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Recordings of Presidential Conversations
The President's Letter to Senator Sam J. Ervin, Jr., Chairman, Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities. July 23, 1973
of disclosure and explanation of private Presidential records totally unrelated to Watergate, and highly confidential in nature. They are the clearest possible example of why Presidential documents must be kept confidential.
Accordingly, the tapes, which have been under solc personal control, will remain so. None has been transcribed or made public and none will be.
On May 22nd I described my knowledge of the Watergate matter and its aftermath in categorical and unambiguous terms that I know to be true. In my letter of July 6th, I informed you that at an appropriate time during the hearings I intend to address publicly the subjects you are considering. I still intend to do so and in a way that preserves the Constitutional principle of separation of powers, and thus serves the interests not just of the Congress or of the President, but of the people. Sincerely,
Dear Mr. Chairman:
I have considered your request that I permit the Committee to have access to tapes of my private conversations with a number of my closest aides. I have concluded that the principles stated in my letter to you of July 6th preclude me from complying with that request, and I shall not do so. Indeed the special nature of tape recordings of private conversations is such that these principles apply with even greater force to tapes of private Presidential conversations than to Presidential papers.
If release of the tapes would settle the central questions at issue in the Watergate inquiries, then their disclosure might serve a substantial public interest that would have to be weighed very heavily against the negatives of disclosure.
The fact is that the tapes would not finally settle the central issues before your Committee. Before their existence became publicly known, I personally listened to a number of them. The tapes are entirely consistent with what I know to be the truth and what I have stated to be the truth. However, as in any verbatim recording of informal conversations, they contain comments that persons with different perspectives and motivations would inevitably interpret in different ways. Furthermore, there are inseparably interspersed in them a great many very frank and very private comments, on a wide range of issues and individuals, wholly extraneous to the Committee's inquiry. Even more important, the tapes could be accurately understood or interpreted only by reference to an enormous number of other documents and tapes, so that to open them at all would begin an endless process
RICHARD NIXON [Honorable Sam J. Ervin, Jr., Chairman, Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, United States Senate, Washington, D.C. 20510]
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37-434 0.74 - 3
It continues to be true, as it was when I wrote you on Response to Subpoena of Recordings
July 6th, that my staff is under instructions to cooperare and Documents
fully with yours in furnishing information pertinent to
your inquiry. I have directed that executive privilege not The President's Letter to Senalor Sam ). Ervin, Jr.,
be invoked with regard to testimony by present and former Chairman, Senate Seleci Committee on Presidential
members of my staff concerning possible criminal conduct
or discussions of possible criminal conduct I have waived Campaign Activities. Dated July 25, 1973. Released July 26, 1973
the attorney-client privilege with regard to my former
Counsel. In my July 6th letter I described those acis of Dear Mr. Chairman:
cooperation with the Select Committee as "genuine, exWhite House Counsel have received on my behalf the tensive and, in the history of such matters, extraordinary.” two subpoenas issued by you, on behalf of the Select That cooperation has continued and it will continue. Committee, on July 23rd.
Executive privilege is being invoked only with regard to One of these calls on me to furnish to the Select Com- documents and recordings that cannot be made public mittee recordings of five meetings between Mr. John Dean consistent with the confidentiality essential to the funcand myself. For the reasons stated to you in
tioning of the Office of the President letters of
my July 6th and July 23rd, I must respectfully refuse to
I cannot and will not consent to giving any investigaproduce those recordings.
tory body private Prosidential papers. To the extent that The other subpoena calls on me to furnish all records I have custody of other documents or information relevant of any kind relating directly or indirectly to the “activities, to the work of the Select Committee and that can properly participation, responsibilities or involvement of 25 be made public, I will be glad to make these available in named individuals "in any alleged criminal acts related response to specific requesis. to the Presidential election of 1972.” Some of the records
Sincerely, that might arguably fit within that subpoena are Presi
RICHARD Nosox dential papers that must be kept confidential for reasons (Honorable Sam J. Ervin, Jr., Chairman, Select Connittee on stated in my letter of July 6th. It is quite possible that Presidential Campaiga Activities, Uniied Scales Seaate, Wasbing
ton, D.C. 20510) there are other records in my custody that would be within the ambit of that subpoena and that I could, consistent with the public interest and my Constitutional responsibilities, provide to the Select Committee. All specific requests from the Select Committee will be carefully considered and my staff and I, as we have done in the past, will cooperate with the Select Committee by making available any information and documents that can appropriately be produced. You will understand, however, I am sure, that it would simply not be feasible for my staff and me to review thousands of documents to decide which do and which do not fit within the sweeping bul vague terms of the subpoena.
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Response to Subpoena of Recordings and Documents
The President's Letter to Chiel Judge John ). Sirica,
Dear Judge Sirica:
White House Counsel have received on my behalf a subpoena duces tecum issued out of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on July 23rd at the request of Archibald Cox. The subpoena calls on me to produce for a Grand Jury certain tape recordings as well as certain specified documents. With the utmost respect for the court of which you are Chief Judge, and for the branch of government of which it is a part, I must decline to obey the command of that subpoena. In doing so I follow the example of a long line of my predecessors as President of the United States who have consistently adhered to the position that the President is not subject to compulsory process from the courts.
The independence of the three branches of our govemment is at the very heart of our Constitutional system. It would be wholly inadmissible for the President to seek to compel some particular action by the courts. It is equally inadmissible for the courts to seek to compel some particular action from the President.
That the President is not subject to compulsory process from the other branches of government does not mean, of course, that all information in the custody of the President must forever remain unavailable to the courts. Like all of my predecessors, I have always made relevant material available to the courts except in those rare instances when to do so would be inconsistent with the public interest. The principle that guides my actions in this regard was well stated by Attorney General Speed in 1865:
Upon principles of public policy there are some kinds of evidence which the law excludes or dispenses with- # The official transactions between the heads of departments of the Government and their subordinate officers are, in general, treated as "privileged communications.” The President of the United States, the heads of the great departments of the Government, and the Governors of the several States, it has been decided, are not bound to produce papers or disclose information communicated to them where, in their own judgment, the disclosure would, on public considerations, be inexpedient. These are familiar rules laid down by every author on the law of evidence.
A similar principle has been stated by many other Attorneys General, it has been recognized by the courts, and it has been acted upon by many Presidents.
In the light of that principle, I am voluntarily transmitting for the use of the Grand Jury the memorandum from W. Richard Howard to Bruce Kehrli in which they are interested as well as the described memoranda from Gordon Strachan to H. R. Haldeman. I have concluded, however, that it would be inconsistent with the public interest and with the Constitutional position of the Presidency to make available recordings of meetings and telephone conversations in which I was a participant and I must respectfully decline to do so. Sincerely,
RICHARD Nixon (Honorable John J. Sirica, U.S. Court House, 3rd and Constitution Avenue, N.W., Room 2428, Washington, D.C. 200011 (cc: Honorable Archibald Cox, Special Prosecutor]
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THE WATERGATE INVESTIGATION
The President's Address lo the Nation. August 15, 1973
Now that most of the major witnesses in the Watergate phase of the Scnate Committee hearings on campaign practices have been heard, the time has come for me to speak out about the charges made and to provide a perspective on the issue for the American people.
For over 4 months, Watergate has dominated the news media. During the past 3 months, the three major networks have devoted an average of over 22 hours of television time each week to this subject. The Senate committee has heard over 2 million words of testimony.
This investigation began as an effort to discover the facts about the break-in and bugging of the Democratic National Headquarters and other campaign abuses.
But as the weeks have gone by, it has become clear that both the hearings themselves and some of the commentaries on them have become increasingly absorbed in an effort to implicate the President personally in the illegal activities that took place.
Because the abuses occurred during my Administration, and in the campaign for my re-election, I accept full responsibility for them. I regret that these events took place, and I do not question the right of a Senate committee to investigate charges made against the Presideilt to the extent that this is relevant to legislative duties.
However, it is my Constitutional responsibility to defend the integrity of this great office against false charges. I also believe that it is important to address the overriding question of what we as a nation can leam from this experience and what we should now do. I intend to discuss both of these subjects tonight.
The record of the Senate hearings is lengthy. The facts are complicated, the evidence conficting. It would not be right for me to try to sort out the evidence, to rebut specific witnesses, or to pronounce my own judgments about their credibility. That is for the committee and for the courts.
I shall not attempt to deal tonight with the various charges in detail. Rather, I shall attempt to put the events in perspective from the standpoint of the Presidency.
On May 22, before the major witnesses had testified, I issued a detailed statement addressing the charges that had been made against the President.
I have today issued another written statement, which addresses the charges that have been made since then as they relate to my own conduct, and which describes the efforts that I made to discover the facts about the matter.
On May 22, I stated in very specific terms-and I state again to every one of you listening tonight these facts—I had no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in; I neither took part in nor knew about any of the subsequent coverup activities; I neither authorized nor encouraged subordinates to engage in illegal or improper campaign tactics.
That was and that is the simple truth.
In all of the millions of words of testimony, there is not the slightest suggestion that I had any knowledge of the planning for the Watergate break-in. As for the coverup, my statement has been challenged by only one of the 35 witnesses who appeared-a witness who offered no evidence beyond his own impressions, and whose testimony has been contradicted by every other witness in a position to know the facts.
Tonight, let me explain to you what I did about Watergate after the break-in occurred, so that you can better understand the fact that I also had no knowledge of the so-called coverup.
From the time when the break-in occurred, I pressed repeatedly to know the facts, and particularly whether there was any involvement of anyone in the White House. I considered two things essential:
First, that the investigation should be thorough and aboveboard; and second, that if there were any higher involvement, we should get the facts out first. As I said at my August 29 press conference last year, “What really hurts in matters of this sort is not the fact that they occur, because overzealous people in campaigns do things that are wrong. What really hurts is if you try to cover it up." I believed that then, and certainly the experience of this last year has proved that to be true.