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Thursday, May 27, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Kissinger transcripts show Nixon joked about nuking Congress
By Michael Dobbs
WASHINGTON President Nixon jokingly threatened to drop a nuclear bomb on Capitol Hill in March 1974 as Congress was moving to impeach him over the Watergate scandal, according to transcripts of telephone conversations released yesterday.
"I was told to get the football," White House chief of staff Alexander Haig told Secretary of State Henry Kissinger less than five months before the president's forced resignation, during a conversation in which the two men exchanged stories about Nixon's increasingly erratic behavior.
"What do you mean?" asked Kissinger, who called Haig to express concern the president might unwittingly unleash a war in the Middle East with his new, get-tough policy against Israel.
"His black nuclear bag," Haig replied. "He is going to drop it on the Hill."
The March 20, 1974, exchange is among 20,000 pages of transcripts of telephone conversations Kissinger deposited in the Library of Congress in 1976 with the stipulation they remain secret until at least five years after his death.
Kissinger turned them over to the National Archives in February 2002 after being threatened with legal action by the National Security Archive, a nonprofit research institute that campaigns against government secrecy. The National Archives reviewed the transcripts for national security and privacy purposes and released almost all of them yesterday.
The transcripts shed light on the extraordinarily complex relationship between Nixon and Kissinger during a turbulent period in U.S. foreign policy, from the bombing of Cambodia in 1970 to the Yom Kippur war of 1973 and diplomatic breakthroughs with China and the Soviet Union.
While Kissinger attempted to convince Nixon of his loyalty, he adopted a sardonic tone in conversations with Haig and other aides.
In the March 20 transcript, neither Kissinger nor Haig seem alarmed by Nixon's threats to bomb Congress or "to go after the Israelis" after "he is through with the Europeans."
"He is just unwinding," Haig told Kissinger. "Don't take him too seriously."
On other occasions, as in December 1970, when Nixon proposed an escalation in the bombing of Cambodia, Kissinger and Haig felt obliged to humor the president while laughing behind his back. Kissinger was national-security adviser at the time; Haig was one of his deputies.
"We will get it done immediately, Mr. President," said Kissinger, who then phoned Haig to pass on the orders for "a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia," using "anything that flies on anything that moves." Haig sounds as if he's laughing.
The transcripts include episodes that appear at odds with Kissinger's version of events, such as his claim Washington had nothing to do with the September 1973 military coup in Chile that toppled the democratically elected, leftist government of Salvador Allende.
"We didn't do it," Kissinger told Nixon, "I mean we helped them. (unintelligible) created the conditions as great as possible."
Latin American specialist Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive said the passage appeared to mark an acknowledgement by Kissinger that U.S. policy paved the way for the coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power. "It's diametrically opposed to the account he provides in his memoirs."
As the Watergate crisis deepened, Kissinger began to worry about Nixon's mental state. On Oct. 11, 1973, according to the transcripts, he rejected a British request for a telephone conversation between the president and Prime Minister Edward Heath on the grounds that Nixon was in no condition to take the call.
"Can we tell them no?" Kissinger asked his deputy, Brent Scowcroft. "When I talked to the president, he was loaded."
The transcripts show Kissinger cultivated close contacts with leading journalists and publishers, including several frozen out by the White House because of their newspaper's aggressive pursuit of Watergate. He telephoned Katharine Graham of The Washington Post in November 1973 to invite her to lunch, insisting she keep the meeting secret.
Said Kissinger: "I will be looking for a job if my leader finds out."
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