Tapes: Nixon Ordered Brookings Break-In

WASHINGTON -- President Richard Nixon ordered a break-in and theft at the Brookings Institution in June 1971 so he could learn what information the public policy center had collected on the Vietnam War, according to newly released White House tapes.


In a conversation that took place a year before the Watergate break-in that eventually drove him from office, Nixon told Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman to "break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them out."


At one point, with characteristic gruffness and punctuating each word, Nixon said, "You go in to inspect ... and clean it out."


No evidence has surfaced in the last quarter-century that the late president had advance knowledge of the break-in at Democratic headquarters in the Watergate, and this is the first direct proof he authorized another burglary. No break-in at Brookings was ever reported.


While Nixon's words were made public only this week, in tapes released by the National Archives, his administration's anxiety over leaks concerning U.S. involvement in Vietnam and fear Brookings might have obtained classified papers have been long known.


The archives log said National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, Defense Secretary Melvin Laird and Attorney General John Mitchell were also in the room. Mitchell has since died, and Kissinger and Laird denied knowledge of any break-in talk Thursday.


"I have absolutely no recollection of any such conversation," Kissinger said in a statement relayed by an assistant. "I seriously doubt that I was ever in the room when such a conversation took place. Even if I had been there earlier, I would have left the room once I had completed whatever I had needed to discuss with the president."


Laird said he does not recall Nixon talking about a break-in at Brookings. "I don't think Haldeman would have carried it out," Laird said. "I think it just sounds like he [Nixon] was a little upset."


Nixon gave the order June 30, 1971, the day the Supreme Court rejected the administration's request to block continued publication of the Pentagon Papers. Haldeman, writing in his now-published diaries, said the president and top aides believed that June day that a conspiracy existed among people who wanted to make public Vietnam War documents. Haldeman died in 1993.


Nixon's comments are part of 201 hours of White House tapes made public Monday. The references to the Brookings break-in were first reported by the San Francisco Examiner on Thursday.


"They have a lot of material," Nixon told Haldeman, referring to Brookings. "I want, the way I want that handled, Bob, is get it over ... I want Brooking [sic], just break in, break in and take it out. You understand?"


Haldeman responded, "Yeah, but you've got to have somebody to do it."


Nixon: "Well, you, that's what I'm just telling you. Now don't discuss it here."


After a few broken sentences, Nixon said: "You're to break into the place, rifle the files and bring them out."


"I don't have any problem with breaking in," Haldeman said.


Nixon cut him off: "Just go in and take them. Go in around 8 or 9 o'clock ... That's right. You go in and inspect ... and clean it out."