Nixon and the Chiefs

In the last days of 1971 President Richard Nixon and his closest aides met to discuss the astonishing discovery that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had been spying on the White House. Transcripts of Nixon's secret tapes of these meetings, published here for the first time, offer a case study in Nixon's paranoid style of governing—and his surprisingly successful efforts to salvage advantage from misfortune
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At 6:09 on the evening of December 21, 1971, President Richard Nixon convened a tense and confidential meeting in the Oval Office with his three closest advisers—John N. Mitchell, his Attorney General; H. R. Haldeman, his chief of staff; and John D. Ehrlichman, his top domestic-policy aide. Notably absent was Henry Kissinger, Nixon's national-security adviser. The men had come together to discuss a crisis unique in American presidential history—"a federal offense of the highest order," as Nixon would put it in the meeting. Just days before, Yeoman Charles E. Radford, a young Navy stenographer who had been working with Kissinger and his staff, had confessed to a Department of Defense interrogator that for more than a year he had been passing thousands of top-secret Nixon-Kissinger documents to his superiors at the Pentagon. Radford had obtained the documents by systematically rifling through burn bags, interoffice envelopes, and even the briefcases of Kissinger and Kissinger's then-deputy, Brigadier General Alexander Haig. According to Radford, his supervisors—first Rear Admiral Rembrandt C. Robinson and then Rear Admiral Robert O. Welander—had routinely passed the ill-gotten documents to Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and sometimes to Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, the chief of naval operations. It was, in short, an unprecedented case of espionage that pitted the nation's top military commanders against their civilian commander in chief during wartime. Nixon and his advisers had gathered to consider how to react.

Related link:

The Nixon Era Center
James Rosen, in a joint effort with Mountain State University's Nixon Era Center, constructed the transcript of the center's enhanced version of the December 21, 1971, White House tape. Click here to read the transcript and White House conversation.

The Joint Chiefs' espionage effort was not born in a vacuum. Nixon's style of governance was highly secretive, and his presidency hung precariously on the constantly shifting lines of "back-channel" communication that he encouraged among Kissinger, Haig, the Joint Chiefs, Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, and Secretary of State William Rogers. The military often felt cut out of crucial decision-making on matters of national security, foreign policy, and the conduct of the war in Vietnam. In his 1976 memoir, On Watch, Admiral Zumwalt lamented "the deliberate, systematic and, unfortunately, extremely successful efforts of the President, Henry Kissinger, and a few subordinate members of their inner circle to conceal, sometimes by simple silence, more often by articulate deceit, their real policies about the most critical matters of national security." Scarcely alone in his views, Zumwalt marveled "that rational men could think that running things like that could have any other result than 'leaks' and 'spying' and all-around paranoia." Indeed, he said, "they had created a system in which 'leaks' and 'spying' were everyday and essential elements."

The espionage case ultimately came to be known as the Moorer-Radford affair. Although the details of the story may be new to many readers, historians and journalists have written about Nixon's handling of the affair—most notably Seymour M. Hersh, in The Price of Power (1983), and Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin, in Silent Coup (1991). Until now, however, chronicles of the White House's reaction have mostly been derived from the selective memories of some of those involved (including Radford, who has spoken to the press)—and have therefore proved either incomplete or less than fully reliable. But in October of 2000 the secret tapes that Nixon made of his initial conversations about the affair were declassified and released for public access, buried amid 420 hours of other Nixon recordings. Published here for the first time, excerpted transcripts of those conversations do much more than fill out the historical record. In fact, they offer an absorbing case study in the behavior and tactics of Richard Nixon under fire, trying to cope with a potential disaster of his own making. "Damn," he exclaimed to Haldeman on the day following that first meeting, as the details began to unfold. "You know, I created this whole situation, this—this lesion. It's just unbelievable. Unbelievable."

The tapes show that Nixon was stunned by Radford's revelations. He pounded his desk in anger. He spoke gravely about prosecuting Admiral Moorer, along with others involved. He voiced deep suspicion about the role played by Haig, who had personally selected Radford to accompany him and Kissinger on the foreign trips during which Radford had done his greatest damage. Nixon pronounced Kissinger, his national-security adviser, a threat to security. And yet within days he had developed a strategy for handling the affair that not only averted a major public crisis—which is where most Presidents would have been content to stop—but also skillfully salvaged advantage from misfortune and furthered his personal and political agendas.

Shaped considerably by Attorney General Mitchell, Nixon's response to the Moorer-Radford affair essentially consisted of covering it up, transferring Admiral Welander and Yeoman Radford to remote posts, and, daringly, retaining Moorer as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The President—who had alternately conspired with and against the Chiefs—"had two ways of going," as Ehrlichman later recalled. "He could either tear up the Joint Chiefs or he could continue to do business with them." Nixon chose the latter, figuring, in Ehrlichman's words, that Moorer would from then on be a "preshrunk" admiral over whom Nixon could exert increased influence. Indeed, within days of the first White House meeting about the affair, having recovered from the shock of the revelations, Nixon and Kissinger were already plotting how to use Moorer's diminished status to further a secret policy goal. Nixon also reckoned that disclosing the scandal could irreparably damage the armed services—something he felt the country could ill afford in the Vietnam era.

The strategy clearly worked—Nixon gained an increased measure of control over the Joint Chiefs (in particular over Moorer, whom he reappointed Chairman six months later) and kept his various back channels in place; when the Moorer-Radford story broke, in January of 1974, a scandal-weary nation scarcely noticed. In 1986, recalling Nixon's handling of the affair, John Mitchell summed the matter up succinctly: "Richard Nixon was smarter than hell to sit on this thing."

Or was he? In burying the scandal, some historians have written, Nixon and his men perhaps sealed his subsequent fate as President. By allowing a cast of characters he distrusted, and who distrusted him, to remain in place in the White House and in the Pentagon, Nixon virtually ensured that the culture of secrecy and paranoia that infused his first term would persist until the Watergate scandal prematurely ended his presidency.

"Can I ask how in the name of God do we have a yeoman having access to documents of that type?" Nixon demanded of his aides at that initial meeting on the evening of December 21.

"Well, he's the key man," Ehrlichman answered. "He's the fellow that typed all the memcons—the memoranda, the conversations." Ehrlichman went on to say that Radford had kept the Joint Chiefs informed about "contingency plans, political agreements, troop movements, behind-the-scenes politics, security conferences between our government and foreign governments, et cetera." He added, "This sailor is a veritable storehouse of information of all kinds, as he reads and retains everything that comes through. He testified that he knew about Henry's secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese." He later said, "This guy was trained. He can tell you exactly the sequence in which he Xeroxed things, he moved to this room, to that room ... and he just has total recall."

"Under the implied approval of his supervisor, the admiral," Ehrlichman said at another point in the conversation, Radford "has systematically stolen documents out of Henry's briefcase, Haig's briefcase, people's desks—anyplace and everyplace in the NSC apparatus that he could get his hands on—and has duplicated them and turned them over to the Joint Chiefs, through his boss." He added, "This has been going on now for about thirteen months."

In a meeting on December 23 Ehrlichman explained to Nixon the motivation for espionage. "The Joint Chiefs had Henry's talking papers for meetings ahead of time," he said. "This yeoman could be sent into ... the NSC paper mill to pull out what the staff was recommending to Henry on decision papers that were coming to you, in advance of the decisions ... So that in fact the Joint Chiefs were getting advances on where weaknesses were in their case in a decision that was coming to you, ahead of it ever getting here."

Even in the initial Moorer-Radford meeting, on December 21, Nixon had already begun to develop suspicions about the complicity of some of his staff in the espionage. He asked Ehrlichman what Haig, in particular, might have known.

"I don't know," Ehrlichman said. "I suspect Haig may be aware, but by back-channel basis ... If this thing runs true to form, undoubtedly his radar has picked this up by now."

Throughout the meeting Nixon kept returning to Haig. "I'm afraid that Haig must have known about this operation," he said at one point. "It seems unlikely he wouldn't have known." At another point he asked, "Is Haig wiretapped?"

"Why not?" Haldeman replied, taking Nixon's question as a suggestion.

"It's not going to hurt anyone at all," Mitchell added.

But Nixon never ordered a wiretap on Haig. Although he clearly believed that Haig had condoned Radford's treachery, Nixon could not believe that Haig had sanctioned its most brazen manifestation. "Taking stuff out of Henry's briefcase!" Nixon said to his men. "I mean, Haig would never approve that." The others agreed.

But Nixon was not thinking about Haig simply on a personal level; he was also thinking about him in tactical terms. By December 23 Nixon had apparently decided that Haig's value as a bridge to the Pentagon, and as a counterbalancing force for reining in the notoriously mercurial Kissinger, outweighed any need to probe further into the general's role in the spying operation. "We are going to continue to handle the Chiefs ... through Haig," Nixon told Haldeman and Ehrlichman. "But we'll let them know what they're supposed to know."

After Ehrlichman's briefing on December 21, Mitchell weighed in. "Mr. President," he said, "I'd like to point out that this thing goes right into the Joint Chiefs of Staff ... The important thing in my way of thinking is to stop this Joint Chiefs of Staff operation, and to buck up the security over here." The Attorney General described the case in distinctly criminal terms.

NIXON: [Welander] had to know he was getting stuff from Kissinger's and Haig's briefcases. That is wrong! Understand? I'm just saying that's wrong. Do you agree?

MITCHELL: No question about it, that the whole concept of having this yeoman get into this affair and start to get this stuff back to the Joint Chiefs of Staff is just like coming in and robbing your desk.

NIXON: Yes it is.

Infuriated, Nixon had earlier reminded Mitchell that "prosecuting is a possibility for the Joint Chiefs." (In a meeting the next day Nixon revealed that he had more in mind than damage control, the prosecution of the wrongdoers, or even personal revenge. He was already thinking about how to manipulate the situation to his advantage. He told his advisers, "We ought to ... use this as a device, of course, to clean out the Joint Chiefs operation.")

Mitchell calmly steered Nixon away from pursuing prosecution. "I agree with you," he said, "but we have to take it from there as to what this would lead to if you pursued it by way of prosecution of Moorer." Their exchange continued:

MITCHELL: What has been done has been done. I think that the important thing is to paper this thing over.

NIXON: Hmmph!

MITCHELL: This way—first of all, get that liaison office the hell out of NSC and put it back at the Pentagon.

NIXON: Correct.

MITCHELL: Secondly, get a security officer into the NSC.

NIXON: Correct. Well, what about Henry Kissinger?

MITCHELL: Well, I think that whoever goes in there is going to have to ride herd not only on the rest of the staff but on Henry ... With respect to the Joint Chiefs, you have to get, in my opinion, this guy Admiral Welander the hell out of there, by way of a signal. That way you can transfer him to Kokomo, or Indiana, or anywhere we want to have him, along, of course, with this yeoman. And I think the best thing to do is for me—and we'll leave Laird aside for a moment—but for me to sit down with Tom Moorer, and point out what this scene is that's been going on, and it's the end of the road ... This ball game's over with.

Nixon agreed. "I think the strategy you suggested is the one that I would pursue," he said, adding that Mitchell should—"on my behalf"—establish "a direct line to Moorer." He continued, "Don't tell Laird. Laird is liable to screw around, and then one way it will blow."

As for Kissinger, Nixon was dismissive: "Henry is not a good security risk." Nixon said he would brook no "crying" by Kissinger, and added, "I don't want Henry to raise this subject with me here—or he's out." Two days later Nixon told Haldeman, "I will not have Henry in here with his childish antics. I will not discuss it. Just say you're handling this with Mitchell."

During the night of December 21 the President somehow managed to convince himself that Yeoman Radford had acted of his own volition, and not at the behest of higher-ups. In a meeting the following morning Ehrlichman and Mitchell worked swiftly to disabuse Nixon of this fantasy.

NIXON: The important thing is to handle [Radford's superiors] in a way that they do not talk.

EHRLICHMAN: [Inaudible] their career, and I suspect that that's enough leverage—

NIXON: And they're probably loyal fellows.

EHRLICHMAN: I suspect so.

NIXON: They're just doing it for—for the service.

EHRLICHMAN: Right.

NIXON: This fellow—I think they'd be shocked to know what this guy did.

EHRLICHMAN: Well, they know! They're the ones—

NIXON: But do they know about the fact that—

EHRLICHMAN: Absolutely! Oh, absolutely! See, they ... uh, used him!

NIXON: And they knew that he was stealing from Kissinger?

EHRLICHMAN: Oh, they had to! They had to.

NIXON: Jesus Christ!

EHRLICHMAN: I don't, I just don't see any escape from them being included.

NIXON: Well, they—that's the reason they need to be transferred. If they knew he was stealing from Kissinger ...

MITCHELL: This is the only way you're going to have a deterrent on future such operations.

But by this time Nixon viewed a full rupture with the Joint Chiefs as unthinkable, for strategic reasons. "You have to realize," he told Haldeman and Ehrlichman on December 23, "that the channel to the Chiefs is something we cannot lose. Ever." If this meant that Admiral Moorer would escape the affair unpunished, then so be it. It was a prospect that agonized Ehrlichman. "I lost more sleep [over] what to do with this guy," he told Nixon. "And I have finally come to the conclusion that you can't touch him."

"I agree," Nixon replied. "We can't touch him, because it hurts the Joint Chiefs. The Joint Chiefs, the military, et cetera—not to be viewed as our enemy. We cannot have it."

Nixon remained focused on Radford, convinced that transferring him was not enough. "One thing that I'd be worried about," he fretted to Mitchell and Ehrlichman on December 22, was that "this guy is a potential [Daniel] Ellsberg." This was a reference to the Defense Department consultant who, six months earlier, had leaked the Pentagon Papers, a classified study of documents relating to America's involvement in Vietnam from World War II to 1968. "He knows more than even Ellsberg knows ... Is there any way that we can keep him scared to death, so that he doesn't get off and think, 'Oh, I'm now going to write the book?'" Nixon added, "I think [Radford's] got to be told that a criminal offense hangs over him, that it's going to hang over him ... I'd like to scare the son of a bitch to death!"

Nixon had a habit of viewing scandals that occurred during his presidency through the prism of the Alger Hiss spy case, in which Nixon had first gained national fame, and around which there had long been unsubstantiated whispers that Hiss was a homosexual. The Moorer-Radford affair was no exception. Observing that homosexuality "poisons a lot of these things," Nixon ordered Mitchell to explore whether Radford was sexually involved with the prominent syndicated columnist Jack Anderson. (It was a high-level leak to Anderson, detailing Nixon's covert "tilt" toward Pakistan in its December 1971 war with India, that had first led investigators to Radford. The yeoman and the columnist, both Mormons, acknowledged knowing each other, but both denied that Radford was Anderson's source. Under interrogation, however, Radford surprised everybody by confessing to spying for the Pentagon.)

Nixon thought the Radford-Anderson relationship was "sexual up the ass," and he wondered whether Anderson had Radford "under blackmail." Ehrlichman followed up on Nixon's order, but investigators balked, and the idea was dropped.

Haldeman contributed little to the December 21 meeting, with one notable exception: with Ehrlichman, he raised the specter of more-pervasive military malfeasance.

EHRLICHMAN: The thing that disgusts me about this is, if they'll do that—

NIXON: Yeah.

HALDEMAN: What else are they doing?

EHRLICHMAN: What else are they doing? You got military drivers, military gals, military everything around here.

NIXON: Yup, yup, yup, yup.

HALDEMAN: Christ. We've all used this office.

Such suspicions later proved well founded. A previously unpublished Senate Watergate committee memorandum, dated December 5, 1973, and addressed to Fred Thompson, the committee's minority counsel (now a U.S. senator from Tennessee), noted that the investigation of Radford had turned up "another person on the NSC staff who was helping" him, named David Oscar Bowles. Like Radford, Bowles was swiftly transferred—to Corpus Christi. But unlike Radford, Bowles has never spoken on the record about his role in the military espionage; indeed, until now his alleged involvement in the Moorer-Radford affair has never been publicly disclosed.

On the afternoon of December 23 Ehrlichman briefed Nixon again, this time on the results of Mitchell's sit-down with Moorer.

EHRLICHMAN: Admiral Moorer feels that [Welander] should go to jail! For all the terrible things he's been doing over here! ... [Mitchell] said that Moorer admits that he saw stuff, but that he operated on the assumption that his liaison man was working this all out with Henry ... I said, "Well, did you get a plea of guilty or a not guilty?" And [Mitchell] says, "I got a nolo contendere." NIXON: [Did Mitchell] tell him about the briefcases and all that?

EHRLICHMAN: Yup.

NIXON: And?

EHRLICHMAN: Moorer said, "Why, that's shocking." Told him, "Whoever did that should go to jail."

Two hours later Haldeman briefed the President on Ehrlichman's attempt to break all of this news to Kissinger. Nixon, working hard to assess the mood of the various parties to the affair, asked what Kissinger—a primary target of the spying—had said about the prospect of criminal prosecutions in the case. Haldeman reported that Kissinger had asked Ehrlichman, "What do you do on that?," to which Ehrlichman had responded, "Well, that's, that's the question now. It's in the hands of the Attorney General, and he has got to determine what we do. Obviously, Admiral Welander thinks that we should put the yeoman in jail; Admiral Moorer thinks we should put Welander in jail." Haldeman said that Kissinger thought Moorer should go to jail. "John and I both laughed," Haldeman told the President, "and said as you go up the ladder, everybody's going to crucify the guy under him, and nobody'll take the blame himself."

As his knowledge of the affair deepened, the President realized that despite his aversion to personal confrontations, he would have to address it directly with many of those involved. He chose to do so by telephone, with Christmas as his pretext for reaching out. The recipients of Nixon's calls got different messages, delivered with varying doses of circumlocution and subtlety.

First came Haig, shortly after 5:00 P.M. on Christmas Eve. Hoping to preserve his informal channel to the military through Haig, Nixon sought at the outset to allay any fear of repercussions for what he had that first evening called the "curiousness" of Haig's involvement in the affair.

NIXON: Just called to wish you a merry Christmas.

HAIG: Oh, God bless you—

NIXON: And also to tell you not to worry about all this, er—not to—you, you mustn't, uh, uh—I could see Henry's in one of his, uh, sort of doldrums.

After warming up with some criticism of Kissinger, Nixon returned to the Moorer-Radford affair. His primary message was meant not for Haig but for Moorer: no action would be taken against the admiral—for now—but Moorer might not be reappointed when his term as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs expired, the following July. During the conversation Haig expressed no surprise at the espionage.

NIXON: But, uh—on the other thing, incidentally, on the Moorer thing. That's just—you just couldn't even dream of having Moorer out of that thing. I mean, he's part of a system. And the damn thing, I'm sure, started before he was there.

HAIG: That's right.

NIXON: I think—I think it goes back over years, and it probably went further than he ever expected it was gonna go. That's my guess.

HAIG: That's what I think, sir—

NIXON: And I—we gotta remember that, basically, he's our ally, in terms of what we believe in. And the worst thing we can do now is to hurt the military. I—I tried to get [that] through Henry's head. But—but that's what, that's the line we're playing on today.

HAIG: Sure.

NIXON: Don't you agree?

HAIG: Absolutely.

NIXON: We [have] just got to do that. And in June, of course, we can take a look—but not now ... After all, Moorer's a good man, and he's with us. This thing, of course, is pretty bad! It's, uh—understand: not the, not sending the information over [to the Pentagon], but goin' through briefcases. That goes too far!

In another talk with Haig, two days later, Nixon offered more reassuring words for Moorer's consumption. He wondered whether Moorer "thinks maybe now he's blown it." Nixon emphatically answered his own question. "He hasn't," he said. "He hasn't."

Minutes after his Christmas Eve conversation with Haig, Nixon had John Mitchell on the line. Their talk began with a discussion of "the Hoffa thing": Nixon's controversial commutation of the prison sentence of the former Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa. With Hoffa and Radford in mind, the President offered Mitchell—the man destined to become, after Watergate, the highest-ranking U.S. official ever to be incarcerated—some eerily prophetic words.

NIXON: I'll tell you, being in prison isn't, isn't all that, uh, that it's cracked up to be. You have some lonely days.

MITCHELL: I would certainly believe it ...

NIXON: Incidentally, on our other subject [the Moorer-Radford affair], I think we are better advised—I mean to—we've really just got to keep the lid on it ... keep it under as close control as we can. But I, uh—we cannot move to do anything to discredit the uniform. That's what I'm convinced of.

MITCHELL: Absolutely ... I have talked to Mel Laird, and ... he made a very interesting point. [Laird told Mitchell] "Come on over here one day into the Pentagon. I want to show you some of the memorandums that I've written to Henry about this and just warned him of it, to just cut it off"... He's actually backed up with [copies], maybe self-serving.

NIXON: Isn't that interesting!

MITCHELL: It is interesting ... 'cause of the daily jealousy of your direct approach to the Joint Chiefs.

NIXON: I know, I know ... I think it's important to—for Henry to sort of cool off and, and recognize that our best interests are served by not raising holy hell.

On Christmas Day, Nixon rang the concerned party he trusted least: Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird. After delivering holiday greetings the President artlessly made a transition to the Moorer-Radford affair.

NIXON: Oh, incidentally, on that, er, matter that you're familiar with, er— LAIRD: Yes.

NIXON: I think it's very important, and I've given the orders around to everybody, that we not allow this thing to hurt the military. You know, we, we know it's wrong—

LAIRD: I know.

NIXON: —but we must cut it. So we gotta clean it up, but we gotta stand by Moorer and these fellows, because they are good guys. They just—they just got trapped in a system that was bad.

LAIRD: Bad, bad.

NIXON: Don't you agree?

LAIRD: I agree, Mr. President.

Well aware of Nixon's distrust, Laird portrayed himself as disappointed by the Moorer-Radford affair, and sought to remind Nixon that he had tried, in 1968, to eliminate the office for which Radford worked. Nixon was having none of it; he spoke more sharply to Laird than he had, for example, to Haig.

NIXON: As you pointed out to Mitchell, apparently, eh, you knew about this years ago. This has been goin' on for years! And they—

LAIRD: Yeah.

NIXON:—and it's just surprising they had it now, and I just think it's the way the system works.

LAIRD: Well—

NIXON: But now that it's done, we'll, uh—

LAIRD: ... I'm just gonna stay out of it now, and just shut it off.

NIXON: Absolutely. Leave it. Stay out of it, and let Mitchell do whatever has to be done. That way, we can stay sort of apart from it. Because we've got to work with these fellows, you know.

LAIRD: It is important.

NIXON: Particularly with Tom Moorer.

LAIRD: Right. And he's mine. You know, it's just too bad that—

NIXON: He's a good man.

Seven days later, on New Year's Day 1972, while spending the day preparing for a one-hour prime-time interview with Dan Rather, Nixon made another Moorer-Radford call, to Henry Kissinger. Punctuated by Kissinger's trademark flattery ("You do these office press conferences so damned vell!"), their talk focused mostly on when to disclose that Hanoi had rejected a recent peace overture. Nixon also wanted Kissinger to secure Laird's agreement to end the draft. "Go back to Laird and see if we can get the no-more-draftees thing," he said. Kissinger responded by suggesting a more secretive approach.

KISSINGER: Mr. President, I have almost reached the point where you may have to do this without telling Laird beforehand.

NIXON: Whoa! Couldn't do that, Henry, he'd go up, he'd just—

KISSINGER: He'd go up the wall. But, uh—

NIXON: But you're afraid he's going to leak it out, huh?

KISSINGER: But I'm afraid he's going to come back with so many caveats.

Kissinger had an idea that appealed to Nixon. "Let me talk to Moorer," he said. "He owes us one." "He sure does," Nixon replied, confirming Ehrlichman's assessment that the President sought to use the Moorer-Radford affair as leverage with Moorer, his "preshrunk" admiral. Of this gambit Nixon told Kissinger, "Keep it in greatest of confidence."

Nixon and Kissinger had come full circle. Less than two weeks after learning of the espionage, which Nixon had termed a "lesion" created by his own machinations in the Oval Office, the President was plotting with Kissinger, whom he had so recently described as "not a good security risk," to make use of a back channel to the Joint Chiefs and to circumvent the Secretary of Defense.

In the murky Cold War milieu in which he had come to power, Nixon apparently saw such deception as integral to the practice of politics and governance. The new Nixon tapes confirm this. In an almost comic conversation with Haldeman on December 22, in the midst of the Moorer-Radford discussions, Nixon summarized his philosophy.

HALDEMAN: The worst thing about it is you get, you start—which we've managed to avoid, maybe too much—you start getting paranoid, and you start wondering about everything and everybody, and—

NIXON: I know.

HALDEMAN: —you figure you can't—

NIXON: But don't be too damn sure of anybody! I mean, that's—don't be too damn sure about anybody!

HALDEMAN: You can't.

NIXON: I am never sure of anybody.

HALDEMAN: Well [unintelligible]—

NIXON: You know, Bob, the reason you and I ain't so close now is, as you've noticed, I don't put that—[inaudible]. Do you not now see why I don't have staff meetings?

HALDEMAN: Damn right!

NIXON: Do you agree?

HALDEMAN: Oh, yeah!

NIXON: Don't you think I'm right?

HALDEMAN: I sure as hell do!

NIXON: I don't have staff meetings. Now I'd rather—I know it would charge up the staff for me to sit around and talk to 'em directly. But who knows—first, with—without evil intentions, some are going to leak.

HALDEMAN: That's right.

NIXON: Beyond that, there might be somebody in there that just—like a little guy like this [Radford] will get it all ... I tell you ... if there's ever anything important, just don't tell anybody. You know, I, uh—it's, it's really tough. It's got to be "Don't tell Rogers, Laird, anybody." We just don't tell the son—any son of a bitch at all.

HALDEMAN: And it is—it's a horrible way to have to work, but it's—

NIXON: Yeah.

HALDEMAN: —it's essential.
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James Rosen is Fox News' chief Washington correspondent and author of The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate. His article "Nixon and the Chiefs," about the Joint Chiefs' espionage ring targeting Nixon and Kissinger, appeared in the April 2002 edition of The Atlantic.

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