Former president Richard M. Nixon was aware in early January, 1973, that "hush money" was being sought to keep the Watergate burglars silent, according to transcripts of White House tape recordings never before made public.
Nixon has maintained, and no previous tapes have contradicted, that he first learned of the requests for the "hush money" from White House Counsel John W. Dean III at a March 21, 1973, meeting in the Oval Office. The date became Nixon's principal line of defense in rebutting charges that he was aware of the Watergate cover-up earlier than March 21.
Yet 2 1/2 months earlier, in a Jan. 8, 1973, meeting with his special counsel and intimate, Charles W. Colson, Nixon said, "God damn hush money, uh, how are we going to (unintelligible) how do we get this stuff . . ." according to a newly available transcript.
This conversation took place one week before the first news stories about support payments to the Watergate burglars. It had particular relevance because the first Watergate trial began that day. The "hush money" reference is the first such reference in the available White House transcripts.
This and other new transcripts show that Nixon was keenly aware that these payments were central to the cover-up and, if revealed, would present his greatest personal criminal vulnerability.
The transcripts also contains the first documentation that:
Nixon feared Dean would expose Nixon's contact with Thomas A. Papas, a major Republican fund-raiser who was allegedly involved in raising "hush money."
Nixon privately expressed concern that the cover-up might unravel a full month before Watergate burglar James McCord exposed it publicly.
Nixon and his two aide, H. R. Haldeman, intended to use the then secret presidential taping system to refute Dean's charges while still keeping it secret from even the most senior White House officials.
Nixon characterized two Supreme Court justices as "boobs" and expressed concern that White House aides who were Jewish leaked information to Jewish reporters.
The new transcripts were among 28 prepared for the Watergate cover-up trial, but never made public. Several were witheld because the participants - Nixon and Colson - were not on trial.
In September, 1974, President Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed during his term and a half as President. Colson pleaded guilty in another case. THE HUSH MONEY
The Jan. 8 Nixon-Colson meeting in which Nixon asked about "hush money" revealed a degree of early cover-up discussion by Nixon not previously known. The discussion opened with Colson reassuring Nixon that none of the defendants in the first Watergate trial will testify. Within a week, five or seven defendants had pleaded guilty.
The day before the Jan. 8 meeting, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) announced that a Senate committee would conduct a fullscale probe of Watergate. Nixon and Colson expressed their concern that a Senate committee will present a greater problem than the trial of the seven defendants.
"We've got to play every string we've got here, don't you agree," Nixon said. "God damn it, the Congress has voted the investigation while they [the trial] are still in - I think that's why the court proceeding has its advantage. As long as that court proceeding is on, the Congress should keep its God damn hands out."
Nixon characterized former Attorney General John N. Mitchell as "smart. He was close to it but not directly . . . Perjury is a hard rap to prove."
Nixon then indicated that the problem of getting the "hush money" is increased because of an investigation then being conducted by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
Kennedy's Senate Judiciary subcommittee was then hot on the trail of Nixon's personal lawyer, Herbert W. Kalmbach. Kalmbach had up to that point provided most of the money for payments to defendants. Kennedy's subcommittee has subpoenaed his records. PAPPAS
Nixon was particularly concerned, according to previously unreleased segments of the April 26, 1973, that admission on March 21, 1973, that Nixon thought Pappas, a prominent Republican fund-raiser, had helped Mitchell raise part of the "hush money" for Watergate defendants.
In the course of six hours of conversation with Haldeman, his chief of staff. Nixon raised the Pappas problem seven times. Nixon repeatedly expressed his concern that he had recalled to Dean that he had personally thanked Pappas for the money.
Pappas, now 77, is a wealthy Greek-American with substantial investments in Greek oil refining, petrochemical plants, oil tankers a Coca-Cola franchise, and a Boston food importing company. A man who has bragged publicly of his assistance to the CIA, Pappas has maintained close ties with the Greek junta, reportedly lobbying heavily on their behalf in the United States.
Active in Massachusetts Republican circles, Pappas was among the first to suggest Spiro T. Agnew as Nixon's 1968 running mate. In 1972, Pappas contributed over $100,000 to the Nixon campaign in his own name. His testimony was unsuccessfully sought by the Senate Watergate committee to discuss allegations that he funneled foreign campaign contributions through Greece to the Nixon campaign.
On April 26, 1973, Haldeman had just reviewed the tape of Nixon's meetings with Dean on March 21, 1973. Haldeman described how Dean had told Nixon of a call to Mitchell concerning Pappas and the money.
Nixon became concerned that Dean might recall aspects of this discussion. After a long strategy debate with Haldeman, Nixon discounted his vulnerability to Dean's possible charge that Nixon knew of hush-money payments.
Haldeman then recalled a noticeable acknowledgment by Nixon during the March 21 meeting that the President "knew" of the Pappas money.
". . . He (Dean) was going on, you injected. 'I know,'" Haldeman told Nixon. "He had to be damn alert to have remembered that and put it down."
Continuing to assure Nixon that Dean was unlikely to have picked up the reference, Haldeman added a qualification: "Unless he's got a tape or something else."
"I just can't believe that anybody, that even John Dean, would come into this office with a tape recorder," Nixon said.
The two men continued to pursue the problem through the afternoon and into the evening, which Nixon said: "And I say, 'Yes, I know about Pappas (unintelligible) Pappas and I didn't discuss this, believe me."
Haldeman suggested that the meeting with Pappas was only to thank him for his help in the campaign.
Nixon corrected him: "I think it's a matter of fact though that somebody said be sure to talk to Pappas because he's being very helpful on the, uh, Watergate thing."
Elsewhere Nixon recalled that when Pappas came to the Oval Office one day he said he was helping on Mitchell's "special projects."
The "I know" reference which Haldeman and Nixon agonized over was apparently inaudible to federal investigators who prepared transcripts of the tape. No such reference appears in any transcripts of March 21.
When Pappas eventually appeared before the Watergate grand jury here, he denied contributing any funds for the defendants. The Watergate special prosecutor was unable to develop any evidence to show such payments beyond Nixon and Haldeman's concern. UNRAVELING OF COVER-UP
Prior to the March 19, 1973, letter from Watergate burglar McCord to Judge John J. Sirica outlining the cover-up, Nixon began protecting himself from possible exposure, according to the new transcripts.
On Feb. 13, 1973, Nixon articulated his concern that one of the seven original Watergate defendants might talk. Everything will be fine, he said, "unless one of the seven begins to talk. That's the problem."
On Feb. 14, 1973, Nixon told Colson: "We gotta cut our losses. My losses are to be cut. The President's losses got to be cut on the cover-up deal."
Soon Nixon reflected on the "good intentions" of the burglars: "I mean, this is a tough one, because there's so many players, and so God damn sad I think of those seven guys . . ."
"So do I," said Colson.
". . . who are involved, you know, Jesus Christ, they did it with good intentions (unintelligible). Of course, I guess they, they must have known that they had to take this kind of risk (unintelligible)."
Later on March 21, 1973, with Colson, Nixon addressed help for the defendants. "That had to be done," Nixon said, and then the transcript indicated he laughed. TAPES AND THE NIXON DEFENSE
The new transcripts of April 26, and June 4, 1973, show the extent to which Nixon intended to use his tapes to defend himself and his closest aides, Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman. First the tapes were to be used to refresh the recollections of Haldeman and Nixon. They were to be used also to chip away at Dean's accusations, pointing out minor inaccuracies and inconsistencies.
Nixon took great comfort when told Dean kept few notes of his conversations and the President realized the taping system would give the White House an advantage over Dean.
At another point, Nixon instructed Haldeman to tell no one about the system, not even Ehrlichman. If the system was ever discovered, Nixon suggested they would say that only national security matters were taped and transcribed.
The new transcripts show that what Nixon said on the White House tapes indicated an ignorance of aspects of the cover-up, aspects which earlier tapes established he had full awareness. SUPREME COURT
A full 186-page transcript of June 4, 1973, when Nixon listened to tapes and talked with White House press secretary Ron Ziegler and chief of staff Alexander M. Haig Jr. dealt with Nixon's reflections on the Supreme Court, its ethnic composition and the problems of ethnically inspired news leaks.
Nixon told Ziegler what he had heard on tapes of his conversations with Dean:
"I said, uh, '(William J.) Brennan's a boob; (Thurgood) Marshall's a boob.' I said, '(Potter) Stewart is a very nice fellow, but weak.' I said, uh, '(Byron) White was above average.' I said, uh, '(Harry) Blackmun was above average; (William) Rehnquist was way above average; (Lewis) Powell was way above average; and of course the chief justice (Warren Burger) was way above average.' Douglas, of course, I didn't even mention him . . ."
". . .And I talked about Jews," said Nixon.
"Of course," Ziegler said.
"I said we're not going to - there's no Jewish seat," Nixon said. "I said, 'I've got them all around me.' I said, 'I've got Kissinger and I'ver got (Herbert) Stein, and (unintelligible).' But I said, 'It's time to get a few ethnics on the court. You've got to take some people and bring them up.' I said, 'The Democrats are much better than we are. The Republicans are snobs.' I said, 'We've got to spread the base (unintelligible).' So, we talked about (unintelligible) Sullivan untelligible), called (associate director of FBI, Mark) Felt the 'White Rat.' Known as the 'White Rat.' Uh, the question was whether he's Jewish. Uh, and I said, and I pointed out our Jewish friends - even on our White House staff - leak to Jews. But Dean says, 'There'll never be a leak out of me. I just don't know how to leak.'"
Ziegler laughed, the transcript indicates. OTHER REFERENCES
In one reference on April 19, 1973, Ehrlichman and Nixon discussed the failing memory of special presidential counsel Richard Moore during the televised Senate Watergate hearings. Seven days later, April 26, Nixon told Haldeman:
"And, uh, well, Moore. Moore spent some money and Kalmbach spent some money and so forth and so on and so on, but anyway, my point is this, speaking of Moore, there's that and so I'm gratified. I am also gratified with Moore's recollection of La Costa has now dimmed a bit. It was God damn sharp when he was here in the office and I want you (unintelligible)."
In July the white-haired Moore gaind a reputation during the televised Watergate hearings for his inability to recall events under questioning.
In a Colson-Nixon coversation on March 21, 1973, Colson described a call he received from an aide to Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), the ranking minority member on the Senate Watergate committee. According to Colson, the aide sought advice on Baker's behalf on how to help Nixon. "Howard really wants to work with us, totally," Colson said. ". . . he said don't pay any attention to what he has been saying (publically) . . ."
Colson described Baker's fear that his secret consultation with Attorney General Richard Kleindienst during the Senate Watergate investigation might be discovered. Colson also related that an aide to Baker confided at one point that Baker wanted to be able to "keep at bay, and be able to control" Watergate Committee Chairman Sen. Sam Ervin (D-N.C.).
On April 26, 1973, Nixon and Haldeman discussed the loyalty of Henry Petersen, the top Justice Department official in charge of the investigation.
"I am in a totally defensible position . . .," Nixon said.
"You are if Petersen holds up," Haldeman responded.
"He's gonna hold up, I think . . .," Nixon said.
". . . depends on how much Dean has on him and he's got a lot," Haldeman said.
"I know," Nixon agreed.
"And Petersen may be just as worried at his level about what Dean's got on him as you are at yours about what he may have on you," Haldeman observed.
"Petersen, I think, is gonna hold up on that point . . .," Nixon said.
"Our lawyers [John Wilson and Frank Strickler, lawyers for Haldeman and Ehrlichman] don't even agree with him as a counsel. Our lawyers totally distruct Petersen," Haldeman said.
"Yeah I know," said Nixon. "They distrust him . . . But I, but he's all I got Bob, and uh, - I think though, that Petersen on the other level, other hand, I, I had repeated that so often to him I never failed to (unintelligible) we just, we'll just say, 'we got that taped, Henry.'"
A transcript of the June 20, 1972 meeting between Nixon and Colson, just three days after the Watergate break-in, provides the earliest detailed account of Nixon's reaction.
The transcript, portions of which appeared in Dean's book "Blind Ambition," includes a description of the burglars as "pretty hard line guys." A moment later Nixon adds: "It doesn't sound like a, a skillful job.(Unintelligible). If we didn't know better, would have thought it was deliberately botched."
Nixon at one point discusses the overall strategy: "At times, uh I just - stonewall it."
Because the Democrats had just filed a civil suit, Nixon said: "We're gonna have a court case and indeed the difficulty we'll have ahead, we have got to have lawyers smart enough to have our people delay (unintelligible) avoid deposition, of course."
In one transcript just four days before Haldeman and Ehrlichman resigned on April 30, 1973, Nixon discussed a counteroffensive to prove that the tactics of his administration might have been appropriate.
"We've got to get out the God damn story. People have forgotten the violent years involved . . . I mean, 'F - you Mr. President,' 'F - you Tricia,' and all that s -, not just words but what violence, the destruction, the tear-gassing at the convention.
"Get together and -, the f - Secret Service can do one thing - I want the threats collected, remember. I told you that, will they do it?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Haldeman replied.
". . . the number of threats, the number of uh, the number of demonstrations, uh, get all the hate letters that you can, good God, let's put out the Chamber of Horrors."