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Diplomatic history: Nixon called ambassadors ‘eunuchs’

When President Nixon gave testimony to a grand jury in the summer of 1975, he had already been pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford, for any crimes he might have committed while serving in the White House. So the purpose of his sit-down with federal lawyers onMonday, June 23, 1975, was for the disgraced former president to speak frankly about what he knew. Among the topics of interest to federal lawyers was whether Nixon or his aides had ever offered ambassadorships to campaign donors in exchange for cash. When questioned about the topic, an indignant Nixon rambled candidly. “Major posts” to countries such as France, Britain and Japan were considered priorities in the Nixon White House, while posts to smaller countries were not important enough for the president to get personally involved in the selection process, he said. “As far as other ambassadorial assignments were concerned, ambassador to Luxembourg or El Salvador or Trinidad, et cetera, it was not vitally important, as far as the national interest was concerned, to have in that post an individual whose qualifications were extraordinary,” he said. In some cases, Nixon said, those posts went to campaign contributors. That’s how it had always been done. “I would say, looking at the smaller countries likeLuxembourg, that Perle Mesta wasn’t sent toLuxembourgbecause she had big bosoms,” he said, referring to the socialite whom President Truman made ambassador toLuxembourg. “Perle Mesta went toLuxembourgbecause she made a good contribution.” “But may I say she was a very good ambassador inLuxembourg,” he continued. “And when you talk about selling ambassadorships, I don’t want the record of this grand jury even to indicate that people of wealth, because they do make contributions, therefore should be barred from being ambassadors.” No, Nixon felt that “some of the very best ambassadors we have been non-career ambassadors who have made substantial contributions.” “As far as career ambassadors, most of them are a bunch of eunuchs,” he said. “And I don’t mean that in a physical sense, but I meant it in an emotional sense, in a mental sense. They aren’t for the American free enterprise system.” Nixon’s frankness continued throughout the discussion. He referred to the island nation ofSri Lanka, then known asCeylon, as a “God-awful place” and again called State Department employees “emotional eunuchs.”