Jimmy Carter photo

Plains, Georgia Informal Exchange With Reporters.

August 31, 1979

THE PRESIDENT. Good morning.

Q. Good morning, Mr. President. If you'd only let us know, we wouldn't have come out at 7 o'clock.

Q. Or woken up at 7 o'clock.

THE PRESIDENT. Did you wake up at 7?

Q. None of us.

Q. Close enough for me—for me it was close.

Q. Let me ask you a question. Does it concern us that there are the Russian troops in Cuba? What is your information?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Secretary Vance is going to make a statement in Washington about that today. I've discussed it with him this morning. I think I'll let his statement stand.

Q. Is it a very serious matter?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'll let Secretary Vance's statement stand today, Sam [Sam Donaldson, ABC News].

Q. But, to, I mean, kind of forestall any other questions, you are making the decisions on this, though? It is not Secretary Vance

THE PRESIDENT. That's right.

Q.—because that would be tomorrow's question.

THE PRESIDENT. I understand. Secretary Vance and I've discussed it, and he'll make a statement today for me.

Q. Do you have something to say about your new United Nations Ambassador, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. Have they announced the—

Q. Eleven o'clock. Yes, several minutes ago in Americus.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I will say something about him. He's a highly qualified professional, thoroughly familiar with the major issues that confront the United Nations, and I have complete confidence in him.

I've consulted with a lot of people before making the selection, and Ambassador Don McHenry fulfills all the requirements, I think, for a superb appointment. He's been highly recommended to me by Ambassador Andrew Young and by Secretary Vance and many others. His whole life has been devoted to ambassadorial or diplomatic service. And I've had a thorough discussion with him earlier this week about the major issues that confront the United Nations—North-South relationships, southern Africa, Mideast, and others—and I have got complete confidence in him.

Q. Let me try the Cuban thing from a different angle.

THE PRESIDENT. I'm not going to answer questions about Cuba. I'm going to let Secretary Vance make the statement.

Q. With regard to its potential impact on SALT, would you comment on that aspect of it?

THE PRESIDENT. No. Let's let the Cuban thing be handled by the State Department. I've instructed them what to say, and I think it's best to let them say it.

Q. What is your information about this allegation that Richard Harden may have perjured himself in the Vesco matter?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know anything about it.

Q. There are stories to the effect that Phillip Heymann apparently told some members of the grand jury that he felt that was the case, although I think he has not commented on it. 1

News reports had stated that Assistant Attorney General Heymann's remarks allegedly were made in connection with Special Assistant to the President for Information Management Richard M. Harden's testimony during an investigation into charges that White House aides had attempted to interfere illegally in U.S. efforts to extradite Robert Vesco from the Bahamas. The financier had left the United States to avoid facing charges of fraudulent business activities.

Q. He apparently said this in July.

THE PRESIDENT. I don't know anything about it.

Q. Mr. President, I understand you gave some serious thought to Leonard Woodcock as U.N. Ambassador. Is that correct?

THE PRESIDENT. We considered a lot of people. Leonard Woodcock was one of them. But it's so important right now that we have a continuation of our present policy with the People's Republic of China that I think he's better qualified to stay there for the time being.

Q. Did you make your decision before the Kennedy Airport confrontation this week,2 and were you persuaded one way or the other by that?

2Following the defection to the United States of her husband, dancer Aleksandr Godunov, during a tour of the Bolshoi Ballet, his wife, Lyudmila Vlasova, sought to return to the Soviet Union. Her flight was detained for 3 days at Kennedy International Airport, where she was eventually interviewed by U.S. officials, including Ambassador Donald F. McHenry, Deputy U.S. Representative in the Security Council of the United Nations, to determine if she was returning voluntarily. She then was allowed to depart the United States.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I made a final decision after I met with Ambassador McHenry in Washington a couple of days ago. But McHenry was recommended to me as the first choice of a lot of people, and he's a man that I have known very closely since I've been President—because of his work in southern Africa in particular. He's really an expert on the Far East, including the Pacific region, but he's acquired probably the best working knowledge of southern African problems of anyone we have.

Q. Was he Andy Young's first choice?

THE PRESIDENT. Let me not get into that.

Q. What effect will his appointment have on U.S. relations with Third World and developing countries, Africa particularly?

THE PRESIDENT. I think they would guarantee that our present relationships, which I consider to be an improvement over the past, will be continued.

Q. I hate to replow the whole ground at the risk of a second-day denunciation of ABC. Is it a possibility that the Israelis bugged Ambassador Young's apartment, or some other intelligence service other than the United States intelligence service?

THE PRESIDENT. There's no way for me to certify to that kind of thing, but in our key spots, like the Oval Office and the U.N. Ambassador's residence, there is a routine sweep of the premises designed to detect any sort of surreptitious listening devices. And my guess is that if any nation should try to bug the telephone or the premises of the U.N. Ambassador, it would be detected quite early. And there have been no detections of any such devices.

Q. Did you have an account of Ambassador Young's interview with Mr. Terzi3 before the State Department generated through Ambassador Young an account?

3 Fehdi Labib Terzi, Palestine Liberation Organization observer at the United Nations.


Q. Did you have it?


Q. In other words, our intelligence services from whatever source had not developed, to the best of your knowledge, an account of that meeting?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I can't answer that question because I don't know. I haven't investigated that. But I did not have an account of it.

Q. In other words, if they did, then it had not been brought to you?

THE PRESIDENT. That's correct. And there are many ways to get a report of a conversation. It may be that one of the principals involved repeated it to many people, and those reports may have been collected in some fashion. I think the problem with the ABC report was that you all assumed that if a conversation was reported that it had to come from listening devices or bugging equipment, which is absolutely not the case.

Q. As I understand our story, we believe we had sources that told us this, rather than just assuming it. The sources may have been wrong. We may have gotten it wrong. But we didn't just assume it, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think there's much doubt about that. The thing that concerned us about it was that when ABC went to the Attorney General, he denied it absolutely with his word of honor at stake. ABC then checked with Jody Powell at the White House, and Jody said it was a story that was not sound and should not be reported. In spite of that, before the evening broadcast ABC went with it as though it was a fact, and that was the thing that concerned us.

Q. I was not aware of that. I had been told by my people—

THE PRESIDENT. I think the reporter was named O'Brien [Timothy A. O'Brien, ABC News], although I don't know that.

Q.—and I'd been told that in fact before the broadcast that the Attorney General had not spoken—I mean, Mr. Civiletti.

THE PRESIDENT. No. I believe that O'Brien met personally with Terry Adamson4 and Civilertti before the broadcast, and a flat denial was made about the accuracy of the story before the broadcast.

4Director of Public Information, Department of Justice.

Q. All right. I will certainly not argue with you, but one of us has been misinformed about that.

THE PRESIDENT. That's fine. I can't certify that.

Q. What were your political soundings yesterday in Florida, in that that's an early primary State next year? How did you find your own stock?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I didn't make any poll or anything, but I thought the reception of the crowds and the public officials and others was very good.

Q. The Governor says that you're going to win that straw poll in November.

THE PRESIDENT. Oh, really?

Q. Now, he's a long-time supporter of yours, if I remember right. Didn't you support him also?

THE PRESIDENT. Not in the primary. I didn't take any position in the primary. But after he was nominated, of course we supported him as a Democratic nominee, and he is a fine Governor.

Q. Mr. President, one more question on the Vesco matter.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, Bettina [Bettina Gregory, ABC News].

Q. What about the charges, that there has been some coverup, by the foreman of the grand jury who resigned? Have you spoken to the Attorney General or anybody about that?

THE PRESIDENT. No. But you know any allegation that the Attorney General of the United States would try to cover up a fact or a truth in the presentation to a grand jury is obviously false. There's no inclination to cover up anything. All we want in any case is to have the facts come out and to be presented in accordance with the law. There's too much at stake for a President or an Attorney General deliberately to try to subvert the legal system in our country, no matter who's involved. And that's obviously a false report.

Q. We've seen those things happen in past years. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. I know that. I understand that. But, you know, it would be politically suicidal for me to permit anything of that kind or for Griffin Bell to have done anything of that kind or for Ben Civiletti to do anything like that. That's something that's inconceivable.

Q. I don't think a lot of people understand, if it was reported correctly, why way back then you wrote a note to Attorney General Bell saying, "See Spencer Lee." Did you write such a note?


Q. I don't think I know why you did that. Could you tell me?

THE PRESIDENT. I have a very hazy memory of it, and I've already given testimony to the law enforcement agencies about it. The report was made to me that Spencer Lee had a report concerning Vesco. We were trying to have Vesco extradited, and when I found that Lee had some information about it, I wrote a note to the Attorney General to see him.

Q. So, if there was some improper approach, you did not know about it?

THE PRESIDENT. No. No, I didn't.

Q. Harden did not come to you and say, "Mr. President, it's an improper approach here" or something?


Q. Mr. President? THE PRESIDENT. Yes?

Q. Thank you very much.

THE PRESIDENT. Okay. Now I can walk down the street. Thank you. I enjoyed it.

Q. Oh, by the way—the rabbits. Are you going fishing today, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. I might. [Laughter]

Q. Are you going to take an oar?

Q. Same pond?


Q. Can you give us your version of what happened?

Q. Yes, would you like to clear your good name? [Laughter]

THE. Have you talked to the rabbit and get his story?

THE PRESIDENT. I gave a report yesterday I think that was transcribed. I don't know if it's available to you all or not.

Q. Yeah, we got it.

THE PRESIDENT. Did you? Well, that's accurate.

Q. It said it was a timid rabbit or a—

THE PRESIDENT. It was just a fairly robust looking rabbit who was swimming without any difficulty, and he was apparently disturbed by some predator, maybe dogs or a fox. And he jumped in the far side of the pond. I didn't know what kind of animal it was at first. I thought it was probably a beaver or an otter. We have seen beaver and otter in that particular pond. But as he got closer to me I saw that it was not either one of those kinds of animals. So, I had a paddle in the boat, and when the rabbit got close enough to the boat for me to recognize it and I saw that it was going to attempt to climb in the boat with me, I thought that that would be an unpleasant situation for me and the rabbit.

Q. One of you would have to get out.

THE PRESIDENT. That's right. [Laughter]

Q. Did you do him in?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I never did hit the rabbit. I just splashed water toward him, and he finally veered his course and went over to the bank and climbed up on the bank.

Q. We have a Freedom of Information Act going to get that picture, by the way. We have filed a suit. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. This picture is very clear. A lot of people doubted my veracity when I came back from the pond that a rabbit was swimming. But rabbits swim, and that one was swimming without any difficulty at all. I could certify to that. [Laughter]

Q. Thank you.

Q. Well, will you catch more fish than rabbits the next time?

Q. I think being able to swim in ponds is a fine thing, don't you think?

THE PRESIDENT. I think so, yes.

Q. And on that note—we'll not cross that bridge today.

Note: The exchange began at approximately l 1:15 a.m. during the President's walking tour of the town.

Jimmy Carter, Plains, Georgia Informal Exchange With Reporters. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249432

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