Butterfield’s testimony, acknowledged to be correct by the White House, indicates that the White House may have in its possession the means to prove that President Nixon knew nothing about the cover-up of the Watergate affair until March 21, 1973, as he has maintained, or that former White House counsel John W. Dean III was correct in testifying that President Nixon knew about the cover-up well before March 21.
Samuel Dash, chief counsel of the Senate committee, said yesterday that the committee will request White House tapes for specific dates. Dash said there should be “no obstacle to giving us the actual recordings . . . It’s late in the day for anybody to raise withholding that information.”
Deputy White House press secretary Gerald L. Warren declined to comment yesterday when asked if the White House would make the tapes available to the Senate committee.
Sources inside the White House said, however, that the President was expected to stand by his most recent statement, a letter to committee chairman Sam J. Ervin Jr. (DD-N.C.) saying that Mr. Nixon would neither testify before the committee nor release presidential papers to it. The sources included the tapes and any transcripts of the tapes as falling within the category of presidential papers.
Since July 7, the committee has been searching for a means to obtain information from President Nixon about the Watergate affair. Before his hospitalization on July 12, Mr. Nixon had agreed to meet with Ervin, who has repeatedly said that only the President and Presidential papers involving Dean could show finally whether Dean’s testimony about the President was correct.
Special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox also declined to comment yesterday on whether his office will seek any or all of the taped White House conversations. However, it is expected that he also will ask for tapes of conversations between Mr. Nixon and Dean, and for certain other tapes, including one of a talk that Dean said former domestic adviser John D. Ehrlichman had with the President concerning executive clemency for convicted Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt.
According to Butterfield’s testimony yesterday, all conversations were automatically taped in the White House Oval office where the President customarily receives official visitors ranging from personal friends and American business, political and labor leaders to foreign dignitaries.