tv Oral Histories William Weld CSPAN December 7, 2019 11:00am-11:33am EST
the interview is from the richard nixon presidential library oral history collection. in 2011. by committeehired republicans who are in the minority. he is currently running for the republican presidential nomination. i am the director of the presidential library museum for september 28, 2011. i have the honor and privilege to be interviewing william weld in new york city. thank you for joining us today. please tell us how you came to be involved with the inquiry? in the fall of 1973. i was an associate at a law form in boston, asking me if i would be interested in interviewing for a job on the impeachment staff. i said i have to stay here.
i called the guy back 15 seconds later, realizing i made a mistake and said can i still interview for it? he said yes. i didn't interview with sam garrison, who was running the republican side of the staff that was not yet fully unified. some thought it never was. sam and had ath good interview with him. i was engaged to come in quite shortly thereafter. i reported for duty in december of 1973. >> tell us about sam garrison. give us a picture of him. man, was a devoted family from the south. from richmond. worked like a tiger and slept in on sunday mornings. he and i had a good personal relationship. >> you are there before john was named. >> i'm sure i was there before bert jenner. maybe it was before john doerr.
i remember showing up for work. if i was the first staffer, hilary rodham was the second staffer. i remember john doerr calling us into his office and saying bill, hilary, we have a research project. we have to find out what constitutes foreground of impeachment on the president. there does not seem to be a case on point. it is friday afternoon and i don't want to ruin your weekend, why don't you have it on my desk for tuesday morning? we said fine, t. six months later, after 40 lawyers had gone blind trying to figure out what the answer to the question was, we decided that the answer to the question was in the newspapers, at the time, not in the decided law cases. u.n. john davidson wrote a minority -- you and john
davidson wrote a minority dissent on the grounds? -- >> i know we wrote to cross-examine witnesses. we ever wrotethat 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 that early on, really, it should be required that it be a crime or there is no stopping point and any president could be impeached for anything. the only check would be political. the ultimate memo that we filed, all filed said what if a president took up a life of pleasure in a foreign land that ?ight no that might not be a crime but it would be grounds for removal
from office. i found and find that persuasive. i guess the dirty secret is the only check is political. on thater early congressman gerald ford, future president ford had said that an impeachable offense is whatever the majority of the house and two thirds of the senate say it is. everyone said he played too much football without a helmet and does not understand anything. after the lawyers spent months on this, joe woods stated congressman ford said was a profound statement of the definition of an impeachable offense. i think my own views shifted a little bit. i was worried about the criminal crime requirement early on. i ultimately came into the view that impeachment was remedied and directed at the branches of the government
usurping the powers are functions of another branch or discharge forg to for you and your branch. your branch. thatere was a feeling with conspiracy and the misuse of the fbi and the cia that the president had not taken care that the laws be faithfully executed. it took a while to get there. there was a lot of floundering around. separate? you did you come to the conclusion that the resident is response or for the action of the lieutenants? listen to all of the tapes but i listened to a lot of them.
i would say the president is not going oh, really, that is an interesting idea. he is right there with them. since you mentioned him, can you give us a picture of james sinclair? and he was an trial lawyer. i wasory of him was presenting a case on an article based on impoundment of funds, failing to extend funds. i said here is the case for impoundment and here is the argument the other way. there any other possible defenses that the president should raise? this is in the thick of the
fight of the documents and whether the president could withhold document. i said yes. c, i on cases a, b and said the president could stand upon the ground in the defense of sovereign immunity. he was seated three feet to my right and he collapsed laughing because it was such bad politics at the time. [laughter] theell us a bit about effect bert jenner had. >> he was the original class a litigator. he had argued with a spoon against illinois in the u.s. supreme court. he said your honor need not reach this issue. you can decide on the snow around and they went for it. he was a highly distinguished lawyer. the interesting thing was that -- an interesting thing was that john doerr had this strong view that we want to have a unified staff.
my playmates were mostly hilary limits, hamilton, to some extent, joe woods. i worked closely with john davidson, john whitman and sam garrison on the republican side. i was welcome in both camps. i am not sure everybody was welcome in both camps. the hard core the watergate task -- i they were not quite so partisan as the congressman from texas who had a democratic caucus and was asked what is the theme of jack brooks? what is the theme of this article to of agency abuse, fbi and cia, i don't understand. he took a cigar out of his mouth
and said the theme of this article is we are going to get that son of a bitch out of there. some of them were not friendly to president nixon. some pressure on the republicans of the staff? a number of minority members were disappointed with how things were going and how john doerr was doing his job. were there any pressures on you, where they asking you questions? >> the republican members of the committee had a perfect right to have their own legal research done and i did that. i think the minority memo might have been about sinclair's cross-examination. we did do a formal memo for the minority memos -- members of the staff on that. there would be the occasional .esearch request dennis, some dave
of the republican members. we have that obligation. on the other hand, i spent a lot of time with the democrats. it may have helped that my job was on the legal, constitutional side more than the factual side. it might have made that easier. chose thee committee broad interpretation of impeachable offenses and high what were demeanors, you focusing on? to continue to work on the legal case? >> i did a lot of work on the legal case. i listened to the tapes. myself, i proposed and presented to the committee, the case on impoundment. article six was not accepted. it did get some votes. -- there hadot of been 15 or 20 cases.
that was very law heavy. got sent to the committee, the six articles? >> it was submitted because i testified before the committee. i think it was voted down 27-11 or something like that. did you play a role in shaping any of the other articles? i remember discussion about agency abuse. had articlek i ever two. i don't hav think i have a pencil on that. i don't with article three, which dealt with subpoenas, if memory serves. i remember reading the different versions of the documents, where the white house would have erased the incriminating material on most copies. one of them got through it needless to say that infuriated
everybody on the staff. the concern was that the white house transcripts were not usable. decision-maker but it was clear to me, having listened to both the persons from the white house and the perfected versions -- versions from the white house and the perfected versions, that was true. i became a federal prosecutor blood,expended a lot of sweat and tears on those transcripts. and to have the transcript at the same time. the defense would scream bloody murder and i became a civil litigator, that was the same thing. tape --script of the whoever made that decision, i think it was probably john doerr or bert jenner, they were
absolutely right. >> how valuable were the materials? the develop and of the watergate conspiracy? i assume they were valuable but that wasn't -- i was not an article one man. what is the story with bert jenner, he changed his position. ? was he forced out by the minority leaders? i don't know about forced out. he was one of the prominent lawyers of the united states, the founder of a great chicago firm. myself, having gone to an ivy league law school , he was skyhigh as far as i was concerned. i remember him saying the
president was going to be impeached early on. that was not in the newspapers, i don't think. he got there pretty quickly and he spent -- he and john doerr spent a lot of time together. he would come and make presentations to the republican members. i don't think they ever felt at ease with him. at one point, he was testifying think one man from ohio said you say that but i don't have to take your report -- word for that. howw the report for prostitution should be legalized and that is not more binding on me the. a democrat said i hope the german from ohio will reflect on what he said. he did not need to reflect. that is an example of the camaraderie. ?> was there some tension >> absolutely. sam was considerably more
conservative. he approached this -- i won't say as entirely as partisan. his view from the beginning is -- was if the president is going to be impeached and removed from office, someone will have to be -- give me a pretty good reason or we will be a banana republic. withd a deep relationship some of the conservative members of the republican wing on the committee. i don't think jenner did. both of them tried very, very hard to be professional about it but was there tension? yeah, there was tension. >> hadn't he done some work for spiro agnew? >> i forgot that if it's true. >> did you play any role in the shaping of statements? state books handed to the committee? >> not the article one watergate conspiracy but i think i may have had a role on some of the
other stuff. >> the 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. >> was this in one of the discussions? >> 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? beyond a reasonable doubt? >> just to help the people watching and me, too, 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 neighbor 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. 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's license perjury.
like perjury. a perjury prosecution looks at the color of the underlying case. 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've 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 die hard and 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 a draining effort and if anyone had been drained they had and 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 19. that's 10 days before he resigns. maybe that meeting was in that interval. >> my goodness, that must have been very powerful. >> did you have an aha moment? >> listening to the tapes. >> do you remember, was that may or june? they -- do you remember when yo 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 -- john doerr. >> dream boat. dream boat. he was just 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 a good friend of ethel kennedy. doerra saying, that john won't return my telephone calls. it is awful. one time, john took exception to the fact that i think it was i who had written a memo for mr. hutchinson of michigan, at the request of sam garrison. i think sam asked me to deliver
it to mr. hutchinson. did not know i about this so 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 the -- i'm sorry, after 25t happened, 1999, years after the want to get case -- want to get case and impeachment, i get a call from john podesta, who was then president clinton's chief of staff, and i had known him throughout the clinton white house because clinton and i had
been friendly 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 great lynn fire and almost burnt 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 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 the 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. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] announcer: is the impeachment inquiry continues, we look back to watergate and the impeachment of richard nixon. for more interviews with plea -- key players and discussions on the process, this is sees been.org/history and search nixon impeachment. our c-span city tour takes american history on the road to feature the history of the cities acrs