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15. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • President Nixon
  • Vice President Agnew
  • Elliot Richardson, Attorney General2
  • Peter J. Brennan, Secretary of Labor
  • Earl L. Butz, Secretary of Agriculture
  • Frederick B. Dent, Secretary of Commerce
  • Rogers C. B. Morton, Secretary of the Interior
  • James T. Lynn, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
  • Anne Armstrong, Counsellor to the President
  • Amb. George Bush, Ambassador to the UN
  • William E. Simon, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury
  • Frank C. Carlucci, Under Secretary, Department of Health, Education and Welfare
  • Major General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

SUBJECT

  • Cabinet Meeting

[The President invited each Cabinet member to review his or her activities:]

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to national security policy.]

[The President:] These are problems—but when we came into office, we weren’t talking to the PRC and not really to the Soviet Union. There was war in the Middle East and there were high casualties in Southeast Asia.

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We have come a long way, but we must realize we never would have gotten here if we had had the thinking which dominates the Senate and much of the press. A weak U.S. which can’t command respect, we will find. So if we need three billion to balance it [the budget], the easy thing is to squeeze it from DOD. But if the cost is to make the U.S. the second strongest power, having the cleanest cities won’t matter because we won’t be able to enjoy them.

I stand for a strong U.S. because no one else can keep stability in the world. Do you want a world where there is a prosperous U.S. but a leaner, tougher country decides the issues of peace and freedom in the world? You are going through a tough period. Most of the people in this Administration are fine. We have come a long way and the improvement is because of us. [War in the cities, etc.]

Agnew: In the provinces, there is not the focus on Watergate like here. People come up to tell me of their confidence in the President.

The President: I am not Pollyanish. It is rough and will get rougher. They will go after us. My concern is not myself but all our family. The crap will fly, but don’t think we have to deny every charge. Most of the charges will come from those who don’t want us to succeed. Don’t be deflected from your purpose. Be proud of our record and work to make it better.

Our major problem is with the politicians—ours too.

Agnew: Not even here.

The President: Go to the press—don’t hide. But don’t comment on the charges because of the legal processes. Just say you don’t believe the President is involved. Express confidence in the judicial system.

  1. Source: National Archives, NixonPresidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1026, Presidential/HAK MemCons, MemCons—Presidential/HAK, January–March 1973. Secret; Nodis. All brackets, except for those added by the editor to indicate omissions in the text, are in the original. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House. The memorandum of conversation incorrectly lists the date of the meeting as March 18. It was actually held on May 18, according to the President’s Daily Diary. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. On April 30, Nixon announced the resignations of several key members of his administration in the midst of the Watergate investigation, including Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst, Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs John D. Ehrlichman, Assistant to the President H.R. Haldeman, and Counsel to the President John W. Dean, III. Nixon also announced that he intended to nominate Richardson to replace Kleindienst. (Public Papers: Nixon, 1973, pp. 326–28) Richardson would not officially hold the position until May 25, however. Transcripts of Richardson’s telephone conversations indicate his response to the nomination. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Richardson Papers, Box 190, Secretary of Defense Files, Telephone Conversations, Jan.–May 1973)