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  • Dairy Farmers Got Nixon Support
    in Exchange for Campaign Cash

  • Nixon Ordered Tapes Destroyed
  • Nixon Saved Posts for Big Donors
  • Donor Got Oval Office Thank-You
  • Democrats Eyed for Tricks in '71
  • By George Lardner Jr.
    and Walter Pincus

    Washington Post Staff Writers

    Thursday, October 30, 1997;
    Page A19

    "Look here," the secretary of the Treasury told the president of the United States in the Oval Office. "If you have no objection, I'm going to tell them they've got to put so much money directly at your disposal."

    "Them" referred to three affluent dairy farmer organizations, which that very morning March 23, 1971 had met with President Richard M. Nixon to press for higher milk price supports from the federal government.

    With that parting remark, Treasury Secretary John B. Connally walked out the door and the president's chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, walked in.

    "We just made a decision on the dairy thing," Nixon told Haldeman, according to newly transcribed tapes of the late afternoon conversation. The president then recounted Connally's plan to squeeze as much money out of the three groups as he could for Nixon's 1972 reelection campaign.

    Haldeman hesitated, reminding Nixon that the milk producers already planned to make a substantial donation to Nixon's upcoming reelection campaign. But Nixon persisted, noting that he wanted Connally to "see if we can get more."

    Milk "We've given them the 85 percent of parity thing," Nixon explained, alluding to his plan to guarantee dairy farmers federal price supports that allowed them to recoup at least 85 percent of their production costs. "See, we're doing more than they ever expected. We're going all out, all out. ... [Connally] knows them well, and he's used to shaking them down, and maybe he can shake them for a little more. You see what I mean?"

    "They're committed to a million dollars this year," Haldeman said of the milk producers' campaign contribution pledge. "They're committed to $90,000 a month."

    These newly transcribed White House tapes dramatically illustrate Nixon's linkage of government price support increases with hefty campaign contributions, ties that had long been suspected but never confirmed. It was illegal then, as now, to link campaign contributions to specific government actions.

    The tapes also demonstrate Nixon's direct and active role in the milk fund and other campaign financing arrangements. The raw quid pro quo "shaking them down," in Nixon's phrase is more blatant than any episodes that have emerged thus far in the investigation of 1996 campaign fund-raising abuses.

    Although the milk producers' contributions to Nixon through dummy committees have been known for years and were the subject of several Watergate prosecution force investigations, the resulting charges never touched Nixon directly, either in court proceedings or in the 1974 articles of impeachment adopted by the House Judiciary Committee. Connally was tried and acquitted on charges of taking $10,000 in illegal gratuities for his role in increasing milk price supports.

    Other tapes show that Nixon took a continuing interest in the fortunes of his generous dairy supporters. Less than a year after his conversations with Connally and Haldeman, he expressed outrage when his own Justice Department aggressively investigated the milk industry's political shenanigans.

    In a conversation with top aide John D. Ehrlichman on Feb. 2, 1972, the president demanded, "What in the hell ... [is] the Justice Department bringing a suit against the milk producers for?"

    Ehrlichman replied that he had checked with Attorney General John N. Mitchell, who said the suit was one of "three choices, and all of them bad." The two other options involved "criminal charges against the officers of the milk producers" or doing nothing, which, Ehrlichman said, would trigger a congressional investigation.

    "Well," Nixon said, "this gets it into the courts and it'll screw around for a while."

    When Ehrlichman added that Mitchell "had talked this over with the milk producers" themselves, Nixon seemed reassured. "Just so he's talked it over with them," the president added.

    The milk producers ultimately would acknowledge contributing about $600,000 for the 1972 election through various channels. The Justice Department suit was settled in August 1974, the month Nixon resigned, with milk producers denying any illegal acts while agreeing to avoid such acts in the future.

    © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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