I really need a son-of-a-bitch

Date: 
Thursday, July 1, 1971 - 8:45am - 9:52am
Participants: 
Richard Nixon, Bob Haldeman
Listen: 


Editors' Note: And earlier version of this transcript was published as: Stanley Kutler, Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes, (New York: Free Press, 1997), pp.7-8.

President Nixon: It may be here that we can use [Melvyn] Laird.1 I’ll tell you why. Laird has the biggest spy apparatus of anybody, you understand. That’s bigger than the FBI on things like this. The FBI won’t get into this sort of thing. They don’t know how to handle it, Bob. They do not handle it.

Now, the main thing is whether the Laird group will get into it. Here’s what I have in mind, and I’ve got to get [Tom Charles] Huston or somebody fast, but either Huston or somebody like Huston fast. That’s why the—on the Dick Allen thing.2  I think you’ve got to take Dick Allen on the mountaintop and see if he wants to handle this. Who said that he didn’t? You didn’t think he was the right guy, or somebody didn’t. John didn’t, I think, or somebody, because he’s too—

Bob Haldeman: Well, Dick doesn’t think he is.

President Nixon: Dick Allen doesn’t? OK.

Haldeman: He’ll come—on the short term, though, we can get Allen in right now and get him—

President Nixon: Yeah.

Haldeman: Get him pulling some people together who can do it.

President Nixon: He doesn’t need really to come to [Henry] Peterson right away, does he?3 Does Peterson need him now right away?

Haldeman: Yeah, but, you know, we can use Allen.

President Nixon: But here’s the thing. This is the way I want it. I have a project that I want somebody to take it just like I took the [Alger] Hiss case, the [Elizabeth] Bentley case, and the rest. And I’ll tell you what this takes. This takes 18 hours a day. It takes devotion and dedication and loyalty and devilishness such as you’ve never seen, Bob. I’ve never worked as hard in my life and I’ll never work as hard again because I don’t have the energy. But this is a hell of a great opportunity because here is what it is. I want to track down every goddamn leak there is and, you see—and here’s where John will recoil. I don’t—probably we, we’ll have to tell him. You probably don’t know what I meant when I said yesterday that we won the Hiss case in the papers. We did. I had to leak stuff all over the place.

Haldeman: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: Because the Justice Department would not prosecute it. Hoover didn’t even cooperate until I leaked it out. It was won in the papers. John Mitchell doesn’t understand that sort of thing. He’s a good lawyer. It’s abhorrent to him. John Ehrlichman will have difficulty. But what I mean is we have to develop now a program, a program for leaking out information, for destroying these people in the papers. That’s one side of it—how to get at the conspiracy.

The other side of it is the declassification . . . declassification. And then leaking to or giving out to our friends the stories that they would like to have such as the Cuban confrontation. Get what I mean? Let’s have a little fun. There’s a . . . Let me tell you why the declassification of previous years helps us.4 [Unclear.] It takes the eyes off of Vietnam. It gets them thinking about the past rather than our present problems. You get the point?

Haldeman: Yeah. Absolutely.

President Nixon: And, as a matter of fact, these papers in a sense, well, in a sense, well, they were about the Pentagon war papers and so forth. It was too confusing to be the war, in my opinion. What do you think?

Haldeman: It was another day, and it was other administrations, other casts of characters, you know.
President Nixon: Yeah. [Unclear] I think it was, sure, it’s about the war and so forth, [unclear] but it is not what we’re doing in the war at this time.

Haldeman: That’s true.

President Nixon: It’s not about what we’re doing. Now, you see what we need? I need somebody . . . I need really rather than a worker (just to give you the personality type) oh, like [John C.] Whitaker who’ll work his butt off and do it honorably. I need a— I really need a son-of-a-bitch like Huston who will work his butt off and do it dishonorably. Do you see what I mean? Who will know what he’s doing and will—I want to know, too. And I’ll direct him myself. I’ll pitch it. I know how to play this game.

  • 1. Melvyn Laird was secretary of defense.
  • 2. Richard Allen was an aide on the National Security Council staff.
  • 3. Henry Peterson was assistant attorney-general.
  • 4. Nixon is referring to the ongoing publication of the Pentagon Papers in the New York Times and Washington Post.

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