With the release of each classified memo and secretly recorded tape, more is learned about the inner workings of the Nixon White House — and of the people who advised a polarizing president at one of the most divisive times in modern political history. People like Billy Graham, the Montreat-based, world-famous evangelist.
Last week — when the Nixon Presidential Library passed from control by private backers to the U.S. National Archives — the library released 78,000 pages of previously secret documents, along with 11-and-a-half hours of recordings.
A selection of the documents posted on the library’s Web site includes five dealing directly with Graham. The papers — and at least one of the recordings — reveal back-room discussions about how Graham could best buoy Nixon’s bid for reelection in 1972, and suggest that Graham was a willing, if sometimes conflicted, player in the strategizing.
See the full story in tomorrow’s Mountain Xpress. For now, here are some of the key disclosures:
• The black vote: In a Dec. 30, 1969, memo, Nixon instructed White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman to “follow up with Billy Graham in his work with Negro ministers across the country.” Click here to read the Nixon memo.
• Evangelical politics: In a prescient letter to Nixon on Aug. 4, 1972, Graham predicted the rise of the Christian right as a potent political force. Graham also offered up some advice for Nixon’s reelection bid against Democrat George McGovern. Click here to read Graham’s letter.
• A lost prayer: A mere three days after penning those campaign tips, Graham called the White House to discuss a request by a prominent Democrat for a show of support — a public prayer — from the evangelist. According to Deputy Assistant to the President Alexander P. Butterfield, Graham was in a quandary about what to do and wanted the president’s advice. Nixon said “No,” and Graham acceded. Click here to read Butterfield’s report on the matter.
• Nixon’s “morality issue”: One of the newly released tapes is of a phone call on Nov. 3, 1972 — four days before the election, and three months after a $25,000 check connected Nixon’s administration to the Watergate break-in — in which White House Special Counsel Chuck Colson discussed a late-in-the-campaign public statement by Graham lauding Nixon’s integrity and morality. Colson told the president that Graham “came through very well.” Click here to listen to the recording of Colson and Nixon.
— Cecil Bothwell, staff writer