Nixon’s 1975 Grand Jury Testimony: No selling of ambassadorships, but gave a price tag of $250K in 1971

Last year, Public Citizen asked the District Court on behalf of historian Stanley Kutler and four associations of historians and archivists to unseal the transcript of President Nixon’s grand jury testimony of June 23-24, 1975, and certain associated materials of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force.

The Court granted the petition in July this year.  On November 10, the National Archives released the Nixon testimony.

Below is from Folder 9/16 – Part 1: Transcripts of President Nixon’s grand jury testimony taken on June 23, 1975. One of the subjects the grand jury was looking into, in addition to the 18 1/2 minute gap is the relationship between campaign contributions and the consideration of ambassadorships for five persons: Ruth Farkas, J. Fife Symington, Jr., Vincent deRoulet, Cornelius V. Whitney and Kingdon Gould, Jr.,

Some Nixon quotable quotes:

It was not because “she had big bosoms:”

I would say, looking at the smaller countries like Luxembourg, that Pearl Mesta wasn’t sent to Luxembourg because she had big bosoms. Pearl Mesta went to Luxembourg because she made a good contribution. But may I say she was a very good ambassador in Luxembourg. And when you talk about selling ambassadorships, I don’t want the record of this Grand Jury 11 even to indicate that people of wealth, because they do make contributions, therefore should be barred from being ambassadors. The record should clearly indicate that certainly no commitment, no sale of ambassadorships should be made, but, on the other hand, the fact that an individual has proved himself on the American scene, has proved himself by legitimately building a great fortune, rather than being a disqualifier is a factor that can be considered and should be considered in determining whether he should get a position.

Croissants are expensive in Paris, Tricky Dick says “some posts require wealthy people…”

My recollection is not refreshed by looking at this piece of paper. I did, however , make the appointment and the fact that Hr . Stans’ name appeared on there meant to me that Mr . deRoulet had been, obviously, a contributor to the campaign and, as has been the case in every presidency from the time this Republic was founded two hundred years ago, contributors to campaigns are not barred from being ambassadors. They aren’t guaranteed, and it should never be, that they will be ambassadors, but in many instances some posts require wealthy people and in every presidency that I know of contributors have been appointed to non-career posts in considerable numbers.

Below Nixon disses career ambassadors, which should not come as a surprise to you if you already know that in 1972, President Nixon had asserted that his “one legacy is to ruin the foreign service. I
mean ruin it—the old foreign service—and to build a new one.”

As far as career ambassadors, most of them are a bunch of eunuchs, and I don’t mean that in a physical sense, but I meant it in an emotional sense, in a mental sense. They aren’t for the American free enterprise system. I point out that, and this is in defense not only of my presidency, but of President Kennedy, President Johnson, President Eisenhower, President Truman, all of the others who are my predecessors, that some of the best ambassadors we have have been non-career ambassadors who have made sub-stantial contributions. Bill Bullitt, for example, was probably the best ambassador to Russia and the best ambassador to France we have had in a generation. Now he didn’t get his job because he happened to shave the top of his head. He got his job because he contributed a half million dollars to the Roosevelt’s campaign.

Remember this grandy jury testimony was done in 1975.  Nixon says he has “no recollection of ever authorizing the selling of ambassadorships…”

I respond to that question by saying that I have no recollection of ever authorizing the selling of ambassadorships, the making of an absolute commitment for ambassadorships. As I have indicated earlier, my recollection of the entire ambassadorial decision process , which is already in the record, is that those who made contributions would receive consideration, but as far as the specific commitment, etcetera – quote – end quote – is concerned, or the sale of ambassadorships, I have no recollection of using that term or intending that term.

In 1997, after newly transcribed Nixon tapes were released, WaPo reported that while presidents have long bestowed U.S. ambassadorships on big campaign contributors, Richard M. Nixon put a specific price tag on the practice in 1971.

“My point is, my point is that anybody who wants to be an ambassador must at least give $250,000,” the president told White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman on June 23, 1971, according to a newly transcribed tape.

“Yeah,” Haldeman agreed, and then proposed a minimal donation threshold. “I think any contributor under $100,000 we shouldn’t consider for any kind of thing.”

Nixon pointed out that “we helped” Fred J. Russell, a millionaire California real estate baron and Republican donor who would soon be named ambassador to Denmark. “But from now on,” the president continued, “the contributors have got to be, I mean, a big thing and I’m not gonna do it for political friends and all that crap.”

Read in full here.  Also read, Checkbook Diplomacy, the Buying of Ambassadorships by the Center for Public Integrity.

And if you still have the stomach for this, read the whole thing below:

GPO Nara Part 1: Nixon’s grand jury testimony taken on June 23, 1975.