Richard Nixon and John D. Ehrlichman on 16 June 1971


Transcript

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

The President and Chief Domestic Policy Adviser John D. Ehrlichman discuss whether to wait for a court ruling on an injunction to block the publication of the Pentagon Papers before moving ahead with grand jury proceedings investigating the leak of the top secret Defense Department history of Vietnam.

A transcript of this conversation appears in John Prados and Margaret Pratt Porter, eds., Inside the Pentagon Papers (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004), 115-17.
President Nixon

Hello.

John D. Ehrlichman

Yes, sir.

White House Operator

Mr. Ehrlichman.

President Nixon

Yeah, John, I [was] just reading the memorandum with regard to the grand jury thing. Have you talked to [John N.] Mitchell about it?[note 2] 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. Is—

Ehrlichman

No, I haven't. I thought I'd better clear with you first.

President Nixon

Yeah.

Ehrlichman

Because I didn't know what you might have been talking with him about.

President Nixon

No, I haven't talked to him about it. No.

Ehrlichman

I'll give him a call tonight.

President Nixon

Fine. [Pause.] Well, what—how does—your thought is . . . to—I mean, it isn't a question—I mean, the delay is one thing. I think, in terms of reconsidering whether we go ahead with it, of course, is something else. That's something that has profound implications, you know.

Ehrlichman

Sure. I understand. It just occurred to me today as I read the pleadings—

President Nixon

Yeah.

Ehrlichman

—that there was a possibility that we could get the kind of an adverse finding on the merits—

President Nixon

Yeah.

Ehrlichman

—in this—

President Nixon

Right.

Ehrlichman

—hearing that we really ought to have a chance to take a look at.

President Nixon

Yeah.

Ehrlichman

If we once launch that grand jury and then [President Nixon acknowledges] get an adverse ruling from the court and stop it, then I think we've got a bad—

President Nixon

Well—

Ehrlichman

—face-off.

President Nixon

—what does it really get down to? If you delay it, does that mean the [New York] Times goes ahead and—the temporary restraining order [TRO] apparently applies for four days only, is that right?

Ehrlichman

It expires by its terms Saturday at noon or 1:00.

President Nixon

So they'd go ahead and print.

Ehrlichman

They'd print the Sunday edition anyway, regardless of what the grand jury did.

President Nixon

Yeah. I'm not too concerned about what they print now. The point is you don't want to have an adverse—

Ehrlichman

I don't want to appear to be calling off a grand jury in mid-flight.

President Nixon

Right. Right. That makes a lot of sense. Well, have you talked to [Robert C.] Mardian about it?[note 3] Robert C. Mardian was U.S. assistant attorney general from 1970 to 1972, and a member of the Committee to Re-Elect the President.

Ehrlichman

No, I'll give John Mitchell a call and—

President Nixon

Whoever you think is really in charge, you know. [Ehrlichman acknowledges.] You might call and chat a bit about it.

Ehrlichman

All right.

President Nixon

It's—I agree with you, it's important not to have an adverse court ruling right in the face of all this. But—because we—

Ehrlichman

Well, I'll get his estimate—

President Nixon

—we have to go—naturally, we have to go forward on the—[chuckling] one way or another on the—not only on the Times but on the person who—obviously the FBI thing can go forward, I understand.

Ehrlichman

Right.

President Nixon

That is going forward, is it not?

Ehrlichman

Right. That's very vigorously under way.

President Nixon

Don't you have to—now on that, does that require a grand jury, or how does that work?

Ehrlichman

It would, you see, but there isn't any reason why they can't go ahead and finish their investigation and then convene [President Nixon acknowledges] the grand jury on Monday, instead of on Thursday. And then you'll know what the court did on the TRO.

President Nixon

In effect, let the Times go ahead and print? We—

Ehrlichman

Sure. If we get an adverse ruling. I think the chances are that the court will grant an injunction.

President Nixon

Yeah.

Ehrlichman

Pending a trial on the merits.

President Nixon

Yeah.

Ehrlichman

Or he'll extend the TRO, one or the other. But [President Nixon acknowledges] that's just a hunch. Because the issues are very complex. I'd be very surprised if he could dispose of them Friday or Saturday.

President Nixon

Yeah, they are complex, I know. Yeah. All right, well, you—

Ehrlichman

I'll talk with him.

President Nixon

—sort of talk to John.

Ehrlichman

Right.

President Nixon

Kick it around. OK?

Ehrlichman

Fine.

President Nixon

Thank you.

Cite as

“Richard Nixon and John D. Ehrlichman on 16 June 1971,” Conversation 005-101, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Nixon Telephone Tapes 1971, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4002145