Tuesday, June 29, 1971
Richard Nixon, John Mitchell
White House Telephone

White House Operator: The Attorney [General]—

President Nixon: Hello?

John Mitchell: Yes, Mr. President.

President Nixon: John, the way I feel about this case is that . . . first, in terms of discipline, [J. Edgar] Hoover is right; in terms of his decision he was wrong. You know what I mean, about not questioning [Louis] Marx, because he—of personal considerations. But in terms of our overall situation, he just cannot—and I really feel that you have to tell him this—he cannot, with my going tomorrow to address the FBI graduation, and also with the [Daniel] Ellsberg case being the issue, he cannot take anything which causes dissension within the FBI ranks. It's just—it's just going to raise holy hell. They'll say, "This crotchety old man did it again," see. That's my feeling about it.

Mitchell: Well, I don't think there's any doubt about it, Mr. President. I think this might be the last straw as far as he's concerned.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Mitchell: They—and this, of course, as you point out, he does have a paper case.

President Nixon: Sure.

Mitchell: The only question that I had in my mind [was] whether he will take this from me or whether you have to talk to him about it.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Mitchell: That's the only question I have.

President Nixon: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Well, I'll tell you what I'd like to do. Why don't you just say that I—it came to my attention, that I've heard about it. That I feel very strongly—I'll be glad to talk to him about it, but I—I feel—I understand the disciplinary thing, but I think the primary consideration is, we must not have anything with regard to Ellsberg to reflect on Edgar Hoover, and I—and he just has got to find a way to handle it that does not do that.

Mitchell: All right, sir.

President Nixon: And just tell him that, and then if it's needed for me to call, I'll back it up. I'll back it up.

Mitchell: All right, sir. Let me .

President Nixon: You tell him, "I've talked to the President and Edgar, he doesn't want to embarrass you in a disciplinary matter where he has overruled the director, but he feels ''very'' strongly. He's coming over there to the FBI, you know, and after all, we—and he knows that discipline is important, but he feels very strongly that we must not have the Ellsberg thing be a reason for dissension in the Bureau. That could raise holy hell." Could that be all right?

Mitchell: Yes, sir.

President Nixon: Want to try it?

Mitchell: We'll try it that way and see how it flies.

President Nixon: Right. Yeah.

Mitchell: I would hope that he doesn't blow his stack and leave the fold. I don't believe he will.

President Nixon: Well, if he does now, I'll be ready. I'll be ready to talk to him.

Mitchell: All right, sir.

President Nixon: But—absolutely. But he just—he just—I just don't—just say that we've got to keep our eye on the main ball. The main ball is Ellsberg. We've got to get this son of a bitch. And you know, I was talking to somebody over here yesterday, I mean one of our . . . the PR [public relations] types, and they're saying, "well, maybe we ought to drop the case if the Supreme Court doesn't sustain and so forth." And I said, "Hell, no. I mean you can't do that. You can't be in a position of having," as I said this morning, "we can't be in a position of ever allowing, just because some guy is going to be martyr, of allowing the fellow to get away with this kind of wholesale thievery, or otherwise it's going to happen all over the government." Don't you agree?

Mitchell: Quite. I think that we're just going to have to do this.

President Nixon: That's right.

Mitchell: Otherwise we lose all credibility.

President Nixon: Well, and let me say, too, don't figure the PR is too bad either. It can turn around the other way. People don't like people that are thieves.

Mitchell: Now all that people have to do is look at this guy on television and—

President Nixon: Yeah.

Mitchell: —his name and so forth, and—

President Nixon: Right. Good.

Mitchell: You've got a hell of a lot going for you right off the bat.

President Nixon: Now if you will handle it—but I'll be here if I'm needed. I feel it's very important not to allow anything now. We've got to have a united front on Ellsberg. That's the main thing. Do you think that can work with him, or not? I don't know.

Mitchell: I think it will, particularly coming from you.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Mitchell: And—

President Nixon: Just say that I heard about it, and that I'm coming over to make this strong statement on the Bureau tomorrow. OK. All right. Bye.

Mitchell: Very good, sir. Will do.

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