William Weld Discusses the House Committee on the Judiciary Impeachent Inquiry


bjbj R1*S Naftali: Hi I m Tim Naftali Director
of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum Yorba Linda, California it s September
28th, 2011. I have the honor and privilege to be interviewing William Weld in New York
City for the Richard Nixon Oral History Program. Mr. Weld, thank you for joining us today.
Please tell us how you came to be involved with the inquiry. Weld: I got a call in the
fall of 1973 I was an associate in a law firm in Boston asking me if I d be interested in
interviewing for a job on the impeachment staff. At that point, it really hadn t gotten
off the ground. I said, No, I have to stay here until I make partner, and then I called
the guy back fifteen seconds later, having realized I made a dreadful mistake and said,
Can I still interview for it? He said, Yes. So I had a telephone interview with Sam Garrison,
who at that point was running the Republican side of the staff, who was not yet fully unified
some thought it never was and I went down, met with Sam, had a good interview with him
and I was engaged to come in quite shortly thereafter and reported for duty in December,
1973. Naftali: Tell us a little bit first of all about Sam Garrison. Give us a word
picture of him, please. Weld: He was a devoted family man. I think from the south, from Richmond.
He worked like a tiger. Slept in on Sunday mornings, but that was about it. He and I
had a good personal relationship. Naftali: You were there before John Doar was named.
Weld: m sure I was there before Bert Jenner. Maybe it was before John Doar. I remember
showing up for work and if I was the first staffer, Hillary Rodham from Yale Law School
was the second staffer, and I remember John Doar calling us into his office, saying, Okay,
Bill, Hillary. We have a research project here. We have to find out what constitutes
grounds for impeachment of a President and there doesn t seem to be any case directly
on point. So let s see. 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, and looked around and
looked around. Six months later after 40 lawyers had gone blind trying to figure out what the
answer to that question was we decided that the answer to the question really resided
in the newspapers of the time not in decided law cases. Naftali: Some of the literature
that s been written about the Committee suggests that you and John Davidson wrote a minority
opinion on the constitutional grounds for impeachment. Weld: 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? I can remember being of the view
early on that really it should be required that it be a crime or there s no stopping
point and any President could be impeached for anything and the only check would be political.
Well, the ultimate memo that we all filed said, Well, what if a president took up a
life of pleasure in a foreign land? That might not be a crime under US 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, An impeachable offense is
whatever a majority of the House and two-thirds of the Senate say it is, and everyone said,
Oh, poor Gerry Ford, played too much football without a helmet. He really doesn t understand
anything. After the 40 lawyers had spent months on this, Gerald Woods, who was the head of
the Watergate Taskforce, I remember stated publicly, What Congressman Ford said was really
a terse, but profound statement of the definition of an impeachable offense. Naftali: Did you
find your own view shifted? Weld: 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 set a lot of store
by the take care clause the President takes an oath to take care that the laws be faithfully
executed and there was a feeling, I think, that in the whole mass with the Watergate
Conspiracy and the misuse of the FBI and the CIA, that the President had not taken care
that the laws be faithfully executed and it took a while to get there. There was a lot
of floundering around. Naftali: 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 action of his lieutenants? Weld: You mean Haldeman and Ehrlichman? Naftali:
I mean Haldeman and Ehrlichman and Dean. Weld: Yeah. I didn t listen to all the tapes, but
I listened to a lot of them. Haldeman and Ehrlichman and the President all seemed to
be on the same page. I would say the President was not going, Oh really? That s an interesting
idea. He was right there with them. There s no question of parasite and host here. Naftali:
Since you mentioned him, could you give us a word picture of Jim St. Clair James St.
Clair since you were his partner later? Weld: Later, Jim came in and even at that point
he was a cooney old trial lawyer. My one abiding memory of him is I was presenting a case for
the Committee on an article based on impoundment of funds failure to expend funds that had
been appropriated. I think a lot of it was Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act. So I said,
Well, here s the case for impoundment, and then I said, And here are the arguments the
other way. Bob McClory from Illinois said, Well, are there any other possible defenses
that the President should raise? This was right in the thick of all the fight over the
documents in the Supreme Court and whether the President could withhold documents. I
said, Yes, based on Case A, B and C. I said very proudly, The President could stand upon
the ground and the defense on sovereign immunity, and St. Clair was seated three feet to my
right and he just collapsed laughing because obviously that was such bad politics at the
time. Naftali: Tell us a bit about the effect that Bert Jenner had when he joined, on your
work. Weld: Well, Bert was the original Class A litigator. He had argued Witherspoon against
Illinois in the US Supreme Court and made the case turn by saying, Well, Your Honors
need not reach this issue. You can decide upon this narrow ground, and they went for
it immediately. I mean, he s a highly, highly distinguished lawyer. An interesting thing
was that John Doar had this very strong view that we wanted to have a unified staff. My
playmates were mostly Hillary Rodham, John Leibowitz, Dagmar 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 welcome in both camps. I m not sure everybody was
welcome in both camps and I think the hardcore of the Watergate Taskforce m not aware that
that had any Republicans on it. So the evidence of the Watergate Conspiracy, I think, was
mainly developed by the Democratic staff. They were not quite so partisan as the Congressman
from Texas who at a Democratic Caucus was asked, Well, what s the theme of Jack Brooks?
What s the theme of this Article Two about agency abuse? FBI, CIA s all so confusing
I don t understand it. He took his cigar out of his mouth and said, The theme of this Article
is we re going to get that son-of-a-bitch out of there! Staff weren t permitted to speak
or think in such ways, but there s no question that some of them were not friendly to President
Nixon. Naftali: Was there some that put pressure on the Republicans and the staff when because
there were a number of minority members of the staff who were very disappointed with
how things were going and how John Doar was doing his job. Were there any pressures on
you? Were they asking you questions? Weld: Oh, the Republican members of the Committee
had a perfect right to have their own legal research done and I did that. I think that
minority memo you referred to earlier might have been about St. Clair s right of cross-examination
because we did do a formal memo of the minority members of the staff on that and there would
be the occasional research request from Del Latta or Chuck Wiggins or Robert McClory,
somebody on the Dave Dennis, Wiley Mayne, some of the Republican members and we would
do that. I thought we had that obligation. On the other hand, I spent a lot of time with
the Democrats. Now it may have helped that my job was on the legal constitutional side
more than the factual development side. It might have made that easier. Naftali: Once
the Committee chose the broad interpretation of impeachable offenses or high crimes and
misdemeanors, what did you shift ? After February, what were you focusing on? You continued to
work on the legal case or the Weld: Yeah. I did a lot of work on the legal case. I listened
to the tapes. I, by myself, developed and proposed and presented to the Committee the
case on impoundment, which I think was Article Six. It was not accepted. It did get some
votes and that one did involve more courts of law because there had been fifteen or twenty
cases, mostly slapping down the President s position, but some upholding it. So that
was very law-heavy. Naftali: That never got submitted to the Committee, the Sixth Article,
to my knowledge. Weld: It was submitted because I testified before the Committee. Naftali:
I don t believe they voted on it. Weld: No. Well, yes, they did. I think it was voted
down 27 to 11 or something like that. Naftali: Did you play a role in shaping any of the
other Articles? Weld: I remember a lot of discussion about agency abuse. I don’t think
I ever had Article Two. I don t think I ever had the blue pencil on that. I also had quite
a lot of exposure to Article Three, which I think dealt with the subpoenas and contempt
of the subpoenas if memory serves. Naftali: Yes. Weld: And I remember reading the different
versions of the documents where the 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. Naftali: Did you participate in the decision about re-transcribing the
tapes? Because the concern was that the White House transcripts were just not usable or
not thorough enough. Weld: I was not a decision-maker, but it was clear to me having listened to
both the versions from the White House and the perfected versions that that was absolutely
true and later I became a federal prosecutor and we would expend a lot of blood, sweat
and tears on those transcriptions and have the jury listen to the tape and have the transcript
at the same time. The Defense would always scream bloody murder and say, That s not what
that word says. Then I became a civil litigator. Same thing, you know. The transcript of a
tape is a huge forensic development and whoever made that decision – I think it was probably
John Doar and Bert Jenner and Joe Woods they were absolutely right. Naftali: How valuable
were the materials that the Watergate Special Prosecution Force handed over? Weld: On the
development of the Watergate Conspiracy? I assume they were very valuable, but that really
wasn t my hunt. I was not an Article One man. Naftali: Okay. What s the story with Bert
Jenner? He sort of changes positions. Was he forced out by the minority leaders? Weld:
I don t know about forced out. I mean, he was one of the prominent lawyers in the United
States, the founder of Jenner & Block, the great Chicago firm. So a person like myself,
having gone to an Ivy League law school and aspiring to be a kicker litigation partner,
he was sky-high as far as I was concerned. He formed the view pretty early on that the
President was going to be impeached. I remember him saying that to me and a couple of other
people in a car in March or April and that was not yet in the newspapers, I don t think.
So he got there pretty quickly and he and Doar spent a lot of time together, I think.
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 and I think it
was Del Latta from Ohio said, Well, you say that Mr. Jenner, but I don t have to take
your word for that. I saw that report you just filed about how prostitution should be
legalized and that s not binding on me anymore than what you re saying right now. Then one
of the Democratic members said, I hope the gentleman from Ohio will reflect upon what
he said. Well, Del Latta didn t need to reflect on what he had said, but that s an example
of the happy camaraderie on the Committee. Naftali: Was there some tension between Garrison
and Bert Jenner? Weld: Absolutely. I do think so. I mean, Sam was considerably more conservative.
You know, he approached this I won t say entirely as a partisan, but his view at the beginning
was if the President of the United State is going to be impeached and removed from office,
somebody s got to give me a pretty damned good reason or we re going to be a Banana
Republic and he had deep relationships with some of the conservative members of the Republican
wing on the Committee and I don’t think Bert Jenner did and both of them tried very very
hard to be professional about it, but was there tension? Yeah, there was tension. Naftali:
Well, how did Garrison work for Spiro Agnew? Weld: I forgot that if that was true. Naftali:
Did you play any role in shaping the Statements of Information, those big books that were
handed to the Committee with all the Weld: Yeah. Again, not the Article One Watergate
Conspiracy, but yeah, I think I may have had a role in some of the other stuff. Naftali:
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. Weld: Most grand juries. Naftali: Most grand
juries. Weld: Some states by statute permitted defense counsel into the room. Naftali: Was
this one of the sort of discussions that you Weld: Yeah. I mean, there were a lot of arguments
about whether the standard here was probable cause. What s that a four out of nine? Was
it preponderance, which was five out of nine? Was it clear and convincing, which is seven
out of nine? Was it beyond a reasonable doubt? Naftali: Sorry, just to help the people watching
and me, too, you mean five out of the nine jurors, right? Weld: No, no, percentage likelihood.
A grand jury, if it finds a four out of nine chance that something has happened, that s
probable cause and in different types of legal proceedings there are all types of different
standards of proof required. Another one would be preponderance in a civil case, five out
of nine or six out of ten, however you like. There s another standard in fraud causes.
The requirement is clear and convincing evidence and that s loosely translated as seven out
of nine. Then there s beyond a reasonable doubt, which is sometimes translated as nine
out of ten. So the people who wanted the President to be impeached were saying, Well, this is
just a probable cause. We don t have to prove this damned thing. Then other people would
say, Well, this is a rather important proceeding and if we re going to send a guy who s President
of the United States over to the Senate to get removed from office it s a little bit
more important than a speeding ticket and maybe the standard should be a little bit
different. Yeah, I can remember doing a good bit of legal research on all those things
and analogizing as to various different kinds of proceedings, but the fact is there s almost
no judicial proceeding which is analogous. This is a quintessentially legislative proceeding
and that s why I say, ultimately, the check is political. It s not some statute. It s
not some rule. Sure, there are high crimes and misdemeanors, but you can put whatever
water into that vessel you care to. Naftali: How useful was the Johnson precedent? Weld:
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. Naftali: In the end, by the way, on
Article Two, which was the one you said you worked on or you thought about a little bit,
did you reach a four, five, six or nine out of ten in the end? Weld: On the agency abuse?
Naftali: Yeah, in your own mind. Weld: Well, it s pretty clear he d done it because I listened
to those tapes. The question on that article was has too much potpourri been jammed into
the same glass jars? Is this a single cognizable offense, but the evidence behind that was
a lot of the same evidence that was in the Watergate case and that was just there on
tape. Naftali: I mean, how many times does a President have to do it for it to be too
many? Is one enough? If you have one instance that you prove? Weld: Yeah. I mean, if a President
said once, Well, maybe we could encourage the CIA to get involved here because that
would maybe dissuade the FBI or complicate their efforts. Even once, if it was to dissuade
the FBI in a case that was aimed at the President s breastplate, that might be enough. Of course,
it s like perjury. A perjury prosecution partakes of the color of the underlying offense here.
In that case the obstruction, I think, kind of partakes of the color of the underlying
offense and if you didn t have the underlying evidence then maybe you d say this is too
artificial. Naftali: Before the vote did you sense that there was going to be bipartisan
support for some of these Articles before the votes on the Articles? Weld: Yeah. I m
trying to remember the timing, but yeah, I was pretty clear there was going to 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 of 1972. m not sure when this meeting occurred, but there had been a diehard
group of perhaps nine or ten Republicans who were with the President all the way and their
legal leader was Chuck Wiggins who later became quite a distinguished appellant judge out
in California, I think, a very learned scholarly man. He would make arguments like, Well, you’ve
made an election and therefore you cannot argue this, and that s pretty legalistic.
So someone brought in the smoking gun tape to play for these diehards and they played
it and the nine diehards sort of realized they d been played for fools. I often heard
the effort of defending the President referred to as a draining effort and if anyone had
been drained they had and Chuck Wiggins, the ultimate strong, silent type, burst into tears.
Naftali: ve got to situate this because the Supreme Court doesn t rule that these have
to be turned over until July 29th after the votes. So the Committee listened to this tape
after the Supreme because this would have been after the votes that they had taken.
So they listened to the June 23rd 72 tape after the Supreme not before. It couldn t
have been before the Supreme Court proceeding because the President hadn t turned it over.
Weld: I would have said that the Supreme Court ordered the tapes had to go over sometime
in May. Maybe there were a few tapes. No, it was July 29th. Well, that s ten days before
he resigns. Naftali: Yeah. Well, that s what Weld: So maybe that meeting was in that interval.
Naftali: Oh my goodness. That must have been very powerful. Did you have an moment when
you were going through the materials? As you said, your view Weld: Well, listening to the
tapes. Naftali: And do you remember was that May/June? Do you remember when you listened
to the tapes? Weld: 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 and I remember
thinking, Boy, everyone really keeps their voice down in the Oval Office. No screaming
and ranting and raving. On the other hand, what s being said is pretty amazing! Naftali:
Tell us about John Doar, working with him. Weld: Oh, he was a dreamboat a dreamboat.
He was just so sort of apple pie good and I knew that he d 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 always saying, That John Doar, he won t even return my telephone calls. It s
really awful. One time John took exception to the fact that I think it was I had written
a memo for Mr. Hutchinson of Michigan, who was their ranking member, at the request of
Sam Garrison and I think Sam asked me to deliver it to Mr. Hutchinson and John said I didn
t know about this so I got caught in the middle on that and I was kind of in the middle since
I was friendly with both sides and I often say I ve had a lot of different jobs in law
and politics. ve been House liberal in a conservative administration, witness to the Ed Meese Justice
Department in the 80 s and I ve been a House conservative in a liberal administration,
witness the Nixon impeachment and I don t like either one. I d rather be right in the
middle in a middle-of-the-road administration. So I had to go get my own administration.
Naftali: Tell us a bit about working with Hillary Rodham. Weld: 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 Doar himself got frowny faced 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 ve never forgotten that. Naftali: Frowny faced? He got frowny faced? Weld: Yeah,
he did. He was saying I should have known about this. How did this happen? Naftali:
Tell us about what happens because you were going to tell us a story about what happens
after this experience, years later. Weld: Well, 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 litigation, ran for State Attorney General in 1978 because
I was so obsessed with the investigative possibilities of grand juries and thought that the AG s
office was not doing as much as it could have. I was absolutely creamed in that one. Then
when Reagan was elected I was a Republican who maybe knew how to try a case. So I was
appointed US 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
and 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 the
m sorry. After that happened, 1999 25 years after the Watergate case, after the impeachment
I get a call from John Podesta, who was then President Clinton s Chief of Staff and I d
known him through the Clinton White House because President Clinton and I have been
friendly as Governors and then he had 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 Rahm
Emanuel and other senior members of the staff. So he calls me up in January of 99. He says,
It looks like they re going to impeach my guy and they re going to hold hearings in
the House and near as we can tell there s a couple of people in this country who know
a lot about the constitutional law of impeachment of a President and the other one is them is
very much disqualified by interest. So you have to testify as an expert witness for the
Defense on the law, which I was happy to do and did. Naftali: Tell us about that experience
just doing it. Weld: 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 use or
patient of power. This is a non-starter as a matter of constitutional law, and they said,
Well, 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 that
he d been in Boston on November, 28th, 1981. You may say, Why bring that case? Because
that was the day of the Great Lynn fire. It almost burned down the city of Lynn. He was
a known torch arsonist 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 d 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 case. You re really getting at something
else and you would never prosecute somebody for perjury for falsely denying that they
d had a tryst with some lady of their acquaintance to be beneath the dignity of the law. Naftali:
Do you remember when you learned that President Nixon was going to resign? Weld: Yes. I had
had a longstanding commitment to go fishing with my brother and some friends on August
9th. I d 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 7th 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 looked down at the bottom of
the boat 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 near Reykjavik, Iceland.
Naftali: What did you think of the pardon? Weld: 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. I mean, this
experience made me a real prosecutor and I ve had prosecutive instincts for a long time.
Maybe they weren t honed in 1974, but I think even then I wouldn t have done it. Naftali:
What did this experience teach you about our system of government? Weld: Well, the wheels
may grind slowly, but they grind pretty well. I mean, there s 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 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, in the United
States. Naftali: Did you stay in touch – beside the 1999 story with Hillary Rodham after?
Weld: Oh yeah. I ve known her pretty continuously. I mean, there were whispered conversations
about Bill in 1974. They were married the next year. 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 d heard so much about. So I ve known Hillary Rodham
now Hillary Rodham Clinton in lots of different contexts. Naftali: You said that this launched
your career. Weld: Well, in the sense that I became interested in the criminal law and
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. Naftali: Have I forgotten
or been unable to elicit any stories that you d like to Weld: No. That s a wrap, as
we say in Hollywood. Naftali: Governor, Ambassador, thank you, Bill Weld. It s been a pleasure.
Weld: Thank you. PAGE PAGE William Weld Oral History Richard Nixon Presidential Library
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