Richard Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger on 13 June 1971


Transcript

Edited by Ken Hughes, with Patrick J. Garrity, Erin R. Mahan, and Kieran K. Matthews

President Nixon has his first discussion about the leak of the Pentagon Papers, a secret Defense Department history of the Vietnam War, with National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger.

A transcript of this conversation appears in John Prados and Margaret Pratt Porter, eds., Inside the Pentagon Papers (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004), 95–100.
President Nixon

Hello?

White House Operator

Mr. President, I have Dr. [Henry A.] Kissinger calling you.[note 1] Henry A. Kissinger was U.S. national security adviser from January 1969 to November 1975, and U.S. secretary of state from September 1973 to January 1977.

President Nixon

OK.

White House Operator

Thank you. [Call connects.] The President.

President Nixon

Hello?

Henry A. Kissinger

Mr. President?

President Nixon

Hi, Henry, how are things in California?[note 2] Kissinger’s brief visit to California included his attendance at a benefit for the Motion Picture and Television Relief Fund in Los Angeles. California governor Ronald W. Reagan and his wife Nancy also attended.

Kissinger

Well, I just got here, and I'm going to leave very early in the morning, so I'll be back in the early afternoon.

President Nixon

Oh, I see. I see.

Fifty-seven seconds excised by the National Archives and Records Administration as personal returnable information.
President Nixon

OK, fine.

Kissinger

The . . . I understand you've talked to—

President Nixon

Yeah, [Alexander M.] Haig [Jr.] was—I talked to him about the—[note 3] Alexander M. Haig Jr. was military assistant to the president from January 1969 to June 1970; U.S. deputy national security adviser from June 1970 to January 1973; Army vice chief of staff from January to May 1973; and White House chief of staff from May 1973 to August 1974.

Kissinger

—to Haig already, and I just wanted to—

President Nixon

Yeah, yeah.

Kissinger

—to check in. Actually, things are fairly quiet. We've got the casualties now.

President Nixon

Mm-hmm.

Kissinger

And unfortunately, they're higher than what I told you yesterday. They're about 23.

President Nixon

Mm-hmm.

Kissinger

But still, that's a low figure.

President Nixon

Yeah.

Kissinger

That's just four above what we had.

President Nixon

Yeah.

Kissinger

They must have picked up some missing in action. The trouble with the daily casualties is that they don't reflect the ones that died that were wounded the previous week.

President Nixon

Yep, yep. Well, on the other hand, my God, Henry, to—19, 23, good heavens.

Kissinger

Oh, yeah.

President Nixon

It's just . . . just down to nothing.

Kissinger

That's right.

President Nixon

I mean, it's . . .

Kissinger

And the more I've thought about Lȇ Đức Thọ coming west—[note 4] Lȇ Đức Thọ was a member of North Vietnam's Politburo and Secretariat, and head of the Central Organizing Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam from 1956 to 1973. He led the most important secret negotiating sessions with Henry Kissinger in Paris.

President Nixon

Mm-hmm.

Kissinger

I'm not saying they're going to accept it, but if they were just going to kick us in the teeth, they wouldn't need him there.

President Nixon

No . . . no.

Kissinger

So they're at least going to explore.

President Nixon

Yeah. Well, I—particularly if our Chinese friends lean on him a little, they will.

Kissinger

That's right, and he's stopping in—

President Nixon

And they just might lean on him a little. Yeah.

Kissinger

Well, we'll get the [President Nixon acknowledges throughout] answer in a day or so.

President Nixon

Well, that's—Haig was very disturbed by that New York Times thing.[note 5] Nixon is referring to the publication of a classified Defense Department study of the Vietnam War that the Times dubbed “the Pentagon Papers.” I thought that—

Kissinger

Well, Mr. President, I think—

President Nixon

Unconscionable damn thing for them to do.

Kissinger

It is unconscionable [unclear]

President Nixon

Of course, it’s . . . it's . . . it's unconscionable on the part of the people that leaked it. Fortunately, it didn’t come out on our administration.[note 6] The study dealt with Vietnam decision-making before Nixon took office. [Kissinger attempts to interject.] That appar—according to Haig, it’s all relates to the two previous administrations. Is that correct?

Kissinger

That is right.[note 7] That statement is not quite right. The study deals with the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, though in less detail.

President Nixon

But I hope [Kissinger attempts to interject] the—but I—my point is if—are any of the people there who participated in this thing, who—in leaking it? That’s my point. Do we know?

Kissinger

In public opinion, it actually, if anything, will help us a little bit, because this is a gold mine of showing how the previous administration got us in there.

President Nixon

I didn’t read the thing. Tell—give me your view on that in a word.

Kissinger

Oh, well, it just shows massive mismanagement of how we got there. And it pins it all on [John F.] Kennedy and [Lyndon B.] Johnson.[note 8] John F. Kennedy was president of the United States from January 1961 to November 1963. Lyndon B. Johnson was president of the United States from November 1963 to January 1969.

President Nixon

[laughing] Yeah.

Kissinger

And [Robert S.] McNamara.[note 9] Robert S. McNamara was president of the Ford Motor Company from November 1960 to January 1961; U.S. secretary of defense from January 1961 to February 1968; and president of the World Bank from April 1968 to July 1981. So from that point of view, it helps us. From the point of view of the relations with Hanoi, it hurts a little, because it just shows a further weakening of resolve.

President Nixon

Yeah.

Kissinger

And a further big issue.

President Nixon

[Pause.] I suppose the Times ran it to try to affect the debate this week or something.[note 10] Congress was considering legislation that would require the President to withdraw American soldiers from Vietnam by the end of the year.

Kissinger

Oh, yes. No question about it.

President Nixon

Well, it—I don’t think it’s going to have that kind of effect.

Kissinger

No. No, because it’s—in a way, it shows . . . what they’ve tried to do—I think they outsmarted themselves, because they had put themselves—they had sort of tried to make it "Nixon’s War," and what this massively proves is that, if it’s anybody’s war, it’s Kennedy’s and Johnson’s.

President Nixon

Yeah.

Kissinger

So that these Democrats now bleating about where it went wrong—

President Nixon

Yeah.

Kissinger

—or what we’re doing wrong, this graphically [chuckles] shows that—who’s responsible for the basic mess.

President Nixon

Yeah.

Kissinger

So I don’t think it’s having the effect that they intend.

President Nixon

Well, you know . . . it's—it may not have the effect they intend. The thing, though, that, Henry, that to me is just unconscionable, this is treasonable action on the part of the bastards that put it out!

Kissinger

Exactly, Mr. President.

President Nixon

Doesn’t it involve secure information, a lot of other things? [Kissinger attempts to interject.] What kind of people would do such things?

Kissinger

It has the most—it has the highest classifications, Mr. President.

President Nixon

Yeah. Yeah.

Kissinger

It’s treasonable. There’s no question it’s actionable. I’m absolutely certain that this violates all sorts of security laws.

President Nixon

What do we do about it? Don’t we ask for an—

Kissinger

I think I should talk to [John N.] Mitchell.[note 11] John N. Mitchell was U.S. attorney general from January 1969 to February 1972; director of Richard Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign; and chair of the Nixon reelection campaign from March to July 1972.

President Nixon

Yeah.

Thirty-three seconds excised by the National Archives and Records Administration as private information.
President Nixon

No, I think you should. You tell Mitchell that—

Kissinger

And this is not—an occasional leak [President Nixon acknowledges] is bad enough. But this is everything the Defense Department possessed.

President Nixon

Yeah. Let me ask this: call Mitchell. I think you should talk to Mitchell and ask him about his just calling this—getting this fellow in on the purpose of . . . this was a security leak, and we want to know what does he have, did he do it.

Kissinger

Right.

President Nixon

And put him under oath.

Kissinger

That’s right. I think we ought to do that. I think we ought to wait till after—

President Nixon

Another thing to do would be to have a congressional committee call him in.

Kissinger

I think we ought to do it after Wednesday, Mr. President.

President Nixon

A congressional committee could call him in, put him under oath, you know, and then he’s guilty of perjury if he lies.

Kissinger

But I think we ought to wait till after the vote before they get it all confused.

President Nixon

Oh, I agree. Well, you couldn’t do it before then anyway, but, you know that—to get it all set up.

Kissinger

Because of the investigation.

President Nixon

’Cause you’ve got to have the questions and the investigations and know what it is, but—well, we’re not going to get disturbed. These things happen, you know. [Kissinger acknowledges.] [Clark M.] Clifford pops off and this guy pops off.[note 12] Clark M. Clifford was a Washington lawyer; an adviser to presidents Truman, Kennedy and Johnson; a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 1961 to 1968; chair of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from April 1963 to February 1968; and U.S. secretary of defense from February 1968 to January 1969. I would think it would infuriate Johnson, wouldn’t you?

Kissinger

Oh, God. Basically, it doesn’t hurt us domestically. I think—I’m no expert on that—but no one reading this can then say that this president got us into trouble. I mean, this is an indictment of the previous administration. It hurts us with Hanoi because it just shows how far our demoralization has gone.

President Nixon

Good God.

Kissinger

But basically, I think they—the decision they have to make is, do they want to settle with you? They know damn well that you’re the one who’s held firm and no matter how much anyone else is demoralized, doesn’t make any difference.

President Nixon

Yeah. [Pause.] Right. Right. Well, you’ll find things out there pleasant enough.

The National Archives and Records Administration's log for this tape indicates a deletion of seven seconds of personal returnable information. The audio file indicates a deletion of 1 minute, 7 seconds.
President Nixon

Well, that’s a long trip for you, but I wouldn’t—that’s—and don’t worry about this Times thing. I just think we got to expect that kind of crap, and we just plow ahead, plow ahead.

Kissinger

Well, Mr. President, [President Nixon attempts to interject] if we succeed in two out of three, as you said [Nixon acknowledges throughout] this summer then this will look like picnic.[note 13] Nixon and Kissinger were hopeful for a major breakthrough in U.S.–Soviet relations (including a major nuclear arms control agreement, SALT, and an agreement over the status of Berlin in the Four Power Talks), which would culminate in a summit meeting in Moscow that Fall; a rapprochement with China, which would involve a future visit by President Nixon to the PRC; and a negotiated settlement of the Vietnam War.

President Nixon

If we can—[Chuckles.] But, boy, you’re right about one thing: if anything was needed to underline what we talked about Friday—or Saturday morning, about . . . about really . . . really cleaning house when we have the opportunity, by God, this underlines it.

Kissinger

Oh, yes.

President Nixon

And people have got to be put to the torch for this sort of thing. This is terrible.

Kissinger

[Freeman F.] Gosden was on that plane with me and he—[note 14] Freeman F. Gosden was an actor famous for his role as Amos in the radio show Amos ‘n’ Andy.

President Nixon

Freeman?

Kissinger

Yeah.

President Nixon

Yeah, he’s a great fellow.

Kissinger

Oh, he worships you. He—

President Nixon

What did he think about all of this stuff?

Kissinger

He said it’s just . . . what you have to put up with, he said, he could never imagine it. And he said, “Well, [John Foster] Dulles”—he blames the State Department, which is wrong in this case, because they had [President Nixon chuckles] [unclear] to do with this one.[note 15] John Foster Dulles was U.S. secretary of state from January 1953 to April 1959.

President Nixon

[Laughs.] No. I know.

Kissinger

But he said Dulles always used to say that he had to operate alone because he couldn’t trust his own bureaucracy.

President Nixon

[laughing] Yeah, I know.

Kissinger

I said, “Well, that was good for Dulles, but we pay for it now, because we’re stuck with the bureaucracy.”

President Nixon

That’s right. That’s right. Well, I just wish that we operated without the bureaucracy.

Kissinger

[laughing] Well, Mr. President.

President Nixon

We do.

Kissinger

[Laughs.] All the good things that are being done [Nixon acknowledges] are done without—

President Nixon

We do. We do. We do. Well, anyway, I’ll tell you what: on the Mitchell thing, I’d just have them—have him examine what the options are.

Twenty-six seconds excised by the National Archives and Records Administration as private information.
President Nixon

And the Times will justify it on the basis that it serves the national interest. Is that right?

Kissinger

Of course.

President Nixon

My God! My God, you know, can you imagine the New York Times doing a thing like this ten years ago? Even ten years ago?

Kissinger

Mr. President, if—and then when [Joseph R.] McCarthy accused them of treason, they were screaming bloody murder![note 16] Joseph R. McCarthy was a U.S. senator [R–Wisconsin] from January 1947 to May 1957. This is treason!

President Nixon

That’s right. No, whatever they may think of the policy, it is treasonable to take this stuff out and—

Kissinger

That's right. Oh, it’s one thing to—

President Nixon

It serves the enemy.

Kissinger

It’s another thing to print ten pages of top secret documents that are only about two or three years old. Well, they have nothing from our administration, so actually, I’ve read this stuff. We come out pretty well in it.

President Nixon

[Chuckles.] Well, somebody over there got the stuff that we got, although we—I asked Haig about that, and he says, “Well, look, our file—as far as the White House is concerned, we’re pretty damn secure.” On the other hand, of course, naturally, whenever I’ve had to call [William P.] Rogers and [Melvin R.] Mel [Laird] in on some of these, on Laos and Cambodia, you can be sure all that’s in some file.[note 17] William P. Rogers was U.S. secretary of state from January 1969 to September 1973. Melvin R. Laird was U.S. secretary of defense from January 1969 to January 1973, and U.S. domestic affairs adviser from May 1973 to January 1974.

Kissinger

But, Mr. President, all the big things you’ve done in the White House, and—those files will leave with you.

President Nixon

Yeah. That’s right.

Kissinger

Go to the Nixon Library—

President Nixon

But what I meant, though—that’s true of the files. But I mean, these guys, of course, will have made in their own records—they’ll indicate what I’ve ordered, you know.

Kissinger

Oh, they indicate what you ordered, but they weren’t in on the reasoning.

President Nixon

Yeah. Well, let’s not worry about that.

One minute and 13 seconds excised by the National Archives and Records Administration as personal returnable information.

Cite as

“Richard Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger on 13 June 1971,” Conversation 005-059, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Nixon Telephone Tapes 1971, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4002137