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SECOND WATERGATE SPEECH
August 15, 1973
Now that most of the major witnesses in
the Watergate phase of the Senate 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
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
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
Because the abuses occurred during my
Administration, and in the campaign for my reelection, I accept full
responsibility for them. I regret that these events took place, and I do
not question the tight of a Senate committee to investigate charges made
against the President to the extent that this is relevant to legislative
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 learn 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 conflicting. It would not
be tight 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 nay 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
That was and that is the simple
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
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
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.
I know that the Justice Department and
the FBI were conducting intensive investigations as I had insisted that
they should. The White House Counsel, John Dean, was assigned to monitor
these investigations, and particularly to check into any possible White
House involvement. Throughout the summer Of 1972, I continued to press the
question, and I continued to get the same answer: I was told again and
again that there was no indication that any persons were involved other
than the seven who were known to have planned and carried out the
operation, and who were subsequently indicted and convicted.
On September 12 at a meeting that I held
with the Cabinet, the senior White House Staff and a number of legislative
leaders, Attorney General Kleindienst reported on the investigation. He
told us it had been the most extensive investigation since the
assassination of President Kennedy and that it had established that only
those seven were involved.
On September 15, the day the seven were
indicted, I met with John Dean, the White House Counsel. He gave me no
reason whatever to believe that any others were guilty; I assumed that the
indictments of only the seven by the grand jury confirmed the reports he
had been giving to that effect throughout the summer.
On February 16, I met with Acting
Director Gray prior to submitting his name to the Senate for confirmation
as permanent Director of the FBI. I stressed to him that he would be
questioned closely about the FBI's conduct of the Watergate investigation.
I asked him if he still had full confidence in it. He replied that he did,
that he was proud of its thoroughness and that he could defend it with
enthusiasm before the committee.
Because I trusted the agencies
conducting the investigations, because I believed the reports I was
getting, I did not believe the newspaper accounts that suggested a
coverup. I was convinced there was no coverup, because I was convinced
that no one had anything to cover up.
It was not until March 21 of this year
that I received new information from the White House Counsel that led me
to conclude that the reports I had been getting for over 9 months were not
true. On that day, I launched an intensive effort of my own to get the
facts and to get the facts out. Whatever the facts might be, I wanted the
White House to be the first to make them public.
At first, I entrusted the task of
getting me the facts to Mr. Dean. When, after spending a week at Camp
David, he failed to produce the written report I had asked for, I turned
to John Ehrlichman and to the Attorney General while also making
independent inquiries of my own. By mid-April, I had received Mr.
Ehrlichman's report and also one from the Attorney General based on new
information uncovered by the Justice Department. These reports made it
clear to me that the situation was far more serious than I had imagined.
It at once became evident to me that the responsibility for the
investigation in the case should be given to the Criminal Division of the
I turned over all the information I had
to the head of that department, Assistant Attorney General Henry Petersen,
a career government employee with an impeccable nonpartisan record, and I
instructed him to pursue the matter thoroughly. I ordered all members of
the Administration to testify fully before the grand jury.
And with my concurrence, on May 18
Attorney General Richardson appointed a Special Prosecutor to handle the
matter, and the case is now before the grand jury.
Far from trying to hide the facts, my
effort throughout has been to discover the facts and to lay those facts
before the appropriate law enforcement authorities so that justice could
be done and the guilty dealt with.
I relied on the best law enforcement
agencies in the country to find and report the truth. I believed they had
done so just as they believed they had done so.
Many have urged that in order to help
prove the truth of what I have said, I should turn over to the Special
Prosecutor and the Senate committee recordings of conversations that I
held in my office or on my telephone.
However, a much more important principle
is involved in this question than what the tapes might prove about
Each day, a President of the United
States is required to make difficult decisions on grave issues. It is
absolutely necessary, if the President is to be able to do his job as the
country expects, that he be able to talk openly and candidly with his
advisers about issues and individuals. This kind of frank discussion is
only possible when those who take part in it know that what they say is in
The Presidency is not the only office
that requires confidentiality. A Member of Congress must be able to talk
in confidence with his assistants; judges must be able to confer in
confidence with their law clerks and with each other. For very good
reasons, no branch of Government has ever compelled disclosure of
confidential conversations between officers of other branches of
Government and their advisers about Government business.
This need for confidence is not confined
to Government officials. The law has long recognized that there are kinds
of conversations that are entitled to be kept confidential, even at the
cost of doing without critical evidence in a legal proceeding. This rule
applies, for example, to conversations between a lawyer and a client,
between a priest and a penitent, and between a husband and wife. In each
case it is thought so important that the parties be able to talk freely to
each other that for hundreds of years the law has said these conversations
are "privileged" and that their disclosure cannot be compelled in a
It is even more important that the
confidentiality of conversations between a President and his advisers be
protected. This is no mere luxury, to be dispensed with whenever a
particular issue raises sufficient uproar. It is absolutely essential to
the conduct of the Presidency, in this and in all future
If I were to make public these tapes,
containing as they do blunt and candid remarks on many different subjects,
the confidentiality of the Office of the President would always be suspect
from now on. It would make no difference whether it was to serve the
interests of a court, of a Senate committee, or the President himself the
same damage would be done to the principle, and that damage would be
Persons talking with the President would
never again be sure that recordings or notes of what they said would not
suddenly be made public. No one would want to advance tentative ideas that
might later seem unsound. No diplomat would want to speak candidly in
those sensitive negotiations which could bring peace or avoid war. No
Senator or Congressman would want to talk frankly about the Congressional
horsetrading that might get a vital bill passed. No one would want to
speak bluntly about public figures here and abroad.
That is why I shall continue to oppose
efforts which would set a precedent that would cripple all future
Presidents by inhibiting conversations between them and those they look to
This principle of confidentiality of
Presidential conversations is at stake in the question of these tapes. I
must and I shall oppose any efforts to destroy this principle. which is so
vital to the conduct of this great office.
Turning now to the basic issues which
have been raised by Watergate, I recognize that merely answering the
charges that have been made against the President is not enough. The word
"Watergate" has come to represent a much broader set of concerns.
To most of us, Watergate has come to
mean not just a burglary and bugging of party headquarters but a whole
series of acts that either represent or appear to represent an abuse of
trust. It has come to stand for excessive partisanship, for "enemy lists"
for efforts to use the great institutions of Government for partisan
For many Americans, the term "Watergate"
also has come to include a number of national security matters that have
been brought into the investigation, such as those involved in my efforts
to stop massive leaks of vital diplomatic and military secrets, and to
counter the wave of bombings and burnings and other violent assaults of
just a few years ago.
Let me speak first of the political
I know from long experience that a
political campaign is always a hard and a tough contest. A candidate for
high office has an obligation to his party, to his supporters, and to the
cause he represents. He must always put forth his best efforts to win. But
he also has an obligation to the country to conduct that contest within
the law and within the limits of decency.
No political campaign ever justifies
obstructing justice, or harassing individuals, or compromising those great
agencies of Government that should and must he above politics. To the
extent that these things were done in the 1972 campaign, they were serious
abuses, and I deplore them.
Practices of that kind do not represent
what I believe government should be, or what I believe politics should be.
In a free society, the institutions of government belong to the people.
They must never be used against the people.
And in the future, my Administration
will be more vigilant in ensuring that such abuses do not take place and
that officials at every level understand that they are not to take
And I reject the cynical view that
politics is inevitably or even usually a dirty business. Let us not allow
what a few overzealous people did in Watergate to tar the reputation of
the millions of dedicated Americans of both parties who fought hard but
clean for the candidates of their choice in 1972. By their unselfish
efforts, these people make our system work and they keep America free.
I pledge to you tonight that I will do
all that I can to ensure that one of the results of Watergate is a new
level of political decency and integrity in America in which what has been
wrong in our politics no longer corrupts or demeans what is right in our
Let me turn now to the difficult
questions that arise in protecting the national security.
It is important to recognize that these
are difficult questions and that reasonable and patriotic men and women
may differ on how they should be answered.
Only last year, the Supreme Court said
that implicit in the President's constitutional duty is "the power to
protect our Government against those who would subvert or overthrow it by
unlawful means," How to carry out this duty is often a delicate question
to which there is no easy answer.
For example, every President since World
War II has believed that in internal security matters, the President has
the power to authorize wiretaps without first obtaining a search
An act of Congress in 1968 had seemed to
recognize such power. Last year the Supreme Court held to the contrary.
And my Administration is, of course, now complying with that Supreme Court
But until the Supreme Court spoke, I had
been acting, as did my predecessors President Truman, President
Eisenhower, President Kennedy, and President Johnson in a reasonable
belief that in certain circumstances the Constitution permitted and
sometimes even required such measures to protect the national security in
the public interest.
Although it is the President's duty to
protect the security of the country, we, of course, must he extremely
careful in the way we go about this for if we lose our liberties we will
have little use for security. Instances have now come to light in which a
zeal for security did go too far and did interfere impermissibly with
individual liberty. It is essential that such mistakes not be repeated.
But it is also essential that we do not overreact to particular mistakes
by tying the President's hands in a way that would risk sacrificing our
security, and with it all our liberties.
I shall continue to meet my
constitutional responsibility to protect the security of this Nation so
that Americans may enjoy their freedom. But I shall and can do so by
constitutional means, in ways that will not threaten that freedom.
As we look at Watergate in a longer
perspective, we can see that its abuses resulted from the assumption by
those involved that their cause placed them beyond the reach of those
rules that apply to other persons and that hold a free society
That attitude can never be tolerated in
our country. However, it did not suddenly develop in the year 1972. It
became fashionable in the 1960's as individuals and groups increasingly
asserted the tight to take the law into their own hands, insisting that
their purposes represented a higher morality. Then their attitude was
praised in the press and even from some of our pulpits as evidence of a
new idealism. Those of us who insisted on the old restraints, who warned
of the overriding importance of operating within the law and by the rules,
were accused of being reactionaries.
That same attitude brought a rising
spiral of violence and fear, of riots and arson and bombings, all in the
name of peace and in the name of justice. Political discussion turned into
savage debate. Free speech was brutally suppressed as hecklers shouted
down or even physically assaulted those with whom they disagreed. Serious
people raised serious questions about whether we could survive as a free
The notion that the end justifies the
means proved contagious. Thus, it is not surprising, even though it is
deplorable, that some persons in 1972 adopted the morality that they
themselves had tightly condemned and committed acts that have no place in
our political system.
Those acts cannot be defended. Those who
were guilty of abuses must be punished. But ultimately, the answer does
not lie merely in the jailing of a few overzealous persons who mistakenly
thought their cause justified their violations of the law.
Rather, it lies in a commitment by all
of us to show a renewed respect for the mutual restraints that are the
mark of a free and a civilized society. It requires that we learn once
again to work together, if not united in all of our purposes, then at
least united in respect for the system by which our conflicts are
peacefully resolved and our liberties maintained.
If there are laws we disagree with, let
us work to change them, but let us obey them until they are changed. If we
have disagreements over Government policies, let us work those out in a
decent and civilized way, within the law, and with respect for our
We must recognize that one excess begets
another, and that the extremes of violence and discord in the 1960's
contributed to the extremes of Watergate.
Both are wrong. Both should be
condemned. No individual, no group, and no political party has a comer on
the market on morality in America.
If we learn the important lessons of
Watergate, if we do what is necessary to prevent such abuses in the future
on both sides we can emerge from this experience a better and a stronger
Let me turn now to an issue that is
important above all else and that is critically affecting your life today
and will affect your life and your children's life in the years to
After 12 weeks and 2 million words of
televised testimony, we have reached a point at which a continued,
backward-looking obsession with Watergate is causing this Nation to
neglect matters of far greater importance to all of the American
We must not stay so mired in Watergate
that we fail to respond to challenges of surpassing importance to America
and the world. We cannot let an obsession with the past destroy our hopes
for the future.
Legislation vital to your health and
well-being sits unattended on the Congressional calendar. Confidence at
home and abroad in our economy, our currency, our foreign policy is being
sapped by uncertainty. Critical negotiations are taking place on strategic
weapons and on troop levels in Europe that can affect the security of this
Nation and the peace of the world long after Watergate is forgotten. Vital
events are taking place in Southeast Asia which could lead to a tragedy
for the cause of peace.
These are matters that cannot wait. They
cry out for action now, and either we, your elected representatives here
in Washington, ought to get on with the jobs that need to be done for you
or every one of you ought to be demanding to know why.
The time has come to turn Watergate over
to the courts, where the questions of guilt or innocence belong. The time
has come for the rest of us to get on with the urgent business of our
Last November, the American people were
given the clearest choice of this century. Your votes were a mandate,
which I accepted, to complete the initiatives we began in my first term
and to fulfill the promises I made for my second term.
This Administration was elected to
control inflation; to reduce the power and size of Government; to cut the
cost of Government so that you can cut the cost of living; to preserve and
defend those fundamental values that have made America great; to keep the
Nation's military strength second to none; to achieve peace with honor in
Southeast Asia, and to bring home our prisoners of war; to build a new
prosperity, without inflation and without war; to create a structure of
peace in the world that would endure long after we are gone.
These are great goals, they are worthy
of a great people, and I would not be true to your trust if I let myself
be turned aside from achieving those goals.
If you share my belief in these goals if
you want the mandate you gave this Administration to be carried out then I
ask for your help to ensure that those who would exploit Watergate in
order to keep us from doing what we were elected to do will not
I ask tonight for your understanding, so
that as a nation we can learn the lessons of Watergate and gain from that
I ask for your help in reaffirming our
dedication to the principles of decency, honor, and respect for the
institutions that have sustained our progress through these past two
And I ask for your support in getting on
once again with meeting your problems, improving your life, building your
With your help, with God's help, we will
achieve those great goals for America.
Thank you and good evening.
Carrie was established in June of 1993.
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