Nixon Plot to Tie McGovern to Wallace Attack Reported : Archives: Plan to plant campaign flyers is among new disclosures in unreleased tapes, magazine says.
Within hours of the 1972 assassination attempt on independent presidential candidate George C. Wallace, then-President Richard M. Nixon and a top aide agreed to dispatch a political operative to plant campaign literature of Democratic contender George S. McGovern in the home of Wallace’s assailant, according to a report based on still-unreleased White House tapes.
The attempt was aborted by the designated operative, E. Howard Hunt, after the FBI sealed off the Milwaukee apartment of Arthur Bremer, according to a New Yorker magazine article by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Seymour M. Hersh.
A frustrated Nixon then berated Charles Colson, his special counsel, for not having slowed down the FBI, Hersh writes. Nevertheless, the President a few days later paid Wallace a hospital visit, at the end of which the men exchanged military salutes.
A month later, Hunt, a retired CIA agent, played a key role in the thwarted break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters here, touching off the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon’s 1974 resignation under threat of impeachment.
Titled “Nixon’s Last Cover-Up: The Tapes He Wants the Archives to Suppress,” Hersh’s article is accompanied by a full page of previously unpublished police photographs of Nixon’s top four aides after they were arraigned on grand jury indictments in the Watergate cover-ups.
The New Yorker piece focuses largely on the protracted and still ongoing legal battles between Nixon, the National Archives and various researchers and journalists over the release of the 4,000 hours of secretly taped White House conversations.
During the unfolding Watergate scandal, it was disclosed that Nixon in 1971 had ordered the Secret Service to install an elaborate taping system in the White House. Since then, some of the tapes have been released, most notably the “smoking gun” tape of June 23, 1972, in which Nixon and his then-Chief of Staff H. R. (Bob) Haldeman agreed to lie to the FBI about the Watergate affair.
The most surprising fact about the tapes, given Nixon’s determination to keep them private, Hersh writes, is that they support Nixon’s claim that he did not know of the plans to break into the Democratic offices.
Hersh posits that Nixon went along with the cover-up to protect John N. Mitchell, a close friend.
Hersh’s account, drawing from the unreleased tapes, contains numerous, previously unknown aspects of Nixon and his presidency. Among the assertions:
-- Nixon often discussed with Haldeman the sale of U.S. ambassadorships to campaign contributors. “Nixon was insistent that those who wanted to serve in the more desirable foreign posts be told that their initial contribution guaranteed them the assignment for only a year; to stay longer would require more cash,” Hersh writes. “And he often told Haldeman just how much more would be needed.”
-- Nixon was so contemptuous of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew that he predicted amid the Watergate scandal: “They’ll never impeach me as long as I have him here.” Agnew later resigned to avoid prosecution on corruption charges stemming from his tenure as Maryland governor.
-- Nixon was so enamored of John B. Connally, the former Texas governor who was Treasury secretary, that he was still trying to persuade Connally to replace Agnew on the ticket just three days before the 1972 GOP convention.
-- Nixon and Colson “schemed” to persuade cartoonist Al Capp to run against Sen. Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy (D-Mass.) in 1970. But Capp, who drew the “Lil’ Abner” strip, changed his party registration too late for that election.
A few weeks later, Capp was accused of sodomy, attempted adultery and indecent exposure in connection with an alleged assault on a Wisconsin college student. Hersh writes that Nixon feared the allegations would embarrass the White House, but Colson assured Nixon that he, Colson, had “fixed the case.” (Capp, who died in 1979, was found guilty on one morals charge and was fined $500; the other charges were dropped at the student’s request.)
-- Haldeman was so “constantly giving the President advice on foreign and domestic policy” that even Nixon came to resent his domineering style. For instance, when Nixon in December, 1972, decided to tour earthquake-ravaged Managua, Nicaragua, he ordered Stephen Bull, a personal aide, not to inform Haldeman. But the tapes captured Bull’s “panic,” and the young aide disregarded the presidential order and alerted Haldeman, who then talked Nixon out of making the trip.
-- Charles G. (Bebe) Rebozo, a wealthy Florida businessman and Nixon confidant, not only gave Nixon “gifts of cash” but also “bought a house” for Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Nixon’s younger daughter.
-- Nixon’s inability to hold liquor was such that “one or two drinks would send him into slurring . . . .” Once, he apparently feel asleep during a telephone conversation with Colson.
-- Nixon and then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger freely discussed pending court cases, especially those involving school integration in the South, with Burger offering predictions on how the court would rule.
--Nixon made a “stupendous” gaffe during a ceremonial photo session with senior officials of “a major professional organization” when he asked them about scholarships for blacks. When told that such a program existed, Nixon replied: “Well, it’s a good thing. They’re just down out of the trees.”
Hersh also asserts that Nixon’s private conversations were strewn with racial slurs, including “kikes” and “niggers.”
In his article, Hersh rarely quotes directly from the tapes, and it appears that his primary sources are those who once worked--or still work--at the archives and have special access to the tapes.
At one point, for instance, he writes: “The archivists found themselves appalled by Nixon’s lack of character, by his emptiness. The tapes reveal not just that he was lonely or diffident; there seemed to be nothing inside.” Through a New Yorker spokeswoman, Hersh declined to comment.
Efforts to reach Nixon, Colson and others mentioned in the article on Sunday were not successful. But Colson, a born-again Christian who directs a prison ministry organization, is quoted by Hersh as confirming the attempt to plant political propaganda in Bremer’s apartment.
Hersh’s article also notes that the tapes reveal Nixon to have been “invariably kind and courteous” to secretaries and valets. More than once, Hersh writes, “he would wait silently and without complaint the few times he was put on hold by an officious secretary or an unaware operator.”
The tapes, he adds, show Nixon to be a man who could “turn rage on and off,” screaming at Haldeman one moment and charming the wife and children of a retiring government official the next.
The tapes further reveal the frustration that Nixon felt at being unable to drive friends of his wife out of the White House as they gathered during the days leading up to Tricia Nixon’s marriage to Edward Cox. On wedding day, a hapless Nixon sent a valet up to the family quarters to retrieve his dress clothes, and he got dressed for the ceremony in the Oval Office.