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Q. Mr. President, I would like to follow up on a comment that you made just a minute ago, where, taking back to March, you said that you had ruled out immunity from prosecution for all of your aides and in the same answer you said you wanted full disclosure of all of the facts about Watergate. One of the purposes of granting immunity from prosecution is to get disclosure from a person who knows what is going on to crack the case. And some people have suggested that the order against immunity from prosecution was aimed at deterring John Dean from testifying and disclosing the facts.
Now, how would you answer that thesis?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, on the contrary, I think that the use of immunity for any major White House employee would be highly improper. After all, someone who has the position of Counsel to the President should come forward and testify as to everything that he knows, and he should not require as the price for telling the truth getting immunity. That was my view then; it is my view
Q. Mr. President, you said earlier, if my notes are correct, that on March 21, Mr. Dean told you for the first time that payments were made to defendants to keep them quiet and that you considered a number of options. Did you not consider the option of blowing the whistle, of turning that information over to the authorities immediately, and on reflection now do
you should have?
THE PRESIDENT. As a matter of fact, among the options we considered was getting out a full report. a report that he would write. Among the options we considered the next day—and we started to consider it that day-was to have everybody testify before the Ervin committee and waive executive privilege, which was a course of action which Attomey General Mitchell recommended.
Yes, the option of a full disclosure at that time by everybody concerned was one that was considered. The difficulty that I had was that for months these matters had not licen brought to my attention. I had not been informed of the payments to the defendants. I had not been informed with regard to the alleged coverup. I had not been informed about the possible involvement of some White House aides.
I felt it was my responsibility to conduct my own investigation with all the assistance I could get from those who could provide information before moving to what would be a proper way of getting this story out to the country.
It all times it had been my goal to have a complete disclosure of this whole situation because, as you know, I have said there can be no cloud over the White House. I want that cloud removed. That is one of the reasons we have cooperated as we have with the Special Prosecutor. We will also cooperate with the Rodino committee. The facts will come out.
Q. Mr. President, I have a followup on that question right there, on the March 21st meeting. You have referred to your own personal desire to have complete disclosure, and you have also mentioned here this evening that anybody who heard the tape of that March 21st meeting, or different people hearing that tape, or reading the transcript, might get different impressions. Have you ever considered the option of making that tape and transcript public so that the American people can read it, and hear it, and make their own judgment on what happened at that meeting?
The President. Yes, I have. We have a problem there, however, in that that tape, as well as others, as was, I think, probably implied at least in the hearing today, affects the rights of the defendants and also the possibilities of the prosecution, and under the circumstances, of course,
must be, to a certain extent, guided by that.
I should also point out that in the case of Mr. Ehrlichman, Mr. Haldeman, Mr. Colson, all of whom have been indicted, it is significant to note that none of them have used the shield of the fifth amendment as they could have and pled self-incrimination.
None of them have bargained for pleas, as they could have in order to get a lighter sentence. Each of them has testified freely before the committee; each of them has testified before the grand jury; each apparently believes in his innocence.
Under these circumstances, while they have been convicted in the press over and over again, while they have been convicted before committees over and over again, they are now before a court, and they are entitled to, they will receive from me and, I think, from every faiminded American the presumption of innocence that any individual is entitled to because a court of law is the proper place for such matters to be decided,
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I think eventually the entire tape will be made available, And as far as I am concerned, when any individual who is looking at it objectively, not only hears it or reads what the transcript is but also sees what was done after that particular conversation took place, will conclude, first, that the President had no knowledge before the 21st, which Mr. Dean himself said when he came into the meeting, second, that the President never authorized clemency, in fact, rejected it on several occasions in that meeting, and third, that the President never authorized the payment of money to the defendants for the purpose of hushing them up.
Q. Mr. President, just to follow up an earlier question about Watergate and the indictments, I was wondering if you figured out, sir, why the payment of $75,000 in alleged hush money occurred the same day you said you disapproved of the practice? I am talking about the March 21st conversation.
The President. I have no information as to when a payment was made, to what you have referred. All I have information on is as to my own actions and my own directions, and my actions and directions were clear and very precise. I did not authorize payments, and I did not have knowledge of payments to which you have referred.
MR. Cormier. Thank you Mr. President.
Q. Mr. President, you have spoken tonight of your willingness to take questions under oath in the White House from the senior Democratic and Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee. Would you consider, as an aid to rebuilding public confidence in your leadership and in speeding up the procedure, in taking questions in a public forum from the entire House Judiciary Committee?
THE PRESIDENT. This is a matter which I am leaving to Mr. St. Clair and Mr. Doar to work out as to what proper procedure could be developed. What I want is one that will get the facts, get them quickly, and one that will not delay the proceedings. But Mr. Doar and Mr. St. Clair are discussing the matter, and I will defer any response until they have completed their discussions.
Q. Mr. President, is Mr. Wilson, the attorney for Messrs. Haldeman and Ehrlichman, working wi che White House or with you in concert in any way, and secondly, you have said that when others hear the tape of the 21st, they may well reach a different interpretation than the one you have presented tonight. Why is that?
THE PRESIDENT. First, Mr. Wilson, of course, is not working with the White House, and neither are the attorneys for any of the other defendants. His only contact with the White House is one that would be perfectly proper in terms of information that a defendant or potential defendant would be entitled to.
As far as interpretations of tapes, not only this one but others, are concerned, any individual who wants to can take anyone's statement and interpret it any way he wants. What I
say is that I know what I said, I know what I meant, I know what I did, and I think that any fairminded person will reach the same conclusion that I have repeated here several times tonight.
Q. Mr. President, can I ask you —
THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Lisagor (Peter Lisagor, Chicago Daily News) isn't wire service, but he always has a question.
Q. - some legal scholars, including Senator Erwin, have said that the truth will never be fully established unless all witnesses subject themselves, or submit to crossexamination. Are there circumstances under which you would submit to cross-examination if it would serve to clear
up this Watergate affair? THE PRESIDENT. Well first, Mr. Lisagor, I will do nothing to weaken the office of the Presidency, and to submit to cross-examination under circumstances that would, in effect, put the President in the box when he was not indicted, in effect, by the House of Representatives—where he would be in the box if he went to the Senate- I think would be improper. However, as far as I am concerned, as I have indicated, I will have written interrogatories, and I will be willing to meet with the ranking members of the Judiciary Committee, both of whom I understand are very good lawyers and very good cross-examiners, to take any questions that they may have if they have any at the conclusion of their own investigation.
MR. Cormier. Thank you, Mr. President. NOTE: President Nixon's thirty-seventh news conference was held at 7:31 p.m. on Wednesday, March 6, 1974, in the East Room at the White House. It was broadcast live on radio and television.
10 Presidential Documents 292-98
The Executives' Club of Chicago
The President's Remarks in a Question-and-Answer
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Q. Mr. President, forgetting all other considerations of whether the Watergate situation was or is as publicized or not because it is still in the process of being litigated, do you not think that the entire incident has begun to affect the quality of life in this country, particularly in the great deal of uncertainties that people have about it, and also begun to influence the concepts of ethics, particularly of our young people, and for those reasons alone would it not be better that you resign at this time and allow yourself the public forum as a private citizen to answer all accusations on all parts?
THE PRESIDENT. Now ladies and gentlemen, that is a perfectly proper question, and it has been raised not only by the gentleman who has asked it but by several respected publications in this area as well as in other parts of the country, and some Members of the Congress as well.
Let me respond to it first by saying that of course Watergate has had a disturbing effect not only on young people but on other people. It was a wrong and very stupid action to begin with. I have said that and I believe it now.
Second, as far as Watergate is concerned, it has been carried on, it has been I believe overpublicized, and a lot of charges have been made that frankly have proved to be false.
I am sure that many people in this audience have read, at one time or other, either in your news magazines, possibly in a newspaper, certainly heard on television and radio such charges as this: That the President helped to plan the Watergate thing before and had knowledge of it; that the President was informed of the cover-up on September 15th of 1973; that the President was informed that payments were being made on March 13 and that a blackmail attempt was being made on the White House on March 13 rather than on March 21 when I said was the first time those matters were brought to my attention; that the President had authorized the issuance of clemency or a promise of clemency to some of the defendants and that the President had ordered the burglarizing--again, a very stupid act apart from the fact of its being wrong and illegal—of Dr. Ellsberg's psychiatrise's office in California.
Now, all of those charges have been made. Many of the Americans, perhaps a majority, believe them. They are all totally false, and the investigations will prove it, whatever the Congress does, the tapes, et cetera, when they all come out, will establish that they are false.
The President learned for the first time on March 21st of 1973 that a blackmail attempt was being made on the White House, not on March 13. The President learned
for the first time at that time that payments had been made to the defendants, and let me point out that payments had been made but-correcting what may have been a misapprehension when I spoke to the press on March 6 in Washington-it was alleged that the payments that had been made to defendants were made for the purpose of keeping them still
However, Mr. Ehrlichman, Mr. Haldeman, Mr. Mitchell have all denied that that was the case, and they certainly should be allowed the right in court to establish their innocence or guilt without our concluding that that was the case.
But be that as it may, Watergate has hung over the country, and it continues to hang over the country. It will continue to as the Judiciary Committee continues its investigation not only of voluminous documents that we have already presented to the Special Prosecutor, not only of all the material they have from the Ervin committee that has conducted months of hearings—and they have access to that—but in addition, scores of tapes and thousands of documents more, which would mean that not just one year but two years or three years we are going to have this hanging over the country.
That is why I want a prompt and just conclusion and will cooperate, as I indicated in answer to the first question, with the committee consistent with my responsibility to defend the office of the Presidency to get that prompt and just conclusion.
Now, under these circumstances, because the imprese sion has been created, as you have very well indicated, doubts, mistrust of the President--I recognize that-why doesn't the President resign? Because if the President resigned when he was not guilty of charges, then every President in the future could be forced out of office by simply leveling some charges and getting the media to carry them and getting a few Congressmen and Senators who were on the other side to exploit them.
Why doesn't the President resign because his popularity is low? I already have referred to that question. Because if the time comes in this country when a President makes decisions based on where he stands in the polls rather than what is right or what is wrong, we will have a very weak President.
The Nation and the world need a strong President. Now, personally, I will say finally, from a personal standpoint, resignation is an easy copout. Resignation, of course, might satisfy some of my good friendly partisans who would rather not have the problem of Watergate bothering them. But on the other hand, apart from the personal standpoint, resignation of this President on charges of which he is not guilty, resignation simply because he happened to be low in the polls, would forever change our form of government. It will lead to weak and instable Presidencies in the future and I will not be a party to the destruction of the Presidency of the United States.
Q. Mr. President, there is a debate over the definition of an "impeachable offense." Should this question be determined by Congress or the judiciary?
THE PRESIDENT. I think it is determined by the Constitution. And I think the Constitution very clearly, as Mr. St. Clair, our very able counsel, pointed out in his brief to the Judiciary Committee, the Constitution in this case defines an impeachable offense, as I indicated earlier, as being treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
Now, this President is not guilty of any of those crimes, and as far as the Congress is concerned, it would seem to me that-particularly members of the Judiciary Committee, all schooled in the law-would want to follow the Constitution rather than to broaden that definition to include something that the Constitution-framers did not have in mind.
Q. Mr. President, intense two-way loyalty has been a hallmark of your public life and your Administration. If it can be shown to you conclusively that your in-person testimony on behalf of your former colleagues is vital to their defense, would you not consider stepping forward and taking the witness stand?
THE PRESIDENT. I believe that for the President of the United States to appear in a court of law, any court of law, for the purpose of testifying, would be setting a precedent that would be most unfortunate. I believe that any information that I have has been made available, which could affect the guilt or innocence of the individuals involved, and I think the appearance of the President of the United States in any one of these cases would be a precedent which we would regret later.
10 Presidential Documents
Q. Mr. President, Bos Johnson, WSAZ Television, Huntington, W. Va. You said repeatedly that you will not resign, and yet today, Senator James Buckley called for you to perform an extraordinary act of statesmanship and courage, voluntary resignation as he put it, the only way by which the Watergate crisis can be resolved.
Would you comment on the import of this statement coming from a conservative United States Senator, and whether it might cause you to reassess your position?
THE PRESIDENT. Well first, it does not cause me to reassess my position, although I, of course, do respect
the point of view expressed by the Senator and by others, perhaps some sitting here, who share that view.
The point I wish to make, however, is that when we speak of courage, if I could address that from a personal standpoint first of all, it perhaps would be an act of courage to resign. I should also point out, however, that while it might be an act of courage to run away from a job that you were elected to do, it also takes courage to stand and fight for what you believe is right, and that is what I intend to do.
Mr. Johnson, I would not want to leave your question simply with a personal judgment. I am thin sing of the statesmanship which Senator Buckley also addressed. From the standpoint of statesmanship, for a 'resident of the United States, any President, to resigt because of charges made against him which he knew wire false and because he had fallen in the polls, I think 'rould not be statesmanship. It might be good politics, jut it would be bad statesmanship. And it would mean that our system of government would be changed for all Presidents and all generations in the future.
What I mean by that, very simply, is this: The Constitution provides a method by which a President can be removed from office, impeachment-impeachment for treason, and other high crimes and misdemeanors. Now, if a President is not guilty of those crimes, if only charges have been made which he knows are false, and is simply because as a result of those false charges and as a result
of his falling in the polls he decides to resign, it would mean that every future President would be presiding over a very unstable Government in the United States of America.
The United States and the free world, the whole world, needs a strong American President, not an American President who every time the polls go down, says, “Well, maybe I'd better resign.”
Let me give you an example: I have often said to members of the Washington press corps that the most difficult decision I made in my first term was the very last in December, of 1972. You recall then that I found it necessary, because of the breakdown in negotiations in Paris, with the North Vietnamese, to order the bombing of military targets in North Vietnam in the Hanoi and Haiphong region by B-52's.
The bombing began, we lost planes, and at that time I can assure you that not only my friends but many others who had supported the actions that I had taken to attempt to bring the war in Vietnam to an honorable conclusion, criticized and criticized very strongly what I had done.
Great newspapers like the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Star, that had previously editorially supported me, for example, were among them, and many Senators as well as other public figures spoke out. As a matter of fact, one Senator said, “The President has taken leave of his senses.” Now I had no hard feelings about that. I made him Attorney General. (Laughter]
The day after Christmas, some of my closest advisers felt that because a poll that they had taken privately indicated that I had dropped 20 points in the polls since the bombing began, that I should consider stopping it. I considered their advice. I did not take it.
I ordered the bombing to continue. I ordered it, as a matter of fact, to be increased on military targets. Five days later, the deadlock was broken, and as a result of that action, an unpopular action, but an action which I felt was right, the longest war in America's history was brought to a conclusion, and our prisoners-of-war were brought home, as I have often said, on their feet rather than on their knees.