Henry Kissinger must be hoping that his own secretly recorded words won't haunt his legacy, as Richard Nixon's haunted his. The two men used different means to preserve their telephone conversations. Nixon installed a voice-activated taping system that caught everything, whereas Kissinger had secretaries listen in on his phone calls, take notes in shorthand, and type them up. But the results were the same: voluminous records clearly intended for private use. In the instances in which Kissinger did tape conversations, he had the tapes (but not the transcripts) destroyed.
Shortly before leaving office, in 1977, Kissinger donated the transcripts to government archives, stipulating that, among other things, none of them be released during his lifetime. But, as with Nixon's recordings, researchers pressed successfully for access to the material. Some 20,000 pages of the transcripts, covering Kissinger's tenure as Nixon's national-security adviser, from 1969 to 1974, and as Nixon's secretary of state, from 1973 to 1974, were opened to the public last year by the National Archives and Records Administration, in College Park, Maryland. They reveal a man of intelligence, charm, and humor—and one exquisitely skilled at using those qualities to manipulate the people around him. They also demonstrate Kissinger's temper and his extreme sensitivity about his public image.
Herewith excerpts from several of Kissinger's conversations. They have been edited to correct the spelling and punctuation errors rampant in the transcriptions and because of space constraints.
Kissinger was perturbed by a story that ran in Women's Wear Daily in May of 1971, in which Kandy Stroud insinuated that he was entertaining guests at an upscale Washington restaurant at the taxpayers' expense. Although the publication had a small circulation (about 85,000) in comparison with its competitors, such as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, it was the most influential fashion publication at that time, and Stroud was a high-profile society reporter—facts that surely heightened Kissinger's agitation. He called WWD's publisher to complain.
Henry Kissinger and James Brady, May 18, 1971
HK: I was calling about an item which appeared last Thursday …
JB: The one about your reported expenditures at various restaurants?
HK: I consider that outrageous … One, I don't have an expense account, and two, I have never charged any meal to the president, and three, the figures are absurd … I think it is close to being libelous, but I'm not making it a legal case, just an ethical one …
JB: I would be glad to run a statement from you.
HK: I don't do that.
JB: You don't want to write a statement of clarification?
HK: I think you owe me one.
JB: Well, I don't know the facts.
HK: Do you think it is a fair thing to suggest without even knowing if I have an expense account? …
JB: If we had called and said we had a story, and what about it …
HK: But she [Stroud] didn't do that.
JB: She didn't?
HK: No … But even if the facts were true, which is absurd, it's my own business.
JB: But it is rather interesting. You are a public figure …
HK: Straighten out the facts! You go to a maître d' who is trying to build himself up, and I don't then feel it's my job to write a letter.
JB: Well, I don't know what the facts are … I will have to talk with Kandy. I will call you back.
Henry Kissinger and Kandy Stroud, May 18, 1971
KS: Henry, when are you going to take me to dinner?
HK: I want a correction.
KS: What do you mean? …
HK: On what you wrote on May 13. The idea I would charge the government for lunches or dinners is an outrage.
KS: It was speculation. I said, "I wonder if."
HK: What if you said, "I wonder if he murdered his mother"?
KS: I said, "I wonder if it came out of an expense account."
HK: Furthermore, I have eaten at the Sans Souci five times since February 18 … You have me there ten times for lunch and frequently for dinner.
KS: I will be happy to publish what you say.
HK: I will not be quoted.
KS: How would you like it printed?
HK: Just say you looked into it and you found it was not true.
KS: What about Paul's [the maître d's] statement?
HK: It's just not true.
KS: You have never taken people on an expense account?
HK: No. I pay it out of my pocket. I am going broke in this job … It wouldn't be anybody's business if I ate all my meals at the Sans Souci with six women. But the implication that I would take government money is …
KS: I will print what you said.
HK: But not quoting.
KS: How do we prove it's not true?
HK: You can say you checked into it and found I do not take government expense money for eating in public restaurants.
KS: Do you have a total of your expense money?
HK: I wouldn't give it to you if I had it. It's my business what I spend on food. But it's ridiculous to say I go eight or ten times a month for lunch to the Sans Souci … You say I have been there that many times with a tall dirty blonde.
KS: It was a brunette?
HK: That is the sort of gossip I don't ask you to correct. But the government money … For God's sake, this is a point of honor! …
KS: Can I see you sometime?
HK: You correct it first, and then I will see you.
Henry Kissinger and James Brady, May 18, 1971
JB: I talked to Kandy … I think it fair for us to run something in our Eye page saying Women's Wear Daily has learned that the figures stated were highly inflated and has also learned that Mr. Kissinger's expenses are handled by himself and not by the government or any government agency.
HK: If you did that, it would meet all my concerns.
On September 14, 1971, an account appeared in the press of a meeting in Saigon between General Creighton Abrams, the head of the U.S. military in South Vietnam, and Senator George McGovern, who would run against Nixon in the 1972 election. McGovern told reporters that Abrams had indicated that all U.S. troops would leave Vietnam after a peace treaty was signed. Nixon and Kissinger were furious about what they deemed Abrams's gross indiscretion, and about related Pentagon leaks. That evening Kissinger vented in calls to Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird and (after speaking with Nixon, who complained that Abrams both drank and talked too much) Admiral Thomas Moorer, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Henry Kissinger and Melvin Laird, September 14, 1971
HK: Mel, I was just talking to the president. We have been reading the Star story. We don't know what to do about the Pentagon.
ML: That's just a cheap story!
HK: Pentagon sources.
ML: Did you read my press conference about a week ago?
HK: No. Couldn't everybody just shut up?
ML: You can't get the reporters to shut up.
HK: I don't mean the reporters. Who the hell is Abrams to say there will be no residual forces?
ML: McGovern came out of the meeting with Abrams and said [the] Vietnamization program eventually would provide for the total withdrawal … But no one is talking in the Pentagon. If you are going to take McGovern's—