BRIAN LAMB: Tim Naftali, how would you describe your effort to put Nixon folks on the record on tape or recording it?
TIMOTHY NAFTALI: Well, I had this challenge, which is that the federal government was taking over a private museum and library. I was asked to be the first federal director. This was a library that had been in place for 17 years. Roughly 100,000 people visit it a year; in addition, about 10,000 schoolchildren. And it had a certain message. When you run a private institution, you have the right to any message you want. When it becomes a national institution, it has to meet a different standard.
I knew that one of my jobs was to change the museum. In particular, I was told I was to change the Watergate Gallery.
How do you do that after a local community is accustomed to one particular description? You know, a museum might be a national museum, but it's also a partner and it's also a local neighbor.
LAMB: This is in California?
NAFTALI: This is in California. Yorba Linda, California. I thought the best way was -- not for me as a historian – I'm a trained historian though I wasn't a Nixon specialist – was for the players, key people living up close from that area to tell the story themselves. So I thought the best way to do this was to start a video oral history program that involved the Nixon players, but also players in the Watergate drama from the left and the right, to have them tell the story and then to use portions of that story in the museum to let visitors understand the complexity of this constitutional drama.
So the video oral history program was designed initially to help renovate the museum. What happened is that it just developed and acquired a momentum all of its own. I never anticipated ultimately overseeing 149 of them. I had a very good assistant, Paul Musgrave, who worked with me for three years on this. He did a few of the interviews himself. And it just became clear that there were a lot of folks that wanted to talk about that period.
Since the Nixon Library had been private, it hadn't gotten the treatment that a regular federal presidential library would have had. For example, neither the private Nixon Library nor the Nixon project in Washington had actually run a full scale oral history program. So it was ripe for the doing. And, as it became clear that a lot of folks wanted to participate, this grew to be a much bigger initiative than I had imagined.
LAMB: What was the timeframe?
NAFTALI: I started just as soon as I started in the job. I became – I joined the National Archives in October of 2006. Even though I didn't formally become the head of the library, I ran the Federal Nixon Project until the library transferred to the federal government in the summer of 2007. But I started this oral history with an interview of Alexander Haig right at the end of 2006. And I did oral histories until the – just before I left in November of 2011.
LAMB: This hour has no rhyme or reason to it. The clips were chosen by Mike Holden who produces this program. And the objective is just to show the audience – because we run a lot of these already – a little bit and then get you to explain it. But before we start that, I want to show some video tape from 1973, Alexander Butterfield testifying before the Watergate Committee. It's very short. And we'll come back to you.
ALEXANDER BUTTERFIELD: I was aware of listening devices. Yes, sir.
FRED THOMPSON: When were those devices placed in the Oval Office?
BUTTERFIELD: Approximately the summer of 1970. I cannot begin to recall the precise date. My guess, Mr. Thompson, is that the installation was made between – and this is a very rough guess – April or May of 1970 and, perhaps, the end of the summer or early fall of 1970.
THOMPSON: Are you aware of any devices that were installed in the Executive Office Building Office of the President?
BUTTERFIELD: Yes, sir, at that time...
LAMB: Fred Thompson was a senator and an actor and was the counsel for the Republicans back then. Where did you find Alexander Butterfield?
NAFTALI: Oh, some of them we found through Google or through people who knew people. I mean, we put out the word that we were doing these. And, initially, the Nixon Foundation, the Private Nixon Foundation, provided the funding for the first ones that we did.
I was very upfront about what we were doing. I promised the Nixon Foundation and the federal government that we would do a nonpartisan oral history program.
LAMB: We don't see you in these interviews.
NAFTALI: That's by choice. I remember going to an (L.A. Festival of the Book) and I listened to David Halberstam. And Halberstam – it was like 2005, 2000 – just before I got this job – that job. I'm not in it anymore. And he was talking about the best interviews. And he said, "The best interview, the interviewer disappears." And I thought what I would do would be to disappear, that my job would be to help the interviewee recall invents, to encourage them and create a zone of comfort, but to disappear.
And, also, because the goal was for this to be a video that could be used for documentaries in the future, as well as for use in the museum, you don't want to see me.
LAMB: It's a minute and 32 seconds. Alexander Butterfield. You interviewed him back in '08 – 2008. Today, he's 86 years old. Let's watch.
BUTTERFIELD: He didn't go back to The Residence very often. When he left the office, he went to the EOB and he had dinner over there four nights out of five. He only went to The Residence if the young people were coming over, the children with their spouses or boyfriend or girlfriend or whatever, if someone is going to be there, a friend. Otherwise, when he left the office around 7:00, the Oval Office, we went to the EOB Office across the street with Manolo .
Manolo would fix him a drink usually – a drink of – scotch. He might not. He might just with a red wine. Those are the only things he drank. And he didn't drink a lot. Either he had one cocktail and then red wine with dinner. Manolo fixed him his dinner. And he sat there just the way you're sitting there, with his coat on. He never took his coat off. He never, never, never took his jacket off even on the hottest Washington, D.C. night, in a chair and wrote with his – wrote his – on a yellow pad – ideas, things that would be relayed to Haldeman in the following morning, all the stuff to Haldeman.
Then he'd eat his dinner at a little and have his wine. And then he might go down and bowl a line. There was a single lane or a double lane bowling alley in the EOB. I don't know if it's still there. And he'd go home around 10:30 or 10:45. I was always there. I never went home till he went to The Residence.
LAMB: What were you thinking as you watched the former military man, Mr. Butterfield?
NAFTALI: You know, one of the things we don't – those of us outside of Water – of the White House is we don't really know how it works. And to have the people who were with Richard Nixon describe the day is priceless. I mean, we have the tapes, of course, but we don't know what's going on around the taped areas. And it wasn't just Butterfield, but, you know, you've got Colson. You've got – you've got Leonard Garment, who was in and out of the White House. You've got folks talking about what it was like. That's priceless. That's the part of history that gives it context and meaning, but that disappears because it's not – often not written down.
One of the byproducts of these interviews – because I let the tape run, you know, I didn't interrupt them. I let people – even if it was somewhat rambled, I let people think and recall and speak. What you get out of it is color and it's preserved forever. One of the things that I – that was very important to me, because I've had the experience in doing oral history, I was at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, and James Sterling Young was running an oral history program there. And I was one of the interviewers. I was not running the program, but I was one of the interviewers.
And the way it was run by the Miller Center – it wasn't their fault; it was just in fact the deal that they had struck – is that the private foundations had control over the interviews and people could edit them. And I know this for a fact because I participated in interviews that were then edited. I didn't edit them. Well, once you edit an interview, the tape, whether it's an audio tape or a video tape, it becomes useless. You can't serve it to the public anymore.
So, when I went to the National Archives, I worked with the lawyers and I said, "I don't want that. I want the participant to sign a deed which does not give them the right to edit it." Of course, the participant knew this in advance. We sent them the deed in advance, so it wasn't – this wasn't a surprise. But the fact of the matter is, if we didn't do that, you couldn't use these interviews. And I wanted there to be a sense of comfort, a sense of respect and professionalism, but would allow people to continue to tell stories and that those stories should be preserved forever.
LAMB: I want to run another Alexander Butterfield clip from – when he was talking about the taping system that he had set up inside the White House. And, ultimately, what would you say the result of the taping system did?
NAFTALI: Richard Nixon's resignation is a result of the taping system. And great history for the rest of us.
LAMB: By the way, what's that background we're looking at? Where did Alexander Butterfield when you interviewed him.
NAFTALI: We – actually, that was Paul Musgrave that did it. I'm responsible for the logo, but we decided that we would use for the first interviews a standard collapsible backdrop because we – we interviewed people where they wanted to be interviewed. We didn't have a studio – although I did one interview in the studio with Sir David Frost. But, by and large, we didn't have a studio. And so we would set up – we hired professional videographers, and we needed a backdrop.
Initially, we thought it would be cool if there was always the same backdrop. We later discovered that varying the backdrop is a good thing. And, today, I mean, those watching this will notice a lot of different backdrops.
LAMB: All right, here's that clip.
BUTTERFIELD: And he said, "Make sure nobody knows this. Nobody. Nobody." So – and that was said a couple of times later when he and the president and I talked about it. And there was never any doubt in my mind, although no one told me these so many – in so many words was that there was no sinister purpose to the tapes. None. And I sensed that it was for the memoir. That would be valuable if you could have all of that.
And I went to Haldeman a couple of times later, much later when these things were accumulating so fast, the Secret Service are coming to me and saying, "Hey, we're having to look for a new place to put the tapes." And I said, "Bob, we ought to have a couple of secretaries get up on the fourth floor of that EOB and just type all day long because this is a career here. You know, this is all day every day."
And he said, "Yes, good idea." But we never did do that. So it had to a mammoth job.
LAMB: Indeed. Did you ever get a sense of what happened to the 18 and a half minute gap?
NAFTALI: Well I have a theory, I mean, I had to look into that because there is a section in the Watergate gallery. I wrote about it. I was astonished to hear that the tape, the gap is in the tape from the summer of 1972 and June of '72. And the tape, Rosemary Woods took the tape to Camp David but she also took the tape to Key Biscayne.
And there are, you know, there are a number of people who could have erased it. The U.S. government hired a group of audio specialists to listen to the tape, to the erased portion and they concluded that it couldn't have been an accidental erasure. There were too many starts and stops. It actually sounds to the educated ear as if this had been erased eight times.
So somebody either in Camp David or in Key Biscayne erased it. I've often wondered if it was Bebe Rebozo.
LAMB: Who was?
NAFTALI: Richard Nixon's dear friend and totally deniable.
LAMB: By the way to our audience if they are frustrated by these little clips the whole interviews are available on our website, our video library and a lot of them on the Nixon…
NAFTALI: On the Nixon, yes, you can get them at www.nixonlibrary.gov.
LAMB: William Ruckelshaus, you interviewed, did you do that interview, where did you do it, you remember?
NAFTALI: I do, sure, I remember it was actually at the library. William Ruckelshaus is a hero. One of the things that if you watched these, there is a story of course of the role that Woodward and Bernstein played, very important in Watergate, and that role that the House played and the Senate played, and the prosecutors and Cox and his army of prosecutors.
Don't forget the role played by Republicans within the Nixon administration who said no and Ruckelshaus is one of them, he is not alone. We'll hear from a few more I think today.
LAMB: Here is William Ruckelshaus who was at that time the number two?
NAFTALI: He is the deputy attorney general of the United States.
LAMB: Recorded this in '07.
WILLIAM RUCKELSHAUS : And it clear Elliot wasn't going to carry out that order assuming he had maintained it after Cox's press conference. And I remember him turning to me and saying what are you going to do?
And I told him, I said, I don't think it's close. I think that – and what he is asking you and apparently subsequently made you do is fundamentally wrong and that you don't have any choice but to refuse to do it. And that would mean they will find somebody else to do it eventually. I mean there was only one last person in the line of official command in the Justice Department. If Bork hadn't done it he couldn’t have asked anyone in the department to do it.
To me if it came to that your responsibility was very clear and I don't think he resigned lightly, I mean, I think you do have an obligation to the president. He is the one who appointed you. And you do have a duty of loyalty but then there's certain lines over which you can't step. And you have to tell yourself that it seems to me before you take one of those jobs. There are some things that I won't do.
NAFTALI: This is really important. I did my best to interview as many surviving players in the Saturday Night Massacre and many in the audience may not know what he is talking about but in October of 1973 President Nixon wanted to fire the Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. And he asked the attorney, ordered the Attorney General of the United States, Elliot Richardson, to do it and he wouldn't.
The next person in line was Ruckelshaus and he wouldn't do it. Elliot Richardson had died by the time I was in the job but Ruckelshaus was alive and Judge Bork was also involved in the story. It's a remarkable story because for many of those who participated or witnessed this event this was the closest that the country had come to a major constitutional crisis because here the president of the United States was firing the official who was looking into his misdeeds.
LAMB: Archibald Cox.
NAFTALI: Archibald Cox. And the question was in a democracy, in a republic where you have a responsible government can the president fire somebody who is about to prosecute him for wrongdoing?
LAMB: Here is a tape or a recording of Jill Wine-Banks, who is she? Bye the way William Ruckelshaus lives in Seattle. He is 80 years old. And Jill Wine-Banks is today 67.
NAFTALI: Well, I don't know how old she is, she is magnificent and it’s a great interview. This is an example of where the backdrop changes and it really helps. She is part of Archibald Cox's team. She is a prosecutor. She is one of the few female prosecutors. This is an era when women, there is a glass ceiling, unfortunately. She would ultimately be the one who deposes Rosemary Woods on the whole 18 and a half minute gap issue. She is the one who asks her questions in court.
Here she is talking, I believe, here she is talking about the Saturday Night Massacre and when she learns that Archibald Cox has been fired and her reaction is startling and it shows the kind of tension that this people went through in that period.
LAMB: Jill Wine-Banks.
JILL WINE-BANKS: The big discussion that I remember was what is Richard Nixon going to do? And it was particularly relevant because we were working basically seven days a week. I had a family wedding in New York that night, the night of the press conference and said, well, I can't go. I have to stay here.
And, you know, after much discussion we said, what could he do? In order to fire Archie he'd have to fire the attorney general and he'll never do that so go, it's going to be OK. He's going to cave in.
So I went to New York right after the press conference. When I came back from the wedding to the hotel literally the desk clerk was waiting for me and sort of leaped over the counter and said there's a message for you, there is a message for you, the FBI has seized your office.
I called George Frampton and he was the one I could reach, and got on a 6:00 AM flight the next morning to come back to participate in discussions of what the office should do because what had happened was he fired Archie, he did not fire us. So there was a lot of discussion of do we quit in protest or do we say, OK, Archie is gone but we are still here. We need to do our job and we are going to stay. He is going to have to make a second big public relations error by firing us.
LAMB: What did he do?
NAFTALI: Well, what happened is that actually they closed the office for a nanosecond and then they reopened it and Robert Bork who was then solicitor general and acting attorney general at that point because everybody above him had either been fired or had resigned, he became the head of this special prosecutor's office.
And I interviewed him for the library and he said, look, he said, I – he said, I, Robert Bork was nervous because I could be charged with obstruction of justice if I closed this thing down. So he kept it alive and then they hired Leon Jaworski, a Texas Democrat. Nixon hired him to replace Archibald Cox and in the end Jaworski would be even tougher on Richard Nixon than Archibald Cox had been.
LAMB: Did Jill Wine-Banks work for him?
NAFTALI: Yes. She stayed. She stayed right through as did the rest of the team.
LAMB: How long were your interviews usually?
NAFTALI: Most of them were about two hours. It depended sometimes, they went longer, sometimes they were shorter. The shortest one was with a very busy Senator Kerry. I asked him about Vietnam and his work in the American veterans, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, that was 23 minutes.
The longest, I had a couple of sessions with Colson on different days and also with Ray Price. So six hours.
LAMB: Who said no?
NAFTALI: Henry Kissinger said no. I'll never forget. I was moderating a panel with him at Whittier College and we were in the green room which wasn't green. By the way green rooms are rarely green beforehand and I was trying to be fair to him so I let him know what kind of questions I was going to ask him.
And then we went onstage and he didn't answer any of them and afterwards he turned to me and he said I didn't answer any of your questions but you tried hard. And he made it clear to me as we chatted afterwards that he was never going to do a video or oral history about Nixon.
He said no. Gordon Strachan said no, a very important Watergate figure who hasn't, I believe, told his full story. He wouldn't do it.
LAMB: He is a lawyer?
NAFTALI: He is a lawyer. He was indicted but not convicted. He was – Haldeman, who was, sorry, chief of staff, Richard Nixon's chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, he was his point person to the Committee to Re-elect the President. He was the one who conveyed to Haldeman the information that G. Gordon Liddy, that his espionage plan had been approved, so he would know what details Haldeman and therefore, I think, Nixon knew about the Liddy plan anyhow. He wouldn't do it.
And sadly Pat Buchanan, I tried very hard to get Pat Buchanan to do it. He wouldn't do it.
LAMB: Robert Bork who was the acting attorney general at the time, this is another issue. He is 85, still here with us. This is the issue of Spiro Agnew.
NAFTALI: Fantastic. By the way one of the things that happened is you learn things. I thought in the beginning I was going to hear stories that many of them had said to the History Channel.
When you do an interview for the government, it becomes public domain and I was really keen on creating free video. It belongs to everybody now. So I assume they would tell stories that were in proprietary collections.
What I started to get – what we started to get were stories I'd never heard before and this is one of them. This is unbelievable. This is Bork talking about he – how he and the attorney general at that point, Elliot Richardson, are afraid that Richard Nixon is not going to go ahead with the prosecution of Vice President Spiro Agnew.
Spiro Agnew, it just started out in Maryland, but there was a Maryland prosecutor – had discovered that Agnew as governor – he was governor before he became Vice President – had been taking bribes and that he continued to take bribes even when he was in the office of the vice president.
And apparently, this was an open and shut case. There was so much evidence. You couldn't walk away from this. Elliot Richardson had to prosecute him. Now, this is in the middle of Watergate. He had nothing...
LAMB: He was the attorney general.
NAFTALI: He was the attorney general. But the point is this has nothing to do with Watergate, but the timing is it happens during what...
NAFTALI: ...1973 and so, the issue is if Spiro Agnew was thrown out, Richard Nixon has no Vice President and if he's thrown out, who's going to be President?
LAMB: This is brief – Robert Bork talking about the Spiro Agnew resignation.
ROBERT BORK: And Haig said, "Let's go see the President" which is supposed to be – when they dropped that on you, you were supposed to quiver.
On the way down the hall, Elliot said , "We have to go to the men's room" which was not true in particular, but we go in the men's room and turned on all the faucets to defeat any listening devices. You have no idea of the atmosphere in the White House in those days.
You had no idea whether something was turned on listening to you or not. So we turned on all the faucets and whispered to each other. Elliot said, "I think it's a resignation issue, don't you, Bob?" I said, "It certainly is."
So we turned off the faucets when we left and went to the President. Now, the resignation issue is hard one to deal with. You can't walk in and say to a President, "You do this or I resign," because if he's any kind of a President, he'll say he’ll do it and make you resign.
LAMB: Where did you do that?
NAFTALI: In his home -- fantastic interview. He seemed very ill at the time. He's still with us, but this is four years ago. And he's a chain smoker and he asked me if it would be OK to smoke.
And I love film noir. And so, I let him. And you'll see there's some moments where the smoke swirls around his head. It makes for nice interview. He was fascinating. He really wanted to do this. The interview lasted two hours. He's got lots of energy.
LAMB: Did he tell you why he stayed and fired Archibald Cox?
NAFTALI: Well, actually, I will say this – that he's a complex figure and we may get into this issue of my own personal views because I never wanted the – I didn't want my views to be part of the scene and, you know, Judge Bork is somebody whose work I found troubling, to say the least.
LAMB: As a judge or as a...
NAFTALI: As a judge and – but it's not my business and I was working for the Federal Government and it doesn't matter what I think.
I will tell you I was so impressed in that interview. What a mind. You know, I disagree with this man, but what a mind. And I also learned that he's got a bad rap for the Saturday night, the massacre and it's Ruckelshaus who made this clear to me and a few others because I interviewed Jonathan Moore who was Elliot Richardson's top chief aide.
Richardson and Ruckelshaus implored Bork to stay. Now, Bork had a different legal theory about what the President could or could not do, but he wanted to resign. Bork actually wanted to resign. He wanted to go back to Yale and he just was convinced that his Yale friends, his colleagues would never forgive him.
But Ruckelshaus and Richardson said, "No, if you resign, nobody's running this place" and they were very afraid that Alexander Haig who was somebody they mistrusted would choose a new attorney general who would be a disaster for the country. And they said – and they really put pressure on Bork to stay.
So Bork describes it, but you know, the beauty of these oral histories is that you'll see corroborating evidence from other people who don't have the same stake as Bork does in his own reputation.
LAMB: What are you doing now?
NAFTALI: I'm an independent historian. I left – I had a book about Kennedy that I'd meaning to write. I had a contract for it and I needed time to write it. So I went back to writing, I’ve got a couple of books that I'm working on right now and I'm a fellow at the New America Foundation.
LAMB: When did you leave the library?
NAFTALI: November of 2011.
LAMB: Next is William Safire and part of this, William Safire is Jewish. He was an observer and tell us what you...
NAFTALI: Well, this is hard – this is actually, for me, it's hard. This is heartbreaking because he was really mad at me.
LAMB: For the interview?
NAFTALI: Afterwards. Gosh, I had a terrible conversation with William Safire about a month before he died. He called me.
LAMB: Died in '09 at 79.
NAFTALI: I know, 79. He was so angry that I had invited John Dean to the library and I explained to him that in order to establish this as a nonpartisan space, people would take seriously as a research center.
And given the fights that had – there had been over access to the tapes – of Nixon tapes and the documents, it was essential to establish beyond any doubt that this was a nonpartisan space and I felt it important that John Dean, an important witness, important player in the Watergate story actually come to the library and speak.
And Safire was furious and I was talking to him because I'd invited him to come to the library to do a master class. Every summer or most every summer, we had national interns. We had a national competition and we would say to students across the country, "Come to the Nixon library. We're changing this. It's an experiment in public history. Be a part of this experiment."
We got great applications of 10, 15 times the number of students we needed. And one of the things I did was I brought Nixon veterans for the kids – the students to interact with and I wanted Safire to come. And he – and it was terrible.
He said, "I will not do this because for me to come to that library is to condone what you're doing and I won't do it." It was not a pleasant discussion.
The interview was all right. This was before John Dean's visit. The interview was all right, except when I asked him about – when he'd been wire tapped and then he got very uncomfortable. But most of that interview was very good.
LAMB: But explain the Jewish connection and...
NAFTALI: Well, this is – I found – because I asked everybody about everything. And if you watch the interview I did with Fred Malek, it was very hard for me because I was going to and did ask him about President Nixon ordered that there be a list of all Jews in the federal government.
He told Bob Haldeman and we have this on tape that Jews are disloyal. American Jews are disloyal. It's a horrible take. And he ordered this.
Well, in the end, the order got truncated and it became an order to list all the Jews in the Bureau of Labor Statistics which is the part of the Labor Department that is responsible for the unemployment figures.
Fred Malek was tasked with doing this. I did ask him about it. It was, "How do you broach this subject?" Well, anyway, after I'd done that and he speaks about it, I made a point of finding as many people who could talk on this issue as possible and talk on the issue of the role of Jews in the Nixon administration.
And there was a real divide among those Jewish-Americans who'd been in the Nixon administration. Some were convinced that Richard Nixon was an anti-Semite. Some thought that he wasn't. And William Safire is among those who thought he wasn't an anti-Semite.
LAMB: Here is Bill Safire who was a New York Times columnist for years.
WILIIAM SAFIRE: And so, when you asked, how can you – didn't it really affect your opinion of Nixon? Some, yes, and it was disappointing, but he wasn’t anti-Semitic. To be anti-Semitic, they hate Jews. He certainly didn’t. Now, going back to your question...
NAFTALI: But how would you explain these discussions with Haldeman and the concern about Jews in the Bureau of Labor Statistics? And where does that come from? How, do you explain it?
SAFIRE: I think he saw Jews as liberals, as New Yorkers, people who had been against him from the start. And he was look at Garment and Herb Stein and me as exceptions. And – but it was the liberals that he hated. We shouldn't hate. But with liberals and Jews in Hollywood and New York, were part of the target.
But, I don't go for the "some of my best friends are Jews" argument. But in this case, I think it was the towel snapping, locker room kind of anti-Semitism and not something he thought of or something that he carried on.
LAMB: Your reaction?
NAFTALI: I'm proud to say that there are a lot of people that are interviewed on this subject and there's a lot for the viewer to make sense of. I'll let it – leave to the viewer.
All I can say is that his – President Nixon's comments on the tapes are more – are about Jews in a way that is different from how William Safire described it. I mean, on the tapes, Richard Nixon is talking about how Jews have exaggerated the Holocaust – because they want sympathy and they've used it to gain sympathy. There is an anger towards Jews, I believe, that cannot be explained simply in terms of liberal versus conservative, but I'll leave it to others to make up their minds. I will tell you, there is now a very good collection of people speaking on this issue and it's publicly available now and that was my job.
LAMB: Here's Chuck Colson telling a story.
Charles Colson: Kissinger had the right although he abused it to come into the office, the Oval Office or the EOB office without having somebody announce him or take him in.
I always went in through Steve Bull, but Kissinger could just walk in when he wanted to. Nixon told him that because of the severity of the foreign policy issues – to feel free to just come in and interrupt anything. Well, Henry would do it for trivial things.
And one day, Nixon was really ticked off at Henry for a variety of things. And we were in the Executive Office Building. The far door swung open. I looked and there was Henry. I caught a glance of him. Nixon did not appear to look, but I know he knew it was Henry. And he immediately said to me, "Well, I think you're right, Chuck, about that. I think it is time that we use nuclear weapons. Everything else has failed."
And I looked. Kissinger stood in the doorway, absolutely paralyzed – that's on a tape somewhere. Somebody's going to hear that on the tape and say, "Oh, my lord. This Nixon really was a madman. Colson did bring out the dark side of Nixon. Everything they say is true." It was pure humor Nixon loved it and did that often – that sort of thing often.
LAMB: He died in 2008 at age 80. How many hours did you interview him?
NAFTALI: That's a fantastic experience with Colson.
LAMB: Was he honest with you?
NAFTALI: I interviewed him twice. The first time, and that's from the first interview, I, again – I think, I let people talk. And a number of the people who'd been interviewed often had set stories.
The first interview is basically the set stories. The second interview was the follow-up. I knew more. I could ask follow-up. It's different.
He was much less comfortable in the second interview and it's not because of age. It only happened a year later. No, I don't think Colson – I do not believe that Chuck Colson was candid. I think he's guarded. I think he was guarded. I think that Charles Colson decided what he would plea – what he would say he did and nothing more.
And so, there was a set of things he would apologize for and there's a whole, I think, ocean – there's a whole story out there that he never talked about and that he took with him to the grave. He knew a lot more.
That's just the sense. The second interview, I tried to push him beyond the bounds of the set stories he'd told in the History Channel and other places and he got very uncomfortable. And I did it – I hope I did it in a professional way, but I'll leave it to the viewer to decide that.
LAMB: Were you always off camera?
LAMB: And did you...
NAFTALI: Well, except the first two, I did the Haig interview. I had a number of colleagues participate as well. And it was just the videographer. They included us in the beginning, but I preferred to be off camera.
And when Paul Musgrave did the twenty or so he did, he's also off camera. That's what gives you that wonderful look. I mean, that makes this interview useful in different formats and that's what I wanted.
LAMB: It comes up in the past about you being a Canadian, a liberal, gay, and that Richard Nixon might not be all that excited about you running the library. And the reason I bring this up now is because I'm going to run a Dwight Chapin interview in a second. And did Dwight know you were gay?
NAFTALI: Oh, I didn’t know. I didn’t – I've never denied it. Let's just say, I wouldn’t bring – I wouldn’t sort of shake, you know, stress that.
LAMB: I understand.
NAFTALI: No, I know. I don’t know if he knew I was gay. I was shocked and delighted to have recorded this particular anecdote, but I don’t think he knew I was gay. The Chapin interview was extremely important for the development of this oral history project – and we’ll get to it in a moment I guess.
LAMB: This is almost two minutes, but it’s the story now. And for those who don’t know who Jack Anderson was, he's deceased. He was a columnist and at one time the largest number of papers in the country.
NAFTALI: Yes. For anybody who saw the movie "J Edgar."
LAMB: J. Edgar Hoover?
NAFTALI: Yes, about J. Edgar Hoover. This story and the role that J. Edgar Hoover plays in the story is hilarious.
LAMB: Head of the FBI at the time?
NAFTALI: Head of the FBI at the time who was going to take a personal interest in whether there was a homosexual ring, a gay ring, at the center of the Nixon Administration.
LAMB: And Dwight Chapin was the Deputy Assistant?
NAFTALI: Dwight Chapin was the Deputy Assistant, a good-looking California…
LAMB: To the president?
NAFTALI: To the president – good-looking California guy, and well, let's…
LAMB: And alive today, 72 years old. Here’s Dwight Chapin.
DWIGHT CHAPIN: You know, here we all are. I mean, you know what I mean? I can remember going home and you're scared to death. I mean this is like a time bomb. This thing gets out and gets in the press and then Anderson gets it going, there's, you know – it’s a disaster for all of us, you know. And it’s not true.
So the next day, each of us individually – separately, I should say – we go into the cabinet room. We sit across, right across from us, we take and put up our hand and we were sworn in. And then each of us are questioned by J. Edgar Hoover. He asks all of the questions. And the transcript of this was provided to Jack Anderson and that’s how it was stopped.
NAFTALI: And Hoover was planning to give this to Anderson?
CHAPIN: No. No. Anderson was going to go with the story. Jack Anderson, the columnist? You're familiar with him.
CHAPIN: He was the one that was going to put the photographer down there and had Richard. I've always thought if I ever see Brit Hume, I'm going to ask him because he was working for Anderson at that time I believe. So Anderson was getting ready to go with the story. Anderson calls Kline; Kline calls and tells Mitchell. Mitchell goes and sees Nixon; meanwhile tells Haldeman, "I want to meet with all of you guys as a group." He's going to meet with – the president says, "I want you get to the bottom of this, John."
John comes – John comes up with this idea of how to get to the bottom. He brings J. Edgar Hoover over and has us deposed in the cabinet room with J. Edgar Hoover doing the asking of the questions.
NAFTALI: J. Edgar Hoover.
CHAPIN: J. Edgar Hoover asked .
NAFTALI: J. Edgar Hoover asked you if you were a homosexual.
NAFTALI: If you were gay?
CHAPIN: Yes. And what these relationships were.
NAFTALI: I should have mentioned this before. What happens is Jack Anderson is about to go with the story that Haldeman is, and his top aides, are having sex with each other in Key Biscayne.
LAMB: And Bob Haldeman is the Chief…
NAFTALI: The Chief Of Staff and that, you know, have these young California guys, and it’s a homosexual ring and they all have huts, little cabins near each other in Key Biscayne. And that’s the story. I'd never heard this.
And the fact that J. Edgar Hoover decided the way to determine whether it was true, J. Edgar Hoover with his own complicated sexual history was for him to interview each of these young California guys, these blond-haired California guys to ask them about their sexual preference. Well, I nearly fell over my chair. And of course, you don’t – all you can hear is me stammer. Well, I'm stammering because I'm trying not to express my surprise at this story which , frankly, I'd never heard before and I haven’t seen anywhere else. So there it is.
LAMB: Dwight Chapin was in his 20s then and was the Assistant to the President and went to prison.
NAFTALI: Oh, yes. Well…
LAMB: What's he like today?
NAFTALI: That’s a very – what a story. Well, Mr. Chapin, whom I didn’t know before, was unlike Charles Colston. Chuck Colson. Disarming and I think candid. He came to the interview which we did in New York, ready to talk and to preserve his story.
Now some will say that he was just going to defend himself at the expense of the president, but he'd remained close to the president. The president, any time President Nixon interacted with him after President Nixon left the White House.
Chapin felt that he needed help some stories to set the record straight. It was an amazing interview. It got Chapin, I believe, into trouble among his colleagues and led to a controversy for the Oral History Program because Chapin said something on tape that he did not say to the Senate, he didn’t say in the trial, and something that the Nixon group had always denied.
LAMB: That was?
NAFTALI: And that was it was Richard Nixon who was there when the Dirty Tricks campaign was ordered, that Nixon – Nixon was too smart to order it but he was sitting in the room with Haldeman. It was done on Haldeman's office which was why it wasn’t taped.
LAMB: That was Donald Segretti?
NAFTALI: Donald Segretti. That Segretti – the Dirty Tricks campaign in the 1972 campaign – the 1972 election – the president – President Nixon wanted it, knew about it, and wanted Dwight Chapin whom – by the way, Dwight Chapin had worked for Richard Nixon for a long time. He was very close to Nixon. He was – Nixon had a small staff in the '68 campaign, sort of a personal staff. Dwight Chapin was his advance man. Chapin later was the head advance man before he went into the White House. This man was extremely close to Richard Nixon.
LAMB: And Donald Segretti used to be…?
NAFTALI: Donald Segretti was – they went to school – they went to school…
NAFTALI: …at USC.
LAMB: Let’s let Dwight Chapin talk about Donald Segretti.
CHAPIN: Dick Tuck was a prankster who had done tricks on Republican candidates over the years. Trick being crazy little things – nothing harmful.
One day, the buzzer goes off and I go into the president's office and he's sitting there with Haldeman. And they say, "Do you know…" By "they," Bob says it, the president’s sitting there. "Do you know anyone that can do Dick Tuck type of stuff? We should have somebody like that." And I said, "Well, let me think about it."
So I'm went out and I thought about it, and I thought of Donald Segretti. Don had been a roommate at USC. He was just leaving the Judge Advocate's position in the military, in the Army and I thought Don, OK. Don is very anonymous, would fit in, and could do this kind of thing.
LAMB: What happened to Segretti?
NAFTALI: Well, he went to jail, too. I actually met Segretti. He was that close to doing an interview. I talked to him twice. He was almost ready to do an interview and he didn’t do one for the project, but…
NAFTALI: I don’t know why. He didn’t tell me why.
LAMB: Lives in California now?
NAFTALI: I really shouldn’t say. I mean, I found out where he lived as a result of my job but…
LAMB: By the way, for the record, a couple of things. People that want to see these entire interviews can either go to the NixonLibrary.gov?
NAFTALI: Dot.gov, yes.
LAMB: Or they can come to us in our video library and find a lot of these interviews. Also for the record, you are now an American citizen?
NAFTALI: Yes. I was when I took the job. Yes. I became a U.S. citizen in 2005.
LAMB: You were educated at Yale and Harvard. What…
NAFTALI: And Johns Hopkins.
LAMB: And Johns Hopkins. What were the…
NAFTALI: I was overeducated. I have a BA from Yale. I have an MA from Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies. And I have an MA and PhD from Harvard in History.
LAMB: George Shultz was the Secretary of the Treasury. He was also the Secretary of State. But in the next administration, he was the Secretary of Treasury when this event was talked about. He's 92 years old, alive, lives in California. Here is talking about John Dean.
GEORGE SHULTZ: Johnny Walters came to me and said, "John Dean, the President's Counsel, has just brought me a list of I think 50 names of people and wants a full field investigation of them. That’s a very unpleasant thing to have happened to you. What should I do?" And I said, "Don’t do it." And he said, "Well, what shall I tell John Dean when he asks me how it’s going?" I said, "Tell him that you report to me. If he has a problem, he's got a problem with me." So they never brought it up with me. Although in the tape, there's discussion between the president and John Dean about who do I think I am, holding this up? But it was an improper use of the IRS and I wouldn’t do it.
NAFTALI: Did you actually speak with the president about this?
SHULTZ: He never brought it up.
NAFTALI: This is really important. The Private Library had made the argument, and this was an argument that school kids absorbed, that all presidents break the law and the difference was that President Nixon got caught. And I felt that this was a terrible lesson to be teaching students, that their presidents actually are crooks. I just thought it was – well, not crooks. Let's say that the presidents break the rules.
And I thought it was a bad lesson for two reasons. One, because that’s not what you should teach kids – actually, three reasons. One is not what you should teach kids. Secondly, it’s not true. And third, it gives presidents the possibility of redemption if they commit real crimes, because, frankly, sometimes presidents are bad and we shouldn’t think that – they shouldn’t all be venerated. And I knew that as a – that I didn’t want to be a carpetbagger. I didn’t – I didn’t want to be this East Coast progressive who came to Orange County and decided that, you know, he was so smart and he knew it all, and that was that.
What I always dreamed of was an interview like this where you had someone of the gravitas of George Shultz, explaining to people that sometimes presidents ask you to do the wrong thing and you say no. I can't tell you how proud I am of that because it shows why our system works. Our system couldn’t possibly work if presidents always got their way.
LAMB: It’s a long story about how controversial you were within the library system and the foundation and the Nixon loyalists.
LAMB: But here's the quick question on it before I'm going to show some more tapes. Did any of them try to interfere with your request to these people to...?
LAMB: …be interviewed?
NAFTALI: Oh, my goodness. Yes. Well, what happened was that not only, this project almost led to my being fired.
LAMB: But you worked for the federal government. You didn’t work for the Nixon…
NAFTALI: Yes. But when you get a Senator of the United States who takes a personal interest in your work, you can be fired.
LAMB: Which Senator?
NAFTALI: Senator Lamar Alexander.
LAMB: And what was his point?
NAFTALI: His point was that he felt that I was – that I didn’t like Richard Nixon. And he held up President Obama's nomination for the new Archivistof the United States. He put a hold which you can do in the Senate because of me. Which he admitted because the Archivist of the United States, the nominee met with Senator Lamar Alexander. And Lamar Alexander complained about me to him, David Ferriero was his name. He is the current archivist. But Lamar Alexander did not ask David Ferriero to fire me but he wanted to raise his concern. And to David Ferriero's credit, he didn't ask me to change what I was doing nor did they curtail the oral history program.
LAMB: And Lamar Alexander had worked for Richard Nixon's campaign. He'd worked in the White House.
NAFTALI: What happened was that I interviewed William Timmons who had been the head of the congressional office and he didn't like the interview.
LAMB: Lamar Alexander didn't or Timmons did not?
NAFTALI: Timmons. I interviewed Lamar Alexander. And there was no trouble. I think I interviewed Lamar Alexander in 2007. He enjoyed the interview. I interviewed Timmons in 2009 thereabouts and he didn't like it. He thought there were too many questions about Watergate. He didn't like it.
And he was in the sense – he was the rabbi, if you will, Alexander's rabbi in Washington or godfather. I mean, Timmons was older. Alexander worked for Timmons back in the Nixon era. And I think Timmons asked him to do this. But it was because of the interview I did with Timmons.
LAMB: Egil "Bud" Krogh went to prison. Usually the story that he tells us is about the photograph of Elvis in the Oval Office. But here's another one that people my age will remember, the Lincoln Memorial Story in the middle of the Vietnam War.
KROGH: And followed him up to the Lincoln Memorial. I couldn't have gotten there more than two or three minutes after he got there, went up the stairs to see what was going on and found him in discussion with at the start 10 to 15 young people, students that would come in from all over the East Coast. And Dr. Tkash was there and Manolo Sanchez was there. I believe that was it. Plus I think only four Secret Service Agents. It was woefully understaffed and it was a scary time because we got up there while it was still dark. And he spent about 45 minutes maybe longer talking to these students. I heard a lot of it, listened to it, wrote down some of it after it was over. But basically it was a time when I was really, really afraid for his safety. And I know that he wrote later on that he had never seen the Secret Service quite so frightened and he certainly got that right. We did not have a sufficient detail to protect him, if somebody decided to try to attack or assault him. But it was totally unplanned, unscripted. His own notes at that meeting are extraordinary about what he covered in that period of time. It was not a drop-by. This was a major effort to communicate with these young people. And the crowd grew; it got bigger as it begun to realize this is not Rich Little. This is Richard Nixon. This is the real guy.
LAMB: What time of night was that?
NAFTALI: Oh, my goodness. This was after midnight. This is one of the greatest presidential stories I have ever encountered. The President of the United States is overwrought. This is just after – we've got to situate this – this is just after the Kent State Massacre. It's May of 1970.
And he can't sleep. And he goes to his valet. And he says you know the most beautiful – and I believe Manolo Sanchez had just become U.S. citizen – the most beautiful site in this country is the Lincoln Memorial lit at night. Let's go look at it.
And he leaves the White House without his staff. They don't know about it. They're asleep. Now, there was a fear that there was a march on Washington. There was a real fear that the White House might be besieged.
And so, there were all of this buses that had been lined around the White House to protect the President. And the President decides on his own to leave the sanctuary, to go among the demonstrators.
This is unscripted. This is raw history. I heard about it. I'd read about it. Richard Nixon mentions it in his memoirs. I am very happy to say besides Bud (Krough) we also had one of the students.
NBC had located the one student who took photographs. There are only four or five photographs of President Nixon's visit. His name is Bob Moustakis. And one of the last things I did before I left the library was I interviewed him about his experience that strange night meeting the President of the United States on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
LAMB: We're really running out of time. Any of what you found in your interviews has been kept from the public?
NAFTALI: Well, certainly not intentionally on my part. There are about 15 percent. But 85 percent is completely open, 15 percent, some of the interviewees crossed international security matters and the relevant agencies have to review the interview.
I did not intentionally engage in discussions of national security. But where it was appropriate, with people who had done it, I asked them questions. To my surprise, they apparently mentioned things that agencies wanted to review.
LAMB: Last video of David Gergen, he is the youngest of the people we have shown today. He’s 70 years old. Let's just see him on CNN. Here's a quick story.
DAVID GERGEN: And we watched the speech and it was shortly after the farewell speech. Al Haig, the Chief of Staff called me. I can't remember exactly what he said. But it was in effect, David, we forgot one thing. And I said, what's that? And he said, we forgot a resignation letter. And I said, well, that's very interesting. I'll be glad to read it. I am going to be interested in reading. And he said, no, you don't get it. You need it write it. I said, look don’t you think the President ought to write his own resignation letter. He said, look, he's in no place to do that. We need you to write the resignation letter.
I said, I don't know what to say. But, first of all, to whom does the President resign?
LAMB: And how long was that letter?
NAFTALI: Oh, it's very short. The President, they didn't spend much time writing it. There is only copy of that letter. It was sent to Henry Kissinger, The Secretary of State. There are many, many, many Xeroxes of this letter. Richard Nixon later in life signed them.
People would sort of hand it to him and he would sign it. So, you will see on eBay lots of copies of this letter for sale. There is really only one and it belongs – actually it's in Washington. It's not in the Nixon library, we borrowed it.
LAMB: So, after all 149 interviews, total of what? 300 hours?
NAFTALI: 300, 350 hours. That's all public domain. It belongs to everybody.
LAMB: Why aren't you writing a book about this?
NAFTALI: I wasn't doing it for that reason.
LAMB: But you could?
NAFTALI: Well, I…
LAMB: Listen, I mean, anybody couldn't get these tapes unless they're writing a book?
NAFTALI: Of course, they can. And that was the point.
See, I thought it was really important to create this archive. I wanted to show that you could use the power of government to create in this multimedia age free video. And there is no hidden agenda, other than the fact that I wanted to create it. And I wasn't alone. And I had real support in Washington.
That was my goal. It wasn’t to write a book.
And the beauty of this is that I touched on all kinds of subjects. Now, I will tell you there were a couple of things that I focused obviously Watergate but also domestic affairs because it was poorly understood, Richard Nixon's domestic affairs.
I raised money. At a certain point, the Nixon Foundation didn't want to pay for these anymore. And a group of alumni of the Nixon Administration who worked in domestic policy, they helped me raise money.
So, I used money that I raised with a group of Nixon alums to pay for a lot of these. And I used some of our trust fund money. It's very expensive to do this project.
But my goal was to show that the federal government could do this because most of the time these oral history projects are done by the private presidential foundations and they have a vested interest I would say in a certain legacy.
I am not saying all of them push for that legacy. I'd say the LBJ Foundation is evenhanded about history. But that's not true of all these presidential foundations.
This was the first time the National Archives did anything like this on this scale. And I wanted it to have been done for the library and not just to write a book.
LAMB: Tim Naftali, we are overtime.
NAFTALI: I am sorry.
LAMB: Former director of the Nixon Library, left in 2011. Thank you very much for joining us.
NAFTALI: Brian, my pleasure for having me today.