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Rumsfeld denies backing Nixon racial remarks unearthed in old White House tapes

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary nominee Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday denied agreeing with racially charged remarks from President Nixon during a meeting nearly three decades years ago at the White House.

Tape recordings available for public listening at the National Archives document a July 22, 1971 meeting between the two in the Oval Office, when Rumsfeld was a young counselor to the president.

Sunday's Chicago Tribune, in an account based on a review of those tapes, suggested Rumsfeld agreed with Nixon's disparaging remarks about how southerners would view racial comments that had been made by Vice President Spiro Agnew after a trip to Africa.

A CNN review of the tape found Nixon critical of Agnew for "coming back saying that black Americans aren't as good as black Africans; most of them basically are just out of the trees, let's face it, they are."

Rumsfeld is heard joining Nixon's criticism, saying it was wrong to be "going out of the country and knocking America."

The president told Rumsfeld he believed what Agnew had said, but was critical of his vice president for being indiscreet in his dealings with the press.


Rumsfeld raised no challenge to Nixon's sentiments.

Nixon then adopted a twang to illustrate how he thought southerners and people he called "rednecks" would react and demonstrate loyalty to African Americans even if they did not like blacks on the whole.

Nixon, affecting a drawl, twice used a racial epithet during his portrayal.

Rumsfeld is heard saying in response, "That's right," and "I know," during the exchange with the president.

The issue came up during his nomination hearing Thursday on Capitol Hill.

He said he didn't remember the meeting or the conversation at all, but had listened to a segment of the tape provided by the Bush transition office after the newspaper story came out.

"The tape seems to indicate that I may have agreed with one or more things on that tape," Rumsfeld said Thursday. "To the extent I did agree with anything, I am certain I agreed only with the fact some people talked like that."

Rumsfeld added said Agnew "should not have used or thought such derogatory, and offensive, and unfair and insensitive things about minorities."

The Senate panel did not press Rumsfeld on whether he would have been prompted to challenge Nixon's characterization of Agnew's remarks as bigoted.

Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, a Navy Secretary under Nixon, concluded the questioning by saying the exchange did not discredit Rumsfeld.


Thursday, January 11, 2001



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