At least eight months before the Watergate scandal began to unfold 25 years ago, President Richard Nixon attempted to put the Internal Revenue Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service on the trail of the Los Angeles Times and its publisher, Otis Chandler, according to recently released White House tapes of Nixon’s conversations.
“I want this whole goddamn bunch gone after,” a furious Nixon ordered his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman. “I also want Otis Chandler’s income tax.”
Several of Nixon’s conversations about Chandler and The Times, laced with profanities, angry asides and ethnic slurs, are contained on tapes that the National Archives has opened for public inspection.
They are cited in the April issue of the American Journalism Review by freelance writer Ken Hughes, who writes that Nixon “refused to allow the enormous burdens of the presidency to distract him from a personal project dear to his heart--harassing The Los Angeles Times.”
The tapes show that Nixon was agitated about an Oct. 6, 1971, Times article that reported federal immigration agents had caught 36 illegal immigrants in a raid on a food processing company owned by Romana Banuelos, who three weeks earlier had been named by Nixon to be Treasurer of the United States.
The day after the article appeared, Nixon, in a phone conversation, ordered Atty. Gen. John N. Mitchell to have the INS raid The Times in search of illegal immigrants and to check whether Chandler’s gardener was a “wetback.” Nixon told Mitchell that he already had ordered Treasury Secretary John B. Connally to have the IRS investigate the income tax returns of every member of the Chandler family.
Otis Chandler, who served as The Times publisher from 1960 to 1980 and for years has been a board member of Times Mirror, said in an interview that he was not surprised at Nixon’s comments “because I’ve known about his dirty tricks in the past, although I didn’t know about the particulars of this concerning me and The Times.”
Chandler said that despite “Nixon’s orders about having The Times raided and all these bizarre things about going after income taxes,” he knows of no INS raids on The Times or IRS audits of him or other family members.
Nixon, in his phone conversation with Mitchell, also told the attorney general that he wanted him to transfer George Rosenberg, the INS district director in Los Angeles who had jurisdiction over the INS raid of the Banuelos company.
“The fellow out there in the immigration service,” Nixon said, “is a kike by the name of Rosenberg. He is out. He is to be out. Transfer him to some other place out of Los Angeles. I don’t give a goddamn what the story is! He went on television. You put him out for going on television, which is a violation.”
There followed this exchange between Nixon and Mitchell:
Nixon: “With all your other problems, there’s one thing that I want done and I don’t want any argument about it. I want you to direct the most trusted person you have in the immigration service that they are to look over all of the activities of the Los Angeles Times--all, underlined. And they are to send their teams in to see whether they are violating the wetback thing. Now let me explain, ‘cause as a Californian, I know. Everybody in California hires them. There’s no law against it, because they are there, because--for menial things and so forth. Otis Chandler--I want him checked with regard to his gardener. I understand he’s a wetback. Is that clear?”
Mitchell: “Yes sir.”
Nixon: “Understand? Do it. Give me a report.”
Mitchell: “Very well, sir.”
Nixon told Mitchell: “We’re going after the Chandlers, every one, individually, collectively, their income tax. They’re starting this week. Every one of those sons of bitches.”
In another conversation, Haldeman agreed that the Nixon administration should “go after” Otis Chandler but should not target his father, Norman Chandler, who was chairman of Times Mirror, The Times’ parent company.