Nixon Discussed Use of ‘Thugs,’ New Tapes Show : White House: He wanted Teamsters to break up war protests. More than 47 hours of recordings are released.
Former President Richard M. Nixon, concerned by mounting anti-Vietnam War protests, talked with his top aide at a 1971 Oval Office meeting about using Teamster “thugs” to break up the demonstrations and beat protesters, newly released Watergate tapes disclosed Tuesday.
“They’ve got guys who’ll go in and knock their heads off,” Nixon told then-Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman on May 5, 1971, only two days after Washington police, backed up by federal troops, used tear gas and mass arrests to thwart the protesters who had threatened to close down the federal government.
“Sure. Murderers. Guys that really, you know, that’s what they really do,” Haldeman responded on the tape, which was among 47 1/2 hours of White House conversations released by the National Archives. The tapes had been subpoenaed by the Watergate special prosecutor in 1973 and 1974, but were not among those played at the Watergate cover-up trial or at congressional inquiries.
The tapes were released Tuesday when they became available after 11 years of processing, archives officials said. A series of legal challenges over the past several years, and archives policies on privacy, had delayed the release of these tapes. More will be made available once they have been processed.
The newly released transcripts offer a stark counterpoint to recent efforts by Nixon to rehabilitate his reputation through foreign policy counsel, writing and public appearances.
Nixon, in another conversation, agrees with an aide’s disdainful description of George Bush, who was chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1973 when the Watergate cover-up began to unravel, as “Mr. Clean.” In a conversation with John D. Ehrlichman, his domestic affairs adviser, Nixon says he told Bush, “that’s a stupid thing to do” when he learned that Bush had allowed a committee aide involved in questionable political activities to confess his misdeeds to federal prosecutors.
“Bush, I suppose, is in the school of people who let everybody go (to the prosecutors),” Nixon told Ehrlichman.
“Mr. Clean,” Ehrlichman observed.
“Yeah,” Nixon said.
In the 1971 conversation about enlisting Teamsters to assist in putting down the Washington demonstrations, Haldeman tells the President: “I think that they can get away with this--do it with the Teamsters. Just ask them to dig up those, their eight thugs.”
After Nixon signals his approval with a “yeah,” Haldeman says it could be arranged by just calling “uh, what’s his name.”
“Fitzsimmons,” Nixon replies, referring to then-Teamster President Frank E. Fitzsimmons.
In several 1971 conversations, Nixon discusses the possibility of persuading then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to resign, and inquires about the dependability of former Assistant FBI Director William C. Sullivan. Hoover fired Sullivan, who had turned over to the White House secret tapes of government employees and reporters that were made in an effort to find people who were leaking information to the press.
Ehrlichman reminds Nixon of Sullivan’s role, noting that he “was the man who executed all of your instructions for the secret taps.”
Nixon: “So he knows all of them?”
Ehrlichman: “Oh, I should . . . “
Nixon: “Will he rat on us?”
Ehrlichman: “Uh, it depends on how he’s treated . . . “
Nixon: “Can we do anything for him? I think we better.”
Other tapes show that in a private White House conversation less than a year after the 1972 Watergate break-in, Nixon described former Atty. Gen. John N. Mitchell as “the culprit,” but expressed concern about his own vulnerability in hampering an official investigation of the crime.
Nixon told Richard A. Moore, an attorney who was one of his advisers, in an Oval Office meeting on April 19, 1973: “I’m afraid that our great, dear friend, John Mitchell, is the culprit. Cause John Mitchell knew about it.”
Nixon said Mitchell, who in 1972 was his reelection campaign manager, should have rejected a plan advanced by campaign aide G. Gordon Liddy for burglarizing Democratic headquarters in the Watergate apartment building.
Referring to the break-in as “stupid,” Nixon nonetheless said he might be in legal jeopardy himself because he learned that the White House later arranged cash payments to the burglars to keep them quiet, according to a tape of the same meeting. A tape released earlier and played at the 1974 cover-up trial showed that Nixon had approved the hush-money payments.
Nixon said he ordered then-White House counsel John W. Dean III to prepare a report on the Watergate case because Dean had told him of the payments a month earlier and he regarded Dean as loyal.
“I didn’t put somebody else on it because I didn’t want anybody to nail me,” Nixon confided.
Ironically, Dean later became the government’s chief witness against Nixon, setting in motion a chain of events that led to his resignation in August, 1974. The government’s case also was strengthened by Nixon’s own secret taping system, which recorded his private discussions with aides from 1971 to 1973.
In another touch of irony, Nixon told Haldeman on April 25, 1973, “I always wondered about that taping equipment but I’m damn glad we have it, aren’t you?”
Haldeman agreed, according to the transcript of that conversation, on grounds the tapes would show that Nixon took some proper actions even though “there are some things in there we prefer we wouldn’t have said.”