Oral History Interview with
Assistant to White House Naval Aide, 1945-46; Special Counsel
to the President, 1946-50.
CLARK M. CLIFFORD
Washington, D. C.
October 4, 1973
by James F. C. Hyde, Jr. and Stephen J. Wayne
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This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry
S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee
but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember
that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced
for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission
of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened September, 1988
Harry S. Truman Library
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CLIFFORD: My major areas of interest, when I was in the
White Housein the Truman administration, were in the fields of foreign policyand national
security. I came into the White House first in the springof 1945. I was
still in the Navy, and I came into the Naval Aide's officeat that time
as an assistant to Captain [James K.] Vardaman [Jr.], whowas Naval Aide.
I served in that capacity from the spring of '45 unti lthe spring of '46,
at which time Judge [Samuel] Rosenman, who had been counsel at the White
House, left. I then succeeded Judge Rosenman, and became Special Counsel
to President Truman in the spring of '46, and served in that capacity for
approximately four years
I was suggesting to you that the major areas of my interest were serving as
liaison between the State Department and the White House and also between what
at that time were the War and Navy Departments. You will remember that
back in 1945 we had no Defense Department. That was first created in 1947.
I'm giving you that bit of background because I'm not sure that I gave
too much of my attention to the relationship of the White House and what
was then the Budget Bureau.
WAYNE: I knew that you had taken Judge Rosenman's position, and I was under
the impression that, for example, papers on major bills and particularly on
enrolled bills, flowed through the Special Counsel on their way to the President.
So we thought that you might have had some exposure in that connection.
CLIFFORD: Yes, I did.
WAYNE: Yes, and we have been carrying on questions in three areas. One is
the development of the President's annual legislative program; the second one
is the ongoing clearance of Administration positions on either sending legislation
up, or before Congress; and the third is the enrolled
bill area. Perhaps
if one or more of those is not relevant we could just save your time and
concentrate on the one where you were involved.
CLIFFORD: Well, let me start talking about my recollection of my activity in
those fields. Interrupt me anytime with questions if you will . . .
WAYNE: Thank you.
CLIFFORD: . . . so you can utilize me for the particular purposes that you
have in mind.
Take one, the President's annual legislative program. As we did it then,that
was pretty much the function and the responsibility of the Special Counsel.
I would get up a letter in the late summer--that would perhaps be August
of each year--and I would get that letter out to the departments of Government,
and to the agencies of Government, and perhaps to some other individuals
suggesting that they submit to the White House their views toward legislation,
with particular reference to legislation that they desired for the coming
session of the Congress.
Now, that would go to the State Department, to War and Navy, to all the
other departments, Treasury,
Justice and so forth, and their replies would
begin to come in. It also went to the SEC and it went to the Federal Communications
Commission, the Power Commission, all of the quasi-judicialagencies of
Government. One would go, or a letter would go, to the Council of Economic
Advisors for any legislation that they had in mind. We started that first,
it seems to me, maybe in 1946. I suppose some kind of similar policy had
been followed before.
What we found out, perhaps even that first year, was that there would usually
be an individual designated in each department or agency to handle this
function. Over the next four years, we developed an exceedingly valuable and
effective working machinery, because each one of these men who started doing
it in 146 in the various departments and agencies usually continued on.
In that way, the White House developed a relationship with a working member
of each department. My recollection is that at times, in almost every instance,
as we began to work on the State of the Union Message,we would invite
the man in from State or Agriculture, whichever one he might be, to talk
matters out with him. That gave us a much
better feel than just receiving
some cold, formal documentation from the various departments.
The purpose of getting in this information was to have the background of
the needs and opinions of the departments and agencies of Government so
that we would be able to extract from that voluminous collection ofinformation
a legislative program that President Truman wished to advocate and recommend
to the Congress. That also pretty well formed the basis ofthe body of
the President's State of the Union address, which of course the President
would always deliver personally. We always felt that the language of the
Constitution rather implied that the President of the United States should
deliver that message personally to the Congress.
WAYNE: Did the Bureau of the Budget serve in any kind of a staff capacity to
you and other members of the White House staff in winnowing, or screening this,
or so on?
CLIFFORD: Yes, they did. I have some recollection that what we would do
would be to bring over from the Bureau of the Budget--by over I mean a cross
the street, because they were then quartered in the Executive office Building,
and maybe they still are, I just do not know--and
we would bring over at
that stage a man or two. My recollection is that that's perhaps the first
time I encountered David Bell, who was a very able fellow. We brought him
over, maybe with one or two associates, temporarily to serve in the White
House during that period. We had a very small staff in the White House.
I might take a moment to comment on that. As time went on, I served as
liaison with State and with the War Department and the Navy Department,and
after Defense was created in 147 I served as the liaison there. That job,
at that time, was handled by me and one assistant. George Elsey was my
assistant. And then to some extent, as time went on, Charles Murphy used
to work with me, and even for me. I remember that when I was getting ready
to leave in 1950, I recommended to President Truman that Charlie Murphy
succeed me. That was our total staff at that time.
Now, we did not serve in the broad area, for instance, that a Henry Kissinger
serves in, but we performed many of the functions that the Kissinger operation
performs. That is again, I say, the liaison
with the State and the Defense
Departments. At one time I was told that Mr. Kissinger hasas many as 140
people working for him. So I don't know what's happened with that operation.
We did, it with two, and then after a while three individuals, and I might
say it worked very smoothly. I remember the Secretaryof State used to
call me when he had something coming up and would tellme ahead of time
what it was, and often times I would go in then, when hecame over to meet
with President Truman. That relationship was very definitely that way when
Secretary Forrestal, who was first Secretary of the Navy,and then was
the first Secretary of Defense, would come over to see the President.
WAYNE: Do you deplore the proliferation of White House staff as a general proposition?
CLIFFORD: Oh, I think it's ghastly. I think that whole operation is inimical
to the proper operation of our Government. I have a lot of regard for the
State Department. I think that the State Department should be handled in
such a manner that the men who work there have a sense of the importance and
dignity of their operation.
I think the morale of the State Department has
been abysmal these last four years, because I think they've been given almost
routine administrative tasks to perform, and all the policy decision have
been made within the White House. I think that's unfortunate.
HYDE: Mr. Clifford, on the same subject, would your comments also hold true
on the domestic area, the construction of a fairly large White House which
begins with Johnson under Califano and then extends to Nixon and the Domestic
Council? Would you feel also that this robs some of the departments azd
agencies of their policy input and perhaps significance?
CLIFFORD: Generally speaking, I would say yes. But I think it is not nearly
so acute or extreme as it is in the foreign policy and national security
WAYNE: You mean extreme in a sense of the way that it was done, or just doing
CLIFFORD: In both. Again, let me say that in the foreign policy and national
security fields, so much of that whole effort was drawn into the White
House. It left
very little for the rest of the Government to do.I think
that the functions of the Government that could have been used,were not
used, and I think that we lose something by that. I think that there is
a value to keeping the departments and agencies in a status of importance,
and I think that that was all changed, or has been changed these past years.
HYDE: You were on the other end of this in a way, were you not, in the Johnson
administration? Was it Mr. Rostow that was the Henry Kissinger of that
day, when you were Secretary of Defense?
CLIFFORD: Yes, to a certain extent that was so. I'll touch on that in a
minute. I was going to give a further answer to the question, and that is
that as far as domestic policy is concerned, I would feel the same way.I
think it's inadvisable to draw so much power into the White House. I think
that saps the strength of the Government. I feel less strongly about it
in the domestic field, for two reasons. One, a President perhaps needs more
centralization in domestic policy, because that's one phase of Government that
of Congress are so interested in, and there are other people so
interested in it. I think, to some extent the President's faced with domestic
issues so much and he has to pass that on to people. Also, I fee lthat
way because, for a second reason, the domestic policy operation was not
nearly so large in either the Johnson or the Nixon administrations,as
was the foreign policy operation within the White House. There were not
140 men handling domestic policy. Califano had a substantially larger staff
than existed in President Truman's day, or existed in President Eisenhower's day.
I don't have the feeling that there was a very large centralizationin
the Eisenhower administration, that is, pulling a lot of people in. There
was great centralization in putting the military staff concept into the
White House, which President Eisenhower did.
Now, getting on to your question, Mr. Hyde, about looking at the White House
operation from my standpoint when I was in the Defense Department.Ordinarily
speaking, the operation at that time, I felt, did not impinge too seriously
on the relationship between the Defense Department and the White House
because I had a very
long personal relationship and friendship with President
Johnson that went back 25 years. I can see however, if it had not been
for that kind of relationship, it's entirely possible that the Rostow operation
would have interfered with and would have impinged upon it. I don't know
how big his staff got, maybe it was 30 or 40 or 50,or something of that
kind. But I did not have the feeling that it was nearly as encompassing.
For instance, you had Dean Rusk in State, and although he and I differed on
some policy questions, I considered him to be a dedicated public servant,an
experienced man in his field. And he had quite a lot of influence with President
Johnson. So I don't believe that Rostow had too much to do with that relationship.
And certainly, he didn't interfere very much with the relationship that
I had with President Johnson. After a while, as far as Vietnam was concerned,
I knew how Rostow felt and he knew how I felt. We were at directly opposite
ends of the pole, and President Johnson had the benefit of hearing both
of us. For instance, President Johnson was too experienced to get my views
of Vietnam through Mr. Rostow, you see. That would have
been a curious
effort. It would have meant going through a considerable distortion, I
assure you. But we both had the opportunity to speak out at the time.
HYDE: On that point, Mr. Clifford, what was it, the Tuesday luncheons,the
famous luncheons where you met with the President, did that sort of equal
the way things worked in the Truman day? Is that what your remarks suggest
because of your personal relationships?
CLIFFORD: It was similar to a certain extent. The operation in the Truman administration
was a very informal one. Mr. Truman didn't have a tendency to institutionalize
as some Presidents do. Also, President Truman was avery personal, direct
man, and that carried through in his contacts with other people. If he
did not have confidence in an individual, if he did not feel comfortable
with an individual, he didn't see that person very much, and that person
would have considerable trouble getting his views before Mr. Truman. On
the other hand, if he was comfortable with a man and worked well with him,
and in the past had developed confidence, then he saw that individual and
he wanted to continue to see him. That's
one reason why I think the operation
around President Truman was kept within certain bounds. He didn't want
to bring a lot of people in; he didn't want to have to expand a whole lot
of contacts. That was up to the people on whom he depended. For instance,
he expected that we were in contact with a lot of the departments, that
that was our job to do, and that we wouldn't bring a lot of extra people
Now, the Tuesday luncheon was very valuable. That brought together the
Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff, the President's advisor on National Security, whether it was
Mac Bundy or Walt Rostow. Then sometimes a staff member like Harry McPherson
and the President's Press Secretary was there. You could speak with complete
freedom. Even Dean Rusk would speak with freedom there. Dean Rusk was very
concerned about speaking at larger meetings. I wasn't, because I didn't
care whether what I said leaked or not; it was all right with me if it
did, because we were engaged in those very important policy considerations.At
those Tuesday luncheons, the forthrightness and candor with which the men
very valuable. And the President could speak very freely at those
luncheons, so I think that that was fine. I'm disturbed at the trend of
these last years to draw so much of the Government operation and policy making
into the White House. I think that's inimical to the best interests of
HYDE: Mr. Clifford, I wonder if we could go back. Your comments about President
Truman interested me. Was President Truman actively involved in the programming
function that you have described? Did you get these proposals and then
make decisions on them and then approach him, or was he in on this at various
stages in the process?
CLIFFORD: I would say that it started at the staff level; this was our function.
We might meet in August with him, and we might have a genera lconversation--two,
or three, or four of us, in the White House. Then we would draw on the
departments and agencies of Government for ideas. They would come on in.
Most of them were of no significance at all. Most of them were self serving
efforts on the part of a department to get
something that they'd wanted
for quite a long time, and would be of no interest to the President. Much
of the material was of too minor significance. It seemed very important
to the department. It did not seem important at the White House level.
WAYNE: What would you do with that stuff?
CLIFFORD: We'd put it in the file, just leave it in the file. The important material
that came on through might come down to the point where Interior would
have two or three suggestions that we thought had Presidential significance. Agriculture
might have one or two; State usually had some more. There was more attention
given obviously to Treasury and tax matters, and economic matters. But
at least we felt that we had tapped knowledgeable, experienced people in
Government, and sometimes in that general request a real pearl would appear
that we had not found. It's like a diver searching around,and all of a
sudden, my God, there would be a pearl as big as a hen's egg that would
come up. In my opinion, that alone would justify this effort of searching
the departments and agencies of Government,
because there you tapped very
experienced men; you might not know their names. You never would have heard
of them before, and you never would hear of them again.
One interesting illustration of this is that at one time in one of these efforts,
an idea came over from the State Department, and it had to dowith a plan
by which the United States could take a more active part in developing
the so-called underdeveloped countries. Well, we weren't ready at that
particular stage for that; we had a good deal to go in the State of the
Union message. The President at that particular time had a legislative program
that was taking shape in his mind, and in the minds of all of us,but when
he was elected in 1948, after that unusual campaign and that exceedingly startling,
even shocking result, he said, "I want something broad and new and innovative,
and challenging for my inaugural address.
We were really combing our noggins for something that would be new and provocative.
Searching through material that we had, we came up with this idea, that
some fellow in the State Department had offered, whether it was a year
before or two years before, I
can't remember. We came across it, and we
called that fellow over. I have no idea what his name was, and he talked
to us more about it, and then we talked with him about it, and that became
Point IV in President Truman's inaugural address. That whole program became
known as the Point IV program, and got a lot of publicity at the time.
Unfortunately, it did not ever reach the point of usefulness that it could
have, and on that I might comment.
Here came up a bureaucratic struggle that you men might have some interest in.
Point IV created an enormous impact throughout the world. Here was President
Truman saying that the United States was going to address itself to assisting
in the economic improvement of many nations in the world.It could be done
cooperatively, it could be done from government to government,but what
he hoped most of all was that it could be done by a cooperation between
government and private business. It was unquestionably the highlight of
his inaugural address. Papers all over the world were filled with it.There
was a feeling of new hope and resuscitation. You see, this was not too
long after the war. The
Second World War ended in '45 and here this was
in January of '49.
WAYNE: I remember it clearly.
CLIFFORD: Right. Then the donnybrook started within the Government as to
how this was to be handled. I led a group within the White House who very
much wanted to create a separate agency. Call it whatever you will,but
it would have been responsible for the implementation of the Point IV concept.
The State Department said, "Oh, my, don't do that; this should be done
within the State Department." Now, mind you, the State Department had not
offered the plan. Therefore, from the standpoint of the State Department,it
could not have been very important because they had not thought of it.Well,
I knew that. That's the bureaucratic attitude. They didn't want somebody else
to take it on and make a lot out of it, because then that would in some
way impugn the dignity and the proper province of the State Department.We
really had a knock-down drag-out fight. Unfortunately, I lost that fight,and
it went into the State Department. They gave it to a fellow
who was Assistant
Secretary who had a lot of other duties. We were going to call in some
well-known--nationally and world-wide--business figure, and give him a
good, big staff and let him get business interested in it. State had a
different notion. Now, some fights we won and some we lost. We lost that
one, and it never realized the potential that it should have realized for
that reason. That may be a little off the track but it still was interesting in
considering the types of bureaucratic struggles that go on.
Just one comment before we leave the foreign police and national security development.
I believe in strong Cabinet officers. In the first place,if you bring
in top grade men, and, if they have responsibility and authority,they
will react well to it, and if you continue to give those men responsibility and
authority, you will continue to get good men. To me, one of the basic defects,
and I deplore it, in bringing so much power into the White House,is that
you cannot get top-flight men, I believe, to serve in Cabinet positions.Top-flight
men are not going to leave important positions in the country, whether
they are in business, whether they are in the academic world, whether they
in some other governmental phase of operation. You cannot get top-flight
men and have them come in and perform purely ministerial duties as heads
of departments. Now, you never would have this monstrosity in the White
House today, if you'd had a really strong Secretary of State.The only
reason that that existed, it seems to me, is because the President chose
to have it that way. I know Bill Rogers, and he's an awfully nice,decent
fellow, but this wasn't his field. He had not been in foreign policy before.
It just went on, and I think that the department was stripped gradually until
it almost became accustomed to it; it became a way of life, you see,over
the four years.
WAYNE: Maybe they've solved it now by this two-hatted operation.
CLIFFORD: I'm not sure. I'm concerned about the two-hatted operation.I
would much prefer the form that was used before. I would much prefer a
good, strong Secretary of State who could bring in top-grade people who would
give some feeling of significance to our
Foreign Service, which I think
has had such poor morale lately. I think that there should be a small intelligent
working staff to serve as liaison in the White House. But, good Lord, if
they're going to keep, I don't know what, 100 people over there, and if
Mr. Kissinger is going to, as he said, go to the White House first every
day and then go to the State Department, I believe that's nott the right
way to work. I don't find any difficulty in keeping a separation between
the White House and the various departments. I rather like that.I don't
want them to get too close. I don't want the White House to siphon off
the best people from the various departments. I'd rather take those 140
people out of the White House and put them on over in the State Department. Let
them work over there where they ought to work, and let there be a small staff,
whether it's five, or ten, or fifteen, whatever it takes. I think that's
WAYNE: Mr. Clifford, I wonder if we could just pause and turn off the tape.
CLIFFORD: By all means.
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List of Subjects Discussed
Bell, David, 6
Bureau of the Budget, and legislative program of the President, 5-6
Cabinet, President's, role of, 19
Califano, Joseph, 8, 10
in the Johnson administration, 9-14
as White House liaison with State and Defense departments, in
Truman administration, 6-7
Elsey, George, 6
Johnson, Lyndon B.:
and Clifford, Clark, 10-11
Tuesday luncheons, role of, 13-14
Kissinger, Henry, 6, 7, 21
Legislative program, executive departments, role of, 3-4
Legislative program, staffing of, under President Truman, 2-4, 14-17
Murphy, Charles S., 6
Point IV program, and jurisdiction of, 17-18
Rogers, William, 20
Rostow, Walter, 9, 11
Rusk, Dean, 11, 13
State of the Union address, preparation for, 5
Tuesday luncheons, in administration of Lyndon B. Johnson, 13-14
Truman, Harry S.:
legislative program, preparation of, 2-4, 14-17
personality of, 12
and staff, functions of, 12-13
U.S. Secretary of State, role of, comments on, 20-21
U.S. State Department, morale of, in Nixon administration, 7-8
Vietnam, U.S. intervention in, views on, 11-12
White House staff, trends in size of, 7-10
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