Presidential Tapes: Nixon Wanted to Show Up JFK

Here are some newly released Nixon tapes, which were kept secret for years on the grounds of national security. The tapes were released last week by the National Archives, and transcripts of them were prepared by the privately financed Nixon Presidential library in Yorba Linda, Calif.

July 1, 1971, the Oval Office. The president sees a silver lining in the publication of the Pentagon Papers, which undermined support for the war:

Nixon: Murder of Diem -- Kennedy decided to go forward and got us involved, and it shows that Kennedy was the one who got us in the damn war. We got the Kennedys in this thing now.

Oct. 8, 1971, the Oval Office. John Ehrlichman, the domestic policy chief, suggests that presidential aide Charles Colson be given the job of digging up embarrassing files:

Ehrlichman: Suppose we get all the Diem stuff and supposing there's something we can really hang Teddy ((Kennedy)) or the Kennedy clan with. I'm going to want to put that in Colson's hands.

Nixon: Yep.

Ehrlichman: And we're going to really run with it.

Aug. 11, 1971, the Oval Office. The president and Colson discuss possible congressional hearings in the wake of the Pentagon Papers' release:

Colson: Can you imagine Averell Harriman ((ambassador at large under Kennedy)) before that committee, explaining why he didn't get Diem out of Vietnam when he had the chance?

Nixon: I want that out. I want him before the committee. ... I said that he was murdered, that they murder. ... I knew what the bastards were up to.

Sept. 18, 1971, the Oval Office:

Nixon: We've got all these people who were involved in this -- and they're all, in one way or another, involved in the assassination of Diem. ... The Diem incident is perhaps the best ((unintelligible)), because it involves Harriman, who is ((Sen. Edmund )) Muskie's adviser ((in the 1972 presidential election campaign)), and it involves Kennedy. ...

Ehrlichman: ((Richard)) Helms ((director of Central Intelligence)) would have a pluperfect fit.

Nixon: That doesn't bother me a bit. We owe Helms nothing. He owes us everything -- we kept him on. And we're going to let the CIA take a whipping on this. That doesn't bother me a bit and I'm not going to hear that argument from Henry ((Kissinger, the national security adviser)) or anyone else. This Diem incident's got to get out. It's just got to get out. ... I want the story of the Diem thing, everything in it -- I want it by the end of next week. That's an order. They will get it to me. I will personally ((tell)) the whole story -- I intend to have it -- on the Diem incident. ... The entire file on the Diem incident.

Ehrlichman: There's some CIA stuff on the Bay of Pigs, apparently, that they will die first before they give us that, I understand. There's also some other stuff, some internal stuff over there --

Ehrlichman: -- that we know about, but getting to it is like that big black block in Mecca, you know. ... If we could just get a friend in the hierarchy over there who would let us in. ...

Nixon: I consider it a top priority that I want the Diem story. Also on the Bay of Pigs thing, just -- I want an order to Helms and ((deputy CIA director Robert)) Cushman that for my purposes, not for public release, I am to have the Bay of Pigs story. Now that's an order. And I expect it in one week, or I want his resignation on my desk. Put it as coldly as that. The Bay of Pigs story, the total story. Tell him I know a lot about it myself. But I've got to have it -- just because I'll be questioned about it myself, and I want to be able to know what to say. The Bay of Pigs story and the Diem story. ... The whole folderol -- the way it happened, I've just got to know. ... I will not brook any opposition on this. I've screwed around long enough. I've told Henry ((Kissinger)) and he has really dropped the ball on this.

March 28, 1973, the Executive Office Building. Despite Nixon's insistence, secret CIA and State Department files on the Diem assassination and the Bay of Pigs are not made public. The President's frustration continues for months, and years:

Nixon: Did you get the word on the declassification of everything over 10 years? That's got to move fast. And not only ((unintelligible)) but the other one's important -- on the Bay of Pigs. Just get the damn thing out, will you? That's going to be quite a story -- a few little morsels. Do you agree?

Haldeman: Yeah.

Nixon: Also gets into the Diem murder and the whole Diem thing. Now the war is over and we're not going to take Henry's crap. Henry's a little bit involved in that himself. That's why he doesn't want some of it declassified.

May 13, 1973, the White House. A telephone conversation between the president and Gen. Alexander Haig, his military adviser. The president, still harping on Diem and the Bay of Pigs, mentions the White House operative E. Howard Hunt, who fabricated diplomatic cables and documents implicating Kennedy:

Nixon: I think we should just declassify everything going back -- everything that's 10 years old, and declassify the whole Bay of Pigs, plus the Diem thing. Goddammit, you know, that's -- that can only be helpful. Now you say, "Well, it'll stir things up in Vietnam." The hell with it. You don't like that, huh?

Haig: I'm not sure, sir. I think it's a thing that should be considered. ...

Nixon: Doggone it, I'd like to do it, because -- look, I have not looked at the Bay of Pigs stuff, but I know there's stuff in there that makes ((McGeorge)) Bundy ((Kennedy's national security adviser)) look like a goddamn -- uh, you know, terrible. ... Goddammit, you know what happened is, they set in motion a chain of events which resulted in the murder of Diem.

Haig: Oh, there's no question about that. None. ... In fact, you know, the vice president's aide was there. He was Lodge's assistant ((when Henry Cabot Lodge was ambassador to South Vietnam)). I talked to him some years ago about that.

Nixon: What'd he say?

Haig: He said ... the poor guy called Lodge on the phone, and said, "They're going to kill me, for God's sake, send some Marine guards up here."
Nixon: This is a good juicy thing to get out. ... I mean, that was what Hunt was looking into, you know, and screwed it up. But the point is, there's a hell of a record there. Now, somebody -- have you got some trusted person that can look at that goddamn thing, and let's declassify it. It's 10 years old, huh?

Haig: Yes, I can get somebody to do it.

May 14, 1973, the Executive Office Building:

Nixon: I want the Diem, and the Bay of Pigs totally declassified, and I want it done in 48 hours. Now you tell Haig that. It'll drive him up the wall, too. But I want it done. Do you understand? This is 10 years old! Declassify it. We've got a couple of ((expletive)) working on this thing. Do you see any reason why it shouldn't be declassified, Ron?

Ronald Ziegler, press secretary: No, I see no reason.

Nixon: I want them to get off -- now, Haig is disturbed because of the ironies involved in the murder of Diem. Now listen, this government murdered him. I know it and you know it too.

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