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Documents: Dole urged probes of Democrats during Nixon years

reviewing files October 17, 1996
Web posted at: 11:15 p.m. EDT

COLLEGE PARK, Maryland (CNN) -- The National Archives Thursday released 28,000 documents from the Nixon White House, providing a treasure trove for historians and new insight into Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole.

A memo written by then-White House aide Pat Buchanan describes a February 1970 meeting with Nixon, Sen. Dole and other Republicans.

Buchanan wrote: "Dole recommended that Republicans initiate politically inspired investigations of past mis-doings by the Democratic Administration. The idea was a good one. RN [Richard Nixon] backed it."

The meeting took place before the Watergate cover-up, but at the height of the Vietnam War. Nixon resigned from office in August 1974, ending the two-year Watergate controversy. He died in 1994.

Other documents released Thursday reveal that Nixon's White House chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, devised a plan in 1970 to get Dole to make a speech extolling "the amazing approval rating of the president in spite of all the things against us," a reference to heated anti-war protests.

There was no indication of what Dole did in response to the White House request.


The late president's lawyers conceded a fight against releasing the documents, and presidential historian Stephen Ambrose said the papers may improve Nixon's historical reputation.

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"The irony here is the man who has done the most to keep these papers from becoming available, Dick Nixon, is the man who's going to benefit the most from them because people are going to start seeing the problems from his point of view," Ambrose said.

Dinner seating and drapes

A few of the documents talk about Watergate and the pressure the White House was facing during that period. Others deal with trivial matters such as seating arrangements at White House dinners, an illustration of Nixon's propensity for micro-management.

He's concerned with incredible detail," historian Stanley Kutler said. "Who's going to sit next to whom at a dining table? What color drapes we're going to have and then who's going to be invited?"

Nixon's animosity with the media shows up in a note, apparently to Gen. Alexander Haig, scribbled in the margin of a memo critical of the media. The president called the memo "a brilliant analysis."


Relationship with Kissinger

Other documents shed new light on Nixon's testy rapport with Henry Kissinger, his national security adviser who later became secretary of state.

Nixon revealed to Kissinger that their conversations were secretly recorded, apparently to keep him from taking credit for successes in foreign policy.

This was in November 1972, when the secret White House taping system was supposedly known to only a handful of staffers.

Nixon, who hated personal confrontation, instructed Haldeman to tell Kissinger, "You don't make the decisions, and when they are made, you waver the most."

Picking a vice president

Most of the documents are from White House staff and cabinet members, such as a 1973 memo from Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Caspar Weinberger offering suggestions for someone to replace Spiro Agnew, who resigned that year as vice president.

Weinberger's choices: Ronald Reagan, Nelson Rockefeller and William Rogers. Nixon selected Gerald Ford.

Not every historian believes the documents will improve Nixon's image.

"Is he going to look better out of this material today? I don't think so." Kutler said. "There's one thing that doesn't change. Richard Nixon was the first and so far only president to resign from office because of disgrace."

Even more interesting are documents that weren't released, such as a memo from Nixon to his domestic counselor concerning, the archives say, Washington Post Publisher Katherine Graham's supposedly negative attitude toward Nixon.

The stated reason the Graham document wasn't released: national security.


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