Richard Nixon and Charles W. “Chuck” Colson on 3 July 1971


Transcript

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

White House Counsel Charles W. “Chuck” Colson informs the President that Office of Management and Budget Director George P. Shultz and Labor Secretary James D. Hodgson are waiting outside the Oval Office to discuss the administration’s response to a Bureau of Labor Statistics statement attributing a sharp drop in the unemployment rate to a statistical quirk.

Charles W. “Chuck” Colson

I think that it’s simply going to have to be made clear that [Geoffrey H.] Moore, who has just offered his resignation to us, that that be accepted, and . . .[note 1] Geoffrey H. Moore was commissioner of labor statistics from March 1969 to January 1973.

President Nixon

Has he offered [unclear]?

Colson

Because he’s the one who approved this release and he said if we transfer Mr. [Harold] Goldstein, that he will resign, which I think may be a . . . may be the right solution.[note 2] Harold Goldstein was assistant commissioner for manpower and employment statistics at the BLS. I think it is the right solution.

President Nixon

What do they think?

Colson

Well, they’re fighting it. They’re fighting it kind of hard.

President Nixon

What do they want to do? Nothing?

Colson

They admit that the release is terrible.

President Nixon

Did you read—I’ve read the news summaries and I read the papers.

Colson

New York Times..

President Nixon

[Unclear] the New York Times, everything.

Colson

And they screwed—

President Nixon

The [unclear] was bad. The New York Times was bad.

Colson

They screwed us. It’s just that simple.

President Nixon

They screwed us and they—and I wro—I said, “Well, [unclear] surely there was a—” See, I understand statistical aberrations. What were they doing? Why didn’t they say there were statistical aberrations when it went up? [note 3] In fact, when a similar statistical quirk had made the unemployment rate rise sharply the previous autumn, Assistant Commissioner of Labor Statistics Harold Goldstein told reporters that “there is some overstatement of the [unemployment] rate for September.” See “Nixon Hopes Dashed; Rise in September Jobless Rate to 5.5% Sharpens Election Issue,” Wall Street Journal, http://www.proquest.com (accessed 15 January 2014)Are they saying this figure is wrong?

Colson

They’re casting doubt on it.

President Nixon

No, but then, my God, then they're cast[ing] doubts on their other figures, don’t they?

Colson

That’s right, but they . . . it’s badly handled, Mr. President. In my opinion, Moore, who’s been up—I’ve been with him for the last hour—is a weak guy who doesn’t understand the politics of this at all. And I think you simply have to tell [James D.] Hodgson you want him out of there.[note 4] James D. Hodgson was secretary of labor from July 1970 to February 1973. Hodgson’s fighting to protect him. George admits that—George Shultz admits that it was very badly handled, but thinks we ought to just fix the procedure so it doesn’t happen again.[note 5] George P. Shultz was secretary of labor from January 1969 to July 1970, director of the Office of Management and Budget from June 1970 to May 1972, and secretary of the treasury from May 1972 to May 1974. You know, that’s . . . [Long pause.]

President Nixon

Goddamn weak sisters, the whole bunch.

Colson

I’ve been up here fighting for an hour.

President Nixon

Well, you’ve fought [unclear]. Moore is one of Arthur Burns’s boys.[note 6] Arthur F. Burns was counselor to the president from January 1969 to January 1970, and chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System from January 1970 to March 1978.

Colson

Oh, Jesus, he’s awful, Mr. President. I just watched this guy for an hour. He said, “Well, we have to be cautious, we have to protect ourselves.” He’s just protecting his goddamn bureaucrats. And I said, "Well, Goldstein’s going to have to go." And he said, "Well, if Goldstein goes—"

President Nixon

Now, Goldstein was down testifying yesterday. [Unclear exchange.]

Colson

You can’t prevent, of course, the committee's [unclear]

President Nixon

Yeah, [unclear].

Colson

Well, how much of the total drop in unemployment is real and how much is the result of statistical factors we can’t say at this time. Well, goddamn it, that’s not true. We know that a very large part of that drop is real. We can even prove it.

President Nixon

Well, anyway . . . [unclear] course is not to fire him now. I think the better course is to take a month and then fire him [Moore], but not Goldstein. See what I mean?

Colson

We have a problem with Moore, and that is [unclear] just appointed him. You appoint him like a judge. He has three years. He has to be—

President Nixon

He’s still got time to go?

Colson

Yes, sir. So we—the only way we can get rid of him is if he offers his resignation.

President Nixon

All right. It won't—I mean, he—I’ll accept it next month.

Colson

He’s done it this morning, of course, if we want to take him up on it. [Pause.]

President Nixon

See, what I want to do—I want to do it—I’d like to do it in terms of a . . . not in terms of an immediate story, but in terms of, say, have one . . . you see my point?

Colson

Yes.

President Nixon

It’s a smarter way to handle it. Otherwise, it's—you’re going to have a—[Unclear exchange.]

President Nixon

And next month then there won’t be much significant change. And, no, it’s nothing to argue about. We just accept it.

Colson

Well, one thing we could do—

President Nixon

How about just taking it and saying we’re . . .

Colson

One thing we can do, Mr. President—

President Nixon

Don’t bring the son of a bitch in to see me. I don’t want to see him.

Colson

Oh, no. No, [unclear]. I think you ought to see Shultz and Hodgson.

President Nixon

Oh, I’ll see them, of course.

Colson

But I think the one thing [unclear], Mr. President, that you should insist upon, is that they reorganize that bureau. Now, in the process of reorganizing it, I think we’ll get this guy’s resignation. And we’ll put in a politician. That’s what we ought to have in there. He shouldn’t be making the kind of judgments he made yesterday.

President Nixon

What the Christ is the matter with him? Is he just—what is he?

Colson

He’s a little, wizened up, crusty kind of economist who just is going to protect his figures and his people to the death. I mean, I just said to him, “Look, don’t you think—do you have any obligation beyond the Bureau of Labor Statistics?” And he said, “No, this is an independent operation. I’m there to give figures."

President Nixon

Did he—was he asked why it was that they didn’t put out [unclear] the previous two months, three months? That was the point, you see.

Colson

He says they always do, but they didn’t do it in such a way that it created these kind of headlines. Anyway, it’s a badly written release. George Shultz fully concurs on that. It’s a terrible . . .

President Nixon

I think what we do is to leave him in a . . . the key to [unclear] let it hang there. See what I mean? I think we’ve got to—I think we ought to move him, but I think we’ve got to get a man and then just go in and say, “I’m sorry, I want to change you.” Get the man first. I don’t have a man for it now. You see, Goldstein will be the acting director when Moore goes. He’s the assistant director at the present time, right?

Colson

Right, for labor statistics.

President Nixon

That’s right. That’s what this son of a bitch is. He’s the director for labor statistics. I know what the score is. [Unclear.] So, you see we have—we don’t have a man. I want to get a man who can be—who can go in and say, “All right, we’re going to go—” In other words, I don’t know—how can you let him off the hook? Just say we don’t want it to happen again and then next month say, “I’m sorry, we’re going to [unclear]?”

Colson

Well, it seems to me, Mr. President, that the only leverage you have is to tell Shultz and Hodgson this morning that you want that bureau reorganized in such a way that we have control over it, period. And in the process of that, the guys we don’t want will quit. Now, Shultz’s people feel it should be reorganized.

President Nixon

Why haven’t they done it before?

Colson

I don’t know, sir. Because Moore doesn’t want it reorganized. You see, if you say to Shultz that you want that reorganized, then it will happen because—

President Nixon

All right. Get them in.

Colson

Yes, sir.

President Nixon

I’ve got about five minutes.

Colson exits.

Cite as

“Richard Nixon and Charles W. ‘Chuck’ Colson on 3 July 1971,” Conversation 536-004 (PRDE Excerpt A), Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Chasing Shadows, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006742