Nixon on tape: Fred Thompson is 'dumb as hell'
David Edwards and Jason Rhyne
Published: Tuesday October 9, 2007

Save This Page
Print This  Email This

Thirty-year-old Oval Office recordings made of President Richard Nixon paint an unflattering portrait of GOP presidential hopeful Fred Thompson, then an upstart Watergate counsel the former president dismissed as "dumb as hell."

"Fred Thompson has made much of his role 30 years ago as a young Senate lawyer helping to lead the investigation of Watergate and President Richard Nixon," reported ABC News chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross on Good Morning America.

"But a much different, less valiant picture of Thompson emerges from listening to the White house audio tapes made at the time, as President Nixon plotted strategy with his aides in the Oval Office," Ross continued.

At one point in the tapes, which ABC News spent months examining at the National Archives, Nixon is told that Thompson has been appointed by Tennessee Senator Howard Baker to head the Republican end of the Senate investigation into Watergate.

"Baker has appointed Fred Thompson as minority counsel," says then Nixon aide HR Haledman.

"Oh shit, that kid," the dismayed president responds.

Later in the tapes, Nixon fretted that Thompson would be outwitted by his opposition in the Senate investigation, Democratic counsel Sam Dash.

"Dash is too smart for that kid," Nixon can be heard to say.

But the former president's most damning words for Fred Thompson came during a May 1973 conversation with then chief of staff Alexander Haig about concerns that the future senator wouldn't stand up strongly enough to Democrats.

"Oh shit, he's dumb as hell," Nixon says at the mention of Thompson's name. "Who's -- Who is he? He won't say anything."

The tapes also reveal an apparently close association between Thompson and the White House.

"[Thompson] is willing to work with us, he is also now willing to work with us on shifting some focus to the Democrats," White House counsel Fred Buzhardt told the president. "He's finally made up his mind he's got to start looking at some of their stuff."

"It was the equivalent of, you know, two prosecutors knowing about something and one of them going behind the scenes to tell the person being accused what the witnesses were saying about them," former Senate Watergate Committee investigator Scott Armstrong told ABC News.

The following video is from ABC's Good Morning America, broadcast on October 10, 2007.