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Reagan Uncomfortable to Be Around, Nixon Says on Tapes

Times Staff Writer

In one call, President Richard Nixon is on the telephone to Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir talking about peace in the Middle East. On another, he is directing the White House chief of staff to make sure his daughter Tricia gets a refrigerator in her room.

And he tells his chief of staff that California Gov. Ronald Reagan, who had challenged Nixon for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968, is “an uncomfortable man to be around.”

Those are among the new glimpses into the former president’s personal and political life gleaned from 240 hours of White House tape recordings secretly made by Nixon in 1972 and released to the public Wednesday.

The tapes portray a reelection-minded president weighing the political effects of many decisions. In one conversation with a political aide, Nixon agonized over whether to make a congratulatory call to swimmer Mark Spitz, who he thought might be a supporter of Democratic presidential candidate George S. McGovern. He did not call Spitz, the winner of an unprecedented seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics.

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The recordings deal with 3,000 conversations on subjects as serious as the Vietnam War and as flighty as predictions by psychic Jeane Dixon, with whom Nixon once met.

They also include conversations with Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash and the reigning Miss America, as well as discussions about the drinking habits of members of Congress and the alleged infidelity of a political opponent.

Nixon’s remarks, like those on previously released tapes, are sprinkled with expletives.

“This certainly is going to help complete the record of the Nixon presidency,” said John Powers of the National Archives and Records Administration.

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In August 1974, Nixon became the only president to resign from office after his taping revealed his efforts to cover up the Watergate scandal. He died in 1994.

Politics, not surprisingly during an election year, was a major topic of discussion in the latest batch of tapes.

In September 1972, Nixon told Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger that he would like to see a peace agreement to end the Vietnam War before the November presidential election. “The advantage of trying to settle now, even if you’re 10 points ahead [in the polls], is you ensure a hell of a landslide, and you might win the House and increase strength in the Senate,” Nixon said.

In a conversation the same month with White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman, Nixon agonized over whether Vice President Spiro T. Agnew should break a commitment to appear at a campaign event in Texas or fly to Washington for a possible tie-breaking vote on a spending bill before the Senate.

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Nixon finally decided to call Agnew back to Washington, concluding that his political enemies would make hay out Agnew’s absence for a crucial vote. “I just don’t think he ought to take the heat,” Nixon said.

Nixon recalled that as vice president, he missed a key Senate vote, and his opponents raised “quite a bit of hell about it.” He added, however, that the spending bill was important to him. “If it were on water pollution or something like that, I wouldn’t give a damn,” he said.

In concluding that Agnew should be in Washington for the vote, Nixon says, “My view is we just shouldn’t take the risk.”

In an August 1972 conversation, Nixon and Haldeman compared Reagan and another big-state governor, Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York.

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While praising Rockefeller, Nixon said Reagan “just isn’t pleasant to be around.” Reagan served two terms as president.

In another conversation, Nixon complained about the crowd estimates used by newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, saying they often understated the size of crowds for his events.

Nixon began his secret taping system in February 1971 and dismantled it in July 1973 after its existence was revealed in testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee.

The release of the tapes by the National Archives was the 10th time Nixon tapes had been made public since 1980.

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Another batch of tapes, covering November 1972 until the taping system was removed, is expected to be released in about two years.

A spending bill approved this week by the House and due to come before the Senate in January would rescind a 1974 law that has prevented the transfer of a large portion of Nixon’s presidential records from the National Archives facility in Maryland to the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda.

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Excerpts from Nixon’s tapes

Nixon on Reagan and Rockefeller: Talking politics with White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman at Camp David in August 1972, Nixon switched the conversation to two Republican governors: California’s Ronald Reagan and New York’s Nelson A. Rockefeller.

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Nixon described Rockefeller as “sort of bouncy and upbeat” and said Reagan “just isn’t pleasant to be around.”

“No, he isn’t,” Haldeman said.

“I don’t know. Maybe he’s different with others,” Nixon said.

“No, no, I don’t think so,” Haldeman said.

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“He’s just an uncomfortable man to be around -- strange,” Nixon said.

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Nixon and Kissinger on Vietnam: Nixon and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger said they wanted to get some sort of peace agreement with the North Vietnamese before election day 1972.

“The advantage of trying to settle now, even if you’re 10 points ahead [in the polls], is you ensure a hell of a landslide, and you might win the House and increase strength in the Senate,” Nixon told Kissinger in September 1972.

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“The question is: How can we maneuver it so it can look like a settlement by election day, but the process is still open?” Kissinger said. “This could finish the destruction of [challenger George S.] McGovern.”

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Source: Associated Press

Los Angeles Times

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