[There is a pause of approximately 3 seconds.]
Henry A. Kissinger∇: Curse that son of a bitch. I know him well. He was a—
President Nixon: You know him?
Kissinger: Oh, well. He is a—he is—first of all, he’s—
H.R. “Bob” Haldeman∇: He’s nuts, isn’t he?
Kissinger: He’s nuts.
Haldeman: He was solid [unclear — overlapping voices]—
President Nixon: Why did they have him in the Defense Department?
Kissinger: Well, Mr. President, he’s a funny guy.
President Nixon: Right.
Kissinger: He’s a funny kid. He’s a genius. He’s the brightest student I’ve ever had. He was a hardliner. He went—he volunteered for service in Vietnam. He was so nuts that he’d drive around all over Vietnam with a carbine when it was guerilla-infested, and he’d shoot at—he has My Lai cases on his—he’d shoot at peasants in the fields on the theory everyone in black—2
Ehrlichman: He’s a born killer.
President Nixon: Go ahead.
Kissinger: [Unclear] Then, well, he’s always been a little unbalanced. Then they brought him into, well, first they brought him in ’65, I think it was, into ISA [Internal Security Affairs] in Defense. Then he volunteered for Vietnam, ’cause he couldn’t get along with [Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs John T.] McNaughton. Then he came back from Vietnam, went back into ISA. The man is a genius. He’s one of the most brilliant men I’ve ever met.
Ehrlichman: He was a civilian all this time.
Kissinger: Civilian all this time. He may have been a marine once. But at any rate, he then flipped. Late ’67, he suddenly turned into a peacenik. At first, a moderate one, that is, he was for extrication the way all of them were in ISA. Even as late as the transition period, I talked to him during the transition period because he is so bright— [a13:29]
Kissinger: [a13:46] —and just totally wild. And he’s moved into a more and more intransigent, radical position. I haven’t myself seen him now for a year and a half except once at a meeting at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] where I talked to a group of students, and I got the students, but he then started up and heckled me and accused me of being a murderer and being associated with a murderer. And then he wrote an article called ‘Murder in Laos.’3 I don’t know whether you ever saw that, in which he, in effect, accused me in writing of the same thing.
President Nixon: Well, now, how did he get the papers out then? They backed up trucks to get these out [unclear]—
Ehrlichman: He was with RAND.4
Kissinger: Well, what I suspect he did, Mr. President, is RAND had two documents. Now why in the name of Christ RAND was given two sets of documents, I don’t know. I think he stole one set of the RAND documents, filmed them or Xeroxed them, and put them back in. This was—
President Nixon: Just like [Whittaker] Chambers and [Alger] Hiss.5 [a14:48]
Ehrlichman: [a15:06] What do you suppose the [New York] Times paid him for this?
Kissinger: No. He wouldn’t do that for money.
Ehrlichman: You don’t think so?
President Nixon: They don’t need any—need the money.
Haldeman: He does if he’s on dope.
President Nixon: He believes in it.
Kissinger: He’s now married a very rich girl. He doesn’t need money. [a15:17]
President Nixon: Well, the other reason that—John this is a labor of love for the Times. There’s nobody in the Times that’s for us on Vietnam. [a15:28]
Nixon continued to criticize the newspaper for publishing classified information, raising the possibility that he would argue the Pentagon Papers∇ case before the Supreme Court, while also urging the leak of the study’s section on President John F. Kennedy’s role in the coup that overthrew South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem∇. The transcript resumes about 13 minutes later in the recording.
Haldeman: [a28:35] You can maybe blackmail [former President Lyndon B.] Johnson on this stuff.
President Nixon: What?
Haldeman: You can blackmail Johnson on this stuff, and it might be worth doing.
President Nixon: How?
President Nixon: Oh, how’s that show—oh, I wondered, incidentally—
Haldeman: It isn’t in this. It isn’t in these papers, but the whole Bombing Halt file . . .
President Nixon: Do we have it? I’ve asked for it. You said you didn’t have it, Henry.
Haldeman: We can’t find—
Kissinger: We have nothing here, Mr. President.
President Nixon: Damn it, I asked for that, because I need it. [Unclear]—
Kissinger: Yeah, but Bob and I have been trying to put the damn thing together for three years.
Haldeman: We have a basic history of it—constructed our own—but there is a file on it.
President Nixon: Where?
Haldeman: [White House Aide Tom Charles] Huston∇ swears to God there’s a file on it at [the] Brookings [Institution].
Kissinger: I wouldn’t be surprised.
President Nixon: All right, all right, all right [unclear — overlapping voices]—
Haldeman: In the hands of the same kind—
President Nixon: Bob—
Haldeman: The same people.
President Nixon: Bob, now you remember Huston’s plan? Implement it.
Kissinger: But couldn’t we go over? Now, Brookings has no right to have classified documents.
President Nixon: [Unclear]. I mean, I want it implemented on a thievery basis. Goddamn it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.
Haldeman: They may very well have cleaned it by now, with this thing getting to—
Kissinger: Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brookings had the files.
Haldeman: My point is, Johnson knows that those files are around. He doesn’t know for sure that we don’t have them. [a29:56]
Haldeman: The Bombing Halt—
President Nixon: To blackmail him.
Haldeman: The Bombing Halt—
President Nixon: Because he used the Bombing Halt for political purposes.
Haldeman: The Bombing Halt file would really kill Johnson.
Kissinger: Why, why do you think that? I mean, I didn’t see the whole file, but—
Haldeman: On the timing and strategy of how he pulled that?
President Nixon: I think it would hurt him.
Kissinger: Mis—well, I—you remember, I used to give you info—I used to—you remember, I used to give you information about it at the time so I have no—
President Nixon: I know.
Kissinger: I mean, about the timing.
President Nixon: Yeah.
Kissinger: But I, to the best of my knowledge, there was never any conversation in which they said we’ll hold it until the end of October. I wasn’t in on the discussions here. I just saw the instructions to [former head of the U.S. delegation to the Paris Peace Talks, Ambassador-at-Large W. Averell] Harriman.
President Nixon: Anyway, why won’t Johnson have a press conference in your view?
Haldeman: Because he’s smart enough not to. From Johnson’s viewpoint, if he has a press conference, he will see exactly what we see, which is that the thing that that will accomplish is clearly put this as a battle of Lyndon Johnson’s credibility versus the world. [a31:02]
1 A transcript of this conversation appears in Stanley I. Kutler, Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes (New York: Free Press 1997) p. 3. (↑)
2 David Rudenstine notes that the “charges were obviously hyperbolic and in some cases false. Ellsberg, for example, had been Kissinger’s colleague, not his student, at Harvard. Nor is there any evidence that Ellsberg ever shot at peasants.” The Day the Presses Stopped: A History of the Pentagon Papers Case (Los Angeles: University of California Press 1996) p. 122. (↑)
3 New York Review of Books, 11 March 1971, “Murder in Laos.” (↑)
4 The RAND Corporation is a think tank headquartered in Santa Monica, California. (↑)
5 Nixon refers to the spy case he helped break as a freshman congressman from California in 1948. (↑)