Published 7:15 p.m. UTC Sep 4, 2018
An agitated President Donald Trump paces the Oval Office. A "breaking news" alert flashes on TV about another former associate being granted immunity to testify against him.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP (yelling into the hallway): Kelly, get me the tapes!
Chief of Staff John Kelly appears at the door.
JOHN KELLY: Which tapes, sir? We have lots. The Omarosa tapes? The Cohen tapes? Jim Comey? The Russian pee-pee tapes? The off-screen "Apprentice" tapes that, um, don’t officially exist?
TRUMP: No, no, the big ones, the Rosetta Stone … the Nixon tapes.
KELLY: Again, sir? Honestly, I don’t think that’s a good idea. The tapes always throw you into a funk.
TRUMP: A funk? Those tapes are my inspiration! Bear Bryant on game day at Alabama. … Sean Hannity on election night. … I listen to them and think: WWDD?
KELLY: Beg your pardon, sir? WWDD?
TRUMP: What would Dick do? Go get me the tapes.
Kelly returns a few minutes later, pushing a cart with an old analog tape deck and a large lock box filled with hundreds of cassette tapes marked: “Best of Nixon: 1971-73.” The president comes closer.
TRUMP: OK, start with the one where Nixon and John Dean are talking about how his enemies are making a big deal over nothing with the whole Watergate thing. That’s a classic.
KELLY pops in a tape marked “March 1973.”
JOHN DEAN (his voice crackling on tape): We have a cancer — within — close to the presidency, that's growing.
Kelly quickly slams the "stop" button and hits rewind.
KELLY: Sorry, sir; that’s the wrong day. … Here you go. This is the one: Dean is telling Nixon how they can get out the message publicly that the campaign’s dirty tricks were really "nothing bad."
DEAN: It was prankster-ism that got out of hand, and we know that. And I think we can lay our story out there.
TRUMP: Yes, yes, that’s it. Prankster-ism that got out of hand. Love it. The Trump Tower meeting, Donnie Jr., the Russian lawyer. Donnie’s always been a prankster. Have Sarah put something out during McCain’s funeral so that we can …
The tape rolls in the background, and the former White House counsel continues talking.
DEAN: These fellows had to be some idiots, as we've learned after the fact.
TRUMP: Yes, pranksters and idiots. That’s the message we want.
KELLY: You do realize, sir, that John Dean turned against Nixon and became his main accuser in the end. Should you really be looking to him for guidance on something like this?
TRUMP: Yes, I know all that, but Dean was a total shark who had some great ideas before he became a rat and went all soft on Nixon, just like Michael "Cold Feet" Cohen, my ungrateful ex-lawyer, did to me.
KELLY: Yes, sir.
TRUMP: Now play me the one where Nixon tells Henry Kissinger that the public just doesn’t appreciate his guts and courage.
Kelly pops in another tape.
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PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: For Christ’s sake, can’t we get across the courage more? Courage, boldness, guts? Goddamn it! That is the thing! … What is the most important single factor that should come across out of the first two years? Guts! Absolutely. Guts! Don’t you agree, Henry?
TRUMP (laughing): I tell you, I can’t hear that enough times. But what I want to know is: What would Dick have done about this mess with the National Enquirer and this safe where they supposedly kept files about me and these women? Didn’t Dick have a problem like that, too?
Kelly searches deep in the box and pops in another tape.
KELLY: I think this is the one you mean, sir. When Nixon talks about stealing some national security files from a safe at the Brookings Institution?
NIXON: Goddamn it, get in there and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.
KELLY: But honestly, sir, blowing up a safe is not a terrific idea in this current climate. I mean, your critics have already been comparing you to a Mafia boss for all your recent talk about silencing your enemies and hating “flippers.”
TRUMP: Yes, exactly. What’s your point? Didn’t Nixon and Dean —
KELLY: Yes, I know, sir; they did talk about using Mafia tactics and finding a million dollars in hush money to pay people off in Watergate, but still, I don’t think —
TRUMP: Just play the damn tape.
DEAN: This is the sort of thing Mafia people can do: washing money, getting clean money, and things like that.
TRUMP: Now play me the one where all the liberal cannibals start calling for Nixon’s impeachment.
KELLY: Are you sure, sir? I really hate that one in particular.
TRUMP: Yes, I’m sure. Play it.
NIXON: Christ, "impeach the president!" I'm the only one at the present time in this whole wide blinking world that can do a goddamn thing, you know. Keep it from blowing up. …Look, if we went in with sackcloth and ashes and fired the whole White House staff, that isn't going to satisfy these goddamn cannibals. They'd still be after us. … Who are they after? They're after me, the president. They hate my guts.
TRUMP: See, Nixon really understood what I’m going through. The attacks, the lies, the vindictiveness. The press is always after me. All these cases in court are piling up, one after another. Play me that one when he learns The New York Times is printing the Pentagon Papers.
KELLY: The one where he says, "The press is the enemy"?
TRUMP: No, I’ve memorized that one already. The one where he’s furious with the Supreme Court for not stopping them from printing the papers.
Kelly pops in the tape and hits play.
NIXON: I was so damn mad when that Supreme Court had to come down. … You know, those clowns we’ve got on there. ... I hope I outlive the bastards. ... I mean, politically too, because by God, we’ve gotta change that court.
TRUMP: So true, so true. Where are we with the Supreme Court nomination, anyway? Is there a hearing scheduled yet for Kavanaugh?
KELLY: Yes, but Democrats are trying to bottle up the vote until all the investigations into Russia and everything else are done.
TRUMP: Russia, Russia, Russia. It never ends. And now I saw that my own State Department is sanctioning Putin for poisoning some British guy? How the heck did that happen? Nixon would never have allowed it. Let me hear that one.
KELLY: Sorry, I don’t think I know that one, sir.
TRUMP: Sure you do. July ’71, I think it was. Nixon was furious that the State Department was clamping down on the Russians behind his back over some scandal or other, and he wanted to put an end to it.
KELLY: Ah, OK.
He digs through the box before finally finding the tape.
NIXON: I want no statement concerning the Soviet Union of any kind, public statements, to be made without clearance with me.
TRUMP: Brilliant guy, that Nixon, just brilliant. Make that our new policy. That’s enough for today.
Eric Lichtblau, a journalist and author in Washington who has won two Pulitzer Prizes, is author of "The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler's Men." Follow him on Twitter: @EricLichtblau