772-015

Date: 
Thursday, September 7, 1972 - 4:47pm - 6:15pm
Participants: 
President Nixon, Bob Haldeman, Alexander Butterfield
Location: 
Oval Office
Listen: 


Within an hour of the shooting of Alabama Governor George Wallace on May 15, 1972, in Laurel, Maryland, President Nixon had ordered Secret Service protection for Senator Edward Kennedy. Kennedy had agreed to the protection on "a temporary basis." On June 5, Kennedy had formally requested that the Secret Service protection be removed. "He doesn't like to have to explain to his children who those men with guns are hovering around everywhere," his press secretary, Dick Drayne, explained.1 But as Kennedy increased his campaigning during the fall on behalf of Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern, Secret Service protection was seen as prudent. Kennedy's mother, Rose, reportedly had called President Nixon to express her concerns for her son's safety. When protection was resumed, she wrote Nixon to thank him for his personal intervention.2

Nixon and White House Chief of Staff H.R. "Bob" Haldeman saw an opportunity for gathering political intelligence that they might be able to use if Kennedy ran for president in 1976. Their plan involved planting a Nixon loyalist, Robert Newbrand, in Kennedy's protection detail in the expectation that Newbrand would pass on useful information to the White House. Newbrand was a retired Secret Service agent who had been part of Nixon's protection detail in the Eisenhower administration and had been called on from time to time in Nixon's White House as what Alexander Butterfield called a "sort of utility man."3

Secret Service protection for Kennedy resumed on September 8 and run until just after the election, on November 8, 1972.

It is unclear what, if any, Newbrand passed along to the White House about Kennedy; after this September 7, 1972, conversation was declassified in the 1990s, former Deputy Chief of Staff Alexander P. Butterfield told the Washington Post that he did not believe any compromising information about Kennedy ever came out of the Secret Service.4

Editors' Note: This is an excerpt from a longer conversation.

President Nixon: Now, the other thing that I want understood, have you covered with him the business of the [Edward] Kennedy coverage?
 
Alexander Butterfield: Yes.
 
Bob Haldeman: Yes.
 
President Nixon: What man have you--have you assigned a man to him?
 
Butterfield: Yes. It's all taken care of, sir. [Unclear.]
 
President Nixon: That they all--and they all know that [unclear].
 
Haldeman: And I'll talk to [Robert] Newbrand and give him--I just want to get him one [unclear].

Unclear exchange.

President Nixon: But he's not [unclear], as I understand.

Haldeman: [Unclear.]
 
President Nixon: [Secret Service Director James J.] Rowley is not to make the assignment. Does he understand? Rowley [unclear].
 
Haldeman: He's to assign Newbrand.
 
President Nixon: Does he understand that he's to do that?
 
Butterfield: He's effectively already done it. And we have a full force assigned, 40 men.
 
Haldeman: I told them to put a big detail on him [unclear].
 
President Nixon: A big detail is correct. One that can cover him around the clock, every place he goes.

Laughter obscures mixed voices.

President Nixon: Right. No, that's really true. He has got to have the same coverage that we give the others, because we're concerned about security and we will not assume the responsibility unless we're with him all the time.

Haldeman: And Amanda Burden can't be trusted.5 [Unclear.] You never know what she might do. [Unclear.]
 
President Nixon: OK. Fine. Incidentally, I want it to be damn clear that he requested it.
 
Butterfield: [Unclear.]
 
President Nixon: He requested it. [Unclear] because of threats. In other words, of course, that builds the son of a bitch up. And I wanted to be sure that we didn't [unclear].
 
Edit. Butterfield exits and White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler enters to discuss an upcoming cruise on Sequoia, the presidential yacht. Once he leaves, the President resumes discussing the Secret Service detail on Senator Kennedy.
 
President Nixon: I just wondered how you handled the--how you told Rowley you wanted Newbrand.
 
Haldeman: I told Alex [Butterfield] to tell Rowley that Newbrand was to be put in charge of the detail. That I'm having Alex do.
 
President Nixon: Yeah.
 
Haldeman: So that it's a routine--he handles, deals with the Secret Service.
 
President Nixon: And Rowley doesn't [unclear] Rowley doesn't bitch, now. [Unclear.]
 
Haldeman: He won't bitch.
 
President Nixon: And you'll talk to Newbrand?
 
Haldeman: And I'll talk to Newbrand and tell him how to approach it, because Newbrand will do anything that I tell him to.
 
President Nixon: He will go on [unclear].
 
Haldeman: [with Nixon acknowledging] He really will. And he has come to me twice and absolutely, sincerely said, "With what you've done for me and what the President's done for me, I just want you to know, if you want someone killed, if you want anything else done, any way, any direction--"
 
President Nixon: The thing that I [unclear] is this: we just might get lucky and catch this son-of-a-bitch and ruin him for '76.
 
Haldeman: That's right.
 
President Nixon: He doesn't know what he's really getting into. We're going to cover him, and we are not going to take "no" for an answer. He can't say "no." The Kennedys are arrogant as hell with these Secret Service. He says, "Fine," and he should pick the detail, too.
 
Haldeman: Then you go on the basis of, what? Kennedy may throw it out. But if he does, that's fine.
 
President Nixon: That's OK.
 
Haldeman: It doesn't matter.
 
President Nixon: That's going to be fun.
 
Haldeman: Newbrand will just love it. 
 
President Nixon: Sure. Also, I want you to tell Newbrand if you will that [unclear] because he's a Catholic, sort of play it, he was for Jack Kennedy all the time. Play up to Kennedy, that "I'm a great admirer of Jack Kennedy." He's a member of the Holy Name Society. He wears a St. Christopher [unclear].

Haldeman laughs. Mixed voices.

  • 1. Maxine Cheshire, "Kennedy Dismisses Guards," Washington Post, 9 June 1972, p.B1; "Kennedy Guard Lifted at Request of Senator," New York Times, 10 June 1972, p.13.
  • 2. George Lardner, Jr., "Nixon Ordered Spy Placed in Sen. Kennedy's Secret Service Detail," Washington Post, 8 February 1997, p.A06.
  • 3. George Lardner, Jr., "Nixon Ordered Spy Placed in Sen. Kennedy's Secret Service Detail," Washington Post, 8 February 1997, p.A06.
  • 4. George Lardner, Jr., "Nixon Ordered Spy Placed in Sen. Kennedy's Secret Service Detail," Washington Post, 8 February 1997, p.A06.
  • 5. Kennedy was widely rumored to be having an affair with 28-year-old New York socialite Amanda Burden. Maxine Cheshire, "Burdens Seek Quick Divorce," Washington Post, 8 August 1972, p.B1. Burden was also a close friend of Kennedy's sister and brother-in-law, Jean and Steve Smith. Maxine Cheshire, "Does the G.O.P. Bug Danny Boy?", Washington Post, 5 June 1973, p.B3.

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