Kissinger: “The Illegal We Do Immediately; The Unconstitutional Takes A Little Longer.”
by William F. Jasper
A just-released transcript of a meeting between Henry Kissinger and a Turkish Foreign Minister 35 years ago provides a bombshell quote that will go a long way toward solidifying the former Secretary of State’s reputation as one of the most Machiavellian insiders of American politics and diplomacy in the 20th century.
During a secret meeting on March 10, 1975 in the Turkish Capital of Ankara with Mehli Esenbel, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Kissinger, then Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, told Esenbel:
Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, “The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.” [laughter] But since the Freedom of Information Act, I’m afraid to say things like that.
Ironically, it was a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that finally pried loose the transcripts of the meeting, albeit three and a half decades later. The transcripts were posted November 5 on the website of the National Security Archive, a research institute and library located at the George Washington University.
The Turkey-Cyprus Context
Henry Kissinger’s statement occurs during the tense period in which Congress had embargoed aid to Turkey. Kissinger is telling Esenbel that he and President Ford disagree with the congressional action and will continue trying to change minds in the House and Senate, but notes that a congressional reversal in the near future doesn’t look very hopeful. Foreign Minister Esenbel suggests that Kissinger might circumvent the embargo by helping arrange for European governments to transfer U.S. military equipment to Turkey. United States Ambassador to Turkey William Macomber, who was also at the meeting, cautions that such interference would be illegal, which sparks the scofflaw quote from Kissinger. Here is the immediate context of the quote:
Esenbel: The Europeans should find ways to meet quick needs; for example, the Air Force needs spare parts. For other items that they can’t find in the stocks, maybe you could make a deal with the Dutch or others to send it here.
Macomber: That is illegal
Kissinger: Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, “The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.” [laughter] But since the Freedom of Information Act, I’m afraid to say things like that.
We’ll make a major effort.