LAMB: Tim Naftali, when you did 149 interviews with a lot of the people that served in the Nixon Administration and others that were around the administration, how did you raise the money to do it?
NAFTALI: Well, the first 20 or so were paid by the Nixon Foundation. Then, they got buyer’s remorse. And a group of alumni of the Nixon Administration who had worked in the domestic side rallied and raised a lot of money for this program.
I received contributions from Donald Rumsfeld. I believe Dick Cheney. I don’t remember for a fact. I know Donald Rumsfeld did. I think Paul O’Neil provided some funding, a number of people, because they felt the domestic side of the administration hasn’t received the same attention that Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon’s foreign policy received. And they were keen, and what I did was I used that pot of money only for interviews that had to with domestic policy. I couldn’t use that money for example to interview a Watergate figure. For the Watergate interviews, I used the trust fund. I was very conservative in how I used the money. As the head of the library, the library received one half of every of all the ticket money that came into the library. The other half
NAFTALI: One-half. The rest of the money goes to the private foundation. And I saved that money. That money was our trust fund. I used that money for public programming so we could have independent public programming because the Nixon Foundation shut down all funding. Normally, these libraries people don’t know this but the libraries, the utilities are paid by the federal government. The staff is federal and their salaries are paid by the federal government. But exhibits, public programming, there is no money for that. Congress doesn’t appropriate funds for that. I know that’s very strange, isn’t it? Because we are mandated to do non-partisan work and yet we don’t have non-partisan money. I understood this problem when they hired me. I participated in the negotiations with the Nixon Foundation. And one of the things that the National Archives wanted to do was to get five dollars in perpetuity from every ticket. I realized that 25 years from now five dollars might be a quarter of it. So, I said, no, no. Please make it 50 percent. So, we negotiated 50 percent. With that 50 percent, I was able to fund our public programming, this oral history program, and I contributed from that trust fund 50 percent of the money that went into the Watergate exhibit. There is no way we would have been able to put that Watergate exhibit in without I mean, I raised half a million by the third or fourth year I was there, we had half a million dollars in that trust fund.
LAMB: Where is the library located?
NAFTALI: Yorba Linda, California. Yorba Linda, California is in Orange County. I know this for a fact because I used to drive every day. It’s an hour south of L.A. it’s almost equidistant between L.A. and San Diego. It is a little closer to L.A. than it is to San Diego. It’s northern Orange County. It’s a very it’s a changing environment but it’s a wealthy somewhat conservative community. One of the challenges I had was to make the library a national institution while still respectful of local customs. And that was not easy.
LAMB: So the foundation the chairman of the foundation is still Ron Walker.
LAMB: How would you describe, I mean, you were very controversial. I mean, were you about as controversial as any director of any of these presidential libraries?
NAFTALI: Well, let others well, it became in the interest I mean, this is what’s soif you look at what I said publicly from the beginning, from 2006 when the National Archives hired me to do this, I was very straightforward about what I was going to do. So there was no bait and switch here, the National Archives came to me. But it was a very interesting confluence of different events because the head of the Nixon Foundation at that point was John Taylor, Reverend John Taylor. And John Taylor is an intellectual. And he’s very complicated. And he’s a bit torn about Nixon. And he admired Nixon’s mind and he wanted Nixon’s library to be credible. Now, I don’t believe that every member of the Nixon Foundation shared John’s intellectual goals. He really wanted a Cold War historian and I’ll leave it to others whether I’m one of standing but he knew who I was because I’ve worked at this tapes project at UVA. And I’m even-handed about the tapes. I just let the materials speak for themselves. I write books but on different subjects. John Taylor wanted me too so you had Allen Weinstein who was then archivist of the United States he then he
LAMB: During the Bush
NAFTALI: During the Bush administration. He’s hired by President George W. Bush. Allen knew me from a Russian project we’ve worked on together my first book, ”One Hell of a Gamble”. It’s about the Cuban missile crisis from the Russian side primarily. Both of them wanted me. They came to me. I didn’t apply for the job. And so from the very beginning, I said, ”Look, you know, I mean I’m a historian we’ve got to have a place where historians feel comfortable and I’m not a member of the Republican Party. I’m not partisan. I’m not going to become of the Republican Party. I also mentioned the fact that I was gay. I said, ”You know, I’m not going to go into the closet for this job, please.” Is this because I told them, if you want this, this is what you’re going to get. So, I was very straightforward. And when I talked to the daughters both Julie Nixon Eisenhower and Tricia Nixon Cox, I said to both of them, ”I’m going to create a space where there’s going to be debate about your father but I promise it’ll be respectful and it’ll be intellectual and your father was an intellectual.” And that’s what I promised. So, the fact that the foundation later would make a big deal out of this was politics because they knew what they were getting from the beginning. And it becomes politics I’ll tell you what happens. The foundation paid lip service not John. John Taylor is a complicated figure but most of the members of the foundation paid lip service to me.
They let me say all these things but they thought that Washington would rein me in. They were convinced that the way the National Archive System worked was that all of the directors had to toe a certain line. And so they assumed I would regardless of my big talking or whatever I believed that ultimately they would rein me in, but they didn’t realize that Allen Weinstein was very nervous about having a library, a Nixon library that was viewed as continuing the cover-up.
LAMB: Who was the initial person that wanted you in there as the executive director?
NAFTALI: Well, I was the director both men apparently. John Taylor says that he wanted just as much as Allen Weinstein so both of them. Both of them were suitors and they came to me out of the blue in 2006 and said, ”Would you do this?”
LAMB: Where were you then?
NAFTALI: I was at the University of Virginia. I was running the presidential recordings program and I was an associate professor out there and I was doing some teaching in history. I had worked on the Nixon tapes a little bit mainly on the Kennedy and Johnson tapes. And I knew what Nixon said on the tapes not everything he said on the tapes but a lot. And I recognized the problem for the federal government. How does the federal government paper over someone who makes racist and anti-Semitic comments on tape that can be played over and over again? But the answer is you don’t paper it over. But that means that the library can’t be a legacy factory.
LAMB: But we have been able to hear those tapes or at least read about it, read the transcript.
NAFTALI: You’ve been able to hear them for years. The big the big and this is an achievement on the part of the Nixon project. Before there was a library, there was a group of very dedicated archivists working at the National Archives and the first big opening actually thanks in part to Stanley Cutler, the professor legal professor who pushed hard for this but the first openings are at the end of the 1990s, I mean, way before I start.
So, there’s a lot of very bad material that is available, bad in terms of being just dismaying.
LAMB: Had all of that been transcribed, though?
NAFTALI: No. No. That takes forever, very little has been transcribed. Stanley Cutler did a little bit in his book called ”Abuse of Power.” But even that is about only 15 percent of the so-called abuse of power tapes that have come out. But long story short, here’s the problem for the federal government we have a habit in this country if I may say this now of glossing over presidents. We decided some people that they are bald eagles and that they all have to be treated as if they’re symbols of the country. What that means though is you have a you have a smoothing over of their rough edges. And there is a feeling among modern presidents that they have a right to a certain veneration and that veneration will be located in their presidential library. And even if they’re gone, their children in some cases and their former allies, their lieutenants who live longer than presidents because they’re younger, they continue this. In fact, in many ways, they are even more ferociously committed to the legacy not only because it involves them but because the old man is gone and they want to show their loyalty. The problem is what does the government do, because it’s responsible for these libraries, when you have a flawed president?
LAMB: You got involved in a controversy over the Watergate exhibit.
LAMB: But let me just take it out of the Nixon library for a moment. Have you been to the Clinton library?
NAFTALI: No, I haven’t yet.
LAMB: I was going to ask you how they dealt with all the problems he had in impeachment and whether or not they’ve been fair there.
NAFTALI: I was told that he was that he was really impressed with the Watergate exhibit he hasn’t seen it at Nixon. And I was told that that was going to inspire him to do some make some changes to his museum. One of the things that Allen Weinstein was hoping was that the Nixon library could be a new start because some of the libraries are much too much like shrines.
And, you know, this is public money, you know. You don’t get to tick off on your tax return whether your money goes to a Republican or a Democratic library or if you’re an independent, goes to no library. It goes to every library.
LAMB: Let me ask you this, George W. Bush’s library and museum is about to open in the early part of 2013. How much of the building that we’ll see was paid for by the federal government?
NAFTALI: None of the building, that’s the deal. The building is paid for by the private foundation.
LAMB: And is the foundation headquarter inside the building?
NAFTALI: Often, usually, they do. But the deal is that they build the building and they have to meet National Archives specifications, federal government specifications.
LAMB: Only allowed so much square feet.
NAFTALI: Well, that’s because Congress wants to say you see, I would like there to be a debate. I mean, I think Americans have to decide what they want but I don’t think they know that they have a choice. Right now, Congress is reducing the amount of money that’s going to these libraries and the result is that these libraries are going to be more and more like shrines because if you ask a private ally of a president to cough up a lot of money what do they want in return? Of course, they expect a certain slant. And what Congress is doing is saying to these private foundations not only are you going to build the building but you’ve got to create an endowment to pay for that building in perpetuity. So these buildings are more and more they’re paid for in private with private funds. So what happens is the federal you build the building and the federal government gets the keys. The hand over is the day that they open the building. And so the federal government is there but the federal government is a pauper. It’s an amazing thing. You have directors with no money. The money they have is to pay for salaries and the light bill.
LAMB: But the Nixon library started differently.
NAFTALI: The Nixon library is the only one that started this way. It was started s a private facility and then decided...
LAMB: Why was that why was that?
NAFTALI: That’s well; I know why it started as a private facility. It started because of Watergate. Gerald Ford signs a law in 1974 it’s called the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act, PRMPA. I was the only director who was whose work was governed by a single law. There are different laws that govern the libraries but PRMPA governs only the Nixon materials and, therefore, the library. By law, Richard Nixon’s materials could not leave the District of 20 miles around the District of Columbia because it was felt that Richard Nixon was not a trustworthy conservator of his materials so he couldn’t have a library. By law, he couldn’t have a library. And that was because Richard Nixon had cut a deal which Congress found out about. He had cut a deal with one of his appointees who was the head of something called the GAO, the Government what does the GAO stand I’m sorry the Government .
NAFTALI: GSA. GSA. The Government Services
Administration which in those days ran the National Archives. And what was the deal? The deal was that Richard Nixon would have his tapes within five years and could destroy whatever he wanted, whatever wasn’t required for trials, he could destroy and he would have his papers and he could destroy them. Richard Nixon cut this deal before he left the White House. Congress found out about it, went crazy and seized his material. That meant that the Nixon materials were like a crime scene. I’m telling you, running the Nixon library was one of the most phenomenal experiences one could have because what happened was Nixon overplayed his hand and the government responded very, very in a very tough way. And so everything was scooped up, absolutely everything including people’s Super 8s. Super 8s were films in those days.
LAMB: Bob Haldeman used to shoot his own home pictures.
NAFTALI: Well, those are those Super 8s actually were on government time. But people used to take their Super 8 cameras home and they’d videotape their birthday parties, their kids’ birthday parties. And then they would use the White House’s lab to develop them. And so they had these birthday party reels in their offices. And they were all seized; everything was seized lest somebody destroys something. Now, the federal government is not that heavy handed. Those were given back. You know, those things were given back as the government has no reason to have them. My point simply is that Nixon’s materials were handled differently. So he couldn’t have a library. Now, his family and his friends felt he deserved a place of reflection and ultimately the place where he and first lady Pat Nixon are buried. And so they built the library for him with no papers. It was an ersatz library. I described it to folks as the Roger Maris library.
LAMB: Were his vice presidential papers there?
NAFTALI: His vice presidential papers weren’t there either because he had deeded them to the U.S. government. They were in a nearby facility in Laguna Nigel. All he had there were his pre his pre-presidential papers not including the vice presidential papers and his post presidential papers. I believe the family but you have to ask them because I wasn’t around at that time. But the family decided this isn’t right. Our father wants a library like every other president and they lobbied Congress in the first Bush term to change that law so that the materials could be sent to California, but the condition was they would have to be sent to a National Archives facility. And I was the first director, I oversaw the move.
LAMB: And John Taylor, you mentioned earlier, who is now an Episcopal priest
NAFTALI: Episcopal priest, a fascinating fellow.
was running the Nixon Library before the federal government took over.
NAFTALI: That’s right. And he very much wanted this transfer to happen. My sense is that not everybody in the foundation wanted it to happen and certainly not all of the Nixon allies. I had a very interesting debate but not in person because he didn’t like well, we didn’t do it in person, we did in an epistolary way via a letter. But Bruce Herschensohn, who ran I guess he ran for Senate in California, was a Nixon speechwriter. I think he also was a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan. He was also in the USIA, in the United States Information Agency and he wrote, I think the screenplay for the memorial film about JFK. Now, here’s a man who has thought a lot about American history. He disagreed with my approach from the get go even well before the sort of controversies of bringing John Dean and whatnot because he said every president has a right to a watering hole where all of those who admired him can go and speak and not have to worry about the judgment of history. I believe that’s true if it’s a private facility. But the minute you make it public, I think it can’t be governed by those rules because then it’s an extension of the White House. It’s as if the White House is in exile, the Nixon White House. And I don’t think the public wants to pay for that. But again this is my point-of-view I don’t think the public recognizes that it has a choice. I think if you go to the different presidential libraries, you’ll find that some of them are shrines and others are places of serious discussion. I mean like the Harry Truman Library, for example. It’s a place of serious discussion. The Johnson Library is redoing its museum. I haven’t seen it yet, but I suspect it’s going to be a place of serious discussion and there are others that are not. And I think the public needs to figure out what they want.
LAMB: Your office was in what relationship to the foundation?
NAFTALI: Oh, my goodness. I’m a Cold War historian and, you know, I had this discussion when they were when John Taylor was encouraging me to take the job. I said, ”John, one of the conditions I have was I would like to run all public programming in the building because I don’t want to run Berlin.” I had studied divided Berlin and I just I assumed I’d be running West Berlin, by the way. I just I don’t want to do that. I mean it would be terrible. But in the end, that’s what we got, was Berlin. We my office is one area, the foundation wasn’t very far from us. Relations got very, very tense and cool. As I said, they shut down all funding for the library. They
LAMB: Are they required to fund anything for the library?
NAFTALI: They’re I’m not a lawyer, but let me put it this way, that in the transfer agreement, one of their objectives is supposed to be assisting the library but there’s no set amount that they’re supposed to provide. I will tell you that when I started, they promised me at least $250,000 a year for public programming and that never happened but it got very tense.
LAMB: When was it, that was tensest and why?
NAFTALI: It didn’t take very long. It a lot of the fights were actually over little things. They were supposed to setup a system. When you’re a federal museum, you have to maintain certain standards of humidity and temperature control. What they had purchased for the museum wasn’t good enough. They knew they were supposed to fix that, they wouldn’t. They were using the deadline, ”we want it to open.” And they were trying to use that against us so that we would pay for it and I didn’t want the American people to pay for something. It was about $60,000 that they were supposed to pay for. Well, that was tense. And I remember an argument because they turned to me and said, ”You’re supposed to be on our side. Why are you on Washington’s side?” I said, ”Because the taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for this.” So we had fights over logistical issues, but the intellectual fight started when I invited Elizabeth Drew in 2007. Elizabeth Drew a long time journalist, observer of the Nixon scene, wrote a small biography of Richard Nixon or studied of his presidency for the American Presidents series. And
LAMB: She wouldn’t have been a supporter of his though?
NAFTALI: No, but she’s a serious person. I made it clear. Look, I had already overseen events with Al Haig, a number of events. The Nixon Foundation let me even though I wasn’t yet fully director, I moderated a lot of events. I worked with them on who we would invite. All I said was I want balance, just give me balance. I will be happy to have it makes sense people who think the world of Richard Nixon, who revere him. But also let’s have serious people who raise questions. Otherwise, this is not a national facility; it’s an extension of the White House. I invited Elizabeth Drew and that was it. At that point, they said, you, that’s it and they shut down funding. They canceled because we had already setup a whole bunch of events, you know, for six months. We planned six months ahead. They stopped funding that. And then in terms of the oral history project, there were a number of people on a list, they said, OK, we promised you could I think they funded the interview with Senator Dole. And they said, ”Well, we’ll still do that one but afterwards no more funding.” So the funding for the oral history stopped, the funding for programming stopped, when I invited Elizabeth Drew. They assumed that Washington would stop me; that Washington would say, ”Sorry, Tim, you can’t do that.” And so they felt that they could put pressure on Washington. What they didn’t understand was that I was saving money so I could run this on my own if they tried to interfere.
LAMB: Bur before they became a part of the federal government, they could decide all of those things, who could speak.
NAFTALI: Of course, they could.
LAMB: And for years, they existed that way.
NAFTALI: Of course. But they had we gave them about a six-month that Elizabeth Drew was June of 2007, I was at the facility even though I was a director designate starting in October of 2006. I was meeting with them all the time. I said over and over again, we’re going to have to have balance here. Please, not please because it was my decision. But I was inuring them, preparing them for that.
LAMB: Why did you want to put yourself through this?
NAFTALI: I’d just become a U.S. citizen. I cared deeply about history. I thought a few times about whether to do this, but Allan Weinstein is a friend and sort of a godfather kind of figure. When my dad died, pretty young, and when I became a U.S. citizen, Allan escorted my mom to the naturalization.
LAMB: You’re from Quebec or
NAFTALI: I’m from Montreal.
LAMB: All right.
NAFTALI: And I knew a lot about the fights over the Nixon materials, and I knew I had friends who had been part of that Watergate, there was supposed to be a Watergate conference that the Nixon Foundation was preparing for the transfer. This is before my time in 2005 and I had a number of friends who were invited and was canceled at the last minute for all the wrong reasons. And maybe it’s just maybe it’s just too much self-confidence, but since both sides wanted me, I thought I had a unique opportunity and I care deeply about the tapes. And one of the parts of my job
LAMB: The oral tapes?
NAFTALI: Part of my job was overseeing the release of the White House tapes and I wanted to make sure they came out. So I thought I had a remarkable opportunity to do some good as an American citizen. And so it was a great challenge.
LAMB: Let me say what they would say, my guess. I mean I can’t put words in their mouth, but just from reading all of the stuff, and I’ve talked to some of them before. They would say we didn’t want that Nixon-hating liberal Canadian gay in here
NAFTALI: But they hired me
running the show. By that, I mean
NAFTALI: Well, this is the problem you know, they were convinced that Washington would just either restrain me or fire me. And Washington wouldn’t do it.
LAMB: Washington, meaning Allan Weinstein?
NAFTALI: I mean Allan Weinstein but also his replacements, so the acting director, Adrian Thomas, who is wonderful. My God, we were supposed to do can you believe this? I had managed to recapture some of it because my job was to have some kind of a relationship with the Nixon Foundation. And even after Elizabeth Drew, a year later, we tried to do some I tried to find some public programs, exhibits, because you have a temporary exhibits gallery. You just you don’t just have a permanent gallery, you also have space for an exhibit. And I thought, what can I do with them? Well, we both have interests. You know, I believed that you find mutual interest. So I came up with some ideas. For example, let’s do something on the Moon landings. President Nixon was president for all the Apollo moon landings. Isn’t that a nonpartisan wonderful thing to do? 1969-2009, let’s do that together. I wanted to do I mean, they cancelled funding because they were so angry about John Dean. They
LAMB: Explain that.
NAFTALI: Well, I invited John Dean to speak at the library, to speak about his book. And some of the I told the Nixon Foundation in advance; I went and talked to them. I said, look, I’m going to have John Dean here. I think it would be a good thing for us to work on this together, but they split on it. Some of them supported the acting executive director of the foundation, Cathy O’Connor, who worked very closely with me and I got along very well with her in 2009. She said, ”I understand why you’re doing this.” In fact John Taylor had already left. And John Taylor, on his blog, and publicly supported what I was doing because by that time, his relationship with me, it improved dramatically. And he recognized that I meant what I said and I said what I meant and that was my my agenda was what I said it was. And he supported me, but the foundation at that point was shifting and coarsening and they were very unhappy.
LAMB: Well, let me just read here. Scott Martel wrote in the Los Angeles magazine, ”Nixonians have less confidence. Taylor left the foundation in February 2009. And last summer, Neftali asked John Dean to speak at the library. Dean is the former White House counsel whom old Nixon hands likened to Judas for revealing details of the Watergate Scandal.” Quote, ”He’s a rat.”, Ron Walker says, ”For a while, the foundation have suspended funding for some programs, forcing Naftali to scramble for cash. It was the invitation of Dean that prompted Walker, a former military man who directed Nixon’s arrangements for White House trips, to become the foundation president.” Ron Walker, now chairman of the board of the foundation called John Dean a rat. What do you say to that?
LAMB: I mean do they think that you’re just kind of throwing water in their face by inviting John Dean there?
NAFTALI: I had said to them I had said from the beginning that this would not be a credible institution which is one of their objectives until Stanley Cutler and John Dean and other serious critics of the president in that era came. I made it clear. They could have so easily turned this into a success for themselves. What if they had done nothing rather than go public about it? I mean, they mounted a campaign. They sent a letter to every former president. I mean, I think this may surprise some of the viewers because I know that President Clinton I’ve never met president. Oh, I shook his hand, but I didn’t meet him really. President Clinton said at one point, ”Who’s this Tim Naftali and why should I care about him?” The Nixon Foundation sent a letter to all the living former presidents complaining about my decision to invite John Dean and saying that I had somehow violated the basic spirit of presidential libraries by doing that. They’re the ones who you know, they made, if I may say, a federal case out of it and I think it was a great mistake on their part. What would it have cost them to have just accepted that this was now non-partisan ground? He was our guest, not theirs, have him come in, let it happen, not make a fuss about it and then just test whether I was a man of my word. You know, how was I going to use that because they were always concerned about, you know, how was this going to be used to hurt Richard Nixon? But they didn’t. They made a big fuss about it. They made more out of it than they had to.
LAMB: How big a crowd showed up?
NAFTALI: Three hundred people.
LAMB: Did you fill the auditorium?
NAFTALI: We filled the auditorium, in fact, we had overflow. And they learned from that because when I invited George McGovern by the way, I invited people, you know, I’m talking about the more celebrated visitors. But when George McGovern came, they recognized the mistake they’d made and we did that as a joint event. The Nixon Foundation and the National Archives, Nixon library did the McGovern event. We hosted him jointly and we had 500, 600 people, in fact, the Nixon Foundation let us use their facility for that.
LAMB: Isn’t you know, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but isn’t this a dysfunctional system where you have these libraries and these museums and you have the foundation and the federal government and
LAMB: I mean, because the foundation has to raise money from people who love the president.
NAFTALI: No, no, you’re not putting words in my mouth. It is a dysfunctional system and that’s why I want the public to know what they’re getting. There are a lot of great people working in the system. I admire most of my colleague fellow directors. Most of them are trying to do what I try to do. The problem is that most of them didn’t have the unique set of circumstances that gave me the independence that I had. Now, look, Brian, I told my mother, I told my friends, I told the people I hired in the beginning that I was not going to stay very long. I had a Kennedy book to finish. I have a career as a writer to continue. I have other things I want to do with my life. I wanted to do some public service. I expected to be in and out of there in three years. I promised that I would move the materials. I promised that I’d put up a Watergate exhibit. I promised that I would hire the staff. I promised that I would have the first legitimate academic conference there. It took five years to do it. Once I finished what was on my list, I left. I think that my job was to be a catalyst. I believe, from this experience, that if you want to change things in government, you’ve got to be prepared to stay for a short period. You can’t commit yourself to a long period because at a certain point you begin to make compromises. If you want to stay longer, you just it’s just natural and it’s not weakness, it’s not some moral blind spot, it’s just you make compromises. But if you want to be a catalyst, go in, do the job and leave. I have to say I looked at what James Polk did. James Polk decided one term he’s going to do what he wanted to do. I’m not saying I’m James Polk, but I had this set in mind I was going to do what I needed to do and then leave. So that gave me a lot of support. I knew in my soul I wasn’t staying long. I just felt I had an obligation to finish what I started. And the Oral History Program is an unexpected joy. I had that in mind when I started. I didn’t realize I’d do as many. And that may turn out to be the biggest legacy of the work that I did and that my colleagues did.
LAMB: I want to go back to the Oral History Program in a moment. But I read somewhere that the replica of the East Room at the White House that’s built on the campus of the Nixon library and at that the reflecting pool and that the house are controlled by the foundation.
NAFTALI: Well, that’s actually true. Well, let me say that
LAMB: I mean they built it, though.
NAFTALI: This is true of all the modern libraries. There’s a map. I believe it’s public information it should be, anyway that shows what’s called foundation space and NARA space.
NAFTALI: National Archives. In National Archives space, it’s so complicated because I can give you an illustration. The Nixon the Reagan library has political speeches in the area around Air Force One. There are debates. Some of you the audience may have seen presidential Republican campaign do it. And you might ask yourself, ”How could you handle Republican debate in a federal building?” Well, you can’t. The Air Force One pavilion is owned by the Reagan Foundation. It is private space. It is not the federal government. It’s not federal space. The Nixon library and the Clinton library I believe that the Clinton Foundation controls part of it. It’s only the very, very old libraries that are totally federal. The JFK library, the JFK, Ford library, those are totally federal. They’re owned completely by the federal government. But the newer ones and the Nixon library because it joined the system as one of the newer ones, there’s a treaty between the foundation and the federal government that actually there’s a demarcation line. And in the Nixon library, you could see the demarcation line because the Nixon Foundation didn’t like the mats that I selected. And they refused to use the mats because the mats had the logo and they didn’t like the logo that I selected. So when you would go on the library, you’d have the logo, the National Archives logo and then their mats were a different color. And their mats were in front of the door that they controlled. And our mats were in front of the doors that were federal space. It was ridiculous. It shouldn’t have been that way, but that’s the way it turned out. That’s why I said at times I felt like I was running West Berlin. So the system doesn’t work the way it should. But it’s working this way because Congress and I guess the executive branch have decided that there’s only so much the federal government should spend money on. Now, look, I’m not a big government person. I know I’ve been described as liberal and I am progressive, but it’s mainly on social issues. Let me tell you what I want people to think about. How much do you want your kids do you want your children because I care most about the high school and elementary school kids that come through these libraries. How much do you want them to learn history as opposed to cant to the spin that White Houses produce? Because if you don’t let Congress appropriate funds for public programming in these libraries, then they will tend to be shrines. There will be people who will fight that. I did and some of my colleagues do. But we fight, but we don’t have a lot of tools that are at disposal and we don’t have a lot of money, but we can do it. But why make it so hard?
LAMB: How much federal money would go into the Nixon library and museum every year?
NAFTALI: Oh, the budget was roughly because I the library has some staff here to this day here in Washington. The tapes are done here at College Park.
NAFTALI: So they’ve two different budgets. Let me put it between $4 million and $5 million.
LAMB: Of taxpayer money.
NAFTALI: Taxpayer money. But that’s to run the building and that’s salaries and that’s equipment. That is not there isn’t a cent for public programming. So imagine if I were to go to an organization and ask for money from them and then say, ”But leave intellectual content to me,” I mean I recognize that this is a problem. In the end, it proved the impossible because they wanted to place such limits on freedom of speech in our programs that I couldn’t accept it.
LAMB: By the way, Robert Caro’s books were not welcomed at the Johnson library for years.
NAFTALI: But then they turned around.
LAMB: Why did they do that, though?
NAFTALI: Because well, because
LAMB: Did the family I mean
NAFTALI: I don’t know the internal story of why, but I can tell you that that was a great achievement for the system. And I participated in the discussion at the Kennedy library on the Bay of Pigs. They’d never had a public discussion of the Bay of Pigs until just a few years ago.
LAMB: Let’s go back to your oral history
your oral video history, 149 interviews.
LAMB: When you think back on those interviews, 300 hours, what are the highlights for you? Where did you sit there and go, ”Aha, I didn’t know this”?
NAFTALI: Well, the Dwight Chapin interview where he talks about President Nixon being in the room when Haldeman asked him to start a dirty tricks campaign; Robert Bork’s recollections of the tension in the White House and in the Justice department, he’s a good storyteller. Listening to Len Garment, a fantastic man. Now, Len Garment was a partner in Nixon’s law firm, Mudge, Rose with John Mitchell from the ’60s. So this is Len Garment who is still with us. I interviewed him twice for the library. He knew Nixon during the wilderness period between his loss in ’60 and his victory in ’68. He’d been around Nixon. He knew John Mitchell. John Mitchell would become attorney general of the United States, would be the would leave that post to run Nixon’s reelection campaign and would go to jail for his role in Watergate. Len Garment is a great storyteller and a good jazz musician. To listen to him talk about Richard Nixon, the late night calls Nixon was an insomniac, I guess. And so he would call people like Garment late at night just to talk just so he could wind down. And then Nixon would fall asleep and he dropped the phone. And so the person at the other end of the phone would hear it thud against the ground to hear that on tape. Dwight Chapin’s description of Nixon talking to Coretta Scott King after Martin Luther King’s assassination when president when then former Vice-president Nixon who was running for election in ’68 decides he should talk to King’s widow because he makes the mistake in 1960 during the campaign with John F. Kennedy when he does not call Coretta Scott King when her husband is in jail in Birmingham. To listen to well, there’s Fred Malek talking about why he followed the order to make a list of Jews and
LAMB: Who didn’t talk? Who didn’t give you good answers or not good, that’s not fair. Who didn’t give you what you thought were honest answers?
NAFTALI: First of all, I want to make it clear. Even though, you know, I’m free to say whatever I want and I am free to say whatever I want, I would have said this. I would say that when I was working for the government, it’s very hard for me to know for sure who’s telling the truth or not. So it’s a feeling, OK? It’s just after having done enough of these interviews. My sense was that Chuck Colson was not being straightforward with me. I just the evidence was too the overwhelming evidence that linked him to certain things. But nobody could have even the Watergate special prosecutors couldn’t make sense of it.
LAMB: Let me just show a little bit of Chuck Colson for those of you who don’t remember him. What was his job?
NAFTALI: He is was special counsel to the president. He was basically the president’s boy for political activities and special things.
LAMB: This is about late night calls.
CHARLES COLSON: Well, if I sensed that it was one of those middle of the night deals where he was just ranting, I’d let him rant and listen and you’d agree with him, and he wanted me to fire all of the people at the Bureau Labor of Statistics, one night he called me. And I called George Shultz. I said, ”George, he wants to fire the head of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and all of those people over there.” He said they’re all against him. Shultz said, ”Don’t do anything until I come back.” Shultz got a plane. He was up in Pittsfield, flew back and dealt with the directly with the president. But I there were many times when I did not do what he said and got the person involved, who should stop him. There were many times when I didn’t and wished I had. But there were an awful lot of things he would ask you to do that he just knew that he you couldn’t do, couldn’t do, shouldn’t do.
NAFTALI: George Shultz, the interview with George Shultz was very powerful. It’s only only an hour, he only had time for an interview with of an hour. He was actually going to work out. He’s still reasonably fit and he is I believe in a few days he will be 92. That was a moving interview. The interview with Robert Moustakas, the student at the time, who met Nixon on the steps of Lincoln Memorial, was priceless. I mean, who expected to meet the President of United States at three in the morning. The talking to the special prosecutors, Jill Wine-Banks, her stories were remarkable. And then, at the end, I was just about to leave. It was the summer of 2011. And my closest friends knew I was about to announce, the Watergate exhibit opened in March of 2011, the very first academic conference was in July of 2011. It was time for me to go. And so, I’m wrapping things up in my mind. And some veterans of the Watergate at the House Judiciary Committee called me and said, ”We’d like you to interview us.” And so I said but I wasn’t hadn’t publicly said I was leaving. I said, ”Really?”
LAMB: This is John Doar’s outfit.
NAFTALI: This is John Doar’s outfit. And John Doar had given permission, when John Doar was still alive, but has wouldn’t be interviewed for the project. He doesn’t do interviews, apparently. He said it would all right to do this. And they really wanted they saw because he had already started to show these on C-SPAN. They say them. They wanted this done. And they felt that their story should be preserved too, because I had the Senate Watergate folks and the prosecutorial staff, and the FBI, interviewed the FBI, the head of the FBI investigation. And they wanted it so I said, ”All right.” Well, I did 18. I think it was 18 of those interviews before I left. I was in the last few weeks of working for the government, but I realized this was once in a lifetime opportunity. I have done so many of these interviews. And there was a cumulative effect. I was a much better interview where I believe at the end of this process than at the beginning because I could make connections in my own mind since I’d sat through so many of these, anyhow. For people who are interested in how this in this country dealt with impeachment in for the first time in the modern era, of course, Andrew Johnson is in the 19th century. These interviews are rather interesting and, of course, these people would later be involved in the Clinton impeachment issue, although on the different side. And they talk about that. So you have an opportunity in listening to people like Evan Davis and Bernie Nussbaum. You can hear them talk about two impeachments at different stages in their lives. I felt so grateful that they had called and that I was around to do that. I even get
LAMB: Those have been released.
NAFTALI: Those have been released. I get shivers, because you can sit there and be transported not simply to 1974 but to 1998 and ’99. And you learn something about our country because people who do public service do it for a long time. And they cover many administrations. And they carry both institutional memory and baggage from one era to another. And as these folks talk about impeachment, you can see both institutional memory and baggage played out before your eyes. I felt privileged to be an eye witness to that.
LAMB: Here’s another Robert Bork tape, where he talks about before we go to it, but what’s the smoking gun?
NAFTALI: Oh, this is important. OK. Robert OK. President Nixon, I believe understood that the tapes would be his undoing. I’d say unraveling, but that’s a bad pun. And so he fought very hard tooth and nail, to prevent the tapes from being released. That was, in fact, the reason why he fired Archibald Cox in 1973. This goes to the Supreme Court, case is U.S. v. Nixon, it’s decided in August of 1974. Court determines that the president has to turn over the tapes that are necessary for criminal trial. It’s all a question about evidence in a criminal trial. President’s powers, the executive privilege do not cover that a criminal trial. And as a result, the president gives the gives the special prosecutor a set of tapes that they that Leon Jaworski, then special prosecutor had been asking for. Before giving them, President Nixon orders that transcripts be made of a few, and he knows which ones are problematic. And what he does is he gets that transcript and shows it to some people. There’s an interview we did with Trent Lott, then a member of Congress from Mississippi, later a famous Senator. I think Senate Majority Leader, actually. He is one of those who gets a bootleg copy, if you will. But the tape is not released, only a transcript. In the transcript, you can read the president ordering the CIA to disrupt an FBI investigation and to lie to the FBI that the FBI should not look into the sources of funding that was later used by the Watergate burglars for national security reasons. Don’t look into it because it would open a CIA operation it’s not true, but this but the President wanted to use the CIA to protect a political shenanigan a political crime and use the national security exemption as a cover up.
LAMB: This was done your interview was done at ’08, Robert Bork is still alive. He’s 85-years-old. Here he was talking about the ”smoking gun” tape.
NAFTALI: What was your reaction when you heard the ”smoking gun” tape?
ROBERT BORK: Dismay but not surprise.
NAFTALI: Could you develop that a little?
BORK: Well, it was obviously the last nail hammered into the coffin, you know, for the administration which looked so hopeful so recently. But I was not so terribly surprised there was a smoking gun.
Jaworski called me before he went to court, and said that he said that ”We’re going to the court in about five minutes, I think, I’d tell you that there’s an eighteen and a half minute gap in the tapes.” Well, that surprised me and dismayed me.
NAFTALI: Well, that was that was back in ’73.
BORK : Yes, that was about that time. But you can’t sit around with an eighteen and a half minute gap showing up and not begin to suspect something.
LAMB: Did you ask him about his role in Watergate and how it affected the possibility of him being on the Supreme Court?
NAFTALI: You know, I don’t remember. I don’t, Brian, I honestly I’m quite sure, I mean, I haven’t looked at that whole interview for its I guess, it’s been four years since I did it. I know I we talked about the consequences of it. I suspect that it’s there, but I don’t want to swear to it because I’m not sure. I know what I did in these interviews, there was sort of a standard approach. I took I started well before the Nixon period, as I wanted to situate them in time and space. And a number of them were World War II veterans and I wanted I was thinking of students watching this and I thought it would be wonderful to have some vets’ recollections of the war or they are Korean War veterans, brought them through the Nixon period and I always went afterwards. And so I wouldn’t be surprised that we talked about it afterwards. I know he felt that he was he suffered for what he did, the treatment of him later on was a product of the decisions he made in 1970.
LAMB: When your time at the library was up and when your time of doing all these interviews was up, how had you changed your mind?
NAFTALI: Oh, well
LAMB: About Richard Nixon?
NAFTALI: My mind changed rather to say in a strong way, I didn’t like Richard Nixon when I started, but I don’t believe you have to like a president to respect them. I’m not among those who feels that a president has to be a nice person. I’m interested in a president who leads and whose administration does what I would consider good things for the country including, you know, defending American liberty. But I don’t like him. I couldn’t possibly like him because I heard him on the tapes at the Miller Center. I mean, and by the way, the people who were hiring me knew my background. I mean, anybody whose job it was to get to familiarize themselves with presidential tapes would know very well Richard Nixon’s comments, because a lot of those things have come out, you know, when I was over the time I was there, we released another I don’t know, 630 hours of tapes because there were still tapes to be released and there are still some more to be released. So I couldn’t I’m sorry, I couldn’t like a man who said things like that about other people. And it’s not just once, it’s repeated, and it’s clear that it was a mindset. But that’s not that’s irrelevant whether you like somebody. It’s whether you respect them. I have to tell you that my respect for Richard Nixon plummeted as I got to know more about him, as I oversaw the archives, as I the in the 1990s, the National Archives under a lot of pressure from the Nixon Foundation withheld some materials which I had a need to know about because I was working on the Watergate exhibit. I went into the vaults. These are not classified materials, these are were closed for other reasons. I went through these materials. I said, ”Why are these closed?” I got them opened, about 35,000 pages of material. We put them on the website, the key ones, about Watergate. They shouldn’t have been withheld. And it was not the fault of the archivists working in the Nixon project. They were under enormous political pressure. It was a very sad story. And there are some very big heroes in the history of the National Archives from the 1990s, let me tell you, late ’80s and ’90s. Anyway, that material, coupled with what I learned from the oral histories, and the tapes that we released left me further dismayed. A lot of what people a lot of the good that the Nixon administration did in domestic policy is the achievement of a lot of good government Republicans who worked for him. There are some real heroes whom I didn’t know about, whom I greatly admire. Many of them went on to work in the George Herbert Walker Bush administration. Those are the people who deserve credit. On the tape, Richard Nixon, often wants to dismantle these things. He’s embarrassed that he is involved.
And then I would say if he had had a second term, some of the things that he is now credited with, some of the environmental policies he would have dismantled. In terms of his approach to government, I believe that you should never use government to hurt people. And he sought to use government to actually hurt people. And the fact that he didn’t do more of it is because of real heroes within the administration who stopped him, and these aren’t self-serving people who said this on tape for their own legacy, this is the what the documents and the and the White House tapes show. So I must say my opinion of Richard Nixon dropped dramatically. And I think the country was very fortunate that things didn’t turn out worse because they could have turned out much worse.
LAMB: Are there and we only have a minute are there people who think Richard Nixon got a raw deal?
NAFTALI: Lots. Oh, most of the volunteer staff who work for the library feels that way. One of the challenges I had as a teacher and I love teaching, I knew I wouldn’t persuade them. I would I wasn’t planning to change their minds. I wanted to open their minds to the possibility that the critics of Richard Nixon might not just be partisan hacks. And I hope that the video oral histories with people like Trent Lott, and George Shultz, and others explaining that there is a there’s a line that you have to draw and the president shouldn’t cross it, and that occasionly Richard Nixon crossed it. I was hoping that that might lead them to have more open minds. I know I’m naοve, but you cannot be a teacher if you’re not an idealist in some way. It didn’t work. There and there are people in and around the library who believed that he got a raw deal. I remember somebody coming up to me, when we had one of our tapes openings, who was a volunteer at the library say to me, ”We understand Tim, that you can create these tapes in Washington, and that you are actually are able to manipulate them to make Richard Nixon sound worse, is that true?” They thought I could somehow create Richard Nixon’s anti-Semitic comments. They did not want to believe that that was the historical record. Oh no, it’s a remarkable I would say I learned so much about the about how hard it is to persuade people to have an open mind, and how partisan some people can be. This is a great, you know, this Nixon’s story is a great story. If you’re looking for a great Republican story, this is a great story. It’s not Richard Nixon. It’s Ruckelshaus, and Shultz, and Paul O’Neill. You don’t have to be partisan about this. But if your goal is to defend Richard Nixon, then this information is troubling, and I found people whose solitary objective was to disprove any critic of Richard Nixon because they needed him to be the saint who was wronged.
LAMB: Tim Naftali, former director of the Nixon Library and Museum, thank you very much for your time.
NAFTALI: Thank you, Brian. It’s was a pleasure.