WASHINGTON - In newly released papers from his presidency, Richard Nixon directs a purge of Kennedy-era modern art (“these little uglies’’), orders that hostile journalists be frozen out, and fusses over White House guest lists to make sure political opponents would not make it in.
As his lieutenants built an ambitious political espionage operation that tapped scribes as spies, Nixon is shown preoccupying himself with the finest details of dividing friend and foe.
The Nixon Library, run by the National Archives, released some 280,000 pages of records yesterday from his years in office, many touching on the early days of political spycraft and manipulation that would culminate in a presidency destroyed by the Watergate scandal.
The latest collection sheds more light on the long-familiar determination of Nixon’s men to find dirt on Democrats however they could. Memos attempt to track amorous movements of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat whom Nixon’s operatives apparently feared the most. Journalists secretly hired by Nixon’s men reported on infighting among Democratic presidential contenders.
In 1971, keeping tabs on Kennedy was a prominent feature of the growing political intelligence operation. Nixon ordered aides to recruit Secret Service agents to watch the senator and spill secrets, previous disclosures show.
After the Chappaquiddick scandal, when Kennedy drove off a bridge in an accident that drowned his female companion, Nixon hoped to derail the married senator’s presidential hopes by catching him with more women. The new collection includes daily notes by Gordon Strachan, assistant to White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, touching on this effort.
“We need tail on EMK,’’ he wrote from one meeting, referring to Kennedy by his initials.