Associated Press Managing Editors Association
The President's Remarks in a Question-and-Answer Session at
the Association's Annual Convention in Orlando; Florida.
THE PRESIDENT. President Quinn and ladies and gentlemen:
When Jack Horner who has been a correspondent in Washington and other places around the world, retired after 40 years, he once told me that if I thought that the White House Press Corps asked tough questions,
I should hear the kind of questions the managing editors asked him. Consequently, I welcome this opportunity tonight to meet with the managing editors of the Nation's newspapers.
I will not have an opening statement because I know, with 400 of you,
it will be hard to get through all of the questions you have,
and I understand the President has a prerogative of asking the first question.
Mr. Quinn [John C Quinn, Gannett Newspapers, and
president, Associated Press Managing Editors Association]
Q.Mr. President, this morning, Governor Askew of
Florida addressed this group and recalled the words of Benjamin Franklin
when leaving the Constitutional Convention he was asked,
"What have you given us, sir, a monarch or a republic?"
Franklin answered, "A republic, sir, if you can keep it "
Mr, President, in the prevailing pessimism of the lingering matter
we call ‘Watergate’, can we keep that republic, sir, and how?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Quinn, I would certainly not
be standing here answering these questions unless I had a firm belief
that we could keep the republic. That we must keep it,
not only for ourselves, but for the whole world.
I recognize that, because of mistakes that were made,
and I must take responsibility for those mistakes,
whether in the campaign or during the course of an administration,
that there are those who wonder whether this republic can survive.
But I also know that the hopes of the whole world for peace, not only now
but in the years to come, rests in the United States of America.
And I can assure you that as long as I am physically able to handle
the position to which I was elected and then reelected last November,
' Garnett D. (Jack) was a reporter with the Washington Star
from 19:17 until his retirement ill November 1973. Since 1954
he was White House rre for that newspaper.
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I am going to work for the cause of peace in the world,
for the cause of prosperity without inflation at home,
and also to the best of my ability to restore confidence
in the White House and in the President himself.
It is a big job, but I think it can be done, and I intend to do it
Q.Mr. President, I am George Gill of the Louisville
Courier-Journal. Would you please tell us, sir, when did
you personally discover that two of the nine subpoenaed
White House tapes did not exist, and why did you
apparently delay for a matter of weeks disclosing this
matter to the Federal court and to the public?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, the first time that the fact that
there were no recordings of the two conversations to which
you referred—that they did not exist—came to my
attention on approximately September 29 or September 30.
At that time, I was informed only that they might not
exist because a search was not made, because seven of
the nine recordings requested did exist, and my secretary,
listening to them for me and making notes for me,
proceeded to go through those seven tapes.
I should point out, incidentally, that the two which did
not exist, in which there were no tape recordings of the
conversations, were not ones that were requested by the
Senate committee, and consequently, we felt that we
should go forward with the ones that were requested by
both the Senate committee and the others.
When we finally determined, that they could not be
in existence, was on October 26 of this year. And we
learned it then when I directed the White House
Counsel, Mr. Buzhardt, to question the Secret Service
operatives as to what had happened to make sure that
there might not be a possibility, due to the fact that the
mechanism was as not operating properly, that we might
find them in some other place.
He questioned them for 2 days and reported on the 27th
that he could not find them. He then, having had a date
made—and he asked for the date sooner with Judge
Sirica, he asked for a date on Thursday, you may recall I
pointed that out in my press conference on the 96th—
Judge Sirica saw him on Tuesday in camera. The White House
Counsel reported to Judge Sirica that the two tapes did
not exist and gave him the reasons for it.
The judge decided, and I think quite properly, that the
reasons for the tape not existing should he made public
and those involved with access to the tapes and those who
operated the machines should be questioned so that there
would he no question of the White House, somebody
around the President, or even the President himself,
having destroyed evidence that was important even
though the Senate committee had not, as I have already
pointed out, subpoenaed either of these two tapes. And
since we are on this subject, and I do not want to he
taking all of the time on it, except that I know there is going
to be enormous interest in it, not only among this
audience here, but among our television viewers, let me
point this out:
I have done everything that I possibly can to provide
the evidence that would have existed had we found the
First, with regard to the tape of June 20, as you may
recall, it was a 5-minute telephone conversation with the
former Attorney General, John Mitchell, who had just left
as campaign manager, or was planning to leave as
campaign manager at that time.
I have a practice of keeping a personal diary—I can
assure you not every day, sometimes you are too tired at
the end of a day to either make notes or dictate it into a
On that particular day I happened to have dictated a
dictabelt, and on the dictabelt for June 90, which I found,
I found that I had referred to the conversation to John Mitchell,
and I think it is fair to disclose to this audience what was there
because it will be disclosed to the court.
It has already been offered to the court and
eventually I assume will he made public.
It said, first that T called John Mitchell to cheer him up
because I knew he was terribly disheartened by what had
happened in the so-called Watergate matter.
Second, he expressed chagrin to me that the organization over
which he had control could have gotten out of hand in this way.
That was what was on that tape.
Now, turning to the one on April 15, I thought I might
have a dictabelt of that conversation as well.
Let me tell you first why the telephone conversation was not recorded.
Not because of any deliberate attempt to keep the recording from the public, but because the only telephones in the residence of the White House which are recorded—the only telephone, there is only one, is the one that is in the office, the little Lincoln Sitting Room right off the Lincoln Bedroom.
The call I made to John Mitchell was made at the end of the day at about 6:30 just before going into dinner from the family quarters.
And no telephones in the family quarters ever were recorded.
That is why the recording did not exist.
Turning to April 15, the conversation referred to there
was at the end of the process in which Mr. Dean came in
to tell me what he had told the U. S. Attorneys that day.
He saw me at 9 o'clock at night, Sunday night.
There should have been a recording.
Everybody thought there probably was a recording.
The reason there was not a recording is that the tape machines over the weekend only can carry 6 hours of conversation and usually that is more than enough. l)ecansc I do not use the EOB office that is, the
Executive Office Building office rather than the Oval
Office over the weekend to that extent.
But that weekend I was in the EOB for a long a
With Dr. Kissinger on foreign policy matters.
I was there for 9 other hours, or 9 or 3 other hours, and the tape
ran out in the middle of a conversation with Mr. Klein- ill the
middle of the afternoon, Sunday afternoon.
And a later conversation I had, the rest of Kleindienst's conversation,
a later conversation I had also with Mr. l'ctcrse n,
and the conversation at 9 o'clock at night with
. i)eall was not there.
So I tried to find whatever recording whatever record
that would help the prosecutor in this instance to
reconstruct the evidence, because it was the evidence
that he was after and not just the tape.
What I found was not a dictabelt. What I found was my
handwritten notes made at the time of the conversation.
I have turned those over to or have authorized my counsel
to turn those notes over to the judge, so that he can have
them checked for authenticity, and I understand there are
ways that he can tell that they were written at that time.
Those handwritten notes are available.
And then I did one other thing which I think will also be helpful.
The next day I had a conversation with Mr Dean
in the morning at 10 o'clock. That conversation was
recorded, and in that conversation there are repeated
references to what was said the night before, and when
compared with my handwritten notes it is clear that we
are discussing the same subjects.
That entire tape as well as the conversation I had in the
afternoon with Mr. Dean for about 20 minutes will he
made available to the court ev en though the court has
not subpoenaed them.
I would just simply say in conclusion you can be very
sure that this kind of a subject is one that is a difficult one
to explain. It appears that it is impossible that when we
have an Apollo system that we could have two missing
tapes when the White House is concerned.
Let me explain for one moment what the system was.
This is no Apollo system. I found that it cost—I just learned this
—$2 500. I found that instead of having the kind of equipment that
was there when President Johnson was there, which was
incidentally much better equipment but I found—-and I am
not saying that critically—but I found that in this instance
it was a little Sony that they had, and that what they
had are these little lapel mics in my desks. And as a
result t h e c o n v e r s a t i o n s i n t h e O v a l O f f i c e,
t h e conversations in the Cabinet Room, and particularly those
in the EOB, those are the three rooms, only those three
rooms where they recorded—for example, the Western White House
had no recording equipment and my house in Key Biscayne had none—
but as far as those particular recordings are concerned the reason that you have heard that there are difficulties in hearing them is that the system itself was not a sophisticated system. I do not mean to suggest by that,
that the judge by listening to them will not he able to get the facts
And I would simply conclude by saying this: I think I know
what is on these tapes from having listened to some those before March 21.
And also from having seen from my secretary's notes the highlights of others. And I can assure you that those tapes, when they are presented to the
Judge, and I hope eventually to the grand jury, and I trust in some way we can find a way at least to get the substance to the American people,
they will prove these things without question:
One, that I had no knowledge whatever of the
Watergate break-in before it occurred.
Two, that I never authorized the offer to anybody and,
as a matter of fact, turned it down when it was suggested.
It was not recommended by any member of my staff
but it was, on occasion, suggested as a result of news reports
that clemency might become a factor.
And third, as far as any knowledge with regard to the
payment of blackmail money, which, as you recall,
was the charge that was made, that Mr. Hunt's attorney
because I should point out the tape of September 15
when as you recall, has been testified that I was first
informed there was a coverup—that, of course, is there.
The tape of March 13, where it has been testified, as I
pointed out in the answer to the Louisville Courier-Journal
where it has been testified that I was informed then of the
demands for money for purposes of blackmail, that is
available. And the tape of March 21, where we discussed
this in great detail, as well as three other tapes in which
Mr Dean participated, three other conversations, are all
But as far as these two tapes are concerned, even
though they were not considered by the Ervin committee
to be an indispensable part of their investigation, the fact
that they were not there was a great disappointment, and I
just wish we had had a better system—I frankly wish we
hadn't had a system at all, then I wouldn't have to
answer this question one,
he is qualified; two, he is independent and will have
cooperation; and three, he will not be removed unless the
Congress, particularly the leaders of the Congress,
and particularly the Democratic leaders who have a
strong majority on this group that I have named,
agree that he should be removed, and I do not expect
that that time will come.
As to what I can tell the American people, this is one
forum, and there may be others As to what the situation is
as to when it call be done, it is. of course necessary to let
the grand jury proceed as quickly as possible to a
conclusion and I should point out to you, as you may
recall Mr. Petersen testified before the Ervin committee
that when he was removed from his position—you recall
he was removed in April and a Special Prosecutor was put
in—that the case was 90 percent ready For 6 months,
under the Special Prosecutor who was then appointed, the
case has not been brought to a conclusion
And I think that now after 6 months of delay, it is time
that the case I c brought to a conclusion If it was 90
percent finished in April, they ought to be able to finish t
Those who al-c guilty! or presumed to he guilty. should
be indicted Those who are not guilty at least should get
some • x iden c of being cleared because in the meantime,
the reputations of men, some maybe who are not guilty,
have been probably irreparably damaged by wh hat has
happened in the hearings that they have appeared before
pub)licly They have already been convicted and they may
never recover find that isn't our system of government
The place to try a man or a woman for a crime is in the
courts and not to convict them either in the newspapers or
on tel v ision before he has a fair trial in the courts
Q Mr. Presidents I'm Bob Haiman from the St
Petersburg Times in St Petersburg Florida When Mr.
Ehrlichman and Al Hal(lenlan left your administration you
said they were guilt'.\s ill the Watergate affair, and they were . quote,
two of the finest public servants you had ever known, end
quote After what has transpired
Q Mr. President, John Dougherty [Rochester Times-],
did you tell Mr. Cox to stay out of the Ellsberg case, and
if you did, why and do you think that the new Special
Prosecutor should be kept from investigating the Ellsberg
THE PRESIDENT. I have never spoken to Mr. Cox at
all; as a matter of fact, however I did talk to Mr. Petersen
about it, before Mr Cox took over
I told Mr Petersen that the job that he had—and I
would have said the same thing to Mr. Cox—was to
investigate the Watergate matter that national security
matters were not matters that should be investigated,
because there were some very highly sensitive matters
involved, not only in Ellsberg l)ut also another matter so
sensitive that even Senator Ervin and Senator Baker have
decided that they should not delve c fur ther into them
I don't mean h! that that we arc going to throw the clo
ak of national security over something because we are
guilt! of something I am simply! saying that where the
national security would be disserved b! having an
investigation, the President has the responsibility to
protect it, and I am going to do so
Q Paul Poorman from the Detroit News. Arc you p(l->
onail! satisfied sir, that the investigation of the Watergate
matter is complete, to your satisfaction and if '0, could you
tell us what your plans arc to tell the American an people
about the facts of the c case with regard ag ain to X your (
redibility on this m matter'
THE: 11141 SII)y.N1. First with r(gard lo whether the inv(Stig;ltioll is r
omplete . as you know, there is now a new Spec i al Pros(
c utor s Mr. Jaworski He is a Democ r at He has al ways!c
supported the Democ r atic ticket He is a highly!
r(~~~l)((tc(l lawyer, form(l president of the ABA in
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the year 1971 l m z! have met him I have never talked to
him personally and certainly have never talked to him
about this matter I refuse to l)ecause I want him to be
He cannot)t b(: remov d unless there is a consensus of
the top leadership of l)oth the House and Senate,
Democrat and Repub)licall: the Speaker and the Majority
and Minority Leaders of the House and the President pro
tem the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate
a n d t h e ranking two memb)crs of the Judiciarv
Committees of l)oth the House and Senate, which,
incidentally, gives you, as you ran see, a ver!
substantial majority, as far as the Democrats are
The second point, and the point I am trying to make is,
and been revealed since then, do you still feel the same
way! about i)otll men and l both, statments)
THE PRESIDENT First, l hold that both men and
others who have been charged are guilt! until l have
evidence that they are not guilty and I know that every
newspaper man and newspaper woman ill this whole audience would
agree with that statement That is our American system
Second, A[r Haldeman and Mr. Ehrlichman had been and
were dedicated, fine public servants, and I believe, it is
m! belief based on what I know now, that when these
proceedings are completed that they will come out all
On the other hand, they have e appeared before the
grand jury before they will be appearing again, and as I
pointed out in answer to an earlier question, it probably
does not make any difference, unfortunately, whether the
grand jury indicts them or not, whether they are tried or
not, because, unfortunately they have already been
convicted in the minds of millions of Americans by what
happened before a Senate committee
AIR. QUIN 5. 3,I'r President, may I suggest that
you may have misspoke yourself when you said that you
assumed Haldeman and Ehrlichman are considered guilty
until proven not guilty
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I certainly did, if I said
that— thank you for correcting me
Q. Richard Smyser, from The Oak Ridger in Oak
Ridge, Tennessee Senator Mark Hatfield said recently
that we demand so much of a President, we ask him to
play so many roles that no man can hold that kind of
responsibility without having to share that responsibility
with all Americans
To what extent do you think that this explains possibly
how something like Watergate can occur?
THE PRESIDENT I could stand here before this
audience and make all kinds of excuses, and most of you
probably would understand because you are busy also '7'7
was a very busy year for me It w was a year when we had
the visit to China, it was a year when we had the visit to
Moscow and the first limited nuclear ban on defensive
weapons, you recall, as well as some other very
It was a year too when we had the very difficult
decisions on May! 8, the bombing and mining of Hai- and
then the negotiations and then in T)ceemher of course,
the very very difficult—perhaps the most difficult—
decision I made of the De( c mber bombing, which did
lead to the breakthrough and the uneasy peace hut it is
peace with . all of the Ame( ricans home, all of our PON"s home, and peace at least for a w while in that pe riod
Now, during that period of time, frankly, l didn't manage
the campaign I didn't run the campaign People around me
didn't bring things to me that they probably should have
because I was frankly just too busy trying to do the
Nation's business to run the polities
My adv ice to all new politicians, incidentally, is
always run your own campaigns I used to run mine and I
was always criticized for it because you know whenever
you lose you are always criticized for running your own
campaign But my point is Senator Hatfield is correct,
whether you are a Senator or a Congressman, you are
sometimes very busy, you don't watch these things When
you are President, you don't watch them as closely as you
might And on that, I say if mistakes are made, however, I
am not blaming the people down below The man at the top
has got to take the heat for all of them
Q May I ask one other question, sir?
T111. PRESID)FNT. Sure
Q DO ^,ou feel that the executive privilege is absolute?
TIIE PRESIDENT XT. 1, of ( course do not I have c
waived C(I ex- privilege with regard to all ( f the(
members of m! staff who have any knowledge(dg( of or
who have had(l an! charges made against th(m in the(
Watergate';wterg;lte matt r I ha x of course voluntarily!
waived((l privilege(".,t' with regard(i to to ning OVUM the
tapes, and so forth
Let me point out it was voluntary on m! part, and
deliberately so to avoid a precedent that might destroy the
principle of confi(lentialit) for future Presidents, which is
If it had gone to the Supreme Court—and I know many
of my friends argued Why! not carry it to the Supreme
Court and let them decide it?"—that would, first, have had
a confrontation with the Supreme Court, between the
Supreme Court and the President And second it would
have established very possibly a precedent a precedent
breaking down constitutionality that • would plague future
Presidencies( not just President
I could just say in that respect too, that I have referred
to what I called the Jefferson rule It is the rule, I think,
that we should generally follow—a President should
follow—with the courts when they want information. and a
President should also follow with committees of Congress,
when they want information from his personal files
Jefferson, as you know, in that very!, very famous ease,
had correspondence w hich it was felt might bear upon the
guilt or innocence of Aaron Burr Chief Justice Marshall,
sitting as a trial judge, held that Jefferson, as President.
had to turn over the correspondence Jefferson refused
What he did was to turn over a summary of the
correspondence, all that he considered was proper to
be turned over for the purposes of the trial
And then Marshall, sitting as Chief Justice, ruled for
Now, why did Jefferson do that? Jefferson didn't do that
to protect Jefferson He did that to protect the Presidency
And that is exactly what I will do in these cases It isn't for
the purpose of protecting the President; it is for the purpose
of seeing that the Presidency, where great decisions have
to be made—and great decisions cannot be made unless
there is very free flow of conversation, and that means
confidentiality—I have a responsibility to protect that
At the same time, I will do ev erything I can to
I will come to you next, sorry
* * * * * * * *
Q Mr. President, Larry Allison from the Long Beach,
California, Independent Press-Telegram Back; to
Watergate Former Attorney General John Mitchell has
testified that the reason he did not give you details on the
Watergate problems was that you did not ask him
Now,, I realize that you were very l)usv at that time, as
you said, but there were reports in newspapers that linked
people very high in your staff with Watergate problems l
Could you tell us, sir, why you did not ask; Mr.
Mitchell wh at he knew?
TSIE PRESIDE:NT. For the very simple reason that
when I talked to Mr. Mitchell—and I saw him often in that
period—that I had every reason to believe that if he were
involved, if he had any information to convey, he would
tell me I thought that he would As a matter of fact, when I
called him on the telephone, what did he say—he
expressed chagrin that anything like that could have
happened in his organization
Looking back;, maybe I should have cross-examined
him and said, "John, did you do it?" I probably should
have asked him, but the reason I didn't is that I expected
him to tell me, and he had every opportunity to, and
decided he wouldn t, apparently At least—nosv, that
doesn't mean to tell me that he was involved, because you
understand that is still a matter that is open The question
is Whether he could have told me about other people that
might he involved where he had information where
members of my staff did not have information
9 Presidential Documents 1345-53