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"Teddy": In His Own Words

New HBO Film Based in Part on nixontapes.org Material

 With the passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), aged 77, it is only too coincidental that HBO recently released a new documentary about Kennedy entitled "Teddy." Produced by multi-Emmy winning KunhardtMcGee, the film is narrated--using archival materials--by Kennedy himself, and covers his entire life, from childhood through the election of Senator Barack Obama to the presidency. The documentary received a range of favorable reviews, including this write-up by Tom Shales of The Washington Post.

nixontapes.org has contributed to numerous films in recent years, including "Teddy." While Kennedy took part in only one conversation captured (2:57, 2.7m) on the Nixon taping system--with Secretary of the Treasury John B. Connally after the shooting of George Wallace--Kennedy was the subject of numerous others. (nixontapes.org also contributed at an early stage to another film which will make its debut in September 2009 at the Toronto International Film Festival: "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.")

 

Early in the taping system's existence, on April 9, 1971, President Nixon, Chief of Staff H.R. "Bob" Haldeman, and Press Secretary Ron Ziegler discussed the Kennedy family, monitoring democratic candidates, and Chappaquiddick (2:41, 2.5m) as well as the desire to tape Senator Kennedy (0:16, 290k), even though Haldeman reminds Nixon it is a crime to "bug" a Member of Congress. One of the rationales offered for bugging Kennedy and other democrats was that it cost less than hiring researchers or investigators.

Excerpt from April 9, 1971

Nixon: Well Goddamn it, there ought to be a way to get him [Kennedy] covered. I wouldn't bother with McGovern. I think with Teddy, the reason I would cover him is from a personal standpoint--you're likely to find something on that.
Haldeman: He's covered on that.
Nixon: You're sure?
Haldeman: Pretty much.
Nixon: You watch. I predict something more is going to happen.
Haldeman: They're keeping an eye on the [Kennedy] family. I meant in--
Nixon: I mean, it's a matter of judgment, I mean he's just gotta--
Haldeman: Did you see his wife [Joan] came here at the White House again all done up in some crazy outfit?
Nixon: What, did Pat [Nixon] [unclear]?
Haldeman: A Senate wives luncheon.
Nixon: What did she [Joan] wear?
Haldeman: Some leather gaucho, with a bare midriff, or something.
Ziegler: Well, no, they put on a body stocking which is flesh tone.
Haldeman: Oh, is that it?
Ziegler: And then they wrap the leather gaucho type thing around it. So you look at it from a distance, and you think "My God, there she is. But she has a body stocking."
Nixon: Weird.
Haldeman: She was going to wear hotpants but Teddy told her she couldn't.
Ziegler: They're weird people. They really are. I mean, even the--
Nixon: It's crude. What the hell's the matter with them? What's she trying to prove?
Haldeman: Whatever it is, she ain't gaining many votes, because they've got, the super swinger jet set types are going to be for them and not for you no matter what happens.
Ziegler: I don't know, the super swingin' jet set types don't even relate to that type thing. It's a very, very small group.
Haldeman: Middle American folk...that's desecration of the White House to most Americans.
[Unclear exchange]
Ziegler: She has to have some sort of hang-up herself personally. She knows what Teddy was doing out there with that girl [Mary Jo Kopechne] running her into the water, you know, and what he's been doing.
Haldeman: But that family's used to that. That's the price you play when you join that club.
Nixon: They do it all the time.
Haldeman: They all know that. Ethel, Jackie, and all the rest of them.
Nixon: They gotta' expect that.
Haldeman: If you want to get in their ballgame, you play by their rules.

Later in the spring of 1971, on May 28, the topic of conversation again between President Nixon and Bob Haldeman turned to wiretapping and creating a fund to monitor Kennedy (3:23, 3.2m). That summer, on July 2, again the idea was raised that funds "stashed away" could be used to "tail" Kennedy (1:15, 1.2m). Haldeman reported that there was approximately one million dollars available for such monitoring activities. President Nixon suggested that closer to two million would be needed. More than anything else, the White House was interested in catching Kennedy having an extramarital affair, which would presumably end his chances of making a presidential bid in the 1972 election, or 1976 for that matter.

Excerpt from May 28, 1971

Nixon: I think the best way to play these is to go after, that's why I want a lot more use of wiretapping. Are we doing that? Tailing and so forth? I mean particularly on Teddy.
Haldeman: We're on and off on [Senator] Muskie.
Nixon: Well, it should not be on and off. I mean, that's something we can afford. That's better than to hire eighteen more researchers, you know, or little boys who go over there and try to figure out what the P.R.-wise. We can pick that up. But we can't get any information. Why don't you do that? Why don't you put a little money in that?
Nixon: I don't know whether he's [Kennedy's] the candidate or [unclear].
Haldeman: We've got spot coverage of Teddy just because, you know, wanting to know what he's doing. We have access in on all of them [Democratic candidates] through this guy who moves in and out of them, moving around...but we've got a pretty good fix on what they're all doing.

Second Excerpt from May 28, 1971

Nixon: Keep after him [Kennedy], see? Who have you got that you can put in charge of it? Not [Chuck] Colson, now understand. You can't do that out of the White House.
Haldeman: The guy that we've got outside. That's the way to do it.
Nixon: Do you have a guy?
Haldeman: Through [Jack] Caulfield.
Nixon: I don't know, maybe it's the wrong thing to do, but I have a feeling that if you're going to start, better start now.

During the fall, the White House continued to be concerned that Senator Kennedy would be the "dark horse" presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. On September 8, in a conversation in the Executive Office Building between President Nixon and John Ehrlichman, Nixon suggested "a little persecuting" (3:14, 3.0m) of Kennedy, as well as wanting a general update of the ongoing efforts to monitor Kennedy. Proposed "persecution" included the use of the Internal Revenue Service, as well as hiring investigators to follow Kennedy. Ehrlichman responded that there was already such an investigator following Kennedy--Watergate conspirator Tony Ulasewicz, who worked under Counsel to President John W. Dean III--and he reported what the investigator had to say about Kennedy's recent activities in Hawaii and Martha's Vineyard.

Excerpt from September 8, 1971

Nixon: I could only hope that we are, frankly, doing a little persecuting. We ought to persecute them [Democratic candidates] [unclear], you know. Let's do everything we can.
Ehrlichman: Right.
Nixon: And on the IRS, are we looking into Muskie's returns? Does he have any? Hubert [Humphrey]? Hubert's been in a lot of...deals.
Ehrlichman: Yes he has.
Nixon: Teddy? Who knows about the Kennedys? Shouldn't they be investigated?
Ehrlichman: IRS-wise, I don't know the answer. Teddy, we are covering personally. When he goes on holidays, when he stopped in Hawaii on his way back from Pakistan.
Nixon: Does he do anything?
Ehrlichman: No, no, He's very clean. Very clean.
Nixon: Be careful now.
Ehrlichman: He was in Hawaii on his own. He was staying at some guy's villa and we had a guy on him. He was just as nice as he could be the whole time.
Nixon: The thing to do is to watch him, because what happens to fellows like that, who have that kind of problem is that they go for quite a while....
Ehrlichman: Yup. That's what I'm hoping for.

Second Excerpt from September 8, 1971

Ehrlichman: This time, between now and Convention time, anything can happen.
Nixon: You mean he will be under great pressure?
Ehrlichman: Under pressure, but he will also be out of the limelight somewhat. I mean, he was in Hawaii pretty much incognito. Very little staff...and socialized. You would expect at a time like that that you might catch him. And then he went up to Hyannis. We've got an arrangement.

Ten days later, in an Oval Office conversation between President Nixon, Bob Haldeman, John Mitchell, John Ehrlichman, and Charles Colson, Attorney General John Mitchell suggested having someone full time, ďwith a dirty tricks approachĒ (3:00, 2.8m), able to direct blame on prominent Democrats, including Senator Kennedy, who had connections to previous Democratic administrations during controversial events such as the assassination of South Vietnamese leader Diem.

While Nixon and his aides often complained that press coverage was overly complimentary to the Kennedy family, on a few occasions the Nixon White House enjoyed a moment when the press were critical of the senator from Massachusetts. In an Oval Office conversation on October 14, 1971 between President Nixon, Bob Haldeman, and Charles Colson, they share a laugh (1:45, 1.7m) about a column written by Mike Royko. Royko compared the integrity of Senator Kennedy to President Nixon. In a reference to Chappaquiddick, Haldeman noted that it would be helpful to have posters provided at Kennedy rallies that ask the question ďWould you ride in a car with Ted Kennedy?Ē

President Nixon even extracted information about Senator Kennedy's private life from Henry Kissinger. In an Oval Office conversation on August 2, 1972, Nixon asked: "What the hell is the matter with Teddy? Don't you think it's the booze? He can't resist." (1:46, 1.7m) Nixon contrasted Teddy with his older brothers: "Bobby and Jack, everybody knows it, had their own ladies. They were a hell of a lot more discreet."

Excerpt from August 2, 1972

Nixon: What the hell is the matter with Teddy? It isnít a question, I mean, I donít think itís a sex business. I think his problem, his lack of discretion, donít you think itís the booze? He canít resist--
Kissinger: First of all, he drinks.
Nixon: No, no. Bobby and Jack, everybody knows it, had their own ladies. They were a hell of a lot more discreet.
Kissinger: Iíve had Christina Ford tell me quite candidly that Teddyís unbelievable. He invited her to the opening of the Kennedy Center, to his house. He had two tables. One upstairs and one downstairs. He took her upstairs. All during the dinner she had to fight him off because under the table he was grabbing her by the legs.
Nixon: Oh Christ! With other people present?
Kissinger: Thatís right, at his own house. With his wife heading the table downstairs. You know, Christinaís past, sheís not exactly an innocent.
Nixon: I didnít think so. She doesnít look like an innocent. I donít know.
Kissinger: Then, she said, he followed her to New York. They [Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford II] have an apartment there, in the Carlyle Hotel. He [Kennedy] rented one ten floors down. [Kennedy] Walked up the stairs, practically beat her door down. She said she sleeps with many men in her life, but Teddy, just, is impossible. She finally told him, what if the newspapers get this? He said, "no newspapers are going to print anything about me. Iíve got that covered."
Nixon: Jesus Christ! Thatís pretty arrogant.

Finally, in an Oval Office conversation on September 7, 1972 between President Nixon, Bob Haldeman, and John Ehrlichman, they have an extended discussion about whether to extend Senator Kennedy Secret Service protection while he campaigns (3:04, 2.9m). While such coverage was extended on a temporary basis during the immediate aftermath of the shooting of George Wallace, Kennedy continued to receive more threatening mail than any other American political figure. One reason to extend Kennedy's protection was that the White House was could assign a Secret Service agent who would report on Kennedy's activities.

Excerpt from September 7, 1972

Haldeman: You've got one United States Senator [Kennedy] who is a secondary factor in the [1972 presidential] campaign. You give him [Secret Service] coverage through the campaign.
Ehrlichman: Understand, I don't like to give him something, but at the same time--
Haldeman: And then if he gets shot, it's our fault [for not providing Secret Service protection].
Ehrlichman: Sure.
Nixon: You understand what the problem is. If the son of a bitch gets shot they'll say we didn't furnish it. So you just buy his insurance. Then after the election, he doesn't get a Goddamn thing. If he gets shot, it's too damn bad. Do it under the basis, though, that we pick the Secret Service men. Not that son of a bitch [Secret Service Chief James] Rowley. Understand what I'm talking about? Do you have anybody in the Secret Service that you can get to? Do you have anybody that we can rely on?
Ehrlichman: Yeah. Yeah. We've got several.
Nixon: Plant one. Plant two guys on him. This could be very useful.

   

 

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