Former President Nixon, contending his televised comments on presidential power have been misinterpreted, said yesterday a president must be able to "go beyond the strict letter of existing law" to cope with emergencies.
In a lenghty statement published in today's editions of The Washington Star, Nixon said he does not believe a president is "above the law" but must have latitute to adapt "statutory laws to the laws of necessity and the rule of reason.
The 2,500-word statement, which Editor James G. Bellows said was submitted unsolicited to the paper by Nixon representatives, was described by the former President as an attempt to clarify remarks he made during his third tlevised interview with David Frost on May 19.
During the interview, Nixon was asked why he had authorized burglaries, wire-tapping and other illegal actions against anti'Vietnam war protesters. He responded" at one point, "Well, when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal."
His real views are "not the way they have been represented by columnists and cartoonists on the basis of fragments of one conversation, Nixon wrote in setting out a rationale for his contention that "exercise of power is not necessarily the abuse of power even when that exercise results in a technical breach of statutory limits."
Denying that he was engaging in a "sematic quibble," Nixon wrote:
"First, I do not believe and would not argue that a President is above the law. Of course he is not. The question is what is the law and how is it to be applied with respect to the President in fulfilling the duties of his office.
"Precedents over the years have sanctioned some degree of latitude in the use by presidents of emergency situations. I believe such latitude is necessary, and at times vital. My insistence that this latitude does not place president above the law is not a semantic quibble. To me, it is a vital distinction which goes to he heart of our constitutional system."
Urging that President be accorded "some faith in his judgement" and "room for maneuver" in emergency circumstances, Nixon said: "His powers are not unlimited. But either can be existing law - in a limited way, and at times of special need - and still meet these larger responsibilities."
When he said presidential actions are inherently legal, Nixon explained, he was "referring to that traditional latitude provided in dealing with emergencies." He said the so-called Huston Plan for syping on domestic dissidents was "targeted at an organized clandestine campaign of violence in whch people were being killed and communities terrorized" - a campaign of such threatening potential, he said, that it became a "federal responsibility."
He noted that an FBI report on an illegal surreptitious entry during the previous Democratic administration claimed to have virtually closed down the Ku Klux Klan and asked, "Was that breach of the law by the FBI right or wrong? Was the Klan's threat to individual liberties sufficient to justify that intrusion on its members' liberties?" He did not answer the question but said it could also be asked by Westher-men bombings in 1970.
Again invoking predecessors, he said Lincoln had to choose between the letter and spirit of the law in saving the Union, and the inherent powers of the presidency were used by Jefferson in the Lousiana Purchase and by Truman in the steel industry seizure.
Similarly, he said, prosecutors sometimes choose not to enforce a particular law when it would result in an injustice or compromise national interests and some governmental jurisdictions have laws "so bizzare that no one expects them to be enforced."
He said it would be "absurd" to assert that anything a President might do is perse legal. The bounds, he said, are limits of common sense ,of necessity and of fidelity to the basic concepts of our constitution and of our body of statute law, as interpreted by courts