Wednesday, June 23, 1971 - 2:29pm - 2:44pm
Richard Nixon, Edward Hebert, Melvin Laird

President Nixon: Hello?

White House Operator: I have Congressman [F. Edward] Hébert [D-Louisiana]. [Unclear] on the line, sir.

President Nixon: Hello?

F. Edward Hébert: Mr. President.

President Nixon: Mr. Chairman, I just wanted to tell you that I was very grateful in reading the news reports last night and this morning for your statement on that House-Senate Conference.1 I'll tell you, boy, without stand-up guys like you, we might as well call [Chairman of the American delegation to the Paris Peace Talks] Mr. [David K.E.] Bruce home.

Hébert: [Laughs.]

President Nixon: That's the truth.

Hébert: Ah, he did good.

President Nixon: That's right.

Hébert: A good citizen just walked in here now.

President Nixon: Is that right?

Hébert: One [Defense Secretary] Melvin R. Laird.

President Nixon: Oh, yeah.

Hébert: Can you vouch for him?

President Nixon: Now listen, don't leave any secret papers around while he's there.

Hébert: I won't leave any secret papers around.

President Nixon: He's afraid he's going to haul it out.

Hébert: [Laughs.]

President Nixon: Incidentally, though, on that, I do want you to know that I'm most grateful. And actually, Ed, I hope that you can, I mean, in the conference, I mean--”

Hébert: Yeah.

President Nixon: All you need is frankly just to take out some of that language. You know what I mean. After all, the House has voted one way, the Senate has [unclear]. And as I told [White House Press Secretary Ronald L.] Ziegler to point out, the Senate's only one-half the Congress.

Hébert: Only one-half the Congress, and I'm going to have a very short conference. I think I'm only going to put about five men on the conference.

President Nixon: Is that right?

Hébert: Yeah, from our side.

President Nixon: Right.

Hébert: Only the guys with with powder dry will be held--”

President Nixon: Well, can you have good strong men?

Hébert: Oh, I'm going to have strong men. [Unclear.]

President Nixon: Right, right. Who'll be on the other side?

Hébert: It'll be [Representative] Les [Arends, D-Illinois] and [Representative Alvin E.] O'Konski [R-Wisconsin]. Les, of course, will be [unclear] Les will be one.

President Nixon: Who will be on the Senate side?

Hébert: On our side, it'll be--”

President Nixon: Hébert.

Hébert: --”Hébert, [Representative O. Clark] Fisher [D-Texas], and, oh, what the hell . . . and [Representative Charles] Mel Price [D-Illinois].

President Nixon: Oh, that's a good bunch.

Hébert: No, we're solid. We--”

President Nixon: Right. Now, what about the Senate side? Who will they have? [Unclear.]

Hébert: I haven't the slightest idea. Well, you can't--”

President Nixon: Well, in any event, I'll tell you why this language is so important. We just need, as I've said several times, Eddy, we can't hope, and we are in the process now, I can tell you, of conducting--”of trying to conduct some negotiations. The time will come when we can't do anything, and we'll know it. But we just really need to get any kind of directive out--”

Hébert: That's why--”

President Nixon: Because put yourself in the position of the enemy. If the enemy says they're going to get out anyway, hell they ain't going to negotiate with you.

Hébert: Well, hell, all they've done, Mr. President, on this thing is just nine months is the same that amendment as offered before.

President Nixon: Sure.

Hébert: It doesn't mean anything else.

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

Hébert: No, no, don't worry. I'm going to stand pat. They won't have a bill.

President Nixon: Right, good [laughs]. Incidentally, on this [Pentagon] Paper thing.

Hébert: Yeah, that's why we're meeting here [unclear].

President Nixon: Mel will fill you in. Can I get him on the phone? I want to tell him what to say to you.

Hébert: Listen, I think we can work this thing out. My suggestion is--”

President Nixon: Select Committee?

Hébert: --”if I get ahold of those Papers, I'll handle them that nobody's going to get ahold of them.

President Nixon: Right. Well, the main thing is we'll, as you know, it's no skin off our back, but we've got to protect the security of our sources.

Hébert: I know. [with President Nixon assenting throughout] We've got to do it, and I'll explain--”Mel just got here--”I haven't had time to explain what I have in mind. If I get ahold of them and they send them here in regular order, I'll make such conditions and rules that we won't have many visitors. And we'll know exactly what they are, and I'll have printed in big letters the criminal implications.2

President Nixon: Yeah. The other thing is, of course, that on the Senate side is that--”

Hébert: Well, that's their problem.

President Nixon: We don't know. OK. Well, fine. You tell Laird if anything gets out I'm going to blame it on him and not you.

Hébert: Blame it on him. Wait a minute, here he is.

President Nixon: Him and not you.

Hébert: [Laughs.] OK.

Unclear aside.

Melvin R. Laird: Yes, Mr. President.

President Nixon: I just told the chairman, as I said if any papers leaked while you were up there I was going to blame it on you and not him.

Laird: [Laughs.] I know that's probably [unclear].

President Nixon: [Laughs.] Well, he's sure a stand-up guy.

Laird: Yeah.

President Nixon: That's great. Yeah, I hope that if they, you know, they've been talking, they've been talking, they don't know what they're going to do, a Joint Committee or House and Senate or what . . . but what do you think they'll finally come up with?3

Laird: They won't go joint.

President Nixon: They won't.

Laird: No.

President Nixon: All right, fine. Well, let's tell the House to get out front and have its hearings first.

Laird: And, they--”

President Nixon: Oh, well.

Laird: They just won't--”

President Nixon: I understand.

Laird: --”go that way.

President Nixon: Well, that's all right, that's all right. Each will do its own way.

Laird: And I think we can't really . . .

President Nixon: No, no, we can't say.

Laird: We can't say that.

President Nixon: It's up to them. Up to them. Up to them. Right.

Laird: [House Speaker] Carl [Albert, D-Oklahoma] feels rather strongly about it and so does Eddy and [House Minority Leader] Jerry [Ford, R-Michigan].

President Nixon: Sure. Well, look, whatever the House wants, I'm for.

Laird: Yeah.

President Nixon: OK.

Laird: OK. Fine, Mr. President.

President Nixon: Bye.


1 While the Senate had voted to withdraw American troops from Vietnam in nine months if Hanoi freed the prisoners of war, the House had not. (↑)

2 In other words, Hebert will set conditions for lawmakers to read the Pentagon Papers that will discourage them from doing so, including a threat of criminal penalty for violations of the rules. (↑)

3 Nixon refers to possible Congressional hearings on the Pentagon Papers. (↑)

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