Bush Team Downplays Rumsfeld-Nixon Tape

A U S T I N, Texas, Jan. 7, 2001 -- President-elect Bush’s team says Defense-Secretary nominee Donald Rumsfeld never agreed withpejorative comments Richard Nixon made 29 years ago about blacks ina conversation preserved on tape at the National Archives.

On the tape, Rumsfeld can be heard making severalacknowledgments, such as “yes” and “that’s right” as Nixonrambled on during a conversation about African and American blacks.

The conversation was reported in Sunday editions of the ChicagoTribune.

Bush Spokesman: Rumsfeld Disagreed

Bush transition spokesman Ari Fleischer said Saturday thatRumsfeld did not agree with any of Nixon’s pejorative comments thenand does not now.

Even a casual listen to the hourlong tape demonstrates thatRumsfeld’s voice changes and tightens once Nixon starts speaking insuch a vein, Fleischer said.

Until then, Rumsfeld had been “talkative and expressive,”Fleischer said. He said he had talked to Rumsfeld about the articleand that his recollection was that he was not agreeing with Nixon’scomments.

Nixon even feigns a phony Southern accent on the tape when hestarts talking about blacks, the spokesman said.

Fleischer said Rumsfeld had not intended to convey agreementwith the characterizations of blacks made in the Nixon conversationbut merely acknowledged them.

Rumsfeld spokesman Jim Wilkinson was quoted by the newspaper assaying the Cabinet nominee is “proud of his long record of supportfor civil rights.”

Nixon Compares Africans and Black Americans

On the tape of a July 22, 1971, conversation with Rumsfeld, acounselor to the president, Nixon criticized his vice president,Spiro Agnew, for his conduct and comments on a recent trip toAfrica.

The newspaper cited what it said were Agnew’s unflatteringcomparisons between African and American blacks, and remarks thatAfrican blacks were smarter.

“It doesn’t help,” Nixon said on tape, according to theTribune. “It hurts with the blacks. And it doesn’t help with therednecks because the rednecks don’t think any Negroes are anygood.”

“Yes,” Rumsfeld replied.

As for the notion that “black Americans aren’t as good as blackAfricans,” Nixon said, “most of them are basically just out ofthe trees. … Now, my point is, if we say that, they [opponents]say, ‘Well, by God.’ Well, ah, even the Southerners say, ‘Well, ourniggers is [tape unintelligible].’ Hell, that’s the way they talk!” thepresident said on the tape.

“That’s right,” Rumsfeld said.

“I can hear ‘em,” Nixon said.

“I know,” Rumsfeld replied.

“It’s like when our black athletes, I mean in the Olympics, arerunning against the other black athletes, the Southerner may notlike the black but he’s for that black athlete,” Nixon said.

“That’s right,” Rumsfeld said.

“Right?” Nixon asked.

“That’s for sure,” Rumsfeld said.

“Well, enough of that,” Nixon said.