BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Monica Crowley, author of "Nixon Off The Record," is there a particular moment in your four years with Richard Nixon that you might remember more than others?
MONICA CROWLEY: Well, there actually is one memory that jumps out at me that really illustrates the kind of person he was and the Nixon I knew. It was a memory that was formed at the famous Nixon policy conference held in Washington in March of 1993, and this was the conference around which Nixon's very public criticism of President Bush's handling of the Russian transition from communism to democracy had swirled. Nixon had written a very scathing memorandum criticizing the administration's handling of that transition, and he criticized it as "pathetically inadequate"; that he thought the administration was not supporting Boris Yeltsin enough financially.
And he had written this memorandum, and it had leaked and it exploded on the front page of The New York Times. So President Bush was going to be forced to answer Nixon's criticism at Nixon's conference. So Nixon was caught in the maelstrom of all these highly dramatic events, and I accompanied him to Washington for that conference. And Nixon hosted a different group of people at his head table for each panel discussion, and I was asked to join his head table during Zbigniew Brzezinksi's panel discussion. And I sat to the right of President Nixon, and to the right of me was James Schlesinger. And I noticed that there was a camera above us that was trained on Brzezinksi, and Brzezinksi began his remarks and I noticed some activity out of the left corner of my eye.
President Nixon had leaned forward, and he took a writing pad off of the table that the hotel had provided, he picked up a pen and I saw him scribbling something. And he passed the note to me, and I looked down and it said, "Are you having a good time?" And I immediately turned the pad over because I didn't want the camera to pick up what he had written because he was supposed to be paying attention to what Brzezinksi was saying. But to me that really illustrated the kind of person he was, that he was involved in all of these great events and really influencing American policy toward Russia and having to worry about that, and yet at the same time he was concerned about my welfare and whether or not I was learning anything.
LAMB: There was a moment in the book you describe where you went to his house, and you were supposed to go to see him -- I think he was up on the third floor, and you caught him watching "The Dick Van Dyke Show." What was so unusual about that?
CROWLEY: That was such a fantastic memory for me because Nixon always claimed that he never watched television, and of course he did. He liked to watch the news. He watched sporting events. He used to watch football and baseball quite avidly. But he never admitted to watching sort of mindless entertainment. So I was usually about five minutes late for our meetings at the residence in the afternoon, so he normally expected me to be late. And this one day in particular I was five minutes early, and I was walking up the stairs, and before I could clear the stairs to the third floor, I heard the television going. And then I heard canned laughter coming out of that television, and I realized that he was watching something that was meant to amuse. And I was very surprised by this. And I looked at him, and he had his shoes off and his feet were stockinged, up on the ottoman, crossed, and he had the remote control in his hand, and he was laughing.
He was just enjoying the show and the moment so much, and I just observed him for a couple of moments because I really wanted him to have those few extra minutes when he didn't have to be "on," and he didn't have to be the serious Richard Nixon that he presented to me, most of the time anyway, and I really enjoyed seeing that. But then I cleared my voice and I cleared the top of the stairs, and he looked at me and he was horrified that he had been caught in the act of watching television, "The Dick Van Dyke Show" no less. And he tried to simultaneously shut the TV off with the remote control and jam his feet into his shoes, and he dropped the remote control. And it was a big, chaotic scene. But really, you know, he said, "Well" -- because he was red faced, he said, "Well, you caught me. You caught me watching the tube." And he said, "I don't do it often, but sometimes I like to see what's out there."
LAMB: When was the last time you saw him?
CROWLEY: The last time I saw him was the Friday before he had the stroke. He had the stroke on a Monday, so I saw him Friday afternoon.
LAMB: What do you remember about that particular occasion? Did he know he was in bad shape?
CROWLEY: Actually, he wasn't. The stroke came out of the blue, totally unexpected. Nixon was an extremely disciplined person. He ate Spartan diets and he exercised on a daily basis. He used to take three mile walks every day, rain or shine, freezing cold, stifling heat. He really took very good care of himself because he dreaded the entire aging process, and he hated everything associated with mortality and death. So he fought it with every fiber of his being.
I remember Nixon being particularly pensive on that last afternoon. In fact, we sat out on the deck. Normally we would have our meetings in his library in the residence, but he insisted that we sit out that day. It was a nice, warm spring day. He wanted to take advantage of it, and he was quieter than usual. And it may have been -- I'm not a medical person, I don't mean to speculate -- but it may have been that there were some things going on in his body that even he wasn't aware of, but he seemed quieter than usual.
LAMB: As you know, you've got a lot of quotes in this book, and I've transcribed some of them onto our machine that puts them on the screen so that people can read along with them.
LAMB: When you read them, it gives you a greater sense of what the book's all about. Why don't we look at one right now?
LAMB: This one says, "The Kennedys were not admirable people." This is Richard Nixon, as you transcribed it. "'They simply were not nice. The legend is that Jack was always gracious, charming, dashing,' he said, putting his nose in the air. 'Bull. He spit on waiters and ignored or screamed at the help. I remember attending a dinner once and watching Bobby, who was the smartest, and also the meanest, throw his meal on the floor and right at a waiter because he didn't like it. Bebe' -- and he's talking about Bebe Rebozo -- 'knew the Kennedys, and they used to socialize when they were in Key Biscayne. All of them used to treat the help like crap, and, I mean, they were mean. Most of the help was Cuban, and they treated them like they didn't exist. Bobby was the worst. He illegally bugged more people and started it than anyone. He was a bastard.'" And when did he say that, and how often did he talk about the Kennedys like this?
CROWLEY: Well, Nixon always claimed that he wasn't very concerned with the Kennedys, but Kennedy's name came up in conversation probably more than any other president that we discussed, of his predecessors and his successors. I think that Nixon was fundamentally a good man and that he could not stand to see people in positions of power abusing that power and treating people who were in service positions with disrespect. That really grated on him because Nixon, we have to remember, came from nothing. He came from poverty, and he just, through the sheer force of will and brilliance -- intellectual brilliance and drive -- climbed his way to the pinnacle of power in American politics. And he never gave up that -- the fact, though, that he was brought up to be a good person, and he could not understand the kind of arrogance displayed by the Kennedys in those types of situations.
LAMB: When did you decide to do this book?
CROWLEY: I decided to do it several months after Nixon passed away. Actually, you know, Nixon gave me a lot of responsibilities and assignments on a daily basis, so I always carried a notepad with me whenever we spoke. So Nixon knew that I was taking some notes during the course of our conversations. He did not know the extent to which I was reconstructing those conversations, and he did not know about the diaries.
When I began taking these notes, I knew that I was granted a very rare and highly personal view into one of the most enduring and controversial presidents of the 20th century and so I did not want to squander that opportunity. So I began taking these notes essentially from my own personal memory. I wanted to remember for myself what he did on a daily basis, who he was, what he said. And it was only after he passed away and I began to look through these diaries that I really realized the value and the totality of what I had. And I met with William Safire of The New York Times in August of 1994, several months after Nixon had passed away, and, sort of off the cuff, mentioned to him that I had all of this material in diaries. And he really
urged me to write the book. He said, "It must be written."
LAMB: Would you have written it if he hadn't urged you to do that? How important was the Bill Safire imprimatur on this?
CROWLEY: It was fairly important because I felt that somebody of his stature and somebody who -- he knew Nixon so well. If he thought that this wasn't a project that I should've pursued, then I wouldn't have done it.
LAMB: Where's your hometown?
CROWLEY: New Jersey. Central New Jersey.
CROWLEY: A town called Warren.
LAMB: How long did you live there?
CROWLEY: I've lived there about 17 years. I was born in Arizona, but I was raised in New Jersey.
LAMB: And where did you go to college?
CROWLEY: I did my undergraduate work at Colgate University in upstate New York, and I'm pursuing my doctorate at Columbia University.
LAMB: Skipping the master's?
CROWLEY: I actually have two master's degrees as part of the Ph.D. program.
LAMB: And what are those in?
CROWLEY: They are an MA and an MFEL in international relations.
LAMB: When was the first time that you had any contact with Richard Nixon?
CROWLEY: Actually, I can get into how I originally wrote the letter to him. I was a junior at Colgate and I was majoring in political science, and I was enrolled in a course on national security and foreign policy affairs. And that was taught by a very good, very conservative professor, and I consulted with this professor because I thought that I wanted to enter that area upon my graduation.
So as I prepared to leave campus between my junior and senior years, he gave me several books to read, one of which was Nixon's "1999: Victory Without War." And that book had such a tremendous impact on my thinking about very crucial foreign policy issues that I sat down and I wrote Nixon a letter dealing with the issues that he raised in the book. And it was a substantive letter, which later he told me was the reason it caught his eye.
I mailed it, never expected a response. And about a month later I went to my mailbox, and I received a handwritten response from President Nixon, telling me how much he thought of my letter, how much he appreciated the fact that I'd actually read his book. And he invited me to come to his office in New Jersey and discuss American foreign policy with him. So in October of my senior year -- that was 1989 -- I traveled to his Bergen County office in New Jersey, and he gave me two hours of his time. We talked about the state of the world. And what surprised me most about that initial meeting was that he was so generous with his most precious commodity, and that was his time.
LAMB: And Bergen County is located where, for people who've never been to the East Coast?
CROWLEY: Northeast New Jersey.
LAMB: How far away was he driving into New York City?
CROWLEY: He was about half an hour, 45 minutes from New York.
LAMB: What was the office like? How many people worked around him?
CROWLEY: Actually, he had an office in New Jersey. He worked for years in Manhattan, but the traffic was too much for him. So he moved an office in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, and that's where I went. He had a very small staff: four people; he had two secretaries, an administrative assistant and me.
LAMB: And what was the first day you went to work for him?
CROWLEY: July 3rd, 1990. So right after my graduation.
LAMB: A total of four years you spent there?
LAMB: How many trips did you take with him?
CROWLEY: I accompanied him on two international trips. In February, I went with him to eastern Europe and to Russia, and later that year, in April, I went with him to Asia.
LAMB: What do you remember from that experience, the international travel?
CROWLEY: Well, I remember so many things. What stands out to me the most, though, is that Nixon was so generous and so good to me on those trips. He had me sit in on almost all of his meetings with the heads of state and other government leaders that he saw in these places.
LAMB: And you're going to do a second book?
CROWLEY: Yes. Yes, indeed. I'm working on a second volume that will deal with Nixon's evolving thoughts on foreign policy, what he thought and what he did during the end of the Cold War, which is very interesting because Nixon was so gratified to see the end of the Cold War. This was a man who began his political career at the very beginning of the Cold War, had led the nation through a very crucial period of it, and yet lived to see the end of it. And he was so gratified because he had felt that everything he stood for throughout his political career, all those anti Communist platforms, had been vindicated. So it was nice to be there, with him, at that time.
LAMB: We've got just a short minute video clip from the Booknotes that we did with the president when he was here, and I want to show that and get your reaction to what he said.
[Excerpt from Booknotes, February 1992]
LAMB: Did you write this book?
RICHARD NIXON: Yes. I would say, unfortunately, those who criticize the style, and it certainly justifies criticism, generally say that it sounds like me. The reason it sounds like me is that, after I take all of the -- and I point out in the author's note that I had some excellent people working with me: Marns Tremeky, who was the editor, my chief editor on this book, who did made a great contribution; and Monica Crowley, who is in my office now; Joel Marks -- they were two full time assistants. And then a number of others wrote various papers on the various subjects. But when it finally came down to the final product, then I had to not just do the editing, but I also had to get it in my words so that it sounded like me. As I often said to people working with me, when I would rewrite something, I'd say, "The trouble is everybody knows my style so well that if I leave it like this, it isn't going to sound like me." I think this book sounds like me, for better or for worse.
[End of excerpt]
LAMB: Now from all the time you spent around him, how much did we see there that's like him, when the cameras aren't on, and how much is different?
CROWLEY: You mean in terms of who he was personally? Well, may I say that when I first was preparing to meet him, for the very first time, I was prepared to encounter the public image of Richard Nixon, which really is very one dimensional. It's sort of a dark, brooding, serious, mysterious character. And the Nixon I knew, that part of him was just a fraction of who he was. And what surprised me so much and delighted me was that Nixon was so much more than that.
The Nixon I knew was a brilliant man. He was a political mastermind, which even his detractors will concede. He was generous. He was thoughtful, thoughtful in the sense of compassionate. He was a warm person. He was a witty person. Nixon could be very funny at times, and that never, ever came across in his public image, and I think that's a shame. I tried to get some of that humanity across in this book. I hope I succeeded.
LAMB: How did you physically keep track of the quotes because some of them are almost page length?
CROWLEY: Let me tell you how I proceeded with the whole note taking process. As I said, I always carried a notepad with me during our conversations. I would take some notes in shorthand, as he was talking, so that I had key words and phrases and so forth. And then I would go back to my desk immediately and reconstruct those conversations so I had them on paper while they were still fresh in my mind. And then later that night I would go home and reconstruct them once again in my diaries so that I could put the conversation with a date and a time. And then a fourth stage occurred at the end of each week, when I would go back and review the week's conversations. And if I had forgotten something or if an insight had occurred to me, I'd jot those in as well. And I think I was able to maintain and preserve the
integrity of the dialogue doing it that way.
LAMB: And you never thought at that time you were going to do this book?
CROWLEY: No, it didn't occur to me to write a book. I knew that I was being exposed to this incredible historic opportunity, so I was doing it for myself all along.
LAMB: Was there a point where you would be exhilarated by what you had on paper?
CROWLEY: Yes, yes. There were many of those. Almost every day there was something that I thought, My goodness, I have such a treasure here. What a great quote! What a great turn of phrase! And I was glad that I was there to hear it.
LAMB: Let's look at some more of the quotes from your book. This is one on the media. And it says, "The media" -- and I won't use the language "are all" -- you can imagine what that is. "Did you see the way they sugarcoated Clinton's appearance last night? They are out to save the guy at any cost and to prove they were right on him. They are a lousy damn bunch. It's a wonder that we win any races with the likes of them covering us. The deception between how the elite media and the popular
media cover Clinton is amazing. The elitists are all for him. The popular media are all calling him an ass. It shows how disconnected those elitists are." Did he normally talk with that kind of language?
CROWLEY: Yes, to me. And that was very surprising to me because we were of two different generations and two different genders, so I thought that he would filter out some of that language, but he didn't. He peppered his language with mild profanity on a regular basis. But that to me indicated that he really did trust me and considered me a confidant, that he was able to talk as he normally would.
Getting back to his idea about the media, Nixon always said that his problems with the media or his disagreements with the media stemmed from the Alger Hiss case. And he said when he exposed Alger Hiss, he exposed the press. And he said the worse thing that you can do to a member of the press is prove that they are wrong. And he said, "That's what I did with Alger Hiss, and they never forgave me for it."
LAMB: Here's another quote. This one says -- and we'll get it on the screen in a moment -- "GD [Goddamn] it! Why the hell isn't he showing some leadership?" Who's he talking about? George Bush? "I'll tell you something. When the [skips word] hits the fan and his gang comes to me for advice, I'm not going to provide it unless they are willing to thank me publicly. Neither Reagan nor Bush" -- this must be...
CROWLEY: Referring to Clinton.
LAMB: ...Bill Clinton. "Neither Reagan nor Bush did that after all these years of my advice and, frankly, I've had it. They'll find me when they need me, but I may not be available." Did he really mean that?
CROWLEY: I'm not sure he was referring to Clinton there. He may have been referring to the Bush campaign. I'm not sure. We'll have to clarify that.
LAMB: But there's a lot of that kind of a quote in the book...
LAMB: ...about different politicians and the advice that they would seek from him, but they wouldn't acknowledge it publicly. What was that all about?
CROWLEY: That's right. Well, generally that was a problem with the Republican presidents, because obviously there was a great political problem for them in dealing with Richard Nixon. This was a Republican president who had been driven from office, and they did not want to publicly acknowledge the association that they had with Richard Nixon. So even though Reagan and Bush consulted with Nixon on a fairly regular basis, although not as regular as Bill Clinton, they never did it publicly. They never put a picture out when he visited the White House. They used to invite Nixon at night so that the press couldn't actually see him entering the White House. And even though Nixon understood that, because he was a political animal, even though he recognized that and understood it, I think it wounded him to a certain extent.
LAMB: Who did he admire the most in history?
CROWLEY: He admired Woodrow Wilson. He admired Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln, but he admired Woodrow Wilson because he said that even though Wilson was too much of an idealist to be an effective president, that he was a man of thought and of action, and that's what Nixon considered himself to be.
LAMB: Here's a quote about Ronald Reagan, and he has a lot of this in the book, where he talks about his predecessors: "He does look great, though. He told me he exercises out on the ranch every day. Of course, he didn't go through what I went through in the Watergate period, from April 15th to August 8th and 9th, the resignation, Watergate, day in and day out. It was rough. Reagan, of course, had the assassination attempt, which was a tremendous physical challenge. Mine may have been rougher because it was emotional, but Reagan just has such a positive outlook that I think that is half the battle."
CROWLEY: I think that really cuts to the essence of who Richard Nixon was. He was such a fighter. He was so determined to come from -- he started his political career from nothing, he worked his way to the top. And I think that he really prided himself on the inner strength that he had; that he'd always been a fighter; that even after Watergate he was not going to lay down and take the punches and retire and be a recluse; that he was going to continue to contribute where he could and when he could. And that's what drove him in the last years of his life. In fact, they were the same things that drove him throughout his political career: the need to contribute to the policy debates in this country, the need to advance US interests in the world
and promote the causes of peace and freedom.
LAMB: Now have you talked to any of the family about this book?
CROWLEY: I informed the daughters that I was writing the book several months ago, probably March of this year, of 1996. I informed them that I was writing the book, but I have not heard from them directly.
LAMB: What do you think they're going to think of this?
CROWLEY: Well, I don't know. I would hope that they would be pleased with it. I think Nixon would have been pleased with it. This is an honest portrayal of who Nixon was in the last years of his life. And there's so much out there that's dishonest about Richard Nixon that honesty was really the only thing he ever wanted or expected out of profiles on him. So I think he would appreciate it. Also, I thought, when I was writing this book, I wanted this to be Richard Nixon's story. I did not want it to be Monica Crowley's story about Richard Nixon. And I thought that the best way for Nixon to influence history was to allow him to speak for himself.
LAMB: In The New York Times review, Michiko Kakutani writes this about your book: "Mr. Nixon emerges as a smart, savvy and generally interested in the global consequences of American foreign policy. But he also comes across as self
aggrandizing, petty, vindictive, suspicious, egotistical and manipulative. We seem him blatantly jockeying for a position of influence with the Bush and Clinton administrations, we see him trying almost desperately to reshape his public image, and we see him mouthing off indiscreetly about rivals and colleagues." What was your reaction to that?
CROWLEY: Well, I think that's a reflection of this reviewer's political bias. Everybody has biases. I understand that. This reviewer obviously took those biases to the table when he or she wrote that piece. And nothing I could say about Richard Nixon was going to change that. So when they read this book, he or she obviously saw what they wanted to see in it. And that's fine. People just can take away from it what they will. I just ask that the readers read it with an open mind, and it's my hope
that somebody who reads this book will come away from it with a greater appreciation of Nixon's accomplishments and of his regrets and of the man, not just as a former president, and as a politician, but as a human being.
LAMB: You have a little story in there about the wiretap, and Mr. Nixon calling you one day for reasons that you might explain to us?
CROWLEY: Yes. Actually, during the summer of 1992, as the political season was heating up before the election, Nixon and I had both heard some strange clicking sounds on his telephone. And he said, "You know, the phone may be tapped." And I said, "Well, it certainly could be." And he said, "Well, let's try a little experiment." He said, "I'm going to call you." And he was on his way to California. So he said, "I'm going to call you from California at your home, and I'm going to tell you that I'm going to come out endorsing Ross Perot for the presidency."
LAMB: And he thought that the Bush administration was afraid of this?
CROWLEY: Yes. Yes. Actually, both sides might think, "Well, what was going on with Richard Nixon if he's endorsing Ross Perot?" So he said, "I'm going to tell you that I'm endorsing Ross Perot. I want you to keep a straight face and a straight voice. Don't let on to anything." And he said, "We're going to set this person up if, in fact, there are wiretaps on my phone." So he flew to California, he called me, we went through this little episode, and then nothing ever came of it. So either his phones weren't tapped or nobody thought enough of it to leak it. But it was just one of his little experiments.
LAMB: Hugh Sidey came to visit on day, the former Time magazine journalist. I -- maybe he's still -- I think he might still write for them sometimes. He had a column on the presidency. And what was the purpose of his visit?
CROWLEY: Well, Nixon was very disappointed in Bush's presidency for a number of reasons, and he sought out Hugh Sidey to sort of have these views either confirmed or denied by a true student of the presidency. And he liked Hugh Sidey. He admired him. He respected him as a very fair journalist and as a very fair commentator on his own political career and presidency. So he looked at him for a very frank assessment of Bush's presidency, and I think he got it.
LAMB: But you told a story about how he hid in the kitchen at the office?
CROWLEY: Oh, that's a great story. Nixon was a very formal man and he knew that he had been president of the United States, and with that came some responsibility to dignity, which is why he always wore a suit and tie every day of the week. And Sidey arrived for his meeting with Nixon early, and Nixon did not want Sidey to see him before the appointed hour. So I was standing with Nixon, and he ducked into the mail room. And he called me over with a whisper and he said, "Talk to Sidey in my office. I'm going to go through the door and go home," because he was treating Sidey to lunch at his residence and Sidey had come to the office. So I went into Nixon's office, I sat down with Mr. Sidey and we had a very lovely, brief conversation, and Nixon exited the door, went home in the limousine and was ready to greet Mr. Sidey at the residence.
LAMB: Now what was going through your head at this point? This is a man that everybody in the world knows, hiding in the mail room? What were you thinking when you saw that?
CROWLEY: I thought it was an unbelievable episode, and I couldn't believe that I was actually a witness and a participant in it. But then I came to realize that, well, maybe there was something to this, that there was an image that Nixon had to protect. He wasn't a casual man. And he was simply -- he was being himself. That's who Nixon was, that he wanted to preserve a measure of decorum in his conversations with people.
LAMB: The Perot story -- he came to see him in the '92 campaign.
CROWLEY: Yes. Yes, he did.
LAMB: He kept him waiting a little bit.
CROWLEY: Yes. Actually, Ross Perot had done some media in the morning in New York City and he was on his way to see Nixon. I think it was an 11:00 meeting -- I'm not quite sure. I'll have to check on that. But Perot had stayed in the city longer than anticipated and then ran into a lot of traffic on his way out of the city into New Jersey. So he kept Nixon waiting for about two hours. And Nixon paced back and forth, and he was not used to being kept waiting. And then Ross Perot finally arrived, and Perot just came booming into the office. He's quite a presence anyway -- he just takes up a whole room -- and introduced himself and issued a barrage of questions to all of us without waiting for any answers. And then he and Nixon retreated to the office for a private talk.
LAMB: Here's a quote that came out of one of these sessions. The former president -- this isn't the one. There was a quote about Ross Perot, if we can go to that quote: "Perot -- can you believe this guy? He's such an egomaniac. A debate with him would be a GD [Goddamn] circus."
CROWLEY: Well, Nixon believed that, when Ross Perot first entered the race, that he would be a good participant in the race, that he would make a positive contribution because he was such a colorful character. And Nixon thought, "Well, he can galvanize the race. He'll go out there. He's plain speaking. He relates well to people. People will take to him. And even though there's no way he can win the general election in November, he can spice up the race and perhaps make Bush and Clinton better candidates." And also, Ross Perot seemed willing to talk about crucial issues that neither of the other two seemed willing to talk about, like deficit reduction. So Nixon thought he was making a positive contribution that way. But Nixon also disagreed with Perot's protectionist and isolationist strains in his platform. And then Perot exited the race and jumped back in, and this really disappointed Nixon because he thought that Perot was treating the presidential race as a game that was subject to his own caprices and his own whims. And so Nixon thought that the country could not afford to have such an erratic character as a vice presidential or a presidential nominee.
LAMB: How did you go about getting Random House to buy this book?
CROWLEY: Actually, I had worked with Harry Evans at Random House on Nixon's last book, "Beyond Peace." So I had somewhat of an association with him. And I let him know that I had several sample chapters done that Mr. Safire had read, and I had a simple outline for him, and would he be willing to read it? And he was, and he liked it, and so that's how it came to be.
LAMB: And when did you start that process?
CROWLEY: Actually, I originally envisioned this book as a single volume. I thought it would take the shape of three major parts: Nixon and the world, which would deal with foreign policy -- as I said, the end of the Cold War, the Persian Gulf War, and so forth -- Nixon and America, which would deal with a lot of his political views, which we see in this book; and Nixon on Nixon, more of Nixon on the personal side, what he thought about the deaths of Mrs. Nixon and Haldeman and John Connally and so forth. And then as I began writing, I realized that the story would be better told in two parts. And I wanted to take the political material and publish it as a separate volume because I think it stood very powerfully on its own.
LAMB: Two hundred and thirty pages, $23. Was this a hard thing to do?
CROWLEY: No, it really wasn't, because I had the diaries, so I had all of the quotes there, and I had a lot of the insights that I had written in the diaries at the time. So the book pretty much wrote itself.
LAMB: The New Yorker excerpted the part on Bill Clinton, Time magazine wrote a major piece, The New York Times reviewed it. There's lots more. Does that surprise you?
CROWLEY: No, it doesn't. It doesn't, because whether you like or dislike Richard Nixon, whether you respect him or not, there's no denying that Nixon was one of the most powerful and controversial people to ever run this country in the 20th century. So there's no ignoring Richard Nixon, and he continues to fascinate us.
LAMB: You worry that people in the future wouldn't want you around them because they would think a book will come out of a relationship?
CROWLEY: Well, I'm not doing this ever again, regardless of who I work for, because this was a very unique experience for me, particularly because I was so young. And it's something that I wanted to do for my own reasons and to contribute to Nixon's legacy. So I'm done doing this.
LAMB: So you're -- What? -- 22 to 26 while you're working for him?
CROWLEY: Twenty one -- 21 to 25.
LAMB: Twenty five. Anybody amazed, you know, around you? Your family? How many brothers and sisters do you have?
CROWLEY: I have one sister. She's two years younger. She's getting her doctorate at MIT.
LAMB: What's she studying?
CROWLEY: Political science as well, but she's studying American politics.
LAMB: What's her reaction to this?
CROWLEY: Oh, she thinks it's terrific. She has a very positive reaction, although I must say she's on the other side of the political fence, so she comes at it through a different view. But she had the privilege of meeting Nixon once and she respected him very much.
LAMB: What do your parents do?
CROWLEY: My mother is a hospital administrator in New Jersey and my father is in investments in Texas.
LAMB: What's their reaction to this?
CROWLEY: Well, they're very proud, obviously, and they think that the book is very good. They think that I've really portrayed Nixon in a very honest light, and if it's not honest, it's worthless. So they were glad that I did it the way I did.
LAMB: Anybody along the way say, "Don't do this. This is going to be -- you're going to have trouble with this"?
CROWLEY: No, not at all. I've just gotten support during the whole process.
LAMB: Let's look at some more quotes. "This is self righteous, hypocritical BS. They used the war to justify their cowardice," talking about Bill Clinton in this quote. "It wasn't class arrogance, because Clinton wasn't rich, but it was intellectual arrogance. I'm concerned about Clinton and his whole crew, what they signify -- the deterioration of moral values. He has vindicated the anti Vietnam, draft dodging, drug taking behavior. Most of that generation was bad, really bad."
CROWLEY: Nixon really -- he had led the country through the height of the counterculture period, and Nixon was, like, the antithesis of what the counterculture was. And I think it was very ironic that he was president at that time, from 1968 to to '74. Nixon really thought that the counterculture had been such a destructive force in this country that it had turned back traditional values in this country and turned them back to the extent where they could never be recovered or there was a very slim
chance of them ever being recovered, and he thought that was a shame. And he did think that Bill Clinton represented the worst of that generation, that he was opportunistic and selfish and insincere. And, in fact, the things that bothered Nixon the most about Clinton were his anti Vietnam activities.
LAMB: Better show this quote to put the two together. This is all about Mrs. Clinton: "'She has the gift of dazzle,' Nixon said after watching her testimony.'" This was on...
CROWLEY: Health care reform.
LAMB: ...health care reform. "'She knocked them dead up there. They swooned over her and gave her standing ovations and just went gaga. Can you believe it? She takes the gloves off but does it with such sickening sweetness that it makes me want to gag. Liberals love government.'" Next page, please. "'Hillary doesn't give a -- for people.' He stopped. 'Well, that's not fair. She might shed a tear now and then -- we all do -- but she and her crowd all see government as the first resort when it should be the last. And here are idiots cheering her on. They threw softballs at her when they should have been aiming at her head.'"
CROWLEY: Well, Nixon knew that Mrs. Clinton, as a young lawyer fresh out of law school, went to work for the House committee working to impeach him, so he knew where she was coming from with regard to her view toward him. And he had a less than positive view toward her based primarily on her Watergate experiences but also based upon what he perceived as her uncompromising liberal views. He thought that Bill Clinton would be more inclined to compromise than she would be. But Nixon also had a high respect for people with great intelligence, and there was no doubt in his mind but that Mrs. Clinton is very smart. He just thought -- and the problem for Nixon was that Mrs. Clinton believed in the wrong things, and that's bigger government. But Nixon was also a very fair man, and when Mrs. Clinton did things right, and when she was good and strong and effective, he said so. But when she was wrong, which was most of the time for Nixon, he said so. And an
illustration of this, which I think this puts it in great light is when Mrs. Clinton did go to testify about the health care reform package she had put together. And he watched her testify, as you see from that quote, and he was dazzled by her -- said, "She's just great." And then he took a look at the package and he said, "Well, it's totally wrong for America."
LAMB: How many times did Bill Clinton telephone Richard Nixon at his office or at his home?
CROWLEY: He called him on a very regular basis, perhaps once every three or four weeks, for advice, particularly about foreign policy, but also about American policy and how to deal with the Congress.
LAMB: How long would they talk?
CROWLEY: It depended. The shortest conversation, I think, was 15 to 20 minutes. Most of their conversations lasted about 40.
LAMB: And he seemed to, in the book at least -- every time he'd talk to him, he'd say, "Monica, come in. I want to tell you what he said."
CROWLEY: "I want to share with you exactly what he said," yes.
LAMB: Now why would he do that, do you think?
CROWLEY: Well, I think that he knew that I was representative of the future, of future generations. So when he was talking to me, he wasn't just talking to an audience of one, but he was talking to the audience of history, of the ages. So I think he saw me as a liaison between himself and future generations, and wanted to share it with me so that I would indeed record what had happened.
LAMB: How often did he talk to the president -- Clinton -- and then afterwards trash him in your presence?
CROWLEY: Oh, almost every time -- almost every time. But as I said, Nixon was a very fair guy. So negative assessments he would issue about Bill Clinton were almost always followed or balanced by positive assessments when he thought that Clinton did something right.
LAMB: How did the meeting come about at the White House?
CROWLEY: Well, shortly after the inaugural, Clinton called Nixon and that began their surprisingly close relationship, surprisingly most of all to Richard Nixon, I think, because Nixon felt that they were of two different generations, two different political parties and thought that Clinton would not call on him. And he thought that even if Clinton were inclined to call on him, that Mrs. Clinton, because of her Watergate experiences, would squash any inclination that Clinton might have. So he was surprised when he first got that telephone call, and Clinton invited him to the White House after one of their substantive discussions. And that's how it came about.
LAMB: Here's another quote from the book around that particular meeting, and it's Clinton's failure thus far to call on Nixon, distressed and disappointed him. You wrote, "'If he wants distance from me, fine,'he said on November 28th. 'I won't have to pull my punches like I did with Bush. The press, of course, wants to cut him some slack to protect him, little Chelsea and poor Hillary, who is such a weak little thing. Please. His contempt for the press should make them want to go after him, not protect him, GD [Goddamn] it. If I go after him, I'll be sure that it is covered.'"
CROWLEY: That quote was spoken on November 28th, so that was a couple of weeks only after the election. So Nixon really wasn't even giving Clinton a chance to contact him. But the frustration was already there because, as I said, he sensed that Clinton would not contact him and that Nixon would have to face four years of frustration in watching the successor act in ways that he would not without having the chance or the opportunity to tell Clinton really what to do.
LAMB: Is there anything you didn't like about Richard Nixon?
CROWLEY: I liked him very much and I admired him very much. He was a good man. He really was a good person and he was very good to me. I think that Nixon's greatest flaw was his impatience. He was very impatient with himself, he was very impatient with those around him and he was very impatient with history. He was always trying to nudge history forward so that he would have a more favorable rating so that his mistakes would be put in context with his accomplishments, and that ultimately, those mistakes would pale in comparison to what he had accomplished
for this country, and that eventually, he would emerge as a great president, particularly when his presidency would be put up against other presidencies.
LAMB: You say -- I think I remember you quoting it -- that when he was in the White House and met the president in the family quarters...
LAMB: ...that Mrs. Clinton called him Richard?
CROWLEY: By accident, yes, and then she caught herself and she said "President." She was actually referring to the fact that President Nixon had put together sort of an embryonic health care reform package and it never got passed. It actually never came of anything. And she started to say to President Clinton, "Richard Nixon had a great health care reform proposal,' and then she caught herself and she said `President Nixon."
LAMB: Let's look at a quote he has about politicians in general. And I want to know if he's talking about himself here. "Politicians are generally cold. They back winners. When you are down, they all desert. They are not a very nice bunch."
CROWLEY: Well, I think he knew that politics is a very cynical business but that he liked to say that he had not succumbed to that type of cynicism. And actually, I think that quote was spoken right after he had written President Bush a very nice note, I think after Bush had lost the election or maybe it was right prior to the election. He wrote Bush a very spirited note wishing him well and not to worry, and not to worry about Monday morning quarterbacks and so forth, but to keep his spirit up. And it was a nice note of political camaraderie. And that's when he said that politicians are generally cold, and what he was really saying, "Well, I'm not cold. This is what I've done. This is the kind of person that I am."
LAMB: Here's what he said about pollsters: "All pollsters lie, but I had a few great ones."
CROWLEY: Well, he was very skeptical about the polling process in America, and he described to me an incident in 1960, when he was running against Jack Kennedy. And he said that the pollsters then had a poll in October which showed him a couple of points behind Kennedy in October. And they ran another poll a couple of days right before the election that showed them neck and neck, and he said, "They never published that poll because they wanted to keep the winning momentum on Kennedy's side." So that really gave him a very bitter taste of the whole polling process and he said, "Now there are so many independent pollsters that they really can't keep the lid on it anymore like they did in 1960." But he did think that the pollsters loaded their polls one way or another, depending on how the political winds
were blowing, and he really didn't trust them. And, in fact, in 1993, we were watching Christie Whitman run against Jim Florio for the governorship of New Jersey. And Christie Whitman was down by, like, 20 points a week or two out from the election, and yet, she still won. And Nixon said, "You see? I told you the polls were all bad."
LAMB: Did he talk to a lot of people every day when he was in his office?
CROWLEY: Not a lot of people on a daily basis. He had a group of people that he would talk to occasionally, like Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig, Dimitri Simes for Russian affairs. He didn't spend a lot of time on the telephone.
LAMB: What was the day like for him near the end?
CROWLEY: Well, he was an early riser. He would get up about 5:00, 5:30 in the morning. He would take a brisk three mile walk. He would eat a very spartan breakfast. He would read The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal every day. And then he would come into the office about 9:00, and he would go through his mail and handle any scheduling and calendaring things that he needed to take care of, any administrative things. And then he would usually call me in for a bull session to just talk about whatever was on his mind -- foreign policy, American policy.
LAMB: What did you learn that you're going to use in your own -- I mean -- by the way, when's your Ph.D. going to be finished?
CROWLEY: That's the never ending process. I've just begun research on my dissertation, so I suspect maybe two more years.
LAMB: Now you're at Columbia.
LAMB: And what's your dissertation about?
CROWLEY: I am examining the relationship between the United States, the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China as it evolved in three phases of the Cold War -- that is, Truman Acheson, Nixon Kissinger and Carter Brzezinski.
LAMB: Did he teach you anything about that that you're going to be able to use in this dissertation?
CROWLEY: He did. He did. And also, I was fortunate enough to accompany him to China, as I said, in April of 1993. And one of the great things he said to me on that trip was, when we stepped out of the limousine in Shanghai and he saw all of the bustling capitalism going on around him, he said, "Well, I'd like to think that I had a hand in all of this."
LAMB: Who did you meet on those trips to Russia and China?
CROWLEY: I met with all of the heads of state in these countries. I had the great opportunity to meet Boris Yeltsin. That was really the only meeting that I did not sit in on from beginning to end. I had the opportunity to meet Yeltsin and then they held their talks in private. But I met Havel in the Czech Republic. I met Lech Walesa and Sukova in Poland. And in Asia, I met with the Japanese prime minister and the South Korean head of state, and all the Chinese Communist leaders -- Jiang Zemin and Li Peng.
LAMB: Who of all those people impressed you the most -- personally, not their political beliefs?
CROWLEY: Boris Yeltsin, simply because I'm fascinated by Russian politics and Russian history, and he's just such a formidable presence. Even walking into the room, he's just quite a force in his own right. And I admired him very much for having such a tremendous influence in bringing the end of Communism to his state.
LAMB: When does your second book come out?
CROWLEY: Next fall. It will be published by Random House. I haven't titled it yet, but it will deal with Nixon's foreign policy views and it will deal with Nixon's views on scandal more extensively: Whitewater, Watergate, the Clarence Thomas hearings, the Kennedys. It will deal with the legacy of Vietnam and what Nixon saw the legacy of Vietnam as for the United States, and the destruction of that entire era on American pop culture. And it will deal with Nixon on Nixon, his views on philosophy, on religion, on his family.
LAMB: The New Yorker published an excerpt, as we were talking earlier. How did that happen? And what impact did that have on this whole process?
CROWLEY: Well, The New Yorker wanted the first serial and they got it, and so they drew excerpts from it, primarily based on Nixon's relationship with Bill Clinton. And I had the great fortune of working with Jeffrey Frank there, and they put together a fine piece.
LAMB: And did that impact the rest of the media?
CROWLEY: I think so, because the media -- the wire services picked up the most scandalous quotes of the excerpts, which were the most scandalous parts of the book. I think it drew a lot of initial attention to the book, and I think that was positive.
LAMB: What's the volume of material you have from your diaries? I mean, how much -- will there be stories left over that won't get in both of these volumes?
CROWLEY: Well, I chose the events and the situations that most infuriated or gratified, delighted, surprised Nixon for this. And in a way, it's almost like writing a screenplay. So when you're watching it, obviously you're not seeing all of the mundane little aspects of what's going on, but you see the most important elements to the story. So, sure, I think there will be stories that just simply aren't important enough to include.
LAMB: What are you going to do with all the material for the -- the archive material?
CROWLEY: My diaries?
CROWLEY: They're in a vault, and I think they'll remain in a vault.
LAMB: Let me have another quote. This is a generic quote: "The election of 1960 was probably the greatest election of this century because the candidates were both outstanding."
CROWLEY: Yes ...
LAMB: He's talking about himself and Jack Kennedy.
CROWLEY: Yes, and he usually referred to himself and Kennedy as "the candidates" whenever he talked about 1960. He never said, "Well, I did this and Kennedy did that." He said, "Well, the candidates did that." It was in the third person, which I thought was very interesting. He considered Kennedy a formidable political challenger and he thought that he had had a fairly cordial relationship with him, a constructive relationship with him when they were in the Congress together. And he did think, though, that Kennedy had been a reckless president, not only reckless in his personal life, but reckless with the national security of the country.
LAMB: Gerald Ford pardoned him. Did he ever talk to you about that?
CROWLEY: Not necessarily about the pardon. He thought that Gerald Ford was a good man. And he also said that he didn't think that Ford was, obviously, not in the presidency long enough to issue sort of a fair judgment of Ford's presidency or at least apply the same standards to Ford's presidency as he would apply to the others.
LAMB: Here's a quote about Gerald Ford from the book: "Poor Gerald Ford. You won't even believe why he called me. He was concerned about some presidential photos and about having me sign them. Imagine. He calls me for that. Of course, he's busy making speeches for big money like the rest of them. You know, I have never taken a dime for a speech since 1952. Of course, no one gives me credit for that. Ford was really the first to take money. Roosevelt and Kennedy died. Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson and I never did. But since Ford, they are out there accumulating a fortune by selling the office or their experiences in office anyway. I know it's tempting, but it's just not right. Besides, when Ford talks, does anybody pay any attention?"
CROWLEY: Well, I think that was a function of the fact that Ford really hadn't been in the office long enough to make any serious impact and that he was also simply a steward of existing policies. He said that Gerald Ford had every right to spend his retirement making money and playing golf. That just wasn't what Nixon chose to do in his retirement.
LAMB: Here's what he said about General Eisenhower, who put him on the ticket in '52: "He was very charming and warm socially, but he was a hard ass. He had to be to lead the Allied victory in Europe. He was a tough SOB. As you know, he didn't endorse me in 1960 until he absolutely had to. That was pretty devastating to my campaign because everyone loved Eisenhower, and there I was, running a very close race against Kennedy. Well, I guess he was just protecting himself, but it wasn't really the most loyal thing to do."
CROWLEY: I think that what Eisenhower had done in 1960, by waiting so long to endorse Nixon, really hurt Nixon, because Nixon felt that he had been a loyal soldier to Eisenhower from 1952 to 1960, that he had served him well. Nixon felt so indebted to him because Eisenhower really gave him his first foreign policy lessons, sent him around the world and so forth. So I think that Nixon -- he valued loyalty so much, and when Eisenhower didn't express it when Nixon thought he should have, he was disappointed.
LAMB: You tell a story about a visit by Pat Buchanan -- a call from Pat Buchanan around the whole 1992 race. How close were they?
CROWLEY: Well, Buchanan and Nixon went way back. Buchanan had been a speechwriter for President Nixon in the White House. And whenever Nixon needed red meat to throw to the conservatives, he always called on Buchanan to write those speeches. Nixon said to me that Patrick Buchanan is an intellectual genius and he respected Buchanan's ideological purity and Buchanan's unwillingness to compromise on his principles. But he disagreed with almost everything Buchanan stood for once Buchanan became a political candidate. Nixon disagreed with his isolationist and his protectionist strains, much as he did with Ross Perot. And he disagreed with much of him on the social agenda as well. Nixon was pro choice. In fact, he thought that the abortion issue was such a private issue that the government should not be involved in the debate at all. So even though he respected Buchanan's unwillingness to compromise on his principles, he thought that those same principles would keep him from ever being elected in a general election.
LAMB: But he came to visit and you played a role.
CROWLEY: He did, yes. It was an interesting scene. Patrick Buchanan and his wife Shelly came to see President Nixon early on, pretty early on in the campaign, for advice. And they entered the office, and Nixon took them into the office, and they were in there for between 15 and 20 minutes. And I was sitting at my desk, and I heard Nixon's voice come over the intercom on my desk, and he asked me to come in and meet the Buchanans. And I thought it was going to be just a very perfunctory introduction and then I would leave the office, but I was wrong. Nixon asked me to sit down and he turned to me, and he said, "Monica, why don't you tell Pat what you think he should do." And I thought to myself, "Oh, my God. Nixon is not doing this to me,' but he was doing it to me."
So I told Pat Buchanan that I thought that I had respected him very much for his entry into the race and for the fact that he was unwilling to compromise on his principles, because that's very rare on the American political scene today, and that I respected what he had done for the race. He'd really energized it and, in some ways, forced President Bush to confront issues that he may not otherwise have done. But at that point in time during the campaign, I thought that Buchanan and the Republican Party would be better served by having him leave the race. And I said that even if I thought that if Buchanan had political aspirations in the future -- for example, if he wanted to run again in 1996 -- that he should leave the race now, before too much of the responsibility of blame would be pinned on him for a Bush defeat.
LAMB: What was their chemistry then?
CROWLEY: Oh, it was very good. It was very good. They had a very cordial, warm relationship.
LAMB: You also have an excerpt where he tells you about Lyndon Johnson showing him the taping facility in the White House.
CROWLEY: Oh, that was a great...
LAMB: When did this happen?
CROWLEY: ...a great scene. I'm not sure. I can't remember off the top of my head. You mean when Nixon said it to me or when...
LAMB: No, when...
CROWLEY: When it happened?
LAMB: When it happened.
CROWLEY: Oh, it was shortly after Nixon was elected president. And usually, the outgoing and the incoming president meet, and they talk once about whatever issues are on the table. But for Nixon, he and Lyndon Johnson met several times. And he said, "We had so much to talk about. We had the war in Vietnam, we had the Russians and nuclear disarmament, all of these great issues to talk about." And he said, "But the first time I got to the White House, one of the first things Lyndon Johnson did was take me up to the family residence. And he took me into the president's bedroom, and he got down on all fours. He was on his hands and knees." This was the outgoing president of the United States showing the incoming president of the United States underneath the bed. He said Johnson lifted the bedspread and he swished his hand underneath the bed, and he was referring to the listening devices that Kennedy had installed under the beds. And he said, "Dick, they're voice
activated." And I said to him, "My God, that must have been an unbelievable scene." And he said, "You know, it really was.'"
LAMB: We've got another quote. We're running out of time. "Gergen has no problem prostituting himself. He's sucking up to power, and that's really all he's ever done. He's good, but he's no loyalist. Clinton will be making a huge mistake if he thinks Gergen is there to help him. He's there to help himself. He can handle the media. He was OK with us. Some say that he pulled me, Ford and Reagan to the center. He did nothing of the kind. He didn't move me anywhere."
CROWLEY: He respected David Gergen in terms of his abilities as a political operative and in dealing with the media, and sort of crafting an image for the public to see. But he also thought that, politics being the cynical business that it was, that Gergen had been an opportunist. But he didn't fault him for that. He understood that that was all part of the game.
LAMB: Correct me if I'm wrong, but he didn't like Jim Baker at all.
CROWLEY: No, he did not.
LAMB: And why? And it comes through page after page.
CROWLEY: Yeah. He'd simply thought that James Baker had no business in foreign policy, that he had no training in foreign policy. And he often said about people engaged in foreign policy, whether it was James Baker or Warren Christopher, that they don't know anything and what they do know is wrong. And he also thought that Baker was preventing him from giving foreign policy advice to President Bush. He felt that Baker resented the fact that Nixon had Bush's ear and Baker wanted to be the sole adviser to President Bush on foreign policy.
LAMB: What is your ultimate goal personally?
CROWLEY: Well, I'm not quite sure. I know that I'm working on a second volume of this, and I'd like to continue observing and writing about American politics.
LAMB: Do you ever want to run for an office?
CROWLEY: I don't rule out any option.
LAMB: Did you learn that from Richard Nixon?
CROWLEY: I did, indeed.
LAMB: If you ran for an office, what kind of an office, of all the ones you've seen, appeal to you?
CROWLEY: I think an executive position, perhaps governor.
LAMB: Here's what the book looks like. It's called "Nixon Off the Record," and our guest has been its author, Monica Crowley. Thank you very much.
CROWLEY: Thank you very much.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1996. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.