“People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook. I’ve earned everything I’ve got.”
In an hour-long televised question-and-answer session with 400 Associated Press managing editors, Mr. Nixon was tense and sometimes misspoke. But he maintained his innocence in the Watergate case and promised to supply more details on his personal finances and more evidence from tapes and presidential documents.
The President was loquacious in his answers and at the end solicited a question on the charges that the administration raised milk support prices in exchange for campaign contributions from the milk lobby.
Denying the charge, the President said Democrats led the fight in the House and Senate for higher support prices and pointed a gun at his head requiring him to boost support prices.
The President acknowledged that he had “made a mistake” in not more closely supervising campaign activities. In a question on what he may do after he leaves office, he quipped that it depended on when he left.
Then, becoming serious, he said that he would write but not speak, practice law or serve on boards of directors. One thing he will do is work for new rules of campaign procedures. He said he did not want to be remembered as a President who did many things but let his own campaign get out of hand.
Mr. Nixon acknowledged under questioning that he paid only nominal income taxes in 1970 and 1971 but he did not give figures. He also said that his brother Donald’s phone was tapped for unexplained security reasons.
Discussing energy conservation, Mr. Nixon drew laughter when he said that he had made a saving by refusing to allow a back-up aircraft to follow him on this trip.
“If this one goes down,” he said in reference to his Air Force plane, “they don’t have to impeach.”
While the President was nervous, he was not floored by any of the questions but answered them much as he does in any press conference.
He flew here tonight from his Key Biscayne, Fla., home for the much-heralded question-and-answer period. He was well prepared, remembering dates and times when he held key meetings with various aides on Watergate matters.
Summing up, he declared that the White House tape recordings would prove that he had no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in, that he never offered executive clemency for the Watergate burglars, and in fact turned it down when it was suggested, and had no knowledge until March 21, 1973, of proposals that blackmail money be paid a convicted Watergate conspirator.
Regarding the June 20, 1972, brief telephone conversation with former Attorney General John N. Mitchell, Mr. Nixon said no tape was made because the call was from the family quarters in the White House. He said he called to cheer up Mitchell because Mitchell was chagrined because he had not properly controlled those under him -- in the re-election campaign, which he once headed, and the burglary was embarrassing the administration.