President Nixon: [9:24a] Well, I was going to ask you a little what you thought about the—[tape skips] I was, I think that story in the Times should cause everybody here great concern—[tape skips] give a damn what happens [unclear] except Elliot [unclear]—[tape skips] [unclear]—[tape skips] [unclear] you know, we get into that, you know [unclear]—
H.R. “Bob” Haldeman∇: But really only short term. None of it matters later.
President Nixon: What I mean is the campaign. [Unclear]—
President Nixon: They’ll pull out—drag out this or that. But most people [unclear] just [unclear] around.
Haldeman: Well, like [former Health, Education and Welfare Department Office for Civil Rights Director Leon E.] Panetta—
President Nixon: Yeah, that [unclear] bunch of crap. [Unclear.]—[tape skips] Bob, is that’s [unclear], that’s the most unbelievable thing, you know, that’s treasonable due to the fact that it’s—aid the enemy. There’s an enemy, and it released the classified documents. God, you remember how much we made out of the [Alger] Hiss Case?2 A few little Pumpkin Papers—
Haldeman: [Unclear] slipping a little [unclear] for one guy.
President Nixon: Ten years old! Huh? But turning stuff over to the [unclear]. This turns it over to the enemy and puts the whole damn thing right out there in the paper—[tape skips] I am concerned about Henry [Kissinger∇]’s staff still, you know, I don’t have the confidence, because I asked him. I said, ‘Now, look here, [unclear]—[tape skips] as he mentions a guy by the name of [Leslie] Gelb∇.
Haldeman: Over at—Murray Ge—I mean—
President Nixon: G-e-l-b. At Brookings.3
Haldeman: Yeah, I know, over at Brookings. Because we—
President Nixon: [Unclear.]
Haldeman: Well, they knew he had all these files. This is the thing—
President Nixon: Well, why didn’t we go get them, then?
Haldeman: Well, remember, I talked to you about that a year ago. Tom [Charles] Huston∇ was all alarmed. He was in here, and said they have all this—this file and everything. They’ve got it over at Brookings. They’ve moved it out of the Defense Department—copies out of the Defense—the Pentagon—shipped the whole file over there. And he argued—and we had . . . we had some discussions about it. He argued that what we should do is send some people in on a routine—they have a secure safe over there to hold this stuff in. Move some people in on a routine security check, find this stuff in it and confiscate it and walk out. And [unclear]—
President Nixon: Why didn’t we do it, Bob?
Haldeman: I don’t know. But here, this sure shows it. I’m not sure as a matter of fact that this is precisely the same material. There is other material in there, too.
President Nixon: [Tape skips] [unclear]—[tape skips].
Haldeman: Yeah, but there’s a lot of copies of this one. There’s some other stuff that there are only three copies of, one of which is over at Brookings, according to Huston. Huston is an alarmist, but [foreign policy adviser] Dick Allen was an alarmist when he said we ought to cut out [Stuart] Symington’s [unclear] and we didn’t do that.
President Nixon: [Unclear] Henry’s the one [unclear: overlapping voices].
Haldeman: We’ve been hurt badly by it.
President Nixon: We have. Now Henry [unclear] There’s another one that’s involved in this, is [Morton] Halperin∇.
Haldeman: That’s right. Halperin and Sam [sic] Gelb have been working together.
President Nixon: How much does Halperin know? For example, does he know about the Menu series?4 Haldeman: I’m not sure.
President Nixon: Henry talks an awful lot. [Tape skips] passion for talking—telling people what he’s doing. [Tape skips] staff [unclear]—[tape skips] That’s just four times as great an opportunity for it to leak. You don’t need [unclear] translator—
Haldeman: Well, the way to get him on that is just to remind him who he took with him to Paris.
President Nixon: [Anthony] Lake.
Haldeman: And is he really happy that Tony Lake is bouncing around—
President Nixon: Sitting there with that information.
Haldeman: Right. Plus—and it’s more dangerous now, in my view. It wasn’t as dangerous when he was working for [Edmund] Muskie as it is now, because now he’s out of a job. [Tape skips] that—
President Nixon: No.
Haldeman: [Tape skips] you know, therefore I’m sure he wouldn’t leak it. He wouldn’t use that information. Well, bullshit. You know, if you’d ask [unclear]—
President Nixon: Bob, [unclear]. Remember?
President Nixon: Remember? He took him, said he was very bright, and he thought he was honorable.
Haldeman: Brightest guy we’ve got. ‘You can’t make me fire him.’
President Nixon: That’s right.
Haldeman: We finally did.
President Nixon: That’s right. And he was not honorable. He was not honorable. And neither is Gelb. Remember, [J.] Edgar Hoover was right on Halperin. Remember, he was the one that put the finger on him.
Haldeman: The bugs showed the—
President Nixon: Yeah.
Haldeman: The taps showed that Halperin—5
President Nixon: Neil Sheehan of the Times is a bastard. He’s been a bastard for years on Vietnam. He got this stuff [unclear]—
Haldeman: [Tape skips] working on it a long time. Klein says the team that’s on it has been on—he’s checked [unclear: back now and then?]. The team has been on leave or has been submerged for three months.
President Nixon: Boy, if I were the publisher of a great newspaper, I wouldn’t print this stuff. [Tape skips] top secret information.
Haldeman: I don’t understand why we don’t—I understand, I mean, [Al] Haig∇ tells me we’ve got to not react and all . . .
President Nixon: I’m not so sure of that.
Haldeman: But if . . . what’s the use of the classification system? Why the hell do we classify anything if a newspaper feels no compunctions about printing it?
President Nixon: [Tape skips] Let me say that they’ll get the war thing when we get it done. Then I think the thing to do is to, see, there’s a—just put down—find out what the statute of limitations [unclear] I mean, there’s—I think it’s plenty long on this sort of thing. [Tape skips] think we could do much—
President Nixon: But if the statute of limitations is a year, then we’ve got a year—I know it would be shorter than that—then we just go ahead and put—subpoena all these bastards and bring the case and just keep it impaneled. [Tape skips] no use in checking it—[tape skips] What I’m concerned about, Bob, is Henry’s staff and his own—and his people, you know. [Tape skips] Chrissakes, he went over and talked to Brookings people himself. I warned him about it. I said, Henry, don’t go over there. You know, I said, those people—that’s, that’s the Democratic National Committee!
Haldeman: That’s right.
President Nixon: We don’t have one man at Brookings, Bob. Now, would you please remind George Shultz∇ that [former Budget Director] Charlie Schultze is the guy at Brookings? You understand? So does he still want Charlie Schultze around? They play the game that way, Bob. They are a bunch of bastards. They’ll lie, cheat, anything—and then squeal when somebody else does. See, basically that’s what gets back to the whole Hiss syndrome. The intellectual, the intellectuals all defended Hiss because, basically, they have no morals.
Haldeman: Well, this thing, too, is clearly—it seems to me it hurts us in that it puts the war back up into a higher attention level, but the facts in it—
President Nixon: Hurt the other side.
Haldeman: —don’t hurt us politically so much. They hurt the others. But what they really hurt, and this is what the intellectuals—and one of the motivations of the Times must be—is it hurts the government. What it says is—[Donald] Rumsfeld∇ was making this point this morning—what it says is, to the ordinary guy, all this is a bunch of gobbledygook. But out of the gobbledygook comes a very clear thing, which is: You can’t trust the government, you can’t believe what they say and you can’t rely on their judgment. And that the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this, because it shows that people do things the president wants to do even though it’s wrong. And the president can be wrong.
President Nixon: [Unclear] Suppose all the elements of the—[Franklin D.] Roosevelt’s involvement—documents of the World War II era came out. You know, how he knew what was happening, and he did it deliberately. I mean, the Pearl Harbor thing was ungodly.
Haldeman: Well, you had that one article by that admiral, what’s his name, that U.S. News carried, that told that whole story and there was—but it was never official. It was—and it could be discredited, because it was just one guy’s testimony. This stuff is out of official files. You can’t discredit this stuff.
President Nixon: Well, so much for that. The story’s out, and there’s nothing we can do about it. I guess.
Haldeman: [Tape skips] my feeling is that we shouldn’t. At least Haig’s urging was that we shouldn’t do anything about it until we know what—let’s see what we’ve got. And that by doing anything we would only escalate it more.
President Nixon: I think he’s right.
Haldeman: It’ll be interesting now to see how the other papers and the TV and all pick this up. But I can’t imagine they’re going to let it lie.
President Nixon: [Unclear.]
Haldeman: I would think they’d be doing white papers on it, everybody [unclear] I mean, Christ, it’s just grist for the mill that—
President Nixon: Right.
Haldeman: —won’t quit.
President Nixon: [Tape skips] but you see, when he was in charge [unclear] because . . .
Haldeman: The other interesting thing will be to see what the Times decides to print and what they don’t out of—they picked an interesting time in—chronologically, they didn’t start at the beginning. They chronologically started at Tonkin∇, and it’s interesting to contemplate why.6 [Tape skips] beginning stuff is all there.
President Nixon: You mean, the Kennedy time. They won’t do any—[tape skips] We have got to be tougher with regard to what—with regard to our own relations with the Times. [Tape skips] I just feel that very strongly. I just feel that when you’ve got a paper that will be this irresponsible, goddamn it, don’t give them anything. Henry talked to that damn Jew [New York Times Reporter Max] Frankel all the time. He’s bad. You know? Don’t give him anything. [Tape skips] I don’t want anything done obviously, but I want—I just want to cool with those damn people because of their disloyalty to the country. [Tape skips] [unclear] it’s really hard to understand [unclear’’a legal? An illegal?] bunch of left-wingers trying to do—I mean, look, you could imagine a—you could unders—you could justify, say, a [Barry] Goldwater∇ trying to go after [Lyndon] Johnson for lying before ’64, saying what he was going to do. See, politically this is a—here—it makes Johnson look terrible.
Haldeman: Johnson and [Walt] Rostow∇ and—
President Nixon: Pretty bad.
Haldeman: Total disaster.
President Nixon: Yeah, but on the other hand, [unclear] in fact, this is what they’re doing. This is [unclear]. This is a bunch of goddamn left-wingers who are trying to destroy [unclear].
Haldeman: Because of that, there’s going to be, I’m sure, a wash runs through here that will say that we put it out in an attempt to—
President Nixon: Oh, do you think so?
Haldeman: Yeah. [Tape skips] surface, the apparent damage here is not to us. It’s to the Democrats.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Haldeman: But the real damage is—
President Nixon: Well, I’ll tell you what to do. I don’t agree with these little boys around here. Your staff doesn’t know anything about things like this, Bob. You know what I mean? They have good intentions, but not good judgment, because they haven’t been through enough. Tell you what I want done: Get the story out on Gelb right away for a columnist to use. I want that out. That’s the way to kill the other—do you understand how to do that? Just say, I mean, get Huston to get all the facts together. Get [White House Speechwriter Patrick J.] Buchanan∇ to get the story. Get [Columnist Victor] Lasky to write it. Fair enough?
President Nixon: Or anybody else you can get to write it. Get a little story. [‘’Tape skips] close to us, but you know, anybody, it doesn’t make any difference. If you can get that story out now, that’s what to have, and charge Brookings. Let’s get Brookings involved in this. Get Brookings involved. Another way to do it, rather than having them to do that, is to have a senator make a speech on the Senate floor. He’s privileged. And charge the whole thing, see? That might be better than to have a column. Haldeman: [tape skips] a senator with the guts to do it.
President Nixon: [Tape skips] Anybody’s all right to do it, except Goldwater [unclear] couldn’t do it [unclear] credible.
Haldeman: Goldwater could do it.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Haldeman: Dole∇ probably would, but I don’t think you want—
President Nixon: I don’t want [Bob] Dole. Dole shouldn’t be used, but anybody else. But I’d settle for—a congressman’s all right on this one. It doesn’t have to be a senator. [Tape skips] It has to be done. Let’s smoke Brookings out. Smoke them out. And the way to do it is through a speech probably better than an art—than a column. [Tape skips] see, they can talk on the floor, and it’s privileged. They can’t be sued. Charge Gelb. Use his name. Had the information. He leaked it. [Tape skips] charges should be brought against him. See? [Tape skips] can you get Huston? Is he around? All right, put him to work on it.
2 Nixon was referring to the spy ring he helped expose as a freshman congressman on the House Un-American Activities Committee. (↑)
3 The Brookings Institution is a think-tank located in Washington, DC. (↑)
4 Menu was the code word for the secret bombing of Cambodia. (↑)
5 The 21-month wiretap on Halperin produced no evidence that he had disclosed any classified information. (↑)
6 The Times series on the Pentagon Papers began with an overview, but included an article on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident. (↑)