Richard Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger on 17 June 1971


Transcript

Edited by Ken Hughes, with Kieran K. Matthews and Marc J. Selverstone

President Nixon

Hello.

White House Operator

Dr. [Henry A.] Kissinger.

Henry A. Kissinger

Mr. President.

President Nixon

Hello, Henry. I think it's important that you give [Walt W.] Rostow a call.[note 1] Walt W. Rostow was President Lyndon B. Johnson’s national security adviser from April 1966 to January 1969. Let me tell you the problem. He's advising [Lyndon B.] Johnson against doing a press thing.[note 2] Lyndon B. Johnson was president of the United States from November 1963 to January 1969. I think John—they've got to be told very directly that tomorrow I'll have 200 press in Rochester, that I am prepared and I intend to defend Johnson on this whole thing, but that I can't do it unless he's prepared to defend himself. And that—what they're trying to do, Henry, is just to let us take the heat on this thing. None of their people are speaking up. Now, you call him and you tell him that I think that—

Kissinger

I think he's in Newport right now.

President Nixon

I don't care where he is. Call him and tell—who is? Johnson?

Kissinger

No, Rostow.

President Nixon

Yeah. You call Rostow. He ought to get ahold of Johnson. He's advising Johnson against this. Johnson ought to have a press conference. Now, we need it for reasons that you are, I'm sure, quite aware of.

Kissinger

Well, I'm aware of it, Mr. President. But I talked to Bill Jorden and Tom Johnson yesterday on the same topic.[note 3] William J. Jorden was a former United States delegate to the Paris Peace Talks and a member of the National Security Council staff during the Johnson administration. Tom Johnson was one of LBJ’s White House press secretaries.

President Nixon

Yeah.

Kissinger

And I just don't think the information is quite so correct. But I'll call Rostow this minute.

President Nixon

You don't think it's correct that he's . . .

Kissinger

I do not—

President Nixon

I don't think he's going to have one.

Kissinger

I believe he has no intention of having one. But I don't believe that Rostow is the chief obstacle. I just don't think he wants to have one.

President Nixon

Why?

Kissinger

I will call—

President Nixon

Why won't he have one?

Kissinger

Well, what—I didn't discuss a press conference. I said that there should be some statement and some activity from them. And they said since they were [unclear]

President Nixon

Well, you ought to tell Rostow this: That unless he has a press conference, I'm not prepared to defend him. Now, just as cold as that. They’ve just got to know. I'm not going to defend him. Why should I?

Kissinger

Well . . . I don't think you should defend Johnson, anyway. I think you should defend the presidency. I don't think you should get into the issue—

President Nixon

I'm not going to. But on the other hand—

Kissinger

—of what Johnson did.

President Nixon

Yeah. On the other hand, it amounts to a defense of Johnson, you know, when you really get down to it. They say, "I don't think this is proper, you know, to put one side of the case out rather—and not of the whole case and that sort of thing." That's defending Johnson.

Kissinger

Well, I’m not so sure—Mr. President, I will call Rostow about the press conference thing, but I think you should concentrate on this—on the theft of documents and on the unconscionable way of attacking somebody without giving him any chance of rebuttal, explaining where the documents came from and so forth. That, I think, is unanswerable. When we say "out of context," then they'll say, “Well, why don't you supply the context?”

President Nixon

Well . . . I'd chat with Rostow a bit about it. See if he is—

Kissinger

I will chat with Rostow.

President Nixon

[Bryce N.] Harlow's report is that Rostow's advising against it, so let's see what he says.[note 4] Bryce N. Harlow was special assistant to the President for Congressional Affairs from 1969 to 1970, and counselor to the President from 1970 to 1971 and June 1973 to August 1974. OK?

Kissinger

Right. I will call him.

President Nixon

Because Johnson should go to the mat on this. He really should. He’s—

Kissinger

Right.

President Nixon

He should speak up. Don't you think so?

Kissinger

Well—

President Nixon

Not for his interest, but for ours.

Kissinger

I’m not so sure. Frankly, I think they're also eager to . . . well, it would certainly get a tremendous brawl started between Johnson and the press.

President Nixon

That's right, and it'd get off of us. You see what I mean?

Kissinger

Well, it would get it off us on the immediate problem, but it would also drag the whole issue down to the level of "was Johnson guilty or not?”

President Nixon

That's a hell of a lot better than having whether I was guilty or not, Henry. That's my point. We've got to get the—

Kissinger

Well, I believe—I honestly believe that this episode can be turned into an asset if we go on the offensive and say that these people are deliberately undermining confidence in government and that that's what it's all about. That what you're resisting is the flouting of laws and the principle that the end justifies the means, and the so-called higher morality. I simply don't find this—I just had Jerry Schecter in here from Time.[note 5] Jerrold R. Schecter was a journalist with Time magazine. Now, I know they never write it the way they talk.

President Nixon

Yeah, [chuckles] that's for sure.

Kissinger

[Unclear] I immediately go on the attack. I always—I said, "Now, I just don't understand how you people can even—" He began by saying, "How do we know you people aren't doing the same thing?" And I said, "Don't you give me that language." I said, "How do I know you're not stealing papers all over the place?" And they don't feel at all confident of themselves. I have yet to meet a newsman who really is sticking to the Times for anything other than guild loyalty. But I may not see a representative sample.

President Nixon

Well, I’d just let—I just want to be sure Rostow doesn't—

Kissinger

But I will talk to Rostow and tell him [unclear]

President Nixon

Well, chat with him about it. See what he thinks—

Kissinger

I’ll call him—

President Nixon

—and let me know what he says. OK?

Kissinger

Right, Mr. President.

Cite as

“Richard Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger on 17 June 1971,” Conversation 005-117, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Chasing Shadows, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4002148