New recordings a window into Nixon's paranoia

Say what you will about him, but Richard Nixon is one of the most fascinating figures in American history. Just when we think we know everything there is to know about him, we find out something else -- as it was Thursday, when the Nixon library released a new set of recordings.

CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante took a closer look.

It's no secret that Richard Nixon was obsessed with his enemies -- but it turns out it started long before Watergate.

This is one of a series of memos he dictated to chief of staff Bob Haldeman in early 1970.

"Memo to Haldeman," Nixon says in the newly released recording "The more I think of it, setting up a special group ... for the purpose not of cheering but solely of attacking and defending is of the highest priority."

Read and listen: Nixon archives

In other memos the same day, Nixon grouses that the new White House pressroom is too overdone.

"I also believe that, from walking through the facilities, that we have gone overboard in terms of the elaborate individual cubicles and other areas that have been set up," Nixon said.

He also ordered a meeting to stop leaks to the press, "The main purpose of this meeting will be to get the point across to Kissinger," he said.

After the Watergate break in at the Democratic National Committee in 1972, Nixon assistant John Ehrlichman was looking for dirt on DNC Chairman Larry O'Brien. He wanted O'Brien's tax returns -- and complained to IRS Commissioner Johnnie Walters that it was taking too long.

"In all candor, I'm very impatient with the way the IRS has handled this thus far," Ehrlichman is heard saying.

Walters's reply: "John, I'm sorry you feel that way, because let me tell you, I'm bustin' my gut to do everything to protect the president -- but on this one we're playing with fire."

By 1974, the fire had reached the oval office. Among the memos also released today was one from David Gergen on August 7, with thoughts for Richard Nixon's resignation speech. He made the speech the next day.

  • Bill Plante

    Bill Plante is a CBS News Senior White House Correspondent

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