Saturday, July 24, 1971 - 9:43am - 10:36am
Richard Nixon, John Ehrlichman, Henry Kissinger, Bob Haldeman
Oval Office

John D. Ehrlichman: [a20:36] I wanted to post you on this leak.1

President Nixon: [Unclear] OK. Go ahead.

Ehrlichman: The Defense Department—

President Nixon: There are no excuses.

Ehrlichman: Well, the Defense Department thinks they’re very close to pinning this on somebody. They’ve been at work on this since yesterday. And [Al] Haig just called me to say that they [unclear]—

President Nixon: In the Defense Department?

Ehrlichman: In the Defense Department. And we in any case won’t have the access lists and polygraph teams until after noon today. But after noon, we’ll be ready to go if you want us to.

President Nixon: I do.

Ehrlichman: Now the—their—Haig’s concern is that we’re liable to blow the investigation in Defense if we start there. [a21:19] And—

President Nixon: Well then don’t polygraph them. Polygraph the ACDA people.

Ehrlichman: Can do State, ACDA, [unclearoverlapping voices]—

President Nixon: And NSC. [Unclearoverlapping voicesI want everybody?] just to be sure, so they don’t say that we didn’t do our own. OK?

Ehrlichman: I just wanted you to know that much. I’ll know more at noon than I do right now.

President Nixon: [Unclear] Did I see the paper?

Henry A. Kissinger: Yep.

President Nixon: I’ll take—I’ll take a polygraph, too, then.

Kissinger: Oh, God, no, no, the President doesn’t take a polygraph.

President Nixon: No, but I mean my point is, I think we’ve got to be like Caesar’s wife.

Kissinger: Yeah, but no one—if—if the President has to take a polygraph test, then we’re in trouble.

President Nixon: [Unclearoverlapping voices] But let me say this. What do—what do you mean, they think they’ve got him. It’ll be the first time they ever caught somebody.

Ehrlichman: I don’t have—I don’t have any way of warranting to you that there’s anything to this.

President Nixon: [Unclearoverlapping voices] cover up for Defense.

Ehrlichman: I understand. [a22:04]

President Nixon: Now the goddamn Defense Department—[New York Times Reporter William] Beecher is a defense man. But it could come from State or someplace else. He said they—

Ehrlichman: [Unclearoverlapping voices]—

President Nixon: Is he just pulling your leg now, John, or—

Ehrlichman: Haig?

President Nixon: Haig, yes.

Kissinger: No, no.

Ehrlichman: I doubt it. I doubt it.

H.R. “Bob” Haldeman: Haig wouldn’t be pulling John’s leg. Defense may be pulling Haig’s leg.

President Nixon: Yeah. They’re trying to—see, Henry, Defense is a bad apple here, too.

Kissinger: [Raising his voice] Oh, yes.

President Nixon: They’re both bad.

Kissinger: They’re both no good. They leak for different purposes—

President Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: —but . . .

President Nixon: No, but there are peaceniks in Defense. That’s my—

Kissinger: On the civilian side, absolutely.

President Nixon: That’s what I mean.

Kissinger: Yeah. [a22:38]

Ehrlichman: Well, apparently, this was a—as Al reads it anyway—was the Defense position that was being argued [unclear]. And it was a—it was a paraphrase of the Defense recrimination [unclearoverlapping voices] decision.

Kissinger: Only on one point.

President Nixon: [After making preliminary noises] just go ahead. I want the polygraphs done. Also, if they’re on the golf course, on the tennis courts, going to New York or to Boston or someplace or to Nassau, get those fuckers back here and polygraph them. Is that clear? Every goddamn one that had access to it. Now I mean it. Everyone. It’s just as well that these people be shaken up. It’ll shake some of the others up, because if they didn’t leak this time, they will be leaking next week. I want them polygraphed. Everybody that had access is to be polygraphed. And the second thing is, John, which—it’s a violation of my order that 100 people had access to this highly sensitive secret negotiating position.

Kissinger: That we’ve already done something about. We’ve already—

President Nixon: From now on—from now on—I’ll tell you what it is. There’ll be three. Three will have access. Goddamn it, that’s all you need. Why does CIA get them? They shouldn’t. They should be Henry Kissinger. He can have access and responsibility and then [unclear]. Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, and the head of ACDA. And nobody else. Now Goddamn it, that’s the way to stop this thing. [a24:02]

There was a brief discussion of other issues during which Kissinger left.

President Nixon: [a27:48] Listen, on this [former Director of Policy Planning and Arms Control for International Security Affairs Leslie H.] Gelb thing, is it really your feeling, John, that [Sheehan?] that there’s another group beyond, what’s his name, [Daniel] Ellsberg [unclear]?

Ehrlichman: Well, I think—I think the—see [Assistant Attorney General Robert C.] Mardian was giving me raw data

President Nixon: I understand.

Ehrlichman: And—

President Nixon: That’s great [a28:09]

NARA Excision

Category: Closed by Statute
Duration: 13s

President Nixon: [28:22] Going to get awful close to the Security Council. Gelb and [former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Morton H.] Halperin, you see.

Haldeman: Yep.

President Nixon: I’ve always felt that there’s something here. I want to be sure that we check that damn group in there. Now Haig is gonna have to.

[There is pause of approximately six seconds.]

President Nixon: No. I don’t think I made myself clear in San Clemente as to how I wanted this played. I am not interested in the legal things. Did I make myself clear on that?

Haldeman: [Unclearoverlapping voices]—

President Nixon: I don’t give a damn [unclearoverlapping voices]. I want to have leaked to the Chicago Tribune this story. Now! [a29:06]

NARA Excision

Category: Closed by Statute
Duration: 6s

President Nixon: [29:13] That sort of thing, leak it right out. You understand?

Haldeman: Right.

President Nixon: That sort of thing can kill the bastards. But, John, if you wait, they’ll cover it up.

Ehrlichman: I understand.

President Nixon: But have you—is that—does Mardian understand?

Ehrlichman: No, he—no. But [unclearoverlapping voices] I haven’t let Mardian get into that at all.

President Nixon: Oh. I see

Ehrlichman: We’re going to put that out here through [White House Political Operative Charles W.] Colson and [E. Howard] Hunt [of the Special Investigations Unit]—

Haldeman: See, if you get Mardian into leaking, you put him [unclearoverlapping voices]

President Nixon: [Starts speaking quietly while Haldeman is still talking] [Unclearoverlapping voices] to the Chicago Tribune, see. That’s the place—

Haldeman: Right.

President Nixon: —[unclear] with that. And I want also the story on Ellsberg and all this stuff that Bob has.

Ehrlichman: Well, I asked Mardian to give me this stuff on [New York Times Reporter Neil] Sheehan.

President Nixon: My point is, leaking is a game.

Ehrlichman: Sure.

President Nixon: Now they’ve leaked on us all the time. I’m going to leak this out. I’m going to leak the Ellsberg thing out. Remember, Bob—John, we’ve got to win it in the newspapers.

Ehrlichman: Right.

President Nixon: And let’s just keep it—keep it alive. I mean, you leak out the Gelb story on the background, who he was, he was [Robert] McNamara’s man. He was [John F.] Kennedy’s man. Sheehan and all the rest. One other thing I want to know. Colson made an interesting study of the BLS crew. He found out of the 21--you remember he said last time—16 were Democrats. No, he told me in the car, 16 were registered Democrats, one was a registered Republican [unclear] well, there may have been 23. And four were ‘Declined to States.’ Now that doesn’t surprise me in BLS. The point that he did not get into that I want to know, Bob, how many were Jews? Out of the 23 in the BLS, would you get me that?

Haldeman: Alex is getting it.

President Nixon: There’s a Jewish cabal, you know, running through this, working with people like [Arthur] Burns and the rest. And they all—they all only talk to Jews. Now, but there it is. But there’s the BLS staff. Now how the hell do you ever expect us to get anything from that staff, the raw data, let alone what the poor guys have to say [unclear] that isn’t gonna be loaded against us? You understand?

Haldeman: Is Alex working on that?

Ehrlichman: [Fred] Malek.

President Nixon: Oh, Malek is. Oh.

Unidentified Person: [whispering] I’ll get this to you today.

[There is a pause of approximately seven seconds.]

President Nixon: Use the polygraph ruthlessly now. Also, John, there’s one thing that I would say that I don’t know whether Krogh ever got the message on. If he didn’t, Bob, you’ve got to get it to him. All people who have access to top secret information are to sign a statement saying, ‘In the event that this document leaks’—it’s to be on every one—‘I agree to take a polygraph test.’ You see what I mean? I don’t want any crap on this. [Unclear] now I don’t know, was that followed through, John, you remember I mentioned that in one of the meetings. [Unclearoverlapping voices] to do it [unclear]. It is only fear that will stop this sort of thing. Nothing but fear. [a32:10]


1 Ehrlichman refers to a front-page New York Times story a day earlier revealing the Nixon administration’s negotiating position in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. Nixon had ordered polygraphs to determine who was responsible. New York Times, 23 July 1971, “U.S. Urges Soviet to Join in a Missiles Moratorium.” (↑)

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