Conversation No. 525-1
Excerpts Date: June 17, 1971
Time: 5:15 pm - 6:10 pm
Location: Oval Office Subject Log and Transcript
Nixon: The Star tonight has the Ellsberg story. Front page. Big black type.
Kissinger: Curse that son of a bitch. I know him well. He was a.
Nixon: You know him?
Kissinger: Oh, well. He is a—he is—first of all, he’s.
Haldeman: He’s nuts, isn’t he?
Kissinger: He’s nuts.
Haldeman: He was solid.
Nixon: Why did they have him in the Defense Department?
Kissinger: Well, Mr. President, he’s a funny guy.
Kissinger: He’s a funny kid. He’s a genius. He’s the brightest student I’ve ever had. He was a hardliner. He went he volunteered for service in Vietnam. He was so nuts that he’d drive around all over Vietnam with a carbine when it was guerilla-infested, and he’d shoot at—he has My Lai cases on his—he’d shoot at peasants in the fields on the theory everyone in black.
Ehrlichman: He’s a born killer.
Ehrlichman: He’s a born killer.
Nixon: Go ahead.
Kissinger: Then, well, he’s always been a little unbalanced. Then they brought him into, well, first they brought him in ’65, I think it was, into ISA [Internal Security Affairs] in Defense. Then he volunteered for Vietnam, ’cause he couldn’t get along with [Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs John T.] McNaughton. Then he came back from Vietnam, went back into ISA. The man is a genius. He’s one of the most brilliant men I’ve ever met.
Ehrlichman: He was a civilian all this time.
Kissinger: Civilian all this time. He may have been a marine once. But at any rate, he then flipped. Late ’67, he suddenly turned into a peacenik. At first, a moderate one, that is, he was for extrication the way all of them were in ISA. Even as late as the transition period, I talked to him during the transition period because he is so bright...
Kissinger: ... and just totally wild. And he’s moved into a more and more intransigent, radical position. I haven’t myself seen him now for a year and a half except once at a meeting at MIT, where I talked to a group of students, and I got the students, but he then started up and heckled me and accused me of being a murderer and being associated with a murderer. And then he wrote an article called ‘Murder in Laos.’ I don’t know whether you ever saw that, in which he, in effect, accused me in writing of the same thing.
Nixon: Well, now, how did he get the papers out then? They backed up trucks to get these out [unclear]—
Ehrlichman: He was with RAND.
Kissinger: Well, what I suspect he did, Mr. President, is RAND had two documents. Now why in the name of Christ RAND was given two sets of documents, I don’t know. I think he stole one set of the RAND documents, filmed them or Xeroxed them, and put them back in. This was—
Nixon: Just like [Whittaker] Chambers and [Alger] Hiss.
Ehrlichman: What do you suppose the [New York] Times paid him for this?
Kissinger: No. He wouldn’t do that for money.
Ehrlichman: You don’t think so?
Nixon: They don’t need any—need the money.
Haldeman: He does if he’s on dope.
Nixon: He believes in it.
Kissinger: He’s now married a very rich girl. He doesn’t need money.
Nixon: Well, the other reason that—John this is a labor of love for the Times. There’s nobody in the Times that’s for us on Vietnam. Nixon continued to criticize the newspaper for publishing classified information, raising the possibility that he would argue the Pentagon Papers case before the Supreme Court, while also urging the leak of the study’s section on President John F. Kennedy’s role in the coup that overthrew South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem.
Haldeman: You can maybe blackmail Johnson on this stuff.
Haldeman: You can blackmail Johnson on this stuff, and it might be worth doing.
Haldeman: The Bombing Halt stuff is all in the same file. Or in some of the same hands.
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 ...
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.
Nixon: Damn it, I asked for that, because I need it.
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.
Haldeman: [White House Aide Tom Charles] Huston swears to God there’s a file on it at Brookings.
Kissinger: I wouldn’t be surprised.
Nixon: All right, all right, all right.
Haldeman: In the hands of the same kind
Haldeman: The same people.
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.
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.
Kissinger: But what good will it do you, the Bombing Halt file?
Haldeman: The Bombing Halt.
Nixon: To blackmail him.
Haldeman: The Bombing Halt.
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?
Nixon: I think it would hurt him.
Kissinger: Mis—well, I—you remember, I used to give you info—I used to—you remember, I used to give you information about it at the time so I have no.
Nixon: I know.
Kissinger: I mean, about the timing.
Kissinger: But I, to the best of my knowledge, there was never any conversation in which they said we’ll hold it until the end of October. I wasn’t in on the discussions here. I just saw the instructions to [former head of the U.S. delegation to the Paris Peace Talks, Ambassador-at-Large W. Averell] Harriman.
Nixon: Anyway, why won’t Johnson have a press conference in your view?
Haldeman: Because he’s smart enough not to. From Johnson’s viewpoint, if he has a press conference, he will see exactly what we see, which is that the thing that that will accomplish is clearly put this as a battle of Lyndon Johnson’s credibility versus the world.