RICHARD NIXON, it turns out, wasn't the first president to secretly record White House conversations. Nor was Lyndon Johnson. For at least five years during the 1950s, Dwight D. Eisenhower recorded conversations with selected visitors. The tapes' existence remained secret until a Rice University historian, Francis L. Loewenheim, found summaries, typed from the tapes by White House secretaries, among the papers at the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kan., and wrote an account of them for the Houston Chronicle. Following are excerpts from these summaries: November 7, 1953
9:00 Appointment with Secretary of Commerce [Sinclair Weeks]. First time any adequate use of "gadget" for recording conversations made. It is now fine and complete verbatim report of the conversation could be made -- but the work!
The president and the secretary were discussing the need for a "trouble shooter" perhaps as a special assistant, or perhaps of Cabinet rank (legislation would be needed if the latter). President suggested he did need an individual who was not concerned with office routine, but who would "do anything the president might want." Someone would have to have stature (president suggested [Henry] Cabot Lodge or Milton Eisenhower as being the type of person he had in mind) who could iron out difficulties between Cabinet members and who would act for the president. April 28, 1954
Interview: President, Joseph T. Meek, Republican candidate for Senate from Illinois (to oppose Paul Douglas), and Senator [Everett M.] Dirksen [of Illinois].
The president said, "I forget where you stood on the Bricker Amendment [a constitutional amendment sponsored by Republican Sen. John W. Bricker of Ohio to restrict the president's treaty-making power]" -- he said if the matter had gone on it could have wrecked the United States, country could have been thrown back on its heels. He said we have got to believe that we have honest men at the head of the government.
Meek: "I think you have said it perfectly." Meek said he had said right along that the U.S. "didn't need the Bricker Amendment if Eisenhower could remain president for the next 20 years." President said that the then president [Harry S. Truman] had no concern for meaning of the Constitution.
Meek said he believed the president's greatest single achievement was the restoration of integrity, Christianity and the honor of the White House to the American people. May 29, 1954
The president was visited by the emperor of Ethiopia [Haile Selassie] to say "goodbye" before the emperor left Washington. (It was impossible to understand the conversation and words of any of the Ethiopians.)
Comments by the president were:
"I quite agree that a great need for a nation such as yours is capital. Frankly there is plenty of private capital in the United States that will be glad to do the job and I will have no trouble encouraging such investments providing there is a climate of welcome and security. Only yesterday I was talking to two of our capitalists on the prospects in Ethiopia. Both of them agreed instantly. However, it is quite clear that there are certain things that private capital does not meet and therefore there will have to be close association between our two governments.
His Majesty thanked the president and assured him that every facility would be granted to American capitalists. June 29, 1954
Conversation between the president and vice president [Richard M. Nixon], recorded after meeting of the "Speech Committee" in president's office. The president asked the vice president to remain a minute.
The president said he wanted to talk to the vice president about his "castigation" of Democrats on their handling of foreign affairs. He pointed out that the secretary of state was trying to get support on a bipartisan basis and one of the Democrats had said they were "smarting" over the vice president's remarks in a recent Milwaukee address.
The vice president said he had been careful not to attack the Democrats, but had attacked [former Secretary of State Dean] Acheson. However, he is making no more speeches for balance of summer, and is perfectly willing to delete such references from future ones.
The vice president pointed out that the "bipartisanship" of foreign policy of previous years did not apply to Asia, but only to Europe -- that [Sen. Arthur] Vandenberg [of Michigan], Dulles himself and the president, too, had criticized the Asian policy.
The president said that the reason we lost China and were in trouble today was because the U.S. insisted upon Chiang Kai-shek taking Communists into his government, against Chiang's judgment at the time.
With further reference to remarks about Acheson, the president pointed out that [Sen. Joseph R.] McCarthy had several times referred to the "20 years of treason" -- an indefensible statement -- and urged that by no implication could Nixon be considered saying the same thing. August 11, 1954
C. D. Jackson, Sherman Adams, P. T. Carroll [three White House assistants] -- at 11 o'clock.
C. D. said he had been worrying and thinking and studying for weeks, and the composite thinking is that we are in a period of "quite a lot of crisis." No committee, no individual can do much about this unless president sets the atmosphere. The seriousness of the situation is such that people are just beginning to misunderstand the president and, to put it in a sentence, the feeling is around that "you don't like your job."
President said this was the first time he had heard it said that he didn't like his job.
Talking about the money necessary for the world economic plan [a proposal developed by Jakson], the president said trying to sell it to Congress scared him. Someone said "Congress was an occupational hazard."
C. D. said problem of Vietnam refugees is reaching tremendous proportions, six figures -- they are going to decide the vote, if they have a vote in 1956, they are going to decide on basis of how thay are treated. State Department has some experts out there. Thousands of frantic cables coming back. Everybody wants to do something, but it isn't being done.
While these guys are working up the right climate, today 150,000 Vietnamese aren't eating. And it is what is happening today that is goint to affect how those people feel in 1956. President asked what we were waiting on: money. President said he would be perfectly willing to haul people south, and Communists north, if they want to come. President suggested putting this down for Friday Cabinet meeting. August 12, 1954
8:15 Conference with H. Alexander Smith, senator from New Jersey.
First Gen. [Wilton B.] Persons [a presidential assistant] told the president that Sen. Smith was coming in, that he wanted to talk about [Sen. Joseph] McCarthy, and that he fancies himself a fixer, a negotiator. He is the Senate's biggest gossip. Persons suggested the president just listen to him, he goes back to the cloakroom and talks and talks and talks -- and is dangerous.
Sen. Smith came in and said he wanted to talk to the president about Joe McCarthy -- he said he had been at Joe for three or four weeks, to see if he couldn't come along the lines discussed with the president the other day. He has indicated his desire to play ball with us.
Smith said he had two suggestions (here it was extremely difficult to understand). One seemed to be a conference on the approach the McCarthy Committee should take -- a conference with the Department of Justice to talk over the approach, the line of demarcation between the McCarthy Committee and the Department of Justice. We are getting that now. I called up [Attorney General] Herb Brownell and he said he wanted to see [Sen. Karl] Mundt. The second thing was would McCarthy like to sit down with the president and Smith some time and talk the whole thing out. McCarthy would like to very much.
Presient would not interfere at all with conference with Brownell -- but he does not think it would be good for us (for McCarthy and himself) at this time. If things come up that make it seem necessary, he suggested Smith give him a ring later and he would see.
President said he objects to people going around and every time they don't like someone they say they represent Taft's viewpoint. [Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio had led the conservative wing of the Republican Party.] Before Taft died, I talked to him frequently and I found to my amazement that in most things he was more liberal than I was. Old age pensions, insurance and all those things. These people are not representing Taft's viewpoint. Last time President talked to Taft, called him up, Taft said "anything I can do to help you, that's my job and that is what I want to do." That was his whole attitude.
The business of getting up and unnecessarily calling a man like Gen. [George C.] Marshall [the former secretary of state and defense] a "traitor." President says Gen. Marshall may at times have used bad judgment, he does not know any man who hasn't, but to call him traitor, he cannot go along with that. McCarthy is not just trying to split the Republican Party, he is trying to destroy, in this country, the value of public service. President asked Smith how he would like it if after all his years in public service, someone should call him a traitor.
Smith again urged idea [of meeting with McCarthy]. President said, "You can't unite any party just merely by two individuals looking at each other and grinning and showing their teeth and shaking hands." November 18, 1954
The president saw Lucius Clay. This record came in the middle of interview. President said he was totally unimpressed when people came in and said they wanted to work for him; if they wanted to work for a proposition, and that proposition coincided with the views of the administration, that was something else again.
President talked about building up candidates. Gen. Clay agreed. He gave names of four people whom he thought could be built up: [Deputy Defense Secretary] Bob Anderson, Dick Nixon, Herb Brownell and [Undersecretary of State] Herbert Hoover Jr. He said Herb Brownell might not quite have "saleable" character. Said Hoover was completely charming, lucid and clear in presentations. If president had to name two men, he would say Herbert Hoover and Bob Anderson. Gen. Clay pointed out difficulty in that he came from Texas [Anderson]. February 24, 1955
9:15: George Meany came to extend invitation for president to dedicate new AFL building here, on 16th St., just across Lafayette Park. It will be Saturday morning, April 30. President said he will come, but please not to ask him to make formal address. Would it be all right for him to take two or three minutes and pay tribute to American workmen? Mr. Meany said that's all they ask of him. March 5, 1955
Paul Hoffman [head of Studebaker auto firm] visited president.
Long discussion on defense contracts. I gather there's some outfit planning to sue General Motors.
Discussion led to the Helen Reid [of the New York Herald Tribune] newspaper matter. President said he would be unwilling to see Hoffman leave Studebaker, but that we must get a newspaper like that one and drive it ahead. Hoffman is the one man who knows what we believe, knows the government's position. The president told Mrs. Reid that, in Hoffman, we would have someone we knew, someone who knew our philosophy. She didn't seem to think he would want the job. But Paul Hoffman does not seem to confirm her thinking. He mentioned two disadvantages: (1) Expensive to leave; . . . (& I didn't hear the 2nd).
President again mentioned his eagerness to bring younger people before the eyes of the public. Those in the 48 to 50 age category, preferably. He named Bob Anderson, Herbert Hoover Jr., Chris Herter [governor of Massachusetts], Charlie Halleck [representative from Indiana], Dr. Milton [Milton Eisenhower, then president of Pennsylvania State University]. They all have the energy and fresh ideas necessary.