Breaking into Brookings
President Richard Nixon captured himself on tape ordering his aides to break into the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. In the Oval Office on June 17, 1971, the president conferred with his inner circle of closest aides on the best way to respond to the leak of the Pentagon Papers, a top secret Defense Department history of America’s Vietnam War. White House Chief of Staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman suggested blackmailing Nixon’s predecessor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, on the Vietnam issue that nearly cost Nixon the 1968 presidential election: the “bombing halt." Less than a week before the election, Johnson had ordered a complete halt to American bombing of North Vietnam in exchange for secret military concessions by Hanoi and the start of new peace talks between North and South Vietnam. Republicans charged that Johnson had stopped the bombing to bolster the presidential campaign of Hubert H. Humphrey, Johnson’s vice president. (The declassified record shows otherwise.)
Nixon’s reaction to Haldeman’s suggestion stunned his aides. He told them to implement the Huston Plan, which called for using illegal break-ins, wiretaps, and mail-opening against domestic terrorists. But instead of terrorists, Nixon wanted to use the plan against former Johnson administration officials who (the president mistakenly believed) had a secret file on the bombing halt in a classified safe at Brookings.
Date: June 17, 1971
Participants: Richard Nixon, H.R. "Bob" Haldeman