Following is an excerpted transcript of President Carter's press conference:
Bert Lance is my friend. I know him personally, as well as if he was my own brother. I know him without any doubt in my mind or heart to be a good and an honorable man.
He was given this past weekend a chance that have been raised about him, unproven allegations that have been raised against him, and he did it well. He told the truth. I think he proved that our system of government works because when he was given a chance to testify on his own behalf he was able to clear his name.
My responsability along with Bert's has been, and is, to make sure that the American people can have justified confidence in our own government. We also have an additional responsibility which is just as difficult, and that is to protect the reputation of decent men and women. Nothing that I have heard or read has staken my belief in Bert's ability or his integrity.
There have been numerous allegations, which I admit are true, that a lot of the problem has been brought on Bert Lance by me because of the extraordinary standards that we have tried to set in government and the expectations of the American people that were engendered during my own campaign, in my inauguration statement, said as has been so strongly supported by Bert in his voluntary sacrifice, financially and otherwise, to come to Washington.
It was I who insisted that Bert agree to sell his substantial holdings in bank stock. Had he stayed there in a selfish fashion and enriched himself and his own family financially, I am sure he would have been spared any allegations of impropriety, but the wanted to come to Washington and serve his government because I asked him to, and he did.
I accept Bert's resignation with the greatest sense of regret and sorrow. He is a good man. Even those who have made other statements about Bert have never alleged on any occassion that he did not do a good job as the director of the Office of Management and Budget. He is close to me and always will be, and I think he has made the right decision, because it would be difficult for him to devote full time to his responsibilities in the future. And although I regret his resignation, I do accept it.
I would be glad to answer any questions you might have about this or any others.
Q: Mr. President, there have been reports that you knew early on what the charges were, that Mr. Lance had told you some of the allegations last January. Is that so, and can you tell us what you knew. And also did you ask for his resignation or encourage it, and what made you accept it?
A: I did not ask for Bert's resignation. Bert Lance and I communicate without embarrassment, without restraint and without evasion of issues. I thought Bert did a superb job Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in answering all the questions that had been leveled about him and against him.
Monday morning about 6 o'clock, Bert came to my office and we spent about 45 minutes going over all of the present questions that still remain, the prospects for the future. I told Bert I thought he had exonerated himself completely, proven our system worked, and asked him to make his own decision about what his choice would be.
He told me yesterday afternoon that he hand decided that it would be best to resign. He wanted to talk to his wife again. He wanted to discuss the question with his attorney, Clark Clifford, before he made a final judgement. Mr. Clifford was in Detroit, came back this afternoon, and that was why the press conference was delayed.
This was a decision that Bert made. I did not disagree with it, and I think he has made a very unselfish and wise judgment.
The other question that you asked was whether and when I knew about charges that were made against Bert.
The only thing that I ever heard about before Bert because OMB Director was last fall I know that there had been questions about the Calhoun National Bank and overdrafts. My understanding at that time was that the overdraft question referred to his 1974 compaign debt.
The first time I heard about it was when Bert mentioned it to me in Plains about two weeks later. I think the date is now determined to be the 1st of December. I was called from Atlanta and told that the matter had been resolved by the Comptroller's Office and by the Justice Department.
On that date was the first time that either Bert or I knew that the Justice Department had been involved at all. Any my understanding then was that it was an oversight and had the oversight no occurred, that the Justice Department would have resolved the issue long before. So I would hope that in the future the complete FBI report might be made available. That is a decision for Bert Lance to make. But I think if any of you would read it, you would see that approximately a hundred people were interviewed, three of them from the Justice Department, three of them from the Comptroller's Department.
All of the analyses of Bert Lance's character and ability were good and favorable, and I don't think that any mistake was made. I think he was qualified then; I think he is qualified now. And there was no attempt to conceal anything from me nor my staff.
Q: Mr. President, you have spoken so highly of Lance again this afternoon. I wonder if you feel that he was unfairly drummed out of the government?
A: That is a difficult question for me to answer. I have had personal knowledge of many of the statements and happenings that have been widely publicized. Some of them were greatly exaggerated. Some of them were actually untrue.
One some occasions the report of an incident was not unbiased, but unfair. In general, I think the media have been fair. There are some exceptions. In general, I think that the Senate committee has been fair.
Bert has now had a chance to let his own positions be known and I think that at this point his resignation is voluntary. He needs to go home and take care of his own business.
Q: . . . Mr. President, you said, sir, that you did not ask for the resignation. But you said it was, you felt, the right decision. Does that mean, sir, that you really came down to feel that he could no longer be an effective advocate for the administration on Capital Hill?
A: No, I think it would be a mistake to attribute Berts decision to the fact that he could not be an effective advocate of the administration's positions. There are so many advocates that even if one were completely incapacitated, other advocates could put forth the arguments for the administration's position . . .
Q: There is an obvious follow-up, Mr. President, and that is if he had not offered to resign, would you have wanted him to stay on?
A: That is hard to say. As I have said several times in brief, impromtu news encounters in the last few weeks, the decision that Bert Lance and I make together will be acceptable to the American people. And I have had large numbers of people who have asked me not to let Bert Lance resign. A group from Tennessee and North Carolina were in the White House this afternoon for a briefing on the Panama Canal Treaty. They rose, and the Governor of Tennessee said, "We all hope Bert Lance will not resign." I had twelve speakers of the House of state legislatures here last Friday. They unanimously voted and importuned me not to let Bert resign. I felt, and still feel, it is basically a decision for him . . .
Q: Mr. President, how much has your credibility been damaged by this incident and by Mr. Lance's resignation?
A: I don't know. I think that as best I could from one hour to another, one day to another, and as best Bert could from one hour and one day to another, we have done what was right as judged by what we knew at that time.
We have been partners in every sense of the word, since he has been here, and you having covered the government of Georgia know that we were equally close partners in Georgia.
I have never known the head of a State or Federal agency who is more competent and has better judgment and who understands me better, and can work in close harmony with me. But whether my own credibility has been damaged, I can't say. I would guess to some degree an unpleasant situation like this would be damaging somewhat, but I just have to accept that if it comes.
Q: How will you replace that kind of close relationship that you have had with him, and how much does that concern you?
A: I don't think there is any way that I could find anyone to replace Bert Lance that would be in my judgment as competent, as strong, as decent and as close to me as a friend and adviser as he has been. And, obviously, the government will continue, and I hope to do a good job as President, and I am sure a successor will be adequate.
But there has been a special relationship between me and Bert Lance that transcended official responsibilities or duties or even governmental service over the last six or seven years.
So he has occupied a special place in my governmental career, and in my political career, and in my personal life. I don't think there is any way anyone could replace him now . . .
Q: Mr. President, you have referred to the high standards you set for your people during the campaign. You said often you would not tolerate impropriety or even the appearance of impropriety.
I think now a lot of people are looking at your standards against the Bert Lance case.
You know what the charges and allegations were. I would like to ask you whether you feel now today Bert Lance has avoided the appearance of impropriety or whether a new standard is now in operation?
A: The standards were high at the beginning. The standards are still high, and the standards have been high in the service of Bert Lance. There has been not even heard of that Bert Lance did not perform his duties as director of OMB in a superlative way . . .
Q: Mr. President, sir, I would like to ask you about your statement, repeated statement that Mr. Lance never did anything illegal. The Comptroller of the Currency reported that Mr. Lance's overdraft loans of more than $5,000 violated the banking law and Mr. Lance I think conceded that his failure to report loans to board of directors of the two banks he ran also was an infraction of the banking statutes.
It is true, I know, civil, there are civil statutes; there are no criminal penalties. But how do you justify this with your statement that he never broke any law?
A: My assessment is that you are trying to succeed where the Senate Committee failed. There was no judgment made that Bert Lance did anything illegal. The only Comptroller's report that I saw specifically said that he had done nothing illegal and I think that he had adequately explained his position. He had three days to do it in. I think he did it well. I have no information to add to what Bert has already revealed to the senators and to the public.
Q: Do you think that you may have been, if only slightly, less than fully prudent, and diligent because of your feeling toward Mr. Lance in the way you read some of these things, when he talked to you on November 15th, when he talked to you on December 1st, when the FBI report which I understand has also an appendix with some of these judgmental matters about the propriety of some of Mr. Lance's banking practices, in retrospect to you feel that in effect two standards were applied: One, a very firm, strong standard which you set and one for Mr. Lance who you knew so well, that you felt you didn't have to examine it that closely?
A: No. I don't think I have been remiss in that incident at all, even looking at it from this retrospective point of view.
Obviously, you can make a much better judgment on someone who comes in as a member of a Cabinet if you yourself have known that person for years, if you know that person's general reputation, if you have worked intimately with that person in matters of times of stress and matters of challenge and have seen the basic competence, courage, honestly, unselfishness there. This existed in Bert Lance.
And I don't think there is any doubt that the FBI check of Bert Lance was just as thorough as was the FBI investigation of any other member of the Cabinet. I think that if you examine the entire FBI report now, that you would confirm that if that was all you knew about him and had never seen Bert Lance before, you would agree that he was superlatively qualified to be a Cabinet-level officer.
So I don't think there is any feeling on my part that my friendship with him distorted my point of view in assessing his competence. My friendship for Bert Lance, my long knowledge of him just confirmed a very favorable assessment of his qualifications by those who did not know him . . .
Q: If Mr. Lance had not decided to resign, were you prepared to have him stay on or would you have tried to persuade him to resign?
A: I can't anwer that question because it is, first of all, hypothetical. As I said before, it wasn't a matter of Bert Lance operating in isolation from me. We had thorough discussions about the matter. I left it completely up to him. He and I talked about the advantages of his staying, the disadvantages of him staying, to him, to my administration, to the government, to his family, and Bert consulted with his own attorney, he consulted with several Members of the Congress, he consulted with people back home.
He talked it over with members of his family and he came to me and said he had decided it was best for him and for me if he resigned. And as has always been the case between me and Bert, I was honest with him. I didn't artifically try to talk him out of it because as we discussed the same facts and the same issues and the same prospects fro the future, I think that our minds were working in the same direction.
I have always trusted Bert Lance to do the proper and the unselfish thing. And my guess is that he was much more concerned about me and my adminstration and the reputation of the government and the diversion of our attention to his case away from things that were important for the people. I think that was by far the most important factor in his decision.