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Oral History with H. R. Haldeman, April 11, 1988

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H. R. Haldeman was President Nixon’s Chief of Staff; however, his official title was Assistant to the President. The extensive interviews address a wide variety of topics including White House staff work and many of the major personalities in the administration. The interviews contain lengthy discussions of Haldeman’s impressions of President Nixon’s management style, personality, and policy goals. Other topics include the White House taping system, Haldeman’s diary, White House public relations, the administration’s reaction to press leaks, and Watergate.

A transcript of the oral history conducted April 11, 1988, is available below. You may also download a typed transcript in Adobe Acrobat PDFpdf format.

Transcript

Oral history interview with H. R. Haldeman
conducted by Raymond H. Geselbracht
at Mr. Haldeman's home in Santa Barbara, California
on April 11, 1988

RHG: Mr. Haldeman, I just want to explain to the researchers in the future that my preparation for this interview has beeen almost entirelyl to go through your journal while you kept while you were in the White House and that our questions will be in response to issues raised by that journal, and will be in some ways a gloss on the journal and in some ways an expansion on the journal, which is a very important document. Just by way of a warm-up question, let me ask you about the way in which you developed the persona, the personality that you brought to the White House in 1969. Your journal shows you to be a very dedicated man in a very particular kind of way. I wonder if you could tell us where the particular kind of dedication came from. Did it come from your family, was your religion an influence, your sense of career, your sense of nation? What was it?
   
HRH: The hardest thing for anybody to do, I think, is psychoanalyze himself and I'm not really sure where roots of whatever characteristics I have came from. Obviously a combination I think of all the forces that you enumerated. I would add to that, though, the time I spent ser[ving], in the campaigns, but much more after the campaigns, starting with the transition and then moving to the White House, I think a lot of it comes simply from the association, of being a part of the White House operation. Of recognizing the importance of what you'r doing and the potential effects, both positive and negative, that can arise from what you're doing, and the... You're in a surrounding where everybody is so dedicated to the cause--each in his own way, obviously, and producing in different ways. There's a universal feeling within the group that you're doing something important and that it's essential that you do the best you can at it, and not let things fall between the tables. I think, to the degree that I reflect that, [it] is a reflection of my earlier background and training, compounded and amplified by the atmosphere that I found myself in as we were getting ready to go to the White House, and then when we were at the White House.
   
RHG: Was there some sense of public service...
   
HRH: Oh, sure.
   
RHG: ...that your parents instilled into you? I'm just trying to think, you had to do so many things, to get to the White House, and there was just so much in your makeup that you had to develop and take with you, and I'm just wondering where that...?
   
HRH:

By the time I got to the White House, or by the time that we won the election in '68, I had spent a long time working with Richard Nixon in various political activities, starting with the Vice Presidential campaign in 1956, where I had served as a volunteer and worked as an advace man, and then again... That was about a three month activity during the actual campaign for Nixon's re-election as Vice President. Then, the Congressional campaign of '58, where the Vice President campaigned for the Republican Congressional candidates, I again worked as an advance man--spent another three months on a leave of absence from business. Then in '60 I took a full year's leave of absence to work as campaign tour manager for Nixon in his campaign for the Presidency, which he lost to [John F.] Kennedy. Again, in 1962 I took a full year's leave of absence to manage Nixon's campaign for Governor of California.

That was an evolutionary process. By 1956 I had been in the advertising agency business for 16 years. I had to some degree started to look for other things, other kinds of things to do, not in place of that business, but to add on to that. I had slipped into, fallen into the routine of business operation, and so forth, and the political opportunity as a volunteer was something that intrigued me, and I went ahead with that. A lot of reasons--no overwhelming ones. I was impressed by Richard Nixon the man; I was interested in him. I had followed the [Alger] Hiss case and found it fascinating. He was the Senator from my state in 1952, and I was--I actually had volunteered to work in the '52 campaign (his first round for election as Vice President) and was not accepted, so I never got into that one.

   
RHG: How did you make that application?
   
HRH:

I wrote a letter to Nixon, volunteering to work in the campaign in whatever way I could be useful, and outlining my background a little bit. About the time I got it ready, the Nixon "Fund" thing broke in the middle of that campaign. He came to California and made his famous "Checkers" speech on television from the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, which was a television studio at the time. I drove over to the El Capitan with my letter in an envelope in hand, and waited for his motorcade to pull into the theater. Tried to get to him to give it to him, was not able to, gave it to a staff person, and was assured that it would be delivered to him. And it ultimately was. I heard later from Glen Lipscomb, who was Congressman from California [and] who was working on the campaign stuff, saying that there was no opportunity for me in the national campaign, but why didn't I contact California headquarters and see if there was something I could do here? Which I didn't want to do, so I didn't. That was the end of it, really, 'til '56.

By 1956 I had--I'm not sure where she fit. Loie Gaunt, longtime staff person for Nixon, pre-Presidential, pre-Vice Presidential, she'd worked in his Senatorial offices--I had known Loie when she worked in the Dean's office at UCLA [University of California at Los Angeles] when I was active in student affairs on the UCLA campus. Her brother was a fraternity brother of mine at UCLA, so I knew her through that also. I contacted Loie--she at this time was the office manager in the Vice President's office (by 1956)--contacted her [and] told her I had tried in '52, and I wanted to try again. She, I think, got the thing to the Vice President's attention. He asked Ray Arbuthnot, who was sort of his chief advance man at the time and lived here in California, a close personal friend of Nixon's, to contact me and see if I would be suitable as an advance man. Ray did, and I was, and became an advance man, and that's how it started.

There was no great ideological thrust or noble ambition involved in this, and no thought at all of becoming permanently involved in either politics or government. It was a thing where I felt it would be an interesting side experience where I could make a contribution that would be worthwhile, something [that] would be a learning experience and an interesting experience for me, so that's why I did it to begin with. Then, step by step, I became more and more involved, more caught up, and became quite close to Nixon after he left the Vice Presidency in '60, and moved to California. I did some traveling with him, having been his tour manager through that year of campaigning for the Presidency, and then he asked me to manage his campaign for Governor. So, I became closer then.

When he went on to New York and into the law business, our ties faded substantially, although we kept in touch from time to time. I did see him, traveled with him once in a while on a trip, and that sort of thing--until we got to his starting to get ready to run in '68, at which time I became involved, to a minor degree. That increased up to the point where I left the agency--left J. Walter Thompson Company--in April, I think, of '68, exactly twenty years, probably, to the day, from right now. I joined the campaign staff as chief of staff to the candidate, and went on from there.

   
RHG: So, you didn't do much campaigning with him between 1962 and 1968?
   
HRH: No, I didn't. I did go to the '64 [Republican] convention with him, to help out. He was there just as former Vice President of the United States and senior member of the Republican Party. That was the [Barry M.] Goldwater convention, and I was there. I traveled with him once in a while, but I was not actively involved and I... He did some campaigning in '64; I did not participate in that.
   
RHG: Now, during the Presidency you became, according to Nixon's description, as I remember somewhere, as mentioned somewhere in your journal, his intimate in the White House. There was something--and [John D.] Ehrlichman has said, in his book and elsewhere, that really in 1968 the American people elected you and Nixon, essentially, as almost a single person. Did you consciously, prior to '68, try to understand Nixon and understand where you might strengthen some of his qualities?
   
HRH:

Yeah, I think in a growing sense I did in all of the associations, from '56 up to '68, look for ways that I could... That's what an advance man does. An advance man's job in a campaign is setting the candidate up to make the best possible and most effective appearance that he can, in an individual campaign stop. I started on that basis and learned all the details of a very intricate trade as an advance man. [I] got to know Nixon: how he performed and reacted, and that sort of thing, in the process, and became much more involved in that in 1960 when, as tour manager, I traveled with him. I was chief advance man, I was in charge of all the advance men. They did the advance work; I was with the candidate every minute of that entire year of 1960, basically, and had dealt with him, between him and the advance men and the tour planners and everybody else, on a very close basis. Then in '62, when I managed the campaign, I had total responsibility for his campaign for Governor and had to learn how to manage him and the campaign and the party's resources and all that sort of thing to his, hopefully, best advantage. It turned out not to be.

As a sidelight, I was opposed to his running for Governor. I never felt that he should run; told him so right up to the time he was walking down that corridor to announce he was going to run; I tried to get him not to. My argument there was that he shouldn't run for Governor because he didn't want to be Governor. He was running for Governor because [Dwight D.] Eisenhower and Len [Leonard] Hall, the former Republican National [Committee] Chairman, and others had told him he had to maintain a political base in order to have any political future, having lost the Presidency in '60, and that the only way he could do that was as Governor of California and that he must do it for that. That was the reason he was running for Governor. It was not because of any burning desire to do anything great for the state of California. I had the belief that politically you don't have much chance of winning an election that you don't really want to win, for the purpose of serving in that office. I still think I was basically right. I think that's why he lost that election in '62; he didn't want to be Governor, and that came through to voters. Pat [Edmund G.] Brown, his opponent, the incumbent Governor, very much did want to be Governor and had in a lot of ways been a good Governor. He'd also in a lot of ways not been a good Governor, but he wasn't bad enough to throw out just on his badness and Nixon wasn't good enough to overcome his goodness as Governor, because where he was really aiming himself was back to running for President.

Learning how to deal with his strengths and weaknesses became a vital part of all of those activities, more and more as we went along. Then in this campaign in '68, the Presidential campaign, where I was serving as chief of staff, I wasn't just the tour manager at that point; I was responsible for everything that related to the candidate himself. Which meant the speechwriters, the campaign scheduling process, the advance men and the tour operations, which John Ehrlichman basically oversaw in '68. I spent all of that year right with him, all the time, and you learn a lot about a person in that kind of process. We fought that war together, and there's no question that I spent a lot of my time and thought trying to determine what things ought to be done, what things ought not to be done, how he gained the most advantage, where the pitfalls were that needed to be looked out for, and that sort of thing. It became an instinctive process. It wasn't something that I sat down one day and wrote out a memo to myself saying, this is what you should do. It just happened. I, as we moved into that, became very much involved in approaching it on that kind of basis.

   
RHG: About the '62 campaign, there's just one rather famous incident that I'd like to ask a question about: the so-called last press conference. Last year, the first I guess, first scholarly biography of Nixon was published by Stephen Ambrose [Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962] and he tried to figure out what had happened; where the last press conference had originated. The best he could do was to present three different stories. And, let me tell them to you and maybe you can draw on your memory to try to see which one is accurate.
   
HRH: OK.
   
RHG: Now, the first, he says, according to Nixon (this must be from the Memoirs; I don't have the footnotes here), he glanced at a television screen just as he was leaving for home, and heard reporters, using an insulting tone, ask, "Where's Nixon?" At that, he said, he snapped, "I'm going down there." That's number one. Now, number two, the second theory, is [Herbert G.] Klein's. He said that just as Nixon was leaving, Ray Arbuthnot and Jack Drown showed up to take Nixon home. When they heard his plans, one of them declared indignantly, "You can't let the press chase you out the back door. You ought to face them," or at least go down, go out in your own style. Now, the third version, and I'm not sure whose this is, has it that when Klein told the press "The 'Boss' won't be down," that Haldeman was watching television. Several of the reporters snickered, which made Haldeman furious. He burst into a diatribe against the liberal press, blaming it for the defeat. "They should be told just where the hell to get off." Nixon then decided to do just that.
   
HRH: Well, I can categorically--I assume that the third description comes from someone in the journalistic fraternity; it sounds like something Dan Rather would come up with.
   
RHG: And I'm sorry I don't have that citation...
   
HRH: I have Ambrose's book, we can check it.
   
RHG: We'll look it up.
   
HRH:

But my guess would be, off the cutt--and I'm happy to have it on the record because it reflects a bias that I admittedly have, based on my knowledge of the gross inaccuracy of most of the journalistic accounts of inside stories of Richard Nixon. Incidentally, I have a great respect for Ambrose's--I have not found any major fault with anything that I know of in Ambrose's book, to the degree that I've gone through it. I have not covered it word by word. But the third story is pure fiction, dreamed up by somebody who was not there. I don't know who, but I can say that categorically. When we found out who, I'm sure I'll be right.

The middle story, the Klein version, so-called, I think, is the one I would think most likely to be correct. The first one could be correct, the Nixon story, but Klein sounds more likely to me, based on my knowledge of the thing, which, unfortunately is second-hand. At the time that Nixon made the decision to go down, after having said he would not go down, and making plans to leave by the back door and go quietly home from the hotel (we were at the Beverly Hilton), I was in a room near his room but not in, I don't think even in his suite. I think it was in the next suite down in the hotel, with, as I recall, Bob [Robert J.] Finch and several other people, having breakfast and watching Herb Klein on the TV, downstairs telling the press that Nixon would not be down and closing out the coverage of the campaign. The next thing I knew, either Drown or Arbuthnot, and that's why I think the Klein version is probably accurate, although Klein wasn't there either, because obviously he was downstairs with the press at the time... Nixon is the only one whose version is first-hand so it should be the most accurate, but I suspect it's not. I think that there was a reaction by [Drown] and/or Arbuthnot and/or Nixon to the press reaction to Klein's discussion downstairs, that they were seeing on television, and that amongst the three of them--and they're the only three I can of my own belief put into the room at the time, into the Nixon suite...

   
RHG: This is Drown, Arbuthnot, ...
   
HRH: Drown, Arbuthnot, and Nixon.
   
RHG: ...and Nixon himself.
   
HRH: Of the three of them, one or another or all of them said something to the effect that's quoted there, that "we're going to go down," or "I'm going to go down and tell them what I think." In any event, the next thing I knew was somebody hurriedly saying to me, "He's going down." At which point I, without doing anything further, shot down as fast as I could get downstairs to warn Klein that Nixon was coming. There was no advance man
available and I didn't know... I was moving as fast as I could. I did get there before Nixon did, as I recall. Klein was on sort of a platform talking to the press, and Iwent up to the edge of the platform and signalled to Klein "Nixon's coming down." Just about that point my information was irrelevant because Nixon walked in the door and went up, took over the microphone and the rest is recorded on television. That would be my version of what happened.
   
RHG: I Just want to ask a couple of quest ions about the '68 campaign. I read an account of the Nixon advisors selecting the Vice Presidential candidate and keeping a rather closed door. I know Maurice Stans says in his book that he wanted to come in and nobody would let him in. A few advisors selecting the Vice Presidential candidate. Now, [Spiro T.] Agnew turned out to be a lot of trouble for the White House in many ways. This, I hope we'll talk about in the coming days. Was there any concern about whom you were picking at the time? Was there any suspicion that this man might not be Presidential caliber, or is that not what one talks about when choosing a Vice President?
   
HRH:

Well, it is what one talks about to some degree. It isn't the only thing one talks about, unfortunately I guess. The Vice Presidential selecticon process was very high on Nixon's list of concerns prior to the convention, because obviously he felt sure he was going to be nominated, and he realized the importance, having been a Vice President himself, of the right selection of Vice President. He spent a lot of time worrying the subject over. The time prior to the convention we spent, as I recall, quite a long time, a week or so, at Gurney's Inn in Montauk, Long Island--a little resort hotel out on a desolate beach. I was staying at the Montauk Inn; Nixon was staying at a private home, I think, or at a special house at the Inn, or something like that, I'm not exactly sure. Anyway, I remember he was holed up writing his acceptance speech, primarily; doing a lot of speech work. Ray [Raymond K.] Price was there working with him on the speech, staying at the hotel with us, Rose [Mary] Woods doing the typing. There were just a few of us there. My role at that time, other than finishing up campaign stuff, was accompanying Nixon on his breaks between work on the speech. When he'd go for a walk on the beach or for a swim, or sit and talk or something. I would spend two or three hours with him sometimes in these long distended sessions which were almost totally devoted to discussion of Vice Presidential possibilities. At that time it was working it over in his own mind. Not so much consulting with other people, although there was some consulting with other people.

Then we got to the convention. Nixon had made up a short list I think at that point. Incidentally, I should say here that anything that I'm saying now that is in conflict with what Nixon says in his memoirs, which I have not checked on this point, I would defer to his recollections. They're probably superior to mine. Mine may flesh out some of the minor details. But my recollections are not very strong in this area, so I'm not speaking with [the] conviction that I'm right and anybody who disagrees with me is wrong. I would have to review the disagreements to decide where I'd come out on them, and I would probably defer to them. Certainly in the case of Nixon and possibly some others: John Mitchell and perhaps some others who were involved in that process.

In any event, by the time we got to the convention Nixon had decided to work out a process for Vice Presidential selection that would involve key party leaders and people whose judgment he respected on that subject. One of the factors in Vice Presidential selection was unification of the party: bringing everybody together and trying to move into the general campaign in the strongest possible position. Who was Vice President was a factor in that and how people like Strom Thurmond and Billy Graham and various people that were involved in the process from various sides of the spectrum--Nelson Rockefeller, Jerry [Gerald R.] Ford, Congressional leaders, opinion leaders, party leaders--how they viewed the process would be a factor, to a degree at least, on the strength of their interest in helping in the campaign and assuring the election. So he had gone through all of this. We got to the time at the convention when it was--we went through this process Nixon had worked out, where he assembled as I recall, several different cadres of Vice Presidential advisory groups. It finally boiled down to one very small group that was the ultimate selection group, and by this time we were going on into the night. I was in all of those; I was the only person, incidentally, I think, other than Richard Nixon, who was in all of the meetings of--I have some notes (and I don't know where they are) on the Vice Presidential selection process, but I'll find them someday and we'll get them into the Archives. But I have the lists of the people that were at those--there were I think, three levels of meetings, and different people--some people were involved in more than one. I think Mitchell was involved in two, but then slept through the third, as I recall. He was supposed to have been at all three but didn't make one of them. It's my belief that I was the only person other than Richard Nixon who was in all three of the meetings.

Those meetings were discussions of the various people on Nixon's short list, and in some cases other names were raised: "Have you thought about so-and-so?" In almost, if not all of the cases where some new name was raised, Nixon of course had thought of them. It would be hard to come up with a name that he wouldn't have considered at some point in his checklist process. When it got down to the final selection, why was it Agnew? I think Nixon, I would imagine, in his memoirs, has laid out the factors and I would think they would be very accurate. My recollection wuld be that they were a party unification desire: Agnew was a Rockefeller Republican, basically, had been Rockefeller's campaign manager or something of that sort, I think. He was East Coast party, liberal side of the party, opposite end of the country from Nixon. A man with governmental experience as Governor of Maryland, with business experience, a feeling that he had covered sort of the broad spectrum kind of thing that you were looking for in [a] Vice President.

Nixon's view of Vice Presidential selection--he may not have mentioned in his memoirs, or anywhere else--was, I believe and recall from the Montauk walks and that sort of thing, that nobody that he selected as Vice President was likely to be of very much help to him in the campaign. Now, we're looking only at the political effect in the campaign, because that... You [have] got to recognize, a Presidential candidate's first overwhelming objective is to win the election because, bar that--and Nixon knew this, having lost one--bar that, he's not goin to have to worry about any of the rest of the issues. So you've got to concentrate primarily on winning the election, and in selecting the Vice President you do concentrate very heavily on winning the election. His feeling was that no Vice President was going toh elp him very much in winning the election. The wrong Vice Presidential selection could drag him down, and the thing there was sort of a negative approach: who was going to do us the least harm, rather than who's going to do us the most good. Agnew apparently scored well ultimately in that regard, and the net was that he was the selection.

Now in the process, I think it's been reported, and I know it to be the fact, that there was an interlude in the final selection thing where Bob Finch had the opportunity to be [the candidate]. Bob Finch at that time was Lieutenant Governor of California; had been prior to that very close to Nixon as his chief staff person in the office of the Vice President for some time, and very close to him politically in California and in national politics. Had worked as an advance man with me in the '56 campaign, but was much closer to Nixon at that time than I was. Much closer, and has always been closer politically. Bob Nixon always regarded as an outstanding political person, both as a strategist and as a candidate and an officeholder. He did take Finch into another room, out of the parlor of the suie where the final meeting was being held, took him into one of the bedrooms of the suite, as I recall, and had a long, personal, heart-to-heart talk with Bob, which only Finch and Nixon can recount accurately. It's my understanding that he told Bob that he would be his first choice as Vice President if Bob were willing and wanted to take the post. But there were some obvious disadvantages. They discussed that, and the net was that Bob felt that someone else should be the Vice Presidential candidate.

   
RHG: That's really a remarkable choice in the sense that he's from the same state Nixon is from; it suggested to me, when I read that, incredulously, that Nixon just had a terrifically high opinion of Finch and was willing to run with him despite the political negatives.
   
HRH:

He did, and I think that one, the Finch selection, was an aberration or a detour from the process I was just talking about. It was overriding a lot of the normal factors and saying, Bob was so good and Nixon would be so willing and like to have him at his side as his Vice President that he would take the risk, the political risk of the election part of it. But, on the other hand, Bob was a very attractive candidate: a guy with a lot of political vision, a lot of political savvy, and a strong idealist, [he] counterbalanced Nixon in some other ways. He was younger, he was more charismatic, more liberal, within the party spectrum of liberal to conservative. The overriding similarity was that they were both from California. It totally wiped out the--although Nixon could argue [that] he was a New Yorker at that point, having lived in New York for the preceding five years. The Finch thing was rather remarkable; I think, looking back on it, it would have been marvelous if Finch had been Vice President. I think it would have helped in lots of ways.

It also would have been marvelous, to digress, if Bob Finch had, a few years later, been elected Senator from California instead of having to defer to George Murphy, the incumbent Senator. Nixon and I and others tried hard to dissuade George Murphy from running for re-election, on the theory that he probably would not win, and that also he should step aside and let Bob Finch, a superb Senatorial candidate--the ideal place for Bob Finch would have been in the United States Senate. As Vice President, he would have been President of the Senate, and that would have put him in... And he would have been, I think, as Vice President, a very active Vice President in presiding at the Senate, and would have been an enormous value to President Nixon in working his legislative program through, which Agnew was not, in terms of Senate relations. Agnew was not a creature of the Senate at all, where Bob Finch, although not having been in the Senate, was legislatively inclined and he would have, I think, worked superbly well as President of the Senate or later as a United States Senator, if he'd had that opportunity. We tried to create that opportunity, but it didn't work.

   
RHG: Finch has said in an oral history interview that Nixon offered him, during the transition, any Cabinet post that he wanted, which I also found to be very remarkable. Is that true?
   
HRH: I don't know that to be true, but I would certainly not dispute it if Bob says that's the case. [The] only reason I don't know it--of my own first-hand knowledge, I don't find it surprising because... I think Nixon had enough respect for Finch's political judgment and savvy, and governmental judgment and savvy, that he knew he wouldn't take a post that wouldn't be appropriate for him. When he offered him--I'm sure he said "any post"--I think he did that with the confidence that there's no way that Finch would have opted for Secretary of State or the Treasury, which are two posts that he would not have belonged in. And probably not Secretary of Defense, which is also probably one he would not have belonged in. But in domestic posts, HEW [Department of Health, Education, and Welfare], which he ultimately took, or any of the others: HUD [Housing and Urban Development] or Transportation or possibly Commerce--probably not. There were a lot of, there were a number of posts where Finch would have been very good. I think the one he selected was probably the right one, but my own belief is--and we'll get into this, I suspect, as it evolves during the course of the Presidency--Bob Finch should not have been a Cabinet officer at all. Bob Finch is not an administrator, and he should not have been burdened with the administrative problem of running a department, which Cabinet officers are burdened with. Bob Finch should have been a United States Senator. Lacking that, he should have been a Counsellor to the President, which he ultimately became. But, unfortunately, he became that in a sort of a negative way, having run into some serious problems over at HEW and moved out of there into the Counsellorship. Right at the outset--of course, he was Lieutenant Governor, he couldn't come into the administration right at the outset because he... He could've resigned the post, but, he didn't...
   
RHG: He did resign.
   
HRH: Did he resign? OK, I should correct that then. He did resign. That was one of the problems in considering what Finch would do: how he covered his position as Lieutenant Governor. I had forgotten that. He resigned as Lieutenant Governor?
   
RHG: Yes. He was elected in 1966 for a term that expired...
   
HRH: Four years.
   
RHG: ...in 1971.
   
HRH: OK, right. So, in any event, the Cabinet thing was, I think, a mistake for Bob. I think he should have come in right at the outset as Counsellor to the President in a [Daniel P.] Moynihan-like role. And that he would have been ideal there: as a policy developer, as a smoother of the waters, as a worker with Congress in working domestic programs through. It should have been in the domestic program area, because Bob's expertise is not in the field of foreign policy.
   
RHG: Just one other question about the campaign, asked, I think, primarily because it comes up later, much later in the Presidency, and that was: what was happening during the campaign between Nixon and South Vietnam, with regard to the [Lyndon] Johnson bombing halt and the negotiations, peace talks and such?
   
HRH:

Here again, I can give you some background from my own knowledge but it's another area where I would defer to Mitchell, to [Henry] Kissinger in a sense, and certainly to Nixon. From my viewpoint (and I stand ready to be corrected by people with superior knowledge) there was, first of all, great concern--and I don't want this to sound as negative as I think it's going to sound--there was great concern within the campaign organization and on Nixon's part that Johnson was planning to pull a trick out of the hat. There was a political recognition on Nixon's part, and his political strategists' part, that an incumbent President has enormous powers to influence an election. Those powers were not exercised by President Eisenhower in the 1960 election on behalf of his potential successor, in many ways. Nixon recognized the potential was there for it, especially when the nation was at war, which we were in Vietnam, because the President as Commander-in-Chief has the opportunity to very strongly affect the conduct of that war, and especially the Vietnam War, which was not a properly declared war. And there was great concern that, well...

There's a little bit of history that goes back to this that I've covered in something I've written, I think. Going back to the '62 campaign for Governor of California. Nixon was running a campaign in California that was well conceived and being well executed, up and to a point. And that point was a few weeks before the election when President Kennedy got into the Cuban missile crisis situation. Nixon was building a campaign following this classic Nixon theory of politics, of building a campaign to a climax at election day. In other words, gradually building your position: not trying to get way up in the polls at the beginning with the risk then of sagging, but rather trying to steadily build so that by election day you've crossed the line and you're ahead of your opponent on the chart. That was the strategy in '62. The Cuban missile crisis--and I don't know the exact date, but that's obviously easily confirmed when that took place--was a few weeks before the election. And, in Nixon's opinion (and I completely concur), totally diverted the attention of the citizens of California from the gubernatorial election that was facing them to the overwhelming international crisis that the President of the United States was facing vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. Consequently, nothing that either candidate, Brown or Nixon, said in California had much effect in the closing weeks of the campaign, which were the weeks when Nixon expected to close the gap and move ahead. Nobody, and certainly [not] I, has knowledge of whether Nixon, had not the Cuban missile crisis taken place, might have won the Governorship of California. Certainly I agree that the Cuban missile crisis strongly decreased Nixon's chances of winning. He might not have won anyway, but he lost by more, or had less chance of winning, because of the missile crisis.

OK, that relates to the bombing halt question in Vietnam in the sense that we got campaign intelligence information from people within the Johnson administration saying the President was going to call a bombing halt in order to get [Hubert H.] Humphrey elected, to make Humphrey a "peace" candidate, and give Humphrey the credit. I mean there were all kinds of rumor-type things as to what Johnson was up to.

   
RHG: Do you know who that was?
   
HRH:

Nope. There were several sources, and I don't know who they were. Kissinger was one of them to some degree, I think, through Mitchell. I had never met Henry Kissinger. All I knew was that there was a Harvard professor who had some ties to the Johnson administration and to Rockefeller, who was concerned about what Johnson was doing. It was my understanding--Mitchell was the contact with Rockefeller--through Mitchell we were getting some of these reports, but we were getting them from other sources, too. I think Bryce Harlow got them from some sources that he had, who may well have been Congressmen, Democratic Congressmen, who had ties into the administration. I don't know that I knew at the time, and I sure can't trace back in my mind now what those sources were. I just have a very strong impression that we were getting intelligence reports. We didn't know whether they were valid or not. They were rumors, if you want to call them that, or leaks (whatever you want to call them) that Johnson was planning something. We got specific calls once in a while, I remember on the campaign trail, urgent calls saying... I remember getting one from Harlow, and I took it from the secure phone on the platform from which the candidate was speaking at the moment, saying, "We understand there's going to be big foreign policy announcement, Johnson's going to go on TV tonight," or something. So there was concern about what Johnson might do to affect the course of the war that would in the process affect the course of the election. The Nixon-[Hubert] Humphrey election, we knew, was close, and a small thing could make a very big difference. Nixon had lost a close election once before, so again he had a high degree of sensitivity to that.

There was also--and there are much better sources than I to the details of this--there was also the contact with Madame [Anna] Chennault, who had ties to the South Vietnamese government, close ties to the South Vietnamese government. There was information coming out of that that indicated that various things might be happening or could be happening or could happen after the election, were Nixon to win, that related to the war in Vietnam and the peace talks in Vietnam and the whole range of possibilities there. So, the question of a bombing halt and/or any other major development in the war was a question very much at the front of Nixon's mind as the candidate, and of other people's minds in the political and foreign policy group with Nixon during the campaign. There was some peripheral involvement by Kissinger, as I recall, through the Rockefeller ties, because he had been Rockefeller's foreign policy man, coming in through Mitchell. I don't know if I answered the question. What was the question? I got way astray.

   
RHG: No, no, no. What did Nixon do in response to the information that he was getting? Did he himself communicate with [Nguyen Van] Thieu? Or was...?
   
HRH: No.
   
RHG: Or indirectly?
   
HRH: No, I don't believe so. I don't think there was any direct communication. I think there--I mentioned Madame Chennault, and that's the only tie to Thieu that I'm aware of. I don't know exactly what the details of the story are. That's something during the campaign that I was not involved in directly, and I don't have any first-hand knowledge.
 

 

  [End side one]
   
  [Begin side two]
   
RHG: Contacts between Nixon and South Vietnam: Professor Ambrose is now writing his second volume on Nixon and he's trying to understand what happened regarding South Vietnam, and he's found two stories. One of them comes from a book called The Palace Fileby Jerrold Schecter and Mr. [Nguyen Gregory Tien] Hung, a South Vietnamese author, and they talk about Nixon's attempt to persuade Thieu to refuse to go to the Paris peace talks in the beginning of November 1968. That's one story. But [Ambrose] says he's also found some evidence amongst the Clark Clifford papers at the Johnson Library to indicate the opposite--that Nixon wrote a letter to Thieu telling him to cooperate with Johnson. Do you know anything about that?
   
HRH:

I don't, and that's surprising. I haven't read Schecter's book, obviously, yet. I know Schecter. That doesn't ring a bell either way, so I can't give you any first-hand knowledge. What I can say is that from my judgment, I would have to opt for the Clifford side, which is an unusual ally [laughter] for me to have, because I can't conceive that there would be any motivation on Nixon's part to urge that they not go to peace talks. There would be strong motivation to urge that they do go to peace talks.

Nixon did not see Vietnam as an asset in any way, shape, or form. It was a terrible, terrible liability. Anything that would have constructively brought Vietnam to a halt in the right way, or even to the start of peace talks or anything else, based on my knowledge of Nixon's thinking at the time, would have been exactly what he would have wanted to do. Because, perceiving himself as the next President, which a candidate has to do, the last thing he wants is to come into office with Vietnam still going on. The best thing that could happen to him is to have Vietnam ended so he can move ahead with his own agenda instead of having to deal with the problem of an escalating war, which is exactly what he did have to deal with, and which was the overriding negative factor of his first term. There was no positive to Vietnam at all. I can't imagine that there would have been any desire on his part to prolong any Vietnamese War activity for an hour, if it could be shortened. So I would find the original speculation--the Schecter concept--to be very questionable and Clifford's evidence to be much more likely.

That gets into the whole issue which I shouldn't even get into: the whole question of Nixon's secret plan to end the war idea in the campaign, which was not... Bill [William] Safire was the best authority on that, because Safire was the guy that did the work with Nixon on the concept. He never said he had a secret plan to end the war. He said he intended to end the war and he had an intention of how he was going to go about doing it, which was exactly true. He thought he was going to end the war very early on in his first term, if it were not ended prior to that. He was not successful in doing that, and that was the overwhelming failure of the administration. It was not, in my opinion, his fault. It was the intransigence of both the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese that made it impossible to bring an negotiated settlement.

I understand Nixon has now said in his "Meet the Press" interview yesterday that the biggest mistake he made was not bombing and mining much earlier. I'm sure he believes that to be the case today, but he didnot think that at the time. Because at the time, day by day, he always thought we were right on the verge of a negotiated peace settlement, which would have been preferable to the bombing and mining. He finally reluctantly went back to that as the only way to bring it about. Now he sees with hindsight that he couldn't get a negotiated settlement and therefore he should have bombed them into as ettlement. Obviously, had he done so, on Inauguration Day, the war would have been over in a few weeks, and he could have gone ahead with his own agenda and accomplished a lot of things that the war precluded accomplishing.

   
RHG: Now, you saw Nixon victorious on the election eve day on two different occasions, 1968 and 1972. Can you just...?
   
HRH: Also 1956.
   
RHG: Right, right. Two Presidential elections.
   
HRH: Right.
   
RHG: But, can you just compare the two as to how he reacted, just as a person, to the victory that he had got?
   
HRH:

Hard to remember totally, but in both cases, my feeling is that election... Well, I think he almost hated election nights as much as I did. I had come, over my experience in '56, '60, '62, '68 and '72, to hate election nights. You'd think that you would hate election nights that you lose and love election nights that you win. I hated them all. The problem is, you're on the edge of or in the middle of an enormous letdown, because a campaign is such an intensive effort for so long, and all of a sudden, on election day, it's all over, instantly. There's a letdown on election day that carries over into election night, and you get caught up with trying to keep up with the returns and you have that haunting dread, in the back of--not in '72, there was no dread, we knew we had won in '72--but in '68, some question. In '62 and '60 a lot of question, and we lost them.

I think Nixon had the same kind of thing. I think there was an enormous letdown. He, of course, had worked much harder than any of us in the campaigns, [28]

   
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[END OF INTERVIEW]
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