A controversial issue that dogged Richard Nixon in his 1960 and 1962 political campaigns was a loan that one of magnate Howard Hughes' companies made to Nixon's brother, Donald. The loan was so that Donald could expand his business, and Nixon's mother, Hannah, put up a piece of her property as collateral. There were allegations that Nixon as Vice-President gave Howard Hughes governmental or political favors in exchange for the Hughes Tool Company's loan to Donald.
not believe that Nixon gave Hughes any governmental or political
favors, even though Aitken does acknowledge that Hughes may have been
making the loan in order to get more influence with Vice-President
Nixon. Aitken notes that Attorney General Robert Kennedy's
investigation into the matter uncovered no misdeeds on the part of the
Nixons. Aitken also states that the notion that Hughes gave Donald the
loan in exchange for favors from the government presumes that
Vice-President Nixon had more power over certain government offices than
he had. Aitken observes that the affair turned out to be a
catastrophe, since Donald failed in his businesses, so "the resulting
embarrassment all round destroyed any prospects for influence peddling"
(page 287). Moreover, Aitken appears to buy Richard Nixon's story that
he (Richard Nixon) was surprised by the loan and encouraged Donald (to
no avail) to give back the money.
Stephen Ambrose also gives Nixon the benefit of a doubt. As I said in this post about
volume 1 of Ambrose's biography of Nixon: "Another scandal concerned
Nixon’s brother Donald, who received money from business magnate Howard
Hughes when his (meaning Donald’s) restaurant was in trouble. There was
speculation that Hughes was doing this to get governmental favors from
Richard Nixon when he was Vice-President, but Ambrose, as he considers
Eisenhower Administration documents, sees no evidence for this."
have read other books that say differently. I think particularly of
the works of Fawn Brodie, Anthony Summers, and Don Fulsom. Brodie
refers to the account of Noah Dietrich, who was the executive
Vice-President of the Hughes Tool Company, and who related that Richard
Nixon requested help from Hughes through Washington lobbyist Frank
Waters. Dietrich told his story after he had become estranged from
Brodie states that the loan was made in a
roundabout way to hide Howard Hughes' name: it went from Dietrich to a
Canadian branch of the Hughes Tool Company to Waters, whose name would
be on the loan, and then the check was "made out to Hannah Nixon", who
"then loaned $165,000 to Donald and used the remaining $40,000 to pay
off a loan she had made jointly with him" (page 437 of Brodie's Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character).
Summers, and Fulsom all contend that Hughes may have gotten a
governmental favor in return for the loan. The Internal Revenue Service
had been denying Howard Hughes' request that the Howard Hughes Medical
Institute be tax exempt, but the IRS changed its mind a few months after
Donald Nixon received the loan. Fulsom's telling of the story calls
the Howard Hughes Medical Institute "Hughes's then shady 'medical
institute'" (page 87 of Nixon's Darkest Secrets).
actually goes a step farther than Brodie. Fulsom refers to people who
claim that the money didn't even go to Donald, but rather to Richard.
One of these people was C. Arnholt Smith, a friend of Nixon, and the
other was "veteran California reporter Frank McCullough" (page 162).
Smith said that he thought the loan was intended to help Richard Nixon
when Nixon was "a relatively poor man" (Smith's words, quoted on page
162), and Fulsom notes that Nixon soon thereafter put down $75,000 on a
new house in Washington, D.C., before he sold his "old home" (page
162). And McCullough said that Hughes himself told him that the money
was for Richard, not Donald, and that it had a political intent.
Incidentally, this sort of accusation was around in 1962, for Nixon
accused his opponents of claiming that he himself received some of the
money from the Hughes loan.
At the same time, Fulsom earlier in
the book states that Donald was an annoyance to Nixon on account of
Donald's mischief, such that Nixon as President "bugged Don's phones and
put a full-time Secret Service tail on him" (page 88). Does Fulsom see
the Hughes loan as an example of such embarrassing mischief, only later
in the book to entertain another possibility (that the loan was for
Richard, not Donald)?
One other issue that I want to mention: What
about the land that Hannah Nixon put up as collateral? Brodie calls it
a "vacant lot" (page 435), whereas Richard depicted Hannah as
sacrificing a piece of lucrative property, as putting up "practically
everything she had" (Nixon's words, quoted on page 300 of Aitken).
Obviously, Richard puts Hannah in more of a sympathetic light!