20 October 1973, Washington DC, USA
Archibald Cox was the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate break-and subsequent cover up. He obtained a court order for the Nixon White House tapes, with which Nixon refused to comply with. Instead, Nixon offered the 'Stennis Compromise', a summary of the tapes made by an independent (and apparently hard of hearing!) Senator Stennis. The Saturday Night Massacre followed, as the Attorney General and Deputy AG refused to fire Cox. The third AG in line did fire Cox The Saturday Night Massacre and this brilliantly worded press conference arguably changed public opinion on Watergate, and set the trajectory towards impeachment.
I'm not looking for a confrontation. I've worried a good deal through my life about problems of imposing too much strain upon our constitutional institutions, and I'm certainly not out to get the President of the United States.
As you all know, there has been and is evidence—not proof, perhaps, in some instances, but clearly primafacie evidence—of serious wrongdoing on the part of high Government officials, wrongdoing involving an effort to cover up other wrongdoing.
It appeared that the papers, documents and recordings of conversations in the White House, including the tapes, would be relevant to getting the truth about these incidents.
I'm referring not only to the Watergate incident itself, but to other things involving electronic surveillance, breakins at a doctor's office and the like.
Last night we were told that the court order would not be obeyed, that the papers, memoranda and documents of that kind would not be provided at all. And that, instead of the tapes, a summary of what they showed would be provided.
I think it is my duty as the special prosecutor, as an officer of the court and as the representative of the grand jury, to bring to the court's attention what seems to me to be noncompliance with the court's order.
You will say, “Well, so far as the tapes are concerned, forget legalisms. Isn't this a pretty good practical arrangement?” I find four, to my way of thinking, insuperable difficulties with it.
Compromise Not Enough
First, when criminal wrongdoing is the subject of investigation, and when one of those subjects is obstruction of justice in the form of a cover‐up, then it seems to me it is simply not enough to make a compromise in which the real evidence is available only to two or three men operating in secrecy, all but one of them the aides to the President and men who have been associated with those who are, the subject of the investigation.
It's not a question of Senator Stennis's integrity. I have no doubt at all of Senator Stennis's personal integrity. But it seems to me that it's the kind of question where it is terribly important to adhere to the established institutions and not to accommedate it by some private arrangement involving as I say,, submitting the dence ultimately to any one man.
My second difficulty is that I will not know, and no one else will know, what stand, ards have been applied in deciding what to exclude from the summary.
For example, when I give you the various written proposals and comments that were exchanged, you will find that it is contemplated that there will be omitted references to matters related to the national defense or foreign policy whose disclosure would do real harm.
I'm very troubled by the lack of precision on those standards. We all know from matters that have been published that the Ellsberg‐Fielding break‐in was described as matters affecting the national defense, and that the tapping of William Safire's and John Sears' telephones was apparently treated as a national security matter.
Those certainly raise very serious questions as to whether criminal wrongdoing was not involved, Also, I must emphasize that I do not prejudge it; I just say they raise serious questions.
Doubt as to Evidence
My third reason for thinking that, as a practical matter, I, as charged with prosecuting violations, could not regard the arrangement as satisfactory is that it's most unlikely—I don't go beyond that — most unlikely that a summary of the tapes would be admissible in evidence.
It would be satisfactory for the purposes of a grand jury, I think, but I'm thinking of the actual conduct of a trial. And if that was all that was available—and I was given to understand that the tapes would never be available under any circumstances—then I would be left without the evidence with which to prosecute people whom I had used the summaries, perhaps, to indict.
Similarly, you have all read of cases in which those who have been charged with wrongdoing have said that they need the tapes in order to make their defenses. Again, it seems to most unlikely that a summary would be accepted by the defendants or that a court would regard it as sufficient. And that could very well mean that those prosecutions would have to be dropped.
The other main part of the President's statement last night said that. I would be instructed not to use the judicial process in order to obtain tapes, documents, memoranda relating to other Presidential, conversations. This instructs me not to pursue what, would be the normal course of, a prosecutor's duty in conducting this kind of investigation.
And think the instructions are inconsistent with pledges that were made to the United States Senate and through the Senate to the American people before I was appointed and before Attorney General Richardson's nomination was confirmed.
If you go through the hearings you will find repeated pledges by both of us that I should have complete independence to decide how, to conduct these irivestigations and prosecutions and particularly to plead independence in determining what evidende to see.
There were also specific references to executive privilege and pledges by me and by the Attorney General that I not only would, in his view, be free to contest, but on my promise, to the, Senate that I would contest claims of executive privilege where I thought the evidence was material.
Guidelines Are Cited
This was finally summarized in the so‐called guidelines and the departmental order put out by the Attorney General. It reads:
“The Attorney General will not countermand or interfere with the speeial prosecutor's decisions or actions.
“The special prosecutor will determine whether and to what extent he will inform or consult with the Attorney General about the conduct of his duties and responsibilities.
“The special prosecutor will not be removed from his duties [except] for extraordinary improprieties on his part.”
The incidents of last night: need to be viewed against two things: One is, the whole problem of obtaining information for this investigation; and the other is the immediate discussions that took place between me and various representatives of the President.
It's my characterization, but all I can say is that my efforts to get information, beginning in May, have been the subject of repeated frustration.
This is a very special investigation in some ways. The problem is unique because nearly all the evidence bearing not only on the Watergate incident and the alleged cover‐up, but on the activities of the “plumbers” and other things of that kind, is in the White House papers and files. And unless you have access to those, you're not able to get the normal kind of information that a prosecutor must seek.
You will recall that the papers of many White House aides—Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Krogh, Young, Dean and others—were taken into custody and they're in a special room.
Taken Out of Files
And many of their papers were taken out of the usual files and put in something special called Presidential files.
Back in June, early June if my memory is right, I asked that an inventory be made of those papers.
I've never gotten it. I was told orally over the telephone a short time ago—I don't mean in connection with the current incidents but a few weeks ago—that the inventory would not be furnished.
There have been other papers that we've sought to get and while I must say I've been told I would receive them, the delays have been extraordinary.
For example, I asked for all kinds of logs of many principal names in these incidents and I was promised them back in June. I still haven't got the logs of meetings of the President with such people as Chapin, Colson, Gray, Hunt, Kleindienst, Krogh, Larue, Liddy, Strachan or Young. I hope our records are accurate.
There are many pending letter requests. And I can't help reading the instruction not to seek subpoenas against that background, even though the instruction as it's written refers only to things referring to Presidential conversations. And I think I'm entitled to suggest that the thing should be judged against that background.
You will remember that the Court of Appeals, after oral, argument and before it rendered its decision, suggested that there be an effort to reach a mutually satisfactory accommodation in which the President or his representative and I would agree what part of the tapes should be made available to the grand jury and what parts should not be.
I did submit a fairly carefully drafted six ‐ or seven‐page proposed, procedure for resolving these questions.
The end of last week the Attorney General and I were in touch with each other. We had several candid, frank and very friendly conversations.
The conversations ended in a document headed “A Proposal.” It set forth a plan, somewhat like what was announced yesterday and last night, except that it was in more contingent form and I think it was meant to leave room for discussion.
I wrote him on Oct. 10 in a paper called “Comments on a Proposal.”
‘Charlie’ on the Phone
Thursday night, if my memory is correct, I received word that I was to call Marshall Wright at the White House in General Haig's office. Marshall Wright turned out to be Charlie when he came on the phone, and he quickly acknowledged that he was Charlie. And he referred to my comments, said that there were four stipulations that he must make that would be essential to any agreement.
And, as I understood him, he said, “You won't agree to these.” Indeed, the impression I got — and I want to make it clear that it was my impression; maybe there are tapes that would verify my impression or maybe my impression is wrong — but it was my impression that I was being confronted with things that were drawn in such a way that I could not accept them.
I then went on and suggested, “Why don't you dictate what the four points are and I can look at them tomorrow morning and then give you a reply.” And we will give you his letter, which I received, my response, and then one final letter which suggested that I had misunderstood the scope of some of the things he said. That came at 23 minutes past 5 yesterday. My letter was delivered to him about 10 o'clock. There was ample time to explain if I had misunderstood anything of critical importance.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q. Mr. Cox you would seem to be in what we call a nonviable position now. Are you going to wait for the President to dismiss you? A. I'm going to go about my duties on the terms on which I assumed them.
Q. What do you consider to be the state of the case now and if you will go into court, what court and what will you say?
A. It is my intention, with reference to the order of the Court of Appeals and the district court, to call to the attention of one or the other, and I'm not sure yet which is correct, the fact that the papers, documents and other things subpoenaed are being refused and that the order to deliver the tapes is subject to some particular reservations, is certainly not being satisfied. Also, I would also add that a summary is being offered and would express the opinion that that was not adequate.
One form of procedure would be to seek an order to show cause why the respondent should not be adjudicated guilty of contempt. I think it may also be possible and perhaps might be preferable to seek a further order clarifying any possible doubt resulting from the President's statement last night.
Q. Senator Cox, is not your intention in direct conflict with the President's orders to you, and if it is and you're fired by the end of this news conference, what happens then?
A. Well, I— there are a number of other technical questions, I was appointed by the Attorney General Under the statutes the Attorney General and those to whom he delegates authority are in charge of all litigation, including the obtaining of evidence.
I think there is a question whether anyone other than the Attorney General can give me any instructions that I have any legal obligation to obey.
Dealt With Buzhardt
Second, under the Constitution, and the statutes, there are instances in which not the President but departmental heads make appointments.
And I would think that was a proper inference that where departmental heads are authorized by statute to make appointments that the same departmental heads are the only ones who can make dismissals.
Q. I believe you said you were told orally that you would not be receiving the logs that you asked for or at least the inventory of the papers that you requested. Just to clear that up, who told you orally that you would not?
A. I've been dealing Fred Buzhardt, and I may say, too, that he has behaved in dealing with me in an entirely honorable way, except he's too damn slow.
Q. Mr. Cox, I think, you believe that Attorney General Richardson will not fire you.
A. He may. You know, I'm not saying that no one can fire me. Of course, eventually, there are ways of firing me. I don't know what Attorney Richardson will do.
Now, eventually, a President can always work his will. You remember when Andrew Jackson wanted to take the deposits from the Bank of the United States and his Secretary of the Treasury wouldn't do it. He fired him and then he appointed a new Secretary of the Treasury and he wouldn't do it, and he fired him. And finally he got a third who would. That's one way of proceeding.
Q. Mr. Cox, could you just specify for us what the memoranda, papers and documents are that you're not going to get—characterize them in some way to indicate what they are.
Memorandum by Nixon
A. Well, the ones that I am most aware of are notes that would have been made by John Ehrlichman on every conversation in which he participated. Now this would be important in case any part of the tapes was inaudible or garbled in some way. Or if it was ambiguous. It's quite possible that those notes not only set forth his understanding of what was agreed upon, what was to be done, but would give some background of the knowledge which he had against which they were to be read.
Another example Is—I don't know, and that's why you issue subpoenas—but I have reason to believe that, in addition to the conversation with John Dean on April 15, there is a memorandum of that conversation dictated by the President himself. That would give his understanding in the event that any part of it should be inaudible or ambiguous or something of that kind.
Q. Mr. Cox, when do you expect to go to court, whatever court it is you go to?
A. Well, promptly. I mean, as fast as we can be sure that we're right.
Q. Would this coming week be a fair guess? A. It's certainly a fair guess. Certainly I would hope to.
Q. How could you expect to succeed in this job? How could you expect to succeed? A. Well, I thought it was worth a try. I thought it was important. If it mild be done, I thought it would help the country. And if I lost, what the hell!
Q. Mr. Cox, there was a lot of talk this week by Republicans on the Hill that, if the President defies a Supreme Court order to give up the tapes, that then he would likely be impeached, or an impeachment action would begin. Do you regard him as of this moment in defiance of an appeals court order—a definitive appeals court order?
Determination for Court
A. In my view, the President has stated that he would not comply with the appeals court order. That is my view. I think it so likely that he is not in compliance that it is my duty to present the question to the court. It would then be for the court to make the determination. I'm not the last word, thank God!
Q. Mr. Cox, should you he removed from office, would Judge Sirica or the appeals court have the authority to move on their own in an attempt to force the President to release the tapes?
A. I think that the answer is a “Very probably, yes.” It is even possible that I could be appointed counsel to the grand jury or he court for that purpose!
But don't carry that too far. The thought went through my mind, And then I also concluded that—no, I think that would be of very doubtful propriety because it would then turn what ought to be a question of principle into something that somebody would look on as a personal fight—and I don't think this is a question of personalities.
Q. Mr. Cox, have you been in touch with anyone, directly or indirectly, who might be a representative for the White House, within the past, say, 12 hours, concerning your future tenure in your present job?
A. I talked to the Attorney General on the phone five seconds before I came into the room. It had nothing to do with my future tenure; it was, again, a purely friendly conversation.
At the end of the press conference, reporter Helen Thomas stood up and called out, '"You're a great American Mr. Cox."
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