Nixon Tapes


Nixon Tapes

Audio & Transcripts 

About has the most complete, digital collection of the Nixon tapes in existence, which includes approximately 2,300 hours of the 2,371 hours of tapes currently declassified and released by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). In addition, we have transcribed approximately 2,000 pages of conversations on many topics, from conversations dealing with the installation of the taping system in February 1971 to Cabinet Room conversations recorded in July 1973. (one of our sources for digital formats is



Nixon Tapes

The Nixon tapes constitute by far the largest collection of presidential recordings--and the most famous. Between February 16, 1971, and July 12, 1973, Nixon secretly recorded over 3,700 hours of his meetings and conversations. While there are some telephone conversations, most of the collection consists of meeting tapes recorded in several locations. Microphones were installed in seven locations ranging from the White House to Camp David. Nixon believed that recording conversations and meetings was an excellent way of ensuring historical accuracy and was the one way of ensuring that people he met with were on record. Nixon also wanted an accurate record of his presidency for use in preparing his memoirs and for general historical legacy. In 1971, the Secret Service designed and installed a voice-activated recording system that operated automatically in conjunction with the presidential locator system. Since this system was automated, many non-presidential conversations, meetings and sounds were recorded accidentally. As a result of all of these factors, the overall sound quality of the various meeting collections is relatively poor. The telephone recordings are generally of much higher sound quality. Additionally, several recordings related to the Watergate scandal are included in the collection. More detailed information is available here. A chronology of releases of Nixon tapes is available here.


Transcripts of some of the Nixon tapes are available here.

Download Sound Files

The Nixon Tapes Finding Aids online in searchable format.

"How on Earth am I going to find the Nixon Tape I want?" by Ken Hughes. This is the recommended place to start for those unfamiliar with the archival organization of the Nixon tapes. Ken Hughes, the coordinator of the PRP's Nixon Project, has written a walk-thru for finding conversations in the Nixon tapes.

More information on the Nixon tapes is available at Nixon Library. Thanks are in order to the National Security Archive and the Nixon Library for their help in acquiring recordings.

Background on the tape system

The Secret Service designed a voice-activated recording system that operated automatically. This system was tied to the Secret Service's presidential locator system. [24] Whenever President Nixon entered a designated recording area, his electronic beeper would automatically signal the recorder to switch into record/pause mode. A Voice Operated Relay turned the recorders on as soon as the microphones picked up any sound and the machines began recording. In theory, the system would continue recording for twenty to thirty seconds after the last sound was made. [25] The Secret Service installed seven different recording stations for President Nixon. The seven stations were: the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room, the White House telephone (which included Nixon's telephones in the Oval Office, his EOB office, and the telephone in the Lincoln Sitting Room in the residence), Nixon's EOB office, Aspen Lodge at Camp David, [26] the telephone on Nixon's Desk in Aspen Lodge, [27] and the telephone on a table in Nixon's study in Aspen Lodge. [28]

Each recording station had two Sony 800B recorders. A timer switched from one recorder to the other every twenty-four hours, except on weekends when one recorder ran for forty-eight hours. [29] Because Nixon and Haldeman wanted a system that required little maintenance and could record for extended periods, the Secret Service decided to use tapes that recorded at the very slow speed of 15/16 inches per second on very thin 0.5 millimeter tape. [30] Because of the slow recording speed, each reel could hold up to six and a half hours of recording time per reel.

On occasion, the Secret Service agents changed reels while a meeting was in progress. In these cases, some portions of those meetings were not recorded while the change took place. They placed the completed tape in a box and wrote the inclusive dates on it. These tapes were then placed in secure storage vaults and arranged into seven series or stations according to the recording location.

Oval Office

The Oval Office recording series contains 502 tapes which were recorded between February 16, 1971, and July 12, 1973. [31] Following Butterfield's instructions, Wong supervised the installation of the voice-activated system in the Oval Office in February 1971. In all, seven microphones were placed in the Oval Office. (See Appendix F for diagram) Five were located on the President's desk, and two were located in wall sconces near the couches by the fireplace. This arrangement allowed meetings and conversations which took place by the President's desk and by the fireplace on the opposite side of the room to be recorded clearly. Wires passed through holes cut in the floor and led to a room below the Oval Office where the recording machines were kept. [32]

Cabinet Room

There are eighty-three tapes of President Nixon's Cabinet Room meetings recorded between February 16, 1971, and July 18, 1973. At the same time Wong installed the Oval office system, Butterfield asked him to install a manually-controlled recording system in the Cabinet Room. [33] Of the seven different recording systems that Nixon used simultaneously during his presidency, only the Cabinet Room system operated manually. The Secret Service installed an on/off switch on either side of the President's place on the Cabinet Room table. [34] Butterfield also had the technicians install a switch on his desk. [35] In practice, Nixon did not activate the system himself. Rather, he had Butterfield activate the system using the switch on his desk. [36] Since this system was not tied to the presidential locator system and was not voice-activated, many non-presidential conversations and meetings were recorded accidentally when the recorder was inadvertently left on. As a result, this series of recordings contain long periods of recorded room noise, cleaning activities, such as vacuuming, and miscellaneous conversations between unknown aides, cleaning personnel, and other individuals, as well as meetings between unknown individuals. [37]

Two microphones were installed under a small table near the President's chair in the Cabinet Room. As with the Oval Office system, wires led from the microphones through a hole cut in the floor. The two Cabinet Room recording machines were located in the same room as the Oval Office recording machines. [38]

Nixon's Old Executive Office Building Office

There are two hundred and four recordings of meetings held in the President's EOB office between April 6, 1971, and July 18, 1973. In April 1971 Butterfield had the Secret Service install a voice-activated recording system in the President's hideaway EOB office. The President primarily used this office for conducting day-to-day business, such as meeting with members of the White House staff or preparing speeches. In this office, the Secret Service installed four microphones in the President's desk: three were placed on the edges of the desk and one in the knee-well. [39] Wires led from the microphones in the desk to an adjoining room used by the Secret Service where the recording equipment was located. As with the other tapes, recorded tapes were boxed and dated. Initially, they were stored in a cabinet in this room; later, they were brought to the room underneath the Oval Office for central storage. [40]

White House Telephone System

There are forty-six composite tapes documenting most of President Nixon's telephone calls between April 7, 1971, and July 18, 1973. As with the EOB office and Oval Office recording systems, the telephone recording system was tied to the presidential locator system. This system was designed to record the President's telephone calls in the Oval Office, in the hideaway EOB office, and in the Lincoln Sitting Room in the Residence section of the mansion. [41]

The Secret Service set this recording system up by placing taps on the phone lines going into the Oval Office, the EOB office and the Lincoln Sitting Room from the white House Switchboard. Telephone calls from these locations were recorded onto a single tape. The recording system for the White House telephone system was located in a room in the mansion. [42]

If a call originated from or was transferred to one of these three rooms, and the presidential locator system indicated the President was present, that call was then recorded. For this reason, there are many recorded telephone calls between individuals other than the President. In these cases, Nixon was physically located in the room, but not a party in the conversation. [43]

Like President Johnson, Nixon also had telephones installed in his offices that would ring his key aides directly. The President had direct lines to H. R. Haldeman (his chief of staff), Henry Kissinger (his national security advisor), John Ehrlichman (his chief domestic policy advisor), Alexander Butterfield (his chief administrative officer), and Steve Bull (his daily appointments secretary). Because these direct telephone lines bypassed the White House switchboard, calls made on these lines were not recorded. [44]

The Camp David Recording Systems

Like his predecessor, Nixon enjoyed getting out of Washington, D.C. Whereas Johnson used his ranch in Stonewall, Texas, to conduct business in a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere, Nixon used the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland, for the same purpose. Only a forty-five minute helicopter ride from the white House, Nixon often journeyed there on weekends. In the four weeks following his 1972 re-election, Nixon spent eighteen days there recuperating. [45] In addition, Nixon held many formal meetings at Camp David, including the 1973 visit by Soviet Union Premier Leonid Brezhnev. [46]

There were three separate recording systems installed in Aspen Lodge at Camp David. All three systems were installed by Secret Service technicians in early May 1972. The first system, the Camp David Hard wire, was designed to record meetings and conversations taking place in Aspen Lodge using a microphone hidden in the room. This system, like that in the Oval and EOB offices, was voice-activated and tied to the Presidential locator system. [47] There are fifty-seven tapes in this series, dating from May 17, 1972, to March 4, 1973. Butterfield had the Secret Service remove this system in early March 1973.

The second and third systems were attached to telephones in Aspen Lodge. The first was called the Camp David Study Table system. The microphone for this system was placed in the telephone located on the table in the President's study. There are forty tapes in this series dating between May 16, 1972, and June 21, 1973. The second was called the Camp David Study Desk system. As would be expected, the microphone was placed in the telephone located on the desk in the President's study. There are eighteen tapes in this series of recordings, dating between May 18, 1972, and June 21, 1973. These systems were also tied to the Secret Service's presidential locator system. The Secret Service technicians removed these two systems in June 1973 on Butterfield's instructions. [48] All three recording systems were Sony 800B machines. They were kept in a small room next to the President's study. Recorded tapes were collected at the end of the President's stay at Camp David and brought to the central storage area below the Oval Office. [49]

The Nature of the Recordings

For the most part, the recordings are difficult to listen to and understand. [50] There are many reasons for this. Principal among them are mechanical problems with the Sony recording machines, the microphones, and the wiring. The tapes themselves were not suited to record conversations and meetings. Background noises and intruding sounds frequently interrupted conversations. Lastly, the meetings and conversations recorded were often unstructured and free-flowing and are difficult to follow.

Each of the seven recording stations had a degree of mechanical problems. The wires connecting the microphones to the recording machines were unshielded. As a result, the recordings picked up power line hum and other electromagnetic interference. [51] The EOB tapes are the most difficult to understand because the power hum is especially evident. [52]

The voice-activated system did not operate as intended either. First, the systems were supposed to continue recording for twenty to thirty seconds after the last sound made to ensure that words were not cut off. In reality, only the oval office system operated as intended. Each station had different noise volume sensitivities as to when to begin and stop recording. Both the EOB and Camp David Hard Wire systems contain frequent machine start-up and shut-off interruptions. Generally, it took a second or two for the machines to begin recording at the proper speed. This resulted in a ‘whip’ or ‘blip’ sound at the start of most conversations or after periods of silence. As a result of these machine malfunctions, brief portions of conversations and meetings were not recorded or are unintelligible. [53]

The volume fluctuated greatly on the tapes as well. Whereas commercial recordings usually have a signal-to-noise ratio between 40 to 60 decibels, many of the Nixon tapes range between only six and ten decibels. [54] Consequently, there are many very low volume tapes among the nine hundred and fifty Nixon tapes that are difficult to hear.

For the most part, the White House Telephone tapes are audible. However, some recordings made in the Lincoln Sitting Room are not. The automatic gain control (AGC) occasionally failed on the recording machines at this location. The AGC automatically adjusted the sound levels of the differing conversations. When this failed, the person speaking from the Lincoln Sitting Room is barely audible. The person he is speaking with is completely inaudible. [55]

The Secret Service opted to use thin 0.5 millimeter analog tape that recorded at a very slow 15/16 inches per second. A single reel of tape could record up to six and a half hours of conversation. Because Nixon desired a voice-activated system which required little maintenance or supervision, the Secret Service had little alternative. The original tapes are very thin and fragile. The tape thickness and recording speed are far from ideal for use in recording spoken sound. [56]

The placement of the microphones also caused many problems. In some cases conversations are not audible because the participants who were speaking were not near the microphones. In the EOB, four microphones were installed in the President's desk. Meetings taking place near this desk are audible. However, no microphones were installed in the sitting area. As a result, conversations in this area are faint and difficult to hear. [57] The conversations recorded on the Camp David Hard wire system are also difficult to understand because the Secret Service only installed one microphone in the President's study in Aspen Lodge. [58]

Extraneous room and background noises are evident throughout the entire collection. These noises tend to obscure portions of meetings and conversations. Although the Oval Office series of recordings are the easiest to comprehend, there are some individual conversations that are difficult to understand. Because five microphones were placed in the President's desk, they picked up the sound of anyone writing on the desk, or setting down a coffee cup or a glass. Furthermore, they picked up the sound of Nixon's chair banging into the desk, his feet banging on the desk when he put his feet up, and the sound of his knees knocking against the kneewell of his desk. One microphone was placed next to the telephone. The telephone ringing frequently blocked out small portions of conversations.

Similar problems existed in the EOB and Camp David series. For example, the President kept a ticking clock on his desk in the EOB. Unfortunately, the Secret Service technicians installed one of the microphones right next to the clock and the ticking is recorded very clearly. At Camp David, the President often had a fire lit in his study while he worked. The snapping and crackling of wood burning in the fireplace interfered with the recordings of some of his conversations. [59]

There were other extraneous noises that affected the quality of the recordings. On occasion, the helicopter rotor blades from Marine One completely obliterated conversation taking place in the Oval Office .[60] Ambulance, fire engine and police sirens were also recorded on the tapes. Doors opening and closing briefly interfered with conversations.

Unlike his predecessors who consciously made the decision to record a meeting or conversation and manually controlled their recording systems, Nixon opted to use a voice-activated system that would record virtually everything that was said while he was present. This meant that, in addition to recording formal meetings, briefings, telephone conversations, and long stretches of miscellaneous room noise, informal daily meetings between Nixon and members of his immediate staff were recorded as well. These meetings were often unstructured and free-flowing. [61] Participants interrupted each other and finished each other's sentences. They answered questions before they were elucidated and repeatedly changed conversation topics. Moreover, participants alluded to conversations and meetings that took place at unknown times in the past. These factors, at times, render some conversations difficult to interpret.

As a result of all of these factors, the overall quality of the recordings are relatively poor. Machine malfunctions, volume fluctuations, inferior equipment and tape quality, and extraneous noise all hinder the intelligibility of the tapes. In addition, the voices in the meetings and conversations themselves, sometimes further obscured what was being said.

Nixon Tapes Released to the Public (this section includes out dated information, it is provided for historical context more tapes are were released into the public domain.)

To date, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) have released sixty-three hours of Watergate-related conversations to the public. [62] The Watergate trial tapes were released in 1980. These consist of twelve and a half hours of segments of conversations and meetings which were introduced as evidence by the Watergate Special Prosecution Force (WSPF) and played in court during the Watergate trials of members of Nixon's staff. [63] In 1991, NARA released the second segment of Watergate-related conversations. This group consisted of forty-seven and one half hours of segments of conversations and meetings subpoenaed by the WSPF but never used in court. Staff members of the WSPF prepared transcripts for most of the conversations and meetings included in these two file segments. [64]

The third public release of Nixon's White House tapes consisted of segments of Watergate-related conversations for the months of May and June 1972 which total three hours. These conversations, although not subpoenaed by the WSPF, were determined by the Nixon Project archivists to contain Watergate-related information. Although there are no transcripts for these segments, the National Archives did prepare descriptive tape logs to correspond to the conversation. The tape logs include the date, time, location, names of conversation participants, and an outline of the contents of the conversation.

One of the factors of the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act of 1974 is that the National Archives give priority in processing and releasing materials relating to abuses of governmental power, commonly referred to as “Watergate.” [65] After the release of the WSPF tapes, the Archives decided to review and propose for release additional tape segments of conversations determined to be Watergate-related. The Archives released the May-June 1972 segments and their corresponding tape logs in 1993 and plans on releasing all remaining Watergate-related segments as early as November 1996.

[1] A History of the White House Tapes, Nixon Presidential Materials Project (NLNP), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), March, 1995.
[2] Telephone interview with Albright, December 12, 1995.
[3] Ibid. See also: H. R. Haldeman, “The Nixon White House Tapes The Decision to Record Presidential Conversations,” Prologue, National Archives and Records Administration, Summer 1988, Volume 20, Number 2, p. 80. Albright recalled that he was informed of Hoover's conversation with President-elect Nixon. He, in turn, informed President Johnson, who ordered him to remove all traces of the different recording systems in the white House. This order was carried out over the weekend of December 28, 1968.
[4] Haldeman's first office was located next to the Little Lounge next to the Oval Office. During 1968, it was James Jones' office.
[5] Telephone interview with Albright, December 12, 1995. The recording machine left in Haldeman's new office was used to duplicate Johnson's public statements.
[6] "The Nixon White House Tapes..." p. 80.
[7] Ibid. pp. 80-81.
[8] Telephone interview with Reedy, August 16, 1995.
[9] Richard M. Nixon, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, Grosset and Dunlop (New York: 1978) pp. 500-501.
[10] "The Nixon White House Tapes..." p. 81.
[11] Nixon, pp. 500-501. See also: Telephone interview with Reedy, August 16, 1995; "Watergate Reminiscences," p. 1250; "The Nixon White House Tapes..." p. 81; White House Tapes: Scope and Content Note, NLNP, NARA, undated.
[12] Nixon, p. 500. See also: "The Nixon White House Tapes..." p. 81.
[13] SSC, Book 5, p. 2075.
[14] Ibid. p. 2085.
[15] “The Nixon White House Tapes...” p. 82.
[16] Ibid. p. 81.
[17] In his memoirs, Nixon said of the note-takers: "the quality of prose varied as much as the quality of perception," p. 501.
[18] "The Nixon White House Tapes..." pp. 82-83.
[19] There is some controversy surrounding this issue: Haldeman and Nixon believed that Johnson's system was still in place when they took office. WHCA documents make clear the fact that the system was removed prior to Nixon taking office. In either case, Nixon wrote that he "abhorred" the idea of secretly taping conversations and had the system removed.
[20] Nixon, p. 501. See also: “The Nixon White House Tapes...” p. 83.
[21] "The Nixon White House Tapes..." p. 83.
[22] Ibid. p. 84. See also: “Watergate Reminiscences,” pp. 1250-1253.
[23] Telephone interview with Alfred Wong, Chief of Technical Services, United States Secret Service, December 4, 1995.
[24] The Presidential locator system is designed so that the Secret Service knows where the President is at all times. Typically, this is an electronic device that the President wears at all times.
[25] White House Tapes Scope and Content Note, p. 3. As will be explained in greater detail later, this did not work as intended: each recording system had different sensitivities, resulting in constant machine shutdown and start-up, resulting in inconsistencies.
[26] Ibid. This was called the Camp David Hard Wire system.
[27] Ibid. This was called the Camp David Study Desk system.
[28] Ibid. This was called the Camp David Study Table system.
[29] "Processing the Nixon Tapes," Maarja Krustin, CIDS Paper, NARA, September 14, 1979, p. 3.
[30] Telephone interview with Mayn, December 19, 1995. The standard for recording spoken sound is 3 3/4 inches per second; the faster the tape speed, the better quality the sound. Unfortunately, this means limited recording time per reel. Likewise, the standard for tape thickness is 1.5 millimeter, not 0.5 millimeter tape.
[31] Telephone interview with Anita Happoldt, NLNP Archivist, NARA, January 3, 1996. Nixon ordered all the taping systems removed on July 18, 1973, two days after Butterfield's revelation. There are no recordings between July 13, 1973, and July 18, 1973, because Nixon was in Walter Reed Army Hospital for treatment for pneumonia.
[32] White House Tapes: Scope and Content Notes, p. 5.
[33] Telephone interview with Wong on December 4, 1995.
[34] Like President Johnson, Nixon had control boxes installed throughout the White House. The Cabinet Room control box could activate the recording system, page his assistant, Steve Bull, and page his personal valet, Manolo Sanchez.
[35] White House Tapes: Scope and Content Notes, p. 5.
[36] SSC, Book 5, p. 2076 and p. 2080.
[37] White House Tapes: Scope and Content Notes, p. 4.
[38] A History of the white House Tapes, March 1995, p. 1.
[39] White House Tapes: Scope and Content Notes, p. 4. See Appendix G for a diagram of the EOB office and recording system.
[40] Ibid. p. 4.
[41] Ibid. p. 4.
[42] A History of the White House Tapes, p. 1.
[43] Haldeman often made telephone calls from the Oval Office and hideaway EOB office while he was meeting with the President.
[44] White House Tapes: Scope and Content Notes. pp. 30-31.
[45] Breaking Cover, p. 205.
[46] Butterfield explained in his Senate testimony on July 6, 1973 that the three Camp David recording systems were removed by the Secret Service "prior to occupancy by Chiefs of State, heads of Government, and other foreign dignitaries." (SSC, Book 5, p. 2077.)
[47] A History of the White House Tapes, p. 1.
[48] Telephone interview with Happoldt on January 3, 1996. See also: SSC, Book 5, p. 2077. Butterfield testified that the Secret Service removed these three systems periodically when a foreign dignitary stayed in Aspen Lodge.
[49] White House Tapes: Scope and Content Notes, p. 5. See also: Telephone interview with Wong on December 4, 1995.
[50] In describing the Nixon tapes, I have only used publicly available sources, including books, articles, finding aids, and tapes from the Watergate Special Prosecution Force and the Abuse of Governmental Power tapes for May and June 1972.
[51] Telephone interview with Mayn on December 19, 1995. Mayn stated that everyday items such as televisions, electric clocks, or telephones could interfere with a recording. See also: White House Tapes: Scope and Content Notes, p. 5.
[52] Telephone interview with Happoldt on January 3, 1996.
[53] Telephone interview with Happoldt on January 3, 1996. See also: White House Tapes: Scope and Content Notes, p. 3.
[54] General Services Administration, Report to Congress on Title I Presidential Materials and Preservation Act, Government Printing office (Washington, D.C. 1975) pp. El-E3.
[55] Telephone interview with Happoldt on January 3, 1996. See also: White House Tapes: Scope and Content Notes, p. 6. 78
[56] Telephone interview with Richard McNeil, Audiovisual Archivist, NLNP, NARA, on January 4, 1996. As will be explained in greater detail in Section two of this paper, the archival standard for voice recordings is on 1.5 mil tape, recording at 3 3/4 inches per second.
[57] White House Tapes: Scope and Content Notes, p. 24. See Appendix G for a diagram of the EOB recording system.
[58] A History of the White House Tapes, p. 1.
[59] Telephone interview with Happoldt on January 3, 1996. See also: White House Tapes: Scope and Content Notes, p. 5.
[60] Telephone interview with Happoldt on January 3, 1996. See also: White House Tapes: Scope and Content Notes, p. 24. The President's helicopter would wait on the South Lawn of the White House while the President completed business before boarding.
[61] Paul Schmidt, The opening of the Nixon White House Tapes: Procedures and Problems, CIDS Paper, NARA, May, 1985, p. 2.
[62] The Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act governs the review and release of Nixon's presidential materials. The Watergate definition is explained in Section II of this paper.
[63] A History of the White House Tapes, p. 2. The Nixon staffers were: H. R. Haldeman, Charles W. Colson, John D. Ehrlichman, John W. Dean, John B. Connally, Maurice H. Stans, and John N. Mitchell.
[64] Ibid.
[65] Segments of conversations determined to be Watergate-related under the Nixon Regulations, but not included in the WSPF collection, are called “Abuse of Governmental Power Segments.”

Some information on the Tape system: (portions of this are from

 Richard Nixon’s conversations about the new tape system he requested ...


The participants are as follows:

P = President Richard Nixon

APB = Assistant to the President Alexander P. Butterfield

HRH = Chief of Staff H.R. "Bob" Haldeman

For a key to other participants' names, click here (136k).

Conversation Number



Download Audio
Download Transcript
OVAL 450-01 2/16/71 Unk between 7:56a - 8:58a P, APB mp3 (2.1m) pdf (24k)

OVAL 450-10

2/16/71 10:29a - 10:49a P, APB, HRH mp3 (1.7m)

pdf (18k)

OVAL 452-17

2/19/71 1:39p - Unk before 2:25p P, HRH mp3 (2.1m)

pdf (22k)

OVAL 456-05

2/23/71 10:05a - 11:30a P, HRH mp3 (2.6m)

pdf (29k)


In particular, it is perhaps ironic that the greatest quantity of these presidential recordings, by Richard Nixon, is also the least utilized or understood, apart from their starring role in Watergate. Despite hundreds of publications since the 1970s that have mentioned the Nixon tapes and a flurry of theories from administration officials and Nixon scholars and agonistes alike about why Nixon decided to bug himself, still the most commonly asked question about the taping system has to do with why Nixon decided to tape himself in the first place. [2] Through technological advances, we can now more easily listen to and transcribe these tapes and we can clearly hear Nixon himself on the taping system describing the origin, installation, and potential uses of his taping system. These conversations largely corroborate Nixon’s memoir claims and the details of the taping system itself, but also hint at the darker motivations and political uses of recorded conversations.

These tapes comprise 4 conversations recorded between February 16 and February 23, 1972 in the Oval Office (OVAL). We have produced transcripts for these conversations and have made them available on this page. In addition, we have also produced links to mp3 audio files (the type found at the Nixon Presidential Library) as well as high quality audio that we have produced. We encourage visitors to this site to listen to the audio while reviewing the transcripts.


In his memoirs, Nixon listed several reasons behind his decision to record his conversations throughout the executive offices. The primary reasons were administrative and historical, part of the president’s desire to make his administration “the best chronicled in history.” Nixon recalled that he “wanted a record of every major meeting” and that an earlier system of taking notes, “ranging from verbatim transcripts of important national security sessions to ‘color reports’ of ceremonial events…proved cumbersome, because it was not always convenient or appropriate to have someone in the room taking notes." [3] From the revelation of the taping system in 1973 until his death in 1994, Nixon consistently argued that his reasons for taping were primarily historical. Nixon emphasized that the secrecy of the system overrode any objections related to right to privacy concerns of those taped, and that the benefits he perceived in terms of later writing his memoirs and having a record of major meetings overrode the costs and staff time to maintain the system. That the taping system had other potentially useful political functions should not be doubted, and Nixon did not deny such alternatives.


For Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, the historical utility of the taping system was only “a secondary benefit,” while the “primary intent” of taping conversations to protect Nixon, like earlier presidents who had taped their conversations, “from the convenient lapses of memory of his associates.” The purpose of the tapes, “was not,” Haldeman argued, “to provide tapes for historians to peruse, but for the President's use alone—for reference when visitors… made statements that conflicted with their private talks with the President.” Haldeman noted “a secondary benefit” of the tapes, for providing Nixon “with valuable reference material for his own use.” The chief of staff stressed that the tapes were “never for the use of historians." [4]


In the first conversation captured on tape, Assistant to the President Alexander Butterfield briefed the president on the recently installed taping system and described how it worked, confirming details tape experts have long known. Butterfield told the president how the system was both a sound-activated taping system and tied to the presidential locator system. [5] Butterfield said, “You’re wearing the locator right now and you’re in the office,” and because the system operated by “voice activation” the president didn’t need “to turn it on and off.” Nixon inquired if it would be possible to expand the system, which at the time only operated in the Oval Office. Echoing the rationale he would express years later in his memoir account, Nixon stressed the reason behind his decision to tape: “You see, the purpose of this is to have the whole thing on the file for professional reasons.” Butterfield acknowledged that it was possible to expand the system, and for record-keeping purposes the recordings “could be used to make notes.” Butterfield told the president that he had gone over the potential use of the tapes for note taking with Chief of Staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, and noted that the system was an office secret because, “There are only five people who know about it, outside of Haldeman, then you and me." [6]


In another conversation later that same morning with Butterfield and Haldeman, Nixon had obviously by then considered the potential uses of the taping system as Butterfield had noted earlier, including making transcriptions of the tapes. “Mums the whole word. I will not be transcribed,” he ordered. And, in case for some reason material from the tapes was needed, perhaps, as Nixon noted, “maybe we want to put out something that's positive, maybe we need something just to be sure that we can correct the record,” Haldeman noted that, rather than mention the existence of a taping system, the correction would be “on the basis of ‘Butterfield’s notes’ or ‘the president's notes’ or ‘my notes.’" [7]


In addition, Nixon and Haldeman discussed additional potential uses of the surreptitious taping system; in this case, to review tapes related to the disclosure that Undersecretary of the Interior Fred Russell had been “fired." [8] In this conversation, Nixon suggested to Haldeman using the tapes regarding instructions on how Russell’s resignation cum firing should be portrayed to the press. Haldeman was clearly enthusiastic about the tapes and advised the president “let’s use the recording,” but suggested the use of tapes “on the basis of your notes.” Nixon again expressed his desire to avoid transcription from the tapes: “I don’t want you to transcribe those unless it’s important. See?" [9]


In the last noteworthy conversation that mentions the taping system, President Nixon contemplated using the taped conversations to both inform press briefings by Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler and as a means of record keeping. Nixon forgetfully asked Haldeman if presidential aide Alexander Butterfield knew of the taping system that had been installed three days earlier. Responding incredulously to the president’s apparent lapse of memory, Haldeman pointed out to the president, “Yes, sir. He put it in.” In terms of utilizing the tapes for record keeping, Nixon explicitly stated: “I don’t want anything transcribed unless I say so.” Haldeman concurred and hinted at keeping the system secret: “That’s right…not even transcribe it. Tell [Butterfield] to go back and listen to it and just make notes off of it…As if he had been sitting here making notes.” [10]


In these conversations dealing with the installation and operation of the taping system, all link the use of recordings to produce meeting records or notes for the file. Confirming what he said in his memoirs after the fact, in one conversation Nixon lamented the problems of having a note taker in meetings to Haldeman: “It just doesn’t work to have somebody be in here every minute.” [11] The sheer volume of memoranda of conversation (“Memcons”), telephone conversation (“Telcons”) transcripts, meeting notes, diaries, and memoranda for the record, and millions of pages of textual documents produced by the administration attest to Nixon’s desire for thorough, reliable, and accurate record—but also a record flattering for the administration.


Nixon felt that secrecy of the taping system was paramount. Nixon explicitly told both Haldeman and Butterfield that the tapes were not to be transcribed without his express orders, minimizing the chance that someone could suspect that they were being taped. At least initially, the political uses of the tapes and a desire to control the depictions of meetings were also on the president’s mind. Two of the conversations discuss record keeping and political matters such as the “firing” of Fred Russell in one recording, and Nixon’s desire to reduce regional social spending in the other. Also, despite Nixon’s best efforts at maintaining secrecy, author Anthony Summers concluded that some astute foreign dignitaries and domestic personages, such as John Dean, suspected that they were being taped, especially since Nixon ended the thorough use of note takers after the installation of the taping system, even for lengthy, detailed meetings, which surprised some visitors that Nixon appeared to not want any summary of the meeting. [12]


The above conversations also confirm some of the reasons behind the choice of an automatic taping system. Later describing the tapes as an “objective record,” Nixon stated: “I thought that recording only selected conversations would completely undercut the purpose of having the taping system; if our tapes were going to be an objective record of my presidency, they could not have such an obviously self-serving bias. I did not want to have to calculate whom or what or when I would tape.” [13] Historians have largely concurred with Alexander Butterfield that the automatic taping system was the natural choice since the president was technologically challenged. [14] Although not conclusive, the first conversation corroborates both Nixon’s and Butterfield’s claims. Nixon seemed pleased when Butterfield told him that the president would not need to turn the system on or off and Nixon referred to having the tapes for “professional reasons.”


In his memoirs, Nixon stated: “[B]efore long I accepted [the taping] as part of the surroundings.” [15] The conversations confirm that Nixon was not consciously aware of the taping system most of the time, at least not after the first few weeks of taping. In conversation 456-5, Nixon could not remember that Alexander Butterfield had supervised the installation of the system, and all three of the significant mentions of the taping system are from the first week of operation, which began on February 16, 1971. It is possible that there are more taped conversations that mention the taping system between the start of taping and the current end of publicly available conversations in November 1972. If so, they have remained undiscovered among the thousands of total hours of recordings. Despite such a remote possibility, the logs produced by the National Archives and Records Administration have proven very reliable and accurate, a testament to the thousands of hours that went into their production. It is true that there was another minor mention, an offhand reference to taping, in a conversation from April 1971, but after that point there’s no reason to believe Nixon did anything but forget about the taping system through at least November 1972.


If the Nixon White House pre-tape systems of “color reports” and other note taking methods were quickly recognized as lacking, why did the administration wait more than two full years after Nixon inauguration in January 1969 to install a taping system? Henry Kissinger offers one explanation that regarding planned incursions into Laos , Nixon did not want a repeat of the public relations fiasco that accompanied the disclosure of secret raids into Cambodia the year before. [16] However, Nixon had forcefully ordered the removal of President Johnson’s Dictabelt taping system in one of his first acts before assuming the presidency, so why the change of heart? Was such a taping system so much more appealing in 1971 than in 1969? Unfortunately, the tapes themselves only confirm the reasoning behind taping, primarily historical but also political, but do not delve into the issue of timing. [17] Could Nixon have been anticipating the seeds in rapprochement with the People’s Republic of China to sprout, as they did haltingly through the Pakistani channel up to April 1971, two months after the installation of the taping system? Was the decision based more on moves in Vietnam , long recognized by scholars to have been the administration’s “crucible?” Could the reason have been much more mundane—keeping advisors in check, as Haldeman has suggested, and as the tapes partially confirm? Despite so much uncertainty regarding the timing of the installation of the taping system, its demise is well-known. With Richard Nixon in the hospital, Haldeman’s successor—Chief of Staff Alexander Haig—ordered the deactivation and removal of the taping system within hours of Butterfield’s July 1973 testimony to the Ervin committee which revealed the existence of the taping system in the process of its escalating Watergate investigation.


Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State, questioned the benefit of the tapes:


What could anyone uninitiated make objectively of the collection of reflections and interjections, the strange indiscretions mixed with high-minded pronouncements, the observations hardly germane to the issue of the moment but reflecting the prejudices of Nixon’s youth, all choreographed by the only person in the room who knew that the tape system existed? …The significance of every exchange turns on its context and an appreciation of Nixon’s shifting moods and wayward tactics. Remove these and you have but random musings—fascinating, entertaining, perhaps, but irrelevant for the most part as the basis for the President’s actions. [18]


Kissinger’s warnings to the contrary, if one cannot accept the observations, justifications, and decision-making process by the primary policymakers themselves in the moment, what historical source can be considered truly valid? It is difficult to believe Kissinger’s argument that Nixon choreographed all or even most of his conversations. This is not to say that Nixon did not on occasion manipulate conversations to get viewpoints on record—he did, as Kissinger describes in Years of Upheaval—but it is a dubious assertion that the president was in control of all of his conversations, especially ones in which he had little to no speaking part.[19]


Beyond this criticism, the richness of the Nixon tapes has also proven to be a double-edged sword. In order to utilize the tapes for historical purposes, researchers must listen to tapes in real time and painstakingly transcribe audio that ranges in quality from somewhat decent to unintelligible. [20] Many aspects of Nixon’s personal idiosyncrasies and working style come into play when attempting to produce reasonably accurate transcripts of important conversations. Besides acoustic problems and background noises, such as the notorious ticking clock in the Executive Office Building, Nixon’s penchant for listening to music while he worked, movement in the office, problematic microphone placement, and poor quality recording materials has meant that some conversations will never be intelligible, no matter how much time, money, energy, or technological assets are at one’s disposal. [21] Stuttering, mumbling, verbal tics such as Nixon’s frequent “my point is…you see my point,” low or quiet talking, and the occasional recording of foreign languages, accents, and place names only increase the difficulty of producing faithful and accurate transcripts. [22] Regardless, after more than three decades, there is an untapped treasure trove awaiting those who take on the challenge—even on topics as small as Nixon’s decision to tape. For many scholars and casual listeners alike, Richard Nixon has truly been the gift that keeps giving, and with over 1,100 hours of Nixon tapes still to be released, this will continue to be the case for many years. [23] At least now we can understand the origin of the taping system, and straight from the mouth of the man who ordered its installation.

[1] Regarding the revelation of the Nixon administration tapes, Henry A. Kissinger once mused, “…As for their value for historical research by some indefatigable listeners, it must be doubted.” See Henry A. Kissinger, Years of Upheaval (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1982), 111.

[2] For a discussion of Nixon agonistes, see the John Leonard New York Times review of Garry Wills, Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man, October 15, 1970.

[3] Richard M. Nixon, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1978), 500.

[4] H. R. Haldeman, The Ends of Power with Joesph DiMona, (New York: Times Books, 1978), 192. Nixon and Haldeman both analyzed why earlier presidents had decided to tape. According to Nixon, his predecessor Lyndon Johnson “had a taping system for his office phone, his bedroom phone, the phone at Camp David, the phone at his ranch in Johnson City , and the phone at his office in Austin . In addition to the phone equipment, he had room microphones placed in the Cabinet Room and in the private office next to the Oval Office. At one point there was also a recording device that could pick up conversations in the room outside the Oval Office where Johnson's visitors would wait before being ushered in to see him. The Johnson system was operated manually, which permitted him to decide which conversations to record… Johnson thought that my decision to remove his taping system was a mistake; he felt his tapes were invaluable in writing his memoirs.” Nixon, RN, 501; Haldeman was less idealistic, as the above quotes show. It is worth nothing that Haldeman later distanced himself from The Ends of Power in his later years and released his daily diaries on CD-ROM and in annotated book form in an attempt to correct the record.

[5] The presidential locator system was basically a pager the president wore so the Secret Service could keep track of the chief executive’s whereabouts and deliver the “football” of nuclear launch codes at a moment’s notice.

[6] Conversation 450-1 between Richard M. Nixon and Alexander P. Butterfield, February 16, 1971, Unknown time between 7:56 am and 8:58 am in the Oval Office. It is unclear as to the idenity of the five people to whom Butterfield referred “outside of Haldeman, [the president] and [himself],” but one likely candidate was Haldeman’s assistant Larry Higby.

[7] Conversation 450-10 between Richard M. Nixon, Alexander P. Butterfield, and H. R. “Bob” Haldeman in the Oval Office, February 16, 1971, 10:28 am – 10:49 am. Thanks to Ken Hughes for providing a first draft of this conversation.

[8] See Oval Office Conversation 452-3 in which Nixon and Haldeman discuss a news story that Fred J. Russell was dismissed from his post in the Interior Department and that presidential aide John Ehrlichman actually fired Russell. Nixon argued that this was not fair treatment of Russell, who later became the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark . According to a Washington Post article, “Mr. Nixon formally acknowledged yesterday the resignation of J. Fred Russell as Under Secretary of the Interior.” See: “Nixon, Aides Meet on Foreign Policy,” The Washington Post (Feb 28, 1971), 2.

[9] Conversation 452-17 between Richard M. Nixon and H. R. “Bob” Haldeman in the Oval Office, February 19, 1971, 1:39 – unknown time before 2:25pm.

[10] Conversation 456-5 between Richard M. Nixon and H. R. “Bob” Haldeman in the Oval Office, February 19, 1971, 10:05am – 11:30am. This discussion was likely provoked by Nixon’s desire to disband the Appalachia Regional Commission and reduce regional social spending programs in early 1971. Nixon mentioned John Waters and Jack Williams, two players in the policy struggle, as the rationale behind using the tapes to review potentially contentious meetings or ones that did not get the right press “play” in the administration’s estimation.

[11] Conversation 456-5.

[12] Anthony Summers, The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon ( New York : Penguin, 2000), 345-360.

[13] RN, 502.

[14] “Alexander Butterfield Speaks on the Nixon Taping System,” John F. Kennedy Library

(February 16, 2003). Online: For a more detailed description of the taping system see John Powers, “The History of Presidential Audio Recordings and the Archival Issues Surrounding Their Use,” CIDs Paper, 12 July 1996, 86-108. See also: William Doyle, Inside the Oval Office: The White House Tapes from FDR to Clinton (New York: Kodansha International, 1999), 167-196.

[15] Nixon, RN, 502. Alexander Butterfield wholeheartedly concurred that Nixon was unconscious of the taping. Butterfield states: “We marveled at [Nixon’s] ability to…be seemingly be oblivious to the tapes. I mean, even I was sitting there uncomfortably sometimes saying, “He’s not really going say this, is he?” See: “Alexander Butterfield Speaks on the Nixon Taping System,” John F. Kennedy Library (16 February 2003) online:

[16] Henry A. Kissinger recollected: “Insofar as the Cambodia incursions gave impetus to [Nixon’s] decision [to tape], I was apparently an unwitting cause as well as target. The purpose was to prevent me from emerging as the “good guy” on decisions in which I had taken part.” See: Kissinger, Years of Upheaval, (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1982), 111.

[17] One prominent theory is that J. Edgar Hoover stoked Nixon’s paranoia by telling the president-elect that President Johnson had used widespread political wiretaps and had even bugged Nixon’s phone lines and campaign plane. Summers, Arrogance of Power, 314; Haldeman, Ends of Power, 4, 80-81.

[18] Henry A. Kissinger, Years of Upheaval, 111-112.

[19] Kissinger, Years of Upheaval, 113. Kissinger’s protestations about the taping system are also disingenuous since he had a team of secretaries surveying and transcribing his own phone and meeting conversations, many of which were taped—a fact that was relatively unknown until nearly thirty years afterwards. In addition to the tape selections, the National Security Archive is preparing 22,000 pages of Kissinger’s telephone conversations transcripts for inclusion in its “Declassified Documents Online” database available by subscription through ProQuest.

[20] In addition to the fact that the original tapes have physically degraded over time—despite the best preservation efforts—the typical researcher at the National Archives (NARA) uses analog copies of copies of copies of the originals. The analog nature of recording technology in the 1970s, and the use of analog tapes for listening copies for the first three chronological tapes releases has created a variety of quality control issues for transcription efforts since each generation of analog audio reproduction entails some loss of quality. Fortunately, scholars have been able to make arrangements to use NARA ’s production Digital Audio Tapes (DATs) that, theoretically, have almost no loss of quality from an original source.

The National Archive’s initial “Abuse of Power” tapes release in 1996, in addition to the subsequent first, second, and third chronological releases, are publicly available only on analog audiocassette. Time, dirt, and use/listening create a number of quality control issues for analog audiocassettes. NARA ’s Fourth Chronological Conversation Tapes release in December 2003 was on digital compact discs, as were the first Fifth Chronological Release which took place on July 11, 2007. CDs avoid the pitfalls inherent with the earlier audiocassettes. For the release schedule and content of each release, see:

For materials from the first four chronological releases, the Miller Center at the University of Virginia has been an excellent source for high-quality audio material, despite some gaps, available via the internet at We are also grateful to Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive (NSArchive), for allowing us to do digital transfer work at home using the best quality audio, including the conversations included in this article.

[21] Archivist William Cowell has noted that since the taping system was unknown to but a handful of Nixon administration officials, the Secret Service personnel who operated the taping system often used ‘outside’ channels to purchase blank tapes. This apparently included runs to the local drug store for consumer quality blank reels.

[22] Because the system was voice—or more accurately sound activated—there are also dozens of hours of noise preserved for posterity. Low or quiet talking in this case refers to low volume speech distorted by its lack of amplitude, typically caused by a person speaking outside the effective range of the microphone(s).

[23] The quote that the Nixon tapes are “the gift that keeps on giving” is widely attributed to investigative reporter Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, who also apparently listens to the tapes as he drives. Bob Woodward, “Landon Lecture,” 29 March 2000. Online:

Note: Selected portions of this article appeared in the journal White House Studies, Volume 8, Issue 2. For specific information on Volume 8, Issue 2, click here.

The following are the audio files and transcripts currently available at

Conversations based on primary participant (other than President Nixon):
George H.W. Bush
Charles W. Colson
Anatoly Dobrynin
Gerald R. Ford
Alexander M. Haig, Jr.
Richard M. Helms
J. Edgar Hoover
Lyndon B. Johnson
Edward M. Kennedy
Fritz G.A. Kraemer
Henry A. Kissinger
John D. Lavelle 
Robert S. McNamara
Leon Panetta
Ray Price
Ronald W. Reagan
Donald H. Rumsfeld
George P. Shultz
Thematic Material:
-February 16, 1971 - February 23, 1971: The origin of the Nixon tapes: First recorded conversations from the Nixon tapes which discuss the installation and maintenance of the Nixon taping system
-February 26, 1971 - July 24, 1972: “[W]e’re going to give Allende the hook”; The Nixon Administration’s Response to Salvador Allende and Chilean Expropriation
-February 27, 1971 - January 25, 1973: DCI Richard M. Helms and President Nixon
-April 6, 1971 - February 23, 1973: President Nixon and the Presidents: former President Johnson, House Minority Leader Ford, Governor Reagan, and Ambassador Bush
-April 6, 1971 - February 27, 1973: Complete audio file collection of Henry Kissinger's phone conversations assembled for the first time
-April 9, 1971 - September 7, 1972: contributes to "Teddy: In His Own Words", a new HBO film that honors the life of former Sen. Ted Kennedy
-April 17, 1971 - April 11, 1972: Nixon and Hoover: Partners in Power; Nixon Tapes Demonstrate Similar Thinking on Issues of the Day
-May 27, 1971 - June 14, 1971: Nixon Had His Eye on Leon Panetta; Young Republican HEW Aide Critical of Nixon's Civil Rights Program
-February 1, 1972 - December 5, 1972: Nixon Recognized Importance of Space Program; Space Policy had Broader Role in Nixon's Foreign Policy; Nixon Tapes Capture Apollo XV, XVI, and XVII Crews
-May 15, 1972: The White House reaction to the shooting of Alabama Governor and Democratic Presidential Candidate George Wallace
-November 3, 1972 - November 19, 1972: Chuck Colson and the 1972 presidential election
-March 13, 1973 - March 21, 1973: "John W. Dean III and the Watergate Cover-up, Revisited"
-March 13, 1973 - April 16, 1973: Selected Watergate material, as featured in The New York Times
Chronological Tape Releases:
-Cabinet Room Tapes: 223 hours of tapes originally released by the National Archives between 1997 and 2002; recordings were made during February 1971 and July 1973
-Chronological Release 1: 445 hours of tapes originally released by the National Archives in 1999; recordings were made between February 1971 and July 1971
-Chronological Release 2: 420 hours of tapes originally released by the National Archives in 2000; recordings were made between August 1971 and December 1971
-Chronological Release 3: 425 hours of tapes originally released by the National Archives in 2002; recordings were made between January 1972 and June 1972
-Chronological Release 4: 240 hours of tapes originally released by the National Archives in 2003; recordings were made between July 1972 and November 1972
White House Telephone Conversations (WHT): July 18, 1972 - November 3, 1972
Camp David Study Table (CDST): August 11, 1972 - October 30, 1972
Camp David Study Desk (CDSD): August 15, 1972 - October 30, 1972
Camp David Hard Wire (CDHW): July 21, 1972 - October 30, 1972 
Executive Office Building (EOB): July 19, 1972 - November 2, 1972 
-Chronological Release 5.1: 11.5 hours of tapes originally released by the National Archives in 2007; recordings were made during November 1972
-Chronological Release 5.2: 198 hours of tapes were released by the National Archives on December 2, 2008; recordings were made during November 1972 and January 1973
-Chronological Release 5.3: 154 hours of tapes are to be released by the National Archives on June 23, 2009; recordings were made during January 1973 and February 1973
Other Tapes Related Content:
-“It’s a bad rap for him” ; Protective-Reaction, John D. Lavelle and the Nixon Tapes 
-Alexander M. Haig, Jr. and the Nixon Tapes; Former Secretary of State Urged Study of Nixon White House Recordings
-"The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers" Nominated for Oscar; was Consultant for Nominee for Best Documentary Feature
-New Evidence Confirms Pentagon Stole and Leaked Top Secret Documents from Nixon White House; Consequence of Pentagon's Isolation from Decision-Making in Vietnam, China, Detente
-The Forty Years War Probes Obscure Pentagon Official; Ideology of Fritz Kraemer at the Heart of Wartime Policy from Vietnam to the Present
-New Theories Related to Watergate Continue to Capture Public Imagination; Latest National Archives Work Focuses on Elusive 18 ˝ Minute Gap
-Flawed FRUS? Pitfalls with the Nixon Tapes and How to Avoid Them
-Former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara captured on tape in 1971-1972 meetings with President Nixon and Henry Kissinger
-John Dean Slams "Revisionists" and Nixon Foundation in Talk at Library: However, 1989 Interview Tape Provides New Details
-John Dean's Simon and Schuster editor calls Dean's claim that his editors inserted false information in Blind Ambition a "lie"; never before heard recording available here
-In New Finding, John Dean Argues that the Origin of Watergate was "a Tip" Received by President Nixon; However, Dean withheld that he appears to have been the one who received the "tip" first
-Thomas A. Schwartz's SHAFR Presidential Address: “‘Winning an election is terribly important, Henry’: Thinking about Domestic Politics and U.S. Foreign Relations”'s Richard Moss featured in May 2008 edition of State Magazine




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