50. Editorial Note

Sometime in the afternoon of June 18, 1969, in a telephone conversation with Attorney General Mitchell: “K[issinger] said he has another State Dept problem with which he wanted to acquaint AG and on which he might need AG’s help. Starting this week, State is not sending cables over for clearance before they go out—in any area especially on VN. AG asked including Paris and K said right—they sent Walsh into see Sovt Ambs without clearance from the White House … K said Soviets must think we have lost our minds on the basis of what K showed AG on Dobrynin. WH clearance for eight years has been standard. AG asked who signed Cable and K said all cables are signed by Rogers. K said he knows this is direct order from him. AG said he definitely agrees this cannot be. AG asked how K got cable and K said it comes over automatically. AG said he thought K should take up with Pres and K said he would like to say that he had discussed it with AG. AG said by all means—could not be stronger about anything he has run into down here. K said he feels the President has to have control on foreign policy and if K is not doing job well enough, he should get someone else. AG said he agreed that control had to be at WH—they will murder him if he does not have this. AG said K should be as strong as he needs to be and if he needs AG’s backup to let him know.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 360, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)

Later that day in a draft memorandum to President Nixon, Henry Kissinger noted two recent instances in which the State Department “had failed to clear highly important communications on Vietnam with the White House” and emphasized how essential it was for the President “to exercise control over important communications of Presidential concern.” Kissinger proposed sending a memorandum to Secretary of State Rogers that spelled out the categories of messages that the State Department should refer to the National Security Council for clearance prior to transmission. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 148, State/WH Relationship, Vol. 1) Kissinger decided instead, however, to forward to Nixon the next day a much briefer memorandum for Rogers that stated: “I have noticed that clearance of some important cables with the White House was recently overlooked by the State Department. I would like to reaffirm my wish that departmental telegrams be cleared with the White House to insure that I am kept fully abreast of communications on important policy and operational matters of Presidential interest.” Nixon signed the memorandum, and it was delivered to the Department of State on June 20. (Ibid.)

Rogers drafted a response, making a number of handwritten revisions, in which he stated that it was his understanding “that cables [Page 110] involving policy matters should be cleared with your staff but I did not understand, nor do I think it wise, that I should clear all cables dealing with operations with your staff. If this is required then my role as Secretary of State would be a mere conduit.” Rogers concluded, “Unless you want personally to clear all operational cables then I would think that the discretion as to whether they should be brought to your attention should rest with me.” (Ibid., RG 59, Office Files of William P. Rogers: Lot 73 D 443, Box 3, Personal Papers of William P. Rogers)

In a telephone conversation with Kissinger on June 20 at 6:30 p.m., Rogers said that he “was a little upset by the memo the President sent him on these cables. He had an answer he was going to send to the President but wanted to discuss it with HAK first. It was not his understanding that HAK’s staff would clear operational cables.

HAK said he thought we should keep matters where they are. It is certainly satisfactory for everyone’s point of view. There was one cable that the President noticed in the regular reading material that HAK gives the President on all Paris negotiations that was in question. This cable had not been cleared but added that we couldn’t clear all of Roger’s cables. The system that now exists will be no problem—concerning policy cables was the only thing he had in mind. Rogers said if he really wants to see everything we send over. Rogers also express concern over the fact that when he clears a cable then Walsh has to call Sneider and Sneider has to clear it. HAK didn’t think this was right and said the Secretary should have the last word.

Rogers said he would talk to the President about this and HAK agreed that he should. He said he has a general line they follow and that the day to day negotiations really should be done at State. He said it doesn’t make any difference what we say in the public sessions but a change in direction he would certainly clear with WH.

HAK assured him that this was the procedure that had been followed in previous administrations even back to Eisenhower. Rogers wasn’t sure it went back that far.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 360, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)

In a June 21 memorandum to Kissinger, Alexander Haig, Kissinger’s Military Assistant, noted that Nixon’s memorandum on cable clearances had “generated a sharp reaction from Rogers and that Rogers indicated he would call the President about this subject. You should point out to the President that it would be most difficult to protect him if, as Rogers insists, clearances be cut down to include only telegrams which involve policy changes. This is ridiculous in terms of past policy and would mean that all operational cables and negotiating traffic, even in times of crises, could legalistically be excluded by the Secretary of State. Past experience has indicated that it is not difficult [Page 111] to assess a subject on its own merits and to seek White House clearance in cases where the President’s interest is evident. This would apply to most Vietnam negotiating traffic and until quite recently all of these messages have been cleared by the White House. You should inform the President that this is an important issue and one in which there could be no compromise if you are to serve him in your present capacity.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Haig Chronological File, Box 957, Haig Chron–June 1969)

On June 26 President Nixon sent Rogers and Secretary of Defense Laird a memorandum (Document 53) that spelled out the categories of messages to be cleared with the NSC using the language that Kissinger had first considered forwarding to the President on June 18.