tv Oral Histories William Weld CSPAN December 1, 2019 10:45pm-11:21pm EST
of president richard nixon in 1973 and 1974. the interview was from the presidential library oral history collection and was conducted in 2011. mr. weld was hired by committee republicans who were in the minority. he is currently running for the republican presidential nomination. >> hi, i'm director of the richard nixon presidential library and museum in yorba linda, california. september 8, 2011. i have the honor and privilege to interview william weld. thank you for joining us today. please tell us how you came to be involved with the inquiry? >> i got a call in the fall of 1973, an associate at a law firm in boston. asking me if i would be interested in interviewing for a job on the impeachment staff. at that point, it hadn't really gotten off the ground. i said no, i have to stay on until i make partner.
and i called back in 15 seconds and said i made a dreadful mistake and said can i still interview for it? he said yeah. and sam garrison running the republican side of the staff, not yet fully unified. some thought it never was. i went down, met with sam, had a good interview with him. engaged to come in quite shortly thereafter, and reported for duty in december 1973. >> tell us a little bit about -- first of all, about sam garrison. give us the work nature of him? >> he was a devoted family man. i think from the south. from richmond. and he worked like a tiger. slept in on sunday mornings, but that was about it. he and i had a good personal relationship. >> you were there before john dohr was named. >> i'm sure i was there before bert jenner. maybe it was before dohr. i remember showing up for
work, and if i was the first staffer, hilary rodham was the second staffer, and i remember john dohr calling us into his office, bill, hillary, we have a research project here. we have to find out what constitutes grounds for impeach impeachment of a president. there is no case directly on point. it's friday afternoon, i don't want to ruin your weekend. why don't you have the memo on my desk tuesday morning. we said fine, chief. looked around, looked around, and six months later, after 40 lawyers had gone blind trying to figure out what answer to that question was, we decided that the answer to the question really resided in the newspapers at the time. not in decided law cases. >> some of the literature written about the committee suggests that you and john davidson wrote a minority opinion on the grounds for constitution.
for constitutional grounds for impeachment. >> i know we wrote a minority memo on the right of jim st. clair, my future law partner, to cross-examine witnesses. i'm not sure that we ever wrote a formal minority memo. the big question in the early days was does the grounds for impeachment have to be a crime? and i can remember being of the view early on that really that it should be required that it's a crime or there is eally no stopping point. there would be no any president could be impeached for anything. he ultimate memo said, well, what if a president took up a life of pleasure in a foreign land? that might not be a crime under u.s. statutory law, but it certainly would be grounds for removal from office. and i found and find that rather persuasive, and i guess
the dirty little secret is that the only check is political. i remember early on congressman gerald ford, future president ford had said impeachment is what a majority of the house and 2/3 of the senate says it is. and people said, oh, poor geary ford, played too much football without a helmet, doesn't understand what this is. you know, what congressman ford says is a terse, but profound statement of an impeachable offense. >> did you find your view shifted? >> i think my own view shifted a little bit. i was worried about the bright line criminal crime requirement early on, and ultimately came to the view that impeachment was a remedy directed at a defect, usually between the branches of the
government usurping the powers or functions of another branch or perhaps dereliction, failing to discharge the duties incumbent on you for your branch. we said a lot about the take care clause. the president takes care that the laws be faithfully xecuted. and there was a feeling in the whole mess with the watergate conspiracy and misuse of the fbi and cia that the president had not taken care that the laws be faithfully executed and that -- you know, it took a while to get there. a lot of floundering around. >> was there a sense -- how did you in your own mind separate the actions of the lieutenants from the president? or did you come to the conclusion that the president is responsible for the actions f his lieutenants? >> you mean hald heman and ehrlichman? >> i mean haldeman and ehrlichman indeed. >> i listened to a lot of the tapes and haldeman and
ehrlichman and the president seemed to be on the same page. the president wasn't going, oh, really, that was an interesting idea. he was right there with them. no question of parasite and host here. >> since you mentioned him, could you give us a word picture of james st. clair, since you were his partner later? >> jim came in, and, you know, even at that point, he was an old trial lawyer and my one abiding memory of him is i was presenting the case for the committee on an article based n the impoundment of funds. failure to spend funds that had been appropriated. i think a lot of them were clean air act. here is the arguments for impoundment and the arguments the other way. and bob mcclure from illinois, said are there any other possible defenses that the president should
raise? in the thick of the fight over the documents and the supreme court and whether the president withheld documents. and i said, yes, based on case a, b, and c, i said very proudly, the president could stand upon the ground and the defense of sovereign immunity. and st. clair, seated three feet to my right and collapsed laughing. because that was obviously such bad politics at the time. >> tell us about the effect that bert jenner had at the time i joined. >> bert was a class "a" litigator. argued wittherspoon versus illinois. he made the case turn. he said you need not reach this issue and you can decide this now or -- he was a highly distinguished lawyer. an interesting thing was that john dohr had this very strong view, we wanted to have a unified staff, and, you know, my playmates were mostly
hillary rodham, hamilton, to some extent joe woods, but i also worked closely with john davidson, john whitman and sam garrison on the republican side. but i was welcomed in both camps. i'm not sure everybody was welcome in both camps, and i think the hard core of the watergate task force, i'm not sure that had any republicans on it. so the evidence of the watergate conspiracy, developed mainly by the democratic staff. and they were not -- they were not quite so partisan as the congressman from texas, who at a democratic caucus was asked what is the theme of jack brooks? what's the theme of this article ii about agency abuse, fbi, cia, all so confusing, i don't understand it.
he took the cigar out of his mouth and said the theme of this argument is we're going to get that son of a bitch out of there. but staff weren't permitted to think or speak in some ways. but no secret that some of them weren't friendly to president nikon. >> was there pressure on the republicans on the staff. a number of the minority staff were disappointed with how things were going and how john dohr was doing his job. were there any pressures on you? were they asking you questions? >> the republican members of the committee had a perfect right to have their own legal research done. i think that might have been about st. clair's right of cross-examination. we did do a formal memo for the minority members of the staff on that. there would be the occasional research request for there dell latter, chug wiggins, robert mclurie, somebody on the -- dave dennis, some of the republican members and we'd do that, i thought we had
that -- that obligation, on the other hand, i spent a lot of time with the democrats, it may have helped my job was on the legal constitutional side more than the factual development side. might have made that easier. >> once the committee chose the broad interpretation of impeachable offenses or high crimes and misdemeanors, what did you shift? what were you focusing on? continued to work on the legal case? >> yeah, i did a lot of work on the legal case. listened to the tapes, by myself, developed and proposed and presented to the committee the case on impoundment, which i think was article 6. it was not accepted, but did get some votes that one did involve more courts of law. there had been 15 or 20 cases, mostly slapping down the president's position, some upholding it. that was very law heavy.
>> that never got submitted to the committee, to my knowledge. >> it was submitted, because i testified before the committee. >> but they didn't -- >> well, yes they did. i think it was voted down 27-11 or something like that. >> oh. did you play a role in shaping any of the other articles? >> i remember a discussion about agency abuse. i don't think i ever had article ii. i don't think i ever had the blue pencil on that. i also had quite a lot of exposure to article iii, which i think dealt with subpoenas and contempt of the subpoenas if memory serves, and i remember reading the different versions of the documents, where it is white house would have erased the incriminating material on most copies, but one of them got through, and needless to say, that infuriated everybody on the
staff. >> did you participate in the decision about retranscribing the tapes, because the concern was the white house transcripts were just not usable or not thorough enough? >> i was not a decisionmaker, but it was clear to me, having listened to both versions from the white house and the perfected versions that that was absolutely true. later, i became a federal prosecutor, and, you know, we would expend a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, on those transcripts and have the jury listen to the tape and have the transcript at the same time, and the defense would scream bloody murder and said that's not what that word says, and i became a civil litigator, same thing, the transcript of a tape is a huge forensic development. and whoever made that decision, i think it was probably john dohr, bert jenner, and joe woods, they were absolutely right. >> how valuable were the
materials that the watergate special prosecution force handed over? >> on the development of the watergate conspiracy? assume they were very valuable but that really wasn't my hunt. i was not an article i man. >> what's the story with bert jenner and his sort of -- changes positions. was he forced out by the -- by the minority leaders? >> i don't know about forced out. he was one of the prominent lawyers in the united states, founder of jenner and block, the great chicago firm, so a person like myself, having begun to an ivy league law school, as spiring to be a kicker litigation partner, he was sky high as far as i was concerned. i remember him saying the president would be impeached. i remember him saying that to me and a couple other people
in a car in march or april. that was not in the newspapers i don't think. he got there pretty quickly and he and dohr spent a lot of time together, and he would come and make presentations to the republican members. but i don't think they ever felt at ease with him. i remember at one point, he was testifying, dell latter from ohio says you say that, mr. jenner, but i don't have to take your word for that. i saw the report you just filed about how prostitution should be legalized, and that's not binding on me anymore than what you are saying right now and one of he democratic members said i ope the gentleman from ohio reflects on what he said. dell latter did not need to reflect on what he said. that was an example of the comradecamp comradeamaraderie on the committee. >> was there some tension between garrison and bert jenner? >> absolutely. i think so.
sam was considerably more conservative. he approached this -- i won't say as a -- entirely as a partisan, but his view at the beginning was, listen, if the president of the united states is going to be impeached and removed from office, somebody has to give me a pretty somebody has to give me a pretty good reason. he had deep relationships with some of the conservative members of the republican wing. was there tension? there was tension. >> how did garrison work for spiro agnew? >> i forgot if that was true. >> did you play any role in shaping a statement for information? ? again, not the article one
watergate conspiracy, but i may have had a will in some of the other stuff. >> here is a question i have for you, since you were working on the legal side, did you come to the understanding that this procedure was like a grand jury? there was some question as to whether mr. st. clair could be there and cross-examine, and then i guess the issue was, in a grand jury the defendant's , counsel is not there. >> most grand juries. some states by statute permitted defense counsel. boko was with -- was this one of the discussion? >> yeah. there were a lot of arguments about whether the standard here was probable cause. what's that, four out of nine? was it preponderance, five out of nine? was it clear and convincing, seven out of nine? was it beyond a reasonable doubt? >> just to help the people watching and me, you need five
out of nine jurors -- >> no, no. percentage likelihood . a grand jury if it find as four out of nine chance that's something has happened, that's probable cause. and different types of legal proceedings, all types of different standards of proof are required. another one would preponderance. then there is beyond a reasonable doubt, which is sometimes translated as nine out of 10. the people who wanted the president to be impeached were saying this is just a probable , cause. we don't have to prove this damn thing. and then other people would say, this is a rather important proceeding. if we're going, you know, send a guy who is president of the united states over to the senate to get removed from office it's
a little bit more -- it's a little bit more important than a speeding ticket, and may be the standard should be a little different. yeah, i can remember doing a good bit of legal research on those things and analogizing it but there is no judicial proceeding which is analogous. ,it is not -- this is a legislative proceeding , and ultimately the check is , political. it's not some statute. it's not some rule. sure, there is high crimes and misdemeanors but you can put , whatever water into that vessel that you care to. >> how useful was the johnson precedent? >> i thought johnson was very useful. and there was a 1934 case involving a judge i think called willis ritter, which was also useful to me. >> in the end, by the way, on article 2, which is the one you said you worked on, you thought about a little bit, did you reach four, five, six, or nine
out of 10 in the end? >> on the agency abuse? >> yeah, in your own mind. >> it was pretty clear he had done it because i listened to those tapes. the question on that article was, has too much potpourri been jammed into the same glass jar? is this a single offense, but the evidence behind that was a lot of the same evidence that was in the watergate case, and that was just there. >> the question is -- >> on tape. >> how many times does the president have to do it for it to be too many? is one enough? >> i mean, if a president said once, well, maybe we could encourage the c.i.a. to get involved here because that would, you know, maybe dissuade the f.b.i. or complicate their efforts, even once, if it was to dissuade the f.b.i. on a case that was aimed at the president's breastplate, that might be enough.
of course, it is like perjury. a perjury prosecution looks at the color of the underlying offense. if you didn't have the underlying evidence, then maybe you would say this is too artificial. >> before the vote, did you sense there was going to be bipartisan support for some of these articles? before the votes -- on the four articles? >> yeah, i'm trying to remember the timing. yeah, it was pretty clear there would be some bipartisan support, some republicans going along and there was a very , dramatic moment, i remember, involving chuck wiggins. i think it was when the smoking gun tape was played, which was june 1972, and i'm not sure when this meeting occurred. but there had been a diehard group of perhaps nine or 10 republicans who were with the president all the way, and their legal leader was chuck wiggins, who later became quite a distinguished appellate judge
out in california, i think, a very learned scholarly man. he would make arguments like you have made an election, and therefore you can't argue this. , pretty legalistic. so someone brought in the tape, the smoking gun play to play for these diehards. they played it and the nine , diehards sort of realized they had been played for fools. i often heard the effort of defending the president as a draining effort, and if anyone had been drained, they had chuck , wiggins, the ultimate strong silent type burst into tears. >> i've got to situate this because the supreme court doesn't rule that these have to be turned over until july 29, after the vote. so the committee listened to this tape after the -- because this would have been after the votes had been taken. so they listened to the june 23, 1972 tape after the -- not before, it couldn't have been
before the supreme court proceeding because the president hadn't turned it over? >> i would have said the supreme court ordered that the tapes had to go over sometime in may. maybe there were a few tapes, no, it was july 29. that's 10 days before he resigned. maybe that meeting was in that interval. >> my goodness, that must have been very powerful. >> did you have an aha moment? when you were going through the material? >> listening to the tapes. >> do you remember, was that may or june? do you remember when you listened to the tapes? >> no. but it was conversations between the president and haldeman and the president and ehrlichman and john dean had a bit part in some of them. i remember thinking everyone , keeps their voice down in the oval office, you know. no screaming and ranting and raving.
on the other hand, what's being said is pretty amazing. >> tell us about john -- >> he was a dream boat. dream boat. he was just so sort of apple pie good, and, you know, i knew that he made a real effort to not socialize with any of his democratic friends in washington. he was quite a good friend of ethel kennedy. and at the time, i spent a little bit of time out at hickory hill and ethel was also saying that john door, he won't even return my telephone calls. it's really awful. but one time, john took exception to the fact, i think it was i had written a memo for mr. hutchinson of michigan who was the ranking member at the request of sam garrison, and i
think sam asked me to deliver it to mr. hutchison, and john said, well, you know, i didn't know about this. i got caught in the middle on that. i was kind of in the middle since i was friendly with both sides. i often say i've had a lot of different jobs in law and politics, and i have been a house liberal in a conservative administration. a witness in the justice department in the 1980s, a house conservative in a liberal administration, witnessed the nixon impeachment, and i don't like either one. i would rather be right in the middle, in a middle of the road administration so i had to go , get my own administration. >> tell us about working with hillary rodham. >> very close relationship. very decent. she's just a very decent person. and if i recall correctly on the occasion when i got in the middle and john door himself got
frowny face with me, which he should not have, by the way, i was doing my duty. i think hillary intervened and defended me on that and i have never forgotten that. >> frowny face. he got a frowny face. >> yeah, he did. he was saying i should have known about this. how did this happen? >> tell us about what happens, because you were going to tell us the story about what happens after this experience, years later. >> you know, this was the beginning of a lifelong career in litigation and politics for me. i went back to my law firm, transferred from the corporate department into the litigation, ran for state attorney general in 1978 because i was so obsessed with the investigative possibilities of grand juries and thought that the a.g.'s office was not doing as much as it could have. i was creamed in that one. but then when reagan was elected, i was, you know, i was a republican who maybe knew how to try a case, so i was
appointed u.s. attorney, and then had a lot of public corruption cases there. went to washington as head of the criminal division. then went back to massachusetts and ran for governor. won, but before that happened, i was practicing law as a litigator, minding my own business, in a philadelphia hotel room preparing a witness for something and 25 years after -- i'm sorry, after that happened, 1999, 25 years after the watergate case and impeachment, i get a call from john podesta, who was then president clinton's chief-of-staff, and i had known him through the clinton white house because president clinton and i had been friendly as governors and then he nominated me to be ambassador to mexico so during a couple of months, i spent a lot of time in the white house with john podesta and ron emanuel and other senior members of the staff.
so he calls me up in january 1999, it looks like they are going to impeach my guy and hold hearings in the house. near as we can tell, there are a couple of people in this country who know a lot about the law of constitutional impeachment of a president and the other one is very much disqualified by interests, so you have to testify as an expert witness for the defense on the law, which i was happy to do. and did. >> tell us about that experience, just doing it. >> well, i think i went in with a bunch of other former u.s. attorneys, who were also republicans. it was a pretty impressive panel, and i had the additional background of knowing the law of impeachment, and i said sex is not an impeachable offense. it just isn't. it has to be something that touches and concerns the office or misuse of power. this is a nonstarter as a matter of constitutional law. they said what about perjury, you brought a lot of perjury
cases when you were a prosecutor in boston. i said yes, but, as i was saying earlier, a perjury prosecution partakes of the color of the underlying offense. i once prosecuted a guy for perjury for denying he had been in boston on november 28, 1981. you may say, why bring that case? because that was the date of the fire and almost burnt down the city of lynn. arsonist,nown torch and he claimed to have been in florida but an agent for atf, , alcohol, tobacco and firearms, found his fingerprints on a ticket at the delta warehouse in atlanta and proved that he had come up and then flown back to tampa. so that's a perjury case. maybe it's kind of like the al capone income tax evasion. you're getting at something else, and you would never prosecute somebody for perjury for falsely denying that they
had a trieste with some lady of their acquaintance. it would be beneath the dignity of the law. >> do you remember when you learned that president nixon was going to resign? >> yes, i had had a longstanding commitment to go fishing with my brother and some friends on august 9, so i told sam, i had gone back to boston. sam called me up and said he needed more help so i went back for a few weeks but i said, , august 7 or whatever it was, i've got to be out of here. so i was on a small boat in a fjord in iceland, and i looked down and there was a newspaper from a couple of days ago with a photograph of, i guess, president ford taking the oath of office. so i was in a fjord in iceland. >> what did you think of the pardon? >> it's a tough one. i don't think i would have done it.
but i didn't have the stereoscopic view of the harm to the country. this experience made me a real prosecutor. and i have had prosecutor instincts for a long time. maybe they weren't honed in 1974 , but even then, i don't think i would have done it. >> what did this experience teach you about our system of government? >> the wheels may grind slowly, but they grind pretty well. i mean, there is a lot of force in the law, and it made the president do a lot of things he didn't want to do, and the whole procedure involved a lot of things that a lot of people didn't want to have done, but, i mean, there are three countries in the world that i associate with the capacity for self-examination. one is israel, one is the united kingdom, and the third, perhaps the greatest, is the united
states. >> did you stay in touch besides 1999 story -- did you stay in touch with hillary rodham after? >> oh, yeah, i have known her pretty continuously. i mean, there were whispered conversations about bill in 1974. they were married the next year. the same year i was married. and the bill in question, with the whispers was not bill weld. it was bill clinton. i never did see him visiting there. but then, he and i went to the same college at oxford a year apart and had some very good mutual friends so that by the time i became governor, i just couldn't wait to meet this guy who i had heard so much about so i have known hillary rodham and now hillary rodham clinton in lots of different contexts. >> you said that this launched your career? >> well, in a sense that i became interested in the criminal law. went back and ran for state attorney general, and that led to everything else.
that led to being appointed u.s. attorney, which led to being head of the criminal division in washington which led to being , elected governor of massachusetts. >> have i forgotten or been unable to elicit any stories that you would like -- >> that's a wrap. >> governor, ambassador, thank you. it's been a pleasure. >> thank you. captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] ♪
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>> next on the civil war, university of cincinnati professor christopher phillips talks about the way tactics and ideologies from the western theater, such as guerrilla fighting, influenced other theaters of the civil war. this talk was part of a day long conference hosted by the university of virginia center for civil war history. >> our final speaker of the day is dr. christopher phillips, a professor of american history and the university distinguished professor in the arts, humanities and social sciences at the university of cincinnati. he's the author of seven books, including "the rivers ran backward: the civil war and the remaking of the american middle border," which is right back there in the back, and this very impressive book won the tom