More Nixon Tapes Released by National Archives The National Archives releases another batch of taped conversations and 78,000 pages of documents from the presidency of Richard Nixon. Stanley Kutler, a historian and law professor at the University of Wisconsin, spoke about them with Scott Simon.
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More Nixon Tapes Released by National Archives

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More Nixon Tapes Released by National Archives

More Nixon Tapes Released by National Archives

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(Soundbite of recorded conversation)

President RICHARD NIXON: Hello.

Unidentified Woman: Mr. President, Mr. Colson. (Unintelligible).

President FORD: All right.


The National Archives released another batch of taped conversations and 78,000 pages of documents from the Nixon presidency this week. Many familiar names appear between the president himself, H. R. Haldeman, Charles Colson and Billy Graham; a few names that would become even more famous including Donald Rumsfeld and even a very young Karl Rove are also in there.

Stanley Kutler is a historian and professor of law at the University of Wisconsin. His 1992 lawsuit against the National Archives led to the release of the Nixon materials. He joins us from member station WHA in Madison.

Professor Kutler, thanks for being with us.

Professor STANLEY KUTLER (Law, University of Wisconsin): You're welcome.

SIMON: What did you notice from these newly released tapes and documents?

Prof. KUTLER: Well, what we'd see clearly is Nixon's emphasis and concern with a, quote, "new majority" - one that will be composed of more conservative people, ethnics, Catholics, whites predominantly. He does, however - he's still interested in reaching out to blacks. He sees this as his new majority.

SIMON: I want to listen to a tape of a phone conversation that's been released.

Prof. KUTLER: Okay.

SIMON: And we'll stipulate that a lot of the phone conversations are just more audible than the meetings in the Oval Office. This is a conversation of November 19, 1972. So the president would have been just reelected. About 20 minutes that he spends on the phone with one of his closest political advisers, Charles Colson.

(Soundbite of recorded conversation)

Pres. NIXON: You know, Scali sounds damn good for the U.N.

Mr. CHARLES COLSON (Former Nixon Political Adviser): Scali is articulate.

Pres. NIXON: But the - he's articulate but would he cut off - see, I want whoever goes to the U.N. could take our orders - but he'll take orders. But that whole staff up there is violently anti-Nixon.

SIMON: Of course, that's just a portion and John Scali was in fact the appointed U.N. ambassador.

Prof. KUTLER: Right.

SIMON: Don't politicians talk this way in both parties in all White Houses?

Prof. KUTLER: Oh, absolutely. I found conversation after conversation where Nixon and Haldeman and Ehrlichman are speculating on who's going to go where, what man will do this and so forth. One of the funniest lines of conversation along that is whether trying to find a place for George Bush - George H.W. Bush.

SIMON: Right.

Prof. KUTLER: And it's like they talk about - it was undersecretary of the Treasury, of the Interior, ambassador to India, it's absolutely uproarious. But they - they speculated on this all the time. This was Nixon's favorite kind of small talk.

SIMON: I was struck. It's not from or even to Mr. Nixon, but a memorandum to John Mitchell, a training general, became chairman of the president's re-election campaign from Murray Shatner(ph)…

Prof. KUTLER: Oh yes.

SIMON: Old adviser of the president in which they take note of this young ex-G.I. named John Kerry who had just testified in behalf of putting an end on U.S. participation to war in Vietnam before the Senate committee. And John Mitchell notes that he went to Yale. He's inclined towards the establishment. He has no use for Democrats as such and says we ought to talk to him and see if he'd be interested in becoming a Republican.

Prof. KUTLER: Right. Some of Kerry's testimony was very hostile toward the administration and so forth. And indeed he seemed like he would be good material for a Republican Party. Well, that didn't work out.

SIMON: Professor Kutler, let me ask you a question I passed along from the mouths of one of our young staff members a few months ago.

Prof. KUTLER: Okay.

SIMON: Some conversation came up about Richard Nixon and she said other people make fun of Richard Nixon. He opened the door to China. Do attitudes towards Richard Nixon changed(ph) with the generations?

Prof. KUTLER: No, (unintelligible).

SIMON: I mean, their generation was coming up political maturity now seizes(ph) career standout in maybe a different bold relief than someone who was there at the time with.

Prof. KUTLER: Fair enough. Fair enough. You say bold relief and you say China, but another way history is written and the way it turns out, and a century from now, Richard Nixon will be reduced to two or three lines. But certainly, one of the lines in there will be that Richard Nixon was the first president to resign because of scandal.

Now, you know, in a more detailed book will measure other days and other moments in this presidency. But Watergate is the spot that will (unintelligible) out.

SIMON: Stanley Kutler, historian, law professor and playwright at the University of Wisconsin. Thanks very much for being with us.

Prof. KUTLER: You're welcome.

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