December 05, 1988 12:00 PM

Richard Nixon’s obsession with tape recording the deeds—and misdeeds—of his Presidency was matched by his passion for dispatching memos to his aides. A most prolific presidential note writer, Nixon, referring to himself at times as “RN,” dictated blizzards of comments and commands to staff, Cabinet officers, even to his family, on a dizzying variety of subjects, ranging from the political and the personal to the utterly banal. In 1972, two years before the Watergate scandal forced his resignation, Nixon created a “special file” to hide from view any memos that might prove to be sensitive. He could scarcely be blamed for wanting to bury the file, since it presents a curious view of the chief executive’s mind: He could be as dogged with matters concerning wines, music and bowling scores as he could with those who were trying to throw him out of office.

Last year, after fighting for more than a decade to keep these memos private, Nixon relented; after all, why shouldn’t posterity learn that he was a pretty good bowler? In any event, when the National Archives decided it was time to release the bulk of the papers, Nixon did not object. Veteran newsman Bruce Oudes, who has been working for many years on a book about Nixon’s foreign policy, suggested to Harper & Row that the 3 million or so pages be edited into a book: FROM: The President, Richard Nixon’s Secret Files.

Oudes, 51, who lives in Reston, Va., spent 18 months sorting through the documents, which include not only memos from Nixon but from his aides. “He was a highly demanding boss with a lifelong distrust of the competence of many of those around him,” says Oudes. “And as the pressure built up, there was a paranoia, for sure.”

This sampling from the book offers a fascinating mosaic of Nixonian concerns:

January 25, 1969

TO: Mrs. Nixon

FROM: The President

In talking with the [General Services Administration] Director with regard to RN’s [bed]room, what would be most desirable is an end table like the one on the right side of the bed which will accommodate two Dictaphones as well as a telephone. RN has to use one Dictaphone for current matters and another for memoranda for the file which he will not want transcribed at this time. In addition, he needs a bigger table on which he can work at night. The table which is presently in the room does not allow enough room for him to get his knees under it.

February 17, 1969

TO: [Secretary] Rose Mary Woods

FROM: The President

Would you check to see whether Miss Burum, my 5th grade teacher, and Mrs. Dargatz, the daughter of the doctor who took care of me when I fell out of the buggy as a child, received answers to their letters. If they did not, answers should be prepared…. Miss Burum, incidentally, was a remarkably good teacher as I recall.

February 17, 1969

TO: Rose Mary Woods

FROM: The President

The silver Parker pen that was given to me on Election Day, November 5, 1968, is such a good one that I would like to get one other exactly like it as a spare. Will you check it out and arrange for a purchase?

April 24, 1969

TO: [Assistant Protocol Chief Nicholas] Ruwe

FROM: [Nixon Assistant] H. R. Haldeman

As you probably have already heard from several other sources, the President was extremely distressed that California red wine was served at the dinner last night [for Chief Justice Earl Warren].

I am sure there were excellent reasons for this decision…. On the other hand, the President simply does not like California wine and wants a French Bordeaux served as the red wine, so let’s make the change permanent and automatic.

But it was a California wine-Schramsberg champagne-that the President served at a state dinner during his visit to China in 1972.—ED.

June 16, 1969

TO: [Domestic Affairs Assistant] John Ehrlichman

FROM: The President

On an urgent basis I need the press list before the press conference on Thursday. I intend to start…calling on those pressmen who are not anti rather than constantly calling on those who are trying to give us the hook. [Press Secretary Ron] Ziegler and [Communications Director Herbert] Klein will disagree with this. I don’t want you to consult with them. This is my decision and I intend to follow it up. All I need is the information with regard to which are the men who attend our press conferences who are definitely out to get us and which ones are either neutral or friends.

June 16, 1969

TO: Ron Ziegler

FROM: The President

…You might tell the Sidey types that RN has become a regular bowler at Camp David on weekends, and I hope next week even in the [Executive Office Building]. His average is around 130 to 140 and his best game to date is 204. He has never bowled before except for a couple of occasions at Camp David in 1960.

Hugh Sidey, then TIME Magazine’s Washington bureau chief, relayed the story to his New York editors, who published it shortly thereafter.—ED.

June 30, 1969

TO: Haldeman

FROM: The President

There was a woman reporter from the Washington Post at the church service this morning who was obnoxious to everybody who was there. She is not to be included in any further events at the White House under any circumstances….

July 9, 1969

TO: [Chief Usher] Rex Scouten

FROM: The President

Regardless of who happens to be the guest, the President is served first. I do not like the custom and hereby direct that it be changed. The following rules will apply.

1. If it is a stag dinner or lunch, with no guest of honor, the President will be served first.

2. If it is a stag affair, with a guest of honor, the guest of honor will be served first and the President next.

3. If it is a mixed dinner, with no guest of honor, Mrs. Nixon will be served first.

4. If it is a mixed dinner, with a guest of honor, the wife of the guest of honor will be served first simultaneously with Mrs. Nixon, and then the guest of honor and I will be served second.

If it is one of those rare occasions where it is a mixed dinner and the guest of honor is not accompanied by his wife, serve Mrs. Nixon first and simultaneously the woman who is assigned as my dinner partner, and then serve me and the guest of honor second.

These rules are to be followed explicitly from this time forward.

September 22, 1969

To: Rose Mary Woods

FROM: The President

When we were at “21” on the evening of the UN speech, we saw Gina Lollobrigida and she asked for an autographed picture. I think the best one to send her would be the Color Family picture. Send it to 35-B, The Waldorf, saying to Gina Lollobrigida, With Best Wishes From Richard Nixon.

November 24, 1969

TO: Haldeman

FROM: The President

For your long-range planning, it will be necessary for me to plan some sort of trip out of the country at the time of Julie’s graduation [from Smith College]. She insists that she does not want us to come to the graduation ceremony because of the attitude of the faculty and students, and I believe she is probably correct. However, we could not justify not being there unless we were gone at that time on some sort of special trip…. See what the date of the graduation is and then block off some time so that we will be able to accede to her wishes….

Julie did not attend the May 31, 1970, graduation ceremonies; the Nixon family instead spent the time at the western White House in San Clemente, Calif.—ED.

December 1,1969

TO: Haldeman

FROM: The President

I think last week illustrated my point that we need a part-or full-time TV man on our staff for the purpose of seeing that my TV appearances are handled on a professional basis.

When I think of the millions of dollars that go into one lousy 30-second television spot advertising a deodorant, it seems to me unbelievable that we don’t do a better job in seeing that Presidential appearances always have the very best professional advice whenever they are to be covered by TV. Over the last week, for example, I signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty at my desk, I announced the Germ Warfare Proposal on Tuesday in the Roosevelt Room, and then signed the Draft Reform Bill in the Roosevelt Room on Wednesday. On Thursday, I made an appearance at the Thanksgiving luncheon in the White House. In each of these cases, I had excellent background briefing as to how many people would be present and how many pens I should use. I had, however, no professional advice as to where the cameras would be and how I could make the most effective use of the TV opportunity. I should add to this list, even more importantly, the telephone call to the Astronauts. Even the question as to whether I should have held the phone with my right hand or my left hand is quite pertinent.

I think that each of these TV shots probably came off adequately. My point is that they should always be absolutely top-rate in every respect, and I should spend at least five or 10 minutes with whoever is the TV producer to get his suggestion as to how I should stand, where the cameras will be, etc. In any event, give this some thought and perhaps we can come up with either a man or an idea to deal with the problem more adequately….

January 9, 1970

TO: [USIA Director] Frank Shakespeare

FROM: The President

What is the situation with regard to the horrible modern art in some of our embassies? I realize we can’t censor this stuff, but I would like a report as to what embassies have some of these atrocious objects….

I don’t mind if an Ambassador likes modern art provided he is doing a good job in other respects. I simply don’t want our embassies abroad to be unrepresentative of the country.

March 16, 1970

TO: Haldeman

FROM: The President

Would you please have the Bordeaux years checked? I know that ’59 is an excellent year, even with my unsophisticated taste; but my recollection is that ’66 is one of the poor years. The reason I ask is that we seem to have a huge stock of ’66 Bordeaux on hand, and I wondered why. It may be that the real experts consider ’66 to be a good year, but have it checked out….

The President was half right, the White House sommelier 100 percent right. Both the ’59 and ’66 Bordeaux are top vintages.—ED.

April 6, 1970

TO: Haldeman

FROM: The President

I would like a quiet check made with regard to the chairs in the Cabinet Room, without saying anything to anybody else. I have a distinct feeling that these chairs, probably because of their style, are pretty uncomfortable. For one thing they do not leave enough leg room beneath the table and, as I told you before, at least insofar as my chair is concerned, it is stiff and hard and pretty uncomfortable after a meeting goes as long as an hour or more.

I realize that they represent a substantial investment, but a lot of important decisions will be made around that table, and if my reaction is shared by others who have tried the chairs, perhaps we ought to meet the problem immediately and have them quietly rebuilt or exchanged for a different model. I emphasize “quietly” because we don’t want to give the press a chance to have another “police hat” incident. The “police hat” incident concerned a decision to dress White House guards in specially designed uniforms. The Ruritanian costumes were so hilariously derided by the press as befitting a Sigmund Romberg operetta that the hats were scrapped and the uniforms rarely worn.—ED.

May 11, 1970

TO: Haldeman

FROM: The President

…I will make these instructions precise, and I want them carried out precisely for the next 60 days.

With regard to the New York Times, no one from the White House Staff under any circumstances is to answer any call or see anybody except for [White House Correspondent Robert] Semple. Try also in a quiet way to get this word carried out wherever you can in the departments without getting in a position where somebody is going to report it back to the Times. I just want it done….

With regard to the Washington Post, I reaffirm the directive I gave two weeks ago but which has not been carried out. Ziegler under no circumstances is to see anybody from the Washington Post, and no one on the White House staff is to see anybody from the Washington Post or return any calls to them….

At the same time I want a policy in which the Washington Star, the Washington Daily News, the New York Daily News, the Chicago Tribune and for the time being the Los Angeles Times and others who may be competitive with the New York Times and Washington Post to receive special treatment when Ziegler and Klein may determine it is in our interest. They will not agree with this policy, but it is one I have decided upon after long consideration and I want it carried out.

September 1, 1970

TO: [Nixon’s Military Assistant] General James D. Hughes

FROM: Haldeman

The President mentioned today that the portions of meat (specifically the huge steaks) served regularly on the [Presidential yacht] Sequoia, Camp David, etc. are too large and he would like the size cut down substantially….

December 4, 1970

[From National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger]
Dear Mr. President:

In view of the news stories about possible plots of [my] kidnapping, I would like to state my position in the extraordinary event that this should occur.

If such an attempt should succeed, I would like to ask you to meet no demands of the kidnappers, however trivial. I would assume that any demand that is met would establish a precedent which is against the national interest.

If you should receive any communication from me to the contrary, you should assume that it was made under duress.

December 18, 1970

TO: Haldeman

FROM: The President

With regard to the musical entertainment [at a White House dinner honoring British Prime Minister Edward Heath], I do not want to take the time to make suggestions with regard to numbers that would appeal to the audience. On the other hand, if somebody else doesn’t assume this responsibility who has more sensitivity with regard to what an audience will respond to, I shall have to do it.

Last night we had [pianist Garrick Ohlsson], a really first class performer. He had just won the Chopin International competition. The Poles were rioting in Warsaw and in other cities. His selections were three numbers which probably the critics will rave about because they were not familiar to most people except for possibly one of them and were somewhat off-beat and “different.”

I am sure Heath probably liked it because he is far above the average listener we have at these dinners. I am somewhat above average because I know something about music and frankly, I was pretty bored because I realized he could have selected numbers that would have communicated far more effectively with that entire audience.

In the future I do not want you to have anybody…who obviously liked this esoteric music have anything to do with the selection of the numbers. I realize this may have been a rather difficult one to handle because he was expected to play Chopin, but Chopin generally is pretty dull, except, of course, for one number which relates to the earlier point that I was making—the Polonaise. Of course everybody plays the Polonaise and great pianists usually disdain to play it because it is so “common.” But at least audiences understand it, and it would have ended the evening on a really high climax….

December 21, 1970

TO: Haldeman

FROM: [Appointments Secretary] Dwight Chapin

Attached you will find a letter to the President from Elvis Presley. As you are aware, Presley showed up here this morning and has requested an appointment with the President. He states that he knows that the President is very busy, but he would just like to say hello and present the President with a gift.

As you are well aware, Presley was voted one of the ten outstanding young men for next year, and this was based upon his work in the field of drugs. The thrust of Presley’s letter is that he wants to become a “Federal Agent at Large” to work against the drug problem by communicating with people of all ages. He says that he is not a member of the establishment and that drug culture types, the hippie elements, the SDS and the Black Panthers are people with whom he can communicate since he is not part of the establishment.

I suggest that we do the following: This morning [Ehrlichman assistant] Bud Krogh will have Mr. Presley in and talk to him about drugs and about what Presley can do. Bud will also check to see if there is some kind of an honorary agent at large or credential of some sort that we can provide for Presley. After Bud has met with Presley, it is recommended that we have Bud bring Presley in…to meet briefly with the President. You know that several people have mentioned over the past few months that Presley is very Pro the President. He wants to keep everything private, and I think we should honor his request….If the President wants to meet with some bright young people outside of the government, Presley might be a perfect one to start with. [Haldeman’s hand-written comment: ‘You must be kidding.’]

Presley’s letter:

Dear Mr. President:

First, I would like to introduce myself. I am Elvis Presley and admire you and have great respect for your office. I talked to Vice-President Agnew in Palm Springs three weeks ago and expressed my concern for our country. The drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers, etc., do not consider me as their enemy or, as they call it, the establishment. I call it American and I love it. Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out. I have no concerns or motives other than helping the country out. So I wish not to be given a title or appointed position. I can and will do more good if I were made a Federal Agent at Large and I will help out by doing it my way through my communications with people of all ages. First and foremost, I am an entertainer, but all I need is the Federal credentials. I am on this plane with [California] Senator George Murphy, and we have been discussing the problems that our country is faced with.

Sir, I am staying at the Washington Hotel…. I am registered under the name of Jon Burrows. I will be here for as long as it takes to get the credentials of a Federal Agent. I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse and the Communist brainwashing techniques, and I am right in the middle of the whole thing where I can and will do the most good.

I am glad to help just so long as it’s kept very private. You can have your staff or whomever call me anytime today, tonight or tomorrow. I was nominated this coming year one of America’s Ten Most Outstanding Young Men. That will be in January 18 in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. I am sending you the short autobiography about myself so you can better understand this approach. I would love to meet you just to say hello if you’re not too busy.


Elvis Presley

Nixon received Presley later that day. Elvis showed the President assorted law enforcement paraphernalia, including badges from various police departments, and presented Nixon with a World War II handgun. He told the President that he was “just a poor boy from Tennessee” who had gotten a lot from his country, which in some way he wanted to repay. He suggested going right to a group of young people or hippies to help the President in his drug drive. Before they parted, Nixon gave Presley a badge obtained from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. There is no record that Elvis conducted an undercover antidrug campaign.—ED.

February 9, 1971

TO: [Nixon deputy Alex] Butterfield

FROM: Haldeman

In seating at State Dinners, the President feels that Henry [Kissinger] should not always be put next to the most glamorous woman present. He should be put by an intelligent and interesting dinner partner, and we should shift from the practice of putting him by the best looking one. It’s starting to cause unfavorable talk that serves no useful purpose.

June 15, 1971


TO: Haldeman

FROM: The President

In view of the New York Times irresponsibility and recklessness in deliberately printing classified documents [the Pentagon Papers] without regard to the national interest I have decided that we must take action within the White House to deal with the problem.

Until further notice under no circumstances is anyone connected with the White House to give any interview to…the New York Times without my express permission. I want you to enforce this without, of course, showing them this memorandum….

This is a delicate matter for you to handle and all the orders, of course, must be given orally. It is vital, however, that there be absolutely no deviations within the White House staff because if there is the message will not get through….

I have made [this] decision because of the national interest, and the decision is not subject to appeal or further discussion unless I bring it up myself.

July 19, 1971

TO: Kissinger

FROM: The President

One effective line you could use in your talks with the press is how RN is uniquely prepared for [the President’s meeting with Chinese Premier Chou En-Lai in Feb. 1972], and how ironically in many ways he has similar character characteristics and background to Chou. I am just listing a few of the items that might be emphasized.

1) Strong convictions.

2) Came up through adversity.

3) At his best in a crisis. Cool. Unflappable.

4) A tough bold strong leader. Willing to take chances where necessary.

5) A man who takes the long view, never being concerned about tomorrow’s headlines but about how the policy will look years from now.

6) A man with a philosophical turn of mind.

7) A man who works without notes—in meetings with 73 heads of state and heads of government RN has had hours of conversation without any notes. When he met with Khrushchev in 1959 in the seven-hour luncheon at the dacha, neither he nor Khrushchev had a note and yet discussed matters of the greatest consequences in covering many areas.

8) A man who knows Asia and has made a particular point of traveling in Asia and studying Asia.

9) A man who in terms of his personal style is very strong and very tough where necessary—steely but who is subtle and appears almost gentle. The tougher his position, usually, the lower his voice.

You could point out that most of these attributes are ones that you also saw in Chou En-Lai.

As a matter of fact, one of the ways that you could subtly get this across is to describe Chou En-Lai and to go into how RN’s personal characteristics are somewhat similar.

July 21, 1971

TO: The White House Staff

FROM: [Presidential Counsel] John Dean

It has come to our attention that many members of the staff are leaving very sensitive documents at the Xerox machines after copying. Before your office is embarrassed by leaving such documents at the Xerox machine, you are urged to exercise greater care.

July 24, 1971

TO: [Nixon Assistant] Pat O’Donnell

FROM: [Special Counsel Charles] Colson

We should always consider using [UN Ambassador] George Bush more often as a good speaking resource. He is very good on his feet, he generally can get media attention, he does have Cabinet rank and he takes our line beautifully….

February 1, 1972

TO: Kissinger

FROM: Colson

This is in response to a call from your office requesting my opinion of an invitation you received from the National Women’s Political Caucus. Your asking me on this is like the Pope seeking religious guidance from the Vicar of my local Protestant church. Who am I to tell you what to do about women?

The National Women’s Political Caucus are the bomb throwers—the Gloria Steinems of this world and a lot of your other girlfriends. I wouldn’t be caught dead in the place—but then, I am not the Administration’s “swinger.”

Under the circumstances, I don’t see how you can possibly avoid it; your absence would be conspicuous but then so would your presence. Whatever you do, don’t go halfway. They want you to buy 4 tickets and bring 3 girls. Do them one better. Buy 8 tickets and take 7 girls….

On balance, in view of your widespread fame with the fairer sex, I think you have had it—you simply have to go and run the terrible risk that you will not be attacked physically. It is simply the price you pay.

P.S. If you go, you will be the butt of all the humorous barbs of the evening along with some of the serious ones. If you don’t go, you will be the butt of all the humorous barbs of the evening along with some of the serious ones.

May 18, 1972

TO: Haldeman

FROM: The President

One department which particularly needs a housecleaning is the CIA. The problem in the CIA is muscle-bound bureaucracy which has completely paralyzed its brain and the other is the fact that its personnel, just like the personnel in State, is primarily Ivy League and the Georgetown set rather than the type of people that we get into the services and the FBI.

I want a study made immediately as to how many people in CIA could be removed by Presidential action. I assume that they have themselves frozen in just as is the case with State. If that is the case I want action begun immediately…for a reduction in force of all positions in the CIA in the executive groups of 50 percent….

In another area of recruiting I want you to quit recruiting from any of the Ivy League schools or any other universities where either the university president or the university faculties have taken action condemning our efforts to bring the war in Vietnam to an end. We are totally justified in doing this anyway because the government simply has too many Ivy League people in relationship to the percentage of Ivy League graduates compared with the total number of college graduates in the country.

In filling our needs I want you to give first priority to those schools who have presidents or faculty members who have wired us or written us their support of what we have done in Vietnam. Have the mail checked very carefully to see which ones these are. After you get past those you can then go to other schools in the Midwest, in the South, and even possibly some in the far West (not, of course, including Stanford or Cal) where we would have a better chance to come up with people who would be on our side. Retired military people are also good for this purpose.

July 24, 1972

TO: Tricia and Julie

FROM: The President

It occurs to me that from time to time you may be asked for anecdotes which would relate to some of the political events that have occurred over the years….

On a personal side, you might mention some of our Christmas parties when I played the piano for group singing, etc., always by ear…. You can say that these kinds of events are not publicly known, but they have been part of the Nixon story that is to you most heartwarming. And also point out that when you had your own birthday parties, etc., that I from time to time played a Happy Birthday song for you.

I think another personal note that could be made is that when I come in to dinner at the White House—before dinner I will often make telephone calls. I call people who may be sick, who have had hard luck like losing an election or not getting a promotion in business that they expected or sometimes the mother of someone who has been killed in action.

These calls never, of course, are publicized because they are personal in nature, but I feel this is one of the responsibilities of the President. As a matter of fact, one of the most rewarding things about the position is to be able to call people, not only when they have been very successful and to congratulate them, but also when they have fallen on hard times or had bad luck one way or another. To me these personal calls never given to the press are the most rewarding ones I make from a personal standpoint.

Everybody, of course, calls an individual when he does well and when he is successful. I know from experience that you receive very few letters or calls when you suffer a defeat. It is in that period that you find out who your real friends are, and a President should always be the first one to recognize this fact—to stick by people or to remember them on those occasions when they have reason to believe that everyone else has forgotten them.

July 26, 1972


[A reminder to Haldeman from himself, based on Nixon’s instructions]:

The Vice-President [Spiro Agnew] should knock off golf and use of the White House tennis courts.

We should not look leisurely as we go into the campaign.

April 24, 1973

TO: Haldeman

FROM: [Staff Assistant] Dave Gergen

It’s essential, in my view, for the President to take decisive action on Watergate before fresh indictments are returned….

It seems wrong, however, to leave the full burden of the argument to him….The President clearly needs help in rebuilding public confidence. One of the first steps is for his senior people to begin rallying behind him, showing that they have such confidence. That’s totally lost to view now as we are transfixed by the stories of the White House crumbling and desperate men pitchforking each other in the night….

The hardest case for the President to prove will be his lack of knowledge. “You can’t prove a negative, etc.” I’m not sure RN can be totally convincing, no matter what he says. But if the public can understand why this episode happened, if they can share in some of its tragic aspects, and if they can see the President moving to clean it up, they will be much more likely to make that leap of faith….

About 16 months later, Nixon agreed to give transcripts of certain unreleased White House tapes to the House Judiciary Committee. This was a desperate attempt to stop the impeachment process. “Whatever mistakes were made in the handling of Watergate,” wrote Nixon on August 5, 1974, “I remain firmly convinced that the record does not justify the extreme step of impeachment and removal of a President.” On August 9, he resigned.

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