Nixon: I know.
Kissinger: Even in the [Lyndon B.] Johnson administration, those were all Kennedy appointees.
President Nixon: Sure. Yeah, as it goes along, they’re going to get pretty well knocked, smeared up with this thing.
Kissinger: Well, and it’s coming out anyway, bit by bit over our opposition.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Kissinger: The the Boston Globe papers now have the first direct slap at Kennedy. [Rep. Paul M. “Pete”] McCloskey [R-California] is now saying that [former U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Henry Cabot] Lodge∇ contributed to the assassination of [former South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh] Diem∇ on Kennedy’s orders.
President Nixon: McCloskey is?
Kissinger: Oh, yeah.
President Nixon: Well, that’s nice.
Kissinger: So McCloskey is screaming that [on the] one hand the Americans pretended to be his friend. On the other they were killing him. Which happens to be true.
President Nixon: Yeah. Let him say it. That’s a good one to say it.
Kissinger: And it’s now coming out from the sort of—if we said it, they’d accuse us of smear. But it’s now coming out from the right people.
President Nixon: The peaceniks.
Kissinger: The peaceniks, and it’s coming out over our violent opposition.
President Nixon: [Unclear.] I agree. I think . . . I’m inclined to think we’re [unclear] And in any event, it’s one of those things where you [unclear] response [unclear]. Let me say, make your play. It may still work.
Kissinger: Yes, sir.
President Nixon: Play it hard. Play it hard.
Kissinger: Mr. President, I’m absolutely [unclear] about this. We’ll play it hard. You’ve suffered this thing to this point, and we’re going to . . . and then we’ve got the other one which is only two weeks away.5
President Nixon: That’s right.
Kissinger: And then when I come out to San Clemente the 12th, we’ll know where the cards are.
President Nixon: Yes, sir.
Kissinger: By that time we’ll have heard from our other pals, [unclear] and then we’ve got our [unclear].
President Nixon: Know which we have and which we haven’t.
Kissinger: We’ll know which we have, which we haven’t, what we can say, what we can’t say. And then we’ve got another two months to play them brutally.
President Nixon: OK, Henry. [Unclear.]
Kissinger: [Unclear] Mr. President.
1 Kissinger was leaving for a brief public visit to London and a clandestine trip from there to Paris, where he would hold a secret negotiating session with the North Vietnamese. (↑)
2 The Senate earlier that day had approved Mansfield’s proposal to withdraw American troops from Vietnam in nine months if Hanoi freed American prisoners of war (POWs). (↑)
3 Clifford had recently stated that the administration could negotiate the release of the POWs in 30 days and an end to America’s involvement in Vietnam by the end of 1971. (↑)
4 Kissinger refers to an amendment sponsored by Sen. George S. McGovern, D-South Dakota, and Sen. Mark O. Hatfield, R-Oregon, that would require the President to bring the troops home by the end of 1971. (↑)
5 Kissinger refers to his upcoming secret trip to China. (↑)