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THE PRESIDENT'S NEWS CONFERENCE OF
AUGUST 22, 1973
2. Mr. President, on Watergate, you have said that disclosure of the tapes could jeopardize and cripple the functions of the Presidency. Question: If disclosure carries such a risk, why did you make the tapes in the first place, and what is your reaction to surveys that show three out of four Americans believe you were wrong to make the tapes?
Tire PRESIDENT. Weil, with regard to the questions as 20 why .\mericans feel we were wrong to make the tapes, that is not particularly surprising. I think that most Americans do not like the idea of the taping of conversations, and frankly, it is not something that particularly appeals to ine.
As a matter of fact, that is why, when I arrived in the White House and saw this rather complex situation set up where there was a taping capacity, not only in the President's office, the room outside of his office, but also in the Cabinet Room, and at Camp David, and in other areas that I had the entire system dismantled.
It was put into place again in June of 1970 (1971) because my advisers felt it was important in terms particularly of national security affairs to have a record for future years that would be an accurate one, but a record which would only be disclosed at the discretion of the President, or according to directives that he would set forth.
As you know, of course, this kind of capability not only existed during the Johnson Administration, it also existed in the Kennedy Administration, and I can see why both President Johnson and President Kennedy did have the capability because--not because they wanted to infringe upon the privacy of anybody, but because they felt that they had some cbligation, particularly in the field of foreign policy and some domestic areas, to have a record that would be accurate.
As far as I am concerned, we now do not have that capability, and I am just as happy that we don't. As a matter of fact, I have a practice, whenever I am not too tired at night, of dictating my own recollections of the day. I think that perhaps will be the more accurate record of history in the end.
I think we go to the UP now, and then we will come to the television.
Q. Mr. President, on July 6, 1972, you were warned by Patrick Gray that you were being mortally wounded by some of your top aides. Can you explain why you did not ask who they were, why, what was going on?
Tue President. Well, in the telephone conversation that you
refer to that has been, of course, quite widely reported in the press, as well as on television, Mr. Gray said that he was concerned that as far as the investigation that he had responsibility for, that some of my top aides were not cooperating
Whether the term was used as “mortally wounded” or not, I don't know. Some believe that it was, some believe that it was not, that is irrelevant. He could have said that.
The main point was, however, I asked himn whether or not he had discussed this matter with General Walters because I knew that there had been meetings between General Walters, representing the CIA, to be sure that the CI.\cd no: become involved in the investigation, and beinern the Director of the FBI.
lle siid thirt he had. He told me thalt General laliers agreed that the investigation should be pursued, and I told him to go forward winnfell press on the investigation to which he hils so testified.
It seemed to me that with that kind of a directive to Mr. Gray, that that was adequate for the purpose oi carrying out the responsibilities.
As far as the individuals were concerned, I Lume that the individuals that he was referring to involved this operation with the CIA. That is why I asked him the Walters question. When he cleared that up, he went forward with the investigation, and he must have thought it was a very good investigation because when I sent his name down to the Senate for confirmation the next year, I asked him about his investigation. He said he wils very proud of it. He said it was the most thorough invatigation that had ever taken place since the assawination of President Kennedy, that he could defend it with enchu. siasm, and that under the circumstances, therefore, he had carried out the directive that I had given him on July 6.
So, there was no question about Mr. Gray having direct orders from the President to carry out an investigation that was thorough.
Q. Mr. President, Assistant Attorney General Henry Petersen has testified that on April 15. of this year he met with you and wamed you at that time there right he enough evidence to warrant indictments against three of your top aides, Messrs. Ehrlichman, Haldeman, and Dean. You accepted their resignations on April 30, calling Mr. Haldeman and Mr. Ehrlichman two of the finest public servants you had known. After that you permitted Vir. Haldeman, after he had left the White House, to hear confidential tapes of conversations you
had had in pour office with Mr. Dean. My question is, why did you permit a man who you knew might be indicted to hear those tapes which you now will not permit the American public or the Federal prosecutors handling the case to listen to?
THE PRESIDENT. The only tape that has been referred to, that Mr. Haldeman has listened to, he listened to at my request, and he listened to that tape-that wils the one on September 15, Mr. Jarriel-because he had been present and was there. I asked him to listen to it in order to be sure that as far as any allegations that had been made by Mr. Dean with regard to that conversation is concerned, I wanted to be sure that we were absolutely correct in our response. That is all he listened to. He did not listen to any tapes in which only Mr. Dean and I participated. He listened only to the tape on September 15— this is after he left office-in which he had participated in the conversation throughout.
Q. Mr. President, one of the lingering doubts alon! your denial of any involvement is concerning your failure to make the tapes availa:le cither to the Senate committee or the Special Prosciutor. You have made it perfectly clear you don't intend to release those tapes.
THE PRESIDEXT. Perfectly clear?
Q. Perfectly clear. But is there any way that you could have some group listen to tapos iind give a report so thal that might satisfy the public mind?
1!1E PRESIDENT. I Cori't believe, first, it would satisky the public mind, and it should not. The second point is that as Mr. Wright, who argued the case, I understand very well, before Judge Sirica this morning, has indicated, to have the tapes listened to-he indicated this also in his brief-either by a prosecutor or by a judge or in camera, or in any way, would violate the principle of confidentiality, and I believe he is correct. That is why we are standing firm on the proposition that we will not agree to the Senate committee's desire to have, for example, its chief investigator listen to the tapes, or the Special Prosecutor's desire to hear the tapes, and also why we will oppose, as Mr. Wright did in his argument this morning, any compromise of the principle of confidentiality.
Let me explain very carefully that the principle of confidentiality either exists or it does not exist. Once it is compromised, once it is known that a conversation that is held with the President can be subject to a subpoena by a Senate committee, hy a grand jury, by a prosecutor, and be listened to by anyone, the principle of confidentiality is thereby irreparably damaged. Incidentally, let me say that now that tapes are no longer being made, I suppose it could be argued that, what difference does it make now, now that these tapes are also in the past. What is involved here is not only the tapes; what is involved,
ladies and gentlemen well know, is the request on the part of the Senate committee and the Special Prosecutor, as well, that we turn over Presidential papers, in other words, the records of conversations with the President made by his associates. Those papers, and the tapes as well, cannot be turned over without breaching the principle of confidentiality. It was President Truman that made that argument very effectively in his letter to a Senate committee, or his response to a Congressional committee, a House committee it was, in 1953, when they asked him to turn over his papers. So whether it is a paper or whether it is a tape, what we have to bear in mind is that for a President to conduct the affairs of this office and conduct them effectively, he must be able to do so with the principle of confidentiality intact. Otherwise, the individuals who come to talk to him, whether it is his advisers, or whether it is a visitor in the domestic field, or whether it is someone in a foreign field, will always be speaking in a cunuch-like way, rather than laying it on the line as it has to be laid on the line if you are going to have the creative kind of discussion that we have often had, and it has been responsible for some of our successes in the foreign policy period, particularly in the past few years.
Q. Mr. President, could you tell us who you personally talked to in directing that investigations be made both in Junc of '72, shortly after the Watergate incident, and last March 21, when you got new evidence and ordered a more intensive investigation?
TIE PRESIDENT. Certainly. In June, I, of course, talk:id to l?r. MacGregor first of all, who will the new churman of the commillee. llc told me that he would conclurt a thorough investigation as far as his entire comiiiree staff was concerned. Apparently that inves.igation was very effective except for Mr. Magruder, who stayed on. But Mr. MacGregor does not have lo assurne responsibility for that. I say not responsibility for it because ba. sically what happened there was that he believed Mr. llagruder, and many others have believed him, luo. He proved, however, to be wrong.
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In the White House, the investigation's responsibility was given to Mr. Ehrlichman at the highest level, and in turn he delegated them to Mr. Dean, the White House Counsel, something of which I was aware, and of which I approved.
Mr. Dean, as White House Counsel, therefore sat in on the FBI interrogations of the members of the White House Staff because what I wanted to know was whether any member of the White House Staff was in any way involved. If he was involved, he would be fired. And when we met on September 15, and again throughout our discussions in the month of March, Mr. Dean insisted that there was not-and I use his words"a scintilla of evidence” indicating that anyone on the White House Staff was involved in the planning of the Watergate break-in.
Now, in terms of after March 21, Mr. Dean first was given the responsibility to write his own report, hut I did not rest it there. I also had a contact made with the Autorney General himself, Attorney General Kleindienst, told him it was on the 27th of March-to report to me directly anything that he fourd in this particular area, and I gave the responsibility to Mr. Ehrlichman on the 29th of March to continue the investigation that Ir. Dean was unable to conclude, having spent a week at Camp David and unable to finish the report.
Mr. Ehrlichman questioned a number of people in that period at my direction, including Mr. Mitchell, and I should also point out that as far as my own activities were concerned, I was not leaving it just to them. I met at great length with Mr. Ehrlichman, Mr. Haldeman, Mr. Dean and Mr. Mitchell on the 22d. I discussed the whole matter with them. I kept pressing for the view that I had had throughout, that we must get this story out, get the truth out, whatever and whoever it is going to hurt, and it was there that Mr. Witchell suggesied that all the individuals involved in the White House appear in an executive session before the Ervin committee. We never got that far, but at least that is an indication of the extent of niy own investigation
Q. Mr. President, you have said repeatedly that you tried to get all the facts, and just now you mentioned the March 22 inceting. Yet former Attorney General John Mitchell said that if you had ever asked him at any time about the Watergate natter, he would have told you the whole story, chaprer and verse. Was Wr. liichell not speaking the truth when he said that before the committee?
The PEFSIDENT. Vow, Ir. Lisagor, I am not going to question. Mr. Mitchell's veracity; and I will only ay that throughout the confidence in Ir. Mitchell. Jr. litch
cll. lit. lciephone call that I had with him immediately after it occurred, expressed yreat chagrin that he had not run a tight enough shop, and that some of the boys, as he called them, got involved in this kind of activity, which he knew to be very, very einbarrassing, apart from its illegality, to th: campaign. Throughout I would have expected Mr. liichell to tell me in the event that he was involved or that anybody else was. He did not tell me. I don't blame him for not telling me. He has given his reasons for not telling nie. I regret that he did not, because he is exactly right. Had he told me, I would have blown my stack, just as I did at Ziegler the other day. (Laughter]
Q. Mr. President, I wonder, sir, how much personal blame, to what degree of personal blame do you accept for the climate in the White House, and at the reelection committee, for the abuses of Watergate?
THE PRESIDENT. I accept it all.
Q. Mr. President, I want to state this question with due respect to your office, but also as directly as possible.
THE PRESIDENT. That would be unusual. (Laughter] Q. I would like to think not. It concerns
THE PRESIDENT. You are always respectful, Mr. Rather. You know that.
Q. Thank you, Mr. President. It concerns the events surrounding Mr. Ehrlichman's contact, and on one occa
own contact with the judge in the Pentagon Papers case, Judge Byrne.
The President. Yes.
Q. Is I understand your own explanation of events and putting together your statement with Mr. Ehrlichman's testimony, and what Judge Byrne has said, what happened here is that sometime late in March, March 17, I believe you said, you first found out about the break-in at the psychiatrist's office of Mr. Ellsberg, that you asked to have that looked into, and that you later, I think in late April, instructed Attorney General Kleindienst to inform the judge.
Now, my question is this. If while the Pentagon Papers trial was going on, Mr. Ehrlichman secretly met once with the judge in that case, you secretly met another time the judge with Mr. Ehrlichman. Now, you are a lawyer, and given the state of the situation and what you knew, could you give us some reason why the American people should not believe that that was at least a subtle attempt to bribe the judge in that case, and it gave at least the appearance of a lack of moral leadership?
THE PRESIDEXT. Well, I would say the only part of your statement that is perhaps accurate is that I am a las yer. Now, beyond that, Mr. Rather, let me say that with regard to the secret meeting that we had with the judge, as he said, I met with the judge briefly--after all, I had appointed him to the position--I met him (or perhaps one niinuic olitside my door here in full view of the whok White House Siali, and everylody clse who wanted bo vc. Izsked him how lieliked his jobs, we did not discuss thic Cilie, illld he went on for his meeting with Mr. Elirli hili.l!l.
Now, why did the icering with Mr. Ehrlichman take placc? Because we had determined that Mr. Gray could not be confirmed, is you will recall. We were on a search for a Director of the FBI. Mr. Kleindienst had been here, and I asked him what he would recommend with regard to a Director, and I laid down certain qualifications.
I said I wanted a man preferably with FBI experience, and preferably with prosecutor's experience, and preferahly, if possible, a Democrat so that we would have no problem on confirmation. He said, “The man for the job is Byrne.” He said, "He is the best man." I said, "Would you recommend him?" He said, “Yes.”
Under those circumstances then, Mr. Ehrlichman called Mr. Byrne. He said: Under no circumstances will we talk to you-he, Ehrlichman, will talk to you if he felt that it would in any way compromise his handling of the Ellsberg case.
Judge Byrne made the decision that he would talk to Mr. Ehrlichman, and he did talk to him privately, here. And on that occasion, he talked to him privately, the case was not discussed at all only the question of whether or not, at the conclusion of this case, Mr. Byme would like to be considered as Director of the FBI.
I understand, incidentally, that he told Mr. Ehrlichman that he would be interested. Of course, the way the things broke eventually, we found another name with somewhat the same qualifications, although, in this case, not a judge. In this case, a chief of police with former FBI experience.
Now, with regard to the Ellsberg break-in, let me explain that in terms of that, I discussed that on the telephone with Mr. Henry Petersen on the 18th of April. It was on the 18th of April that I learned that the grand jury was going away from some of its Watergate investigation and moving into national security areas.
I told Mr. Petersen at that time about my concern about the security areas, and particularly about the break-in as far as the Ellsberg case is concerned.
And then he asked me a very critical question, which you, as a nonlawyer will now understand, and lawyers probably will, too. He said, “Was any evidence developed out of this investigation, out of this break-in?" And I said, “No, it was a dry hole.” He said, "Good.”
Now, what he meant by that was that in view of the fact that no evidence was developed as a result of the break-in-which is, incidentally, illegal, unauthorized, as far as I was concerned, and completely deplorable-but since no evidence was developed, there was no requirement that it be presented to the jury that was hearing the case. That was why Mr. Peaerin, a man of impeccable credentials in the law en Occident field, did not, at that time on the 18th, at a ti:nechu! I told him what I had known about the Ellshers break-in, say, “L.ct's present it then to the grand jury;" because nothing had been accomplisired, nothing had been obtained that would caint the case.
It was approximately 10 days later that Mr. Kleindienst cune in auszid that, after it review of the situation in the pruseruivr's office in Hlashington, in which Jr. Pereren 1:.:: sc participated, that they believed that it was best thirt we hond over backwards in this case and send this record of the Ellsberg break-in, even though there was no evidence obtained from it that could have affected the jury one way or another, send it to the judge.
When they made that recommendation to me, I directed that it be done, instantly. It was done. Incidentally, the prosecutor argued this case just the way that I have argued it to you, and whether or not it had an effect on the eventual outcome, I do not know.
At least, as far as we know, Mr. Ellsberg went free, this being one of the factors, but that is the explanation of what happened and, obviously, you, in your commentary tonight, can attach anything you want to it.
I hope you will be just as fair and objective as I try to be in giving you the answer.
* * * * * * * *
Q. Mr. President, at any time during the Watergate crisis did you ever consider resigning and would you consider resigning if you felt that your capacity to govern bad been seriously weakened, and in that connection how much do you think your capacity to govern has been weakened?
THE PRESIDE.ST. The answer to the first two questions is no, the answer to the third question is that it is true that as far as the capacity to govern is concerned that to be under a constant barrage-12 to 15 minutes a night on each of the three major networks for 4 months tends to raise some questions in the people's mind with regard to the President, and it may raise some questions with regard to the capacity to govern. But I also know this. I was elected to do a job. Watergate is an episode that I deeply deplore, and had I been running the campaign rather than trying to run the country and particularly the foreign policy of this country at this time it would never have happened, but that is water under the bridge, it is gone The point that I make now is that we are proceeding as best we know how to get all those guilty brought to justice in Watergate. But now we must move on from Watergate to the business of the people, and the business of the people is continuing with initiatives we began in the first Administration.
Q. Mr. President.
We have had 30 minutes of this press conference. I have yet to have, for example, one question on the business of the people, which shows you how we are consumed with this. I ani noi criticizing the members of the press because you naturally are very interested in this issue, hut lei me Ic!l you years from now people are going to perhaps be interested in what happened in terms of the cfforts of the United States to build a structure of peace in the world. They are perhaps going to be interested in the cfforts of this luminisiration to have a kind of prosperity that we have 11. hd since 1955 --that is, prosperity without war and wiiluut inflation--because throughout the Kennedy years and throughout the Johnson years whatever prosperity we had was at the cost of either inflation or war or boih. I don't say that critically of them, I am simply saying we have got to do better than that.
Now our goal is to move forward then, to move forward to build a structure of peace. And when you say, do I consider resigning, the answer is no, I shall not resign. I have 3/2 years to go or almost 3/2 years, and I am going to use every day of those 3/2 years trying to get the people of the United States to recognize that whatever mistakes we have made that in the long run this Administration by making this world safer for their children and this Administration by making their lives better at home for themselves and their children deserves high marks rather than low marks. Now whether I succeed or not, we can judge then.
Q. Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT. We always have to have Mr. Deakin for one.
Q. As long as we are on the subject of the American tradition and following up Mr. Rather's question, what was authorized, even if the burglary of Dr. Fielding's office was not, what was authorized was the 1970 plan which by your own description permitted illegal acts, illegal breaking and entering, mail surveillance and the like.
Now under the Constitution you swore an oath to execute the laws of the United States faithfully. If you were serving in Congress, would you not be considering impeachment proceedings and discussing impeachment possibility against an elected public official who had violated his oath of office?
THE PRESIDENT. I would if I had violated the oath of office. I would also, however, refer you to the recent decision of the Supreme Court or at least an opinion that even last year which indicates inherent power in the Presidency to protect the national security in cases like this. I should also point out to you that in the 3 Kennedy years and the 3 Johnson years through 1966, when burglarizing of this type did take place, when it was authorized on a very large scale, there was no talk of impeachment and it was quite well known.
I shall also point out that when you ladies and gentlemen indicate your great interest in wiretaps, and I understand that, that the height of the wiretaps was when Robert Kennedy was Attorney General in 1963. I don't criticize it, however. He had over 250 in 1963, and of course the average in the Eisenhower Administration and the Nixon Administration is about 110. But if he had had ten more and as a result of wiretaps had been able to discover the Oswald plan, it would have been worth it.
So I will ge; to aiiother question.
Q. Mr. President, do you still consider Haldeman and Ehrlichman two of the finest public servants you have ever known?
Tuf. PRESIDENT. I certainly c!u. I look upon public servants as men who have got to be judged by their entire record, not by simply parts of it. Wr. Ehrlichman and Jr. Haldeman, for 41/2 years, have served with great distinction, with great dedication, and like everybody in this deplorable Watergate business, at great personal sacrifice and with no personal gain.
We adınit the scandalous conduct. Thank God there has been no personal gain involved. That would be going much too far, I suppose.
But the point that I make with regard to Mr. Haldeman and Mr. Ehrlichman is that I think, too, thai as all the facts come out, that and when they have an opportunity to have their case heard in court and not simply to be tried before a committee, and tried in the press, and tried in television they will be exonerated.