President Nixon and Chief Domestic Policy Adviser John D. Ehrlichman discuss the liabilities of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew and the timing of a proposed Agnew resignation.
Well, let's go to the [Spiro T.] Agnew problem.[note 1] Spiro T. Agnew was vice president of the United States, January 1969 to October 1973. What's your honest opinion about Agnew now?
I've tipped my hand [unclear].
I have been thinking about this some in the last week. And I think in the uptime of this general announcement thing, being ahead of the power curve, as you are at the moment, is the time for him to resign. I don't know how you do it. I don't know what the inducement to him is or how you engineer it, but I just see him as a liability from here forward, and so—
Particularly if we are fortunate on Vietnam, and it's going to be fortunate one way or the other, you understand. We're either going to get negotiations, which I would hope, or we're going to announce our own completed plan.
We declare the end of the war.
Yeah. And say that we're going to be out as of a certain day. [Ehrlichman acknowledges.] You know, the main thing—from that time, the damn issue is dead. Out the window, you know, from the day you announce it.
Let him worry about himself. [Unclear.]
I never saw a guy that was—really does it in a more leisurely way. [Haldeman acknowledges.] You know? I didn't realize—Bob tells me he plays golf every goddamn day on these trips. That's utter stupidity.
I don't know if it's every day. But he said [unclear] every country [unclear].
Well, Bob, he shouldn't play at all!
Well, he hasn't missed a country, I don't think.
You know what I mean. That's really the truth: You've got to make it appear that the trip's for work. Not over there on a goddamn vacation. I feel that way, anyway. I don't mean a guy's got to be a grind. This su—golfing around, spending four hours on the golf course, and not having enough time to go out and shake hands with the people in the street. Jesus Christ, you know, when I went on these trips with my wife, we worked our butts off, and it made an impression. Vice President. One of the reasons that it was impressive, because I had nothing substantive. He had far more of substance than I had. But our trips really had a better effect, because, by God, we were out there talking to the people, visiting hospitals, and going through plants and . . .
Well, they're making that point.
[Unclear] sneers at him and says, "I didn't come along for camel-driving."
This trip is going to end up an enormous negative.
You think so?
Yep. His approval. I—I'm—
I'm not so sure about that.
I just really think it is. The press is doing their best and they're doing very well. Extremely well.
You think they are?
Is it getting through?
Well, I think so. There was a devastating piece in one of the news magazines. [Laughter.]
The Negro paper?
Oh, no, in one of the news magazines. Time or Newsweek.
Newsweek. They [laughing] climaxed the report by saying that one of the highlights of this trip was leaving Kenya or somewhere in Africa where he and his personal physician and his very attractive red-headed secretary came down from their hut to watch a pair of rhinoceroses copulating. [Unclear.]
Holy shit. Really?
Must be quite a scene.
Just look at those [laughing] fucking rhinoceroses!
Rhinoceri. [Laughter.] [Unclear.] It's a sort of a—it's a sort of a Roman emperor act that he's putting on, within a big entourage and—
Well, that's—that's all—that's a mistake. We've overdone it. Believe me, we're—we've overdone people, in my view.
We're overdoing that by what we're doing?
Well, no, but I mean this security business, you know, because they shot [John F.] Kennedy and [Robert F.] Bobby [Kennedy].[note 2] John F. Kennedy was president of the United States, 1961–1963. Robert F. "Bobby" Kennedy was Attorney General, 1961-1964; and a Democratic senator from New York, 1965–1968.
Everybody, they take along a Secret Service. Christ, I went with two.
But people will make allowances as long as there seems to be work being done.
When it's just a big—
Plus he had quite a staff with him.
Yeah, he did. Well, he has to because he has some staff.
Well, yes, you know, when you have the Signal Corps and all that stuff, I mean, it's all—there's a lot of staff in the Signal Corps.
Well, you know, he has communications every place he goes. His Secret Service guys are twice as bad as yours, as far as, you know, when they go around [unclear] precautions, numbers, and cars, and all that stuff. [Unclear.]
His car, a big Cadillac.
[Unclear.] It's like a cocoon.
[Unclear] quite that far. A week ago, I didn't know the Vice President was even—
I'm not sure that's true. That's what the newspaper says.
Well, I read that. I read some of it.
But Bryce [N. Harlow] says he thinks it's true.[note 3] Bryce N. Harlow was special assistant to the president for congressional affairs, 1969–1970; and counselor to the president, 1970–1971 and June 1973–August 1974. And I've got to—I've asked him to check that whole story, get the facts. [Unclear.]
Well, the Secret Service may—
They didn't—they're the ones—he lets them do it. He—they walk all over him. He does anything they want. [President Nixon acknowledges.]
That's your point about fraternizing. I mean, frankly, he's in a position now where he has no leverage over the Secret Service. Because he's—he's debasing the currency.
One of the boys.
Well, he kind of likes it. I think he likes almost the—
I was pointing out to John and George, it's something probably no surprise [unclear], that in all the period I've been president and vice president, and for eight years [unclear], I have never had a drink with a Secret Service man. Never.
—why I never had a drink with them. Or lunch. Or anything. Not a goddamn thing. That's just the way I operate. I just think it's right.
Well, there's a certain . . .
[Unclear.] I know you can't compare one man to another. We're all different. [Lyndon B.] Johnson, of course, I think he'd fraternize with everybody [unclear].[note 4] Lyndon B. Johnson was president of the United States, 1963–1969. He treated people shamefully at times, but, Jesus, he was [unclear].
Well, I would say there were huge highs and lows where he was concerned.
[Unclear] secretaries and so forth. At least Agnew behaves himself that way. [Unclear.] Agnew cannot tolerate [unclear]. He has people in the Cabinet meetings. [Unclear.] He's got to become like Caesar's wife. Don't you agree? [Unclear] what's happened, you take, you take a [Donald H.] Rumsfeld.[note 5] Donald H. Rumsfeld was a Republican congressman from Illinois, 1962–1969; director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, 1969–1970; counselor to the president, 1969–1973; U.S. permanent representative to NATO, 1973–1974; and White House chief of staff, 1974–1976. I once thought very seriously, you know, here's a guy [unclear]. [Unclear] Rumsfeld doesn't have that, in my opinion. [Unclear] disagrees [unclear]. Maybe we should [unclear].
No, because a guy who has it, you can't [unclear]. A guy who has it, given his opportunity for Christ's sake, he's been brought in here and turned loose, the son of a bitch could have taken the place over if he wanted to. [Unclear] that's something to stop.
That's the very problem with the Vice President. He's a constitutional officer. And his job is what he makes it. And he doesn't have it, he's going to turn into a big pussycat, and he's just going to sit around [unclear] all the time.[note 6] Ehrlichman appears to say "the kitchen." If he's got it, he's really going to create something. I think you did when you were vice president. It wasn't because the President told you what to do.
Well, actually, John—
The President never told you—
—a lot of my stuff, what I did was greatly overestimated. Frankly, I—you know, sure, I did a trip to Latin America. I—you know, stood up to them, and [Nikita S.] Khrushchev wasn't substantive.[note 7] Nikita S. Khrushchev was first secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party and Soviet premier, 1953–1964. It was very important in terms of, you know, [unclear]. And you will never forget the impact that had.
I think—I emphasize again, Hubert [H. Humphrey] had been over and yacked for seven hours, and yacked like hell when he came back.[note 8] Hubert H. Humphrey was a Democratic senator from Minnesota, 1949–1964 and 1971–1978; and vice president of the United States, 1965–1969. I went over as vice president, and just completely downplayed it. Now, listen, it's true that if [Edward M. "Teddy"] Kennedy goes over, it's going to get a hell of a lot more play because he's a Kennedy, than it is Hubert Humphrey, the senator.[note 9] Edward M. "Teddy" Kennedy was a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, November 1962 to August 2009; and Democratic Whip, 1969-1971. [Haldeman acknowledges.] [Unclear] problems with that. It is not, however, Bob, going to be—it is not going to mean that people aren't going to care about our trip, because [unclear].
Oh, no, no. Anything that could eclipse your trip, there isn't anything anybody could do to eclipse it.
It seems to me that the man not only has to be qualified to be president, but he has to have an ingredient that will make his role as vice president complimentary to the president. Supplementary to the president. Contributory to the president. And that's the—
“Richard Nixon, John D. Ehrlichman, and H. R. ‘Bob’ Haldeman on 20 July 1971,” Conversation 263-009 (PRDE Excerpt A), Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [“Vice President Agnew,” ed. Nicole Hemmer] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4004759