Friday, June 17, 2011

June 17, 1971

The newspapers have just identified Daniel Ellsberg as the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers. The President of the United States, Richard Nixon; his Chief of Staff, Bob Haldeman; National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger; and senior staffer John Ehrlichman react (my emphasis added):

Haldeman: [a28:35] You can maybe blackmail [former President Lyndon B.] Johnson on this stuff.
President Nixon: What?
Haldeman: You can blackmail Johnson on this stuff, and it might be worth doing.
President Nixon: How?
Haldeman: The Bombing Halt stuff is all in the same file. Or in some of the same hands.
President Nixon: Oh, how’s that show—oh, I wondered, incidentally—
Haldeman: It isn’t in this. It isn’t in these papers, but the whole Bombing Halt file . . .
President Nixon: Do we have it? I’ve asked for it. You said you didn’t have it, Henry.
Haldeman: We can’t find—
Kissinger: We have nothing here, Mr. President.
President Nixon: Damn it, I asked for that, because I need it. [Unclear]—
Kissinger: Yeah, but Bob and I have been trying to put the damn thing together for three years.
Haldeman: We have a basic history of it—constructed our own—but there is a file on it.
President Nixon: Where?
Haldeman: [White House Aide Tom Charles] Huston swears to God there’s a file on it at [the] Brookings [Institution].
Kissinger: I wouldn’t be surprised.
President Nixon: All right, all right, all right [unclear — overlapping voices]—
Haldeman: In the hands of the same kind—
President Nixon: Bob—
Haldeman: The same people.
President Nixon: Bob, now you remember Huston’s plan? Implement it.
Kissinger: But couldn’t we go over? Now, Brookings has no right to have classified documents.
President Nixon: [Unclear]. I mean, I want it implemented on a thievery basis. Goddamn it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.
Haldeman: They may very well have cleaned it by now, with this thing getting to—
Kissinger: Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brookings had the files.
Haldeman: My point is, Johnson knows that those files are around. He doesn’t know for sure that we don’t have them. [a29:56]
Kissinger: But what good will it do you, the Bombing Halt file?
Haldeman: The Bombing Halt—
President Nixon: To blackmail him.
Haldeman: The Bombing Halt—
President Nixon: Because he used the Bombing Halt for political purposes.
Haldeman: The Bombing Halt file would really kill Johnson.
Kissinger: Why, why do you think that? I mean, I didn’t see the whole file, but—
Haldeman: On the timing and strategy of how he pulled that?
Kissinger: I—
President Nixon: I think it would hurt him.

A few notes:

1. Just to be clear: this is the President of the United States (1) conspiring to blackmail a former president, and (2) conspiring -- ordering his top aides -- to steal files from a Washington think tank (although as far as we know, neither actually happened, although the Brookings operation got to the planning stages).

2. This is one year before the Watergate criminals were caught. You'll hear that it was the cover-up, and not the crime, that brought Nixon down; the problem is that a real, complete confession by everyone would have certainly put all the president's men in jail, and almost certainly would have put Nixon in jail, too. As it worked out, there also turned out to be no way to only confess some things but cover up others...but there was never any question of covering up, because they were guilty of multiple felonies and they knew it.

3. The whole transcript is worth reading, and the audio is pretty good on this one, too. Here's the link again. The best part, at least for comic relief, is Haldeman suspecting that Ellsberg might have done it for the money because maybe he was "on dope."

4. Or perhaps the best part is Kissinger. You have to really listen to get the flavor of it, for it happens, I just began re-watching Gallactica, and, well, listen and see: switch out the accent, and isn't Kissinger a dead ringer for Gaius Balter?

5. I'm thinking of running more of these. Anyone interested? Meanwhile, also from June 17, Nixon on the Jews,


  1. Hmm is this connected to David Brooks' new op ed at the Times claiming some Fannie Mae scandal is the worst thing since Watergate?

  2. Yes, definitely post more. Wow.

  3. Do keep on! You're helping to educate the younger generation -- or at least those of us most of whose familiarity with Watergate comes from our uncle's old Doonesbury books.

    Also: am I wrong, or is
    Haldeman: We are in no position to criticize State or Defense on security leaks or on disloyal personnel. And that’s a problem, I think.
    kind of a hilariously indirect and minimizing way to pose accusations of treason or something like it?

  4. Please run more!

  5. Yes, more please!

    (but for gods' sake, can you spell "Galactica" correctly?)

  6. Sorry about the spelling (but I liked that you got the apostrophe in the right place). I'll try.

    Anyone like my Baltar/Kissinger thing?


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