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April 6, 1977: Nixon: ‘If the President Does It, That Means It’s Not Illegal’

Interviewer David Frost has a difficult time with his subject, former President Richard Nixon, in the day’s early questioning (see April 6, 1977). Frost attempts to recoup with a line of questioning suggested by his adviser James Reston, Jr., one used in the trial of former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman (see January 1, 1975). Were there no limits to what a president can do, even if the president wants to do something plainly illegal? he asks. Could he do anything despite the law? Burglary? Forgery? Even murder? “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal,” Nixon retorts. “Never had his imperialism been so baldly stated,” Reston will later reflect. Frost asks if the dividing line between, for example, a police burglary and the murder of an antiwar protester is only the president’s judgment? Nixon agrees, and adds: “There’s nothing specific that the Constitution contemplates in that respect. I haven’t read every word, every jot and every tittle, but I do know this: That it has been, however, argued that as far as a president is concerned, that in war time, a president does have certain extraordinary powers which would make acts that would otherwise be unlawful, lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the nation and the Constitution, which is essential for the rights we’re all talking about.” [Time, 5/30/1977; Reston, 2007, pp. 102-105; Landmark Cases, 8/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, David Frost, James Reston, Jr, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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