Richard Nixon and Charles W. “Chuck” Colson on 2 July 1971


Transcript

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

Enraged that someone in the Bureau of Labor Statistics had informed the press that a sharp drop in the unemployment rate was due to a “statistical aberration,” President Nixon orders polygraphs for everyone at the Bureau of Labor Statistics who had access to the information.[note 1] See Conversation 006-111, 2 July 1971, 7:05–7:08 p.m., White House Telephone. Privately, the President acknowledged that the drop was just a fluke. As he told White House Chief of Staff H. R. “Bob” Haldeman, “It doesn’t mean a goddamn thing. There probably hasn’t been any shift. Well, there has been a little. A little down.”[note 2] See Conversation 534-002, 1 July 1971, 8:45–9:52 a.m., Oval Office. The following day he authorized a reorganization of the Bureau of Labor Statistics to force Assistant Commissioner of Labor Statistics Harold Goldstein out of his job.[note 3] See Conversation 536-004, 3 July 1971, 8:00–9:55 a.m., Oval Office. For more on this episode, see Ken Hughes, Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair and the Origins of Watergate (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014), 133–41, 142–45.

President Nixon

[Charles W.] Chuck [Colson]?[note 4] Charles W. "Chuck" Colson was White House special counsel from November 1969 to March 1973.

Charles W. “Chuck” Colson

Yes, sir.

President Nixon

The most important thing is—and this is a must—I will not take "no" for an answer on it.

Eight seconds excised by the National Archives and Records Administration as private information.
President Nixon

And then he’s to be given a polygraph. Now, if he refuses to take the polygraph, he’s out. If he takes it, and there are lies, he’s out. Is that clear?

Colson

Yes, sir.

President Nixon

Now, can’t we do something? I’m not going to take "no" for an answer on this. I know [George P.] Shultz is trying to wriggle off the hook and so was [James D.] Hodgson when I talked to him.[note 5] George P. Shultz was U.S. secretary of labor from January 1969 to July 1970; director of the Office of Management and Budget from June 1970 to May 1972; and U.S. secretary of the treasury from May 1972 to May 1974. James D. Hodgson was U.S. secretary of labor from July 1970 to February 1973. But I’m not going to take "no" for an answer on this. And I want to raise hell about this, Chuck.

Colson

Well, we have to, to get these guys in line.

President Nixon

We—we can’t—

Colson

I certainly agree with that.

President Nixon

How the hell can you do it otherwise?

Colson

No. You have to.

President Nixon

I mean, these guys—what the Christ’s the matter with Shultz? Has he got any guts?

Colson

No, he wants to be sure he has all the facts. That’s—

President Nixon

All right. I got the facts. [Colson acknowledges.] I heard what they said. I read the release. The same with Hodgson.

Colson

That's right.

President Nixon

[You] know, and I talked to Hodgson myself. He knows how I feel. I—there’s the thing. Don’t you agree?

Four seconds excised by the National Archives and Records Administration as private information.
President Nixon

We have no reason not to, haven’t we?

Colson

Well, he's a—

President Nixon

He was ordered not to do this. [Colson acknowledges.] If he did it, he can say, "No." "Well, [are] you willing to take a polygraph on it?" If he says, "No," "You’re out." If he says, "Yes," fine. Take it. Fair enough?

Colson

Yes, sir.

President Nixon

You see anything wrong with that?

Colson

No, I don’t. I don’t. I think—

President Nixon

All right.

Colson

He’s a civil service employee, which [unclear]

President Nixon

I understand that. But nevertheless we can transfer him [Colson acknowledges] from one civil service job to another.

Colson

Which we will, clearly.

President Nixon

That’s my point. [Colson acknowledges.] I’m not going to have it anymore.

Colson

I think George—

President Nixon

He is an all-out, left-wing son of a bitch who’s been against us for 20 years. [Colson acknowledges.] George knows this. I’ve told George this.[note 6] Although the government excised the name from this conversation, President Nixon assailed Assistant Commissioner of Labor Statistics Harold Goldstein on 29 June 1971 in similar terms: “This son of a bitch, Goldstein, in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I know him well. I’ve known him for 20 years. He’s a left-wing radical who hates our guts” (Conversation 063-003, 29 June 1971, 8:05–10:07 a.m., Cabinet Room).

Colson

No doubt about it.

President Nixon

George doesn’t believe it, but it is true.

Colson

Oh, I think he believes it tonight.

President Nixon

Yeah, OK.

Colson

I think he believes it tonight. He’s on his way back here, and we'll—[President Nixon acknowledges] we’ll get him to handle it direct—

President Nixon

Well, I believe—see, Chuck, I gave this order two days ago.

Colson

Yes, sir.

President Nixon

Now, if on this test we screw it up, what do you think it’s going to do to John [B.] Connally’s morale?[note 7] John B. Connally was U.S. secretary of the Navy from January 1961 to December 1961; Democratic governor of Texas from January 1963 to January 1969, during which time he was wounded in the assassination of President Kennedy; and U.S. secretary of the treasury from February 1971 to May 1972. See my point? What’s it going to do to others that are wanting to give us the business? We have got—don’t you agree—we’ve got to be tough on this one?

Colson

Oh, I—Mr. President, I told you, the best thing you’ve done was the Monday [President Nixon acknowledges] meeting with the economists in the Cabinet meeting.[note 8] In a 29 June 1971 Cabinet meeting, Nixon had threatened to fire government officials responsible for leaks and had designated White House chief of staff H. R. “Bob” Haldeman as his “Lord High Executioner.” A day earlier he had told his economic advisers to express their policy disagreements to him and not to the press.

President Nixon

That was talk. But now—

Colson

Goddamn it, these people have got to know who’s running the government.

President Nixon

That’s right. Now, we’re running the government now—

Three seconds excised by the National Archives and Records Administration as private information.
President Nixon

—on everybody who had the information, they’re going to take polygraphs tomorrow. Is that clear?

Colson

Yes, sir.

President Nixon

I—and let them leak it. I don’t care. I don’t—tell George, [if] he says it’s suppression, it's—bullshit! I want to know who did this. Now, goddamn it, I want to find out. Is that clear?

Colson

Yes, sir.

President Nixon

OK, let’s go.

Colson

We’ll do it. Yes, sir, Mr. President.

Cite as

“Richard Nixon and Charles W. ‘Chuck’ Colson on 2 July 1971,” Conversation 006-113, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Nixon Telephone Tapes 1971, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4002172