Max Friedersdorf was a special assistant to President Nixon. His oral history interview sets the scene for the dinners President Nixon hosted on the Sequoia.
In All The President's Men
, Woodward and Bernstein's book about the Watergate cover-up, the Washington Post reporters refer to Nixon's practice of serving wine aboard the Presidential yacht, the USS Sequoia. When he was entertaining senators from the South he instructed his wait staff in how the wine was to be served. Since the senators' predilection was for Bourbon, which they drank liberally before dinner, Nixon had the servers pour Mouton Cadet during the meal, since the senators' palates were already anesthetised by Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and Juleps. He was served from a bottle of Margaux 1966, which retailed for about $30.00; Mouton Cadet went for around $5.00 a bottle at the time.
Unfortunately, Friedersdorf wasn't asked how often Nixon served a lower value wine to his guest. But the events sound really special; guests were apparently thrilled to be invited and by the evening itself, and it's hard to imagine them carping about the difference in wines served to them and to the President. The interview makes clear that there were many of these dinners, and since Nixon would have paid for them either out of his entertainment budget, or his own pocket, it has always seemed to me he acted appropriately.
Ronald Reagan Oral History Project, Final Edited Transcript, Interview with Max Friedersdorf, October 24-25, 2002, Charlottesville, Virginia.
Furssell L. Riley, University of Virginia: Tell us about an evening on the Sequoia with Nixon, please.
Max Friedersdorf: Get into the war stories?
Riley: That's what we're here for. Tell us about a night on the presidential yacht with Nixon.
Friedersdorf: Well, we were trying to use every advantage we could. Things you do socially pay you back sometimes, and one of the assets we had was the presidential yacht. And President Nixon did not have any objection – he used it when he first came in, he would take foreign dignitaries. You go down, get on it south of Georgetown. You go down the river to Mt. Vernon. The White House stewards served a lovely dinner, candlelight, white table cloth, lobster tail, filet mignon, champagne, vodka tonic, all you want.
Riley: How many people were on –
Friedersdorf: It was a table – we called it the state dining room – I'd say you could sit probably twenty-two, twenty-four. You could walk around the back of the fantail, stewards were bringing out drinks and everything. Nice crisp evening. You go down to Mt. Vernon and stand there and look at old Mt. Vernon, have a few drinks, go in and have a candlelight dinner, bring your wife if you want to –
Riley: At Mt. Vernon? You get off?
Friedersdorf: No, on the boat. Then leisurely go back up the Potomac and dock at the pier up there, have White House limousines waiting to take them all home. Very impressive evening.
Friedersdorf: We'd bring the strolling strings along. There were four of them and they'd play whatever the Congressman or Senator – we did that, I can't tell you how many times, and it staved it off. You know, in retrospect those were all Band-Aids, but at the time, they were big deals. It probably was a foregone conclusion what happened, but members just really were very, very excited about being invited out there. Some of them were on the boat a number of times, and we'd go right down through the membership.
If they wanted to bring their wives, we'd get five or ten and the spouses. If we didn't get the wives, we'd go for a group that we knew their families weren't there with them. We'd keep the House members separate -- one night we'd do the Senate and then we would do the House. And the President didn't always go along, but sometimes we would get other Cabinet members to come along. Just an informal evening, very nice dinner, luxurious setting on the presidential yacht. Give them cufflinks when they got off, or a presidential pin.
http://webstorage1.mcpa.virginia.edu/li ... rf_max.pdf