How Paranoid Was Nixon?Historians/History
It wasn’t the crime, but it wasn’t the cover-up, either. Something more basic took down a president 33 years ago.
Long before prosecutors identified him as an unindicted coconspirator, Richard Nixon was a conspiracy theorist. In the last 10 years, the government has systematically declassified hundreds of hours of White House tapes recorded on a voice-activated system that President Nixon had the Secret Service install in the oval office. They reveal a textbook example of what historian Richard Hofstadter called “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”
Any group can be the target of a conspiracy theory. Nixon targeted three -- Jews, intellectuals, and Ivy Leaguers. Their connection wasn’t logical, but political. Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., summarized the reaction of the Republican bureaucratic old guard in the 1930s, when Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal brought new kids to town: “There were too many Ivy League men, too many intellectuals, too many radicals, too many Jews.” So when Congressman Dick Nixon, a young Republican from California on the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1940s, played a prominent role in exposing the Alger Hiss spy ring (which contained the tiniest fraction of the Jews, intellectuals and Ivy Leaguers who worked in the New Deal, but more than enough to make the right wing feel vindicated) Nixon rocketed to political stardom. As Garry Wills has noted, Nixon entered his 30s having never held public office and exited his 30s having been elected Vice President of the United States. The Hiss case made him. Later it would unmake him.
Nixon drew lessons from the Hiss case about Jews, intellectuals and the Ivy League.
“Remember that any intellectual is tempted to put himself above the law.”
“The guys from the best families are most likely to develop that arrogance that puts them above the law.”
“If they’re from any Eastern schools or Berkeley, those are particularly the potential bad ones.”
“The Jews are born spies,” with an “an arrogance that says -- that’s what makes a spy. He puts himself above the law.”
What’s important is that Nixon said the same thing about all three groups –- that they were arrogant and put themselves above the law. Hofstadter would have seen what was coming next. “A fundamental paradox of the paranoid style,” he wrote, “is the imitation of the enemy.” His examples include anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klansmen “donning priestly vestments” and the anti-Communist John Birch Society forming cells and employing front groups. Had he lived long enough to hear the Nixon tapes, Hofstadter could have added to the list an anti-Semitic, anti-intellectual, anti-Ivy League president arrogantly putting himself above the law. The Nixon quotes above come from June and July tapes of 1971, when he was on the verge of creating a secret police organization, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), without congressional authority. The SIU is better known as “The Plumbers,” since one of its purposes was to plug “leaks” like that of the Pentagon Papers, a classified multi-volume Defense study of Vietnam War decision-making that the New York Times had begun publishing on June 13, 1971.
By coincidence (a common phenomenon conspiracy theorists have a hard time accepting), the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, had Jewish ancestors, a career as a defense intellectual, and a degree from Harvard. By further coincidence, the man who conducted the Pentagon study, Leslie H. Gelb, and the man who recruited Gelb to the Defense Department, Morton H. Halperin, were also Jewish intellectuals with Ivy League degrees. While Halperin and Gelb let Ellsberg see a copy of the Pentagon Papers, at a time when Ellsberg had a security clearance and needed the study for Vietnam research, no investigation, legal or illegal, ever found evidence that either Halperin or Gelb took part in the leak. But political paranoids don’t need evidence. Nixon quickly formed a conspiracy theory and never let it go. In the privacy of the oval office, he lumped Halperin and Gelb together with Ellsberg as “the three Jews.”
It’s not like no one warned Nixon. The day the Times started publishing, former national security adviser Walt Rostow, after talking it over with Lyndon Johnson, called the White House and fingered Ellsberg. Alexander M. Haig, Nixon’s deputy national security adviser, asked about Halperin and Gelb, but Rostow didn’t think either would do it. “He said whoever did this could not be a good Democrat,” Haig reported to Nixon the next day. “He said he would have to be a radicalized individual.” Anyone leaking thousands of pages of classified documents must abandon all hope of future government employment. Ellsberg burned that bridge, but Gelb would later work for President Carter, Halperin for President Clinton.
Like other political paranoids, Nixon did have some real worries. Not necessarily the ones he put in his memoirs, about potential leaks threatening his diplomatic opening to China or nuclear arms negotiations. Both of these initiatives involved legitimate national security secrets. But the tapes show that Nixon’s first concern was with the potential exposure of an illegitimate secret, his bombing of Cambodia.
It’s questionable whether Nixon ever had the right to keep the bombing of North Vietnamese infiltration routes through Cambodia secret. He claimed later it was necessary for Cambodian Prince Sihanouk to preserve his public neutrality regarding the Vietnam War. By the time the Pentagon Papers were published in 1971, however, Sihanouk had been overthrown, and Cambodia’s government was no longer officially neutral, but pro-American. The foreign policy rationale for secrecy was gone, but a pressing political one remained. The bombing of Cambodia, once revealed, was bound to cause controversy. Nixon had won the 1968 election only after publicly pledging support for Lyndon Johnson’s decision to halt the bombing of North Vietnam. How would he explain that in his first months in office he had secretly started bombing another country?
On this subject Nixon was plagued by another coincidence. Halperin knew about the secret bombing. Henry A. Kissinger, Nixon’s national security adviser, had hired Halperin in 1969 onto the National Security Council staff. (One might wonder how someone with Nixon’s views of Jews, intellectuals and the Ivy League could employ, as his most trusted foreign policy adviser and de facto Secretary of State, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany whose intellectual credentials started with three degrees from Harvard. Bigots can make exceptions for some of their best friends, and Nixon did for Jews, intellectuals and Ivy Leaguers he personally deemed “loyal.” Kissinger, in his judgment, rose to the level of “loyal bastard.”) Kissinger had hired Halperin onto the National Security Council staff at the start of Nixon’s presidency. When someone leaked a story on one of the Cambodian bombing runs to the Times, the president had the FBI tap Halperin’s phone. The wiretap lasted 21 months. The FBI found no evidence that Halperin revealed any classified information. That was not enough for Nixon.
Halperin remained at the top of one enemies list (the Nixon White House had multiple lists) along with Gelb and the Washington think tank where both were scholars, the Brookings Institution. A White House aide claimed that Gelb took a Top Secret report on the 1968 bombing halt with him to Brookings. That was enough for Nixon. It prompted his most bizarre response to the Pentagon Papers: an order to break into Brookings and steal a report whose existence has never been confirmed.
The Brookings break-in never came off. But the Special Investigations Unit, employing CIA assets recruited from Florida’s Cuban American community, did manage to burglarize the Beverly Hills office of a psychiatrist who had treated Ellsberg. They were looking for information on the conspiracy. They got nothing. All the president’s men never could make a case against Halperin and Gelb. The Special Investigations Unit disbanded. But some of its members got back together during the campaign for one more job, and then another, and then their luck ran out and they got themselves arrested breaking into Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate complex.
The president had to make a choice. On the one hand, he could let the criminal investigation proceed unimpeded, knowing it would lead from the Watergate break-in to the earlier break-in at Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office to the impeachable offense of a president establishing a secret police agency that operated outside the Constitution and above the law. On the other hand, he could launch a cover-up. The choice Nixon made destroyed him, but the alternative would have destroyed him, too, and probably quicker.
In his parting remarks to the White House staff, on the day he relinquished the presidency, Nixon drew a simple moral lesson from his downfall: “Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.” This seeming confession of moral failure cloaked a subtle claim of moral justification: They started it, with their hate; he was only defending himself, fighting fire with fire.
Nixon’s private words, immortalized on tape, offer more complex lessons. Nixon had moral clarity, but it fueled his immorality. His conviction that he was fighting evil became his excuse for doing evil. His attempts to break an imaginary conspiracy ultimately led him to launch the real conspiracy that broke him.
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Maarja Krusten - 8/20/2007
The abuse of governmental power categories are listed at
In an article on June 17, 1997, George Lardner described in the Washington Post some of what was on the 201 hours of then "newly available" Watergate tapes. These are the tape segments which, for identifying as responsive to the law, we NARA employees were called "Hardy Boys."
Lardner wrote in 1997 that
"On the tapes, Nixon is profane, demanding, delighted, sad, insightful, angry, exultant, calculating and bitter. Some people, familiar with the scattered recordings obtained by Watergate prosecutors in the 1970s, have suggested that it is his paranoia that stands out, but there is much more than that. Richard Nixon had very real enemies and he knew it. They were out to get him, and he was out to get them, from carping newspaper reporters and television correspondents to liberal think tanks and "big Jewish . . . [expletive deleted]" who bankrolled Democratic candidates.
If there is one guiding principle about Nixon that stands out on these tapes, it is this: Do unto others what you think they have done unto you."
For those of you who are registered to read the Washington Post, Lardner's article is at
I don't know why Kenneth J. Hughes's article drew so few comments. For much of the past week, mine was the only one. It has been nearly 20 years since I worked at NARA. Perhaps scholars are less interested in Nixon and the Vietnam War period -- and about what records are available and why it may have been difficult to open them and what may happen with unreleased records -- than they once were, I don't know. Not everyone who reads HNN's articles is a Nixon scholar. I would have been interested in hearing not just from them but also from people who have studied management science (especially the effects of isolation or group think), or people who voted for or against Nixon and how they viewed later revelations about him. Of course, I'm always interested in what people might think about when and how to open Presidential records. Lots of tidbits in the article which might have led to some lively comments, too bad such did not ensue.
Maarja Krusten - 8/20/2007
for Patricia Holt's November 12, 1997 review in the San Francisco Chronicle of Dr. Kutler's book based on the 1996 NARA tapes release.
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Maarja Krusten - 8/20/2007
Some of that mindset is discernible in the 1996 release. See
Needless to say, I am very familiar with the definition of abuse of governmental power (AOGP), having once been tasked with applying it. Of Nixon's tapes, some 2,000 hours have been released of a total of 3,700 hours. Except for AOGP segments, most tapes from Nov. 1972 - July 1973 remain unreleased to date. Needless to say, I wish Dr. Naftali and his NARA colleagues the best but cannot predict whether the path they walk will be rough or smooth.
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Kenneth Jerome Hughes - 8/20/2007
Nixon’s conspiracy theories motivated his abuses of government power, but the anti-Semitic, anti-intellectual, anti-Ivy League remarks I quoted were not part of the release of the “Abuse of Power” tapes in 1996. Here’s the definition of abuses of power that the National Archives used:
“The term abuses of governmental power popularly identified under the generic term "Watergate" (also referred to as abuses of governmental power), shall mean those alleged acts, whether or not corroborated by judicial, administrative, or legislative proceedings, which allegedly were conducted, directed, or approved by Richard M. Nixon, his staff or persons associated with him in his constitutional or statutory functions as President, or as political activities directly relating to or having a direct effect upon those functions, and which--
“(1) Were within the purview of the charters of the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities or the Watergate Special Prosecution Force; or
“(2) Are circumscribed in the Articles of Impeachment adopted by the House Committee on the Judiciary and reported to the House of Representatives for consideration in House Report No. 93-1305.”
Nixon’s greatest abuse of power -- prolonging the Vietnam War for political reasons (to prevent Saigon’s fall before the 1972 election) and negotiating a “decent interval” deal with the Communists (to put a year or two between Nixon’s final troop withdrawal and Saigon’s final collapse) -- doesn’t appear on the “Abuse of Power” tapes. That’s not the National Archives’ fault. It obeyed the law governing release of the tapes. Only when Nixon’s non-Watergate discussions were released could the public learn how he made foreign policy a tool of domestic politics.
Maarja Krusten - 8/20/2007
The reference to the proposed break in to Brookings that you mention in your article derives from a release of 201 hours of tapes related to abuses of power. That release by NARA occurred after Nixon died. John Taylor in 1998 described the reaction to those disclosures in his article in the American Spectator:
“The Nixon-haters have finally had their bacchanal. In November 1996, 201 hours of Watergate tapes--every minute of the 3,700 hours of Nixon White House recordings that archivists believed related to a presidential abuse of power--were opened to journalists and researchers by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Before a second of tape was heard about China, the Soviet Union, Vietnam, radical dissent, the Mideast, the Environmental Protection Agency, the economy, or obstreperous Democrats, we were invited once more to wallow in Watergate.”
According to Taylor
“The explosive release of the last Watergate tapes, with its grossly distorted coverage, was the high-water mark, the Pickett's Charge, in a campaign to lay on Nixon all the iniquities of a troubled era. The scandal-only complexion of the release was a product of the time bomb planted by the Democratic Watergate Congress of 1975-76, which directed the National Archives to release all tapes about Watergate before anything else. This requirement turned archivists into junior prosecutors, listening to the tapes over and over for conversations that seemed to fit the bill. Until six years ago an informal understanding existed between President Nixon and NARA that the ‘abuse of power’ tapes would be defined as the 63 hours used by the Watergate special prosecutor in 1973-74. But then we were told that the Hardy Boys at NARA had kept a little list--201 additional fun-filled hours of their own greatest hits.”
Although I’ve been employed as an historian since 1990, I once was one of those (to use the term in a gender neutral fashion since I’m a woman) “Hardy Boys.” From 1976 to 1990, I was an archivist at the National Archives who spent 14 years screening Nixon’s tapes and documents to see what could be released to you and other members of the public. I once faced fire from Nixon’s lawyers when I was one of several archivists questioned under oath about our work in 1992.
As you may know, attempts by NARA to release Mr. Nixon’s tapes largely failed during his lifetime; there were many contentious battles. I have not resolved in my own mind when is the right time to start releasing a former President’s records, regardless of party, and what is the best way to do it.
My generation of federal archivists was blindsided by what happened to us when Mr. Nixon sought to delay or limit releases from his tapes. My own experiences heightened my interest in understanding not just Mr. Nixon but also why advocates for him, or any other former President, might act as they do. (I have no training in behavioral sciences but enjoy reading Shankar Vedantam’s interesting columns in the Washington Post on “The Department of Human Behavior.” He sometimes provides information on new books in that field.)
Although researchers now know what Nixon said on some of the tapes, people have differing interpretations of why he acted as he did. For me, it’s always worth considering how others view him. Keeping up with what people such as Mr. Taylor write is part of that process, in no small part because the Nixon Foundation works with Dr. Naftali, Dr. Weinstein and other NARA officials. See http://www.nixonfoundation.org/
Kenneth Jerome Hughes - 8/19/2007
I hope Nixon's own words prove to any doubters that his hatred of Jews, intellectuals and the Ivy League was not based on the fact that there were many who didn't vote for him, but on the fantasy that they were arrogant people who put themselves above the law. Nixon was capable of rational political calculation, but also of irrational political hate.
Kenneth Jerome Hughes - 8/19/2007
We share a last name, Mr. Lawrence Brooks Hughes, but clearly we have never met.
For over a quarter of a century, since I first read about the Hiss case in high school (more than three decades after it took place), I've been saying that Alger Hiss was a Communist spy and that decisive evidence against him was furnished by Whitaker Chambers.
Your suspicions that I "simply can't forgive" Nixon "for nailing Alger Hiss" are born of your imagination, which is also the source of your conviction that the "Alger Hiss spy ring was sufficient to steal ALL our atomic secrets." Hiss did turn over secrets to the Soviets, but not atomic ones.
It will please you, I hope, to know that the man who hired Tim Naftali to run the Nixon library is none other than National Archivist Allen Weinstein, who has written the best book on the Hiss case, "Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case." During the course of his research, Weinstein, too, concluded that Hiss was guilty.
Tim Naftali used to be my boss at the Presidential Recordings Program. He is an excellent scholar. He would never do to Nixon what you did to me.
I would hope my essay would serve as a warning of the dangers of leaping to conclusions without evidence. I am apparently naive, although not about Alger Hiss.
Maarja Krusten - 8/19/2007
It looks as if late on Saturday, at 11:29 pm, HNN did post a link to the L.A. Times story that appeared this past week about the Clinton Library. This story was published on Tuesday. I had not looked at Breaking News this morning when I posted my earlier comment. The HNN link is
The full story is available if you click on LAT at the top; you have to be a registered reader for that site..
Maarja Krusten - 8/19/2007
It’s very early in his tenure and I’m willing to give Timothy Naftali a chance. He’s in a tough spot, vulnerable to being criticized from different sides. I know as a former insider at the National Archives that the image of archivists largely is filtered for the public through the press. Except for the few who have worked extensively in archives, members of the public have few opportunities to sit down and talk to them. So they largely judge them by what they read in newspapers. In the case of the Nixon Library, some news accounts used a sensational tone in describing the necessary dismantling of the old Watergate exhibit. It almost sounded as if Naftali was swinging away at it physically himself. It was easy to overlook in reading the news accounts that he actually arranged to have the old exhibit preserved before having it taken down.
Being the director of a Presidential Library is a very difficult job. I think that is all the more the case because the burden of explaining why records haven’t been released largely falls on the National Archives. However, materials actually are opened as a result of a complex process that involves a former President, his lawyers and designees, the federal archivists, and, especially in the case of the PRA-administered libraries, the researchers who file FOIA requests. Academics almost never examine this process. News stories occasionally touch on it in passing, as last week in discussing the Clinton Library. I didn’t see that story mentioned in Breaking News on HNN so I’ll provide a link here:
In case you didn’t see it, I’ll also link to a commentary earlier this year by Larry Hackman, former director of the Truman Presidential Library. This points to some of the challenges at the Libraries. See
If I had continued in a career as an archivist instead of taking a job as a n historian, I think I most would have enjoyed working at the Presidential Library for Gerald Ford. Of all the former Presidents, he seems to have had the reputation of being the easiest person with whom to work. I also know and respect Dave Horrocks, the Supervisory Archivist at the Ford Presidential Library. Good man.
Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 8/18/2007
Interesting about Naftali. Directors of GOP presidential libraries seem to spend lots of time entertaining academic liberals, and run the risk of metastasizing into liberals themselves. I've always thought Richard Norton Smith was an extremely poor choice for the Gerald R. Ford Library, and now, I guess, for Abraham Lincoln's Springfield museum.
Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 8/18/2007
It was meant to comment on the original article... I voted for Nixon twice, in 1960 via absentee ballot from the army (in Germany) to California--and am happy to say Nixon only carried California in 1960 with the help of absentee ballots, and in those days California had a clean voting process. National victory was denied him that year by massive vote frauds in Texas and Illinois, however.
Maarja Krusten - 8/18/2007
The Hiss argument came up in a letter published in July in the OC Register. See
I sent in a letter to the OC Register in response to that comment. I pointed out that federal archivists such as Timothy Naftali take an objective approach to their work. However, the newspaper chose not to print my letter and the writer was left with the last word.
As to Nixon, I daresay those who voted for him have varied responses to him as they look back at the time period in which he held power. I am so grateful to live in a country that does not demand group think on such issues! I happen to fall into the category of people who voted for Nion and consequently would like to have seen him succeed in many of his goals and objectives. That being the case, I'm very interested in why he made the choices he did, where he might have acted differently and more effectively, and why, as he himself put it, he gave his enemies a sword. My instinct is not to find someone else to blame for everything that happened to him but to consider not just context (what he was up against) but also whether he and his advisors might have acted more effectively while in office than they did. Having had to make some difficult decisions in areas that offered few easy choices during my career as an federal archivist, I'm especially interested in Nixon's interactions with his aides and advisors, why it can be difficult to speak truth to power, whether he actually intended to have someone break in to Brookings (that is not entirely clear), etc.
Maarja Krusten - 8/18/2007
For Lawrence Brooks Hughes: Is this comment from you addressed to me (you've placed in under my comment) or to the author of the essay (Mr. Kenneth J. Hughes)?
Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 8/18/2007
You seem to forget that the Alger Hiss spy ring was sufficient to steal ALL our atomic secrets and enable the USSR to fight a Cold War which lasted 50 years, cost millions of innocent lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. The more you heap discredit on Richard Nixon, the more some of us suspect you simply can't forgive him for nailing Alger Hiss and bringing the story of communist infiltration of the FDR and Truman administrations to the permanent consciousness of most Americans. That's really the important part of the Nixon's legacy, and you would be surprised how many young people are aware of it, despite its PC omission from so many classrooms and textbooks.
Maarja Krusten - 8/13/2007
Richard Nixon, such a complicated person.
Here is what the then director of the Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation, John Taylor, wrote in 1998 about Nixon’s mindset. Taylor served as Nixon’s last chief of staff after he resigned from the Presidency. He now is an official with the Nixon Foundation. Here's his take on Nixon:
"Richard Nixon was Republican in a Democratic town, looking for an honorable end to a messy war nobody wanted anymore while at the same time endeavoring, often through secret channels, to make the world safer and more stable for billions of people. His were tough, ideologically charged times, and his tapes make tough reading. As with so many men and women in his profession--one of cycles and seasons, ins vs. outs, and wildly swinging ideological pendulums--President Nixon practiced the fine art of giving as good as he got. What angered him most was seeing the double standard flying high. His taxes had been audited under the Kennedys, and he hadn't forgotten. Who does? In September 1971, after Billy Graham told him he had been grilled by the IRS, he said to his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, ‘Please get me the names of the Jews, you know, the big Jewish contributors of the Democrats... Could we please investigate some of the c---[deleted]s?...Here IRS is going after Billy Graham tooth and nail. Are they going after Eugene Carson Blake (president of the liberal National Council of Churches)?’"
“As one who never heard Nixon utter an anti-Semitic word in ten years of almost daily conversation, I find this to be a classic example of Nixonian political theology. He was thinking: When I was out, their government audited my friends and me. When I'm in, my own government is auditing my conservative Baptist friend. Why isn't it auditing liberal Jews? As a politician, Nixon recognized that American Jews tended to be liberal and to vote against him, just as Southern Baptists tended to be conservative and to vote for him. Virtually every reference to Jews in the tapes is understandable when viewed through a political prism.”
Source: John H. Taylor, "Cutting the Nixon Tapes," the American Spectator, March 1998, at one time available at
To me, a “do unto others as [you believe] they have done to you” mindset is not an attractive one. However, I recognize that it can crop up in the political world. (Most ordinary people would not enjoy being employed in a workplace that operates the way the political world sometimes does, with cycles of payback among their bosses and colleagues, depending on who is up and who is down. ) And I don't doubt that it can be difficult to counteract within the confines (or isolation) of the White House. Not everyone who holds high office abuses power, at least to the extent that Nixon did.
Nixon himself appeared to believe that he operated much like his predecessors. We don’t have the records to know everything that has happened during other administrations. But clearly, once in office, some politicians find more difficult than others to set aside a win-at-all-costs ethos that sometimes surfaces in political campaigns. Sometimes even intelligent people, such as Nixon, lose perspective and over reach.
Telling a person who holds so much power that he is on the wrong track is not easy. This particularly was a problem because Nixon had a tendency to vent to his aides. Was some of that venting intended to be a safety valve for the President? He was, after all, human. If so, when was an order not really an order? H. R. Haldeman later recounted that he walked away from meetings at times and deliberately ignored some orders until Nixon cooled down and said, “Just as well.” He understood that Nixon sometimes simply was venting frustrations. Believing that Nixon might reconsider, Haldeman occasionally was willing to take the heat that resulted from not immediately jumping to and carrying out each order.
In an interview published in the Chicago Tribune on May 26, 1986, John Ehrlichman “chuckled as he recalled his last conversation with Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s national security advisor. Henry said: ‘John, you know, you and I are going to look pretty stupid when those tapes are all out. Nixon’s going to be sitting there saying perfectly outrageous things and we are not protesting . . . How are we going to explain to history that there was a unique way of working with Richard Nixon?’ I said, ‘Well, Henry, I’m less concerned with that than you are.’ And he said, ‘Yes, I am very concerned about it.’:”
At a time when a mere 63 hours of tapes had been released by NARA, Alexander M. Haig asserted in his 1992 memoirs, _Inner Circles_, that verbatim transcripts might be misleading. “Without the softening effects of the wink, the nudge, the smile, and all the other subtle disclaimers involved, words spoken in such circumstances tend to make those who speak them sound like fools or thugs or worse.” (page 447).
Imagine facing a boss who had a tendency to vent the way Nixon did. Read through the ruminations that I have extracting below. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t quickly find links so I copied -- with my own sanitization of some expletives – just a few illustrative excerpts from the transcripts prepared for and published by Stanley Kutler in his book, _Abuse of Power_). Even if one aide managed to wriggle out of doing some things – and Nixon implies in these excerpts that some of the lawyers with whom he dealt at least had some qualms – he might go around him and find someone else who would follow his orders. Or simply fire the aide, who, after all, served at the pleasure of the President.
A man who holds great power has to watch his words in situations where less powerful people might get away with venting freely. (Think Henry II and Thomas Becket: “Who will rid me of this mettlesome priest?”)
JUNE 30,1971: THE PRESIDENT, HALDEMAN, et al. 5:17-6:23 P.M., OVAL OFFICE
PRESIDENT NlXON: . . . They [the Brookings Institution] have lot of material. . . . I want Brookings, I want them just to break in and take it out. Do you understand?
HALDEMAN: Yeah. But you have to have somebody to do it.
PRESIDENT NlXON: That's what I'm talking about. Don't discuss it here. You talk to [E. Howard] Hunt. I want the break-in. Hell, they do that. You're to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them in.
JULY 1, 1971: THE PRESIDENT, HALDEMAN, AND KISSINGER, 8:45-9:52 A.M., OVAL OFFICE
PRESIDENT NIXON: 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. Because the Justice Department would not prosecute it. [J. Edgar] Hoover didn't even cooperate. . . . It was won in the papers. John Mitchell doesn't understand that sort of thing. He's a good lawyer. It's hard 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. We're destroying these people in the papers. That's one side of it. . . .
The other side of it is the declassification. Declassification. And then leaking to or giving up to our friends the stories that they would like to have such as the Cuban. Do you know what I mean? Let's have a little fun. Let me tell you what the declassification [of other administrations' papers] in previous years that helps us. It takes the eyes off of Vietnam. It gets them thinking about the past rather than our present problems. You get the point.
PRESIDENT NIXON: . . . Actually, when Mitchell leaves as Attorney General, we're going to be better off in my view. . . . John is just too d--n good a lawyer, you know. He's a good strong lawyer. It just repels him to do these horrible things, but they've got to be done. We have to fight this. . . .
JULY 2,1971: THE PRESIDENT, HALDEMAN, AND COLSON, 9:15-10:39 A.M., OVAL OFFICE
PRESIDENT NIXON: Yeah. Particularly the conspiracy side. I want to go after everyone. I'm not so interested in Ellsberg, but we have got to go after everybody who's a member of this conspiracy. There is a conspiracy and I've got to go after it. I could tell him I've got the - tell him we've got [John] Dean on it. Now the other thing is I want you, Bob, to, somebody has got to talk to [Melvin] Laird on this. . . . This is not Ehrlichman's dish.
HALDEMAN: Well, I was just going to say you've had John on top of it.
PRESIDENT NIXON: No, no, no. John was on different people. John is. . . above some c--p. Do you know what I mean? He's on the legal side. Did you see?”
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