tv Reflections on Richard Nixon CSPAN April 25, 2016 12:01am-1:21am EDT
>> coming up next, a discussion with two men who were at the center of the events known as watergate. alexander butterfield played a role in revealing the cover of that destroyed his presidency. he reflects along with bob nixon's personality and they offer opinions on topics ranging from watergate to policies in vietnam. this program is an hour.
>> good evening. i want to welcome you to this conversation with alexander butterfield and bob woodward which will be conducted by my friend and colleague, director of the lbj presidential library. i am director of the center, which is pleased to be cosponsoring this evening's program along with the lbj library. bob woodward, as many of you know, has a special tie to the university of texas. in 2003, he and his washington post colleague, charles bernstein placed papers at the university center. it was a historically significant acquisition, which was fittingly celebrated here, so together again this evening.
much has transpired over the following decade. the identity was made public, many hours of white house recordings have been released by the national archives, and the center continues to supplement its watergate work, most recently with the generosity of the papers of legendary "washington post" editor ben bradley with research in 2017. in the intervening years, the watergate papers themselves have also been heavily consulted by our students and by historians, while collectively, the country as a whole has continued to come to terms with that national crisis and is continuing impact on her political life today. the watergate archives continues to give up new insight into the nixon presidency, and for years
to come, it will continue to ground the histories and a historically verifiable record. tonight, we are not here to read documents, but to hear from an intimate participant in the day-to-day workings of the nixon white house. he served as a deputy within the inner circle, and it was he who changed history by first exposing the president. we have a clip. >> the installation of any listening devices in the oval office of the president? mr. butterfield: i was aware of
listening devices, yes sir. >> when were those placed? mr. butterfield: approximately the summer of 1970, economical the precise date, but my guess is the installation was made between, and this is a rough guess, april or may of 1970 and perhaps the end of the summer or early fall of 1970. >> alexander butterfield also, of course, is the primary source for bob woodward's highly readable account of this history, "the last of the president's men." this will be a wide-ranging conversation in one without gaps, certainly not as long as 18 and a half minutes. [laughter]
>> watergate, as we know, change the relationship between the press and the presidency. looking back on events, the press may have exercised its greatest power on the eve of a digital revolution which is profoundly reshape the news industry. before our time, before the era of big data, before public debate over government surveillance, it was an era of magnetic tapes. the public debates were about the separation of powers and the public interest in the workings of her democratic interests of powers. the notion today of executive authority in the public interest or profoundly shaped by the final years of the nixon presidency. the last of the president's men is a story of the pivotal time in american history, but i would add, it is also a deeply human
story about the nature of the presidency itself, the loneliness of power, and of course the anxiety, fears and motivations of our 37th president. please welcome them to the stage. [applause] >> alex, bob, welcome back. both of you have graced this stage before. alex, you were here seven years ago, and bob you were here with your partner, carl bernstein, robert redford, five years ago when we celebrated the fifth anniversary of the film. i want to start with you, alex.
we saw that clip of you revealing the white house taping system. mr. butterfield: i saw it sideways, but i recall the incident. [laughter] mr. woodward: it was you. i saw it. you want to tell them why you hesitated. >> there was a pregnant's there. mr. butterfield: i caused because, fred thompson said, are you aware? during the time of the testimony, ahead already come to the faa which it been there for months, so i thought to myself, you might as well be accurate here, and i did not have a clue if they still had listing devices, so i just paused and said, i was aware rather than, i am aware. >> talk about that moment, that very historic moment. how did you come to work for richard nixon? [laughter]
mr. butterfield: i cannot be brief. i will say this, i was in australia because the senior military officer in that country, and i just heard in 1968 when nixon snaked by hubert humphrey to win the presidency. i was like the kiss of death to me, the extension. it seemed that way. i was eligible. i was going to come up on eligibility as a career officer. i admit i was fairly ambitious, and if i was going to stay in australia, which is a wonderful place and great for my family, but it is not where you want to be when you're coming up for general officer or admirable in the navy. i was desperate. i did not know what to do. i went up to new guinea for some
social calls, mostly for him. i only had one call to make. a rainstorm came along, grabbed a paper and read it and it was about the recent election, nixon's election. i could discern, and i saw the name, they were talking about nixon winning the election, and i saw a name i knew very well, bob haldeman. we were at ucla together in 1946, and i thought, a light went off. i was stupid but i was not that stupid. here maybe, if i can sum it up, this is presumptuous as hell, if i could attach myself to this california politician, i had worked during the johnson days
and spent 20 hours a week in the johnson white house, so i felt almost a staff member there. i felt i had something to offer, so-- mr. woodward: you had a wonderful phrase, being in australia it was not the smoke, as you called it, that you wanted to be in the smoke, which should be in vietnam or the white house. mr. butterfield: yes. bob really latch onto that term, because i insisted you need to be where the smoke is if you want to be noticed. >> bob knows all about smoke. [laughter] mr. butterfield: anyway, it worked. i wrote a letter to bob and i attached all kinds of bells and whistles, and planned my trip to washington so that i would arrive roughly when the letter did, made a call to the richard nixon transition headquarters,
which was up in the hotel in new york, spoke with his eight and got the point in with him two days later. >> talk about your experience in the white house in a moment, but while the clip is still fresh in your mind, clearly as steve said, that change the course of history. it also changed the course of your life. how did your life change after you give that testimony? mr. butterfield: well, i was an enigma in washington. i lost a lot of friends. i understood all of this. i did not want to testify. i had come to like nixon a hell of a lot. i worked very closely with them which is how i gathered some of these anecdotes which i have passed on to bob. you would not have known this if you are not working with them pretty much constantly, all day and i did not go home until 11:00 at night and i was there saturday and sunday, and even i
saw some of these oddities or instances of paranoia, only one or three times in the three and a half period i worked so closely with him. i understood it. military people are there disguised. my revealing the tapes began this inquiry, and i was an enigma. they dropped me like a hot rock. i was busy at the faa, so i did not let that bother me, though it did bother me, i hope i did not let it affect my work. >> you use the word that enigma, and i think a lot of people in the nixon entourage and supporters did not think of you as an enigma but as a son of a bitch.
[laughter] mr. butterfield: an interesting thing is, a lot of them meet every so often, and a lot of them still feel that way. i do not think i would be welcomed in that group. >> many of us have followed. mr. butterfield: thank you for mentioning that. [laughter] mr. woodward: just wanted to get the record straight. mr. butterfield: bob, i think many of the nixon people think the same about you. [laughter] you are a little more than just an enigma. many of us thought the epic story of watergate more or less ended with the revelation of the vitro, mark phelps at the fbi. and then we get the last of the president's men which is really an epilogue to the story. talk about how this book came to
fruition. mr. woodward: it was a number of years ago when we were here that you had redford for the movie discussion, and we chatted and i said, next time you are in washington, call me and we will spend a day together, and maybe i'm going to start calling you the enigma. the enigma said, there is more to the nixon story. so when i was in california i visited him at his apartment in la jolla, and what blew me away going into your apartment there, you let all of these boxes of documents which you had taken out of the nixon white house.
mr. butterfield: i did that for you. [laughter] mr. woodward: yes, i appreciate that. not only that, but he had lunch ready. [laughter] mr. woodward: a lot of the documents were new, and then you told stories. let me give an example, because you made the important point, you think history is over, and what these documents and your personal story, the odyssey in the nixon white house are many added dimensions. you told me about christmas eve,
1969, he went over to the executive office building next to the white house with president nixon, and he saw some of the staff people had pictures of john f. kennedy on the wall, and then he came back and said to you, this is an infestation. this is disloyal. i want those pictures out, and so you launched an inquiry and you told me about this, and i kind of thought, well, you know, and then in your documents are these memos that you wrote to the president saying with pride, describing how you got all of the kennedy pictures out of the staff offices and the title of this memo was "sanitization of the staff offices." [laughter] mr. woodward: and you went through what you had done to make sure there were no kennedy pictures in the staff offices
and it had all been replaced by nixon pictures. to see the documentation of this and your firsthand story as witness, and in the book, there is incident after incident of this kind of angry behavior on the part of nixon. what really struck me and hit me emotionally, but also as a reporter, you see this isolation of nixon, this nixon who walls himself off intentionally, time after time and the picture, which you describe of him leaving the white house, the oval office at night, alone going over to his executive
office building, sitting there, keeping his suit jacket on, putting his feet up, having a scotch, having his dinner alone, and you kind of say, gee, he can have dinner with anyone in the world probably, and who does he have dinner with? himself and his yellow legal pad where he is just sitting there. it is sad. mr. butterfield: pat was over at the residence by herself unless the girls were having dinner tonight or one of them at the white house. >> we will talk about the nixon marriage in a moment. bob, you write in the introduction to the book about your experience with alex and the stories he told as well as documents he handed over to you. i have seen up close through his eyes and documents, nixon is
both bigger and smaller. i think we have a glimpse of what he was smaller in moment ago, at how was he bigger in your view? mr. woodward: there were memos and incidents and you put it together, because we have the tapes and you can hear him talking about some of these things, and nixon knew how to bring people close. there is, alex describes this and there are documents and there is actually a tape recording of a cabinet dinner nixon had before the 1972 election in the cascade room and you listen to this nixon and he is actually funny, not something you normally associate with richard nixon. he is describing his chief fundraiser, marie stan, the chief fundraiser has this responsibility and he is accused
of all kinds of legal activities and he is not guilty of most of them. [laughter] mr. woodward: and he said at the end, and the cabinet is there, and he said, we have helicopters out there for them to take you back to washington, get on the helicopters fast because those are the only four that have not been shot down in vietnam. [laughter] mr. woodward: so, he, you see he knew how to charm people, actually, something he probably did not do enough of. mr. butterfield: the jokes were written for them and he did not tell them very well. [laughter] mr. butterfield: no, he could not. he did not. mr. woodward: he was very awkward. mr. butterfield: very awkward. >> alex, you had intimate
moments with the present. you were the first to see him in the morning and the last at night. described in moments you saw. mr. butterfield: after the 11th month of the first year in november or december, the president called me in and bob and he thought we should change, not change offices, and i was bob's deputy from the start but he thought maybe bob was getting sort of, what do i want to say, detoured during the day i all of the trivia which is a part of the operation of the oval office throughout the day and not able to sit back and think, as president nixon wanted them to do, to follow-up on big things and be an idea man, and the president even said, and i want you to be more like the
assistant president, celeb alex take your office and deal with the minute to minute stuff, and bob, there is only one place to go for bob, and we had just given the sherman adams office at the end as a gesture to the vice president, the first vice president ever given an office in the west wing of the white house. the last thing you want to give him an office to because he has a beautiful office up on the hill as president of the senate and he has one across the street, so bob just went over and said, ted, we are going to have to take it back. [laughter] mr. butterfield: the vice president, he only used it for a few ceremonial things and was
happy to offer it. bob was the grand mogul. mr. woodward: but you have the office right next to the oval office with a special door that went from your office to the oval office. mr. butterfield: right. through a little passageway in a small room that president clinton made famous, the private office, the oval office. [laughter] mr. butterfield: it is not even a private office. there is a cut in their and a desk and a little hot plate. it was private for president clinton. [laughter] mr. butterfield: it was always private and you have to go through it with my office. it is the office on the west side of the oval office, so from late december, i guess on, for the other three years and a month or two into 1973, i have that office and that put me in very close touch with the president. now i am the first one to see him in the early morning every day, and i never one home until he went over to the residence to
bed and he always did that around 10:30 from the eob. he loved that solitude, and we work much differently in the nixon white house. henry worked directly with the president, that the other senior people had to work, i am sure they did not like this, they had to work through me, because nixon just does not like it. mr. woodward: can i suggest she tell the story about the state dinners, because once nixon said, i am so tired of the sobs sticking their face in mind and bothering me, and he had a
solution, tell them what the solution was. mr. butterfield: is this ok? >> oh, no. this is all good. mr. butterfield: there is a big cocktail party in the east room for 30 or 40 minutes, making sure people are enjoying themselves, waiters are passing drinks on trays. in and then you go through the receiving line. and then people file write down through the cross hall to the state dining room, and they have dinner. when they come out of the state dining room, they go into the three rooms, the green room, the blue room in the center in the bedroom.
mr. woodward: you see why he was such a great source, he has almost a cinematic memory of things. you do. now get to the point. [laughter] mr. butterfield: so, he got all excited one day. he hated that 30 minute period after dinner and before the entertainment started in the east room. there is a 30 minute coffee period. congressman and everyone who wants to talk to the president, and people are sometime neglected of the state gas. it was free unusual to see him animated, so he gets up with the guest list and says, and this is
about 10 after 7:00 for an 8:00 state dinner and he is for you quickly about changing, tells me he has to go down to the locker room. henry is down there. i hoped he would get to the point really fast because i have a lot to do before the state dinner. he said, this is what we will do. i do not want to talk to any of the sons of bitches except arnold palmer and i cannot think of the others. these are republican people some from california, some big businessmen, picked up five, and said i only want to speak with those five. and i said, you mean we start tonight? i didn't say that, i was just thinking that. i looked up the social secretary and i said send me five of your
best social aids quickly. they looked fine and they are all alert, firstly tenets and captains, men and women of all services, i think even coast guard. i said, no look, tonight, lieutenant so-and-so, arnold palmer is your man. when they come in the door, stay with them so when they come out of the dining room later, you know them and they know you and stay with them and bring them to the green room where i will be with the president. at that time, i was introducing guests to the president of the state dinner. i forget who the other people were, but i assigned someone to each of them and i kept my fingers on them and i called don
hughes, an air force guy i had done in the air force, and brief 10 because he was going to be standing there looking resplendent in his uniform, but he did not introduce people but he stands there with the president like he is part of the presidency. well, the damn thing that works. it worked well. mr. woodward: the job, you had to elbow people out of the way. mr. butterfield: i was coming to that. i was coming to that. [laughter] mr. woodward: you were like a group of linebackers, keeping people away from nixon. mr. butterfield: also, my reputation was at stake with nixon.
as they came in i said i will make eye contact. until i give you the acknowledgement. when i give you it, come over. the timing wasn't perfect. i took them to the president and someone was still there don hughes. woodward: here comes arnold palmer. some of these jokers would say hey there is the president. and all of a sudden they would get an elbow. at the end of the next day you did a critique with him of the state dinner. butterfield: i met with him every sunday morning. he didn't know about the rough edges. we got good at that. then he said talk to pat. maybe she likes to do the same thing. [laughter] butterfield: i mentioned it to her and she said i can't believe that he really said that. i was crazy about pat nixon. a very nice person.
they didn't see eye to eye on many things social. >> bob writes that you were the principal intermediary between richard nixon and mrs. nixon. he quotes you saying i felt sorry for her being married to this guy. describe their marriage and what she was going through. butterfield: i can't describe their marriage. we would be on the helicopter and my position was that one of the two of us went on every trip. we sat right across from the president. you could hear everything. the secret service and the physician and the aids are in
the back of the helicopter. so they don't hear any personal talk. she said dick, it is almost christmas. why don't you just take off. we can take the girls up to new york. new york is fun at christmas. he is writing on a yellow pad which he did constantly and she is talking all this time. she gets no answer. i wanted to say, goddamit answer her. that is upsetting. she had to endure that kind of
treatment. woodward: she kept saying we will go to a musical. it is going to be fun. the whole time he does not look up he does not acknowledge her he does nothing. she goes through about three requests and he doesn't say no. he just is totally focused on his yellow legal pad. god knows what he is planning. butterfield: he loved her dearly. he needed her in the worst way. >> you write about a memo that he wrote to her. butterfield: haldeman came upon that memo.
my wife was charlotte. haldeman knew my wife very well. alex, can you see yourself writing a memo like this to charlotte? he read me the memo. nixon writes to pat. the president has been thinking about a bedside table. [laughter] he is wondering if he should have an oval shaped table or not. he keeps talking about himself in the third person. it is hilarious. it is a real memo. the man was serious. woodward: it is rn wants this and that. this is a memo from nixon to his wife. >> it is a bit of an understatement to say nixon was introverted in an extrovert's
business. what drove him? you've been covering him for 40 years. woodward: watergate and all of those crimes as sam ervin said, it was a lust for power. this is the tragedy of nixon beyond the crimes. he almost developed a sense of entitlement. that he was entitled to be president. he could do anything including watergate and sabotage and the espionage and the break-ins and the wiretapping and so forth. that he was immune.
at the same time, the thing that really blew my mind was in your files this memo. to kissinger. >> this is a note from nixon to kissinger. we have had 10 years of total control of the air in laos and vietnam. the result equals zilch. there's something wrong with the strategy for the air force. woodward: that this is a failure. the night before nixon had done an interview with dan rather. nixon said the bombing was very
effective. the next day in his own handwriting he tells kissinger they have achieved nothing. not only during his time as president but when time as well. 10 years of failure. it achieved zilch. it takes some of vietnam and it turns it on its head. here he is. 2.9 million tons of bombs were dropped in southeast asia the first three years of nixon's presidency. he wrote this note to kissinger at the beginning of 1972 when he is running for reelection. i read that and we went over
that. it is mind-boggling. the president would think this but worse, he continued and escalated the bombing. another 1.1 million tons of bombs in southeast asia. butterfield: the polls showed his popularity went up when he was bombing. the public didn't know it wasn't working. the supplies continued to come down the ho chi minh trail. so he doubled down. woodward: presidents make mistakes. misjudgments. but this is one person's look at
this and he said this is the definition of evil. a leader would do this and continue this and make this assessment and we now know that the bombing, he was right. it achieved zilch. except to kill lots of people. there is this nixon who wanted to retain power all cost. this is a component of it that we will escalate and borrow our way to victory. that is equivalent to the crimes of watergate.
butterfield: your question was what possessed him, what drove him? nixon was not stupid at all. in all his life he had been put down. you are poor. he couldn't play football and yet he went out getting knocked over at practice. i don't think he ever got in the game. he was not one of the boys. he knew what whittier was a compared to the bigger and better schools in the east. he knew what other people said. he knew deep down inside how ike really felt about him. which wasn't highly complementary. he was a capable guy and i can
knew that and gave him credit for it. ike was not in love with that guy. nixon picked up on that stuff. steve bull and i to ourselves would say that nixon was, he presented an aura of i'll get -- that was a big part of it. we were all celebrating and he called a meeting and he said now the gloves are coming off. now we're going to get them. all those sons of bitches that put him down.
he was possessed by that. he showed them. he never mellowed. he was just as intense when he was the president as before. now he had achieved the ultimate but is still mad and he is going to get them. woodward: don kendall who was a big supporter of nixon was in the oval office with him. nixon is telling him when i was congressman and senator and vice president and then i went to work at this law firm in new york. those sons of bitches, did any of them invite me to play golf at their clubs? he just goes on and on about it. butterfield: it is on the tapes.
i was so taken with a visceral hatred that was demonstrated there. but i called the secret service after that. i didn't tell you that. woodward: you didn't. [laughter] history is never over. butterfield: i heard it again and that is how i remembered it. that is one of the few times in all those three and a half years that i was so close to him. he was a very well contained, disciplined man. he knew how to keep a secret. but he would erupt again when he
was talking to don kendall. he hated them for it. those people that had not given it to him. those who go to harvard and yale and princeton and brown. >> bob, you talked about the sense of entitlement nixon had. woodward: he struggled through everything any attained to the presidency. the sadness of it is he didn't realize when he was elected president of the goodwill that people, even democrats, felt. we want the president to succeed because when the president succeeds people succeed. he could not leverage that goodwill which was out there. if you spend time listening to the tapes it comes up again and again, nixon is using the presidency as an instrument of personal revenge. score settling. rewards for people who give lots of campaign contributions.
the day nixon resigned in august 1974. and you're watching this from the faa. it was televised live. he had no script and his wife and two daughters of his sons-in-law were standing behind them. he is sweating and talking about his mother. butterfield: it was painful to watch. woodward: it was a psychiatric hour all the way. my father owned the poorest lemon ranch in california, no one will write a book about my mother. there had been a book about kennedy's mother. this is one of the most stunning
moments in the nixon presidency. he waves his hand. always remember, others may hate you but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. and then you destroy yourself. and think of the wisdom in that. hate was the piston here. it was as if he understood what happened. >> gerald ford said later if he'd only given himself that advice earlier on in his presidency the course of history might change. woodward: what a great lesson
for all human beings. in politics or out of it. hate does destroy you. you have to get over things. you have to move on. nixon could not move on. butterfield: a good example is he says to haldeman do we have a list of those reporters were going on this china trip, they are getting a good deal. haldeman said i have a list. with relish he takes it. it's like assigning people to state dinners and all. he gets to the eighth or 10th name and he looks at bob and he says what is this son of a bitch doing here?
he rubs it out, tears the paper. haldeman runs around to check the name before it is demolished. he says he is the bureau chief now someplace. nixon says i don't give a damn. remember that article he wrote during the gubernatorial campaign in 1962? he didn't forget. the hatred was still there. woodward: nixon was smart. he had immense capacity. to not let go of some of those things. there's incident after incident
butterfield: i need to say one thing in my own defense here. during that three and a half years when i was so close to next and and getting closer every day. it was a good relationship. i got to like him a lot because i felt sorry for him. it seems odd, feeling sorry for president. the guy was so socially stunted that i really do feel sorry for him. i tried to help him do things. i did see myself getting in trouble there. i saw the potential. i asked to leave the white house. they assigned me to the faa. i was an aviator.
when i testified about the tapes, and he had a lot to do with that, no one outside the white house really understood that i was the sole deputy white house chief of staff. half of the offices they reported to me. i had adhered to haldeman's advice on the first day of the next administration. we want a silent staff. we don't want any stars. the president is the star. we are the silent advocates for the president. i had always believed that. in the military it is the same way. apart from henry kissinger, and
ron ziegler, the rest of us are going to be silent. i adhered to that. woodward: disclosing the tapes on one hand was kind of the obvious thing it was necessary you were called before the official body. your wife believes you wanted to tell. you were determined to do it. as an outside observer, having spent decades trying to understand the white house from
that center obama. what happens to most people in the white house is they get co-opted. they become part of the system. they are not, they lose their independence. they lose their intelligence. for you to disclose the taping system. nixon had told you no one is to ever know about this. this is the biggest secret we have. nixon and his memoirs wrote that he believed it would never be revealed. was interesting to me is, when you made that decision. that was an act of courage. you knew how was going come down on your head. history shows that it was in the national interest that we know what happened in the white house
and the extent of the corruption and the extent to which, i always said i wrote another book on nixon the title would be the wrong man. butterfield: before you interrupted [laughter] i was en route to saying that i was called. nobody knew. when john dean testified in june 73 and told the world and they said was complicit in watergate, he was the first person who it said that.
that was huge. the members of the working committee, fred thompson, sam dash, they were trying to find someone who could support john dean's statement. the nation believed the president and not this young 32-year-old upstart who is already mad at nixon because he's just been dismissed unceremoniously on april 30, just two months before john dean testified before the watergate committee. i have been haldeman's deputy for four years. bob is calling his friend on the committee. scott armstrong says this guy butterfield he has had something
to do with this. they went to sam dash and he says we don't have time. in a way that served me well. not being known. woodward: they call you on a friday afternoon. butterfield: because you insisted. if there is any hero worship to be done, i can swear to you i never would've volunteered the information. i had almost escaped because i was leaving the day after the testimony to go to the soviet union from three weeks. you are the guy [laughter]
woodward: i didn't know as people on the committee were simply asking the satellite witnesses who will either verify or refute what john dean had said. i said one of our sources had said there is a guy named butterfield who is in charge of internal security. which in a way you are. you had liaison with the secret service. lots of the security functions. i went to your house one night and knocked on your door. no one came to the door. someone was at the drapes. peeking through. i don't know if it was you or charlotte. butterfield: you got the wrong house. [laughter] >> let me go back to august 9, 1974. nixon's farewell speech.
you had ignited the spark with carl bernstein, there was the downfall of the most important person in the world. what was that like for you? butterfield: another day at the office. [laughter] woodward: our editor ben bradlee said, what have you got for tomorrow? [laughter] that was the atmosphere. my thought was quite honestly what we know about nixon. if you go back and look at the experiences.
if we had known this i would argue he was the wrong man. he should not have been in the presidency. he abused the office. he had to resign because of the media or the democrats but because of the republican party. the republican party in the person of barry goldwater went to him and said it is over. what i am haunted by quite frankly is what we don't know about presidents.