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THE NATION

Archives show Nixon's targeting of foes

Newly released tapes and documents reveal the president's crusade to intimidate those who antagonized him.

December 03, 2008|Christopher Goffard | Goffard is a Times staff writer.
  • Archivist Meghan Lee at the Nixon library hears tape recordings made during Nixon administration.
Archivist Meghan Lee at the Nixon library hears tape recordings made during… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

As part of a release of archival tapes and documents Monday, the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum revealed fresh records that reflect the 37th president's heated campaign to investigate, intimidate and smear political rivals and opponents of the Vietnam War.

Among the documents is a handwritten note from Nixon's top aide, H.R. Haldeman, on June 23, 1971, which may shed light on the origins of Nixon's infamous "enemies list." In the note, Haldeman records Nixon's order to bring the weight of the IRS down on attorney and former Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford, who had been critical of Nixon's Vietnam policy, and on the antiwar movement.

"Pull Clark Clifford & top supporters of doves," Haldeman writes. "Full list . . . full field audit."

In the next paragraph, Haldeman reminds himself to take action against "TK," believed to be Sen. Ted Kennedy. Haldeman writes: "Get him -- compromising situation . . . Get evidence -- use another Dem as front."

The documents, along with hundreds of hours of tape recordings, mark the largest release of Nixon's presidential papers and recordings since the Yorba Linda library shifted from a privately run facility -- controlled by Nixon loyalists -- to a National Archives institution last year.

From the White House, the documents show, Nixon was directing aggressive investigations of his rivals soon after taking office in January 1969. Central to the effort was Clark R. Mollenhoff, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who had come to work for Nixon.

In an April 1, 1970, memo, Mollenhoff reported to Haldeman that he was "probably involved in something over 100 investigations." They included probes of "the political opposition," "potential problem areas," and "areas of corruption or mismanagement."

Among the key targets of Mollenhoff's investigations were political rivals such as Sens. Kennedy and Edmund Muskie, former Alabama Governor George Wallace, Democratic chairman Lawrence O'Brien and former Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

The newly released documents also illustrate Nixon's interest in the "across-the-board loyalty" of White House staff. In a memo to Nixon on Jan. 16, 1970, presidential staffer Alexander Butterfield reported on the progress of Nixon's order to remove all pictures of past presidents from White House walls. Butterfield noted that of 35 offices occupied by White House support staff, six had displayed one or more former presidents.

Nixon, the memo reveals, had expressed special concern about an office in which he saw two pictures of John F. Kennedy. Butterfield discovered the office belonged to Edna Rosenberg, a low-level civil servant who had been on the White House staff for 41 years, longer than any other staffer. Butterfield said he "checked her file very carefully" and found the CIA, FBI and Secret Service all considered her a loyal American.

One of the Kennedy portraits, it turned out, bore a personal inscription. Still, she was made to take it down.

"On January 14th," Butterfield reported to Nixon, "the project was completed and all 35 offices displayed only your photograph."

The documents are part of about 90,000 pages of materials from Nixon's presidential years released Monday by the Nixon Library, along with 198 hours of Nixon White House tapes.

The tapes reflect Nixon conversations between November and December 1972 and include discussions of the 1972 elections and the bombing of North Vietnam. The tapes can be heard online at www.nixonlibrary.gov "> www.nixonlibrary.gov .

The library opened in 1990 as a privately run facility in the hands of Nixon loyalists, containing only his pre- and post-presidential papers and featuring a Watergate exhibit, widely ridiculed by scholars, that portrayed the scandal as a "coup" hatched by Nixon's enemies. The exhibit has since been dismantled.

The library entered the National Archives system last year, with its first federal director, Timothy Naftali, promising historical accuracy and openness. Although the library released a batch of Nixon's personal and presidential documents last year, Monday marked the library's largest release of materials so far.

"The strength of our democracy is that these kinds of documents get preserved, and they are released, whether or not they shed good light on the government," Naftali said. "In many countries in the world, these documents would have been destroyed. We're pleased we can make these documents available and others can judge."

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christopher.goffard@latimes.com

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