Crisis management in the Nixon White House
Via nixontapes.org, Nixon in action after Wallace was assassinated:
After conflicting reports to the President from the Secret Service described the assailant as everything from a middle-aged man to three teenagers, either acting alone or with an accomplice, Nixon, wishing to avoid what seemed to him like a potential government scandal on his watch, ordered Haldeman to instruct Ehrlichman to interfere and take control of the investigation. Nixon noted, “I’m not going to let them get away with this this time. They are to report to me directly. I don’t want to read it in the press, and I don’t want to hear it on the radio. I want a report, and I don’t want any cover up. You know, this could be like the Kennedy thing. This son of a bitch Rowley is a dumb bastard, you know. He is dumb as hell. We’ve got to get somebody over there right away. Get Ehrlichman on him! Get Ehrlichman over there right away, Bob, to work on it. Don’t you agree? Secret Service will fuck this up! They do everything!” Finally, on the basis that one of Wallace’s body guards—who included fifty Secret Service agents and a detail of the Alabama State Police—was injured in the shooting, Nixon ordered the FBI to take jurisdiction of the investigation away from the Secret Service: “Get the FBI. Order, at my direction, the FBI!”
The investigation soon came under control. Within the hour, the FBI traced the gun to a purchase made on January 13, 1972, by an Arthur Herman Bremer, white male, 21 years old, from West Michigan Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Bremer had been previously arrested by the FBI for carrying a concealed weapon in November 1971. He was described as “a loner” and seeking attention. Once these details became known to the President, Nixon’s concerns shifted to how the press would report the shooting. As the President instructed Ehrlichman, “Keep the heat on them, because don’t let us make the mistake that was made of the Kennedy thing. […] You don’t realize the forces that could let loose in this, you know. This fellow [Wallace] was a Goddamn demagogue, a hate monger, and he could let loose horrible forces, and we have got to be doing the right thing, John. That’s what you’ve got to understand.”
Meanwhile, Nixon instructed Haldeman to have Colson put a report out to the press: “Put a call in immediately to [White House Deputy Director of Communications Kenneth] Clawson, or somebody […] to the effect that the first reports of the [Bremer] interrogation [are] that a McGovern/Kennedy person did this. Know what I mean? Rumors are going to flow all over the place. Put it on the left right away.” Later, Nixon further elaborated, “Just say he was a supporter of McGovern and Kennedy. Now just put that out. Just say you have it on ‘unmistakable evidence.’” When Colson returned to the EOB after meeting with Clawson to execute the President’s order, Nixon asked, “You sell it?” Colson summarized: “You don’t have to sell it to this fellow [Clawson]. He says, ‘of course, of course he’s a student radical, naturally.’ I said, ‘of course, he’s from Wisconsin, that he worked in McGovern’s campaign.’ […] [laughter] You don’t have to sell him. He’s already convinced.”
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...