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tv   The Presidency Secret White House Tapes  CSPAN  May 23, 2022 9:24am-10:35am EDT

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>> up next, the university of virginia's miller center analyze several presidents including john kennedy, when johnson, and richard nixon. this is about an hour and ten minutes. >> thank you to our featured speaker, mark silver stone for taking the time out of his busy schedule to be here with us tonight. marc is an associate professor, presidential studies at the mueller center, and chair of the centers recording program, and hails from west port, connecticut, and a graduate of staples high school there. so, there may be others from west port, staples graduates. so, we are in good company tonight.
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mark is going to provide us with an overview of the recordings program established by the center in 1998 with highlights of secretly taped meetings and phone conversations from various presidents. he will also tell us what he and his team are now working on, as well as his current projects on president kennedy and vietnam. as chair of the recordings program, mark and it's the secret white house tapes of presidents john f. kennedy, lyndon b. johnson, and richard m. nixon. he is the general editor of the presidential recordings digital addition, the primary online portal for transcripts of the tapes published by the university of virginia press. mark earned a ba degree in philosophy from trinity college, a masters degree in international affairs from columbia university, and a ph.d. in history from ohio university. a historian of the cold war, he is an offer of the kennedy withdrawal, kamala it and the
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american commitment to vietnam, published by harvard, forthcoming in 2022, and constructing the monolith united states, great britain, and international communism 1945 to 1950, also harvard 2009, which one of the stewart book prize from society of american foreign relations. first time, marc will answer your questions at the close, would you can submit on the q&a tab at the bottom of your screen. so without, i will pass this over to him. welcome, marc. thank you again for joining us tonight. >> thanks for having me, and thanks your whole team for setting this up. i'm really pleased to be with you on the heels of this presidents'day. it's a great time to look back on presidential history. at the same time, as we are trying to understand this really difficult and significant moment of history that we are in right now, and
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have been living through, especially the events of the last couple of days. but, we will take a look back, and maybe that will help to consider some of what we are currently looking through in some kind of perspective. we are here on the 22nd of february. the 290th birthday of george washington. i remember when -- we had february 22nd off for washington's birthday, and for barry 12th off for a lincoln's birthday. now, combined into one single presidents'day. we are also speaking about the presidency at a time where there is greater public interest in presidential records, given what's that previous presidents head down with his own. so, that has been in the news. we are also speaking about presidents on the heels of last night and the night before cnn program on lbj, which i thought
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was a fabulous four part series on the johnson presidency, the tumultuous time that that was from 63, really through january of 69, and that forms an important part of the work that we do, that the mueller center and the recordings program, and a significant guide in the last lights, and the episodes. the tapes were really the start of the show, i think. that video, the images were fantastic. some i had never seen before. but, having a chance to listen to johnson speak with a variety of private individuals, his own aides to get a sense of what was in his mind from his own round is really irreplaceable. so, that material that i get a chance to work with every day at the miller center. and, it's what i have a chance to share with you tonight. so, one of the interesting questions that comes up about this, it when i wondered when i
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had started this work, back in 2000. i've been at that melas sandra now coming up for 22 years. how did these materials even come to life? and moreover, how is it that we got access to them? because, these are presidential records. they should be classified. they should never see the light of day, or at least that was the thought at one time. summer of and so much in modern american political life, the thread really goes back to richard nixon. the summer of 1973, with congressional interest in the watergate scandal really heating up, former chief of staff alexander butterfield testified in front of the senate watergate committee revealing that president nixon did indeed have listening devices set up in the white house. he had them in the oval office, but he also had them in the cabinet room. in his office next door to the
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executive office building, the eisenhower executive office building. he also had them in the residential quarters in the white house as well as at camp david. this is extraordinarily rich and voluminous trove of presidential materials that the watergate investigators wanted to get their hands on. nixon stonewalled in turning them over. he first said that he would provide his own summaries of these and then transcripts of these and then hand them over. that was not good enough for the senate committee, nor was it good enough for the independent counsel that was looking into these matters. there was haggling back and forth about the disposition. ultimately came down to the supreme court, which decided by a vote of eight to nothing, suggesting or indicating that nixon's claim of executive privilege did not matter here.
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these materials were relevant to criminal cases that were then pending. nixon had to give up these tapes. once the investigators got a chance to listen to them, particularly a tape from june of 1972, about a week or so after the break in at the democratic national headquarters at the watergate hotel complex, it became clear that nixon had engaged in obstruction of justice. once the relevant committees who were considering impeachment at the time, the house judiciary committee was considering impeachment at the time. once they got a hold of this, not only the democrats but republicans, it was clear that the game was up. nixon realized that he would not be able to survive a floor vote of the house. he would in fact be impeached by the judiciary committee.
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voting affirmatively to send those articles to the floor so nixon ends up resigning the office of the presidency at the end of the first week of august, 1974. with those criminal cases still ongoing -- nixon quite honestly having jurisdiction over those materials because at the time it was believed that they were his personal property, congress decided to act and passed a law in december of 1974 the presidential recording in material preservation act in which congress claimed jurisdiction over these materials. they did not want to see them destroyed, they wanted to preserve them for history and also because they were still relevant to ongoing cases. four years later congress took an even more significant step when it passed the presidential
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records act, which transformed these materials, these records from the private property of the presidents, individuals, to the public property of the united states. they now became hours. it was left up to the presidential libraries where these materials were being stored from previous presidents, about what to do with that. this leads into a very interesting question, how many presidents have really done this during the time in office? when did it start and when did it and? after butterfield had disclosed that there was taping going on in the nixon white house, the questions went out to the head of the kennedy library, and the head of the johnson library, perry middleton, did those presidents tape? arthur slush unger who was a
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kennedy acolyte, written on kennedy he came out with a book in 1965, when he heard that nixon had taped, and was then asked about kennedy, he said of course, kennedy would never have done that. he was far too smart to do anything that stupid. of course president kennedy did take. harry middleton did say the same thing about the johnson tapes. now we were off to the races! these two other presidents tate. who else taped? that leads us back to franklin roosevelt. he began the regime of surreptitious presidential taping. other presidents have taped their materials. we can go into the future, fast forward to bill clinton and barack obama who taped their conversations largely with journalist so that they knew exactly what was said if they needed to consult that in the future. the practice of taping their
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conversations in secret, without anyone else in the room knowing that they were being taped, whether those were cabinet officials, presidential aides, private individuals who may be coming into the white house, that began with franklin roosevelt. roosevelt only taped about eight hours of material. we -- in fact beginning in july there will be a project on the roosevelt tapes. it should be very exciting. we will be able to finish that up in the course of the academic year, and published shortly thereafter. it wasn't just roosevelt! harry truman taped. he did not like the whole prospect of taping, he thought it was on ethical, as did roosevelt, as well. roosevelt taped from august of 1940 until just after he was elected in november of 1940. never again after! he was uncomfortable with doing so. truman was very uncomfortable with doing so after finding out
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from fdr and fdr's aides, really, that fdr had taped. truman tried it a couple times but he didn't want anything more to do with it. after april of 1945 he did not touch it. dwight eisenhower taped a little bit. four or five hours or so. real idiosyncratic. it is hard to get a good sense of why he taped, when he did. the best we can determine is it seem to be conversations that might have been sensitive, that he wanted a record of. but the golden age of taping really begins with jfk. kennedy begins taping in the summer of 1962. that last right through till november of 1963. about 260 hours of material. that is both telephone tape, and media tape. the vast majority is meeting
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tape. lyndon johnson carried on the tradition of taping. johnson, who had also taped while he was vice president, began taping from the very moment that he became president. we have 800 hours of lbj cereal. 670 of them on the telephone, and about 150 of them being meeting tapes. but it is richard nixon who wins the award for the greatest taping scheme that we have seen from these presidents. 3400 hours of nixon material was taped from february of 1971, through to july of 1973. the reason there is so many nixon tapes is because he was using a voice activated system. every time he stepped into a room with a beeper on his belt buckle, a voice activated
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recorder would kick off. so whether nixon was speaking with aids, whether he was watching tv, if he left the room and the tv stayed on that would be captured as well. which is why we have hours an hours of washington redskin, i will say the name, that was the name of the team at the time. camilla school comes to take this on. in 1998, philip's all go who have moved from harvard to the university of virginia two director of -- had been involved in a project to transcribe the kennedy cuban missile crisis tapes. he carried that project with him from harvard to the university of virginia. he thought that, well, while we are taping the missile crisis tapes, that's great! 13 days or so. let's see if we can take the entire corpus of kennedy materials and stretch again to
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260 hours. let's go further and try to transcribe all of the presidents who taped. the presidential recording program began at 98 in the miller center. we've been going strong for 24 years now. hese materia lsat the end of the conversation here i will give you a better sense of how you can access these materials yourself. what i want to play some tape for you and give you a sense of what is on them. we are going to jump from kennedy, to johnson, to nixon. we'll see how many i can get through before we turn to a q&a. i know that there will be a lot of questions about this. let's start with jfk. it is a tape that is important for me for my work i've just continued a manuscript on kennedy in vietnam the focus not necessarily on a comprehensive, soup to nuts, kennedy in vietnam those
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narratives are out there. they are worthwhile invaluable. but i was interested in a smaller segment of the kennedy vietnam story. it relates to his planning to withdraw the united states from vietnam by 1965. lots have been written about this recently. because of some material that kennedy taped, we have a way to try to get to the bottom of what kennedy was thinking about of vietnam at large, but also in respect to this planning that have been going on since the summer of 1962 to get the united states out by 1965. the time when he expected he would still be president. the conversation we are going to hear is from early october, 1963. it will feature defensive secretary robert mcnamara, and chief secretary maxwell taylor.
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they have just come back from a fact finding mission in vietnam. they deliver to kennedy this report. it's as a variety of things how the kept -- how they should be handling a really dangerous ally in north vietnam. they also explained how to extricate the united states from vietnam, which looked like it would be in real trouble. but how to get out in 1963. we will also hear from kennedy's national security adviser, michael tailor the chairman of the joints chiefs, and george ball who is the number two at the state department. we will hear three excerpts in this clip. the first two are from a morning meeting when kennedy in just a couple of aides are meeting with taylor and mcnamara. the last segment, the third excerpt, you will hear the difference in the quality of
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the tape itself, that comes from an evening session of the national security council when they are debating what they say to the public about this. should they announced that they will get the united states out by the end of 65? it is a fascinating four minutes or so of conversation, listen to mcnamara the quality of his voice. this is a man who later embraced the notion that vietnam was mcnamara's war. kennedy, mcnamara, taylor, from october of 63. >> -- >> -- >>, --
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>>,. ,,. secondly it expands beyond that period, we believe we can train the vietnamese to take over the essential function and withdraw the bulk of our forces. and the south and connection with that, and i have a list of units here that i represent about. thousands >> bob have. say -- we need to wait to get out of vietnam. this is a way of doing it and to leave forces there when they're not needed. i think it is wasteful and complicates both their problems and hours. >> the question that occurred to me is whether you want to get the public pinned to a day, six a well that goes back to the paragraph, tumeric.
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>> yes it does, we can say that this -- very strongly i think this is a major question. i want to say this, that we talked to on and 74 officers, the enemies and the u.s. in the case of the u.s.. i always ask the question, when can you finish this job in the sense that you will reduce this insurgency to little more than sporadic incidents? inevitably, except for the delta, they would say, 64 would be ample time. i realize that is not necessarily -- icing that there is no major contractors. new factors entering, [inaudible] i realize that's -- >> why let's say it anyway. and then 65, it america will get >> 65 for the delta. >> i think mister president you must have means of -- slight difference between max and me in this entire report,
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in this for 64 65 i'm not entirely sure that if we don't meet the manager military campaigns, according to schedule a that worked out because we can train the vietnamese to do the job. by the end of this ye>> mister president, there is some difference of opinion in paragraph three. the last sentence, by the end of this year. again, i think the state department is feeling is that there may be, that this signal maybe ambiguously red. and, we're not quite sure what people will think it means. bob has a strong reason for stating it. i think you want to hear the arguments. well, let me say that i think we will not make any serious objections to this. we've, i've told bob just now, i can see certain advantages.
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>> my only reservation about it is that it commit us to a, if the war doesn't continue to go well, it will look like we were overly optimistic. and, i'm not sure we -- i'd like to know what benefit we get out of this time announcing 1000. >> mister president, we have the thousand split by units. so, that if the war doesn't go well, we can say these thousand men would not have influence the course of action. >> and, the advantage of -- >> and, the advantage of taking them out is that we can say to the congress and people that we do have a plan for reducing the exposure of u.s. combat personnel to the guerrilla actions in south vietnam. actions that the people of south vietnam should gradually develop a capability to suppress themselves. and, i think this will be a great value to us in meeting at the very strong views of full
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bright and others that were bogged down in asia and will be there for decades. >> so, that withdrawal, the thousand men withdrawal actually did go through in early december of 1963. of course, jfk was not around when it happened. that was lyndon johnson. and, shameless plug that it is, my book, i cover johnson's approach to the withdrawal policy. and as we know, that never fully went through because by the end of 1964, johnson was conducting strikes on north vietnam. and then into 1965, sustained strikes with bombing. and then, by the middle of 1965, 100,000 troops that would rise, over half 1 million by 1968. but, lbj is a fascinating
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character, not only with respect to be an arm, but with respect to how. bob's wonderful work on lbj really is a study of health. and, i want to play a couple of clips from lbj that give you a clip of how he wield that power. one of them comes from just ten days or so after he became president. it's a conversation between johnson and jack kennedy, the late president's widow. it's notable for a variety of reasons. but, particularly for johnson, who knows that he is going to need to stay in the good graces of the kennedy family. he has picked up that mantle from the former president. he is trying to pass kennedy's legislative agenda, tax cut, for nate, and then eventually civil rights. and then, he is going to need to go into a 1964 presidential campaign, not alienating the
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kennedy forces, which will be a real challenge, given where we know bobby kennedy will be at the time. so, here he is early in this process. sweet talking jackie kennedy, and she is doing it back to him, which gives you just as much a sense of how much jackie was a political player in her own right. so, here is lbj and jackie kennedy from early december 1963. >> mister president? >> i just wanted to know you are loved by so many and so much. i'm one of them. sage if you ever saw>> oh, mister pri tried. i didn't there bother you again, but i got kenny o'donnell over
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here to give you a message if you ever saw you about my letter. that was waiting for me last night? >> listen, sweetie, now the first thing you've got to learn, you've got some things to learn. and, one of them is that you don't bother me. you give me strength. >> but, i wasn't going to send you even one more letter. i just wanted to get answers. >> don't tell me anything. just come over and put your arm around me. that's all you do. when you haven't got anything else to, realistic awoke. let's walk around the backyard. >> oh. >> and, let me tell you how much you mean to all of us, and how we can carry on if you give us a little strength. >> but, you know what i wanted to say to you about the letter? i know how rare allure is in a president's handwriting. do you know that i've got more in your handwriting than i do in jacks now? >> oh, what's, well. >> and, for you to read it at this time, and then to send me that thing today of, you know, your cape announcements and everything. >> i want you to just know this,
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that i told my mom a long time ago. when everybody else gave up about my election in 48, my mother, and my wife, and my sisters, and you females got a lot of courage that we men don't have. and so, we have to rely on you and depend on you, and you've got something to do. you've got the president relying on you, and this is not the first one you had. so, there are not many women you know of running around with good many presidents. so, you just got the biggest job in your life. >> she ran around with two presidents. that's what they will say about me. okay. >> goodbye, darling. >> thank you for calling, mister president. >> do come by. >> i will. >> so, that's one version of the johnson. here is another one. it's a little more pointed. and, it's visited upon sergeant shriver, the late presidents
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brother in law, current director of the peace of february 1964. johnson wants shriver to wear two hats. he wants him to not only be head of the peace corps, but he wants him to run this new program on the war on poverty. johnson, in his state of the union from early that january hadn't declared an unconditional war on poverty, and shriver would be a great person to run this because of the kennedy ties, the continuity of his links to the administration. he's a great administrator. and, johnson is all thinking about who should be his running mates come november. some people were talking about shriver. this is a nice way to sideline shriver. of course, some people are going to talk about johnson having as ways to sideline bobby, too. but here, in february of 1960, for johnson will put it screws to trevor. you will be my meant to run
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this program. and, one reference when you will hear this, travels, i think the person that around this bill. that bill is built more years, who was actually shriver's deputy at the time. running the peace corps. so, here is a real good example of the johnson tape. charge of the morning mr. president. how are you? i'm on announce your appointment at press conference. what that >> surge? >> good morning, mister president, how are you? >> i'm going to announce your appointment at the press conference. >> what press conference? >> this afternoon. >> oh, god, i think it would be advisable, if you don't mind, if i could have this weekend. i wanted to sit down with a couple of people and see what we could get in the way of some sort of plan. because what happens, at least my thought is, that what happens is you announce somebody, or here's somebody else, and they don't know what the hell they are doing, or what the program is going to
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specifically be, and who is going to carry it. then, you are in a hell of a whole. >> we -- >> because, they all start calling you. what are you going to do? are you going to carry it out? and all that? >> well. just don't talk to them. just go away and go to camp david. figure it out. we needed something to say to the press. we've got to say to them. and, i've got to tell them yesterday what -- you can just take off, work out your peace corps anywhere you want to. you can be head of the committee and have some acting operator. if you want bill to help you, i will let him do that. i'll do anything. but, i want to announce this and get it behind me, so i'll keep getting all these other pressures, and i think you've got to do it. he just can't let me down. so, the quicker we get it behind it, the better. you cannot talk to them as special assistant to the president. just as his piece administrator. if they wanted to talk to you, you can tell them, speak to me. >> yes, well, mister president.
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>> don't make me wait until next week. because, i want to satisfy this press with something. i told them, we are going to have a press meeting. >> well, it's just -- >> they are going to have all these questions, and i don't want to be indecisive about them. if you can't run 100 million program, in your left-hand, and a billion dollar program with your right hand, you notice more as you think you are. >> the size, the money, i've got no problem at all. it's the people. >> well, other people -- >>, yeah i want to keep all these people for the government that are in the peace corps and bring them into any other programs that they're -- >> well, of that's good. i'm not going to suffer you from the peace corps at all. i'm going to say that you are going to maintain your identification of the peace corps. and, how much the details you do, whether you hire them, or sweep up the room is going to be a matter for you to determine. i'm going to make that clear. but, i am going to make it clear that you are mr. poverty, and at home and abroad, you ought to be.
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i don't care who you have running the peace corps, if you can't run it, wonderful. if you can't, get oshkosh from chicago, and i will name him. >> i can't get anybody. the only guy that can possibly do it, mister president, is bill. >> well, you can write your ticket. you can write your ticket on anything you want to do their. i want to get rid of poverty though. you can organize the poverty right from the beginning. and, you'll have to get on the message monday. but, this sunday papers are going to say that you mr. poverty unless you got real compelling reasons, which i haven't heard. and, i'm going to say that you are going to maintain your identification with the peace corps, and operated to such an extent as you may think desirable. e later >> there are lots of other great examples of the johnson treatment. and, i will direct you to some later. but now, richard nixon. nixon started taping in february of 1971. it's an opportune time for us, looking back on those years,
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because it allows us to catch some early developments in his planning for moving into china. it allows us to hear how he is thinking about control of the soviet union. he starts taping less than two weeks after the incursion into laos. so, it's a pretty important moment. this conversation, from that summer, comes a day after nixon presided in the rose garden with his daughter. you can see in column one of the times right here. but, what was most important about the news of that day, the new york times, was about appeared in the middle columns about this pentagon papers, would come to be known as the pentagon papers, which was the secret department of defense study that looked back at u.s. relationships with vietnam from 1945 through 1967. and, it takes all hague to
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focus return extends attention on this, which he dies in this phone call that sunday morning. >> hello. >> general, sir. >> hi. what about the catch we sent we have the figure yet? >> announcer i think it'll be quite low. >> it should be -- asked >> should be. the >> last week or better. >> yeah because it should be less than 20, i would think yeah. >> so would be very -- >> they, when do they get. that do you -- will you know? >> we don't get it officially till monday afternoon -- but we can gain a reading on. >> right, well, monday afternoon officially? well, let's wait till. then find. okay. nothing else of interest in the world today?
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>> yes sir, very significant. this got him new york times exposé of the most highly classified documents of the vietnam war. >> oh that? i see -- >> that. >> i didn't see the story. but you mean that was leaked out of the pentagon? >> there, the whole study that was done for mcnamara and then carried on after mcnamara left by clifford and the piece next over there. this is a devastating security breach of the greatest magnitude of anything i've ever seen. >> well, what is being done about that? >> i come on now we did not see there. >> yeah. >> there is just a few copies about. that -- is why what about? the >> 12 volume. report >> well, what about the -- let me ask you this, though. what about the -- one about layered? was he going to do about it? is -- well, i talked. with >> him now i just go start right at the top of the virus and people. >> yes, sir. well i'm sure came from
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defense. i'm sure it was stolen at the time of the turnover of the administration. >> oh, it's two years old,. and >> i'm sure it is, they've been holding it for juicy time. and i think they've thrown it out to affect hat fields, make governed. that's my estimate. but it's something that -- it's a mixed bag. it's a tough attack on kennedy. it shows that the genesis of the war really occurred during the 61 period. >> yeah, yeah. >> and it's brutal on president johnson. they're going to end massive got sight in the democratic party on the thing. >> another? >> it's a -- good summary -- >> but also massive against the war. >> against the war. >> it's a pentagon, study? >> it was indeed. and over the next few days, nixon would think about this more and more. what did this mean that this material was li? he started to get really scared. he was concerned that there was
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another study floating around washington might get lee. that study contained the history of the 1968 presidential election, right down to the wire, when nixon and his campaign kind of monkey to round with the possibility of peace talks, starting the north and south vietnamese. this is what came to be known as the -- affair. nixon fears that there is much area related to this shun alter affair in the same bookings. the story goes that johnson had announced a bombing halt on october 31st, 1968. theoretically, as far as nixon knew, so he could swing that election to hubert humphrey, the democratic candidate. up to van nixon had a double
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digit lead. humphrey had really narrowed things down in the last campaign. if it became known that there was not only the possibility of peace talks, but that all of the parties were gonna go to them, then humphrey might have gotten really big boost to this. nixon moves in, he tells the south to stay away from it and humphrey's get snow bomb. johnson knew about it because he had fbi, cia, and it's a material indicating that the nixon campaign was working around. nixon thinks that all of that material is in a safe in this bombing hall file at the brooklyn institute. on june 17th, nixon and key aides bob haldimand, henry kissinger, john ehrlich min. they all talk about this in the oval office. it is this conversation and some others that is going to lead nixon to try to plug up this and other leaks which will
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lead him to create the plumbers. the plumbers lead right into watergate. this is one of the conversations you can hear on the donor website. i would like to play it for you. but i would like to give you an opportunity to ask some questions. let's hold on to this for a while. let me just tell you, a couple other things before we break and then open it up. i think that these materials are just golden for our purposes. particularly in a living democracy. they provide some sense of transparency and accountability. it gives us some sense of how power is yielded in the people's name. it is important to be able to look back at this, to see how decisions were made on key matters. the questions that are being asked can certainly help inform the kinds of questions that we should be asking in the president. i think they are wonderful for
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that purpose. the tapes also humanize the president, gives us a much better sense of who these guys, and at some point we hope gals, will be as president. and at least in johnston's case, and we heard from the series over the last couple nights, it gives us a much better idea of what he really thought. we no longer can argue that lyndon johnson was a warmonger during vietnam, after hearing what he was really saying to his aides. the tapes allow us to understand a little bit more about how policy is made in realtime. arguhow would a president readsn the paper that day can affect who he decides to speak with. the arguments that he makes, you can see the evolution of policy as it is happening. that is a real boon to us historians. furthermore, they help to
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either correct or shape they historical record. there are recordings of conversation for which there is no written memorandum at all. the kidney tape that i played for you, in fact, there is no memorandum of conversation. it does not exist for that first clip from the meeting of october 2nd. all we have, really, is the taint. because of that we can hear kennedy saying we'll look, if 65 doesn't work out for getting the troops out of vietnam will just get a new day, will push back! what does that mean for kennedy's willingness to stick around in vietnam? maybe fighting harder or at least not to pull the troops out if the war wasn't not going well. for a variety of reasons, these materials are extraordinary! i feel really quite privileged to be able to work on them. you can listen to them, particularly the lbj tapes,
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through lbj tapes dot org. it is a project we have entered into with the lyndon johnson library and foundation. you can scroll and browse through and get over 100 clips like you see before you here on vietnam the civil rights, swamp of ready. on johnson the main. and a variety of other topics. this is all free of charge. we are hoping to do something comparable for the other presidents. we have been working with the other presidential libraries, as well. our gold plated material that we published through the uva press it comes with this digital addition. some of you out there may have the ability to vpn into a uva network you can access these. unfortunately for others there is a paywall. we are currently in conversation, have been in conversation, with the press
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and the other units in the university for a while to try to make these open access. it is one of my goals to make sure that students across the country have access to all of these tapes. what better way to help teach american history, at least modern american political history than hearing the words of lyndon johnson, john f. kennedy, and the other presidents giants? finally, you can read more about the history of the recordings themselves. each of the presidents approaches to the recording through the material that we published on miller center dot org. and the informational pages that we have for the presidential recording program. you can get more background on the tapes. you can also get more digital exhibits, like the ones that i play today. if you are really ambitious and you want to listen and just kind of poke around, you can download every single audio file that exists. we have uploaded them to our website. this is all available to you,
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free of charge. with that let me stop. and take your questions. >> thank you again, mark. that was fascinating talk. it's amazing listening to the secret recordings. i had never heard any of those before. literally, thousands of hours. we appreciate you distilling them down for a few clips to give us an idea of what exactly was in the treasure trove of materials. it looks like we have a few questions, if anyone, again, wants to ask mark anything just job it into the q&a tab down at the bottom of the computer. we have a few minutes left. mark has graciously agreed to answer some questions one had actually come in earlier in the day. it was, who is the earliest presidents that we have
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recordings of their voice? grant mckinley? i think i have heard teddy roosevelt? thank you. that is from bonnie, shepard. it's actually benjamin harrison. i consulted with one of the archivists at the miller center, he was able to provide a link to a harrison clip. it doesn't say a whole lot, it's a little scratchy, but it answers a question, at least, who was number one. >> okay, thank you. another question that i came in earlier during the presentation, what's triggered the taping prior to nixon? or did the president have to click on something to start the tape? an anonymous question here. >> it was a combination of things. for kennedy, what's kennedy and then we'll do johnson. for kennedy, he had a switch in the knee well of his death that he could flick if he was there.
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he also had a dictaphone that he would use, he was quite conscious of pressing the button so kennedy would record memoirs of his reflections on the day. there was also a switch act kennedy's place in the cabinet room that he could flick and he could turn on those microphones. those though were placed behind curtains behind him. it was a manually operated system for kennedy. for johnston, he would largely signal to his secretaries, often time the door was open between johnston and an outer office, he would kind of swirl his fingers and that meant, tape it! or he would yell at the secretary, take this one! there were times when johnson, he would have off oval
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conversation via johnson speakerphone, which were fascinating. largely for lbj, two, they were manually operated at the source. nixon was entirely voice-activated. that was largely because the people who set it up, nixon and the others recognize that he really wasn't terribly adept at technology. they were going to lose a law if they didn't have that kind of system in place. they decided to decide -- it started two years with the president. ultimately because nixon wants a few things. as the other presidents want, to, to re-for posterity what has happened so he can write his memoirs. they want to know what was said so they could hold somebody feet to the fire if need be. for nixon, having the tape system made sense because
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previously you had a notetaker in on a bunch of conversations. recognizing that the presence of this other party really reduce the level of candor in these conversations. they would take the person out of the room and they put in the taping system. that is a little bit more insight into why it is we have what we have. >> thanks, a couple more questions have come in. one from michael whitener. it's hard to understand why a president would want to tape themselves. it seems like it would just get themselves into trouble. did they think they were immune? >> hi michael, nice to hear from you. well, nobody thought it would become public. there was little expectation beyond that. all of these materials, any material that a president is generating 1962 through 1971,
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the year of the golden age of taping, everyone expects to take that material with them. do you would it is they want with it. roosevelt had established the practice of creating presidential libraries. you build it, he placed his materials there for people to see. but it was at his discretion of what he wanted people to see. the others, the subsequent presidents operated according to that same logic. nobody thought that these would become public. nixon fought tooth and nail to make sure that they didn't become public! there was a lot of wrangling from 74 through 78. the time that congress passed the presidential records act. but then it went beyond that, as well. the nixon estate got very involved. nixon himself got very involved over what precisely could be disclosed. it was decided that the materials that were of a purely
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personal nature would not be disclosed. other information, other materials pursuant to the presidents discharge of his powers of office, those would all be made public. nixon fought really hard, but ultimately we now have these 3 to 400 hours. it doesn't mean that there are materials that have been withheld. there are! i think about 700 hours of nixon material that is still withheld, either because of reasons of national security or because they are of a personal nature. they are withheld between the deed of gift that is the same thing with kennedy and johnson, too. it's not about everything they were courted out there for the world to see. there are still things that are still classified. historians from time to time will file freedom of information act request for declassification.
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thank you. another question from michael frazier. to what extent did the presidents play the tape? >> another great question. it's hard to know. we suspect that they probably were not because, especially if you think about kennedy in the middle of the cuban missile crisis, who knows how it's going to come out? it's hard to really make the call as to what to tape and whatnot to tape, knowing what is going to make you look good in the end, if this does become a public. there is some evidence that kennedy was going to use these materials in realtime, that's what we had thought. bobby has certainly listen to them by 1963 and we think that jfk was going to use them in the course of his campaign, or at least draw on them for his campaign in 1964.
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again, it is hard to know what is going to make you look good. also, certainly for nixon, since it is voice activated, in a spur of the moment it is tough to buy for kate and go back and tell yourself to listen. with kennedy and johnson, yes, they are manually operated so they are aware of themselves taping. but i think the more significant conclusion about that is that particularly for kennedy, when kennedy taped, he was probably taping something that he thought was really important. because there were comparatively fewer hours. when he starts to taping a lot of vietnam in 1963, particularly at the end of the summer of 1963, that is when he is devoting a lot of energy to it. he's not devoting a lot of energy to it before that. that is another awe moment, a way that we can think about
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what was on his plate, how much attention he was given to it, and how sound or unsound's policy was as a result. >> thank you. another question, bob barnett, what presidential conversations are recorded presently? formal meetings, diplomatic calls, and what discretion the president have in this regard? >> a great question. so we don't think that any president is recording in the same fashion that these guys did. it was a surreptitious, secret recording without anybody knowing. you will always have, as is the case with the reagan tapes, which we are going to start transcribing this coming summer. conversations with foreign heads of state are listened in on by other presidential aides, they are taking notes, they are making records of them to potentially have recordings.
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i think we had some of that from the first trump impeachment. and so, forth there is a record of what is being said, just so you can capture that. we know that obama, as i mentioned before, taped conversations with journalists. just to make sure there is a record. but we don't think there is any of the secret nature going on. there was some suspicion at the outset of the trump administration, if you recall that exchange he had with jim comey. i think they were having dinner in the east wing of the white house, and they were next to a wall, next to a curtain. was there a microphone back there? we knew trump had taped as a private citizen, he could do the same thing as president. we don't know. but so far, nothing like that has come to light. we might have found out if it
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had. in terms of discretion, the presidential records act gives the president some discretion as to what to get retains and what doesn't. that is why over the past few years, there have been efforts on the part of congress to strengthen the presidential records act, and make it -- and take it out of the president's hands, that discretion as to what if they can preserve as presidential record and what they ditch. previously, the sense was that it not everything that comes into a presidents orbit is really relevant for historical purposes. there are thousands and thousands of letters that come in every day. maybe you save a few, but you ditch a whole bunch of them. their conversations are supposed to take place between the president and the archivist of the united states, guidelines are set for how to manage this. but the presidential records act, as many people have pointed out in the last few
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weeks, as we have learned more about what happened during the previous administration, it really rests on an honor system. to strengthenas we have seen, ar system isn't good enough. so the efforts of congress to strengthen this and to set down some real hard and fast requirements is ongoing. >> thank you. we are almost 8:00, i've got five more questions. as much time as you want to hang on for, we appreciate your being with us. so let me know if at some point you want to go and we will wrap up. but at least to the next question we had was, do you know if the tapes were recorded somewhere in the white house, or off-site outside of the white house? and who actually hit the recorded button and put in forest tapes? this is from a win in alaska. >> another great question.
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the secret service maintained these tapes originally. and then the white house communications agency. they are the ones to store and administer the taping system. for a while, it was really only a handful of people who knew about it, particularly fdr and kennedy. only four people knew about it and they were the ones to run it and the wires went down to the basement of the white house. the tapes themselves, where were the president when they were made? again, they deferred from kennedy. the oval office, the cabinet room largely. for johnson, it was the oval office, the cabinet room, a little lounge that he had off of the oval office itself. and then at the lbj ranch.
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in fact, we are listening to a whole bunch of tapes right now about to publish on the election of 1964. and so there are a ton of tapes from there. johnson is also taping off-site, in fact, during the whole walter jenkins scandal in october 1964, lbj's most struck did -- jenkins got caught up in what was called a moral scandal at the time, and he resigns. johnson is talking to his aides back in washington from a hotel in new york, the waldorf. a system that the white house communications agency set up. so they take place in a variety of locales. it is the white house, residential quarters, residential quarters. and the camp david. okay, thank you. another question from eric
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lover, who among those on the ex calm during the cuban missile crisis knew that deliberations were being recorded? >> that's a great question, we don't think that anybody did. we know that by august of 63, bobby had known about the tapes. but here this is october of 1962 that we are talking about. we don't think that any of those people knew about them. kennedy did, evelyn lincoln did, secretary -- and then secret service agents did. maybe bob they have found out earlier than 63, when bobby was speaking with lbj after johnston became president he was well aware that he was probably being taped. to your question, that is a really good example of somebody may be watching what they said
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to the president, because they know it was being caught. for kennedy, no, an incredibly small circle of that wind and i don't know exactly when it widened, but there are others of my former boss was writing about kennedy, he is hopefully getting to the bottom of this. or at least helping us learn more about how wide that circle really was. >> thank you. we have three questions left. hopefully you have a couple of minutes left. >> i've got a minute, yes. >> one from pam molester, even with the presidential records act, doesn't it now seem that we are now missing out on a lot of information about presidential deliberations and discussions that would be relevant to history? or do presidents now only two men come that reflect what occurs in conversation and meeting?
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>> that's a great conversate -- that's a great observation because we are missing out. white house is a oral culture. so much happens in the hallways, in the oval office, again assuming that there are no tapes being made now. it is really tough to capture the texture of these conversations, in policymaking, without recreating these conversations, certainly in realtime. but even immediately after the conversations take place. at one point that might have been written down in a diary. but as we learned through the 1990s and the clinton scandals and saga, if you write them down in a diary that can be produced through a subpoena and used against you. people started to refrain from putting their recollections down on paper. we know that in particular
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because they have told us that! one of the other flagship research programs at the north center is the presidential oral history project. it has conducted the official oral histories of presidents from gerald ford, all the way up through george w. bush. it is also doing a baraka bomb a oral history program. we know that these folks were skittish about putting their recollections, their memories, down on paper. because they might be reproduced! to pam's question, that is one challenge. the other challenges, what do you do with all of these emails? it has just exploded over the years! how do we index, archive, make that available? and preserve it? i mean, there are thousands of emails that were lost -- forget about whatever you want to say about hillary clinton, during the bush 43 years
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themselves! there is effort to recapture some of those but large amounts of them are still lost. that is an other challenge. the national archives, dare i say it, as hard as they are working to make this material available to generations of scholars, and to the american public, there is just more and more, mountains continue to build. it is going to be a real chore to process them and make them accessible in a way that allows them to be intelligible. >> last couple for you, you mentioned the national archives. we have a question from and slayed, what role does the national archives play in preserving the tapes? >> hey ed, well the archives is the general custodian of these records.
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so, all of the presidential libraries which is where people would originally go to get the tapes, are part of the national archive system. the nixon library became part of the national archives i think in 2007. prior to that the nixon library stood outside of the national archive record administration system. so, there was a little bit of a wrinkle. there but the broad holding agency for all presidents. but, before the miller center did what it did and uploaded all of these materials, and downloaded all these materials, you could write to the archives. ask for these tapes. or a small processing fee they would send them to you. or you could go there yourself and listen to them. yeah, people went largely to the presidential libraries to do that. prior to 2007, if you wanted
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the nixon tapes he would go to, i believe archives at the college park in maryland. all right. and last question to wrap up, a similar inquiry from bob -- raab. is there anything that you learn from the tapes that was recorded either intentionally or by accident that he would want to share is an interesting story or a surprise of sorts? >> there are always surprises and they are all interesting. and i don't know why but as soon as you talked about a particular story or something, i don't know why i thought of this one, but there is a kennedy cliff asking for the little blue pills. kennedy had his doctor
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feel-good who shot him up with all kinds of things to keep him going. in addition to all the drugs he was taking for his many maladies. when we heard that kennedy was asking doctor george berkley, his physician, for one of those blue pills, that was something that we turned over as soon as we could. that is a fun one. the most famous tape of all, in addition to the smoking gun tape, which is the one that gives us all the rest of the tapes, because the smoking gun tape is what got nixon into the hottest of water. most famous tape is johnson's hegar slacks tape. johnson, in the first week of august 1964, in the middle of all kinds of crazy stuff. signing the gulf of tonkin
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resolution, and there are church bombings, and he's about to go to atlantic city for a convention. he calls up the head of the hegar slacks company, can you make me a pair of pants. it is a graphic conversation about johnson's own personal needs, of where he needs these pants to be taken out and why. >> great story. it's ten after eight, thank you very much, mark for staying a beyond the time that was scheduled. i know we all appreciate it. again, thank you very much, not only to those people that registered tonight for what was a great evening of information, but mark, for your time as well. for joining us and enlightening us as to presidential recordings program, and what you are doing. as you said earlier, you have
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got a book coming out. by all means, everyone should look for that and i wish you good luck on that and everything else. >> thanks. a pleasure to be with you. >> thank you. take care, goodbye.
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jeffrey frank revisits harry truman's presidency, including the end of world war ii, beginning of the cold war, and the dropping of the first nuclear bombs. the abraham lincoln bookshop in chicago is the host of this hour-long event. >>


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