For my blog post today about Jonathan Aitken’s Nixon: A Life, my focus will be on the Nixon Administration’s enemies list. This will not be a comprehensive post, going into what many authors have said about the topic. Rather, I just want to highlight some passages that I found interesting.
Richard Nixon, in his book In the Arena, talks a bit about the enemies list. On page 249, he states: “During Watergate, much attention was paid to the ‘enemies list’ that a member of the White House staff had prepared. I never saw it. Regrettably, some on the list were my personal friends.”
(On another topic, as I look at that same page of In the Arena, I see a noteworthy passage that I must have missed when I read the book the first time around. Nixon says that Harry Truman in the 1948 Presidential election implied that Nazis were supporting his opponent, Republican Thomas Dewey. Nixon also states that “Ideally, candidates should hammer each other without destroying each other.” That brought to my mind a couple of things. First of all, I wrote a post in which I critiqued Pat Buchanan’s claim that those who supported Harry Truman’s “give ’em hell” campaign against Dewey were hypocritical to then criticize Nixon’s hard-hitting Senate campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas. If Truman was somehow linking Dewey with Nazism, however, then I’d say that Truman’s campaign was more below-the-belt than I thought! Second, while Nixon criticizes campaigns that destroy the other candidate, there are people who contend that Nixon actually destroyed his opponents, Jerry Voorhis and Helen Gahagan Douglas. Roger Morris on the American Experience documentary about Nixon said that Nixon’s campaigns destroyed them politically, and nearly personally, and that this engendered a lot of bitterness. But back to the White House enemies list!)
Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Richard Nixon’s youngest daughter, talks some about the enemies list in her biography of Pat Nixon, entitled Pat Nixon: The Untold Story. On page 376, Julie argues that White House Counsel John Dean, who would reveal the existence of the enemies list in his testimony before Congress against the President, was himself the one who came up with it:
“Among the most titillating revelations from Dean were the ‘enemies lists.’ Dean produced a memo, composed by himself, on ‘dealing with our political enemies.’ In addition to a list of twenty prime political opponents, whom Dean recommended that the Administration target, were several lists of names running into the hundreds, which were to be referred to in determining who received White House jobs and invitations. In his book, With Nixon, Ray Price points out that when he learned from Dean’s testimony of the existence of the lists, he called them ‘Dean’s enemy lists,’ because ‘after all, it was Dean who proposed the unused plan to ‘screw our enemies,’ and Dean who collected the lists in his filing cabinet.'”
Julie goes on to argue that the Joint Congressional Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation found that the tax audits of those on the lists were no more severe than they were for others. She also states that there were some on the list who were there “for no apparent reason.” She tells the story of how heart surgeon Michael DeBakey, who was on the list, still extended to her parents an offer of friendship, for he realized that they “had nothing to do with the lists” (page 377).
Going on to Richard Nixon’s memoirs, Nixon states the following on page 441 of volume 2:
“[John Dean] talked about my attempt to have the IRS do checks on our political opponents with no attempt to show how widespread the practice had been among the Democrats in previous years. The fact that we had hired a political investigator was treated as a sinister innovation, when in fact checking up on the political opposition has been part of politics since time out of mind. We paid our investigator with political funds; other administrations had even used the FBI. Dean produced an ‘enemies list,’ which even he has since admitted was vastly overplayed by the media.”
Here, Nixon does not necessarily contradict what he said in In the Arena, but his focus is different: he justifies doing research on his political opponents, and even having the IRS do checks on some of them, on the grounds that this was customary in politics.
Jonathan Aitken refers to John Ehrlichman’s statement that Nixon was assigning people odd jobs for investigation, some of them having to do with investigating political opponents, or the motives of a writer who criticized Julie. Ehrlichman became concerned that this type of work “could not legitimately be funded by the taxpayer” (Ehrlichman, quoted on page 417). Eventually, John Dean would do some of that work. Aitken refers to Dean’s August 16, 1971 memorandum, “Dealing with Our Political Enemies,” which (according to Aitken) recommended that a list be compiled of the Administration’s political enemies and that “various government agencies such as the IRS should be encouraged ‘to screw them'” (Aitken cites for this page 104 of Silent Coup). But Aitken says that Nixon, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman denied seeing the memorandum and that “no action was taken to implement its recommendations” (page 418). On page 419, however, Aitken quotes Charles Colson’s statement that the atmosphere at the White House tended to reward people who brought “negative intelligence” (Colson’s words) on the Administration’s political opponents.
UPDATE: Was Dean responsible for the enemies list? On page 297 of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Richard Reeves states: “Beginning on January 25, [1971?,] one of those new assistants, George Bell, began to work on implementing a new Nixon idea: organizing the staff to prepare lists of friends and enemies.” Reeves narrates that Haldeman saw a few of the lists, put together by Bell and Charles Colson, and was asking for clarification about them. If Reeves is correct, then Dean probably was not solely responsible for the enemies list.