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John Kerry: Candidate in the Making

White House tapes

Transcripts by Michael Kranish, Globe Staff

When John Kerry came to Washington in April 1971 to lead a protest against the Vietnam War, his actions drew the attention of President Richard Nixon and top White House aides. As Kerry got more publicity, Nixon told aides that he wasn't worried about the "bearded weirdos" who gathered on the mall, but was concerned about the impact of the neat and much-decorated veteran from Massachusetts.

To gain an insight into Nixon's views about Kerry, the Globe listened to tape recordings in storage at the National Archives branch in College Park, Md. Kerry's name comes up in numerous conversations. What follows is a partial transcription of four such conversations. The following is based on governmental transcriptions, where available, and added transcription by the Globe. Kerry was not aware of these until a Globe reporter read a transcript to him. Some of the recordings are low quality, so it is best to read the transcripts as you are listening.

Conversation No. 1 | April 23, 1971 | Nixon, Haldeman and Kissinger   
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John Kerry delivered his testimony against the Vietnam War on April 22, 1971. The next day, Nixon had several conversations about Kerry and the protests. At around 9:30 a.m., President Nixon met with his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger. The topic was Kerry.

President Nixon: Apparently, this fellow, uh, that they put in the front row, is that what you say, the front [unintelligible] the real star...Kerry.

Haldeman: Kerry. He is, he did a hell of a great job on the, uh --

President: He was extremely effective.

Haldeman: [Unintelligible] he did a superb job on it at Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. A Kennedy-type guy -- he looks like a Kennedy and he, and he talks exactly like a Kennedy.

Kissinger: [Unintelligible].

President: Where did he serve?

Haldeman: He was a Navy lieutenant, jg., on a gunboat, and he used, uh, to run his gunboat up and shoot at, uh, shoot babies out of women's arms.

President: Oh, stop that. People in the Navy don't do things (like that). That's not what service in Vietnam, as you well know, Henry, [unintelligible].

Kissinger: That's pretty [unintelligible].

Haldeman: He was only over there for, I thinks it's four months or five months.

President: Bob, the Navy didn't have any casualties in Vietnam except in the air.

Haldeman: Well, this guy got a Purple Heart with two clusters and the --

President: [Unintelligible].

Haldeman: -- Navy Star. He's got a hell of a bundle of lettuce up here.

Conversation No. 2 | April 23, 1971 | President Nixon and Rose Mary Woods    Hear audio clip

Two hours later, at around 11:30 a.m. on April 23, 1971, President Nixon met with his secretary, Rose Mary Woods in the Oval Office. This conversation picks up when Nixon is complaining about universities in Massachusetts that produce "left wingers."

President Nixon: The state is so infected by.(unintelligible)..Harvard, MIT, Brandeis, Smith, realize all those lousy universities are there. They produce bad people...

Rose Mary Woods: That's right..

President: That's all there is to it...even Boston College has turned sour. It's really terrible..The universities in that area produce a bunch of left wingers. They're the worst.

Woods: They are the ones who really want to ruin this country. They really do.

President: Well, look [unintelligible]. Some of 'em [unintelligible] down here, ya know, raisin' hell.

Woods: Diane just made a, a good comment about the veterans. Once in a while, ya know, they're, I had on the news --

President: Yeah.

Woods: -- and she said, "Well, if they're turning 'em back in, now why did they take them, if they felt that way?" See this is, shows people are working on these, ya know, these darn radicals work on 'em. If they didn't feel they, that, that medal was [unintelligible], then they shouldn't have taken it in the first place, if they really felt that way. Then they act like [unintelligible] mob. They, uh, for the most part they're a pretty motley bunch. They could be easily worked on; that's why they're here. Look at the many who are back who, who are --

President: Two and a half million.

Woods: -- out working and, and --

President: Decent.

Woods: -- have done their duty, and --

President: Proud of it.

Woods: Um hum. [Unintelligible] don't dare go around these people because I just want to hit at 'em. Umph!

President: Well, they do get them there. These clever left-wingers who're, uh, the Communists, and basically a lot of this is Communist.

Woods: Oh, of course it is. Look how hard this Bella Abzug or whatever that terrible beast's name is, look how hard she's working on it. And all the, these Congressmen and Senators who are out shoutin' and encouraging these people.

President: Yep.

Woods: I tell you, iif it --.

President: Well, Teddy Kennedy [unintelligible], ya know, says --

Woods: Te- --

President: "I'm with ya all the way." Mathias --.

Woods: Teddy Kennedy, Mathias --

President: Mathias [unintelligible].

Woods: -- Hartke, or Hart --

President: [Unintelligible].

Woods: -- [unintelligible].

President: Huh?

Woods: All these people are encouraging 'em to, to show up, be here on the twenty-fourth. They're, you know, urging these people to come here. Somehow or other we ought to be able to mow everyone of 'em down in the next election.

President: Well --.

Woods: Too bad some of 'em are in for six years already.

President: I hope that at least we could [unintelligible] we've done [unintelligible] about the war. They [unintelligible].

Woods: Carl Curtis's statement last night on radio, anyway, was good. After those Senators, I didn't see those Senators. But, uh, I did hear, I had my radio on, and, and he sounded very good on the radio saying, "Where were all these people? They were very quiet all through all this time of the escalation of the war. And now," and he recited how much you had done, "and now, why now? Why now are they talking when we are ending it?" And he really did a good job. I was very proud of him.

President: Yeah. Well, Taft was pretty good too.

Woods: Taft --

President: Very good.

Woods: -- has been very good, amazingly.

President: And Saxbe.

Woods: Well, and Saxbe. I was absolutely shocked at Saxbe doing something for us.

President: I always [unintelligible]. Well, well, we're not gonna lose it. I, that's the other thing. Ya see, these people want to get it over and let it go Communist. They really do.

Woods: They don't care what happens, and they, and then if, if, if everything goes Communist, and then if, eventually it's gonna react and ruin this country, then it, it won't, won't be because they hollered, and they said this. Course it's you. And basically it's the country. I think, I think a lot of people know that. Course they're tired of the war. Evcryone's tired of war. No one could be more tired of it than you. No one!

President: Sure.

Woods: That's what I always tell 'em. There isn't a soul on earth that wants peace in Vietnam any more than you do. They're terrible phonies. They holler about, ya know, what else the Democr-, makes me so mad. They talk about how they had this big dinner, five hundred dollars, and, of course, they were very, they weren't like the wealthy Rcpublicans havin' it be a thousand.

President: Oh, no, they [unintelligible].

Woods: And they are in debt so much. They owe everyone. You know that they don't want 'em back in Chicago 'cause they haven't paid for that convention yet. That's what Jim Miller told me anyway. And they don't pay anyone.

President: No, they get in and they steal and they start payin' em. Johnson -- course they talk about thousand-dollar dinners, Kennedy and Johnson's were ones that stated that- they shook 'em dowm real good.

Woods: Well, and they [unintelligible], they even had 'em right in their own [unintelligible].

President: Course the real, one of the real problems, this goddamn press is so [unintelligible] unfair. They, they don't give our Republicans who are out tryin' to answer these people, and they put 'em on. Apparently the guy that's really good, the only good one of the damn veterans group, only good from a PR stoundpoint, is Kerry. He's very [unintelligible]. Did you ever see him?

Woods: No. You see, I have...I have the [unintelligible].

President: [Unintelligible] news all Kerry. [Unintelligible].

Woods: Well, they don't, and, and the thing is that, that a few poeple have tried to say it. They, uh, well, even these vetcrans, all the, they just have given them way too much space in on Time and newspapers and, and everywhere, uh. But they always do.

Conversation No. 3 | April 26, 1971 | Nixon, Haldeman and Ron Ziegler   
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After a week of protest, including a gathering of 200,000 people on the mall, Nixon met with his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, and his press secretary, Ronald Ziegler, to discuss the protests.

Haldeman: We've got some interesting dope on Kerry.

President: -- so, so I should be listening; you should say, of course --

Ziegler: That's what I've been saying --.

President: -- of course I've listened. I've listened.

Ziegler: [Unintelligible].

President: Look, I've read every god-, I've read it all. I --

Ziegler: [Unintelligible].

President: -- you read that news summary. That's more - not only there, but I've read the papers, the coverage throughout the country.

Ziegler: That's what I've just --.

President: I always do.

Haldeman: Kerry, it turns out, some time ago decided he wanted to get into politics. Well, he ran for, took a stab at the Congressional thing. And he consulted with some of the folks in the Georgetown set here. So what, what the issue, what, he'd like to get an issue. He wanted a horse to ride.

President: Yeah.

Haldeman: And they got it, that they suggested an issue. Forgot what it was; some stupid thing like, uh....

Conversation No. 4 | April 27, 1971 | Nixon meets with Rose Mary Woods    Hear audio clip

The conversation is about the protest rallies.

President: Sit down. Yeah, I said that, I think what's gonna happen is they start, you know, they're gonna stop the roadways next Monday.

Woods: The people are gonna get fed up about this.

President: Don't you think they will? The veterans -- people, uh, sort of sympathize with, but in the end --.

Woods: It's hard to be against them --

President: That's right.

Woods: -- even if they're at fault.

President: But on the other hand, you see a lot of these bearded weirdos, uh --.

Woods: People are sick to death of them.

President: What do you think, what's your reaction?

Woods: Oh, I know, I know drivers 'n' cab drivers 'n' everyone -- well, all you have to do is walk around. Tourists who planned and wanted to come to Washington at this time, for instance, and then also, television has really given [unintelligible] in my [unintelligible] thinking.

President: They [unintelligible].

Woods: I think people are getting sick to death seeing nothing on their television but those bums.

President: Really?

Woods: 'Cause that's all they look like [unintelligible].

President: Well, it helped them, the fir-, one week they ran, you know, that, that fellow Leary or --

Woods: Kerry.

President: -- Kerry so much. He was very, very good, they say --

Woods: [Unintelligible] picture --

President: -- but, uh --.

Woods: -- [unintelligible] of all the Kennedys he was full --

President: Sure.

Woods: -- of baloney.

President: That's right, well, then, you know what? He wasn't livin' down there with those guys [unintelligible].

Woods: No.

President: He's livin' out in a posh pad in Georgetown. That's where he was.

Woods: Oh, so, they, yeah.

President: They're all a funny bunch, but, uh, well, I tell you, we're gonna stand firm against 'em; I got Henry in here; we're gonna.... I said, "Now look, just, they're not gonna rattle us one bit. We're gonna stay on our course. This country's not gonna be run by a bunch of goddamned rabble." Don't you agree?

Woods: I certainly do [unintelligible].

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