WASHINGTON — The first batch of papers from Richard M. Nixon's White House were made public by the National Archives on Monday and they reflected a chief executive and his aides often involved with trivial matters and highly conscious of the political implications of their actions.
The 1.5 million documents that were opened to the public appeared to contain no substantial references to the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon's resignation in August, 1974.
Archivists, in fact, deliberately sought to ensure that this first release of papers was largely non-controversial to avoid further challenges by Nixon, whose legal objections have blocked release of any papers or tape recordings for 12 years.
The documents opened Monday, a fraction of the 40 million pages collected from the Nixon Administration, dealt largely with White House domestic policy deliberations and with such "housekeeping" matters as whether Nixon's first vice president, Spiro T. Agnew, should have a bulletproof limousine.
The files also contained correspondence from citizens, among them actor John Wayne, and memoranda on Oval Office meetings, including one in which Elvis Presley complained to Nixon about the "anti-American spirit" of the Beatles and offered to help influence youths in the "hippie" movement.
The concern about the possible political effects of various presidential actions was illustrated by a 1969 memo from Patrick J. Buchanan, then a Nixon speech-writer, discouraging the President from visiting Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr. on the first anniversary of her husband's slaying because it would "outrage many, many people."
Calling King "one of the most divisive men in contemporary history," Buchanan told Nixon that "there are no long-run gains, and considerable long-run risks, in making a public visit" to Mrs. King.
Nixon, who was traveling in the South for another reason, did not visit Mrs. King, having a note delivered to her instead.
In an effort to obtain Senate confirmation for Nixon's nomination of federal Judge G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court in 1970, White House aides prepared a list of the home-state federal projects that Nixon could offer more than two dozen senators in return for their favorable votes, according to the records.
In the case of one senator, Marlow W. Cook (R-Ky.), presidential aide Bryce N. Harlow suggested that Nixon might appoint one of his friends as a federal judge, even though the Justice Department thought the candidate was "too old and very poorly qualified." Carswell's nomination ultimately was rejected by the Senate.
Memos Reflect Relations
The relations between members of the Administration were reflected in many memos in the group made public.
Nixon's appointments secretary, Dwight L. Chapin, wrote White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman in September, 1972, noting that "the vice president does not have an open-top car which is armored." Chapin suggested lending Agnew one of Nixon's three specially equipped automobiles.
But Haldeman scrawled in red ink across the memo: "Let him use a regular convertible."
Another memo from Chapin relaying a request from Agnew for permission to use the White House Cabinet Room drew a terse notation, "No," without further explanation from Haldeman.
Agnew resigned in October, 1973, after pleading "no contest" to criminal tax evasion charges. He was succeeded by Gerald R. Ford.
The Administration papers relating to Elvis Presley provided an interesting counterpoint to accounts of the singer's heavy drug use that were publicized after his death in August, 1977, from a heart ailment.
A memo in the files from presidential aide Egil (Bud) Krogh Jr. recounted a visit by Presley to the White House on Dec. 21, 1970, in which Presley pressed his offer to help Nixon's campaign for stronger law enforcement.
Presley kept repeating to Nixon that he wanted to lend his name to the President's efforts, particularly in drug enforcement, the memo said, and wanted to counter the effects of the Beatles on American youth.
"Presley indicated that he thought the Beatles had been a real force for anti-American spirit," Krogh's memo said. "He said that the Beatles came to this country, made their money and then returned to England where they promoted an anti-American theme."
Help in Drug Drive
The memo said that Presley asserted he "could go right into a group of young people or hippies and be accepted, which he felt could be helpful to him (Nixon) in his drug drive."
A 1972 memo said that Presley had asked for a badge from the federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, and noted that arrangements had been made for a "specially prepared badge."
The Nixon documents showed that seemingly no event was too small to escape the notice of White House aides--and form the basis for a memo or letter.