This is the oral history project that the Miller Center is conducting. You are our ninth, I believe, Reagan interview. This is the point at which we’re supposed to read you your Miranda rights.
I read through the Tab 3 as instructed by our Claremont College graduate turned left.
Then you know that the bottom line is that anything you say in this room stays in this room, that you are the only one who can repeat what is said in here.
I can’t go read anyone else’s, is that right?
That’s right, until it’s opened.
And when is it cleared?
What’s our average clearance time now?
Well, it won’t be open until the majority of the interviews have been finished, so we’re looking at two to three years.
And it becomes open, and not published.
There is a possibility that there will be some things published.
So I better hurry up, if I give you anything that’s going to be in my book.
Yes, this is a spur to get you to publish.
You may have noticed that I waited 20 years to tell stories about it, and as I explained to Stephen when we saw each other twice in California, my preference is to wait 20 years and then write it as it actually happened because I have good notes and very good tapes.
Well, the assassination events, that tape was fascinating. And that was precisely on the 20th anniversary, I think, when you—
It was. And after everyone had written versions that were not based on fact, which is quite a bit of fun. Some of them don’t talk to me anymore.
As a result of that article.
Yes. Those that had written it up the wrong way.
I can leave it to your imagination as to who they will be. We can talk about them if you want.
To add to what Steve was saying: You will get your transcript from this interview.
I saw that. You do a light edit and then I take out all the four-letter words,
But you don’t have to.
We hope not all of them. A little color always helps.
Good, then we can look forward to these being played one day on C-SPAN radio, right, just like the Johnson tapes because they—do you have C-SPAN radio down here?
They’ve been played in Washington over the last couple of years on FM 90.1.
We don’t get it here.
Well, you can now with XM radio, and you ought to consider it, because C-SPAN radio is now on the XM channel and you just pay a small fee per month, which the Miller Center can do. You have the radio and you can probably tape everything you need in a Tivo-type of arrangement—audio, tape everything you want.
We’ll have to look into that.
We usually do a voice identification to help the transcriber, but there are so few of us here today, I don’t think it is necessary. So we’ll pass on that. But again, the point of this interview is to, hopefully—we’re speaking to generations yet unborn who will be interested in learning about the Reagan Presidency and your role in it, and we’re very pleased that you’re here today.
We would like to start, to talk just a little bit about your experiences in the [Richard] Nixon White House. If that’s okay with you, just to get some background, particularly on any lessons you may have learned from your experience, in both the Nixon campaign and in the Nixon White House. Was that your first political experience?
At the national level, yes it was. Well, in a way it wasn’t, because in 1962, I was one of the founders of the Center for Strategic Studies, then at Georgetown University, now known as CSIS, and independent. I was the most junior of the founders of that organization. Admiral Arleigh
31-KnotBurke had retired as Chief of Naval Operations. I had been teaching at Georgia Tech and had come north to accept the Congressional Fellowship of the American Political Science Association, which I had won. At that time there were nine such fellowships given, and the purpose of them was just to give Washington experience. So I thought that I would go into the Washington experience. I had really wanted to go right into Teddy [Edward] Kennedy’s staff—his first staff, that was my idea. You spend half your time in the Senate, and half in the House, and I wanted to be on Kennedy’s staff because I disliked him the most and I wanted to watch the formation of a Senator, be someplace where I would disagree with everything. I thought that was the most productive way.
So during the course of the summer, as I was moving north to get ready to accept the fellowship, the Center was being created, and David Abshire asked me if I would take this spot, as research associate or senior research associate at the Center, and help get everything started, including opening the door and tidying the furniture and all that business. And I did, only after having succeeded to work with Evron Kirkpatrick, who at the time was the executive director of the American Political Science Association, and Howard Penniman, who was also on the congressional fellowship committee to get me released without prejudice. And so the fellowship could go to someone else, someone next in line. It was a coveted thing, but I’d calculated that I’d get more experience dealing with Congress and public policy at this little budding center than I would anyplace else, and of course, back then, mainstream conservative think tanks were virtually nonexistent. We could all meet in a telephone booth.
You had the American Enterprise Association, which is now known as the American Enterprise Institute, and it had a hand in creating the Center for Strategic Studies, and a couple of foundations, Earhart, Scaife and Mellon. The Center had a very distinguished board of trustees or board of directors consisting largely of people in the national security and foreign policy fields of previous administrations, Democrats and Republicans and a lot of military people, Admiral Arthur Radford, for example. Of course, the opportunity to meet with those people and to see them on a regular basis was pretty fascinating to me. So I took the Georgetown job.
Immediately we began working on that class of members of Congress, of the House, who had just been elected in November of ’62. By the time we set up, we were already ready to receive those fellows, who didn’t get any briefings back then. A Congressman elected then got his office and was told what to do, but didn’t have any substantive briefings. So we set up a series of evening dinners and worked with these folks over quite a period of time, and that class included Jack [John O.] Marsh, who later went on to do many other things—Secretary of the Army and counsel to President [Gerald] Ford. Donald Rumsfeld, for example, I met late in 1962 when he came to town, and we became fast friends and colleagues, our wives as well. J.J. [James Jarrell] Pickle, who was Lyndon Johnson’s Congressman, a Democrat, and very interesting assortment, Sam Gibbons, who later rose to become head of the Ways and Means Committee. So we had our claws into these newly elected members of Congress very early on. Not all of them, but selectively. It was a lot of fun. I learned a lot and presumably they learned a lot.
That exposure to the political process was very interesting to me. In 1964, William J. Baroody, Sr., who ran the American Enterprise Association, later the American Enterprise Institute, deemed that I should be released from my duties at the Center to take on the foreign policy coordination activities for [Barry] Goldwater. Well, I didn’t consider that I was old enough or experienced enough for that, and I really didn’t want to do that, although I was completely for Goldwater, Goldwater’s candidacy, and a Goldwater win.
This was for the campaign, not the Senate staff?
The campaign for the Presidency. And so I resisted, and there was some difficulty about that, but along came an opportunity through a friend of mine in Oklahoma to help the campaign of Bud Wilkinson, the famous football coach. I’d tried to play a year of football at Notre Dame, we’d played against Oklahoma, and I thought he was a great coach. I was asked to go out to see him and did that, on behalf of my friend, and thought I’d write a speech and then leave. As it turned out, I took a leave of absence and spent 62 days in Oklahoma, going all over Oklahoma in airplanes, trains, and buses with Bud Wilkinson, who was running against Fred Harris that year. It was a tough year. And so I had some hands-on experience running in a distant state and helping on the foreign policy side because Bud didn’t know a whole lot about foreign policy.
Then I came back to the Center. So that was that and I continued in that work. I had written a lot of questions and coached a lot of members of Congress, particularly on items like the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the consular convention, and the Soviet Union. There I learned that most of the Senators, after asking the questions that I had written for them, didn’t know what the answers meant and therefore didn’t follow up. So it taught me a great deal. This wasn’t true of every Senator, but I might say that the composition of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at that time was not as strong on the Republican side as it could have been, intellectually.
In ’66 I got the call to Stanford, so I went to the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace and there I became the Editor of the Yearbook on International Communist Affairs, which was a massive undertaking, first time anybody ever tried to track the activities of all the world’s communist and revolutionary parties annually and put it into a big volume. So that was the task there, and we built up a staff. In ’66, the Republicans did quite well. Mr. Nixon campaigned in 47 congressional districts and 47 seats were won. It wasn’t always the same, but many were the same. Mr. Nixon had been in them. So I got to come down to Airlie House to brief these newly elected Republicans. I suppose this is what you’re after.
This is exactly what we’re after.
I came down, had the opportunity at Airlie House up the road here to brief those 47 newly elected members and the leadership of the House. Pretty interesting. I’d already known Gerald Ford because he was on the Center for Strategic Studies Board, and I’d met a lot of others including, on the other side, Clement Zablocki, who later became chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee when it was called that. Wonderful man. There Arthur Burns gave the economic briefing and I gave the foreign policy briefing to these 47 newly elected men and women. Among them, I struck up a particular friendship with and gave some extra briefing on the side to George Herbert Walker Bush, who had just come to the United States Congress.
Then I went back to Hoover. I had been interested in Mr. Nixon since his loss in California, and I began writing to him and sending him my articles as I wrote them—book reviews. I sent up everything I wrote and he would write back. I would go to New York every now and then to say
hello—after he moved out of California and went to the law firm in New York. I would say
helloto him and we would talk. I was very much enamored of his foreign policy views and experience. I had actually met him when I was an undergraduate at Notre Dame in 1956 when he came through to campaign. I re-met him when I came in 1957, after my graduation, to work at the National Security Agency in Washington. I only stayed there three months before I went back. The heck with that, I said, I don’t want to do any of that. I went back to get my master’s degree at Notre Dame.
So this communication with Mr. Nixon continued into ’65, before I went to Hoover. Pat Buchanan was already working with Nixon and was suggesting that I should come up to New York. Well, I moved to Stanford instead. So they continued to interview people for Nixon’s foreign policy guy, or coordinator, which is what I became later, and went through 1967 and there was constant—they kept interviewing people and would say to me,
Well, couldn’t you really come,and I really couldn’t come because I had this big job, a lot of responsibility, another baby on the way, number six, and planned to build a house.
By early 1968, a donor to the Hoover Institution and also a considerable donor to Mr. Nixon put the pressure on my boss and mentor, the late, great W. Glenn Campbell, the man who really grew the Hoover Institution into what it became in recent decades as the mother lode of mainstream conservative think tanks. He said,
Well, you’re out of here.I said,
What do you mean I’m out of here?He said,
You’re going to go ahead and do the Nixon thing.I said,
I’m what? It’s not what I really had in mind.He said,
Well, that’s what I have in mind, and that’s what some other people have in mind and you go on down there to New York.
We ran the campaign out of New York. So we had a home, family, we had a home that my wife and I bought and kept, just barely by the skin of our teeth, on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. So my family was going there for the summertime. We didn’t have enough money to have a vacation, so she’d put the kids in the car, drive clear across the country to the New Jersey beach. I went to the campaign headquarters in New York, lived there with friends, and I could come down on weekends on the bus. On a bus through Asbury Park and places like that and get off and wait to be picked up, quite elementary commuting. It was a pretty interesting time.
So I was more or less shanghaied into the New York thing. It’s not that I minded it that much at all, it was just that my personal objective was to go do the job because Mr. Nixon had asked me to do it. I sort of made a mistake by sending him memos and views on things, and then I wanted to go right back to Stanford, having just finished a house and all that business. Well we went through the campaign, and it was a very interesting, very intense campaign. I saw stuff about which I haven’t even written yet, some of the famous back-channel activities with the South Vietnamese and the interference of people like Anna Chennault into the campaign—very dramatic stuff.
And, of course, the primary situation had not resolved a candidate by 1968, and we went to Miami fairly certain that we could win, but by no means assured. [Nelson] Rockefeller was still very strong. [Henry] Kissinger and I, Kissinger as Rockefeller’s foreign policy guy, and I as Nixon’s, met several times in the back-channel to avoid creating what was called, in 1960, the
Compact of Fifth Avenue,when Nixon called on Rockefeller and they came to some agreement on some issues. Nixon was accused of having caved to Rockefeller, a big conservative-liberal split. So he and I very carefully, Kissinger and I very carefully met in places in New York and almost got caught at the convention by Daniel Schorr and Bob Novak. Humorous stories that Schorr tells in his most recent book about how he—well I won’t go into the details unless you ask me. We almost got caught anyway, exchanging.
Please, go into the details.
Well, the detail is simply that we had worked on versions of the Vietnam plank that would allow us to avoid a confrontation on the floor. Mind you, Reagan was in that contest at the time. So, I went down to the Fontainebleau Hotel, with the final thing that my boss had signed off on, and I had, to give it to Kissinger and let him take it to Rockefeller and get it signed off, a handshake, hell, I thought back then that if Kissinger and I shook hands it would work. It’s amazing how much I believed in handshakes at the time, and how much I’ve learned since!
However, be that as it may, I walked into the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami and I saw Bob Novak behind a pillar over there, leaning out, looking at me. He was as much the
Prince of Darknessthen as he is now, and what was I doing in Rockefeller’s hotel lobby? I looked off to the left and here was Kissinger sauntering toward me. I looked at Kissinger and said,
Herr Professor Kissinger(in German accent). I am fluent in German, having studied there for three years in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I grabbed him by the arm and started pulling him toward the revolving doors to get out of the hotel. He looked at me as if to say,
Are you crazy?(said with German accent) I pulled him outside, to the sweeping driveway lined with heavy palm trees, and I took four steps out, five steps out, and I pushed him in through the palm trees, so if Novak had followed us out there he couldn’t find us or see us without peeping through the palm trees. All we had to do was exchange envelopes and shake hands, as I said, and make sure that everything was all right.
So we chatted for a few minutes and didn’t notice that behind us was the CBS news television trailer. So just as we were about to part, the door opened and down the wooden steps came Daniel Schorr who—I should have added that Novak recognized me, but didn’t recognize Kissinger.
And Schorr recognized Kissinger but didn’t recognize me. He said,
Henry, what are you doing here?And looked at me and I said,
Hello, I’m Bart Williams, one of Professor Kissinger’s students, having a conversation here and it’s really great to see you Professor Kissinger, but I do have to run now.
All right, see you later(in German accent). I went back to our hotel wiping my brow because we almost got caught. If we had been caught, it would have been very bad stuff indeed.
So the convention went smoothly. We won, that is, Mr. Nixon won. All this was occasioned by your question of did I have any prior political experience, but I did, yes, and some of it was highly relevant. We ran the campaign from New York. There were reasons for that. Mr. Nixon didn’t want the Washington types, wanted to make it difficult for Washington types to get to him and get to the campaign. We ran it at the corner of 57th and Park Avenues in the American Bible Society building—appropriate use of it. There Martin Anderson ran the domestic policy operations and Alan Greenspan the economic policy stuff. Arthur Burns was frequently there. We had two great speechwriters, Patrick Buchanan and Raymond Price, soon to be added was Bill Safire who came onto the team. Richard Whalen was another extremely gifted writer who found it difficult to get along with the [John] Mitchell crowd and then eventually left, just as we were headed into the convention.
But we were a very small group of people. I created an outside group of foreign policy advisors that I leaned on a little bit, and that was a very good lesson for 1980. And I made the chairman of it a guy who wasn’t particularly known for his candlepower but was a steady man, Robert Hill. He had been Governor of New Hampshire I guess, a leading man, a State Department guy, had been Undersecretary of State, too. I picked other people that I knew we could work with, people who could be important making inputs because the job of a foreign policy guy in the campaign is not to do it all himself, it is to find all the good people he can and fill in any gaps that might be in the candidate’s head.
Can I stop and ask you a question about that, because Nixon had a world of experience in foreign affairs before this campaign. How did you see that role working for you when you obviously were dealing with someone who—
Who knew more than I did.
Well . . .
Well, he did and he didn’t. It is interesting, and I found out how that rule could best work.
Okay, and explain what you mean by
He did and he didn’t.
Well, he knew an awful lot. He knew thousands of people, very good at names, on the big picture, the grand strategic picture, he was always excellent. Witness, for example, the October 1967 article in Foreign Affairs called
Asia After Vietnam,which carried in it the strongest hint of what he would do if elected, namely open to China. He sent me in December of 1967 and January of ’68 to Asia to explain this to Japanese leaders. Now, I’d never done anything like that before. I went to Hong Kong and Korea, tried to explain it to the Koreans, but they’d just had an assassination attempt on President Park Chung Hee, so I didn’t get to talk to anybody of consequence, but I was there, my first trip to Korea, my first trip to Japan. But there were a lot of things that Mr. Nixon didn’t know.
Having been a student close to the Soviet Union, eastern Europe, and the world’s communist parties, there were interesting trends and developments that I could identify and about which I had been informing him systematically before I ever went on board full-time. What he really preferred me to do was to discover things that he didn’t know and write them up very succinctly in two- or three-page memorandums. They’d be addressed to DC, which was a code name for Nixon. In case anything got out to the press, I could always say I wrote the memorandum to Dwight Chapin, who was personal assistant to Mr. Nixon, who could always disclaim any responsibility for a memo. DC, of course, also stood for
District of Columbia.
My job then was to bring other points of view to him, to alert him about the opposition, what I thought the opposition was going to do, and to bring those other points of view and information to him, all within the matrix of what I understood to be his foreign policy views. I mean, after all, that is again the real job of the diligent staff assistant to any politician or campaigner. Find out what the boss really wants.
If it’s a situation in which the staff person tells him what he’s going to want, then that’s different entirely. I wanted no part of that. I had the opportunity to move closely to a man with enormous high voltage, who had enough information already to run the world. My job was to continue to shovel coal on that fire and make it hotter and burn brighter and be better, that’s all. But I fully expected I was going back to Stanford after this stint of seven or eight months of helping him win the nomination and the election. That’s all I wanted. I was interested in good government with good policy, then get back to the idyllic life of Palo Alto back then. Still is nice, but even nicer then.
What he didn’t know was a lot of details. He didn’t know what was going on, for example, in detail, in Czechoslovakia at the time. Of course we’re talking about ’68. This was
Prague Spring.I, for one, was convinced that there would be a Soviet invasion, and wrote a memorandum to that effect in June of that year and sent it to him and said,
This is what we should be saying when the Soviets invade Czechoslovakia.At the time, the basic understanding in the world was that the Soviets would never risk that in terms of world public opinion. It couldn’t risk it at all. You had [Alexander] Dubcek taking Czechoslovakia down a very interesting path, and of course it resulted in dropping paratroopers into Wenceslas Square on August 15. I had the distinct duty of waking Mr. Nixon up early that evening because he had had a couple of pops before he went to bed. He had been in, I think, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and one other state, on a three-state campaign swing, came home, went to bed early. Around 9 o’clock I woke him up, said,
Mr. Nixon, the Soviets are invading Czechoslovakia.He said,
The Soviets are invading Czechoslovakia.He said,
The bastards. Get over here.
So I went over to the apartment, a few blocks distant. A few of us assembled there and I pulled out my statement. We went over the statement, altered it however it had to be altered. Just then President Johnson called. The voltage was suddenly increased to 1,000 volts from 240. President Johnson called and had a conversation. I heard only the Nixon end of the conversation, verbatim, and it sticks very firmly in my mind. President Johnson asked him not to condemn too strongly the Johnson administration. So we then revised the statement again, softened it, still bore the classic earmarks of a Nixon statement, and we put it out.
So if you go back in history and look, you’ll see that the Nixon statement was not condemnatory, as such. It left room for that interpretation, but it was then that I suspected something was going on in the back-channel between Presidents Nixon and Johnson. I’ll prove that right when I finish writing this up. I have other evidence of some back-channel deals, in fact, participated in later that summer.
So Mr. Nixon then was beautifully prepared. He could have gotten by, but he was a man of detail. He really cared about detail. If I could give him one additional piece of information in detail or example to reinforce whatever it was he was doing or saying, that was fine for me. We worked very closely with the speechwriters. I looked at our entire campaign staff, not long ago, and I think the list was six double-sided mimeographed pages. We didn’t have any fancy consultants at four thousand dollars a day or anything like that. Didn’t do that. Just had good people. Len Garment was part of that operation. Mitchell of course was part of it, [H.R.] Haldeman had his part, [John] Ehrlichman was a glorified advance man who later became misplaced as the Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs. He should never have been there. And that was just about it. In modern terms, a tiny band of people around a candidate who had been declared finished in politics. We had to be very careful. This was also the summer of the
New Nixon.Everything was new.
Nixon had crow’s-feet lines in his face. He had a nice smile, wasn’t always smiling, but had that nice smile. The press that summer accused Nixon of not speaking to the issues. That happens in every campaign after a while, especially if the press doesn’t like the candidate, so they begin writing,
He isn’t speaking to the issues.We were down at Key Biscayne on a weekend and Nixon said,
God damn it, they say I’m not speaking about the issues. I want something done about that.Over the years, I had meticulously taken everything that Nixon had said, that I had received. I got the speeches pretty regularly, and segmented them by issue on a card system. I would Xerox it, crop it down, put the source, the date. I had this big box of cards and I thought, Yes, we can put together a book, very quickly. This was on a Sunday, and we were supposed to stay down in Key Biscayne for a couple more days. We broached the idea of a book, Marty Anderson and I did. And he said,
That’s what I want, a book. You get on the plane and go back to New York. Get a book out.
We went back Sunday night and worked almost non-stop for four days and nights. Bill Casey came in to oversee the effort because he was a great editor. He was a clever guy with words. Annelise Anderson, Marty’s wife; Martin Anderson; our respective assistants, Jim Gigowitz and Darrell Trent and Ken Khachigian. Ken’s now an important Republican, of course, in California, and a couple of secretaries worked day and night and on Friday, I believe it was, bound copies of the book were on their way—it was a 255-page book called Nixon on the Issues—were on the plane, going to Boston, and dropped one into the candidate’s lap. Marty was on the plane, so I had my secretary, Mary Froning, deliver them to Marty, plus three special copies I had leather-bound with the title Nixon Socks it to ’Em. So Marty has one, I had one, and Nixon had one, of Nixon Socks it to ’Em, and instantly, he took one look and he said, get it to the back of the plane, the press. So back they went, handing them out to the news guys, and that was the end of the stories about Nixon
not speaking to the issues.
Anyway, we won. It was a close-run thing. We had some interference at the last minute, an attempt to sabotage the Paris peace talks. That’s been written about. Seymour Hersh’s rendition of this is correct. Henry Kissinger, on his own, volunteered information to us through a spy, a former student, that he had in the Paris peace talks, who would call him and debrief, and Kissinger called me from pay phones and we spoke in German. The fact that my German is better than his did not at all hinder my communication with Henry and he offloaded mostly every night what had happened that day in Paris. Then, on the other hand, we had Anna Chennault, who was interfering with [Ngo Dinh] Diem in South Vietnam, urging the South Vietnamese not to go to the peace table, saying they’d get a better deal with Nixon. That eventually led to a lot of confusion. She had no authority, no brief.
There’s been a recent book written on this very topic about the interference in the elections. She tried to get to me. I wouldn’t permit her to talk to me, but President Johnson then tapped our telephones. This is the second highly illegal action, I think. Well of course, he may have thought he had a legitimate right to if he suspected national security, but it was a political campaign after all, and he did tap our telephones—illegally.
I had been previously shadowed and I don’t think tapped, illegally, in what was the first proven illegal investigation of a U.S. citizen by the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency]. We had caught during that summer, through the stupidity of the agent, a guy who was sent out from the agency to do a number on me, working with a private investigative agency. He did it in California. He made the mistake of going to my banker. The banker didn’t know me, but did know Rose Mary Woods, and called Rose Mary Woods in New York, who informed me. I put Jack Caufield on it, a New York cop who was assigned to our domestic security. Up until that time, when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, there was no Secret Service protection for candidates, but there was from that moment forward. So the Secret Service came in. We had had Jack Caufield, who became a minor figure in Watergate, as our security man. So he was moved to domestic internal security, so to speak, for the rest of the staff.
I contacted Caufield. He ran it up through New York City police and it turned out the private detective agency was a CIA front. The private investigator who was doing this was a CIA employee and that was a CIA property. They have them all over the country. But it was the first time it was ever proven, and years later I told Safire about it and he wrote about it and thought it was much more significant than I did. Now I think it’s more significant than he does. So—
And this was because they felt you were—
I don’t know what they felt, who knows what the Central Intelligence Agency feels. There are more secrets in the Department of Agriculture than in our Central Intelligence Agency, so—
But the concern, you said it was national security concerns—
Guess so. They were doing a number on me. It was clear. They got caught red-handed and we decided not to do too much about that at the time, but it was illegal. And so the election was won. It was a very close-run thing. Of course, we had picked Spiro Agnew, as you know, at the Miami convention. I had the joy of providing him with his first foreign policy briefing, which was a hoot.
Can you elaborate?
Can I elaborate? Well, it happened in Mission Bay, we went to Mission Bay, San Diego, immediately after the convention. I called my secretary down from Stanford and asked her to bring some maps and a pointer. We sat in beach chairs out on the beach, with a map of the world on the ground and four stones holding the map down, and I with a pointer and Agnew in the chair wearing shorts, very casual. Before I started the briefing he said,
You know, I want to tell you something, Dick. I’ve never been out of the country before, except to go to Greece, and I came straight back.And I said,
Well, that’s going to complicate things a little bit, so I’m going to take you through the world, a
and I’m going to tell you what our policy is in each area and I hope I don’t overdo it.It lasted a couple of hours.
We went through, particularly sensitive about the Greek situation at the time because the Greek junta was in charge, remember, [Georgios] Papadopoulos and the generals. We had some links through contributors to Nixon to those generals. I say links. We had channels. Not links in the formal sense of the word, and we had to make sure that Governor Agnew stayed well clear of these issues. It was very, very dangerous.
Well, I went through the world, and one funny thing. He was, whatever else he was, a very nice fellow. I got along very well with Governor Agnew. Years later, in 1993, we pulled our cars in simultaneously at the Nixon funeral. He got out and he said,
Hello, Dick.I said,
Hello, Mr. Vice President, how are you?Judy Agnew was with him. But at the end of this briefing back in ’68 at Mission Bay, I’ll never forget, we got down and tried to take it, section by section. We got to Africa. At that time, remember, Biafra was a problem. But there weren’t too many other problems. We weren’t that far beyond Suez and everything else. But I got down to South Africa, I had my pointer, I said,
Okay, now we come down here.He said,
Don’t tell me. I think I know this one.I said,
What’s that?He said,
That’s a black government, right?Well, it surely wasn’t a black government in 1968. And so we had to walk back from that one.
But George Bush didn’t know the name of Pervez Musharraf in the 2000 campaign. Anyway, the Agnew thing was fun, and he learned as he went along. It was Safire’s great words, in the speeches of Agnew,
the nattering nabobs of negativism,and then I threw in a phrase that I’d learned when one German professor attacked another German professor in my graduate work in Munich, one professor said of another,
Der Mann is ein intellektueller Eunuch,
he is an intellectual eunuch.And that’s how the phrase
intellectual eunuchfound its way into an Agnew speech. I gave it to Buchanan. Buchanan loved it and threw it in there. This professor of mine was a very famous philosopher and historian, Eric Voegelin.
He always pretended to be above politics. He absolutely loved it when I threw the intellectual eunuchs thing in the Agnew case. So anyway, that’s it. I worked with members of Congress, the ones I liked, sometimes the ones I didn’t like, testified a number of times, helped members of Congress in their campaigns, and tried to provide intellectual backstop to them, and we won the campaign.
I had no intentions, as I mentioned, of going to the White House. I wanted to go back. I was part of the transition, but I took four or five days and I went back to California, to Palo Alto. I got a call from my mentor, the late, great Bryce Harlow. I’d already recommended that Kissinger be appointed National Security Advisor because I didn’t have any designs on that job myself, although it is often said that I did, in the literature. It is very, very interesting for me that I was shafted, screwed, dumped, or whatever. I had no intention whatever of doing that. I wanted to go back to Palo Alto.
Bryce called me and said,
The boss asked me to call you. He’s going to appoint Henry Kissinger the National Security Advisor on Monday morning.I said,
That’s fine.And he said,
But he’s appointing you the deputy.I said,
That’s not so fine, that’s not so fine at all.He said,
Well, that’s the plan.Maybe he called me on a Thursday, I don’t recall. A few days before this was to happen. So I talked to the family, and the family wasn’t resistant. The kids were too little then, I was basically talking with my wife.
Then Glenn Campbell came after me and said,
You owe it to a lot of people to do this.And Bill Baroody as well, from the AEI side,
This will all work out fine, just go down there and do it, we need you in there.Of course, obviously, they would have wanted me in there, maybe versus Kissinger. It couldn’t work that way. I was not going to take the post and be an adversary to the guy I was supposed to be working with. However, I then called back Bryce and I said,
Okay, I will do this, but I’m appointed by the President, I’m not going to be appointed—He said,
Oh, yes, absolutely, the President is going to appoint you.That made a very big difference. I wasn’t hired by Kissinger.
So I went down and did it. Immediately, I had a lot of responsibilities, including the SIOPs, the Single Integrated Operational Strike plan, and I found myself thwarted at almost every level. My memos were ostensibly going to the President, but Henry organized the National Security Council in such a way that no one could write to the President, and his name went on memoranda that were prepared by others. And it didn’t say,
this memorandum was prepared by Helmut Sonnenfeldt.or
this memorandum was done by Lawrence Lynnor Anthony Lake. Then Henry proceeded to staff the National Security Council with a group of people who could at best be described as Nixon critics and at worst as Nixon haters, and it puzzled the dickens out of me. So I was in the NSC, the number two man, alive in a sea of hostility. It was amazing.
I took John Lehman, who was later to become Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan Administration, as my assistant, to Washington, a couple of secretaries, and so on. I really wanted to have an office in the OEOB [Old Executive Office Building], and found that I was basically being cut out of a lot of things. The President directed me to be the
listener,to listen to friends, some wealthy, influential, whatever they may be, people who had general access to him but he didn’t want to see all the time. He didn’t want to see a lot of people. He wanted me to do that, and so I began being the listener for the President and then writing the stuff up and finding it never got to him. It would be headed off. So I figured, this isn’t going so well, after six or eight months of this. I did a few things, base inspection tours, some of the aspects of SIOPs out into Turkey, and at that time we had bases out there you know that were truly secret, there really were secret bases. I think we had Samsun and Trabzon and Diyarbakir and a few others. And there were a variety of projects.
One thing caught my eye: that ultimately, had it been handled correctly, handled the way I suggested, it would have completely avoided Watergate. I haven’t written this yet, but I have extensive notes and I can tell you more about it. But Senator [Stuart] Symington set up a special investigating subcommittee, hired Walter Pincus, now of the Washington Post, and Roland Paul as his investigators, and tried to send them into the Pentagon. Now inside the Pentagon, inside the administration I might say, there was a five-part study called the Woods-McClintock study. It was a study of our bases abroad. The five levels of classification were ascending, so that one, pretty much anybody could see, and two, somebody couldn’t see. By the time you got to five, you had in there the most sensitive and secret bases that we had—a lot of our commitments overseas, many of which had been started by the Eisenhower administration but also many of which had been by the Johnson administration.
And that was Symington’s interest, right? He was trying to figure out from the congressional angle where these executive agreements had—
Well, either by executive agreement or no executive agreement, but on what basis these commitments had rested.
He was looking for a legal basis, I guess. But when I found that out, and found out that Mel Laird, then Secretary of Defense, wanted to let Pincus and Paul come in, or give them copies of the study, I got the study and said,
You can’t do this. I mean, this is not our study, this isn’t our deal here at all. We’ve got to protect it until we look at it and see what it means. Because now, it’s our watch, and if Symington attacks, the public is not going to make a distinction between commitments that were made back then. They exist right now, and so Nixon would get the blame.
So I started on a months-long campaign, trying to awaken some attention to this problem, not because I wanted to keep all the bases. But I went out and looked at some of them, as I told you. We still had Libya. I was, I think, one of the last White House people to fly into Wheelus Air Force Base in Libya before [Muammar] Gaddafi took over.
At that point life was getting more miserable for me. I didn’t want to be there in the first place. I thought, I’ll just take off, leave. I knew the President would try to get me to do something else, and I just didn’t want to go out into the bureaucracy or have an embassy or anything like that. I didn’t want to give him that opportunity. So John Lehman and I worked on this long memorandum and it was clear that it was a major constitutional challenge coming to the President, this issue of commitments. And we had successfully blocked giving these studies to Pincus and Paul. But the compromise, with which I disagreed but which was arrived at, was that they could go in and take notes, and they could read through the studies.
Well, it’s the same damn thing. Somebody who reads the notes and is diligent enough can copy everything he sees. They couldn’t take any Xerox copies, but they could take all the notes they wanted, which didn’t make any sense. Made it even worse in a certain sense, because, you know, sometimes they would compress information. And then the leaks began to appear. It was really interesting. They leaked all over the place, or Symington did.
This is ’69?
Yes, ’69. And these leaks came out as a steady drip.
It began to annoy the President. And in a certain sense, I felt like the guy who was over there waiting saying,
See, I told you that this was going to happen and yet you permitted it to go on.So I left, I guess, in December ’69. Moved to Denver and went into a business position. And shortly thereafter the President appointed me to a commission on international trade and investment policy, the so-called Williams Commission, which then gave me the opportunity to go back to Washington as often as I wanted. Isaiah Frank of Johns Hopkins became the staff director and put together a fabulous commission: the chairman of General Motors, the chairman of General Electric, the chairman of Merck, the chairman of IBM who ran the commission. So all of these, and some labor leaders. All these very, very talented people, and then I was part of the operation as well.
I found I knew quite a bit, as much as they did, about certain parts of the world. I mean, not as much as if you had a corporation, but I also didn’t have gold-plated faucets in my boardroom either, as they do in General Motors and elsewhere. I taught, and was able to make some major contributions on questions of Japan since I had spent a lot of time, by then, in Japan and elsewhere. And, as a result of that commission, by 1971, the President had decided to create an Assistant to the President for International Economic Policy, equivalent to the National Security Advisor.
Our recommendations came out; it included that. And the first person to be selected for the international economic policy job was Peter Peterson. Pete had been chairman of Bell & Howell at a very young age. He succeeded Chuck Percy. He’d testified before our commission as a witness, and I was surprised that he came to me and asked me to become his deputy. Apparently he thought they needed someone who was known to all those folks in Washington. So I thought about it, and in June, May of ’71 I agreed to go back. But not before, of course, the experience of the Pentagon Papers being delivered onto the steps of the Soviet embassy and to the Washington Post by [Daniel] Ellsberg. Then all hell broke loose.
I was on the way, preparing to come back to Washington, when Bob Haldeman called me and said,
The old man remembers your memo,the one I had delivered, an 85-page memorandum, before I left in late 1969 on
the coming constitutional challenge to the President.And he said,
The old man remembers your memorandum, and he wants to know more about it.I said,
Well, it’s all there.He said,
Well, I think he wants you to send a memorandum as to what we should do now.And I said,
Okay.I was in Denver. So I wrote up the memorandum. I still have the original draft of it, with corrections and typos. I dictated it to Haldeman’s secretary, who later became my secretary, Pat McKee. She has written her own little book, self-published, on her years in government. She’s living in Texas; I could probably give you the address. If you make a note of it, I’ll remind myself and give you the address. You have to pay $26 for it or something, but it’s worth it.
I think we could come up with that.
So I wrote a memorandum, and in this memorandum—
This was derived from the earlier memorandum?
Well, it wasn’t derived from—what I had predicted was coming true, because the Pentagon Papers just drove the President around the corner. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Can you elaborate a little bit about that earlier memo? You said that you had predicted a coming constitutional challenge, I guess—
Well, it was that if you give up these papers you’re making a hell of a mistake.
This is based on the Symington—
Based on the Symington exercise. You’re making a hell of a mistake if you give up these papers, and that would just lead to more demands and more leaks. And the leaks were coming, frankly, from the NSC staff. I mean, they were also coming obviously from Pincus and Paul, but the network was there. I mean, you had Morton Halperin on National Security Council staff, come now. Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Anthony Lake, Richard Moose, Lawrence Lynn, John Holdridge, you name them. These people all became accomplished leakers. For his part, Mel Laird was a consummate leaker himself, but he wasn’t going to damage himself the way that Nixon was being damaged. And they couldn’t figure it out. Well, my view has always been that much of it came right out of the National Security Council and of course, from Henry himself, who leaked incessantly, and in a very, very detailed way, to columnists, especially those who treated him favorably.
Somewhere in papers that you prepared, you found a quotation from, I think, Suzy Garment’s book, in which I told many times about sitting next to Joe Kraft in Lane Kirkland’s house, and Kraft
advisingme that it would be a good idea if I continued the practice that people like Kissinger and others had maintained of meeting regularly with him. And I said,
Well, I don’t see great benefit to that.I was trying to take the National Security Council out of the limelight, but more about that later. Because it has to do with the construct that I offered the Governor and he bought off on, in reducing the conflict between the National Security Advisor and the Secretary of State. But Kraft said,
Well, you could benefit greatly by having more effective public expression of your views.What the hell do I care if my views get effective public expression? The question is the President’s views.
I thought about it and I said,
No, I don’t think I’m interested in that deal at all.And he said,
Well, I don’t think you’ll be interested in the results, either.Then every week it came. Allen the bad manager, trouble with his colleagues. A steady, steady drip. Whereas the real causes for that lay elsewhere. I certainly would step up and take my share of blame if it were truly mine to take, and I will take whatever is demonstrated to be mine. But the blame did lay elsewhere, and I was just getting banged regularly because people would quote and re-quote Kraft. The Europeans would simply recycle what they read in the New York Times. But I’m ahead of myself here.
I interrupted your story. You were talking about preparing a memo for Nixon.
So I prepared a memorandum in which I recommended—which has not been made public, ever—I said,
Here’s my proposal to the President.And this led to a series of events, which, as I inferred earlier, could have avoided Watergate entirely.
Go back to all of the historic papers that are sequestered someplace. Go back to Yalta, Tehran, Potsdam. To the Cuban missile crisis. To Lebanon in 1957, to show balance, maybe even the papers surrounding Suez, on through into Vietnam, and declassify them all, right now. Declassify them. If you do that, Mr. President, you’ll be known as the man, the President, who leveled with the American people. Well, this 12-page memorandum, whatever it was, was put on Nixon’s desk that night. Bob Haldeman called me in Denver again, said,
Boss read your memo, absolutely terrific, and he wants you to do the declassification job.Do the job that I described in the memo, and I said—one of the things that I had proposed in the memo was reevaluating everyone’s clearance, because I knew that there had been this sea of betrayal inside the White House. I could do nothing about it, no matter how much I shouted, without looking like a nut.
So it struck me as being really important that everyone’s clearances be looked at again. You needed somebody who was highly talented, highly discreet, best a lawyer, to go through that because you’re going back into raw data, into FBI files and that sort of thing. Because in order to get the job done and shut down leaks—It is a legitimate function of government, to shut down leaks. You could never really do it entirely. You had to have some information. I said to Haldeman,
Look, this is too sudden to me, I want to think about it for a day.He said,
You call me tomorrow because he wants an answer and he wants you to do this job.I thought, I’m not doing this job, but I did name ten people, or six people known to me who were perfectly capable of doing a terrific job.
So I called him back the next day and I said,
Absent a direct order from the President, I do not want to do that job. I don’t think I would do it as well—I want to do the international economic job that has been offered to me.A brand-new job in the White House—that appealed to me because when you get to write your own ticket. In a brand-new job, you write your own job description, nothing like it. Doesn’t happen very often. [Tom] Ridge has the opportunity to do the same thing now, he hasn’t quite written it properly. In any case, what I had in mind was creating the Council on International Economic Policy, which Peterson would head and I would be the deputy. He would be Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs, and I the Deputy Assistant. We would make of that an organization that was as potent as the NSC. Because Henry wasn’t paying any attention to economic issues. Economics made him go to sleep.
It was important that we get attention to the international economic policy issues. That was the summer we closed the gold window. [John] Connally was Secretary of the Treasury and all these wonderful things were happening. Haldeman says,
Okay, I’ll talk to the boss again.He called me back, the same day, and said,
Okay, the President reluctantly agrees, you take the international economic job as planned, but you have to agree to spend time to set up this other project, this declassification project, oversee it, and make sure that it works well.I said,
Okay, I’ll do that, that’s fine.Because I’d written the memorandum, so I figured they were going to do it my way.
And give you hiring responsibility for—
Yes, I wanted hiring responsibility, sure. Didn’t need that many people, all you needed was get your hands on the documents. Also involved sending out an executive order, very tightly worded, saying everything stays in place, don’t move a file or a paper. If you do, it will be punishable by, blah, blah, blah. The executive order was very important, because then you had people who would rat on other people and say,
they tried to move documents,which was a way to get the documents we wanted. Bring them all into the White House, all those files into the White House, under secure conditions, and then proceed to go through them and then you release them to the public.
Well, now that would be a great service to scholars and to the public. It also happened that most of the bad stuff of the last 30 years had happened on the Democratic watch, it didn’t happen on the Republican watch. There were a couple of things, as I mentioned, Lebanon, and Guatamala, [Jacobo] Arbenz in 1954, but that pales in significance to Yalta, division of Europe, how we got into the Korean War, Vietnam. JFK [John Kennedy] put troops into Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis. It wasn’t Richard Nixon, but by then, everybody thought that it was Nixon. You get blamed if you’re in charge, if you’re in the driver’s seat. So that done, I came down to Washington.
With the announcement of our positions, Peterson and I slipped into office, and all of a sudden we had this huge crisis of trade, gold window. What should we do? Close the gold window, the gold standard? Nixon announces that we’re all Keynesians now. We were reeling with trade problems. There were all kinds of problems with the Japanese, you may recall, from specialty steel to automobiles to television tubes. God knows what, there was one a day.
Trade was suddenly becoming very important. Nixon was giving it the proper recognition that trade should have and wanted CIEP, Council on International Economic Policy, to work closely with the NSC. Well, that’s not the way it actually worked, but suddenly Henry awoke and said,
Oh my God, they’re taking part of my portfolio.Well, we weren’t taking it so much as we were doing a portfolio that wasn’t being done properly at all. And in CIEP, instead of being the head knocker out there, the way Henry had converted the NSC from an advisory position into a policy originator and driver of policy, I was part of that at the front end.
In our case, we wanted to be the friend of the agencies that didn’t have access to the White House, that couldn’t get to the White House with international economic issues through the NSC because Henry didn’t care about them. But we did. That was the theory, and it worked relatively well. It all went downhill later on and CIEP was eventually abolished by [Jimmy] Carter, but that was our administration’s fault.
So I came back to Washington in late spring 1971. We were absolutely chockablock that summer. I was working long, long hours. My family had migrated back to the beach in New Jersey from Colorado, where we were living, and I wasn’t quite sure where things were going on this declassification project. So one day I went down to the exercise room. It all happened just by accident. On the basement or ground-floor level of the Old Executive Office Building some treadmills and a little steam room, that sort of thing, had been put in as a convenience for people. I went down and was on the treadmill. The White House Communication Agency, WHCA it was called, would run anything you asked them to run. They taped all the news shows and everything.
I hadn’t asked them to run anything and I was watching John Eisenhower and David Young, whom I knew had been hired off Kissinger’s staff to do something on this project, which I thought was a mistake, because my condition was that Kissinger be kept out of that process of collecting the documents. I just knew something would go wrong. The main job was given to Egil Krogh, Bud Krogh. So I thought, that was okay too, but he didn’t know anything about foreign policy or national security, didn’t know about the history of it. Yalta, Potsdam, these were places to him, not events of enormous and epochal meaning in recent history.
I was watching David Young and John Eisenhower while I was on this treadmill, and I got off the treadmill and I had a shower and Ehrlichman happened to be there. We were talking, and as I was dressing and went out again, and I saw that same show being replayed. I said,
Somebody has called up to get the show replayed, must have been pretty goodor something. John Eisenhower had been a friend of mine for many, many years. I started walking back up that spiral staircase to my office on the first floor of the OEOB and I thought, you know, I heard that that’s down there, that office right over there in the corner was where this thing was quartered, and I was supposed to look in on it and I hadn’t had any time.
So I turned around, right in the middle of the steps, and walked downstairs again and walked over to that door in the corner. It had those blue signs, you know, they’re sort of embossed and it says Room 370 or whatever the room is, and I walked up to the door and it said
plumber.I thought, well, I guess I’m in the wrong place, and I went back up, started up the steps again. Then I said, no, no, the plumber and the carpenters and the frame makers, electricians, they’re in the real basement of the OEOB, where you very rarely go unless you need a hammer or something, that’s in the real basement, this is the ground floor.
So I turned around again and walked back down and opened the door to this room,
plumber,and there sat David Young, in this pose, leaning back, looking at the television set.
Let the tape reflect that the respondent’s feet are on our table.
The respondent, huh? The deponent. So I was stunned, and I said,
David, what the hell are you doing?And he said,
Watching this show. It’s pretty good.I said,
Yes, I’ve been through it once, I was just in the exercise room.He said,
Well, I’m watching it again. It’s pretty good stuff, huh?
Watching yourself twice?I said.
you know how it is, you know how it is.I said,
No, I’m not sure I do.So he put his feet down from the desk and I said,
Well, I’m going to look around.He said,
Oh, okay.So I started to look around. It was, as I recall, a two-room operation. Young had his office and apparently some room for a secretary and then a room lined with shelves. I walked into the room lined with shelves and I expected to see what the memo had laid out: Yalta, Potsdam, all these papers from the agency and from the Department of State.
Nothing there. A couple of magazines, some boxes of stuff that were not relevant. And I’m looking up on the shelf to see just what they have there, and there’s another fellow in the room. I have good peripheral vision, and I could see him gesticulating wildly to David Young. And without looking up, I said,
David, why don’t you tell your colleague over there to relax. You know, I have more than a paternal interest in this project. In fact, I have a responsibility here.
You don’t know Gordon Liddy?I turned, and that was my first and last meeting with Gordon Liddy, who shook my hand and smiled for an instant.
What have you got here?I said.
Well, we’re working on things, and—
What have you GOT, what do you have in hand? A month has gone by. What’s in house?
Well, not a lot.Liddy was just tightlipped. I wasn’t asking Liddy anything. I could see that this was some sort of special duck. And David said,
Oh, you know, good God,and I smiled,
Yeah.I walked out. I walked up the steps. And I could remember what I said, walking up those steps,
Oh my God, what are these people doing? They’re not doing anything like the job that was laid out in the memorandum. I’ve got some oversight responsibility.So I went to see Bud Krogh, and he said,
They’re getting along just fine.I said,
Look Bud, let me know what it is. Have you seen the memo?
Oh, yes, we’ve seen the memo, we read it very carefully. And I said,
Well, you ought to be a lot farther along now. Have you sent out the executive order?He said,
Well, we’re working on the executive order.
Hmmm, this was August or September, something like that. Nothing ever happened. Well, to make a long story short, my theory, which I think came, in fact, valid, these guys never had the intellectual capability to do this job. They didn’t hire the people that I recommended. Neither Liddy nor David Young, nor Krogh, had any idea about history and the sweeping importance of the events that I had described and the political advantage that could be of good use to Nixon, but beyond that, there was the perverse beneficial effect of having all this out in the open, finally. We would be able to discover what [Franklin] Roosevelt had really agreed to and whether [Harry] Truman was euchred or not at Potsdam and so on and so forth, right down the line.
So, instead of being the President who leveled with the American people, it all turned out the other way. That’s what happened. I stayed in that job through 1972. We made a lot of progress. It was just a delight to work with Peter Peterson. Eventually Kissinger really resented the success that Peterson was having because Peterson became the briefer to the Cabinet and to the heads of state. He developed this magnificent briefing forecast, put it all together in a very interesting way. Peterson studied the issues. A lot of things he didn’t understand at first, but he studied them until he got them, and we just did a bang-up job briefing members of Congress. It was driving Henry wild.
So Pete said to me,
What should I do about this? Things are just getting really bad with Henry.I said,
Tell him you want to see him on a Saturday morning, when there isn’t such a press of business, and you spend however long it is with him and just go in there and duke it out. Get it straight in his own head and let him know that you’re not going to take any of this back-channel, back stabbing, or any of his crap, and that you represent no threat to him. And that’s exactly what he did. He went in and spent a long session with Kissinger. He came out and said, Well, it was more or less like you said. Henry would never confront it head-on, he never would, but of course it didn’t stop at that point, either.
By that time I knew about the taping. Kissinger was taping everyone too. This is well known. The tapes were taken away at night, up into Nelson Rockefeller’s estate. That’s where the tapes were transcribed in the White House, the transcripts were taken away by Joe Canzeri who later showed up at the White House as [Michael] Deaver’s assistant, and they were sequestered in Nelson Rockefeller’s safe, at his estate in Pocantico. All the telephone conversations. [Alexander] Haig was doing it too.
Let me ask you one more question about Nixon and then we’ll move on to your affiliation—
But after all, LBJ was doing a lot of taping too, great tapes. But Henry knew with a sense of historicity, that if he recorded everything—He always looked, all these years ago. You hired the right assistants to write the book to put the wording together for you, and you had an enormous advantage.
Do you have any final observations on Richard Nixon? There was a brief period prior to his death when he seemed to have sort of rehabilitated himself—
He did rehabilitate himself. Absolutely he did.
Could you give us your overall take on Richard Nixon? Do you think he’s been treated fairly by historians to date, or—
Not yet. Not yet fairly. You can bring all sorts of misdeeds to the feet of Richard Nixon. I suspect that an accurate historical comparison would make them less offensive and less grievous than what John F. Kennedy did in the White House. And when we all get through Robert Caro’s book, we’ll find out what—if ever. I’m beginning to get wrist fatigue.
And there’s one more volume to go, right? At least.
He was on C-SPAN last night in Washington for a while. Nixon, in my view, as everyone will tell you, was a very complex character. I never felt that I was his friend. I certainly was a devotee of his way of thinking, up to a point. My break came when, especially when, they decided to appropriate the word détente from the vocabulary and enshrine it as a theology and then build this terribly elaborate hypothesis around it and under it. And, of course, I broke company. I also broke company on Vietnam very early in the administration because as a hawk I believe we should win it or get out, that was that. I do, and did, resent that there were four years of needless slaughter in Vietnam, not only Vietnamese, but certainly our soldiers and allied soldiers as well. Everybody who was in a hospital a day or six feet under that was killed in that time period, didn’t need to be maimed, wounded, or dead. That was the genuine hawk’s position that I saw. But he had a different point of view.
Nixon was a man with grandiose schemes. I think that in a certain sense that more coal was stoked on his fire by Henry. I think the system that they established was largely responsible for a lot of the misdeeds in foreign policy. They made a decision early on, which I opposed then and would oppose even today, to isolate and humiliate the Department of State. Look what Richard Nixon did to a friend of his, William Rogers, who was a decent man by any measure, a fine Secretary of State but nonetheless misled and deeply humiliated, time after time, to the great delight of the President. So Nixon had this bifurcated nature.
There was a lot of good in him in terms of policy, but not too much good in terms of human relations. But he thought in big power terms, as did Henry, so that thousands of troops really don’t mean anything. What matters is the underlying case of whether you’re advancing toward your objective or not. I did not have all that much exposure to Nixon while he was President. I did prior to his being President, and did afterwards.
Nixon actually fulfilled the prophecy he made to me, within a year after his departure, I guess it was, that I went down to see him in San Clemente. We walked the beach and he told me about his plan to write and to travel. He said,
Well maybe even Allen will travel with me.He usually referred to you, in your presence, by your last name, as if you were not there. I said,
Sure, I’d certainly consider that.And I maintained a close liaison with him until he died. I don’t believe his character ever changed. He had his tentacles deep, deep into the first part of the Reagan administration.
Why don’t we take a brief break here at this point, say five minutes or so.
We thought we would start this portion of the interview by asking you about your first contacts with Governor Reagan and how that came about and some of your early impressions of him.
I first met Governor Reagan sometime after I went to the Hoover Institution in September of 1966 to take on those new responsibilities as senior fellow and editor of the yearbook on international communist affairs. Glenn Campbell, my boss, was a member of the Board of Regents. He liked Reagan quite a bit. Hoover at that time was I guess about five or six years into Glenn’s reign. He was in the process of changing it from strictly an archival organization that collects the archives on social and political change in the 20th century, especially revolutionary change, which was Mr. Hoover’s original mandate, to a public policy think tank. Glenn was beginning to attract more people and more interesting people to Hoover as his resources to support new programs expanded. He was very much into money-raising business, Glenn Campbell was.
One of Ronald Reagan’s close friends was Henry Salvatori, who owned a company called Western Geophysical. Henry was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. I think he was an immigrant, or his parents were immigrants, and he studied physics at Penn and came up with some technologies and/or devices, I don’t remember which, that vastly improved the search for oil. Maybe it was geophysical data, I’m not sure. But Henry was a benefactor of the Hoover Institution, the benefactor of many mainstream conservative causes. He gave millions of his hard-earned money, just as others gave, many others. And he was very close to Reagan. So that was another reason I was interested. I liked Henry very much and I was interested in what he was doing. One of the things that he was doing was supporting Ronald Reagan.
Then, when I wound up out of Hoover, I guess my next real turn with Reagan, seeing Reagan, meeting him, was at the ’68 convention. I was walking down the lobby of a hotel and there was a crowd of people and I saw Governor Reagan there and Phil Crane, my friend and colleague of many years, not yet a congressman, I don’t think he was. In any case, Phil reached out of the crowd as I was walking by, grabbed me, and pulled me into this crowd, and said,
Governor, you know Dick Allen, don’t you?I said,
Governor, how are you?Crane said,
Dick is here as Nixon’s foreign policy guy.
Yes, I know that.And Phil then said,
You’re on the wrong damn team and you know it, Dick Allen.I felt like I had two zippers and they were both open. I sort of blushed my way out of that one and walked on. I did find out later that I was on the wrong team. Be that as it may. The next real opportunity was when Reagan decided to challenge Ford. Martin Anderson had signed on with Reagan and the locomotive was running out of steam so to speak by the time they were approaching the Carolinas. Marty said they had decided they were going to make a frontal attack on foreign policy and national security issues, so would I do some memoranda on these issues of détente and whatnot, about which I felt very strongly. I said I would, so I pumped in a few memoranda. Through Marty they got to Peter Hannaford, who was another key player in all of this.
Who was doing the foreign policy angle before you came on?
I think basically Pete was doing it. There wasn’t a lot of that. We’re talking about ’76. My view is that most of it came from Governor Reagan’s own gut and his own reading habits. As you may know, you’ve talked to others, anybody who has known him, and not just served him, knows that he was a voracious reader. He never failed to read anything I gave him, as long as I knew him. If I asked him to read it, he read it. If he didn’t understand it or whatever, we talked about it, but he read it.
Those who just served him as President don’t know that side of him and therefore didn’t know what ideas he had beforehand. When we come to the Berlin Wall for example, I can tell you a couple of stories. There is a special coming up on June 8th, Tony Snow is doing a one-hour special on the fall of the Wall, and I gave a lot of time to talking to these folks. I don’t know how much will wind up on the cutting-room floor, but it is really important that the Berlin Wall coming down be presented not as the idea of a bright speechwriter at all. It was Ronald Reagan’s idea, but I’ll tell you about that detail.
So, where was I?
In the campaign, they had asked you to come in as they were going into the Carolinas.
Oh yes, yes, not to come in, just to lob some memos in. I was not any part of that campaign. I had seen Reagan that year also in New Jersey. He went to campaign for Charlie Sandman, who was the last holdout on the Watergate committee, the congressman from southern New Jersey and my congressman when I was residing there in New Jersey. So I did whatever I could.
In the meantime, something very interesting happened in ’76. Because Reagan had come so close, especially on the national security and foreign policy issues, it was the only place he really had any leverage standing. Reagan was reluctant to let Ford write the platform draft in 1976, and Ford didn’t want Reagan to write it. So re-enter Bryce Harlow, my mentor and friend, and he asked me—we were two and a half weeks away from the convention—and he said,
There’s nothing on paper yet, and it’s pretty serious, and would you agree to write the draft for the foreign policy and national security sections of the platform?He didn’t ask me the next question, was I already committed? Because he thought that I wasn’t, [Brent] Scowcroft was National Security Advisor at that point, and Kissinger is Secretary of State. He knew I wasn’t on that side. He didn’t ask me whether I was for Reagan or not. So as long as he didn’t ask the question, I didn’t have an answer for him. I wasn’t going to volunteer and answer and I said, yes, I’d do it.
So I took my typewriter up to the beach in New Jersey and settled in and wrote day and night for four or five days until I got a draft. I wrote by hand first—I just saw the handwritten draft the other day—and then typed it up and revised it over several days. But before I went up to the beach to do that, I went over to see Brent Scowcroft and I said,
Now, I’ve been asked to do this.He said,
Yes, we know that. The President knows that. He said that’s fine.I said,
I’ll tell you one thing, you keep your bloody hands off this process. I don’t want to hear anything from you. I don’t want to hear anything from Henry. If you try anything, I’ll quit and release my draft and I’ll dare you to write anything to the left of the draft that I’ve written.
No, no, we won’t interfere in any way, shape or form.Fine. So I wrote. So I got a draft and I drove to Philadelphia, got a plane to Kansas City where the convention was being held, and that year the platform chairman was Governor Robert Ray of Iowa. He was always described as an attractive young moderate. I somehow encountered him as I walked into the Muehlebach Hotel where we were holding the platform hearings, or someone pointed him out. I was going up an escalator and he was walking along the floor to which the escalator would arrive and somebody said something and he came over to me and he said,
I’m Robert Ray.I said,
How do you do, sir, I’m Dick Allen.He said,
I’m the chairman of the platform committee.And I said,
I’m well aware of that, Governor.
I understand you have a draft of the foreign policy and national security planks.I said,
Yes sir, I do.He said,
Well, I’d like to have that now.I said,
Well no, sir, that’s not going to be possible.And he said,
Listen, I’m Robert Ray, Governor Robert Ray, Chairman of the Platform Committee.And I said,
Yes, and I’m Dick Allen. No disrespect, sir, but I’m not finished with this yet, and I’ll make it available if and when.Well he went off in a steam,
We’ll see about that.
So oh, hell, I won’t last very long out here at Kansas City. I’d already done platforms before, ’68, a lot of input, I know how these things work. So, first of all I went and gave it to Marty and Pete Hannaford on the Reagan side to make sure that it was okay because I wanted it to read a certain way. It was written with two intentional holes in the draft, one for Taiwan and the China issue and the other for what would eventually become the
morality in foreign policy plank.I then met with, really for the first time, Jesse Helms, knowing that he was strong on the Taiwan issue. I was, the party was, but of course Henry and the others weren’t all that strong.
I put down the platform, they all thought it was just fine. It went to the floor, eventually. I left. I didn’t stay for the rest of the convention, for the adoption of it. There was a floor fight. They didn’t get the morality in foreign policy plank installed. Taiwan plank—that platform never saw the light of day again. It was printed as is customary, in very small type, in a congressional document, but it never again saw the light of day in that campaign.
Of course, that was not the document that said that Poland was not under Soviet control, and other things. It was a rather hapless campaign and Ford lost. In late December or early January, Carter preparing to be inaugurated, I made a decision that I would run for Governor of New Jersey, my home state. Not a wise decision necessarily, but a decision. I knew that Ronald Reagan would be key to this and I called up Peter Hannaford and said,
I’d like to come out and see the Governor and ask him to sign a series of fundraising letters for me. I want to raise some money out there, and I’d like him to come to New Jersey on my behalf.It was an odd-year election, as it is in the case of Virginia. The two gubernatorial elections—we lost them both this year.
So I flew out to see Reagan. It was about the 30th of January I guess, a week or ten days after Carter had been inaugurated. I went to his house and was met at the door by Nancy and sat down with the Governor and said,
Well, I’ve come out here to ask you to sign fundraising letters for me to run for Governor of New Jersey.He said,
That’s a splendid idea.
And to come to New Jersey, that would be a big thing for me if you’d come to New Jersey.And he said,
Why, yes. I’ll do that. But you came all the way out here to ask me that?I said,
Yes, I did.He said,
Why didn’t you just call me on the telephone? I’d have been happy to say yes.
Well, it’s not the same. I thought I should ask you face-to-face, Governor.He said,
Well sure, of course, yes, I’ll do that.I said,
That’s wonderful, thank you very much.He said,
When are you going back?I said,
I’m going back tonight on the red eye.
I’ve got all day free, do you want to talk for a while? How much time do you have?I said,
I’ve got as much time as you have if you want to talk.Said,
Fine, let’s get some coffee or something.We got some coffee and started to talk. We talked about all manner of things. I did most of the listening. He would ask me questions and I could see that there were some very large gaps in his information, but it was a sustained conversation about a lot of foreign policy issues. Before I knew it, it was lunchtime. He said,
Would you like a sandwich?
Yes, Governor, if you’re going to have a sandwich, I’ll have a sandwich.Nancy had the housekeeper get us some sandwiches and we sat there and munched through the sandwiches and got through with all that. Then about one o’clock he said to me,
Look, we’ve been talking all morning. I find it very interesting, but I’d like now to tell you my basic theory about the Cold War.And you’ve heard this, but I said to him,
What’s that?He said,
Some people say I’m very simplistic, but there’s a difference between being simplistic and simple. A lot of very complex things are very simple if you think them through.I said,
Yes, sir.And he said,
Keeping that in mind, my theory of the Cold War is, we win and they lose. What do you think about that?Ton of bricks. I couldn’t believe it. The hair went up on the back of my neck.
I’d worked for Richard Nixon three times: the campaign and twice in the White House. I never heard anybody say,
Win the Cold War.I heard
manage the Cold War.
Get the best deal you canwas Henry Kissinger’s approach. We were a declining power, remember, in the ’70s. This is what Reagan attacked, too, the notion that we were on the decline and they were on the ascent.
Do you mean that? Do you actually mean that?He said,
Of course. I said it. I mean it, of course I mean it.I said,
Well, Governor, I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re going to do with the rest of your life, but if you intend to run for President of the United States, you just signed me up right now, because that’s been my objective for a long time.One of the great differences, one of the great benefits of having the type of education I had at Notre Dame at the hands of eastern European refugees who had been driven out by fascists and national socialists and communists, was I knew the difference between the Russian people and the Soviet government, and I’d done my Master’s Degree in Soviet studies beginning with the study of Russian literature. I just knew how to make that separation, and he did too. Very odd. He didn’t think of Russians as the bad guys. He thought only of Soviet communists as the bad guys, which is a very big insight for politicians, especially those thought to be simple-minded.
Do you know where he came by this?
Study and reading. As he knew that the communists in Hollywood were no more representative of unions—He had watched the communists try to take over the Screen Actors Guild. He was physically threatened. He had some real experiences. And he—anyway, seeing myself in the presence of this very powerful political person, a man who had made a profound statement that I’d never heard from any politician before—not even Barry Goldwater spoke of winning the Cold War. He meant win it in the broadest sense and win it in the sense that you supplant the totalitarian regime for a regime that allows people freedom of expression—we went through all of this, hours and hours and hours.
I came away walking on a cloud. I said,
My God, I’ve never seen or heard anything like that before.So I got on the plane, went home. We would remain in touch. I told Pat, my wife,
I’m dissolving my committee, I’m giving back the money, I’m not going to run for Governor of New Jersey. I’m going to help make that guy, if I can, President of the United States. He said, Win the Cold War. Win big-time.So she said,
Whatever you want to do is fine.
So I disbanded my committee, filed my final report in New Jersey, or in Trenton, and set about trying to find ways to be of assistance to Reagan. And the way that I thought that I could best assist him was to open him to the perspectives of people who didn’t think exactly as he did. One device that had just been put in place that would serve that end was the Committee on the Present Danger. I was a founding member. And the Committee on the Present Danger, if you analyze its original composition, was probably 60-70 percent Democrat, 30 percent Republicans. Gene Rostow was one of the prime movers of it, Charlie Walker for a long time, a Republican, but I was among this group of eight or ten. We talked about what its purpose was. We deliberately didn’t establish the committee until after the election because we knew that one of our objectives was to stop SALT II [Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty]. So I found myself in the company of this very interesting array of highly successful Democrats.
How exactly has the history of that committee been written?
There are a couple of theses, dissertations, on the way on it, but it was citizen action. It was people who were concerned about the powerless state of our defenses, who had, on their own, come to the same conclusion that I’d come to about the bankruptcy of the détente theory. Again, we get awfully confused here, because certainly détente is a legitimate instrument of diplomacy, but it’s not a strategic objective. It’s a tactic. It’s a relaxation of tensions, as you well know, but it had become elevated to this elaborate theory that Kissinger had developed that the Soviets would become increasingly dependent on us for trade and for technological transfer and that we could influence their behavior.
It was Nixon/Kissinger, but basically Kissinger’s idea that we could influence their behavior and shut them down, squeeze them on the margins or where it really counted, to alter their behavior. But still, here go the Soviets off into Angola and Mozambique and places like that. The theory sounds nice, but no one would ever do the squeezing. The Soviets were not altering their behavior. They were increasing defense expenditures. Through trade and aid they were benefiting and increasing the power sector.
That was the main concern of the people who came together to create the Committee on the Present Danger. We incorporated in, I think, October 1976.
And were you one of the prime movers for getting that organization—
Yes I was, and very proud of it. The organization was staffed by Charles Tyroler, who had been on the original Committee on the Present Danger. There’d been one back in the ’50s. Really a topflight guy, another Democrat. Worked for Estes Kefauver’s nomination in 1956—brilliant man. So he took on the executive director chores, hired some other staff, raised some money, none from defense contractors. That was all part of the rub on CPD; we never took money from defense contractors. We began work to publish statements, all of which were roundly ignored by the Washington Post and the New York Times. It was amazing. We couldn’t get any ink at all.
We had this list of people who knew something about foreign policy, defense, and we couldn’t get to first base. Just amazing. But we could distribute our reports. And we could and did go to the Hill.
By late 1977, and certainly into ’78, the committee was really beginning to roll. I had increased my contact with Reagan and was sending him stuff three or four times a week, if not daily. This was before faxes, remember. I began to see the committee as—knowing Reagan’s thinking and seeing where the committee was going, I thought to myself, well this would be an extraordinary opportunity to build a bipartisan coalition. So I set my sights on bringing the committee over a bridge that I would construct to meet with Reagan. I know they all doubted him, they wouldn’t think anything of him, but, if I could get them one by one or two by two to sit with Reagan and talk to him, they would find that this would be a very interesting person who would not share much of their views on domestic policy, but if you were talking about alliances and coalitions, and if you wanted good public policy, you’d have these people.
My long-term thought was that Reagan could get nominated and elected. I didn’t know then that he was actually going to run again, but if he could, these people could form an important part of the cadre of foreign policy people ready to go at a moment’s notice. All of which explains, basically, how we prepared for the Presidency, because it was probably the first time that anybody had planned that far in advance. Marty was doing the same thing on domestic policy. Because based on our Nixon experience, we saw a lot of very important things that could be taken care of well in advance of an administration, that you could put things in place and not wander the halls looking for the men’s room for the first six months or wondering what you’re going to do.
So I set out to do this, and gradually introduced Reagan to these people and overcome their skepticism, just by bringing them into a room. When Reagan would come to town, I would pull in a Paul Nitze or Eugene Rostow, or Jeane Kirkpatrick. It took him three hits with Jeane, by the way, I don’t know where you got that quote about me taking her down to the river and baptizing her. That’s a spurious quotation. I don’t believe I ever would have said anything like that about Jeane Kirkpatrick. I’d like to know where you got it so I can track it down myself.
It’s the Washington Post, November 1, 1981.
It must have been someone—
It’s not attributed to—
Anyway, I would think, unless I was under the influence of some illegal substance, that I would have—Jeane is a person that I respect and admire greatly and I did convert her. I saw the Washington Post 11/1/81, but I
took her out to the Potomac and baptized her—it had to be a joke, and, by the way, I was not mentoring Jeane Kirkpatrick. My job was to bring her to Reagan. So that phrasing is wrong. It may be okay in academic circles, but it’s not in mine. I knew her before the Committee on Present Danger, but I brought her in and introduced her to Reagan.
Finally she said she wanted to endorse him. Conservative Reaganites. Let me tell you something. There are three words that are acceptable, Reaganauts, which is my concoction, as in astronaut, not argonaut. Then there are Reagoons, who are hard-line Reaganauts, and then there are Reaganinnies, guys who are pretending to be Reaganauts but were really softies all along. But only Reaganauts survived. So that idea was to literally put together a bipartisan coalition, bring those people in, the Democrats. And you see what was nice about that, Reagan himself was a Democrat, and he could easily see over a party line. He wouldn’t reject someone. If someone was on his wavelength on an issue, whether it be welfare or who knows what, economic policy or foreign policy, he reached across to shake hands with that person. That’s the kind of guy he was.
That’s sort of the way I felt about Scoop [Henry] Jackson. I mean, if Scoop Jackson had wound up getting the nomination in 1976, run against Ford, I would have been the first guy out there as Republicans for Jackson, I would have contributed money and done anything else I could to elect Scoop Jackson. In fact, I started the rumor in 1968 that he was going to be our Secretary of Defense. Alone I started this rumor in the press. I did it again in 1980. It almost could become reality, but for a few other things. And by the way, to get back to this, before the campaign year I helped arrange a meeting between Reagan and Haig, who at the time was retiring from his post as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, was a possible candidate. BS. Haig and Reagan discussed foreign policy and the possibility of Haig giving his support to Reagan. BS. That’s absolute BS in Haig’s book. That’s out of Haig’s book. That is absolutely, totally wrong. The truth of the matter is—well, maybe I should go forward.
No, no, finish the thought.
Well, it might come in sequence because we’re up to ’70, it happened in ’78. Let’s just keep on and I’ll come back to that.
Throughout 1977, I worked closely with Peter Hannaford. Peter really was the idea man. Marty Anderson was in the mix. Deaver was there a little bit. But not in the policy mix. He wouldn’t know a policy if it came down the street and hit him in the face. Of course Lyn Nofziger and then all of Reagan’s kitchen cabinet, which was an extremely important body, became decisive in at least one bad mistake later on, but when it came to naming Cabinet members—So I had the idea that by then, 1977; it was clear to me that Reagan would have to travel in order to gain some credibility in the areas that I was concerned about, foreign policy and national security. So I set up an ideal schedule of three trips: one to Asia, which would of course include Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and maybe something else. But time was always less available then we thought, even for a man like Reagan.
The idea was to go abroad, meet people, shake hands, have conversations, and then come back and write major speeches about the findings. To lay down the markers which would take us, with very little effort, to the point at which the reporters would inevitably write that Reagan wasn’t talking about the issues, when we could dump on them a number of major speeches that he made, touching every single issue. So I set up a trip. We went to Japan and we went to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and then he went on to Iran, where Deaver met him over there. Deaver came around and Hannaford, we went on down to Singapore, where we started working on a speech that he would give as a result of the trip. In Taiwan he met with Chiang Ching-kuo, who was Chiang Kai-Chek’s son. He had been to Taiwan before, you know, as the bearer of bad tidings, when Nixon decided to break, decided to allow the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to replace Taiwan in the United Nations. He felt very strongly about Taiwan.
In Japan, it was kind of funny, because I used my friends at Mitsubishi and the chairman of Mitsubishi and others and they thought they were just doing me a favor by having this old guy. Of course they were old, too. Give this old guy a lunch and let him say a few things. But, it was in Tokyo, in that trip, in April ’78, that the Panama Canal treaty passed and Reagan was due for a speech. We knew the press would be lying in wait. We just got the news overnight. We were at breakfast with a lot of Japanese parliamentarians and it passed in the news and we had to sit him in the car for a while before so he could cool down. But he came out and said,
This is the law of the land and I’m going to be President of the United States. If I were President of the United States, I’d obey the law of the land.So we got by that issue, although it was a deep and emotional issue for him.
He was angry.
He was very angry.
He’d actually been campaigning against it before—
Oh sure he had.
Had you been involved in that effort?
No. I hadn’t been involved in that effort. Pete mostly handled that, and Reagan had had debates with Bill Buckley on the subject, lots of other people. Anyway, it didn’t come up. It was an issue that was bound to subside, anyway. Then, in November we, I, slipped up. He had never visited Germany in his life. This was a major defect. Helmut Schmidt was Chancellor, whom I had known for many years. We’re friendly, but not friends. I had the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Bonn invite Reagan to the speech. First, we went to London and introduced him to [Margaret] Thatcher. Prime Minister [Jim] Callahan had no time to receive Reagan. He shoved him over to his newly appointed Foreign Secretary, who had been a gynecologist I think, up until that time, David Owen, Lord David Owen as he is now known.
Lord David Owen got mixed up and was calling Deng Xiao Ping
Mr. Ping,and Reagan had to correct him. I write of that in one of my New York Times articles about George Bush. They asked me to compare Bush’s knowledge of foreign policy a year before the election with Reagan’s at the same time relatively speaking and I tell that story in that New York Times piece. They didn’t want to publish what I wrote. They said,
Oh, we have some people here at the
New York Times
Editorial Board who know Lord Owen and know he would never do that.I said,
You want a witness’s name?They said,
It is Peter Hannaford, call him up.Pete said,
Yup, that’s exactly what he said. Mr. Ping. Reagan was there. Mr. Ping.I mouthed, Deng Xiao Ping.
On to Paris, where President Valery Giscard d’Estaing had no time for Ronald Reagan, and Prime Minister Raymond Barre had no time. The only appointment we had of any value was the third level guy in the chain, was Jacques Chirac, whom I had known, but who managed to break his leg the day before in an automobile accident. We went to the hospital to pay our respects, and Madame [Bernadette] Chirac would not allow us in the room. She didn’t know who Ronald Reagan was. Chirac later told me that he wanted to kill his wife that night, especially after things got better for us in the couple years following.
Did you meet Mrs. Thatcher on that trip to London?
Yes. Wonderful meeting with her. And started a beautiful intellectual romance.
Wondered if that—
He had met her once before.
He had met her. But it wasn’t, I don’t know how much time he had with her. And she was still in opposition at the time, of course. So off then to Bonn and we meet with Helmut Schmidt. It is not a very happy meeting. I was still having a hard time getting Governor Reagan to distinguish between Socialists and Social Democrats. There isn’t always that much difference, but anyway, it was an hour-long meeting with Schmidt, but he held his own. Came out, we introduced him to Otto Lambsdorff, who was then the head of the Free Democrats; to Manfred Woerner, who was a back-bencher at the time, later became Secretary-General of NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization]. Then we had one more meeting to do and he wasn’t keen on another meeting and I said,
Well you’re going to have this meeting,and he said,
Because I guarantee you that when you are President,—this is November ’78—
you will deal with this man as the Chancellor of Germany.His name was Helmut Kohl.
So we went to see Kohl, and like a dummy I didn’t bring an interpreter. He doesn’t speak a word of English and neither did his assistant at the time, so I had two hours of interpretation. A lot of stuff must have gone by the boards in that interpretation. I’m pretty good at it, I’m fluent, but you’re never fluent enough to be an interpreter. There’s a big difference.
Then we went on to Berlin and got the consulate to provide us a little van and we went out to the Wall. The ladies got out, my wife Pat, Irene Hannaford, Nancy got out, the Governor, Peter, and I got out and we stand there and we’re looking at the Wall. Of course, I’d lived in Berlin before the Wall, I’d been there many times since the Wall, and he just looked at it and after what seemed a long, long time he turned to me and said,
You know, Dick, we’ve got to find a way to knock this thing down.Then nine years later he would stand in front of the Wall and say,
Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.Really important because the notion that some speechwriter, a good one, Peter Robinson, put that into his head is wrong, entirely. It was his idea. Like most of the ideas that he had, they were his. They weren’t put to him by some pointy-headed guy or a speechwriter.
A little different, Kissinger and Nixon. Nixon was always the teacher, Kissinger always the student. Kissinger managed to create the reverse impression, that he was the teacher. Most of the world Kissinger didn’t know anything about at all. He knew about [Prince Klemens von] Metternich and Castlereagh, and he knew about Vietnam, but not much. Nixon had forgotten more than he would ever learn, but the beauty of working with somebody who already had convictions in place and all you’re doing is nudging him here and there, filling in some gaps, is that he gets to speak his piece and he’s never uncertain of himself. Reagan was never uncertain. Then we went down—oh, by the way, on that trip I tried to arrange a meeting with Haig, not because I really cared about it, because he was Supreme Commander and whatnot. He turned it down. He was in Brussels. Claimed a schedule conflict. I checked. He was no more schedule-conflicted than we were.
An interesting thing also happened—in Paris, earlier—before Richard Nixon was making his first trip abroad. He went to Paris to do, I think, a four-hour call-in show. It was magnificent. Peter and I watched it, the Governor and Nancy went out to dinner someplace, and Peter and I watched this television performance of Nixon’s. It was terrific. And I said to the Governor, I said,
Look, we just saw President Nixon on television, I can call him, why don’t you go see him.Reagan said,
That’s a great idea.Then Nancy said,
No, Ronnie, no.
Come on, Nancy.
No, I don’t want to. We shouldn’t see Nixon.Nancy won out.
Reagan ultimately confided to me that if he ever became President of the United States, he wanted to hold a dinner for Nixon in the White House. He had a great respect for Nixon. But she wouldn’t have any of it, and the meeting did not take place.
We wound up with a meeting with Germany’s most brilliant politician, Franz Joseph Strauss, in Bavaria, and he was an old, old friend of mine. We did that in Munich. It worked out wonderfully. Reagan went home to California. Pete, Irene, my wife, and I went to Lake Constance and wrote the draft of the speech that we would present to him for use later on. So, I’ll come back to this Haig business again. The idea of these trips then was to fill in these gaps. I had a third trip planned, and that was to the Soviet Union. Had it come off unmolested, it probably would have made a nice difference in his outlook. He didn’t want to do this trip, but I insisted, with Peter’s help, that he did want to do it, that he should do it. Just because going to the Soviet Union, we’d let him stand in Red Square. He could meet with people.
I went to Anatoly Dobrynin myself, whom I’d known for years, and said,
Okay, Reagan wants to go to Moscow but we’re not going unless we see [Leonid] Brezhnev and [Alexei] Kosygin. We want to see all the guys that are important.He wired Moscow and finally came back to me and said,
Okay, we agree, as long as Reagan just doesn’t come into Russia, into the Soviet Union and leave and trash us.I said,
Well, I’m not giving you any guarantees about that, but we’ll talk if you want to talk.We go, get it all done, and then John Sears, probably in his cups, which was almost always, leaked the information that Reagan was going to Moscow, and we were forced to drop it like a hot potato because our conservative base would have gotten the wrong idea. The whole import of the trip was to get over there in stealth and have Reagan be able to come back and make his own comments rather than have him twist in the wind while he was there, so we just dropped it. But John Sears leaked it. Somewhere in there you asked me about relations with Sears, and I can tell you some very interesting stories about that.
So, by the end of 1978, I’m still not certain that Reagan is going to run for President. I infer that he wants to run for President, but I don’t know that he will—
And he’s pretty old.
He’s pretty old. Sure. He’s 68 years old at the time. So, I have no choice but to go on, I’m interested in good government, good policy, and my theory was that even if he didn’t become President he would determine who would be the Republican candidate and on what terms, which was more important to me than anything else. So he went back, continued doing the newspaper articles and the speeches, the radio broadcasts, which were devastatingly effective. As you know, you’ve seen them, probably heard them on the CD.
I heard them, when I was an undergraduate. Paul Harvey and then—
Ronald Reagan. Have you heard the CDs?
We have them. I’ve heard some of them.
The new CDs, not the old ones?
If you just listen to those CDs, you’ll understand from the radio broadcast from ’75, then the pause in 1976 when Barry Goldwater took over, then straight through to ’79, you’ll understand the legitimacy of the statement that Reagan had all this information in his head. It wasn’t all accurate. But he had a position on every issue. So, my job was not to in any way deter him from being Reagan. That’s what I thought.
So in ’78, ’79, things got a little hotter. It must have been ’79. Haig was mustered out. Coming back to this Haig thing, mustered out as Supreme Allied Commander. I met with Haig on a porch at Fort Myer, a porch on one of those residences where visiting generals stay, and Al said,
I’m going to run for President, I’ve got a lot of Jewish support.I said,
Well, I strongly advise against that because we’ll beat your brains out.He said,
I’d like to meet Reagan.So I said
Okay, I’ll arrange that.So I arranged it and I flew out to California. Peter Hannaford was there. It was at Reagan’s house.
Haig opens his book with this scene, then utterly subverts it. Reagan had been to Edgar Bergen’s funeral that day and Haig starts off with an insult that Reagan was daubing at his make-up. He didn’t have any make-up. Reagan didn’t wear make-up, least of all would he wear make-up to a funeral. But Haig flew in his military plane—he was still NATO commander—flew to St. Louis with his aide, and got on a plane for Los Angeles and flew under an assumed name, he and his aide, to LAX [Los Angeles Airport] where we had them picked up and brought out to the Governor’s house. We provided the car and driver. It was a very stiff and strange evening and there was no discussion of whether Haig would give his support to Reagan. When it was all over Reagan said to me,
I don’t understand why he came out here, or what was it that he was interested in.
I don’t know, Governor, he just wanted to meet you, I guess.I knew Haig was taking the measure of Reagan and I also knew that we’d beat his brains out. There was no way he could run for President. But he had this constant urge. People that don’t know him as well as I do, don’t understand that everything leads up to that day in the situation room on March 30, 1981, when Haig claims that the helm is in this chair right now, I’m in charge. Preposterous. He was trying that all afternoon, he’d been trying it all along. But he thought that there was a possibility to make a lunge for the Presidency. Not a coup, I’m not suggesting a coup. Put yourself out in front of the public; he had grandiose ideas. But he had no time for Reagan in ’78, then had plenty of time for him in ’79.
Then in 1980, he asked to see Reagan again and flew out to the ranch. I arranged that but didn’t bother to go out, and when it was finished Reagan called me up and said,
What was that all about?Didn’t understand it. And I wasn’t going to put him in front of Reagan any more. No one really knew what it was all about.
By the end of 1979, everything was in place. An interesting little incident. I had to go to Houston to meet the Governor because he was meeting some Lebanese people in Houston. Somebody said,
Well, it’s foreign policy, you better go.We didn’t have much money; we were operating on a shoestring. So I flew down to Houston and then flew back out to Los Angeles for something with the Governor. He had an advance man and Nancy with him. On the way back, there were fierce headwinds; it was a long, long flight back to Los Angeles from Houston. Nancy was asleep. He was working on his announcement speech, and page-by-page he would hand it to me and I would look at it and maybe make a notation here and there, and he said,
What do you think of the speech?
Well, Governor, sounds patronizing, but I happen to believe that any speech you give announcing that you’d like to be President is going to be a good speech. I also happen to think that you’re going to be nominated and elected.And he said,
Well, that’s nice to hear.And I said,
But there is a 50-50 chance you’ll screw it up.
He said, frowning,
What do you mean by that?I said,
Well, let me tell you something. I want to talk to you about personnel.Mind you, at this time I had no intention of going along. I could say anything. I wasn’t being paid to be Ronald Reagan’s advisor. I wasn’t a hired gun. I did this on my own, years of it, on my own, my expense. Or maybe they paid my expenses, but basically at my business expense.
I described to him the personnel process in the Nixon administration. We had installed a guy named Harry Flemming, a lovely guy, who was the son of Arthur Flemming, the former secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare who died only a few years ago. Anyway, Harry was installed by Haldeman and Ehrlichman with instructions that anybody who sent in a pre-printed résumé would be promptly disposed of in the wastebasket because they didn’t care enough to write a special résumé for this administration. Their idea of asking important people in the United States to make submissions was to send a letter to everybody in Who’s Who in America asking them to submit their names for nominations for high positions in the Nixon administration. So that included Elvis Presley and Lady Bird Johnson and every other person you could imagine. But everybody got a letter.
Well Elvis did end up in the White House with—
He did, and what a picture. I wasn’t there at the time.
And he got a special drug agent’s badge as a result.
Yes he did, I remember that. So at the end of ’79, as I said, I was telling him about this chance to screw things up. I told him what had happened in the NSC. And he said,
Oh, I’ve talked to Kissinger about it.He didn’t like Kissinger at all.
But I talked to Kissinger about that, and he told me those people were imposed on him.
Governor, come on, you’re kidding.He said,
Well, that's what he told me.I said,
Those people weren't imposed. He hand picked every last one of them.He said,
That’s news to me.I said,
Well then, you’ve got the personnel thing.I described this Harry Flemming episode.
Oh well, we’ve got Pen [Pendleton] James doing this.Now Pen’s a perfectly good guy. Pen had worked under [Fred] Malek in the Nixon administration. Very good personnel guy, but my view was that Pen would certainly try, because he loved Reagan to get Reaganauts. He really didn’t know the difference between—I mean, a recruiter guy—A personnel guy is a personnel guy, and, of course, you need certain types of people to fill certain types of jobs with certain types of skills. But the preference always should go to the guy who is loyal to you, as opposed to reaching across the party line, all things being equal. It wouldn’t apply to my Democrats, but they would be loyal to Reagan in foreign policy. There was no doubt about it, in my mind, that these guys that I put up—Marty and I—I’ll come back to that later.
So, this went on and on and I said,
Well, unless you as President agree to spend a half an hour a day, every day of the week, for the first six months of your Presidency reading résumés, you won’t succeed. You’ll get a lot of the wrong people in there.He said,
Well, I’ll do that.I said,
No you won’t. You won’t have time, they won’t let you do it.He said,
I care about this a great deal.I said,
He said, getting annoyed,
We better stop this conversation right now.I said,
Yes sir,and stopped the conversation. I said,
Let’s close it by saying, one of us is going to be right, and I sure hope it’s you, on this personnel thing.Well, by the time we got to office, Marty and I stopped the process beautifully for about four or five months, until they took the measure of us. Then they just ignored us. But we were reviewing every single résumé, for every single job. I was doing it on Friday and Saturday nights, great big stacks of paper, going through these, and he was doing it, until they finally decided we were holding up the process and they went around us. But you’ve got about six months in any administration to get the right kind of people in. Fortunately we didn’t suffer on our own team, because we spent most of 1980 preparing for governance in ’81, and that is, I think, probably one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Reagan approach.
Ed [Edwin] Meese has described it in great detail. In the end, he turned out to be the chief of that activity. But it was the work that Marty did on the domestic side and I did in foreign policy, the national security side, slotting people. We began our takeover of the advisory committees that had been created by Bill Brock and the Republican National Committee as we won primaries and as we came out of New Hampshire and went into South Carolina and elsewhere, Illinois eventually. We just took more and more control of those because they were a valuable intellectual resource. I chaired the intelligence committee, and people like Fred Ikle was my main deputy, also Bill Van Cleave and others, they were all involved in this, doing some very interesting and important work.
So we took those over. Marty and I decided that we would write the platform in 1980, less as a document to get elected on and more as a guide for action on the first day of a new Presidency. So we just did that. I think I mentioned this in my talk out in California. We just took five basic concepts of family, neighborhood, work, peace, and freedom and made that the title. We may have gotten those from Dick Wirthlin—I can’t remember now precisely, but we made sure then that every major speech reflected one of those themes. We had a strategic purpose. And the process, we were thinking about how we would, whom we would put in, and where. This was mostly in the latter six months of 1980. And it worked. It worked brilliantly.
The platform was adopted in record time. I think Marty took half a day and my part took two hours, maybe two and a half hours, that was it—record time. The platform was adopted. Made a huge difference.
At the dinner address at the Santa Barbara conference, I think you told that personnel story when a woman asked you about Reagan’s greatest failure or weakness. Do you agree that that was his weakest link?
I don’t know if it was the weakest, but it was a weak link. I don’t recall it described as the weakest link, but maybe she did. I remember the lady asked that question. And it certainly was weak. In this respect he was much like Nixon. Nixon couldn’t stand personnel confrontation and especially a personal personnel confrontation. Couldn’t stand it at all. And Reagan so trusted those around him to do what he considered to be the right thing, because they were supposed to know that. After all, if they were in that White House with him, that automatically defined that they knew what he wanted. Now that couldn’t possibly have been true of Jim Baker, Dick Darman, Frank Hodsoll, David Gergen, and all those people, because they would never have been choices, had my system been followed. They would have been pursuing other careers. So yes, I think he didn’t spend any time on that and it was a problem.
And the selection of the Cabinet—the kitchen cabinet played an enormous role, more of a role than it should have. But you quickly, very quickly run out of people in staffing an administration. It’s one of the things you find. You think you know everybody, you think you’ve got tons of people to put in. There are so many jobs that you run out of people. By the time you’re at the third level, you might get a couple of assistant secretaries in but then gosh, you’ve got to get the undersecretaries in, and then you’ve got to get a deputy secretary in and you’ve got all these other counselors and functions. Then you’ve got an NSC staff to build, a Defense Department to build. So you take one of your ribs and you give it to the Defense Department. I would rather have Fred Ikle sit with me as my deputy, but he was a man of great distinction, had run the Arms Control Disarmament Agency, so he went over and became Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. He did a great job over there, wonderful job.
So, your resources run very, very thin, and I don’t know of anybody who has been prepared. The least prepared of all in modern times was Clinton, of course, and I think it took him a solid 18 months to get the administration fully staffed. But then of course, they were looking for, as I’ve frequently put it, left-handed Jewish midgets who had hedonist tendencies and might have been bisexual. I don’t know, they had to have complete gender equity throughout—it would be better if it was Hispanic, black, Jewish midget. I wasn’t thinking of anybody in particular; I’m just talking about the way they had to have it, and that’s not the right way to run government.
The conventional wisdom is that the Republicans should have an easier time of it, relatively speaking, because of the longer experience—
Well it’s true, but we had no such plan in the Nixon transition, and a very serious problem, the Vietnam War. In 1980 you had the hostages, but that was going to be resolved anyway, so I knew it was going to be resolved on Inauguration Day. But there are Republicans and there are Republicans, and this was a conservative Republican administration.
I would have some, what we call moderate Republicans, I don’t think too many liberal Republicans, and you want that kind of a mix, it can’t be all of one ideological stripe. But then you put those people, in my view, who are not loyal to the agenda—I don’t mean disloyal to the agenda, but who are not loyal to it. They go in places that don’t count. That’s where their management and leadership qualities can be seen and demonstrated. It doesn’t matter a whole lot in the Department of Commerce that you have an ideologically sensitive person. It helps.
That was why I thought it was so striking that you made the comment about the great difficulties you had, because the expectation would be that among Republicans that would be relatively easy, and your testimony is that it is even extremely difficult in a Republican administration.
Very difficult. Then you have what I call the friends of November. They’re the ones that come to you the second week of November and tell you how much they were for you all along but they kept very quiet, they were working behind the scenes to help you, therefore they should have this job, because they did so much for you.
Why don’t we break here for lunch.
Well, I think we were talking about the 1980 campaign, or we were at least approaching it. Is this the point maybe where we should talk about your relationship with some of the other personalities? With John Sears and Ed Meese and Casey and—
Sears wasn’t in much of 1980.
Right. Could you walk us through what you know about the whole transition, from Sears to Casey and Meese?
Well, it wasn’t a transition to Meese. Let me explain it this way. John Sears was my colleague in the Nixon years. He was a lawyer, came out of the Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, and Alexander firm. He had ultimately incurred the wrath of John Mitchell and was sort of shoved out, unfortunately. Unfortunate because he was a very clever fellow. In 1976, of course, he ran the Reagan campaign. I had absolutely nothing to do with him at that time. There was a lot of controversy. He was the person who had selected Dick Schweiker and there was a lot of residual controversy. It was assumed that John would just naturally settle in and do anything that Reagan intended to do in the future.
So by late 1978, ’79, as plans began to develop for a campaign that might or might not take place, John became increasingly difficult and got into a real row, drove off Deaver. Literally took Deaver out of the campaign entirely. Deaver himself, when confronted with the possibility, simply resigned and left. Reagan didn’t like that choice, but let him go, which was a very interesting observation, probably relevant to the earlier comments I had about President Reagan and Governor Reagan with personnel confrontations.
Then Sears went after Martin Anderson and got him. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but Marty was out of the campaign by late 1979. Then he went after Nofziger, got Nofziger out. And he was in the midst of trying to create a parallel apparatus in the classic Leninist sense of the word in Washington for research and policy, and he was after Meese as well. I presume he was after me, but since I wasn’t getting paid, didn’t have a job or whatever, even if he told me to go I wouldn’t have gone. It would have been that simple, I just wouldn’t have done it. So I didn’t pay any attention to him. But his access was Charlie Black and Jim Lake and a woman named Linda Gosden who was the daughter of either Amos or Andy, I don’t know, one of the two, Amos [Freeman Gosden] and Andy [Charles Correll]. He was an old friend of Reagan’s.
So they constituted their own little operation there. We began to campaign, maybe it’s relevant to say this, at one of the last, at the last strategy meeting in, I think early December 1979, after Reagan had announced in November of ’79 in the speech in New York. We had a full day’s briefing. Some guests were in there. Jack Kemp and some of his buddies were in, and they gave an economic briefing. I’d given a foreign policy briefing, a couple of others, but it was all day long in the Marriott hotel on Airport Boulevard in Los Angeles. So you see, you didn’t have any Deaver, you didn’t have any Anderson, didn’t have any Nofziger. Pretty interesting.
So the politics began to be discussed at the end and the question was whether or not Governor Reagan should go to Iowa to the caucuses. Sears said,
No, we’re not going to the caucuses.He had already front-loaded the campaign anyway, trying to spend all the money he could up front, figuring on a knockout blow. Well, I was sitting in the back of the room. I had finished my day’s assignment. Mostly everybody else was gone. All the guests were gone. But I remember how I was thinking that was not such a terrific idea not to go to Iowa because the folks in Iowa might not like that very much. It occurred to me they might have thought they were being taken for granted.
I remember Sears saying it was just a beefcake show anyway, so no point in going there, and the others will all just cause confusion and nothing will happen. So we went on to a couple of other issues and it came to the issue of abortion and Sears said,
Well, your position on this will be as it was when you were Governor because you signed the bill authorizing abortions.And the Governor said,
Yes, but that was basically for rape, incest, and the life of the mother, and I’m against that now because that law has become nothing more than a license for abortion on demand.
That can be your private position, but for the purpose of this campaign, we’re going to have you stick with that line.And he said,
No, John, I’ve thought it over. I’ve really given serious consideration and I now believe that abortion is murder.Of course, I heard this. I perked up instantly. The co-author of seven children, I like this kind of talk.
As I said, it could be your private views, but we’ll just have to go with what we’ve got here.And an exasperated Reagan took off his glasses and threw them down on the table and said,
Listen, John, damn it, I’m running for President, you’re not, and this is my position. Do you get it?Just like that. A really important display of courage because probably no other issue could be more guaranteed to inflame. But Reagan was not going to run on a campaign that wasn’t honest to him.
With that single statement, he, his image, in my mind soared immensely. So, we go into January, we’re really short of help and I’ve been flying back and forth between Washington and Massachusetts, New Hampshire, the northeast states. Next, because Reagan had lost in Iowa, and George Bush ostensibly had
big Mo,big momentum, Reagan was determined that he was going to campaign in his style, and that was barnstorming from town to town, village to village in New Hampshire, whether or not it was cold and snowy. Every night we would go back into Massachusetts to sleep so that our expenditures for sleeping in Massachusetts—we thought we would lose hands down in Massachusetts—wouldn’t count against New Hampshire. It was a long bus ride every day, back and forth, back and forth. The press would say that Reagan would take naps. He never napped. It was the reporters who napped.
And Sears would sit in the back of the bus almost Napoleonic-like, and look out the window. Gray, sour, no obvious respect for his boss or his client; however, he wanted to define Ronald Reagan, and certainly had nothing but disdain for the rest of us. And Lake and Black would sit back there with him, and Linda Gosden. We’d go into motels at night and they’d go down to their end, and the candidate would go down to his end and that’s the story, very unusual and tense.
So I began to think about this, and I thought I would approach it the way a Leninist would. I’m probably the only person on a campaign who ever read all 45 volumes of Lenin, because we had to get rid of Sears it seemed to me, before he got rid of everyone else. He’d set up the parallel research and policy organization in Washington, under Gary Jones, but that wasn’t going anyplace. I mean, Gary’s a nice guy, didn’t know a lot about the public policy side, so I got in touch with Pete Hannaford, talked to Deaver, talked to Wirthlin, who was characteristically very cagey and very cautious about this. Talked to Nofziger. It seemed to me that we had to come up with a program.
Meese was back in. He came in to Northampton, Massachusetts, where we were at that motel one night. Nancy and the Governor had separate rooms just across the hall, rather than together. We went into—Pete Hannaford was there—Reagan’s room and he was in his pajamas and sitting up. Nancy came in and we had what was basically a showdown. Finally, he realized that they had to go, and my proposal was that they go precisely at 4 P.M. on the day of the New Hampshire primary because if we lost New Hampshire it could be blamed on Sears, and if the Governor won New Hampshire, Sears’s departure would be page-two news.=
So that’s the way we did it, and we each divvied up four or five conservative columnists and commentators that we would call at 4 o’clock while the Governor was in there talking to Sears. We’d be telling the commentators that Sears and Lake and Black were being fired and we’d have our spin on it for the next day and results would be what they were. And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. So Reagan won, we won. It wasn’t before, of course, that famous incident in which he bought the microphone for the evening, which was a fascinating evening, it was wonderful. H-e would have beaten George Bush on points anyway because we’d have managed to set up a couple of traps for Bush during that evening debate. But the outcome was terrific.
And the next day, I should say that at 6 P.M. that evening or 7 P.M., Peter Hannaford suddenly appeared as the spokesman because Jim Lake was gone, to introduce the new campaign chairman, Bill Casey, who came from nowhere. And of course the press corps was all stunned, but still the story of the day was
Reagan wins New Hampshire.So these other little shifts and changes were sidebar stories, or page-two stories, and it worked out just exactly the way we wanted it. Of course, we were broke at that point. I mean literally broke and Bill was brought in also to help raise money. We then went into a period of really difficult times, and on into other primaries during the season where we didn’t have enough money to do things.
I remember being in South Carolina, which came shortly thereafter. It was an important primary for us. We still had, well, let’s see, you still had [Howard] Baker, Connally, Crane, Dole, and Bush in the race. Baker didn’t get out until Pennsylvania—the night of or just before the Pennsylvania primary. I remember an occasion, we were down in South Carolina, didn’t have enough money to charter a plane of any size, to go over to a fundraising event in Atlanta which the Governor needed to attend. So about seven of us crowded into a five-passenger Lear jet and flew over to Atlanta, because that’s all the money we could scrape up to pay for it—back then, I suppose even now, charters had to be paid for in advance. Well, Sears was gone, didn’t matter any more. Had to recover financially and husband our resources. Deaver could return to the campaign, Nofziger could return to the campaign. Casey did a hell of a job. Casey and I were friends since way back in the Nixon years, since he had come in to oversee the campaign book I described that we put out in five days, Nixon on the Issues. And he had worked with me when I was chairman of the Intelligence Committee of the Republican National Committee. He had been a good friend and supporter, obviously a Reagan guy.
Had Reagan known him very long?
Hardly at all. There’s another story there that I should insert. We were campaigning in Massachusetts one day, it was just before Sears was jettisoned, before the New Hampshire primary. We were going to Lowell, Massachusetts, and I was going to take Casey up secretly to meet with Reagan. This was to be one of the definitive meetings before, I guess, the ax was going to fall on those guys. I fetched him in Northampton at his hotel and put him on the elevator, but who should get into the elevator at the same moment but Linda Gosden, part of John Sears’s team.
And so she looked at me, and I said,
Hi Linda.There was tension. She looked at Casey as if to be introduced, and I said,
I’d like you to meet Bill Smith.She looked up at him, arched eyebrow and said,
Hello.Casey, of all the people in the world to back off a situation like that, hesitated, a bit embarrassed, and said,
Uhh . . . . No, my name’s Bill Casey.She knew something was up though hadn’t recognized the name, and she flew off the elevator, down to the—
He couldn’t go covert on you, could he?
This is an OSS [Office of Strategic Service] agent. Casey was an OSS agent. So I never could understand why Casey suddenly lost his cool in front of the woman. Anyway, winning was big. I really felt Governor Reagan was on a roll, and from there it was the normal slog through Illinois and all the other states we had to go through, Florida and whatnot. It was just a dizzying pace of the campaign. One by one we mowed them down. One by one the others left the race. I mentioned Baker. Connally eventually got out. Phil Crane dropped by the wayside. Dole never was serious. Of course, it remained just with Bush. So Bush hung in there and Governor Reagan didn’t like that at all. In fact, Bush hung in until almost the California primary in June and then left, or was taken out of the race by Baker. It was one of the two, I’ve never gotten the story exactly straight from the President or from—well you don’t get any straight stories from Baker. So be it.
Were you at the convention in Detroit?
Yes, of course.
What role were you playing there?
Well, I was the foreign policy guy and I handled a little bit of the international side of the convention, diplomatic corps, gave briefing and that sort. We had basically completed the platform, Marty and I, and we were quite proud of the document. As I mentioned, it was to be a guide to action in a new Administration, as opposed to a campaign document. That was all tucked in and so I was just going to enjoy the convention, there were no more politics involved, or so I thought. Just wanted to see the nomination process again. It turned out radically different because of the vice presidential situation, I should say.
Were you pleased with the ultimate selection of Bush as a conservative, as someone you could—
I guess. Did you happen to read my piece from the New York Times?
I was a little more than pleased. I had something specific to do with making it happen.
Fascinating tale, but if you want that told here?
Maybe we should ask if there’s any elaboration story. Were there things that you didn’t include there that you think historically are significant—?
No, no, the only historically significant thing is that Ed Meese wrote an article in the Hoover Digest trying to contradict what I said, which is simply nonsense. There actually was a piece of paper that was drafted. The piece of paper has never been found. I think I know precisely why it hasn’t been found. That had the terms and conditions of the
co-Presidencyon it, which I was proud to have been part of destroying, if not instrumental in destroying, such a co-Presidency. And that piece of paper was torn up and flushed down a toilet. That’s one reason why it never saw the light of day. And while Ed Meese is a friend of mine, friend of long years, he really shouldn’t have written that piece, and it wasn’t—I was the only one who didn’t leave Reagan’s side that night and I took notes. So I’m wondering how anybody’s recollection could be any better. I had a timeline down to the minute. It was a significant story. And anybody who participated in that negotiation really wouldn’t be very objective, nor would he have been where I was, when I was, and listening to what Reagan said at each moment. I took very accurate notes, minute-by-minute.
I didn’t put it everything that happened in the article. My wife and I, Fred Ikle and Bill Van Cleave, my two deputies, were going to go off together to the convention. I sent my wife and those two key colleagues downstairs. I was going to bring them on the McNeil-Lehrer show with me, and then I had a series of shows to do that night. That was part of my function—to propagandize, I guess you might say. I’d heard this talk about the co-Presidency or something like it, negotiations with Ford, and then when I heard who the players were, Greenspan, that was reassuring to me, because he’s a great guy. But Bob Barrett—that struck me as highly unusual— Ford’s former military aide, and Henry Kissinger. I knew that this was not really a very good development. Marty Anderson was worried but didn’t want to do anything about it. Others of us were worried, but Meese was holding it very tight. Casey was involved in the negotiations. Deaver was involved in the negotiations.
So I sent my wife, Pat, downstairs and I said,
Wait downstairs in the lobby for me, I’m just going to make one check and see if the Governor needs anything. Bill and Fred were with her. I got upstairs. I described in the article walking through the door, Anything you need Governor? No, no, I don’t. By the way, he asked, what do you think of the deal?
What deal?I said, because I was not supposed to have been in on it. I wanted to hear him say it in his own words. He described this deal and I responded,
Worst deal I’ve ever heard of.Closed the door behind me and said to myself,
I’m not going to leave here tonight.I didn’t spend three or four years coming this far to allow this old crowd to take over again. Because the structure of the deal was plainly unconstitutional, or if it wasn’t unconstitutional, it was at least wrong, morally wrong, in the context of the American Presidency, what they, our guys, were prepared to give away in order to win. And more than that, I was absolutely convinced that within a week, if this scheme had been hatched and succeeded, it would have been found out and Reagan would have lost the election to Carter. No doubt in my mind. Because the American people would have been told that the Presidency had been played with, had been tampered with. This is something that Ed Meese never really got through his head. What on earth were they thinking about?
I recall asking Casey during the course of the night,
Why are we doing this?He said,
I want to win.And on the floor of the convention if you go back and look at that coverage, since it was leaking all over the place, there was great enthusiasm, all the moderates in the party saying
great idea.They all liked it because they thought they’d have Ford back in and they’d have their share of the gravy, wouldn’t be shut out by the California crazies that were coming to town with Reagan. That’s how Reagan was thought of. There was still a very low opinion of Ronald Reagan.
So after about an hour up there, I sent Fred Ikle a note down; I said I wasn’t going to leave. He wrote back,
Hang in there, you’ve got the portfolio for all of us,or something like that, and they went off to the convention and did the shows and that sort of thing, and I never did get to the convention that night as I had planned. The rest was basically as I had described it, with only one serious person coming up to see Reagan. That was [Bill] Simon. He was not really a challenger for the job, but his name had been mentioned, and he said to Reagan,
Take me out of it. If you don’t, and if you do this with Ford, you’ll be a whore.I didn’t put that in out of respect for Bill Simon, but that’s precisely what he said,
You’ll be a whore, Ron,and he looked at me and said,
and you know it too, don’t you, Dick Allen.So I thanked Simon when he left, said he had done a very courageous thing, coming to take himself out of it and make sure that they didn’t pick Ford.
Didn’t have another plan. No matter what Ed Meese says, there was no plan. They were running back and forth to Ford’s suite, trying to cobble this thing together until the very last minute. I made sure the next morning—well, the other thing about that is that anybody’s version of that, even Ed Meese’s, is very suspect because he brought a small group of us together and said,
Now here’s the line for tomorrow morning. This is what you’re going to say. There was no deal with Ford.I thought to myself, I’m not going to say that at all, I’m going to tell somebody about what went down here last night—because if I don’t tell someone now we’ll get into one of these wonderful Pollyanna-type situations in which everybody is singing from the same sheet of music and so that becomes the false history of what happens. That wasn’t what happened. What happened was the way I described it, based on my notes and the timeline and the direct quotations from Governor Reagan.
I can tell you as somebody who came to this as an interested outsider that I did not find his rebuttal terribly convincing. So if you’re concerned about how people will read these things—
I’m not impressed either, but you have to understand one thing. Whatever Ed Meese wants to be the truth of what happened before, that’s the way it was and that’s the way it is to be described. And of course that’s not always the way it was. Frequently it was the way it was, but as many times, it’s not. I’m finished with that story. I’ll be writing about all those matters, those personal relationships. Sears, Meese, Deaver. Got along very well with Deaver, up until a point. And when I left, when I decided I was going to go to government, much against my judgment, I went home, talked to my family about it. I had no desire whatever to go into the administration again. Twice in the White House in the Nixon was punishment enough.
I was attacked at the end—I took three or four days leave of absence at the end of the campaign, attacked on some bizarre notion of conflict of interest, which was disproved. It was Jonathan Kwitny of the Wall Street Journal, who is the conspiracy journalist, who had written this, and I know the source, who had leaked all this information or this misinformation to him. Some of it was accurate. Other parts were not. And the day after the election I was back on the job again, handling the foreign policy transition. But I was quite shaken by that event, the allegation of scandal. But in the closing days of the campaign you can get just about anything written you want, and that one scored. So I had to take a brief leave of absence.
If that Wall Street Journal article had not appeared, I very likely would not have gone into government. In other words, we would have had a normal transition. He would have won the Presidency. But, as it was, I faced a personal situation of choosing to go or not to go. If I chose not to go, it could be said there must have been something to that Wall Street Journal story—that I wouldn’t be able to get into the government. And that would have been intolerable.
So when the Governor offered me the job I went home, talked to my family and said,
This is what it is. I have no desire to do this, I’d rather go back and recreate and recast my business, and I’ll make it a lobbying business.I’d just finished writing the promises for a defense platform that won’t quit.
If Reagan wins the Presidency—he would have been President by the time the job was offered—
every defense firm in the world will have to come to me, and I’ll expand my business and I’ll advise these companies on how to go about their business.
That’s certainly no conflict of interest. I wasn’t considering just doing that. I just didn’t want to go again, my family has been through a lot. Anyway, they all say,
You have to do it now. Can’t leave the impression that you can’t get in.So I did.
Were you surprised at the offer of this particular job? Or—
No. I wouldn’t have taken any other job. But there was an interesting twist to this. I’ll just fast forward. Al Haig gets nominated. The background story is something that I’m going to tell in my own way. You’ll have to spend $23.95 or something to get it, or discount, or maybe as a remainder you can get it for $3.95.
I hope it doesn’t take 20 years. But there was heavy manipulation in getting Haig in as Secretary of State and Richard Nixon’s hands were on it and those of the kitchen cabinet. I remain convinced that the Governor never really wanted him. On the day that decision was made in California, Bill Casey and I had a conversation at a Korean restaurant, which is now a Thai restaurant owned by the same people, and where I was for dinner Sunday night; one of the family members is Korean, one is a Thai. It’s in Arlington, near where we had our campaign headquarters in 1980.
We had lunch that day, the day that he was going to California to weigh in, and Bill Casey himself wanted to be Secretary of State. We discussed it and I said,
Bill, you’re not going to be Secretary of State. I have no inside information.We were completely out of this loop. Even Meese was out of this loop on the Cabinet. He likes to indicate that he was in on everything. Don’t you believe it, simply isn’t so. The kitchen cabinet allocated arrogated to themselves the right to literally compose the Cabinet. How do you think William French Smith became Attorney General? Of course, he was Ronald Reagan’s lawyer, but he was part of the kitchen cabinet.
So, Casey said to me,
mumble, mumble, mumble Secretary of State.I said,
Well, you can’t be Secretary of State.
Mumble, mumble, mumble.With that wonderful built-in scrambler of his. I could interpret actually, and did. I said,
Bill, my view is that you should be DCI.Director of Central Intelligence.
But there is one person who I think ought to be the Secretary of State.He said,
Who’s that?I said,
Paul Laxalt. Paul Laxalt should be the Secretary of State because he is an elegant man, a Senator, he is diplomatic. What he doesn’t know already about foreign policy he’ll quickly learn.But in fact he was well versed in defense and foreign policy matters, no slouch.
He’s the President’s close friend, the President trusts him. I think it’s important to have a person like that in the position. Long time association.He was Ronald Reagan’s favorite opposite number as a Governor.
Casey seemed satisfied with that. He said,
That’s what I’ll do, I’ll propose that. I’m going out there today.But Casey got there too late that day. The decision had already been made for Haig. There are only a couple of living people who have the dynamics of that, and I intend to get it from them. They’re friends of mine, who were in the room, who were either kitchen cabinet or outer ring of the kitchen cabinet. But I know how it all transpired. Also I know what Nixon did to stick his hand in because of certain things I had learned earlier in the Transition, and it was Nixon working through the kitchen cabinet to get Haig in as Secretary of State that really made it all happen.
Fast-forward a couple of weeks. The President-elect was visiting in Washington. I stayed in Washington at that point. He was in town staying at Blair House and we were discussing various matters including Jeane Kirkpatrick, whom I had introduced to Reagan many months earlier. I proposed Jeane for a United Nations job and he thought that was great,
Let’s do it.He and Meese were in the room and Meese said,
I think the Governor has another question for you.I’d just been named, Marty Anderson and I and John Block, the Secretary of Agriculture, had been named together at a press conference in Washington. Meese said,
He has something else to ask you.And I said,
Sure, what is it?Reagan said,
Well, would you mind becoming Deputy Secretary of State?I said,
Well, it isn’t the job of all jobs that I would covet, but if that’s where I can do the most good, yes, I’ll become Deputy Secretary of State.
I knew exactly what happened. Haig was two weeks into the process, not even confirmed, and there were big, big ripples, a big backwash. I said,
If that’s what you want me to do.He said,
Who would replace you?I said, ironically,
I hadn’t really thought of being replaced
soon, but if I were you, I’d take a young guy and I think the guy who is smart enough to do it is John Lehman. I think John Lehman will make a hell of a National Security Advisor.
Well, we discussed that at some length, and Ed didn’t know him all that well and the Governor didn’t know him all that well, and both said,
I guess this isn’t really going to work.I could see that they had been discussing Meese, and the Governor, the President-Elect, had been discussing the problems they knew they were going to have with Al Haig, already, at this early stage. They knew they now needed some way to control Haig.
At this point, had the major organizational structure of the White House already been decided, the existence of the troika—?
No, it hasn’t come to that. This is all of a piece, because I was on a plane the day that Jim Baker was getting off on the last stop and Deaver heard whisper in Nancy’s ear, and Nancy then forced the President to call Jim Baker back.
Ronnie, Jim is leaving the plane.
, you need to talk to Jim now.And I was ostensibly working on something, but I heard that. What in God’s name have we got going here? That whole deal was eventually structured by Deaver in order to prevent Meese from becoming Chief of Staff. And so Deaver took the title of Deputy Chief of Staff, Assistant to the President, Meese became Counsellor to the President, so that he had two to one. Deaver had worked out a deal with Baker. He didn’t know Baker any more than any of us did, but Jim Baker was a guy who had run for Attorney General in Texas, and lost. He ran Gerald Ford’s re-election campaign and lost, and he ran George Bush’s campaign and lost, and he was going to wind up as Chief of Staff in this administration. Well this was not a guy that Reaganauts—for whatever else he may be, fine individual, Princeton grad, lawyer, distinguished name—he didn’t belong in this administration, and that’s what caused a lot of people a lot of pain.
But Deaver saw this just in terms of his own needs. He needed leverage against Meese, because with just him and Meese in the White House and the rest of us, Deaver wouldn’t be a winner. So, anyway, Reagan and Meese asked me if I would be Deputy Secretary of State and I said yes, but it didn’t work out. So they said,
I guess that’s not going to work.At that point the President-elect said to Meese,
I guess we better call our friend in California.I hadn’t the faintest idea whom they were talking of. It was Bill Clark. And thereupon Bill Clark became Deputy Secretary of State. They wanted a watchdog on Haig, and Bill Clark—I didn’t know Bill Clark from a Martian—but if they had confidence in him, he was former Chief of Staff to Reagan when he was Governor, he’d probably do a good job, and he sure as hell did, because if there’s anyone Al Haig dislikes possibly more than me, it’s Bill Clark.
So, that sort of plays out in another way, and Bill Clark got burned by playing with fire himself, but a decent human being in every respect. He was just misinformed and became a victim also of some more Deaver conspiracies later on. I stayed in the job, National Security Advisor, and now it comes to the troika thing. By the time that Marty Anderson and I were made Domestic Policy Advisor and National Security Advisor respectively, we actually considered that we would continue our relationship with Ronald Reagan just as we had for years. When he wanted to know something he’d call us up, or if we wanted him to know something, we went to him and talked to him about it. Well, that wasn’t going to be the case any more. Suddenly, after having accepted the jobs, I don’t know if Marty has related this or not, but I can tell you this, neither of us knew we would be reporting to the President through Meese.
So there wasn’t an arrangement on your part about the reporting, or maybe if I could back up very quickly and ask you about your conversation with the President on the terms of your appointment.
I don’t negotiate. I know what the National Security Advisor is. I’d been there before. I didn’t need to go into great definition. I should tell you one other thing though, I keep backing up here, I guess you can make sense of it. In October, I’d kept the President, the Governor, fully aware of what I thought would be a critical need to reduce the conflict between the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor. Kissinger started it all, back in the Nixon years. I was there then, present at the creation. The conflict continued on, and right up through [Zbigniew] Brzezinski. Brzezinski, as you know, and Cyrus Vance were at each other’s throats, not so much [Edmund] Muskie and Brzezinski, but two Poles can always get along.
But Brzezinski is a very good guy, and so I thought it would be a very interesting and potent weapon for the Governor to use to say that
when President, I will reduce the conflict between the National Security Advisor and the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor once again will become a staff person.I wrote that into the speech, and I sold it to him. It was given in Arlington, Virginia, at the PBS television station where we filmed the last speech. You can find it yourself. I didn’t bring it with me. You can see in that speech what it is. I explained it to him.
Reagan never said anything he didn’t agree with. You could not get Reagan to speak from a piece of paper you handed him. He had to read it, pencil it out, rewrite it, and agree with it. But he understood the concept I was proposing and he said,
You’re right, that’s exactly the way it should be. It should be a staff position.Well, if people had any brains, would they expect me, if I were looking forward to becoming the National Security Advisor, to be advocating the reduction of the job’s status? Or of visibility of National Security—of a job that I would fill? Hardly. I thought that I was doing someone else a favor or maybe not a favor, by saying that this is the way it would be henceforth in a Reagan administration.
And that point was picked up by the media, and I think it was a pretty important one. I meant it, and he meant it. So when I was asked to become the National Security Advisor and I said yes, I would be happy to accept, honored to accept, that was the role that I actually envisioned. It wasn’t a question of reducing my own status, it was a question of being a staff person, doing the job, being a coordinator, and a person wouldn’t reasonably think for one minute that I wouldn’t have some interest in the formulation of policy, but there are ways to formulate policy. When you’re at the top you can do that, and you can do an awful lot of interesting things. That’s why I was interested in looking at some of those background materials and refreshing my memory, where staff members of mine would complain about not being aggressive enough.
Each one of those staff members, they must have not been listening, because I had a little litany as I hired each one. I said,
Look, the NSC is going to be a different place. We’re not going to fight for control of policy. Policy is going to be made in a collegial way, in the way it was always made before, I believe this, with [Caspar] Weinberger there.I knew this would be much harder with Haig, but I also knew that Meese was there and I was there, so I thought it could be made in a collegial operation. So, I continued with each potential staffer,
If you’re looking for the high-voltage action and the big visibility and all the other perks, don’t come to this NSC. If you come to the NSC at my invitation, come on these terms and conditions.Every one of those staffers.
Now whatever they complained about later about not having the right seats in the plane—Of course, the State Department guys would put them in the back of the plane. But they got there five minutes later than somebody else—just that they weren’t in the mix, they felt bad. But their status was not defined as Assistant Secretaries of State. And of course you’d expect the State Department to shaft you if you bothered them, and Haig would make that point in spades if he possibly could. He probably reviewed each of the lists and made sure my people got put in the back of the plane.
So I didn’t care about that. Where you ride in the plane is unimportant as we later found out. Al Haig thought it was so important that it led to his resignation, you may recall, because he got a plane without windows on the way to Versailles in 1982, and a bedroom in Versailles that wasn’t close enough to the President’s. Then Haig resigned for the 27th time, and it was finally accepted. My view is you should only vow to resign once and then do it.
So at the time of my appointment, the troika idea was for me ex post facto. I thought, well, what the hell to do about this? This doesn’t sound very interesting to me. We’re reporting through Meese? So Marty and I talked about it. Well, you know, we thought, maybe it’s a big advantage. Ed has a lot of clout, he does have a lot of clout, and somewhere I wrote, or said, that I thought of Ed Meese then as a two-ton blocking back, running blocking back ahead of us, doing whatever we asked him to do, implementing the policies we had labored to define. It turned out for me that he became a two-ton elephant in the door jamb, because he could not get himself out of the mire and the muck of paper.
He wanted to be the czar of all policy as well as prime minister of the government, and he could do that, but he didn’t know at the same time Baker and Deaver were doing him in on a regular basis. They didn’t care a whit about policy. One policy is just as good to them as the other. A, B, C, D, E—all the same, whatever new one you happen to pick that day, that’s the policy of the day. Whereas Meese was very serious about policy, cared deeply about reform, and particularly the domestic side. But he didn’t know, sort of like Bill Clark, he didn’t know where the other countries were located and had no idea about their history, no formation in foreign and national security policy.
That was one complication. The second complication was that I wasn’t talking to the press. I resolved that I wouldn’t talk. If I was going to fulfill the description that I had written in that campaign speech, and which Reagan approved, I should not have a press officer. I didn’t have one. I had somebody who received press calls, but I didn’t have a press officer who was a press spokesman for the NSC, and I thought that was the right thing to do. I didn’t have a congressional relations guy on my staff. I worked through the normal congressional relations people who were already able and didn’t need to have my own, as that would only lead to problems in my view. And I thought all of that would contribute to reduce the level of conflict between State and Defense.
Well, of course Al Haig never believed that for a second, he only believed that Baker, and Meese, and Deaver and I were plotting against him. He believed it constantly, and from the beginning. We had constant feedback on that. Then, another impediment came for the efficient operation of the NSC. Al’s attempt to table the draft memorandum on the national security process on Inauguration Day, that really gave him control of everything in the world outside of the three-mile limit. Well, he’d shown me an earlier draft of this and I had seen it, read it, and snickered. I thought, this has as much chance of flying—but figured, what the hell. He kept pressing for the appointment, wanted to see the President the day before the Inauguration. No way. The day of the Inauguration, get this all settled and get going.
We could get going without all of that. I just wanted some of my colleagues to see it. So instead of sitting with Haig and the President, I arranged for a meeting in Meese’s office on the afternoon of the Inauguration. I called the meeting and we all came in our cutaways, or whatever we had, goofy suits,
This is Inauguration Day?
Inauguration afternoon, and there sat just Baker, Meese, me, and Haig with this memorandum, and I read it, so I thought, why get into this fight directly? Al’s going to think it’s me anyway, so I’d already prepared Meese. We let Baker read through it and Baker said,
This is crazy, no one’s going to give you all that. You’re not going to get all that.Haig said,
I’ve got to have it, that’s what he [Reagan] told me, I’ve got complete control of foreign policy.Baker said,
He didn’t tell you that you could have complete control of foreign policy.
Oh no, no,said Haig,
This went on and on for 45 minutes or so. We had other things to do, including having our picture taken with the President as he sat down first at his desk. That was the genesis of that. So the formal structure of the NSC remained unsettled for an entire year, but it didn’t really matter, you just worked around it. I mean the scholar [Ivo] Daalder, and [I. M.] Destler, all those guys are wringing their hands. We were making decisions, we knew how to make decisions.
Then the issue came up later on, a month and a half later—crisis management. Haig desperately wanted to be the crisis manager, but I was supposed to be the crisis manager and knew that would lead to a fight, so I said, let’s give this to George, to the Vice President, this is where it will work and Haig cannot complain. I’ll staff him. He won’t need to have a separate structure or anything else. The President signed off on my memorandum, and I defined the relationship in a memo to the Vice President. That was, of course, the week before the assassination attempt, so that kept setting things off. Everybody knew by this time that it was really difficult to work with Al Haig. Then my difficulty was further compounded by the decision that no foreign policy initiatives of any type would be taken until the economic program had passed, which was a hamstring and a half.
Where did that decision come from?
From Baker and Meese. Deaver wouldn’t know economic policy from any other, but that’s what they decided. We’re not going to do anything controversial that will upset the economic program. We were going to get that done, we were going to ram that right through. Well, it didn’t ram right through. It was August before they got it done. Meanwhile by Spring I had been given the assignment to get the AWACs [Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems] through, and they knew that by handing me this—what my deputy, Admiral [James] Bud Nance called
this steaming turd—that they would escape all responsibility for it because never before had the National Security Advisor been given the job to lobby the Congress. It was hopeless in the House, hopeless. But we started out with about a dozen Senators, or 14 Senators in the Senate, and we had to get to 51. So that meant going down to the briefing room. I wasn’t even allowed to brief until the economic package was approved.
It caused a great deal of difficulty. We ultimately won, because the President, one by one, met with those Senators and we got 52 of them. I think it was 52. On AWACs. I went down and briefed every one of them as soon as I could. I had seconded over to the White House three military officers, asked John Lehman to give me his best Marine to make and hold the charts. That happened to be Oliver North. There’s a story behind that, too. A couple of other guys came over. Those fellows ran the operation. They were also the fellows who moved into my Executive Office Building office because I wanted an office near my staff up there so I could go up and spend time.
East Executive Avenue can be as wide and as deep as the Grand Canyon. So I thought I’d go over there, spend some time, and the guys could come in and talk without having to come over to my office, go through all of the—because I’d moved the principal office downstairs into the basement, back where it was when Henry Kissinger and I first moved into the job, where it should be. It shouldn’t be up top, up front. And that also had a direct impact on this incredible crazy Japanese story, the thousand dollars and the two watches. Do you know the story?
I think so.
We have a considerable amount of coverage of it in here.
Well, a lot of it is wrong. But, this is not me, it’s the President, but—yes, Allen reports through Ed Meese, Counsellor to the President, just as Martin Anderson does as Domestic—We didn’t know that, as I pointed out to you, when we took the job. I seriously considered not doing it as a result of that. But then I thought, it depends on how I view Ed Meese, and Ed’s a decent guy, he would be the guy clearing the path.
Well, the timing on this is illuminating though, because from the outside, if you look at this, it might be considered of a piece with your own recommendations to try to downplay the role of the National Security Advisor, by in effect creating one additional layer of reporting to the President.
There’s a distinction here—
I’m Assistant to the President, I’m not assistant to Ed Meese and it wasn’t Ed Meese that appointed me, it was Ronald Reagan.
So that interposition turned out to be enormous because Ed could not wallow through the paper that came his way. They just buried him in paper. He was happy as long as he had a chart. Any chart. Marty discovered this very early on. Would do a chart, you probably have seen it in the archives or something, started out with domestic policy down at the bottom, and various departments and worked your way up here and then everything, as long as it came through the Counsellor to the President, the last box. And Ed would always say at the end of the meeting,
Can I keep that chart?
So, I mean, to each his own. And this is not meant to impugn Ed Meese’s character, which is sterling, or anything, but it has to do with management style. I have some other, absolutely horrifying stories about paper, and I mean unbelievable. I think I’m bad at a paper desk, I should probably take a look at your desk in your office, but your desks, squared, or quadrupled, would never begin to be what Ed Meese had on his desk, what he didn’t know. I’ll tell you an off-the-record story [tape blank]—goes to show you what you deal with. Surprises. Okay. So. Anyway, the rest of the—I’ll go into anything you want on the so-called scandal, and you’ve got it all wrong on the timing here.
This all took place, this event in which the Shufo-No-Tomo interviewed Nancy Reagan, also took place the day after the Inauguration. As brief background, I won’t go through it in too great a detail. A Japanese friend of mine was at the Hoover Institution. He introduced me in Japan back in ’67 when I first went on a trip for Richard Nixon to explain his foreign affairs article to the Japanese leadership. He arranged for me to meet some people, became my friend, and we stayed friends over the years. Every time I went to Japan I always took a gift to him and his wife, just as he always brought us gifts. That was back when Japanese always brought gifts, sometimes quite expensive, and would give them to people, and so I always went with a bottle of whiskey or some collector coins for his children, or whatever it might be.
So they came. I was going to get him to the Inauguration. They came and he said,
My wife, she teaches sociology and would like to do an interview with Mrs. Reagan for the Shufo-No-Tomo magazine. And I said, I can’t do anything about that now. I’m out of the business. I’m telling it to Peter Hannaford and maybe Pete can do something for you, but I really can’t do anything about it. So there the matter dropped. And Pete, who had decided not to join the Administration, got turned down, too. So you can imagine my utter surprise, the day before the Inauguration they came to see me and they had a Seiko watch, a $65 or $75 watch they gave to me and to my wife. We weren’t even in office yet, so it was perfectly acceptable for us to have these watches. They were nothing special. I gave him some gifts, some inaugural memorabilia, specially made license plate and some other minor items. I thought nothing more of it—the continuation of a habit with a long-time friend. I took the watches home, threw them in a drawer, gave the gift to my wife. In fact, they were both ladies’ watches. There wasn’t a man’s watch there.
I didn’t think any more of it until about 4:30 or 5 o’clock on the afternoon of January 21, the day after the Inauguration. I had just finished making an exceptionally important announcement. I had been involved with the visit of the South Korean President that resulted in saving the life of Kim Dae Jung, the dissident. This was something that I had personally run into with the general authority of the President, and I’ve written about that. I don’t know if that’s in there or not, my article. No, you have [Richard] Holbrooke’s article in there, but you don’t have my article that tells the story the way it really happened.
Again, there are notes and names and places. So somebody says to me, a woman staffer says,
You’ve got to get over to the West Wing. There are Japanese over there, they’re doing an interview.What the hell, I didn’t talk to Peter Hannaford about this. What is it? So I race over there and there’s my friend’s wife, [Tamotsu] Takase’s wife—he’s not there—and a magazine person, a photographer, and they’re in kimonos and I said,
What is it?
Oh, we have interview now with Mrs. Reagan.I never heard about it, but okay, here I am. So in comes the President, this is in the quarters at the White House. In come the President and Mrs. Reagan on the way to go downstairs to a reception, obviously informed about this Japanese visit. Fine, I thought, okay, so they took a couple of pictures.
What’s it like to be First Lady?and all sorts of things, and they handed her back issues of the magazine that they had done on Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, Pat Nixon, and so on and so forth. Isn’t that interesting? And they said,
We have more articles.And they tried to hand it—I said,
Don’t give that to Mrs. Reagan.I stepped in. Nobody else knew what to do. I said,
Just let me have that stuff.I took the magazines back from Nancy.
Nancy, by this time, started one of these,
We have to get downstairsroutines. So we got rid of the interviewers. They went their way, and I walked back from the quarters. Because my basement office was being renovated, I was up in the OEOB in the office that I had occupied when I was there in ’68, ’69. It also happened to be Franklin Roosevelt’s office at one point. I’m walking fast, all the way through the White House at ground level with this parcel of papers and Japanese magazines, English translations, and whatnot. I walk across East Executive Avenue and into the OEOB, get in the elevator, and I see there’s an envelope, a little red border around it. I say,
Oh, I’ve given interviews to the Japanese before where they would hand you the envelope.I peek in there and sure enough there are hundred dollar bills in there. Well I about fainted, because I hadn’t seen it. It was in this immense pile of stuff.
So I go into my office and there’s John Lehman and two other guys, I forget who the other two guys were, and my secretary Irene Derus, and I said,
Can you imagine what just happened? This is what they’ve done and here’s an envelope with a thousand dollars, a gift to Nancy Reagan. Lucky I intercepted it.John and the other guys say,
Oh my God, those Japanese, they never stop.So I give this package to Irene,
Take care of this, turn it over to whomever it belongs to, wherever it should go.I thought she would send it to the counsel’s office. The counsel to the President was my former lawyer and close friend, Fred Fielding. I’d introduced him to the whole Reagan routine. He’s a UVA guy, by the way, UVA law school. I handed her the package and that was the last I ever saw it. I assumed she had done what I asked—sent it to Fred Fielding. So it went into the safe in that office of mine, unbeknownst to me.
Only occasionally was I in that office. I never gave another thought to that safe because I didn’t know it was in that safe. When it came time to do the AWACs, briefings for which I was responsible, I had the military officers seconded over on TDY [temporary duty] to the NSC to draw and hold the charts,
next chart, major,for the AWACs briefings for the Congress. They were tight on space and they said,
Can we use your office upstairs there in the OEOB?and I said,
Sure, go ahead, use it, I’m not using it that much.We needed space.
You’re only going to be here today, you’ll be gone.They said,
Fine.And they didn’t say it to me, but they said it to Irene, I guess,
Can we use the safe to put our stuff in?
Sure, why not?And that’s when they opened the safe. They find this assortment of stuff Irene had put in it. Instead of asking Irene or anybody what it’s all about, they get the security officer, Jennings.
Well, the security officer goes and gets Meese. Meese comes over. The security officer takes it out with a rubber glove [I later learned], if you can imagine this, and reports it to Meese. Meese calls the FBI. Think of all this, how it’s glossed over in Meese’s book. How it triggered the independent ethics in government act. It didn’t trigger anything. He triggered it on his own guy, so to speak. And off it went to the FBI. The FBI bungled the investigation. They sent FBI agents over to see me. I told them the whole story. I said,
Go talk to Irene.They talked to my wife, that whole business. I didn’t think anything of it. Sure, of course, I realized they had to go through an investigation, but then [William] Webster calls me and tells me it’s all clear. But there’s going to be a story in the Tokyo papers in the morning and that’s when it all hit. So that’s the actual story of what happened and how the ancient habit of Japanese gift giving turns in to be an immense burden.
I eventually took leave of absence, went on the talk shows. Yes, you bet I went on the talk shows, I did them every day, three or four times a day, and was cleared. You had this,
Allen submits his resignation to the President,on the fourth of January.
Allegations surround that would be largely cleared up after Allen left office.Absolutely not. I wouldn’t leave office until it was cleared up. They even sent Paul Laxalt to me to ask me to
take this away from the President and resign.I said,
Paul, you guys should have thought about this before you put me in the tank. No, the answer is
. I’m cleared, and it will come out exactly as I said it was.I wouldn’t even consider resigning. In fact, I went in on January 4th and asked for my job back.
But there were other tensions that led to his resignation,according to Meese. That’s true. There were tensions. And I think I basically explained some of them to you because Haig was becoming increasingly combative. What happened, in truth, in my opinion, was that Baker and Deaver were the major leakers. They saw Haig as a truly malign force, and they very conveniently laid the trail to my door more than once, in a very interesting way. They were both simply afraid of Haig.
I’m sorry, they saw Haig as a—
As a malign force.
A very difficult force. He just wouldn’t let go and he was leaking, full time, to others about the inadequacy of the President himself, and, of course, about the White House crowd, which was a bunch of inferiors, in his own words. You might imagine that the National Security Advisor would have ways of checking what the Secretary of State might be saying across the wires to other heads of government and conversations. He’s right about,
Somehow the round table that had served Reagan in California and in other areas of his administration didn’t seem to work so well when it came to foreign affairs and national security.It wasn’t
somehow,it was because of the way they created the system, and the inefficiencies that were built into it because nothing could be done until the economic program was passed and then, even then, I couldn’t get a National Security Council meeting. I mean even Meese wouldn’t get National Security Council meetings when they were needed. Ed has elucidated that very nicely, in great scholarly tradition. Or I should say, whoever wrote that for him did that.
So that’s about that. I don’t think there is anything more that you need on that issue, but the real story is much more detailed, much more elaborate. It’s always told in compression, like everything else.
So now, what do you want to turn to?
I want to ask a question or two about the AWACs effort, because I was struck in reading through the information in the briefing book that you had been called on to organize the administration’s lobbying effort. As you earlier indicated, this is something that was atypical.
Nobody else wanted it.
Nobody else wanted it?
The idea was that since I was so close to the Jewish community, I had been the major liaison on the national security issues, on Israel’s security shall I say, to the Jewish community during the campaign, other than the candidate himself. It would be sensible for me to burn my credibility before the President had to burn his. I did not mind.
So it was an easy task. That’s what I was there for, what they paid me to do.
Who was the director of legislative affairs when you were there?
It was Friedersdorf—
Max Friedersdorf, yes it was him.
And did you work directly with his operation in what you were doing, or did they not want to touch this and happily—
No, no, we set off, we couldn’t actually work until September, mind you, until the economic program was locked in and passed. It was anticipated it would be done much earlier. And the clock was ticking all the while on the sale, so we had about five weeks, four weeks, maximum before the vote.
So you literally weren’t allowed to—
I couldn’t say a word to anybody. All I could do was make charts and allow people to use my OEOB office and my safe.
Including the FBI. What other issues were broiling that needed attention?
El Salvador, Central America. Haig said he
wanted to go to the source.When we had our NSPG meetings, National Security Planning Group meetings, I renamed every committee so nobody would be able to make an acronym of it, unless you wanted to say
nizpig.And of course the Soviets, Poland, assassination, debt, the aftermath of the assassination attempt, a jillion issues of all types. North-South summit, the famous one that Carter advised Reagan not to go to and Reagan went anyway and didn’t lose a heartbeat over it. Every expectable issue that you could conceive of, plus trying to build new relations with Mexico and Canada, pretty impossible in those years.
But we were doing well with President [Jose] Lopez Portillo in Mexico. We had issues with the Japanese. We needed the Japanese to patrol out to one thousand kilometers, to increase their defense spending, we had to manage the Korean situation. So there was no shortage of issues. They all got resolved. A structure is a structure. We knew, I knew, how to do it, fortunately. I knew how to do it without having to involve or invoke a structure or a memorandum.
Was the overall effect then to give State and Defense and CIA a cleaner hand than they would have had otherwise, because you don’t have license as the central White House checkpoint—
Not in the slightest.
I mean to say, not that I observed. They were going to do what they were going to do anyway. This idea that you can rein State and Defense—can’t do that.
My view was perhaps a bit more simple than others. Every paper that went to the President passed through my turnstile, and I had the opportunity to top it with a memorandum or do whatever I wanted to it. And so nothing was too late. Some of my guys were always nervous, feeling that they had to be earlier on in the process because they couldn’t change it later on. They forgot that Ronald Reagan read everything except the stuff that the State Department gave him because it was so voluminous and hard to read that the President threw that stuff in the trash. It was of no value to him. Because we synopsized everything of consequence, due to the sheer density of what the State Department wrote.
The zero-option speech, I think some time in the fall of ’81. Could you talk about that? Because at the time, of course, it was derided by a lot of folks in the media and up on the Hill, and then when it comes to pass—
This was not new. Consideration of this was begun already in the spring, and actually the President liked the zero-option idea, dual track and zero options. Fine. This was exactly what he wanted to do. Haig resisted, vehemently. Haig and State resisted. Haig argued for some reason unknown to me that it would undercut European allies and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, whereas Schmidt was the original proposer of the zero-option idea. In fact, I saw Helmut Schmidt a couple of weeks ago and had dinner with him and we were reminiscing about that. But Haig was always concerned that you frequently couldn’t do certain things because it would
upsetother people, a curious way to pursue the national interest.
Well, it depends on your perspective on what the national interest was. I think President Reagan had a pretty clear view of what it was he wanted to do in that regard. In the very first press conference the President gave in the East Room of the White House, in preparation for it, we had a Murder Board twice, in the Cabinet Room, with White House staff in there asking him nasty questions, and I asked my own share. As provocative as you could be.
He went into that press conference in the East Room of the White House with a prepared statement of some kind. Midway through the press conference he comes out with a line,
The Russians, the Soviets, will lie, cheat, and steal to get whatever they want.Well, I was standing next to Al Haig over in a corner of the East Room and, you may have heard me tell this story before, but the press is lined up, everybody is eager for this first press conference. He comes out with that line about the Soviets and there is an audible gasp, you could hear it, and the press look over to us as Haig and I are standing side-by-side, and I could see that they were looking our way to catch our reaction. And I sort of looked out of the corner of my eye, I see Haig flushing, dropping his jaw, rolling his eyes as if to say,
Oh my God,suggesting Reagan had just made an unbelievable blunder, a huge mistake. So I figured well, the best thing I could do is just smile, nod my head, and look straight ahead at the President. It was vintage Reagan; he knew precisely what he had wanted to say, and found the opening for it. And so the press conference is over and they’re all rushing to the telephones, that was the lead line of the day, the President’s first press conference.
The President starts out of the East Room, he’s going back to the Oval Office through the colonnade, past the Rose Garden. I’m walking about five feet behind him and he’s got his little phalanx of Secret Service guys, and how he knew I was behind him I’ll never know. He stops abruptly, midway down under the colonnade and he wheels around and says,
Oh, say, Dick.
Yes, Sir?He said,
The Russians . . . they do lie, cheat, and steal to get everything they want, don’t they?I said,
They sure do, Mr. President.With a huge grin he said,
I thought so.Turned around, walked away. He had prepared to put that line in. Went through two Murder Boards, never would have mentioned the line. He wouldn’t say to us, how does this sound? He knew exactly what he wanted to say. He wanted to deliver the message that the Russians would lie, cheat, and steal to get whatever they wanted, and he was going to get it across to the nation and the world. And he was going to shock a lot of people. People would talk about provocation, and oh my God and Chicken Little, the Cold War—oh my God. He knew exactly what he was going to do. Just as he knew when he went to the Berlin Wall what he was going to say.
Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.I’d heard him say it eight years earlier, nine years earlier, in Berlin.
That’s why the book that Marty and Annelise Anderson and Kiron Skinner put together is an exceptionally important book, because as you read into that book, you see the early reflection of Reagan’s policies, the seeds of policies that came to fruition years later.
Did he have some doubts about lifting the grain embargo? I know he made the pledge during the election.
I wanted it kept, but it wasn’t up to me. It was lifted. John Block brought it up. John Block was under pressure from farmers, and Reagan said,
I don’t believe in using food as a weapon.Bingo. No more grain embargo. He promised, he fulfilled his pledge.
He didn’t waiver at all.
No, he just—
He’s not the wavering type.
People would come in to him, he was so unbelievably polite, come in to describe a new program. Go through this and why this would be good and had some people set up in this office and that and had such and such benefit for him, and he’d sort of frown and listen for 20, 30 minutes, and when the briefing was over, he’d say,
Bill, I read this and I understand it, and I marked it up a little bit. But as I understand it, wasn’t our job to come here and to make government smaller?It was as close as you could get to criticism, where another man would say,
You idiot, why would you bring me something like this? It is totally inconsistent with my pledges.He would just let
Billdown by saying,
I thought we were here to make government smaller and not to create any new bureaucracies.
Simplistic? I don’t know. Simple? Yes. That’s what made serving the man such a joy. You had a feeling that you were really getting something done, whether people liked him or not was not important. We did, and he was President after all, and they weren’t. That was the major difference.
So it was a joy even though there was all this infighting—
Oh, of course. Everything with him was a joy. He made things so upbeat! It was hard to imagine. When you go in the Oval Office, compare that with my Nixon years in the Oval Office, how serious and so nasty everything was in there, that this was full of light and sparkle, always lifted a little bit more by jokes sometimes, in small company, a very funny off-color joke, really good, politically incorrect jokes, really terrific. And jokes in the most incredible circumstances, where you never thought he could get away with it. Incorrigible.
There’s been a lot written about the holy alliance, and quite a bit of material in the briefing book.
Well, that’s a mistake of mine, but it was a mistake, as I said to Carl Bernstein. I didn’t say it to Time magazine, I said it to Carl Bernstein, whom I vowed I would punch from here to kingdom come if he ever darkened my door, but since he was coming in talking about the Holy Father, that was a little different story, and I happened to remark to him that I was intrigued that he was intrigued. I was sure that he was there to do a number on the Pope, a nasty number. So I was very careful, and finally I saw that he was deadly serious and convinced that something was going on here. And I went to great pains to let him know that there was nothing formal about it, that it happened that the Vatican was moving on one track and we on another track, our tracks were parallel. Both tracks involved getting rid of the dictatorship in Poland, Soviet-imposed dictatorship. It meant getting rid of communists, if you possibly could. It meant promoting freedom. On that agenda, that was a parallel track. We did some briefing with Bill Casey and Vernon Walters. Did you do Vernon Walters down here?
Unfortunately we missed.
Well, I had known him for many years, and was with him just a few months ago. He was a great man. We were on a National Review cruise together, and he was a great raconteur. The man told the most fabulous stories.
Anyway, Casey and sometimes Walters would fly to Rome to brief the Holy Father. They would take overheads, the satellites photos, in to show the Pope, what were the positions of SS20s in Czechoslovakia and whatnot. Explained to him, but never asked for a comment, just briefed and would answer if he had a question. So my remark to Bernstein was, this was the greatest secret alliance of all times. It was secret from both sides, we meant to say. It wasn’t secret by agreement, it was just a secret alliance, maybe a
silent alliancewould have been better, but he ran with that story and he eventually wrote a whole book on the topic. He wrote it with Marco Politi, and Politi wrote a couple of chapters that are absolutely scandalous about the Pope and some woman and, if you read the book, terrible, scandalous, stupid. But the book was a 75 percent book, and my Catholic friends tell me that I shouldn’t be for a 75 percent book, but any time you come out with 75 percent on anything, you’re doing pretty well. I say 62 or 59 is better than, say, 41. So that was the origin of that. But it really meant that we and the Vatican were moving on parallel tracks.
I wrote a piece in The National Interest a few years ago entitled
The Man Who Changed the Game Plan,in which I went into great detail, but the better source for that stuff is Peter Schweizer’s book, called Victory, and the new version which is just going to the printer now.
Oh, there’s a new version.
I’m surprised you never mentioned anything about the Taiwan business, because we took an extremely significant trip to China that I set up for Bush and me.
Had a shouting match with Deng in the Great Hall of the People. You all didn’t know about that I guess.
We did not, so let’s—
Oh and the stealth thing, that was such fun. Oh, we have to talk about that.
In September Reagan charged the Carter administration with jeopardizing national security by leaking information about the stealth aircraft project to boost Carter’s ailing campaign. Yes, that’s so, because we were really knocking them on defense policy. And so they chose to reveal the existence of stealth. That was on one day. Came in and everybody said,
Well, look, they haven’t been so slack after all.I said,
No, this is a great opportunity.I remember exactly where we did this, up in northwest Washington, and we were flying to Florida that day, flying to Georgia. Anyway, I said,
We just simply write a statement attacking them for disclosing national secrets for such a narrow purpose and how terrible this is and they shouldn’t have done that,and so we whack them with this statement.
I get a call from, I think it was McNeil-Lehrer, asking if I would come on the show with Secretary of the Air Force, Hans Mark. I said,
Yes, of course I’ll come on the show with the Secretary of the Air Force. But I don’t know that much about stealth.I wasn’t supposed to know, nor was anyone else. And, to my utter astonishment, Hans Mark, a very likable fellow, lets me walk all over him. I mean, I demolished him on that show. He doesn’t have any comeback or any apparent defenses, and it’s clear that it carried the moment, carried the day, and he said,
You free for dinner?I said
Sure.We went off and had dinner. He said,
You’re absolutely right.It was amazing.
You’re absolutely right to do what you did.Well, we did it for political purpose, but he said,
We shouldn’t have revealed it. It’s not ready yet.
Not the spokesman the administration would want to have in that situation.
Right. But you know, the man had the national interest at heart. I thought that was very, very telling and reassuring that there are some people like that. He did not need to do that.
In the same vein, I have high regard for Zbig Brzezinski, really high regard for him. We’ve been opponents, we were opponents in 1968 when he was working for [Hubert] Humphrey, but it came to pass that I learned of a second hostage rescue attempt in the late spring-early summer of 1980.
I wonder if you would elaborate.
When you’re in a position like I was, the foreign policy advisor to the candidate, the coordinator, everybody wants to offload information to you, and a lot of it is worthless. But I was called by a man whom I respected enormously, a big influence in my life, who said that I needed to talk to someone and the someone would be calling me and identifying himself. So after the Anna Chennault experience in 1968, and that interference in the Vietnam negotiations, it was blatant interference to keep the Vietnamese away from the peace table in order to get a better deal from Nixon. I felt really badly about that, and cautious. I recalled the wiretapping ordered by Lyndon Johnson. So I said I wouldn’t meet this guy in my office. I would meet him on a park bench outside Christ Church at 16th and H Streets.
Across from Lafayette Park.
So I was out there and the fellow identified himself to me and sat down and told me there was going to be a second rescue attempt. He said there had already been loss of life in the practice for it in the western part of the United States, and this is what it is going to consist of, and you need to know this. I remember he left, and I started to walk back to my office a block away at 16th and I, which is where I ran the campaign, out of the Union Building at 905 16th Street, which is my office. I had taken additional space to run the campaign operations because never again would I have tolerated the lax security I experienced in the 1968 campaign, especially with such serious foreign policy issues at stake, in a time of crisis with American hostages in Iran. There are more people there that are trying to get into your trousers than you can possibly imagine, a totally unsecured environment, and they take everybody and anybody who walks in to a campaign office.
I thought about this and I started to walk back toward my office, went back as soon as I got there and I called Brzezinski and said,
I have to see you right away, right now.And he said,
Okay, come on over.So I walk across Lafayette Park to his office in the White House, and I was amazed how nothing was going on, it was so quiet in there. Maybe there were a lot of people on vacation, maybe I have my day off by a few weeks, maybe it was July. I said,
Now I want you to understand that I am not interested in you saying anything, I just want you to listen to what I have to say.And I’d done this without talking to Reagan, either. I said,
It was brought to my attention that there are practice sessions going on for a second hostage rescue attempt, and I have been told that there has been loss of life in connection with this exercise that will lead the second rescue attempt and I’m here to tell you that if you do this, and you succeed, we will applaud you. If you do this and you fail, we will applaud you, and we will not attack you. So I want you to know.
I couldn’t sleep if I had this knowledge, and I don’t want to share it with anybody else, but I want you to know that I know. Because if I know it means somebody else knows, and you’re no longer secure in this operation if you do it.He was about to talk and I said,
Don’t say anything. I’ll see you later, but I wanted you to know that I know this and I wish you well. I hope you get them back.So that was that. And for the guy who coined the phrase
That was yours?
Yes. Wirthlin thinks it’s his and I think it’s mine, and I’m going to say it is one of the two of us, but it is the word that I made everybody use as much as possible, and especially George Bush. And the answer was, to the question
What do you mean? Return of the hostages?Oh no, it could be anything, a meteorite striking the United States, whatever it is, who knows, whatever it could be, just something is going to happen in October, a surprise in October. And I got Howell Raines, now the editor of the New York Times, the world’s second most disagreeable human being, to actually to write a story. You’ll find it in the archives about this. He wrote a story about my October surprise group. He said I had an October surprise group, short name OSG. The OSG, he wrote, met regularly, assessed all of these very complex problems, and of course we didn’t meet every day or regularly at all. Occasionally we got together, four or five of us. I began calling it the OSG, October Surprise Group.
He swallowed it hook, line, and sinker and that led ultimately to come back and bite me. In the ’90s, this all broke again and Gary Sick, the crazy fellow, who promised that he would apologize if congressional investigations proved there was nothing there. Never apologized at all. Tells you all you need to know about him. Promised on McNeil-Lehrer, as a matter of fact. Caused a lot of grief. Caused about $10 million worth of investigations. The idea that Casey and Bush and I had flown to Paris to petition the Iranians to keep the hostages until after the election is preposterous.
This grew into one incredible, massive—And Martin Anderson’s secretary, I wonder if he told you about that one. Barbara Honegger, you ever heard of her?
I have heard of her.
Well that was Marty’s secretary. She was one person whose elevator didn’t go to the top floor. God, she wrote a book about it, all sorts of things. The Richard Brenneke trial. I was a witness at the Brenneke trial. I had to fly out to Portland, Oregon, to be in the trial because this was the pilot who had allegedly flown Bush and me and Casey to Paris. And then we discovered that on that day that we did the flying to Paris that George Bush was having lunch with Justice and Mrs. Potter Stewart at Chevy Chase Country Club.
It just turned out to the chagrin of every conspiracy theorist that the same morning I was on Meet the Press. Where Casey was I don’t know, but we were—and then we got the time and we began analyzing the times and who would be involved and where we were, and I kept a log, I have a log of my activities. That is one of the reasons I have some good notes, and it turned out that the time was too short. So the people who insisted on the conspiracy theory said that we got a Concorde, an SST, and flew to Paris and back.
Ted Koppel had two full shows on Bill Casey on this. This is an absolute crime on Koppel’s part. He never knew what Casey was doing. He was going to an old-boys reunion of intelligence agents. I mean, Casey did everything he wanted to, on his own. He never explained to anybody, never had to. But, interesting. He and I went to Paris together because I had developed a very interesting technique. I went three times to Europe. My theory was that in the last couple of weeks of any election, the European journalists write about our election and then that’s reflected in the American press and the New York Times and the Washington Post, LA Times, all write about what Europe thinks of the candidate. So since they’re all just regurgitating what the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times write anyway, I figured why not go to Europe and give them copies of Reagan’s original speeches. So that’s what I did.
I flew over. I’d find a three-day segment and I’d fly to London, Paris, and Bonn. I’d meet with the reporters. I’d give them stacks of Reagan’s speeches and say,
Now please don’t rely on what you’re getting fed out of Washington because your guys have no political access. This is what Reagan is saying,and I’d give them his original speech texts. So Casey heard about that and he said,
Gee, can I go along with you?I said
Yes, that’s fine, come on.So we went. We flew over to London, Paris, and that also became part of the conspiracy because I introduced him to the chief of French intelligence who was Arnaud de Borchgrave’s cousin, the Count de Marenches was a fabulous character, a conspiracy theorist, but an interesting guy. And that all became part of this ball of wax, where we did this alleged subterranean negotiation.
What I did not mention, however, was the [Bud] McFarlane incident. I think you may be aware that in October, in the October Surprise context and during the campaign, McFarlane, who was working for John Tower, called me and said,
Senator Tower wants you to meet with someone.I said,
Well, John Tower is a friend of mine, be happy to meet with him.My mistake was not calling John Tower and asking him if it was really he who wanted me to meet with this someone. Anyway, the person was an Iranian, or alleged to be one.
We just finished having a meeting of our inner group of which Larry Silberman—do you know Judge Larry Silberman? He’s the Court of Appeals now, but he was former Ambassador to Yugoslavia, former Deputy Secretary of Labor, a brilliant guy. He was in from California, as one of our five principal deputies, we all worked together as a team. This was that morning, just after a meeting like that, and I said,
Larry, what are you doing for lunch?He said,
I don’t have any lunch plans, I’m going back to San Francisco this afternoon.I said,
How about going down—I’m going someplace.I had decided I would meet McFarlane and this Mr. Mysterious, obviously at John Tower’s behest, in the lobby of the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel, midway between the Hill and my office.
So I said,
Will you go down to the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel with me?I described what it was all about. He said,
Yes, I’ll go down with you.So we go down and there’s McFarlane with this big fat Iranian guy who tells us that he’s connected to the Shah’s son and how he has all this influence, and he can get the hostages back. I said,
Buddy, I don’t know who you are, but we’ve only got one President at a time and that’s the President of the United States, you should be talking to him. Don’t talk to me about getting the hostages back.This had dynamite all over it. McFarlane—I could have killed him for the poor judgment that he showed—you know, this incident is not well known, but it also helps explain why McFarlane later went back to Iran with cake and the Bible and the mysterious secret mission, and so on and so forth. A lot of it explains why he had some obsession with this part of the world and with, I think, probably thinking of getting the Nobel Peace Prize or something.
On the way back downtown Larry Silberman said,
Boy, you better write a memorandum on this.I think I did, tried to locate it, but it became another issue in the so-called October Surprise. And as I said, $10 million later, two Congressional investigations, well, that proved absolutely nothing. Of course, there was nothing there. We didn’t do any such thing.
You mentioned Oliver North earlier and implied that there was a story or two there that—
Just that he would have been gone. If I hadn’t left, he would have been gone. I would never keep a military man more than six or eight months. Never. They have their own agendae. There was a major spy case inside the NSC in the Nixon administration where Admiral Tom Moorer had a yeoman in there who was copying thousands of pages of documents and taking them back to the Pentagon. The military always has its own agenda. They’re the guys you want to fight the war, they’re terrific people, but I don’t want them anywhere near the White House for more than a year at a time.
Patrick, you had a question you wanted to ask.
After Reagan’s election, or during the campaign, what was your relationship like with the allied leaders in Europe? Were some of them suspicious initially of Reagan? Did you do something to build a bridge?
I’d taken the trouble to meet with members of their press, and that probably had some minor impact. I mean those three trips, worked with the European press. That was an exercise in utility. Thatcher of course by that time became Prime Minister. In fact, Casey and I visited her on that trip that I took him to Europe with me to talk to the press. We visited Mrs. Thatcher at 10 Downing Street on the way.
Did you have to translate?
He was quiet. She had to lean in a little bit. Helmut Schmidt is a man of great quality and class. He hated Jimmy Carter. He had nothing but contempt for Carter.
They had an ongoing row throughout the three or four years, based on the fact that he didn’t like him, for one thing. Thought he was a weakling and indecisive and got Europe into a lot of trouble, left a lot of people out on branches that might have gotten or perhaps were sawed off.
Giscard d’Estaing didn’t make any difference, he wouldn’t see Reagan in 1978, didn’t think he was worth his time. Of course, within a couple of months of Reagan’s election Giscard d’Estaing is out on the streets and François Mitterrand is in power with several communists in his cabinet, and once again the so called
steaming turdis handed to me to explain what our reaction to all of this was. It turned out to be a very astute reaction. I had followed Mitterrand’s career for many years. Nobody else knew anything about him. Haig was still throwing fits and rolling on the floor over at State that Giscard had lost, and the job to explain it passed to me and I said,
Anybody who has been in the Résistance knows how to take care of totalitarians, and I think this guy will be just fine.
When I met Mitterrand at the Ottawa Summit later that summer, he made a beeline for me and embarrassed me in front of Reagan, came to me and spoke to me in French while Reagan stood there, silent, and told me how much he appreciated the briefing that I’d given. Of course I was an unnamed official but he assumed that it was I and after it was over Reagan said,
What was that about?I said,
He was just telling me to tell you how much he appreciated what you had done.He said later,
Yes, I believe that.(Said with sarcastic tone.)
What month was the Summit?
The Summit at Montebello was July, so the French election was late May or June.
So those actually were allowed to intrude on his schedule.
Can’t help it.
I mean, he’s operating under basically a regime of focusing only on domestic issues.
Oh, we conducted all the other formal stuff. I mean, [Hosny] Mubarak came and urged Reagan to help bite the head off the snake, namely kill Gaddafi. And ten days later [Anwar] Sadat was shot. So that was always a strange coincidence. No, no we had a great deal of activity diplomatically. I mentioned the North-South Summit, and we had some activity on Taiwan and China. We did that. We received foreign leaders and other people. But the Summit was a scheduled event.
It was the equivalent of the G8 today. I think we called it the Economic Summit back then, but it was the equivalent of the G8. Nixon liked weekend reading, so he’d ask the staff to send him weekend reading. He’d read what you sent him. Reagan also liked weekend reading, but I liked it even more. So my staff and I would get a bunch of stuff together. And I would pick it out and then, if I had, say, a 30-page booklet I’d tab it and say
Read pages 6, 13, 25, and 29,and he’d come back on Monday morning and say,
You know, I read the whole thing.
That’s great, terrific. Do you want to talk about it?I once handed him the program of the World Peace Congress, based in Prague, and they spelled it all out in about a 35-page document of how to go out in the street and demonstrate. One of the great things about the communists, they always wrote their programs down, said
we’re going to do thisand then proceeded to do it. Nobody believed them anyway, that anybody would do that. They didn’t believe Hitler either, after he wrote Mein Kampf.
So I gave him this World Peace Congress booklet and I said,
This is really important, would you please read it on the weekend.Monday morning came and he said,
Gosh, that was fascinating.I said,
What was fascinating?He said,
This thing, I went over it three times. It’s all in here, what they’re doing. I’m getting these reports of how the Soviets are paying off people in West Germany and so on and so forth to demonstrate against the deployment (of Pershing and Cruise missiles).I said,
Yes, Mr. President, that’s why I gave it to you.He said,
It’s fantastic, I read every bit of it.
Well, about a week later, Deaver came to me, on Monday or Tuesday morning and hands me back a sheaf of the papers and said,
Here’s the stuff back from the President.I said,
Thanks for the personal delivery.He said,
Well, I’ve got a message.He said,
Seventy-five percent of what the President reads on the weekends is coming from you.I said,
Gee, that’s terrific.
I told Deaver, that’s exactly what he needs. If he sees another ten pages on welfare cheats and things of that nature, he’s seen too much. This is war and peace. If there is any area that he is not as strong, on taxes and smaller government and all the rest and welfare, it is here. So that’s going to remain the case. He said,
I want this cut by 75 percent.I said,
want it cut by 75 percent? Then don’t try to read it. But don’t interfere with him reading it, because he reads it all.He said,
Yes I know, that’s exactly what I’m telling you. I want it cut by 75 percent.I said,
I’m not going to do that, and you can simply roll it up as tight as you can and insert it in the nearest orifice, that’s my advice to you.And he went away steaming mad.
Well, I didn’t perhaps realize that he was on a mission from Nancy, because the President had his nose buried in this stuff on weekends, and if it was
Ronnie, let’s go out riding right now.
I can’t, dear, I have to do all this stuff, I’ve got my homework to do.He read it. That’s all that counted. When I left, they went back to one-page memos. Think about that. One-page memos. You tell me how you can digest zero-option or dual track or anything else in a one-page memo.
So he was doing Nancy Reagan’s bidding.
Well, I don’t know precisely about that. What else would I conclude? Because Deaver hasn’t read anything more serious than a comic book in many years, and besides, he was drinking all the time and had a real bottle problem. I guess he didn’t read very much while he drank.
Right. Did you have any other direct interaction with Mrs. Reagan?
Oh sure, all the time. On this issue? No. Not in the slightest. She was, she’s really a great lady. She’s a lot of fun, and has a great sense of humor. As an example, back when we traveled overseas well prior to the 1980 campaign, I told her when we went to Asia that first time back in ’78,
Now, Nancy, the thing is, if in Asia you admire something, they’re likely to give it to you. So what I would suggest is you and I have a trolling contest, so you can troll for more good stuff on this trip.I explained what the rules would be and I set up some rules, a little certificate thing,
The International Trolling Society,or something like that. She would go into a Chinese home and she’d give me an eye like that and say,
Oh, Mr. Shin, that painting is so marvelous.[laughter] and so it went. She was a lot of fun.
There were roller-coaster times with Nancy Reagan, but even though, in the end, she was the principal cause of having me put out to pasture, I had no animus against Nancy. She was just protecting her man. And although she was protecting him on the basis of inadequate information, or what I considered to be unjust, certainly, as far as my family was concerned. She knew Pat very well. Still, she is the First Lady of the United States and she was protecting her man, so I wouldn’t expect her to do anything else. Like Barbara Bush was the great protector.
Did you get the sense that this intensified after the assassination attempt?
Oh yes. Oh my, the protection, oh yes. The protective factor in Nancy was huge. But, he never lost his sense of humor or whatever. The President’s first day back after the assassination, back in the White House. I had two days advance notice that I was going to brief the President for the first time since the shooting. I was going to brief the President, and I had something here, maybe I do, maybe I don’t. I told our youngest daughter, Kimberly,
Hey, Kim, I’m going to go brief the President on Wednesday morning,or something similar. We were basically going to fake a full briefing, just make it short to demonstrate he was back in the saddle.
Is that right?I said,
Yes, that’s right.So o she went off to kindergarten and came back with a passel full of get-well cards. They’d all made get well cards for the President. I was taking the national security briefing, I knew I wasn’t going to leave them. So inside the briefing folder I had these cards. I just carried them up. I wanted to tell them I’d carried the cards to the President and back again. I thought maybe I might have had one or two of them in front of him. Anyway, so I said,
Mr. President, we’re having a national security briefing today,and he said,
Okay[low weak voice] so weak. I said,
There it is, and you’ve had your national security briefing, congratulations, Mr. President.Deaver was in the room, I forget who else was in the room.
And he said,
Wait a minute, wait a minute, what’s that in there?And I had a big stack of these cards. He said,
What’s that?I said,
These are cards from the kindergarten class of Oakridge Elementary School in Arlington, Mr. President.He said,
Let me see them.I handed them over and he started to go through them, one by one. He went through, read every card. There must have been 25 cards in there. So he said,
Which one’s your daughter’s?I said,
It’s one that’s in there.So that was the card that she had written. She wrote two actually, and then she wrote this one,
Dear President Reagan, get better.So he said,
Give me your pen.[aside to Russell.] You can hold it.
I don’t want to touch it.
You can touch it all right. It’s not that valuable.
Give me your pen.
[reading] President Reagan, Please get better, Love, Kim Allen. And then, in his handwriting below:
Dear Kim, forgive me for using your card for my answer, but I wanted to let you know how very much I appreciate your good wishes and your lovely card, Love, Ronald Reagan, April 15, 1981.
And she sent another one.
Keep a good thing going.
I was going to give these, I was going to have copies made at her wedding and give them out to the guests, but I decided it was too hokey so I didn’t do it. And here’s one from May 10, 1983. I don’t know where the response is for this, but I have it someplace.
Handwriting looks a little shakier here than normal.
It is, oh yes, it was.
This one is May 10, 1983.
I was gone by then.
Dear President Reagan, How are politics going with you since I’ve seen you last? It’s too bad that my father doesn’t work in the White House anymore because I enjoyed it when he was there. Are you going to get re-elected? Sincerely, Kimberly Allen.
He wrote a response to that.
Did he say yes to that question?
Don’t know, he wouldn’t answer that one. Actually I didn’t, I just thought of this because I was going to bring this down for the weekend, left this briefcase back up—see what I mean—he read everything. He read everything, including Human Events. In fact, he’d rather read Human Events, I suspect, than some of his briefing papers.
So, anyway, as for Nancy, she is a class act, proven it many, many times over by virtue of her extraordinary behavior in recent years. Just unbelievable.
For my first inkling of his illness, my first inkling was about, oh, about ’91, and then reconfirmed about ’92. Let’s see, no, first at the Bohemian Grove when he failed to recognize Meese, Anderson, and me. We walked up to him at the Grove together. He was seated in the chair and he was startled. I could see he had no idea who we were.
What year was this? Do you remember?
I’m going to say it’s ’91. Summer of ’91 at the Bohemian Grove. Now, he was at another camp, we decided to go over and see him. We were all staying at the Caveman Camp, walked over and said,
Hello Mr. President.He looked up, and it was clear he was having trouble placing us. Then there was an incident in December of ’92 or January ’93, before the Clinton Inauguration. President Bush awarded President Reagan the Medal of Freedom and I went to this event and, as it turned out, we were having coffee and tea in the dining room in the East Wing, and at one moment there was no one near the President. He was just alone, standing there with his medal, smiling.
So I walked over to him and said,
Hello, Sir,and started a conversation. I began reminding him of an uproarious incident that occurred when we landed, his first landing in Germany, at the Cologne airport in 1978, and on the way in to Bonn. We were headed into Bonn at a very high rate of speed on the autobahn, and we had an escort car. We were all in the car, Pat and I and the Governor and Nancy and I think maybe Peter and Irene Hannaford and he kept going like this, jerking his head to the right, and I said,
Something wrong, Governor?He said,
No, oh no. I’m just wondering when do we get to this place called ausfahrt?
Ausfahrt means exit.
He said, No. People don’t have words like that. It’s a place. I said, No. Are there any more words like that? I said, A lot. For example, there’s Einfahrt,’ which is entrance and then there’s ‘wasserfahrt’ and ‘dampffahrt,’ and then there’s ‘zwishenfahrt’ and ‘unterfahrt’ and ‘oberfahrt’ and ‘einfahrt’ and ‘fahrt ins blaue. And he said, Write them all down.
So I wrote them down on a piece of yellow paper like that, two columns of it, and he laughed. So whenever I would see him, in office or whatever, he would say,
It reminds me of that exit there in Germany,or something like that, fart this, fart that. Just couldn’t get over it. It was always a gas. So here we were in ’92 or early ’93 and I walked up and said,
Well, it’s almost like the ausfarht in Germany, remember on our German trip?And he—
Remember this, we were driving down the highway and the ausfarht and you had me write down—It turns out that Bill Fitzpatrick, our former White House photographer was there for that event. He snapped the entire sequence of me talking to the President and I have this series of half a dozen or seven photographs of him—then finally laughing but not laughing the way he used to. I knew he was always bad on names, now I thought he’s bad on memory, but it didn’t cross my mind—
—that it would be Alzheimer’s.
I’m trying to figure what else I have at issue—
You had mentioned in our last break that you wanted to talk a bit about Taiwan and China and the visit you had where you had an argument with—
Well, this is an extremely important point. We were being killed in the summer of 1980 on the issue of Taiwan and China. Of course, Carter had recognized the PRC, announced in 1979 that he would do so, and sent up to the Congress an act that would allow us to continue our relationship with Taiwan. Congress essentially tore that act up, tore that draft up and sent back something else, rewrote it. Some of us had something to do with that rewriting, and a lot of Democrats too. It became the Taiwan Relations Act.
Well, it was an act that provided for the maintenance of our relations with Taiwan in everything but diplomatic name. Carter had already conceded, you know, pulled the troops out and performed whatever it was the Chinese wanted him to do. Reagan felt intensely about the betrayal of Taiwan, and we were being killed on the issues. Every time he would come to a stop and somebody would ask a question about that, he would hint that we really treated them badly. Well, that grew into a monster where [Richard] Holbrooke and others, Holbrooke and [Michael] Armacost, mostly in the State Department, were putting out the word full time that Reagan would re-recognize Taiwan and therefore destroy the relationship with China if elected. Well, of course, that wasn’t about to happen.
So after the convention, and before the Democratic convention, there was a pretty long hiatus, and I got the notion that I should take the newly minted vice presidential candidate, George Bush, as a shield and go to China and deliver a message. We would shut off this flow. The idea would be to go, speak our piece, come back, issue a statement, and be done with it. So I went to Reagan and I said, I’d like to have your permission to take George Bush to go to China and do the following.
Oh, no, big mistake.I said,
Governor, look, we’re being really hurt by this and we will continue to be hurt because there’s nothing you can do to prove that you’re not going to, by your remarks and by your tendencies, by everything you ever said, and your feelings. So let me do this, and I guarantee you we will just stop hearing this issue of Taiwan in the campaign.He said,
Well all right, but you have to be careful.Bush had been there, so he’s more trusted. So I went to Bush and said,
This is what I’d like to do, we can do it quickly.Got the airline schedules and went up to Kennebunkport, briefed him. He had a guy there, Jim Lilley. He said,
This was my station chief when I was there, liaison officer in the PRC, fluent in Chinese, can we bring him?I said sure. Lilley turned out later to be my first hire on the NSC and later Ambassador to Taiwan, then to Korea, then to China. So, I said,
Yes, we’ll take him.So we went.
We went by way of Tokyo, where I had a discussion with Mike Mansfield, which ultimately led to his retention as Ambassador to Japan. That’s another interesting kind of sidebar story, and on to Beijing. Well, they didn’t quite know how to handle us. They couldn’t refuse to see me. They couldn’t refuse to see Bush. So they brought out those old Hong Chi, those big Red Flag cars for us and put us in the Dao Yu Tai Guest Houses, and we went jogging every morning. We would see some officials, but were never sure that we would see Deng. We knew if we just hung around long enough that it would be embarrassing if we didn’t see Deng. So finally on the third night we were informed that we would be received by Deng in the Great Hall of the People the next day.
So in we march, and Deng meets us at the entrance and takes Bush and me by the arm, this little sawed-off guy, marching. He looked like Danny DeVito. Marches us down, welcomes us. We sit down. Lilley is doing our interpreting. Deng has Tiger [Jiechi] Yang, who is now the Ambassador of the PRC to Washington. Tiger Yang does the interpretation for him and he starts off about what a terrible guy Reagan is and he has hurt the feelings of a billion Chinese and our sovereignty and this is our business and blah, blah, blah.
And on and on he goes and in the middle of all this an aide comes in with a Telex message. Reagan has spoken again about Taiwan, somewhere in Kansas or Oklahoma or somewhere. It was borderline stuff and Deng reads this thing and hands it over to Bush and he looks at it, it’s in English and Chinese, I guess. I look at it and Deng takes it back. He crumples it up, throws it on the floor and then spits into the spittoon, whereupon every time the word Reagan came up again in the conversation for the remainder [spitting sound]. So we thought, well this is going to be fun. You have your fun, and we’ll have our fun. And the Vice President, I mean George Bush, put it as best he could, but didn’t quite get it all across.
So I took copious, verbatim notes of this entire session. I have page after page. Finally I said,
Well, tell you what. Governor Reagan has asked us to come here to say to you, Sir, that you can’t expect the United States to abandon an old friend to gain a new one, and that’s his position on this issue, and that would be his position as President.
Um[spit, spit, spit].
Leonard Woodcock was the U.S. Ambassador at the time, former UAW [United Auto Workers] leader. He was dumping on our shoes full time. We came back by way of Hawaii and stopped there for a briefing. Then we came back to Los Angeles and I wrote a statement on the way back and Reagan didn’t want to give the statement. This was a statement of August 25, you can find it anyplace, and it solved the problem. So it was an amazing turn of events and it really told the Chinese that we were not to be tampered with.
Can you talk a little bit about SDI [Strategic Defense Initiative]. I know it takes off—
No, SDI is—
—underway during your tenure?
Conceived, actually the birthplace of the notion came from Reagan’s reaction to the briefing in Colorado Springs, but all the work was done by Danny Graham, all the initial work was done by Danny Graham and Karl Bendetsen and I know you’ve heard other versions of this, but the serious work was done there. We of course, in the campaign staff, Bill Van Cleave and Fred Ikle and I knew a lot about missile defense, but it was this stark revelation to Governor Reagan at Colorado Springs, we had no defense against an incoming missile. And most Americans still to this day, as you know, polling shows that they believe we do have such defenses, especially since they’ve heard about SDI now for 18 or 19 years.
So the work went on. I authorized Dan Graham and Karl Bendetsen, who was funding some of this, he was the former Undersecretary of the Army and Chairman of Champion Paper, and he was funding some of Danny’s work on this and it matured to a point where we began having meetings in Meese’s office about this and it worked out pretty well.
From 1981 through ’82 and into ’83, at the time of the announcement of SDI, I think that was probably about mid-year if I’m not mistaken, maybe a little earlier in the year—
I think it was March ’83.
March ’83, announced March ’83, well a lot of work was done. What happened basically was that the problem, the administration, became one of PR. They announced the SDI. I was at the meeting where they announced it. McFarlane and . . . . McFarlane was the principal briefer, and we had some briefings and they had a lot of scientists in for this event, and then they dropped it. They dropped the ball completely. No one was assigned to handle the PR. In that period of six to eight months where they did almost nothing in terms of public relations campaign, I think they made a big mistake because they allowed the opposition to belittle it, the scientific opposition to congeal, when there was perfectly good scientific reason to believe that we could achieve the system.
You go back now, as I have in the not-distant past, and read some of the things that were written about SDI then, you’d be surprised. Here we are with a situation, at a stage now where we’re having some successes in missile defense. Yet it was deemed impossible, it was theoretically impossible. Scientists went on the record saying it would never be possible, it was a misallocation of resources, and it may still be. But I am convinced, and I was not there when the final versions were cut so to speak, but I’m convinced the President wanted to announce SDI as much as to convince the Soviets that we were intent upon doing it as it was based on any real belief that the system would ever work.
They portrayed Reagan as a
doofuswho thought that you just run over to the wall and flick the switch and suddenly would have an impenetrable shield over you. Well, he never believed that as far as I knew. I talked to him a lot about it during 1981. He never believed anything like that.
But the advantage of having the opposition believe it was enormous. I believe that while there was a sincere part to SDI, namely that it couldn’t be done, that its tactical purpose was to convince the Soviets we were going to do it and it was just one more thing—and as it turned out I think that SDI is the straw that broke the camel’s back. You know, we did a lot of very interesting things during those years. We started in motion feeding the Soviets bad technology, bad computer technology, bad oil drilling technology. We fed them a whole lot, let them steal stuff that they were happy to get and invest lots of money and time in, and try to chase it, and it never worked. I mean, garbage in, garbage out. Brilliant part of the economic warfare plan that was developed, especially by, under Bill Clark and the staff that I left in place, Norman Bailey and others had done that. It was a brilliant plan.
So the idea was to get the Soviet Union on the one hand to believe that we would do these things, and then on the other hand to spend resources to try to stop it. And yes, it was an intent to bankrupt them, at least militarily. Now we have reached the stage where missile defense is maybe not within our grasp, but it is achievable, and everybody is better off as a result, I think. Never would have happened without Ronald Reagan.
I think we’re at the stage where we might want to ask the big-picture questions, unless you have any further—
Yes, actually, not on the specifics, and I guess this probably is a transition into the big- picture questions, but I wonder if we could get you to reflect a little bit about the administration after your departure, because there was an awful lot of—relatively speaking, an awful lot of people filled the role that you were—
Role of National Security Advisor.
Exactly. And I’m sure historians looking back on this period will scratch their heads a little bit about how this transpired. Do you have any—
Yes, it’s only a theory, but—bringing Bill Clark to this post was, in my view, designed to achieve several things. One, to restore, well, first of all, Clark’s move to this post was engineered by Deaver. This I know as fact. And Clark was a willing participant because being close to the President was important to him and Haig was giving him fits over there. Eventually Haig came to distrust Clark—first, Haig said this is great, I have a friend of Reagan’s here. Well, he didn’t think so highly of it later on. Bill Clark didn’t know anything about foreign policy. But he had the great virtue of having the President’s trust and he also possessed the talent, the energy, the determination to allow Reagan to be Reagan. And so I think that his tenure was marked by an awful lot of good things that happened, essentially with a staff that I left him. And they produced some very fine work.
Bill brought over with him Bud McFarlane. I had declined to give McFarlane a job in our administration based on that L’Enfant Plaza Hotel experience with the Iranian, and so I wouldn’t have done that. When Bill Clark left, he left under fire and at odds with Deaver. Deaver had turned on him after attempting to use him. Bill Clark couldn’t easily be used. But Deaver had managed to turn Nancy against Bill Clark, too. So that meant the job would pass to someone else. I think by that time, I believe Don Regan was Chief of Staff. By that time McFarlane became National Security Advisor, succeeding Clark.
Bud is a—considers himself to be a very profound person and engaged early on in some comparisons with Henry, who was his idol. He worked for Henry in the Nixon administration. He was a young major working on the NSC staff, actually. And when McFarlane left, it fell to [John] Poindexter, whom I appointed as my military assistant, not national security aide, and who was a brilliant nuclear engineer, had a distinguished career in the Navy and who obviously would do the job when asked but did so with a background that was severely lacking in depth and scope, richness of historical detail, and just simple knowledge. Then, the job went to [Frank] Carlucci and then later Colin Powell, Carlucci’s deputy.
I’ve lived this kind of—a lot of that had to do with internal politics in the White House too, because they didn’t want another Bill Clark, a strong-willed person, so they got McFarlane and they got something more than they bargained for with him, and he leaves, and then of course, they got a perfectly docile one in John Poindexter, and Carlucci’s arrival I could never quite understand. There was nothing I could remember that distinguished him during that tenure, of any initiatives taken, but that was the aftermath of Iran-Contra, so that was to have a calming effect on it, and as I said, eventually Colin Powell, a man of great caution who rarely takes a position on anything but was a good staff man at the time, did the job.
Seven, did I say seven?
I think it’s six. Allen, Clark, McFarlane, Poindexter, Carlucci, Powell.
Six. Six in eight years. In the end I don’t believe that President Reagan even knew the names of his principal aides. I don’t think he was losing it in any real sense of the word, but he feels best with people around him that he knows and likes. Mind you now, Meese long gone, Clark long gone. Anderson, when I left, Marty Anderson also left by the time I left, under different circumstances, Nofziger gone, Allen gone, Baker had never been part of his real inner circle. There was a move, as you know, in one transition, for Baker to become National Security Advisor, which was cut off at the last moment by some very sturdy action, by the likes of Bill Casey and Jeane Kirkpatrick and others, but a brief move for him to become National Security Advisor, which would not have been a good thing.
And in the end the President served out his term, but he was among strangers in the White House.
Would you comment on the developments within the National Security Council staff, the operational stuff, the North activities and—
That sort of stuff never belonged.
Now, once again, if you reflect on what I said about writing that speech at the end of the campaign, without the slightest intention of fulfilling the role, the so-called diminished role, or at least the less visible role of the National Security Advisor I described, you’d also understand immediately that I would not think that operations had anyplace whatsoever in the NSC. Yet I see a quotation here, you quoted Kissinger in here someplace, where he said the frequent changeover practically led to the Iran-Contra because the NSC had lost its confidence and began undertaking operational activities. How would he then respond, for example, about the NSC taking on the operational activities going to China, behind the scenes? Is that somehow to distinguish between types of operational activities?
But basically, I think it comes down to the fact that it is not the place for questions, you are not capable of doing it. Highly secret missions can always be entrusted by a President to someone, to some person, but institutionally the National Security Council is a coordinating body, or should be a coordinating body. It doesn’t mean that it is gutless and toothless and without any opinions. It does mean that it is designed to coordinate. It doesn’t have its own independent status. It is not a Cabinet agency and it shouldn’t consider itself to be one.
Staff. I think Condoleezza Rice is doing the job just the right way, just the way I would envision to have done it. She is important, she has the confidence of her President. She is knowledgeable in areas of the world about which she wasn’t known to know a lot. She advises him across the board. She obviously brokers, but she may have a bit too high visibility and too much persona right now, but I think she is doing the job the right way. Seems as though Don Rumsfeld is satisfied with her, and I don’t know if Colin Powell is or not, but I think the NSC staff is strong.
And you have another factor in this new administration; we didn’t have heavyweights at the Vice Presidential level. We had George Bush who had an extraordinary resume, but there was no punch, no there there. He may know the foreign leaders, but I don’t know of any particular position, policy, that George Bush ever had taken before becoming Vice President. Any thesis that he had shaped and defended or elaborated by himself. He was a man who had a great resume. This doesn’t diminish in any way from his performance in Desert Storm, except in my view he didn’t complete that either.
So, even though it looked messy during the Reagan years, a lot of things got done. It seems to me, measured by the results, not by the tidiness of the structure, that’s the way I would argue it was done. We got [Manuel] Noriega, they got the students out of Grenada, they fixed that problem, put [Fidel] Castro back in his box, they bombed Libya, nearly got Gaddafi, not a bad job there. They engaged the Russians every place in the world, in Angola and other places. They came out all right, funded the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan, sometimes not realizing all the unintended consequences, but still, tactically sufficient to make life miserable for the Soviets.
We even saw military operations inside the Soviet Union, not with our people but by surrogates, pretty good. Challenged the Soviets wherever they were going to go, built a 600-ship Navy. Bought everything on the menu that we gave to the President in the spring of ’81 in terms of new weapons systems. Forged a new alliance with Margaret Thatcher. Forged an alliance with Mitterrand that exceeded everyone’s expectations, a much better ally I might say, Mitterrand, than Jacques Chirac will ever be, or was.
In Germany, the development of a strong relationship with Helmut Kohl, which I had a hand in contributing to, is something to be proud of, and I am. So across the board I’m not so sure where the national security foreign policy failures really were unless you’re strictly looking at the functions and the structure of the National Security Council itself and the way it should operate.
I think it’s an open question historically as to where the second-term scandal will fit into the overall frame of things. My sense is that it probably will not loom very largely.
I think it will always be there as a major, major stupidity, something the President—it could have been explained better to the President but it wasn’t—
You think that’s how it came in? I suppose as a political historian I’m obligated to ask you the question about whether it is your sense that the President knew what was going on or didn’t.
Well, my sense, and it is no more than that, is that he did not know what was going on. It’s a little hard to take, every time I see him making his statement that he absolutely did not trade arms for hostages, it seems a bit weird, but somebody was out there trading arms for hostages. In his name, let’s put it that way. I guess points to the correctness of the statement I made that having an operational NSC is a terrible idea. There are other places in government for that, and there they must reside.
Were there any other features of Ronald Reagan or his administration that you think have been misunderstood or neglected by the press or historians? Anything you’d like to get on the record here before—
You spend three days at U.C. Santa Barbara at a conference of historians
reassessingReagan, and listen to some of the most preposterous stuff [laughter]. Those people call themselves historians, I mean, most of them—here you had that distinguished historian from Brown, what was his name?
James Patterson. Led off the program, gave a very nice talk, very interesting talk, yet managed to
disPresident Reagan wherever he could and came up with this preposterous story as an example of Reagan’s disconnectedness of Reagan going to his son’s high school graduation, Mike’s high school graduation, and greeting each of graduates—apparently he was the speaker or something—and when Mike came up he said,
Hi, I’m Ronald Reagan, who are you?
Well, that would have been a typically hilarious line that Reagan would have pulled, I’d pull on my own kids. If I had 271 young people getting high school diplomas and I was shaking their hands, and here comes Bill James and there goes Russell Riley and there goes Steven Knott and some of—and my son comes up,
Hi, I’m Dick Allen, what’s your name?Not all of them, you laugh, or maybe giggle, but here Patterson cites this as an example of a dysfunctional family, and that was very, very distressing to me. What Patty Reagan was doing and what Mike Reagan was doing—and still does—he rarely goes to see his father but indicates that he does all the time. Maureen [Reagan] was the staunchest of them all. She was a good egg. Ron [Reagan], I don’t know what he does. But really, a different sort of family.
What’s your take on that? I mean, this was a conservative President who talked about family values and—
I have no idea. He advocated family values and meant it. And probably lived it. But then there were these two people, Nancy and the President, who were so wrapped up in each other, so hopelessly in love and dedicated to each other that maybe there wasn’t any room for anybody else. I don’t know. The President was always hurt by Patty’s stance. It would have killed him if he ever saw that Playboy cover she was on.
I missed that issue.
I’m sure the archives will have it.
But she’s come around, she’s changed. She has, at least the press says that she is now very devoted to her father and visits frequently.
I don’t know, I haven’t asked anybody about that. It’s an area out of which I am going to stay.
What we do know is that when President Reagan passes, it will be one great big national event. Even people who to this day can’t stand him or his policies will say,
Well, I didn’t like him, I didn’t vote for him, but at least you knew where he stood.That was a very interesting thing that can’t be said about all Presidents, certainly not about Clinton.
Well, I think the other aspect is that history has been kind to him so far. Things have moved in the direction that he wanted them to move in, and I think even the critics have to acknowledge that. You have people like Teddy Kennedy making claims like he’s made—
Last week at the—
Well, I didn’t see that, I did hear about it. That’s nice to hear and fine. I think President Reagan did the same to, about JFK, the fundamental criticisms. You never know. So where are we on the big questions?
I think we’ve hit them already, so, unless anyone else has anything to ask—
Just keep in mind, Reagan told me in 1977 that he set out to win the Cold War, and did. Now a lot of people think that claiming credit on behalf of Reagan, because he wouldn’t claim the credit for himself, never would. That’s why his book was so awful. He didn’t know how to claim, didn’t believe he should be claiming credit. There was a little sign on the desk that I keep quoting all the time. People always forget that that sign went onto the desk on the morning of January 21. Perhaps you know about that little sign? The first time he sat down in his office, at his desk, the night of the Inauguration, we’re still dressed in monkey suits, I guess had to go home and change, and the next morning I came in to give the national security briefing. There was nothing on the table except my briefing on his desk, which was [Calvin] Coolidge’s desk I think, and pictures of Nancy and the kids on the credenza behind.
But up front there was a little brass plaque that was like that in the right hand corner and as he was reading through the briefing I read it and it said,
There’s no limit to what a man can accomplish or how far he can go as long as he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.Which was a warning to all of us guys, in effect saying don’t you come in here trying to claim the credit for doing various things. I’m not the least bit interested. Some people read it and some people didn’t. I never commented to him about it, never said a word about it. It was there to be read. Don’t ask any question.
Oh, what a cute sign.No, don’t ever do that. Just read it and observe.
Guys like Al Haig never did. Guys like Cap Weinberger did. Made a difference.
Well, thank you very much. This has been—
You’re welcome. I hope it’s been helpful.
It has been very illuminating, and you obviously have much more to say, so I look forward to reading it in the book.
Whenever I recover the discipline of writing a book. I have not written, published, a book for 30 years. I find I have all the discipline needed to write articles for the Times or the Atlantic Monthly or whatever, but I have not recovered the discipline of writing a book. I used to write a book straight through. I used to start and finish. I mean, it would go for weeks and months until I had the manuscript finished. That would be that. I would lightly edit it; whatever other editors would do to it was their business.
If you will tell me how you did that with children, I will pay you a lot of money.
Well, I’ll tell you, get your wallet out because I wrote—