The Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, Calif., has made public audiotapes of the last 340 hours of more than 3,700 hours of phone calls and private meetings captured on a recording system President Richard Nixon used in his executive offices. Some highlights from the Nixon tapes released over the decades:
On June 21, 1972, Nixon and chief of staff H.R. Haldeman discuss the potential impact of the Watergate break-in, which had occurred four days earlier.
Nixon: Anything that’s as bizarre as this — and interesting — is going to be a national story. In terms of reaction of people, the reaction is going to be primarily in Washington and not the country because I think the country doesn’t give much of a s—- about bugging when somebody bugs somebody else, you see. Everybody are here is all mortified about it, “It’s a horrible thing to bug.” Of course it isn’t and most people around the country think it’s probably routine, everybody’s trying to bug everybody else, it’s politics. That’s my view. Now the purists probably won’t agree with that but I don’t think you’re going to see a great, great uproar in the country about the Republican committee trying to bug the Democratic headquarters.
On June 23, 1972, Nixon instructs Haldeman to tell Acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray to steer clear of investigating Watergate.
Haldeman: On the investigation, you know, the Democratic break-in thing, we’re back in the problem area because the FBI is not under control because Gray doesn’t exactly know how to control them. And they have — their investigation is now leading into some productive areas, because they’ve been able to trace the money, not through the money itself, but through the bank, you know, sources — the banker himself. And it goes in some directions we don’t want it to go. Also, there have been some things, like an informant came in off the street to the FBI in Miami with — who is a photographer or has a friend who’s a photographer, who developed some films through this guy, (Watergate burglar Bernard) Barker, and the films had pictures of Democratic National Committee letterhead documents and things. So he’s got . . . there’s things like that that are going to, that are filtering in. (Campaign director and former attorney general John) Mitchell came up with yesterday, and (White House counsel) John Dean analyzed very carefully last night and concludes — concurs now with Mitchell’s recommendation that the only way to solve this — and we’re set up beautifully to do it, in that the only network that paid any attention to it last night was NBC, who did a massive story on the Cuban —
Nixon: That’s right.
Haldeman: —thing. But the way to handle this now is for us to have (CIA Deputy Director Vernon) Walters call Pat Gray and just say, ‘Stay the hell out of this. This is — there’s some business here we don’t want you going any further on.’ That’s not an unusual development.
Haldeman: And that would take care of it.
Nixon: What’s the matter with Pat Gray. You mean he doesn’t want to?
Nixon: When you get in these people when you ... get these people in, say: ‘Look, the problem is that this will open the whole, the whole Bay of Pigs thing, and the president just feels that’ ah, without going into the details ... don’t, don’t lie to them to the extent to say there is no involvement, but just say this is sort of a comedy of errors, bizarre, without getting into it, ‘The president believes that it is going to open the whole Bay of Pigs thing up again. And, ah because these people are plugging for, for keeps and that they should call the FBI in and say that we wish for the country, don’t go any further into this case,’ period.
IF IT BLOWS, IT BLOWS
On Aug. 1, 1972, Nixon and Haldeman predict they can ride out the scandal.
Haldeman: It’s too early to say, but it would appear that — and given a very difficult situation and no cooperation from Justice —
Haldeman: Either FBI or (Attorney General Richard) Kleindienst —
Haldeman: — that our guys have done a — and these two lawyers that the committees hired, have done a superb job in really keeping this thing —
Nixon: Cool up to this point (unclear).
Nixon: Let’s be — let’s just be fatalistic about the goddamn thing.
Haldeman: If it blows, it blows.
Nixon: And if it blows, it blows. And so what?
Haldeman: And we’ll ride it out.
Nixon: We didn’t have to kick (Vice President Spiro) Agnew off the ticket, did we? So what is this?
Haldeman: Exactly. We’ll ride it out.
Nixon: So what is this? I’m not that worried about it, to be perfectly candid with you.
Haldeman: Well, it’s worth a lot of work to try and keep it from blowing.
Nixon: Oh, Christ, yes. I still don’t like the idea.
Haldeman: But if it blows, we’ll survive.
CANCER ON THE PRESIDENCY
On March 21, 1973, White House counsel John Dean warns Nixon that the investigation has become a cancer on the presidency.
Dean: The reason I thought we ought to talk this morning is because in our conversations I have the impression that you don’t know everything I know —
Dean: — and it makes it very difficult for you to make judgments that only you can make —
Nixon: That’s right.
Dean: — on some of these things and I thought that —
Nixon: In other words, I’ve got to know why you would feel that our (unclear) something (unclear) —
Dean: Well, let me —
Nixon: — unravel something.
Dean: — give you my overall, first.
Nixon: Your judgment as to where it stands and where we ought to go.
Dean: I think that there’s no doubt about the seriousness of the problem we’ve got. We have a cancer within — close to the presidency, that’s growing. It’s growing daily. It’s compounding. It grows geometrically now, because it compounds itself. That’ll be clear as I explain, you know, some of the details of why it is, and it basically is because (1) we’re being blackmailed; (2) people are going to start perjuring themselves very quickly that have not had to perjure themselves to protect other people and the like. And that is just ... and there is no assurance —
Nixon: That it won’t bust.
DESTROY THE TAPES
On April 18, 1973, Nixon instructs Haldeman to destroy the tapes. (They were not destroyed.)
Nixon: I’ve often thought that if this thing should parse out the way that it might — we don’t know that it will — you’re absolutely right, we don’t — there’s (unclear) goddamn (unclear), you know what I mean?
Nixon: Every day you live. I’d like for you to take all these tapes, if you wouldn’t mind. In other words . . .
Nixon: I’d like to — there’s some material in there that’s probably worth keeping.
Nixon: Most of it is worth destroying. Would you like — would you do that?
Nixon: You know, as a service to the (Nixon) Library and so forth and so on.
Nixon: (Unclear.) Then I think I’ll keep the damn machine in.
Sources: AP files, University of Virginia Miller Center’s presidential recordings program; Watergate.info
Miller Center Presidential Recordings Program: http://whitehousetapes.net/transcript/nixon