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Nixon White House open to all with release of tapes

Nixon tapes October 17, 1997
Web posted at: 8:14 a.m. EDT (1214 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former President Richard Nixon takes center stage once again with the release Thursday by the National Archives of 154 hours of secret Cabinet Room recordings from the Nixon years.

The tapes highlight both Nixon's stand on key issues of the day like Vietnam and his sometimes domineering relations with key administration and legislative figures.

Nixon ultimately resigned in August 1974 after the secretly recorded tapes, surrendered under Supreme Court order, showed him participating in the attempt to cover up the 1972 break-in at Democratic Party headquarters in Washington's Watergate office building.

'I am keenly aware of the problem'

Nixon on the phone

At a 1971 meeting with 10 Republican senators Nixon can be heard hashing over the politics of Vietnam with Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee.

"Mr. President, I am not being disloyal to you," said Baker. "Everybody in this room can perish politically (if we don't get out of Vietnam quickly)."

An impassioned Baker told Nixon that he was more concerned with America's standing in the future than with victory or defeat in Vietnam War.

"Our posture vis-a-vis Berlin, China, Japan ... is worth a hell of a lot more to me than the question of how long or how short that we stay in Vietnam.

"I've never said that before to a living soul, but I felt obliged to say it to you now," Baker told Nixon as Kissinger and senators Bob Dole, Barry Goldwater and John Tower listened.

As Nixon began to respond, Baker cut in with, "As my father would say: `I hear you and I understand you but he never would say (he) agreed with me."

"No, no, I agree with your political assessment," Nixon said. "I am keenly aware of the problem."

None of the other political heavyweights in the room intervened, and Baker pressed on, urging Nixon to pull troops out.

"Permit me the last luxury of saying that in my imperfect best judgment, we've got to have the people of the United States convinced that that war is over by this fall, or we're out of business," Baker said.

Despite the intensity of the senators' pleas, Nixon ordered heavy bombing of North Vietnam while secretly dispatching National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger to Paris to negotiate with the North Vietnamese.

'We are going to crack down'

In hour upon hour of the tapes, Nixon's mood swings come to life for the modern-day listener. A 1971 Cabinet meeting, held almost exactly one year before the Watergate break-in, sees Nixon's temper bubble to the surface.

For much of the time, the two-hour meeting is a straight Nixon monologue, with the Cabinet members silently listening to the president rail against the information leaks from within the government.

In one harsh moment, his anger became apparent: "Those sons-of-bitches! We have yet to fire one of those sons-of-bitches, but Haldeman will be the executioner."

Nixon is referring to Bob Haldeman, his chief of staff.

"Ninety-eight percent of the bureaucracy is against us," Nixon continued. "They are left-leaning liberal bastards that are about to screw us -- that is the fact."

"We are going to crack down," Nixon promised. "People are going to go."

In the meeting, the president's nearly unrelenting fixation on enemies, real and perceived, is evident.

"They're going to try and destroy us a year from now, they're going to be coming out of the woodwork," said Nixon, unwittingly predicting the coming of his Watergate downfall.

Correspondent Bob Franken contributed to this report.
 
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