Excerpts From 201 Hours of Secret Nixon Tapes

Following are excerpts from tape transcripts from June 21, 1972, to July 12, 1973, from "Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes" by Stanley Kutler, to be published in November by The Free Press. The ellipses and emphases are taken from Kutler's transcripts.

Participants in the recorded conversations are designated by the following initials:

N: President Richard Nixon.

H: H.R. Haldeman, White House chief of staff.

K: Henry A. Kissinger, national security adviser.

Z: Ronald Ziegler, White House spokesman.

AH: Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr.

After The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers in June 1971, the president created a secret team, known as the Plumbers, to stop leaks of government information. The Plumbers -- including a CIA veteran, E. Howard Hunt Jr.; an ex-FBI agent, G. Gordon Liddy; a campaign security chief, James W. McCord Jr., and anti-Castro Cubans -- undertook break-ins, buggings and other "dirty tricks." On June 17, 1972, members of the Plumbers were arrested at Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate hotel.

From the Start, a Cover-Up

June 21, 1972: The cover-up began immediately. The president knew that an investigation of the break-in could quickly lead directly to the White House.

N: What's the dope on the Watergate incident? Anything break on that?

H: ... (Former Attorney General and Nixon re-election campaign chairman John N.) Mitchell's concern is the FBI, the question of how far they're going in the process. He's concerned that that be turned off. ...

The problem is that there are all kinds of other involvements and if they started a fishing expedition on this they're going to start picking up tracks. ... The only tie they've got to the White House is that this guy's name was in their books, Howard Hunt, and that Hunt used to be a consultant -- --

N: To the White House?

H: -- -- to Colson at the White House. ... You've got to be careful of pushing that too hard, because he was working on a lot of stuff. ... It leads to other things.

N: ... My view is, and I still hold with this view, that in terms of the reaction of people, the reaction is going to be primarily Washington and not the country, because I think the country doesn't give much of a (expletive) about it, other than the ones we've already bugged. ... Most people around the country think that this is routine, that everybody's trying to bug everybody else. ... (The Watergate story) is not one that's going to get people that goddamn excited ... because they don't give a (expletive) about repression and bugging and all the rest. ... Let's just look at wiretapping. The country's for it. The whole country.

Liddy, the Fall Guy

June 30, 1972:

The president learns that Liddy will take the blame for Watergate. The campaign cash that financed the break-in will be tied to an "embezzlement."

H: We're going to write a scenario -- in fact, we're going to have Liddy write it -- which brings all of the loose ends that might lead anywhere at all to him. ...

N: What does he get out of it? What's his penalty?

H: Not too much. They don't think it'll be any big problem. Whatever it is, we'll take care of him. ...

N: And we'll give him -- we'll take care of him, too. Well, it's good to have some people like that.

H: He may have to go to jail for awhile or something, but he'll survive that.

N: What the hell. Worse than that, he's breaking into the Democratic Committee, Christ. That's no blot on a man's record.

H: Well, the embezzlement of those funds, too, and violation of the Campaign Spending Act.

N: That's probably a fine. ...

H: Wrapping it all up into this, it doesn't make much difference. We'll wait a discreet interval and pardon him.

N: You don't want to pardon him now.

H: After the election.

N: Sure. ... It's just such a ridiculous goddamn thing, it really is.

$300,000 in Boxes

July 25, 1972:

The president asks Haldeman how much hidden campaign cash is on hand at the White House.

N: Incidentally, can I ask a question? Do we have any funds that (campaign treasurer Maurice) Stans doesn't know about that's not in cash?

H: Well, we have cash that Stans -- yes, we have some cash that Stans can't do anything about. He knows we have it.

N: We can handle it with a non-reporting (unintelligible), but we've got some and we may have to do something about that.

H: And Rose has got some cash (This was $100,000 from Dwayne Andreas, the agribusiness magnate, in the safe of the president's secretary, Rose Mary Woods).

N: OK, good.

H: We don't have as much as we were going to have. We have about $300,000 but we can get anything we want. We got scared, everybody got scared, because of the (unintelligible) thing and the problem of getting ourselves tied into cash (unintelligible).

N: The $300,000 is left. ...

H: It's in our cash in boxes. ... I think it's $300,000.

N: That isn't a hell of a lot. ...

H: We can tap -- we also have cash that they have that we can tap. We don't have to use only our cash. There is unreported cash over there (at campaign headquarters) that they'll expend at our direction.

The Cost of Buying Silence

Aug. 1, 1972:

The Watergate burglars are about to be indicted. The president asks Haldeman about the cost of buying their silence with hush money.

N: Let's be fatalistic about the goddamn thing.

H: If it blows, it blows.

N: If it blows, it blows, and so on. I'm not that worried about it, to be really candid with you.

H: It's worth a lot of work to try and keep it from blowing.

N: Oh, my, yes.

H: But if it blows, we'll survive it.

N: After all ... nobody at a higher level was involved, the White House not being involved, and all that stuff. ... Are the Cubans going to plead not guilty?

H: I don't know. But everybody's satisfied. They're all out of jail, they've all been taken care of. We've done a lot of discreet checking to make sure there's no discontent in the ranks, and there isn't any.

N: They're all out on bail.

H: Hunt's happy.

N: At considerable cost, I guess?

H: Yes.

N: It's worth it.

H: It's very expensive. It's a costly -- --

N: That's what the money is for. ... They have to be paid. That's all there is to that. They have to be paid. ... You say no cooperation from the Justice Department. I understand the FBI.

H: It's been very hard. ...

N: That is scary.

Fund-Raiser's Hush Money

March 2, 1973:

The president learns that Thomas Pappas, a loyal fund-raiser with close ties to the right-wing junta running Greece, will provide hush money. In exchange, Pappas wants the U.S. ambassador in Athens, Henry Tasca, retained.

H: I don't know if John Dean's told you or not -- one of the major problems on the business John's working on is the question of financial, continuing financial activity in order to keep those people in place. And the way he's working on that is via Mitchell to Tom Pappas.

N: Yeah.

H: Which is the best source we've got for that kind of thing. Pappas is extremely anxious that Tasca stay in Greece. ... And our plan was, you know, to remove him and put someone else in Greece, but Mitchell says it would be a very useful thing to just not disrupt that.

N: Good. I understand. No problem. Pappas has raised the money for this other activity or whatever it is. How's he doing?

H: ... Apparently he's sort of one of the unknown J. Paul Gettys of the world right now.

N: Great. I'm just delighted.

H: And he's able to deal in cash.

On March 7, the president thanked Pappas in the Oval Office. On March 21, learning that the Plumbers' silence might cost $1 million, the president said: "You could get a million dollars. And you could get it in cash. I know where it could be gotten." Dean mentioned Pappas role. "I know," the president replied. In 1975, Tasca told a congressional investigator that some of the hush money came from the right-wing Greek junta.

Thinking About Quitting

April 17-18, 1973:

The cover-up is unraveling. Dean, cooperating with prosecutors, implicates top Nixon aides. The president decides that Haldeman and Ehrlichman must resign. In a midnight call to Kissinger, the president, for the first time, contemplates quitting. Neither man details this call in memoirs; history books say the president first considered quitting five weeks later.

N: Goddamn, I think of these good men.

K: That's right, who wanted to do the right thing.

N: Well, it's going to splash on a lot of them. ...

K: Well, the major thing now, Mr. President, if I may say so, is to protect the presidency and your authority.

N: That will be hard.

K: That is absolutely essential.

N: ... Well, if we can. If we can we will, and if we don't, what the hell.

K: We can, Mr. President.

N: Maybe we'll even consider the possibility of, frankly, just throwing myself upon the sword -- --

K: No -- --

N: -- -- and letting Agnew take it. What the hell.

K: That is out of the question, with all due respect, Mr. President. That cannot be considered. ... It is impermissible to touch the president. That cannot be permitted, at any price. ...

N: Well, don't you get discouraged.

K: Mr. President, I'm not discouraged.

N: You do your job. Two or three of us have got to stick around, try to hold the goddamn fort.

K: You have saved this country, Mr. President. The history books will show that, when no one knows what Watergate means.

N: Maybe, although our enemies say, well, this proves that we obstructed justice. Oh, well.

'They Hate My Guts'

April 27, 1973:

Another late-night talk, this one with Ziegler. The president, for the first time, talks seriously about impeachment. He is enraged, cursing Dean. Even his dog, King Timahoe, infuriates him.

N: That goddamn press. ...

Z: They didn't call for impeachment. They referred to it, you know, the wording.

N: Christ, impeach the president on John Dean -- on John Dean's word. ... He came in, there's, there's a cancer in the heart of the White House, on the heart of the presidency. (The dog barks) King! ... goddamn, get off me! ... But they can't want, frankly, to see Agnew be president.

Z: That's right.

N: No, really. You know -- well, I don't think of impeachment, Good God Almighty, the point is they've got to want this country to succeed. The whole hopes of the whole goddamn world of peace, Ron, you know where they rest, they rest right here in this damn chair. ... The press has got to realize, that whatever they think of me, I'm the only one at the present time in this whole wide blinking world that can do a goddamn thing, you know. Keep it from blowing up. ... Look, if we went in with sackcloth and ashes and fired the whole White House staff ... that isn't going to satisfy these goddamn cannibals. They'd still be after us. Who are they after? Hell, they're not after Haldeman or Ehrlichman or Dean; they're after me, the president. They hate my guts.

On John Dean, 'Destroy Him'

May 8, 1973:

The president talks with his new chief of staff, Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr.

N: Did you see the Harris poll, by any chance?

Haig: No, I didn't see it.

N: By a vote of 59 to 31, they thought the president should be given the benefit of the doubt on this matter and should be allowed to finish his term. You know, the next three-and-a-half years. But the other interesting thing is by a vote of 77 to 13 they opposed suggestions that the president resign.

Haig: Of course. My God. ... It's unthinkable. It's unthinkable.

N: Oh, they may, but you see, only one person (is) trying to do that. You realize that. That's Dean. And goddamn him. ... one disloyal president's counsel, a lawyer, of all people, not just a -- a Henry Kissinger walking out, you know, as a disgruntled person, people will understand it. But the president's lawyer? Jesus Christ. I mean, this is a -- --

Haig: Well, he's a sniveling coward.

N: I think we can destroy him -- we must destroy him.

Haig: Have to.

N: We never can allow this to happen -- even if I was guilty as hell, but I'm not (unintelligible). I was dragged into this, son of a bitch, because of stupid people. Well-intentioned stupid people.

Haig: That's something entirely different. Here we've got a vicious little coward who's trying to protect his ass at any cost.

N: And therefore he's got to be destroyed.

The Impeachment Thing

May 10, 1973:

The president talks with his former chief of staff, Haldeman.

N: Bob, I don't think people give a (expletive) about the CIA thing. I don't really think they care. I don't think they care about bugging Ellsberg -- I mean, running into the psychiatrist -- (or) bugging the goddamn Pentagon -- I mean -- --

H: Watergate.

N: Watergate. I think the cover-up deal was a problem and the obstruction of justice was a problem in the sense that it looks like we've tried to -- what I mean -- we were not carrying out the law, so-called.

H: Yeah.

N: That is a problem. ... But the main thing is that all this crap about the president should resign --

H: Don't even listen.

N: Nobody should even raise such things. ... If I walk out of this office, you know, on this (expletive) stuff, why it would leave a mark on the American political system. It's unbelievable. ... But the other thing is -- the other thing, if they ever want to get up to the impeachment thing, fine, fine. ... My point is that if they get to that, the president of the United States, my view is then fight like hell.

'I'll Burn the Papers'

A year after the break-in, Watergate has consumed the White House, poisoning the atmosphere, making it -- in Haig's words -- "just like Vietnam, a strange place." On July 12, 1973, the president recounts for Kissinger his defiance of Sen. Sam J. Ervin Jr., chairman of the Senate committee investigating Watergate, who wanted access to White House files.

N: Let him sue. Christ, they -- If the Supreme Court wants to decide in its wisdom to help destroy the presidency, the Supreme Court destroys it. ...

The hell with them (the Senate committee). I'll sit on those papers, if I have to burn them, I'll burn every goddamned paper in this house. You realize that? Every paper in this house before I'll hand them over to that committee. ... So we'll have a constitutional crisis. If we do, it'll be a goddamn ding-dong battle and we might, if we lose, I'll burn the papers. 'Cause I got 'em. That's the point, 'cause I would never turn these papers over to a court. Never give them over to the committee.

... I mean, I cut off two arms (Haldeman and Ehrlichman). Who the hell else would have done such a thing -- who has ever done that before? I cut off two arms and then they went after the body.

K: Then you consider the meritorious things you have done for this country, the treasonable actions that these people condoned --

N: They are treason.

K: Well, taking 10,000 government documents in the middle of the war, attacking the military, attack, having riots, attacking. ...

N: Well, don't you worry.

K: I don't worry.

N: Keep, keep fighting.

This is the last tape. The next day, Senate investigators learned that the president had been secretly recording his conversations.

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