Lyndon B. Johnson photo

The President's News Conference

February 16, 1968

THE PRESIDENT. [1.] George1 tells me that he has given you something not to announce today. I want to give you something you can announce just as soon as you get out of here.

1George E. Christian, Special Assistant to the President.

SECRETARY OF COMMERCE

We have accepted with very deep regret the resignation of Mr. Sandy Trowbridge-Mr. A. B. Trowbridge--the Secretary of Commerce. The resignation is effective March 1st.

We will send to the Senate the name of Mr. C. R. Smith, the former president of American Airlines, and the present chairman of the board of American Airlines.

Mr. Smith was born in Minerva, Texas, and for the last 30 years has been associated with American Airlines, residing in New York.

Mr. Smith is a member of the Business Council and has been for some 10 or 12 years. He is recommended very warmly and strongly by Secretary Trowbridge and other leaders, including Secretary Wirtz, with whom he will have to work closely.

Mr. Smith has agreed to move to Washington and join us effective March 1st.

CHAIRMAN OF THE CIVIL AERONAUTICS BOARD

[2.] As you know, some time ago Mr. Charles Murphy informed us of his desire to leave the Civil Aeronautics Board. We are accepting his resignation from that Board. For the time being, he will be a consultant to the President, acting as a counsel for me here in the White House on a part-time basis.

He will be succeeded as Chairman of the Board, the Senate willing, by Mr. John H. Crooker. Mr. Crooker is a member of the law firm of Fulbright, Crooker, Freeman & Bates, in Houston, Texas.

I first knew him 38 years ago when he defeated my debating team in Houston High School. He was a star senior debater. I later took one of my men and Mr. Crooker and they defeated the State champions.

Since that time Mr. Crooker has graduated with honors from the Rice Institute, and with honors from the University of Texas Law School. He was on the Law Review there.

He is presently a resident of the District of Columbia, representing his firm here. His nomination will go to the Senate very shortly.

He was born in 1914, and Mr. Smith was born in 1899. Mr. Smith is 68 years of age. Mr. Trowbridge is 37 years of age.

I think that is. all I have. George will give you the biographies on these men.

QUESTIONS

MR. TROWBRIDGE'S RESIGNATION

[3.] Q. Is it health in Mr. Trowbridge's case?

THE PRESIDENT. The doctors had some question when he became Secretary of Commerce. He went through a very thorough examination. He had had a heart problem. He decided to accept the challenge. He did a very fine job.

He has been working long and hard, but he has suffered a little relapse. He has been out for a few weeks. After completing his examinations at Johns Hopkins with other doctors in the last few days, he gave me his letter yesterday resigning as Secretary of Commerce.

We are very hopeful that we can utilize his services to the extent his health will permit in some other capacity, but we have not even discussed that.

Q. Is he returning, Mr. President, to his private company?

THE PRESIDENT. I just answered that. As far as I know, he said to me that he would be available to us for anything he could do, so far as his health is concerned. But I do not think he has made any plans of any kind. I think he will have to speak for himself.

My judgment is he would wait for some time to see how his health comes along. Then if we could use him on something not so strenuous as a Cabinet job, we might be able to get him to do that. If not, he will make some private connection, I am sure.

Q. How long did he serve? From last June, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. George will supply that information to you.

Q. Mr. President, are you concerned by what may seem to some as a considerable number of departures from your administration at high levels?

THE PRESIDENT. We always hate to see anyone depart, particularly men like Mr. Trowbridge. But in the light of the circumstances, I think I wouldn't want him to stay and I don't think you would, either.

MR. MURPHY'S DUTIES

[4.] Q. Mr. President, can you tell us anything more specific about what Mr. Murphy will be doing for you here?

THE PRESIDENT. He will be a counsel here at the White House, advising with the President, reporting directly to the President. His specific duties will be primarily legal. He was counsel to President Truman. He will be available, I think, for any assignment that the President desires to give him.

Q. I wondered, sir, if you might have any political assignments in mind for him?

THE PRESIDENT. None whatever.

A SECRETARY FOR HEW

[5.] Q. Do you foresee a new Health and Welfare Secretary soon?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't have any immediate timetable on that. We have a very outstanding man as Under Secretary.2 I would anticipate that he would act for at least a few weeks.

2The nomination of Under Secretary Wilbur J. Cohen to succeed John W. Gardner as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare was announced by the President in his news conference of March 22, 1968 (see Item 153).

THE AID PROGRAM

[6.] Q. Mr. President, there have been some problems relative to the AID program lately. I wondered if you could give us your viewpoint as to what this amounts to, if you feel it jeopardizes your AID program this year, and what you are doing about it?

THE PRESIDENT. The AID program always has its problems with the Congress. The information I have about it is that the matter is now under consideration by the Justice Department. The Inspector General of the State Department has been very diligent in attempting to make a thorough study of the problems in the AID program. He is making his report available to the Attorney General and to the appropriate committees of the Congress.

GOVERNOR ROMNEY ON VIETNAM

[7.] Q. Mr. President, you may have noticed that Governor Romney now refers to our force in Vietnam as the Johnson-Nixon policy. Does that ring any bell?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I would think we shouldn't play politics with the war and try to associate it with name-calling.

I think most of the Americans at one time or another have agreed with the policy and there have been some departures from the ranks. But I am not going to say anything that I consciously believe will involve the war and the men who are fighting it in a political campaign.

STATUS OF GENERAL WESTMORELAND

[8.] Q. Mr. President, sir, there have been some rumors in the last couple of days from various Members of Congress that General Westmoreland might be transferred. Can you comment on that?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that has been thoroughly covered. I should think you could observe from the sources that they are not either my confidants or General Westmoreland 's.

I don't want to attribute bad motives to anyone, but I would think it hardly likely that the Commander in Chief would get information about the future of General Westmoreland from a Republican Congressman from Wisconsin. I think that would be apparent to almost anyone.

I think that General Westmoreland is confronted with one of the great tests of his career, as we are in this country.

Just before he goes into battle there in South underequipped Vietnam--Khe Sanh, or whatever engagements may follow--I would not want to have him in doubt for a moment, or a single one of his men in doubt, about his standing with his Commander in Chief or with his superiors.

I am amazed that you would give the attention to him that you do in the light of my expression of admiration and respect for him so recently--in December, at Cam Ranh Bay, when I spoke very personally about him and gave him one of America's highest decorations.

I have observed this question being raised. I think it was first raised abroad. It continues to be raised here every day.

I don't know how to put a stop to it, except to say that I have never known a man with whom I have worked in the military for whom I had a higher regard or a greater respect.

I would hope that that statement could end the gossip and the rumors about General Westmoreland's future.

I think we all know that he has served there at my insistence and with the approval of the Joint Chiefs longer than one would ordinarily serve in an ordinary post.

But these are not ordinary times. They require each of us to help along and contribute whatever we can.

Just as General Taylor3 said to me, "I have been away from my family now in three wars, but I am ready to go back again if you need me," General Westmoreland has said he would stay there as long as I want him to stay there.

3 Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, USA, Ret., Special Consultant to the President.

While I don't want to be inconsiderate of him, I do think that it is in your interest and the Nation's interest, and the free world's interest, that this man, with his background, his experience, and his knowledge of conditions there be there at this critical stage.

I know the credibility problem. I cannot say to you that he will never leave.

I know he has. been there over 4 years already. But I can tell you that I have no intention of seeing him leave, I have no plan for him to leave, and, if I did have, I don't think it would come to you the way it has.

I think all of you should give consideration to how these things come to you. Because if you flash around the world the doubt that someone has and then to remove that doubt he has to make a statement, when, in the normal routine of things it should be changed, then you say, "You misled us.." So you get it either way--"Have you stopped beating your wife?"

I said to General Westmoreland, when I saw reports in the intelligence of what was being said about him, and I saw them picked up by certain overseas newspapers, and before they came into wide circulation here but appeared, I think, in one brief reference, that I wanted him to know very bluntly that I had never known a man in the military whom I had more confidence in. I don't know how to go any stronger than that.

But there is a campaign on to get over the world that we have doubts in General Westmoreland. That campaign I don't believe is going to succeed. It is not going to succeed with me. I have no doubts about his ability, about his dedication.

If I had to select a man to lead me into battle in Vietnam, I would want General Westmoreland.

Does that make it clear to anybody and everybody, including all the foreign press that may want to pick it up?

You see, what irritates me is that I see these things about a week or two ahead of time. They originate, go around the world and then they get real hot here. There are reasons for doing these things. One of the reasons is to destroy people's confidence in the leadership.

With all the men we have at stake out there, with all the lives that are involved-it could be any of you or your boys--I just don't think that is the way to play it.

I see where General Westmoreland may be named a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I have never discussed that with General Westmoreland for one second.

So far as I am concerned, if there is any way General Westmoreland could go, it would be up. Right now, he has the most important assignment I know of, and I am going to try to help him. I hope I am helping him by making it clear--repeat, clear--loud and clear--that every person that I know of who deals with General Westmoreland has great respect and confidence in him.4

4The President, in his news conference of March 22, 1968, announced his appointment of Gen. William C. Westmoreland, Commander, United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, to succeed Gen. Harold K. Johnson as Army Chief of Staff (see Item 153).

NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND VIETNAM

[9.] Q. Mr. President, could you address yourself, please, sir, to the gossip and rumors about nuclear weapons in Vietnam?

THE PRESIDENT. I think the Press Secretary covered that very well.

The President must make the decision to deploy nuclear weapons. It is one of the most awesome and grave decisions any President could be called upon to make.

It is reasonably apparent and known to all that it is very much against the national interest to carry on discussions about deployment of nuclear weapons; so much so that the act, itself, tries to guard against that.

I have been in the executive branch of the Government for 7 years. I think I have been aware of the recommendations made by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by the Secretary of State, and by the Secretary of Defense during that period.

So far as I am aware, they have at no time ever considered or made a recommendation in any respect to the deployment of nuclear weapons. They are on our planes on training missions from time to time.

We do have problems. There are plans with our allies concerning what they do.

There is always a person available to me who has full information in connection with their deployment, as you newspapermen know. I think if any serious consideration were ever given, and God forbid there ever will be, I don't think you would get it by some anonymous caller to some committee of the Congress. I think most of you know that, or ought to know that.

No recommendation has been made to me. Beyond that, I think we ought to put an end to that discussion.

PROSPECTS FOR PEACE NEGOTIATIONS

[10.] Q. Mr. President, do you see any new, hopeful prospects for negotiating with Hanoi?

THE PRESIDENT. We look for them every day.

I would like to be able to say "Yes." In the last few days, preparatory to closing out the statement that Secretary Rusk issued yesterday, I believe, or the day before, we reviewed Hanoi's actions in response to more than 20-odd proposals made by well-intentioned and interested people.

We reviewed the many overtures that we had made, including the most recent one where we thought we went as far as honorable men could go--the San Antonio proposal.

As near as I am able to detect, Hanoi has not changed its course of conduct since the very first response it made.

Sometimes they will change "will" to "would", or "shall" to "should", or something of that kind. But the answer is all the same.

While we were prepared to go into the Tet truce, they were moving thousands of men from the North into the South for the subsequent attacks on that sacred holiday. I think that ought to be an answer that any elementary school boy or girl could understand.

If you want to go to the negotiating table, if you want to talk instead of fight, you don't move in thousands of people with hundreds of trucks through the night to try to catch people--innocent civilians--by surprise m the city, anticipating a general uprising.

We are familiar with all the approaches that have been made to them, and we have encouraged them all the time. But when it is all said and done, I don't want to leave the American people under any illusions, and I don't want to deceive them.

I don't think Hanoi is any more ready to negotiate today than it was a year ago, 2 years ago, or 3 years ago. I don't think it has been at any time during any of that period.

Yes?

U THANT'S PEACE EFFORTS AND COMING VISIT TO WASHINGTON

[11.] Q. Could I ask you whether your review included anything you may have had lately from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, or does that await your visit with him next week?5

THE PRESIDENT. The answer is yes, that does include such reports as we may have on conversations that have taken place in other capitals.

5The text of a White House statement following the President's February 21 meeting with United Nations Secretary General U Thant is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 4, p. 323).

We have responded on occasions to other requests the Secretary-General has made of us. We applaud his efforts to try to bring about a just negotiation, and to get all sides to the peace table.

Ambassador Goldberg had a long meeting with the Secretary-General and got a full report on his recent trip, just as I got a full report on Prime Minister Wilson's recent trip.

I have received a good many reports from folks who have visited other capitals. We are always glad to hear those reports, although we are saddened, sometimes, that they don't bring us the hope we would like to have.

Ambassador Goldberg told me that the Secretary-General would like to see me. He had been to the Soviet capital and met with the leaders there. He had been to the British capital and met with the leaders there.

He has been to India. He has been to the French capital and met with the leaders there.

I told the Secretary-General that, of course, as long as I was in this place, I would always be glad to meet with him any time that he desired to. He suggested next Friday. I told Mr. Goldberg that I didn't know what plans you might have for Friday, but George tells me you always get a little restless, jittery, tired, worn, and snappish on Fridays. Washington's Birthday is Thursday. Maybe if we wanted to get the maximum out of this, we ought to be here where you could be with us on Wednesday. So we moved it up to Wednesday.

On Wednesday I expect to see the Secretary-General and thank him very much for another try, to hear his views and to give him mine.

Q. Will this be lunch or dinner that he is coming for?

THE PRESIDENT. That will be 11 o'clock.

GENERAL WESTMORELAND

[12.] Q. Mr. President, you mentioned a worldwide movement or scheme to undermine confidence in the American military leadership

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think I said a worldwide scheme. I said we first heard reports in our intelligence reports that come to me every morning. At that time, the strategy was to discredit General Westmoreland's leadership. He had suffered great losses out there.

That was before it was determined that they didn't hold any of the cities they had attacked. But that followed with comments in other capitals, as it frequently does, namely, that there was great division in Washington, and that it was very probable that because of this great disaster General Westmoreland had suffered, he would have to be recalled.

All I ask you to do is just imagine how you are going to feel if the rumor is around that the Chicago Tribune is getting ready to replace you and it gets into the papers, even when you haven't a battle on. Put yourself in General Westmoreland's position.

The very morning that we anticipated one of our most difficult attacks, this came through in reports.

I called in my secretary and I dictated a wire to General Westmoreland. I said, "I want to put it just as bluntly as I know how, that your Commander in Chief has never had more confidence in any military officer with whom, under whom, or above whom he served. Whatever you choose to do here will have my full support."

I made it just as strong as I know how to write it. Sometimes down in my country you can make things pretty strong. I didn't circularize it because I thought that would just give added encouragement to those who would like to feel there was a division.

I did, in response to a series of queries from a number of people, send him a wire. I told only one man and my secretary. I hadn't told Secretary McNamara and I hadn't told Secretary Rusk.

That afternoon I had three inquiries from newsmen about the wire saying, "We know you sent it to him. Give it to us."

I learned I couldn't even trust anyone on a matter like that except my secretary.

I haven't made the wire public, but I am telling you the contents of it.

That happened many days ago and I feel just as strongly about it now as I did then.

I want to emphasize that I don't want to leave the impression with any soldier in that command, with any parent of any man out there, that there is any justification whatever for all this rumor, gossip, talk, about General Westmoreland's competence or about his standing with this President.

MR. VANCE'S VISIT TO SOUTH KOREA

[13.] Q. Mr. President, how do you assess United States relations with South Korea in the wake of Mr. Vance's visit?

THE PRESIDENT. I think Mr. Vance's visit was a fruitful one. I think he had a very cordial and understanding discussion.

South Korea feels very distressed about the attempt that was made to assassinate their President and all the members of his family, as we certainly do.

We feel very deeply our problem connected with the Pueblo.

We have an understanding, a treaty, with them.

Mr. Vance had spent a good deal of time on matters of this kind in the 7 years he has been here.

He had lengthy talks with the Defense Minister, the Prime Minister, and the President.

He made that report to the Cabinet committee yesterday. We thought it was a very good report and his mission was a very helpful one.6

6On February 9 the White House announced that former Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus R. Vance would visit Seoul, Korea, as the President's personal representative for talks with President Chung Hoe Park and other high Korean officials. Following his report to the President upon returning from that mission, Mr. Vance met with reporters at the White House. Texts of the announcement and news briefing are printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 4, pp. 280 and 293).

LEVEL OF ARMED FORCES IN VIETNAM

[14.] Q. Mr. President, are you giving any thought to increasing the level of our forces in Vietnam?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, we give thought to that every day. We never know what forces will be required there. We have, tentatively, a goal. We would like to reach that goal as soon as we can. In light of the circumstances that existed when we set that goal, we hoped to reach it sometime this year.

In light of the developments and the subsequent substantial increases in the enemy force, General Westmoreland asked that he receive approximately half of the remaining numbers under that goal during February or early March.

Did you mean enemy forces or our forces?

Q. Our forces.

THE PRESIDENT. I said in light of substantial increases in the enemy force. You understood that, didn't you?

Q. Yes.

THE PRESIDENT. So General Westmoreland told us that.

We carefully reviewed his request in light of the information that had come in. We made certain adjustments and arrangements to comply with his request forthwith. That will be done.

When we reach our goal, we will be constantly reviewing the matter many times every day, at many levels. We will do whatever we think needs to be done to insure that our men have adequate forces to carry out their mission.

PRIME MINISTER WILSON'S STATEMENT ON VIETNAM

[15.] Q. Mr. President, in light of your earlier comments on negotiations with North Vietnam, could you discuss with us the basis for Prime Minister Wilson's statement to the House of Commons, that there was only a narrow margin between the U.S. and Hanoi positions?

THE PRESIDENT. I have given you my views. I assume you have means of getting any details of the Prime Minister's from him.

My views are very clear. I don't know anything I can add to them.

If I have confused you somewhat, I will be glad to help clear it up.

I have told you that I have never felt that they have changed their position, modified it, or moderated it.

Douglas B. Cornell, Associated Press: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Johnson's one hundred and nineteenth news conference was held in the Fish Room at the White House at 4:42 p.m. on Friday, February 16, 1968.

Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/238996

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