Nixon used mood-altering prescription drug in office, book says

Sunday, August 27th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON – President Richard Nixon medicated himself with a mood-altering prescription drug in the White House and, depressed by hostile public reaction to the bombing of Cambodia in 1970, consulted a New York psychotherapist who considered him "neurotic," according to a biography to be released Monday.

Moreover, concern about Nixon's mental state in 1974 led Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger to order all military units not to react to orders from "the White House" unless they were cleared with him or the secretary of state, Anthony Summers writes in The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon.

Mr. Schlesinger confirmed the account in an interview Friday and said that the book contained the most complete and accurate account of his actions, which had been previously reported in more general terms. The book quotes him as saying: "I am proud of my role in protecting the integrity of the chain of command. You could say it was synonymous with protecting the Constitution." He said Friday that the quote accurately described his feelings.

The book reports that the prescription drug Dilantin was given to Nixon in 1968 by Jack Dreyfus, the founder of the Dreyfus Fund and an enthusiastic promoter and user of the drug, after Mr. Dreyfus had dinner with Nixon and friends in Florida.

Confirming the account, Mr. Dreyfus said in an interview that the drug is effective for "fear, worry, guilt, panic, anger and related emotions, irritability, rage, mood, depression, violent behavior, hyperglycemia, alcohol, anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, cardiac arrhythmia, muscular disorders."

Mr. Dreyfus said he gave Nixon 1,000 capsules of 100 milligrams each for "when his mood wasn't too good." He said Nixon scoffed when he said they should be prescribed by a doctor, and he later gave the president 1,000 more capsules. In the book, Mr. Dreyfus says Nixon told him: "To heck with the doctor."

Dr. Richard A. Friedman, director of the psychopharmacology clinic at Cornell University medical school, said Thursday that Dilantin was properly used to prevent convulsions but has been discredited for psychiatric use. He said that it could be used to prevent anxiety, but that other drugs were better.

Dilantin has "potentially very serious side effect risks, like change of mental status, person becoming confused, loss of memory, irritability, definitely could have an effect on cognitive function," Dr. Friedman said.

Nixon's pre-presidency treatments by Dr. Arnold A. Hutschnecker have been reported. But Nixon aides and allies steadfastly denied that he was treated once he became president.

Robbyn Swan, Mr. Summers' wife and collaborator, said that Dr. Hutschnecker had indicated, in interviews in 1995 and 1997, that he had rarely seen Nixon while he was president. But they maintained contact, apparently by telephone.

Speaking from their home in Ireland, she played a recording of an interview with Dr. Hutschnecker, in which he said of Nixon: "He didn't have a serious psychiatric diagnosis. He wasn't psychotic. He had no pathology, but he had ... neurotic symptoms: anxiety" and sleeplessness.

Dr. Hutschnecker, who is 102 and lives in Sherman, Conn., declined to be interviewed Friday. Juan Gonzales, who was caring for Dr. Hutschnecker, said the doctor would not give interviews and "could hardly speak."

The Arrogance of Power, which Viking will publish and sell for $29.95, is generally hostile to Nixon.

It restates, with much new detail, the accusation that Nixon's 1968 campaign sought to persuade President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam not to agree to President Lyndon Johnson's pleas for South Vietnam to join peace talks in Paris.

In particular, Mr. Summers, an Irish journalist, cites a transcript of a wiretap recording of South Vietnam's ambassador to Washington, Bui Diem. The transcript, released to Mr. Summers by the FBI, reported that "Mrs. Anna Chennault contacted [Mr. Diem] ... and advised that she had received a message from her boss (not further identified), which her boss wanted her to give personally to the ambassador.

"She said that message was that the ambassador is to 'hold on, we are gonna win' and that her boss also said 'hold on, he understands all of it.' ... She advised that her boss had just called from New Mexico."

On that day, Nov. 2, 1968, Spiro T. Agnew, the vice presidential candidate, was in Albuquerque, N.M. Mr. Summers, citing declassified White House documents, suggests that Agnew telephoned Mrs. Chennault, a well-connected Washington hostess and the widow of Claire Lee Chennault, commander of the Flying Tigers in China.

Mr. Summers concludes, "Nixon's running mate acted for no one but Nixon." He also reports that Mrs. Chennault told the ambassador's secretary after the election that she had talked to Nixon about her role.