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President Nixon and Donald Rumsfeld

Nixon Considered the Youngest Member of his Cabinet a Rising Star

At 36 years of age, Donald H. Rumsfeld was the youngest member of President Nixon's cabinet. Serving first in domestic policy roles, such as the Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, the former Congressman from Illinois also later served in his first foreign policy position, as United States Permanent Representative to NATO.

Nixon considered Rumsfeld a rising star. After all who else at such a young age had served in such senior capacities in the United States government? On more than one occasion on the Nixon tapes, Nixon suggested that Rumsfeld return to Illinois and run for Senate, and a few people even mentioned Rumsfeld's name as a possible running mate with Nixon in 1972, at the height of the "dump Agnew" movement. Although Nixon labeled him at times as "too liberal", Rumsfeld had the right image: he was smart, pragmatic, shrewd, a good speaker, and had an attractive family.

However, privately Nixon also had concerns. Nixon believed Rumsfeld was rising too fast. This was especially a concern of Nixon's as it got closer to the 1972 presidential election, when Nixon perceived Rumsfeld to be making "political speeches" around the country. To Nixon, it sounded like Rumsfeld was testing the waters as a possible candidate for office, even though he was not then campaigning for any such office. At a time when Nixon seriously considered dumping Spiro Agnew in 1972 in favor of former Texas democratic governor John B. Connally, Nixon did not want to take any chances.

Therefore, Nixon worked with Chief of Staff H.R. "Bob" Haldeman to create a plan to retain the talented Rumsfeld but move him into a role that Nixon perceived to be less political. Nixon held several lengthy conversations with Haldeman on the various positions for which Rumsfeld would be qualified, and Nixon even invited Rumsfeld into the Oval Office on more than one occasion to feel him out and gauge his interest in a change of scenery.

Rumsfeld stated to Nixon that he was particularly interested in gaining foreign policy experience. While today we may view Rumsfeld as primarily a foreign policy expert, in 1971-1972 Rumsfeld had been purely a domestic policy staff member in the Nixon White House. However, he had been exposed to foreign policy as a four-term member of the House of Representatives and also during overseas travels during his work on domestic policy. Despite that, if Rumsfeld planned to continue his rise through the political ranks, especially if he ran for Senate, he would need a higher profile in foreign policy. Ultimately, Nixon appointed Rumsfeld to be Permanent Representative to NATO, where he served from 1973-1974, until returning to Washington to serve as President Ford's Secretary of Defense.

While Rumsfeld took part in dozens of meetings that were taped by the Nixon recording system, in the Cabinet Room, Oval Office, Executive Office Building, and various White House telephones, the list below features the conversations or meetings between Rumsfeld and Nixon in which Rumsfeld was a primary participant.

(The conversation excerpt from April 9, 1971 was an occasion where Rumsfeld brought his family into the Oval Office. The remainder of the longer conversation has been omitted.)

The participants are as follows:

P = President Richard Nixon
APB = Alexander P. Butterfield
RHF = Robert H. Finch
HRH = H.R. "Bob" Haldeman
DHR = Donald H. Rumsfeld
GDR = George D. Rumsfeld
JHR = Jeannette (Husted) Rumsfeld
JPR = Joyce (Pierson) Rumsfeld
MS = Manolo Sanchez
GPS = George P. Shultz
unk = Unknown Participant
WHO = White House Operator
Conversation Number

Date

Time

Participants
Download Audio
OVAL 463-006 03/08/1971 5:41 - 6:38 pm P, DHR, unk, MS mp3 (56.6m)
OVAL 476-014 (excerpt) 04/09/1971 11:40 am - 1:30 pm P, DHR, GDR, JHR, JPR mp3 (2.2m)
OVAL 480-006 04/15/1971 12:15 - 12:40 pm P, RHF, DHR mp3 (23.5m)
WHT 042-046 04/15/1971 3:45 - 3:48 pm P, DHR mp3 (2.1m)
EOB 276-011a 09/10/1971 4:31 - 6:15 pm P, DHR, HRH, Unk, APB mp3 (64.8m)
EOB 276-011b       mp3 (3.7m)
EOB 287-021a 10/11/1971 Unk between 4:35 pm and 5:50 pm P, Unk, GPS, DHR, MS mp3 (18.2m)
EOB 287-021b       mp3 (48.0m)
WHT 011-135 10/19/1971 1:39 - 1:44 pm P, DHR mp3 (6.1m)
WHT 012-003 10/20/1971 3:06 - 3:10 pm P, DHR mp3 (4.7m)
WHT 015-041 11/18/1971 Unk between 5:09 pm and 5:16 pm DHR, WHO, Unk mp3 (2.1m)
WHT 017-024 12/24/1971 4:41 - 4:55 pm P, DHR mp3 (12.8m)

 

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