Not Guilty

The jury in John Connally’s trial had been the only silent players on the courtroom stage. Now, while everyone else waited, they talked.

March 23, 1971, in the Oval Office of the White House. A meeting is about to begin. There are eight men present, including President Nixon, John Ehrlichman, Budget Director George Shultz, Agriculture Secretary Clifford Hardin, and Treasury Secretary John Connally. Here is an edited transcript of that meeting.

PRESIDENT: I suggest that we sit over here everybody. More room and, uh [coughing]—Sit down.

* * *

PRESIDENT: Uh, well, we ought to review this, this situation with regard to milk. Now, uh, John, would you ex­press your views to us all—you ex­pressed them to me this morning.

CONNALLY: Uh, I’m not trying to talk about it at any great length the, the economics of it, but as far as the politics are concerned—looking to 1972, it, uh, it appears very clear to me that you’re going to have to move, um, strong in the Midwest. You’re going to have to be strong in rural America, and particularly that part of the country. Now, there are a lot of things that you can’t do, uh, with respect to farmers. They’re almost beyond help at this point. They feel like they are. They don’t feel like anybody’s trying to help them… I just don’t know many areas that you can do many things—that’s the net of what I’m saying—to help the farmers, uh, and the dairy people now. These dairymen are organized; they’re adamant; they’re militant. This particular group, AMPI, which is the American Milk Producers Institute or something, represents about forty thousand people… They’re asking for, for an increase in the cost, in the price of a hundredweight up to four—$4.92… Now if they, if you don’t support the price, they’re going to have to drop it because their, their resources aren’t such that they can continue to pay the difference between what, the $4.66 and the, and the $4.92… I’m addressing myself to the narrow aspects, to the political aspects of it. I don’t think there’s a better organiza­tion in the United States. If you can get it, you can’t get more help from, that will be, um, be more loyal to you. And, and I think they’ve got a worthy case to begin with. And that being true, I just think you ought to stretch the point.

I wouldn’t wait till next year, so that—I know that there’s been some advice given to you, to wait till next year—I will differ with that, simply because they’re going to make their association and their alliances this year and they’re going to spend a lot of money this year in various Congressional and Senatorial races all over this United States…

If you wait till next year, I don’t care what you do for them, they’re going to say, well, we put enough pressure on them this election year, they had to do it. And you, you get no credit for it. So it’s still going to cost you an enormous amount of money next year, and you get no political advantage out of it…

PRESIDENT: Well, it’s one of those things where—with all you experts sit­ting around—where you have to make a political judgment. My political judg­ment is that the Congress is going to pass it. I could not veto it. Not because they’re milk producers, but because they’re farmers. And it would be just turning down the whole damn Middle America. Uh, where, uh, we, um, where we need support. And under the cir­cumstances I think the best thing to do is to just, um, relax and enjoy it.

EHRLICHMAN: Let’s get credit.

CONNALLY: You’re in this thing for everything you, you can get out of it. EHRLICHMAN: Now you could hold your position now till you get the green light, couldn’t you?

CONNALLY: Oh sure.

PRESIDENT: What?

EHRLICHMAN: Yeah, as I say, then Agriculture doesn’t need to do anything right away.

PRESIDENT: You, you’re now think­ing of the political offer?

EHRLICHMAN: In a day or so.

[The meeting is breaking up.]

EHRLICHMAN: Better go get a glass of

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