Yesterday’s Classic Doonesbury from 1974 (#1, here) looked at the foul mouth of Richard Nixon (and his aides) from Watergate days. Today (again from 1974) we get the President defining the limits of what counts, in U.S. law, as a prosecutable defense (in ordinary language, what counts as illegal):

(Bonus from the Watergate tapes: Nixon’s paranoid anti-Semitism, in his bitter ravings about the Jews.)

Here’s Nixon’s attorney at the time, James D. St. Clair, arguing before the Supreme Court of the United States:

“The President wants me to argue that he is as powerful a monarch as Louis XIV, only four years at a time, and is not subject to the processes of any court in the land except the court of impeachment.”

(Note St. Clair’s care in framing Nixon’s claim about the Imperial Presidency: he doesn’t actually argue the position, but merely says that the President wants him to. A little gem of indirectness.)

For the quote: see The Supremes’ Greatest Hits: ‪The 34 Supreme Court Cases That Most Directly Affect Your Life, by ‪Michael G. Trachtman (‪Sterling Publishing, 2006) p. 131.

The Imperial Presidency returns in 1977, in Nixon’s interview with David Frost on May 19th, brief clip here. The source of the famous:

“When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

Legal opinion in general did not support this interpretation of legal and illegal.


One Response to ““illegal””

  1. John Lawler Says:

    Interestingly, in Nixon’s time, and in fact since 1920, that had been pretty much the de facto policy of the Mexican Presidency — i.e, the President of the Republic could also do whatever he decided to do, except six years at a time, with no re-election possible.

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