Nixon sought to tie Wallace shooting to Democrats
by Jim Wolf - Reuters, 02-28-02
WASHINGTON, Feb 28 (Reuters) President Richard Nixon sought to paint the would-be assassin of White House hopeful George Wallace in 1972 as a backer of rival Democratic candidates, audio tapes made public on Thursday showed.
Nixon, a Republican, was maneuvering at the time before the Watergate scandal broke to beat back a Democratic challenge in the November 1972 presidential elections.
"Look, can we play the game a little smart for a change?" he barked at aides on May 15, 1972, hours after the assassination attempt by loner Arthur Bremer left Wallace paralyzed below the waist. Wallace, who died in 1998, was a long-time Alabama governor and avowed segregationist who entered the 1972 Democratic presidential primaries.
Nixon's tape-recorded conversation in the Old Executive Office Building was provided on Thursday by the National Archives, the U.S. document keeper. It was part of about 500 hours of newly released White House tape recordings from the Nixon presidency, the third of five chronological segments and the largest such opening of its kind by the archives.
In the conversation with top aides, Nixon suggested that the Democrats had somehow smeared U.S. conservatives by pinning on the "right wing," as he put it, the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
A commission chaired by Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren concluded in 1964 that Lee Harvey Oswald, a former U.S. Marine who once defected to the Soviet Union, acted alone in killing Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
"And it was the greatest hoax that has ever been perpetuated," Nixon said without making clear why he considered the Warren Commision findings a sham. Turning back to the wounding of Wallace in Laurel, Maryland, he added: "And I respectfully suggest, can we pin this on one of theirs?"
Nixon was speaking to H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, then his chief of staff, and Charles Colson, then a special counsel to the president.
'PUT THAT OUT!'
"Just say he (the shooter) was a supporter of McGovern and Kennedy," Nixon ordered, referring to Democrats George McGovern of South Dakota, who lost the 1972 election in a landslide to the incumbent, and Edward Kennedy of Massachussetts, who went on to make a brief White House run in 1980.
"Now, just put that out!" Nixon said, his voice rising for emphasis. "Just say you have it on unmistakable evidence."
Haldeman interrupts Nixon to say that the suspect had been arrested previously "so there ought to be a record on him."
"Screw the record!" Nixon shot back. "Just say he was a supporter of that nut, and put it out." The president did not make clear whom he meant by that "nut." Nixon became the only president to resign his office on Aug. 9, 1974, after he was implicated in a coverup of the June, 17, 1972, break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington.
Bremer, now 51, was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 53 years in prison, which he is currently serving in Maryland.
The 170 newly released White House tapes covered a wide range of domestic and foreign topics, including preparations for Nixon's ground-breaking trip to China on Feb. 17, 1972 and discussions with Henry Kissinger on the ramifications of losing the Vietnam War.
Also included is the so-called smoking gun conversation about the Watergate break-in and the conversation with an 18-1/2 minute gap that helped doom Nixon's presidency.