A Listener's Guide
By George Lardner Jr. / Special to washingtonpost.com

Richard Nixon's White House tapes can give you a compelling seat in the Oval Office or put you on the phone with the president of the United States. They can also be an exercise in frustration, full of static and mumbled sentences that are almost impossible to decipher. Now you can listen to some of the most historically significant tapes online.

Here is a sampling of some of the best known "abuse of power" conversations. The summaries were composed by the staff of the Richard Nixon Presidential Materials Project at the National Archives.

AP File Photo
The Smoking Gun
President Nixon and H.R. Haldeman
June 23, 1972
This conversation occurred six days after the arrest of the burglars at the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate office complex.

AP File Photo
Cancer on the Presidency
Nixon and John W. Dean
March 21, 1973
John Dean explains that there is a growing "cancer" within the White House regarding the Watergate burglary.

AP File Photo
Protecting ITT
Nixon and Richard G. Kleindienst
April 19, 1971
In this telephone conversation, the president orders Kleindeinst, the deputy attorney general of the United States, to not file a sensitive legal brief.

AP File Photo
Ambassadorships for Sale
Nixon, H.R. Haldeman, Charles W. Colson and Peter M. Flanigan
July 2, 1971
The president and his staff are discussing possible ambassadorial appointments for key supporters.

AP File Photo
Discrediting Kennedy
Nixon and John D. Ehrlichman
Oct. 8, 1971
John Ehrlichman, the president's chief domestic adviser, tells Nixon that he hopes to receive information on the assassination of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963.

AP File Photo
Breaking Into Brookings
Nixon, H.R. Haldeman and Henry A. Kissinger
July 1, 1971
In the aftermath of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, the president was incensed that the press was blaming him for the Vietnam conflict.

AP File Photo
Investigating the L.A. Times
Nixon and John N. Mitchell
Oct. 7, 1971
The president responds to reports in the Los Angeles Times that an illegal alien had worked at his San Clemente house.

AP File Photo
Milk and Money
Nixon and H.R. Haldeman
March 23, 1971
The president and Haldeman are discussing a plan to increase the price of milk in exchange for campaign contributions from various milk producer associations.

AP File Photo
The Politics of the IRS
Nixon and H. R. Haldeman
Sept. 13, 1971
Nixon is angry that the Internal Revenue Service is auditing his political supporters, such as Billy Graham, Robert Abplanalp and John Wayne.

Many more tapes are available at the National Archives at College Park. You can make your own copies of the high points and low points of his presidency, and listen whenever you like as history is being made. With the approval of the Nixon estate, the National Archives is allowing anyone interested to obtain copies of once highly secret discussions on Vietnam, the Watergate scandal and the countless other topics that occupied the president on a given day shouts and cusswords included.

For each conversation, you can also get a copy (for 10 cents a page) of the printed "tape subject log" that goes with it. The log explains who's in the room with the president and what they're talking about at any given moment. It will help you fast-forward the tape to whatever spot you're looking for, whether it's a few words about Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Chappaquiddick or an encouraging development in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. Like him or not, Richard Nixon had a handle on everything.

Not all the tapes have been released yet. Those numbered 1 through 46 reflect White House telephone conversations; 47 through 129 are Cabinet room meetings; 130 through 169 are conversations on the table telephone in Nixon's study at Camp David; 170 and 171 are blank; 172 through 186 are remarks on the desk telephone at Camp David; 188 through 244 are meetings in the Camp David study; 245 through 448 are conversations in Nixon's Executive Office Building (EOB) suite and 449 through 950 are meetings in the Oval Office. The conversations in the EOB are the most difficult to make out.

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