This is a book political aficionados will love.
By Jeffrey Lord
A personal tour of the secret world of former President Richard Nixon, a world that was surrounding a famously secretive man. A tour led by Nixon’s one-time senior campaign aide, adviser and confidante, Roger Stone. With secrets spilling off the pages.
One of the staples of American history is the memoir of The Aide. The inevitable high ranking Cabinet officer or senior White House staffer, the man or woman who was frequently in camera range with the President.
Joseph Tumulty was the private secretary to a president – the forerunner of today’s White House Chief of Staff. His memoirs of his boss, Woodrow Wilson as I Knew Him, caused a furor, not least with Wilson himself. The two men never spoke again after Tumulty’s book about the then ex-president. Theodore Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger, the latter a historian, both wrote bestsellers about their boss, John F. Kennedy, that were as much hagiography as biography/historical record. In their own way the two launched a virtual parade of books by JFK aides, every one of which was near worshipful in their portrayal. Cabinet officer books tend perhaps inevitably to the less colorful if not ponderous side. Wade through the memoirs of Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz or Nixon’s Henry Kissinger and one is instantly neck deep in the minutia of arms control or the Middle East.
All of which is to say Roger Stone’s contribution to the genre – Nixon’s Secrets: The Rise, Fall, and Untold Truth about the President, Watergate, and the Pardon – is as fascinating as it is unique.
Nixon’s Secrets – available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Books-a-Million.
Written with investigative journalist Mike Colapietro, Stone has written the kind of insider’s inside book that is unusual because Stone himself was never a Cabinet secretary or senior White House staffer. He was instead an outside-the-White House senior campaign aide and political operative, and in the world of the always highly political Nixon this made Roger Stone a serious confidante – and not just to Nixon. From his entry into presidential politics as a sixteen year-old “go-fer” for Nixon’s 1968 campaign manager to the the youngest staff member in Nixon’s 1972 Committee to Re-elect the President, on through the careers of Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole, Roger Stone was there. The guy with the political heft and legendary savvy who understood the lay of the American political land and whose counsel was repeatedly sought.
But it was Nixon who first took to the young Roger Stone, launching Stone into the middle of Nixon’s world and providing an up-close-and personal relationship with the only president in American history to resign from the presidency.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Nixon’s death in 1994. The memoir that Stone has written is a decidedly no-spin recounting of the Nixon he admired and knew so well along with the events of Nixon’s quite public and historic life.
Nixon’s career spanned decades, a rarity in the world of presidential politics. Only Franklin D. Roosevelt was nominated as many times to a national ticket, with FDR’s five nominations including one for vice president (he was defeated in 1920) and four wins for president. Nixon was nominated for (and elected) vice president twice (1952 and 1956) with three presidential nominations and two electoral wins (the loss in 1960, the wins in 1968 and 1972.) Then, of course, there is the uniqueness of a presidential resignation (1974).
From the very moment in 1946 that he burst on the national stage as the young California lawyer who defeated a liberal congressional favorite to his death six decades later as the ex-president who had remade himself into the wise man of American politics and foreign policy, Nixon was never far from the center of national and world events. Roger Stone arrived in the middle of Nixon’s world by way of serving as the Connecticut Chairman of Youth for Nixon in the 1968 presidential campaign – when he was just sixteen years old. Before that campaign was over he had parlayed that minor post into “becoming a gofer for Nixon’s law partner, and later attorney general, John Mitchell” at the Republican National Convention. From there he was on his way, working as a volunteer in the Nixon White House press office “cutting clippings” for an aide to Patrick Buchanan, moving on to a more senior role as a nineteen year-old aide in Nixon’s re-election campaign.
Writes Stone: “I saw Nixon up close. He was brilliant, devious, insightful, obtuse, determined, and sometimes less than truthful. Above all he was disciplined…..He never gave up fighting, first for the presidency and then for the legacy of that presidency.”
It is exactly that quality of persistence that gave Nixon such a long and vivid political life, in turn giving Stone the opportunity to see not only Nixon up close, but learn the secrets of Nixon’s world. By 1977, three years after Nixon had resigned, Roger Stone had become a Nixon confidante of both the big secrets and the little secrets.
Stone with Nixon in the years following his resignation.
Among them? Stone writes that:
Jimmy Hoffa and the mob gave Nixon $1 million.
Nixon put the moves on Jackie Kennedy.
Dr. Henry Kissinger, a known Nixon hater working for LBJ, tipped Nixon off about LBJ’s surprise Vietnam Bombing Halt by passing the message to Nixon through Bill Buckley.
How Nixon used back channels to kill the Paris Peace Talks when LBJ called a bombing halt in Vietnam without concessions from the North Vietnamese in a effort to stop Nixon’s comeback bid. Liberals called it treason, Nixon called it politics.
How close Nixon came to putting future Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen Specter on the US Supreme Court.
What the Watergate burglars were really looking for. • Why there is no Deep Throat and who really leaked to Bob Woodward.
How John Dean conceived, planned, pushed and covered up Watergate break-in and lied to Nixon about it.
All of these stories and many more are nuggets in a parade of personalities and colorful characters famous and not-so-famous with all playing some sort of role in Nixon’s adventures. From the Kennedy brothers to Lyndon Johnson and on to tales of Nixon associates and staff members Stone’s portraits are sharply drawn and vividly presented.
There are amusing stories, such as the tale of the young Stone being told by Mitchell to deliver a “heavy envelope” to the hotel room of a Massachusetts Republican congressman during the 1968 Miami Beach Convention. The sixteen-year old Roger did as instructed, dutifully calling the room from the hotel lobby. On the second try a woman’s voice answers the phone and hastily gives him the room number.
Writes Stone: “I jumped the elevator only to find the hotel room door ajar. I could hear heavy breathing. I slowly pushed the door open only to see two enormous white buttocks splayed with pimples pounding away on top of a prostitute. The congressman, covered in sweat, reached out for the envelope and grunted, ‘Get the****out.’ I ran like hell.” And there are stories of a much more serious nature.
One of the more compelling stories is the eviction from Nixon’s circle of, as Stone calls them, the “professional politicians” in favor of “technocratic ad men” like Nixon aides Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. Combined with other factors it was a telling mistake that led straight to the Watergate debacle.
Says Stone: “Nixon’s lack of a true ideology, his aversion to risk taking on the Vietnam War issue, and the rise of the ad men around him, combined with his increased isolation, would alienate speechwriter Richard J. Whalen. ‘I was ashamed of being in the company of mediocre merchandisers behind a facade of concealing a sad mixture of cynicism, apprehension, suspicion, and fear – especially fear. Fear of the next man higher up, fear of being found out by the encircling press. Ambition kept worried and discouraged staff members in line.’ Whalen resigned from the Nixon entourage after the Miami Beach convention.”
In retrospect, it was in fact Nixon’s love of the solitary – an asset in terms of using his scarce time for reading and thinking – that helped fence him in. Surrounded by the Haldeman/Ehrlichman “Berlin Wall” Nixon’s presidency was in the hands of aides who shouldn’t have been within a country mile of presidential authority.
Stone also tells a story about the famed Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. He quotes the late Alan Pakula, director of the movie version of the team’s bestseller All the President’s Men as saying that “way down, they hated each other.” Stone questions the revelation that the FBI’s Mark Felt was Deep Throat, portrayed as the ultimate mysterious Watergate source until coming forward shortly before his death a few years ago, and in discussing this highlights the distinct differences between the two once unknown reporters-turned-cultural-superstars. Woodward is portrayed as the author of “a number of controversial and profitable books,” while “Bernstein would lose a fortune in his high-profile divorce and dissipate the rest on wine, women, and song.”
Stone adds: “A friend of mine in New York told me he met Bernstein at a cocktail party and extended the veteran reporter his business card. The next day, Bernstein called him seeking a $10,000 loan.”
Ouch. One has to believe Nixon would love that tale. This is a remarkable book. The kind of book that can only be written by someone who spent volumes of time with the principal. The fact of Nixon’s resignation, unique in the history of the presidency, understandably had Nixon reeling for a while. Stone recounts the time following that resignation in the words of another biographer, Jonathan Aitken, who described Nixon as “a soul in torment.” In typical Nixon style , he was soon on his feet, launching his always determined self on the road to reclaiming his legacy. By 1977 he had enlisted Roger Stone as an ally in his newest fight. “We spoke every Saturday morning on the telephone,” Stone recalls. “He would invariably start the conversation by saying ‘Is this a good time?’ as if anyone would turn down an hour’s conversation with one of the most intriguing and reviled men in the world. I carried memos to the White House and an endless stream of verbal messages to senators, governors and congressmen. ….. ‘Tell them Nixon says…,’ he would instruct.” Stone began to work the phones, arranging “a series of private off-the-record dinners” with prominent journalists from the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and even a reporter from his old nemesis The Washington Post and others. “Nixon would mesmerize the young reporters with his vast knowledge of international geopolitics,” writes Stone.
The relationship between the aging president and his one-time boy wonder faithful political aide was extraordinary. Candid, blunt, informative – Nixon didn’t hold back.
In 2007, the Nixon aide had the controversial President’s face tattooed on his back.
Roger Stone has written a jewel of a political book. Getting his Nixon stories in order and down on paper for history. As with Woodrow Wilson’s Joseph Tumulty or Kennedy’s Sorensen and Schlesinger and a number of impressive others, Roger Stone has told his president’s story for history. But unlike the Kennedy aides, whose hagiography eventually and inevitably was undermined with the passage of time and stories about mistresses and the mob emerged, Stone does not flinch from telling the truth. “Any definitive profile of Nixon must include his greatness and his flaws,” Stone writes, adding that he has “sifted out the ‘party line’…to talk about Nixon the man…” In doing so, he has helped Nixon appear as in fact he was – a real person, not the cartoon villain depicted by his enemies.
Time has been kinder to Richard Nixon than his peers were to him, many of those peers blatantly hypocritical in their treatment of the man from Yorba Linda. What Roger Stone has accomplished is to present a fuller, deeper portrait of the man he came to know so well. A portrait drawn from facts, not supposition or arm-chair psychology. Nixon’s Secrets is a contribution to the considerable literature of American presidents. Twenty years after his death, the real Nixon – not the cartoon drawn by his enemies – has finally emerged. Roger Stone has seen to it.
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at email@example.com