President Richard Nixon pushed for IRS tax audits of wealthy Jewish contributors to his Democratic rivals, demanding of a top aide, "What about the rich Jews? . . . Go after 'em like a son of a b----," newly released White House tapes show.
"You know, the big Jewish contributors to the Democrats. Could we please investigate some of the (obscenity)? That's all," Nixon tells another aide.
The revelations prompted Robert Strauss, a prominent Democratic fund-raiser and a Jew, to say that "this language coming out of the mouth of a president of the United States is . . . sickening."
Nixon also approved plans in September 1971 to "steal" Vietnam War records legally entrusted to the National Archives by anti-war critics, other tapes show. This was the second instance discovered by the San Francisco Examiner in which Nixon approved a covert entry seeking of documents regarding his conduct of Vietnam policy.
"Do that," he says on the tapes, giving approval to a mission described by his top domestic aide, John Ehrlichman, to enter the archives and secretly photograph and then "reseal" Vietnam documents placed there by a group of war defense analysts in the Johnson administration.
Together, the two revelations in the 200-plus hours of Nixon White House tapes recently made available to researchers suggest that Nixon and his inner circle considered themselves above the law in their attempts to protect the administration politically _ a mind-set that ultimately cost Nixon the presidency and sent many of his aides to prison.
In taped conversations on IRS reviews of Jewish Democratic contributors, Nixon is heard telling Ehrlichman, "John, we have the power."
"Are we using it to investigate contributors to Hubert Humphrey, contributors to Muskie, the Jews, you know, that are stealing in every direction?" the president asked.
At the time of this conversation _ September 1971 _ Nixon was raising funds for his 1972 re-election campaign. Former Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie, then the front-running Democrat, had been the running mate of then-Vice President Humphrey, who lost narrowly to Nixon in 1968. The eventual Democratic nominee, South Dakota Sen. George McGovern, was not yet a serious contender.
In late 1971, Nixon was worried about his re-election. He had not yet made his historic trip to China, with its attendant public-relations boost _ and the lingering opposition to his Vietnam War policy had affected his popularity.
The accusation of Jewish stealing was made during a conversation with Ehrlichman in Nixon's Old Executive Office Building hideaway next door to the White House. There was no suggestion on the tape of any wrongdoing by an individual. But that talk was followed five days later by another call for IRS audits of Jews, in which Nixon instructs chief of staff H.R. Haldeman "to please get me the names of the Jews."
Strauss, who was treasurer of the Democratic National Committee in 1971, said, "As I from time to time look back on history, I review with admiration the many good things that Richard Nixon accomplished. Then something like this will crop up. I've been around long enough to keep thinking that nothing will startle me anymore. But as a Jewish, politically involved Democrat, this language coming out of the mouth of a president of the United States is more than I can really comprehend. It's sickening."
Barbara Bergen, a San Francisco-based official with the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith, said the quotes reflect "paranoia and bigotry," adding, "It's very disturbing."
The 1971 tapes are not the only evidence of Nixon's anti-Semitism. That same year, he ordered a young White House aide, Frederick Maslek, to compile figures on the number of Jews working in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nixon accused the agency of being run by a "Jewish cabal" trying to hurt him by reporting inflated monthly jobless figures.
Maslek refused several requests but eventually provided the number but not the names of Jewish employees.
"I thought it was a bizarre request," he said in 1992. "I regard it as an error which I regret."
Haldeman, who died in 1993, recorded in his posthumously published diaries several instances of anti-Semitism inside the White House. In the White House tapes of conversations between Haldeman and Nixon, the president expressed anger that the IRS was "going after Billy Graham tooth and nail."
Graham was a friend of Nixon and an associate of presidents of both parties. There is no suggestion in the tapes that the evangelical preacher was being audited for political reasons. Nor can it be determined whether any Jewish Democratic contributors were audited.
Nonetheless, singling out political enemies for IRS audits was one of the grounds cited by the House Judiciary Committee when it called for Nixon's impeachment in 1974.
In one tape, Nixon said he wanted Attorney General John Mitchell to use his influence with the head of the IRS. "You call Mitchell. Mitchell can stick his nose into this. Tell him about Graham. Are we going after some of the Democrats or not?"
The next day, Nixon continued his demand. "What about the rich Jews?" he asked Haldeman. "The IRS is full of Jews, Bob."
Haldeman suggests that they find anti-Semitic IRS agents to target tax returns of Jews.
Nixon encourages his aide's thinking. "Go after 'em like a son of a b----," he says.