WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Richard Nixon sought to paint
the would-be assassin of White House hopeful George Wallace in 1972 as a backer
of rival Democratic candidates, audio tapes made public on Thursday showed.
Nixon, a Republican, was maneuvering at the time -- before
the Watergate scandal broke -- to beat back a Democratic challenge in the November
1972 presidential elections.
"Look, can we play the game a little smart for a change?"
he barked at aides on May 15, 1972, hours after the assassination attempt by loner
Arthur Bremer left Wallace paralyzed below the waist. Wallace, who died in 1998,
was a long-time Alabama governor and avowed segregationist who entered
the 1972 Democratic presidential primaries.
Nixon's tape-recorded conversation in the Old Executive Office
Building was provided on Thursday by the National Archives, the U.S. document
keeper. It was part of about 500 hours of newly released White House tape
recordings from the Nixon presidency, the third of five chronological segments
and the largest such opening of its kind by the archives.
In the conversation with top aides, Nixon suggested that the
Democrats had somehow smeared U.S. conservatives by pinning on the "right
wing," as he put it, the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Note: Other transmissions of this tape
show Nixon's words slightly different.)
A commission chaired by Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren
concluded in 1964 that Lee Harvey Oswald, a former U.S. Marine who once defected
to the Soviet Union, acted alone in killing Kennedy in Dallas on Nov.
it was the greatest hoax that has ever been perpetuated,"
Nixon said without making clear why he considered the Warren
Commission findings a sham.Turning
back to the wounding of Wallace in Laurel, Maryland,
he added: "And I respectfully
suggest, can we pin this on one of theirs?" Nixon
was speaking to H.R. "Bob" Haldeman,
then his chief of staff, and
Charles Colson, then a special counsel to the president.
'PUT THAT OUT!'
"Just say he (the shooter) was a supporter of McGovern
and Kennedy," Nixon ordered, referring to Democrats George McGovern of South Dakota,
who lost the 1972 election in a landslide to the incumbent, and Edward Kennedy
of Massachusetts, who went on to make a brief White House run in
"Now, just put that out!" Nixon said, his voice rising
for emphasis. "Just say you have it on unmistakable
Haldeman interrupts Nixon to say that the suspect had been
arrested previously "so there ought to be a record on him."
"Screw the record!" Nixon shot back. "Just say
he was a supporter of that nut, and put it out." The president did not make clear whom
he meant by that "nut."
"Just say we have an authenticated report," he went
on. Turning to Colson, Nixon urged that the story be relayed via Kenneth Clawson, a White
House aide, to an unspecified "friend" in the media.
"Bob," he added, addressing Haldeman, "the moment
you get into the business of whether it's authenticated or not, you're dead."
Nixon made clear that he disliked Wallace,
a controversial figure because of his support for racial
segregation. "Incidentally, Wallace is an evil
man," he said at one
point. "McGovern is too ... because McGovern believes
in evil ... Wallace uses evil."
Wallace ran a strong third-party race in 1968 when Nixon barely
edged out Democrat Hubert Humphrey for the presidency and was considered
a major candidate in 1972 when he was shot.
Nixon became the only president to resign his office on Aug.
9, 1974, after he was implicated in a cover-up of the June, 17, 1972, break-in
at Democratic National Committee (news - web sites) headquarters at the Watergate
office complex in Washington.
Bremer, now 51, was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced
to 53 years in prison, which he is currently serving in Maryland.
The 170 newly released White House tapes covered a wide range
of domestic and foreign topics, including preparations for Nixon's ground-breaking
trip to China on Feb. 17, 1972 and discussions with Henry Kissinger on
the ramifications of losing the Vietnam War.
Also included is the so-called smoking gun conversation about
the Watergate break-in and the conversation with an 18-1/2 minute gap that helped
doom Nixon's presidency.
BBC story of Nixon tape revelations including comments Connally
made to Nixon about the limo events: