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The Nixon Tapes and the Supreme Court Tapes

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 48

Published – June 5, 2001

UPDATED 29 JUNE 2001 - The Secret Briefs and the Secret Evidence

Edited by Thomas S. Blanton
Compiled by John Prados, Eddie Meadows, William Burr, and Michael Evans

For more information contact:
Thomas S. Blanton 202/994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu


NEW: The Secret Briefs and the Secret Evidence
Expert commentary from Archive analyst John Prados

Supreme Court Briefs and Opinions
Streaming audio and transcripts

White House Telephone Conversations
Streaming audio and transcripts

Read excerpts from Nixon, Kissinger and Haldeman Memoirs


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"But out of the gobbledygook, comes a very clear thing: [unclear] you can't trust the government; you can't believe what they say; and you can't rely on their judgment; and the the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this, because it shows that people do things the President wants to do even though it's wrong, and the President can be wrong."
-- H.R. Haldeman to President Nixon, Monday, 14 June 1971, 3:09 p.m. meeting.

Washington, D.C., June 5, 2001 – Thirty years ago this month, President Nixon picked up his Sunday New York Times on June 13, 1971 to see the wedding picture of his daughter Tricia and himself in the Rose Garden, leading the left-hand side of the front page.  Next to that picture, on the right, was the headline over Neil Sheehan's first story on the Pentagon Papers, "Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces 3 Decades of Growing U.S. Involvement."  Nixon did not read the story (so he says on tape in his 12:18 p.m. phone call with Alexander Haig).

On Monday evening, June 14, Attorney General John Mitchell warned the Times via phone and telegram against further publication; and on Tuesday June 15, the government sought and won an restraining order against the Times an injunction subsequently extended to the Washington Post when that paper picked up the cause.  The epic legal battle that ensued culminated on June 30, 1971 in the U.S. Supreme Court's 6-3 decision to lift the prior restraints arguably the most important Supreme Court case ever on freedom of the press.

The National Security Archive has now posted on its Web site the following documentation from the Pentagon Papers case to our knowledge the first time this material has ever been published together:

  1. Audio and transcripts of ten telephone and meeting conversations from the recently-released Nixon tapes, recorded on Sunday, June 13, Monday, June 14, and Tuesday, June 15, detailing the reactions of President Nixon and his aides to the Pentagon Papers' publication and Nixon's decision to take legal action against the New York Times.
  2. The Supreme Court's decision(s) from June 30, 1971 (each Justice felt the need to weigh in).
  3. The brief for the government to the Supreme Court.
  4. The brief for the New York Times.
  5. The brief for the Washington Post.
  6. The amicus brief of 27 members of Congress.
  7. The audio from the Supreme Court tapes of the actual oral arguments presented by Solicitor General Erwin Griswold, Times attorney Alexander Bickel, and Post attorney William Glendon.
  8. The transcript for the oral argument, since the argument, on Saturday, June 26, lasted two hours and 13 minutes.

The court material covers the end of the Pentagon Papers case. But it is on the beginning of the case that we now have genuinely new evidence, in the form of the Nixon tapes declassified earlier this year pursuant to the lawsuit by University of Wisconsin historian Stanley Kutler and the Public Citizen Litigation Group.

This Electronic Briefing Book also features, for the first time published anywhere, the audio and transcripts of Nixon's conversations on June 13, 14 and 15 after publication of the Pentagon Papers began. Archive research associate Eddie Meadows copied the recordings at the National Archives and painstakingly transcribed them, as part of our long-term documentation project on Vietnam, under the direction of Archive fellow John Prados.

This briefing book also includes the relevant excerpts from the following memoirs:

  1. Richard Nixon, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1978)
  2. Henry Kissinger, Years of Upheaval (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1982)
  3. H.R. Haldeman, The Haldeman Diaries (New York: Berkeley Books, 1995)

The Secret Briefs and the Secret Evidence:

In coming days, this Electronic Briefing Book will add copies of the specific documents in the Pentagon Papers that were cited by the government in various public and secret legal papers as creating immediate harm to U.S. national security.  Archive senior fellow John Prados has carried out an exhaustive cross-referencing project using the recently-declassified secret briefs submitted by the government to the courts, together with each of the various editions of the Papers, including the New York Times paperback version (highly condensed and selective), the multivolume Government Printing Office version (officially declassified), Senator Mike Gravel's edition read into a Senate subcommittee record and subsequently published by Beacon, and the four negotiating volumes (which Daniel Ellsberg did not leak) declassified in 1977.   Stay tuned for an illuminating documented discussion of secrecy and lies.


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