Lyndon Johnson and Cyrus Vance on 24 June 1965


Transcript

Edited by David G. Coleman and Marc J. Selverstone, with Kieran Matthews

Deputy Secretary of State Cyrus Vance called President Johnson to update him on an investigation into whether Defense Department officials had leaked information to columnists Joe Alsop and Rowland Evans. Johnson was becoming increasingly frustrated with leaks to columnists and reporters such as Alsop, Evans, Marquis Childs, Marguerite Higgins, James "Scotty" Reston, and Peter Lisagore.

The operator connects the call.
President Johnson

Yes?

Cyrus Vance

Mr. President, none of those talked to him or to anybody else that they can think of would talk to him.[note 1] Secretary Vance was likely referring to journalist Rowland Evans. The only conversations they had were within the building among each other. So—and we're all agreed on if any question should arise what we would say about it along the lines we discussed.

President Johnson

All right, now what would that be? Clear it up for me. Summarize it.

Vance

I would summarize it by saying this: that we felt, because of the confusion that had arisen, that it was necessary to put the clear and straight facts out to the people, and this was based upon the cables which came in from the people out there in the field who had actually seen and evaluated what had taken place.

President Johnson

OK, OK. Now, would I be going too far to ask you and Bob to spend a little time over the weekend thinking about what you can do, without attracting undue attention, to communicate to the military my concern about information on IL-28s, and their views and stuff like this as well as everybody that you deal with like [John] McNaughton and [Arthur] Sylvester, so that we be positive that this stuff does not come out of the Pentagon and that we do not spend our days lobbying with columnists?[note 2] John T. McNaughton was the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. Arthur Sylvester was assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.

Vance

Right, sir.

President Johnson

Will you talk to Bob about that?

Vance

I certainly will, sir.

President Johnson

I think it's good to have backgrounders with the foreign press. I think it's excellent to be on television. I think no president ever encouraged your saying more to the press, but so far as a guy promoting himself by talking to some columnist and buying some insurance and leaking something like [Roswell] Gilpatric did to Joe Alsop, I have utter contempt, and I'd rather have resignations en bloc from all the Joint Chiefs and Secretaries concerned than have one of them give one figure to Marquis Childs that's not available to other people. And I want to go back to the old Kennedy doctrine.[note 3] In response to a series of national security leaks in 1962, the Kennedy administration had instituted stringent new reporting requirements for administration officials dealing with the press. Implementing those new protocols was most publicly controversial as they applied to access to Defense Department officials. We've got the best bunch of leakers you ever saw over here, and I've got them in surplus, and if I need anything leaked, I'll leak it. But I sure as hell don't want my Joint Chiefs leaking it or my Defense [Department] people leaking it. [Vance acknowledges.] I think that as my man there, you and Bob ought to study out how is the smart, wise, tough way to handle this. I begged that you set up somebody so you know what's happening, but if you don't do that, then just do whatever you're willing to do to put these leaks at a minimum, and that means Marguerite Higgins, and that means Peter Listergore [sic], and that means Rowland Evans, and that particularly means Joe Alsop and Scotty Reston, and everybody. That doesn't mean that everybody shouldn't see them. When they call, let them see them. See them, tell them nothing, smile, and give them just what you gave in a briefing yesterday to the foreign correspondents, and if you're smart, that's what you can do, and that's what I do when Reston comes to see me. I tell him what I told 20 of them at Max Friedman's house. He can't get mad because I didn't tell him something. I have seen him. But I don't allow myself to arm a man who's going to shoot me with a pistol and with the cartridges, and I think we ought to be smart enough to do that. And if I go down, why, it's not going to look very good on you-all's part.

Vance

Absolutely, sir.

President Johnson

Now you get a battle plan on that, and let's stop the Pentagon [leaks] [Vance acknowledges], and then I'm going to start [with] the State Department if I have to fire everybody. I told [Dean] Rusk that yesterday. If every man out of there has to come out of there, I'm going to do it and put in a one-eyed farmer. I'd rather have a one-eyed farmer as secretary of state than by God a fellow that I can't write a memo to without having it in the front page of the [ New York] Times.

Vance

Right, sir.

President Johnson

All right.

Vance

Good-bye.

Cite as

“Lyndon Johnson and Cyrus Vance on 24 June 1965,” Conversation WH6506-07-8189, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Lyndon B. Johnson: Civil Rights, Vietnam, and the War on Poverty, ed. David G. Coleman, Kent B. Germany, Guian A. McKee, and Marc J. Selverstone] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4001146